Our “Sustainable Travel“ series is sponsored by Global Basecamps. Global Basecamps is specialty travel company that helps independent travelers research and book locally owned boutique hotels, off-the-beaten path lodges and multi-day excursions all over the world. Whether hiking the Inca Trail, experiencing a traditional Japanese Ryokan, or relaxing on the beaches of Thailand, Global Basecamps specializes in designing completely customized itineraries to meet each travelers specific priorities and match their travel style.
Whether you’re scaling the heights of the Inca Trail, blazing a trail along virgin desert plains, galloping along white sand beaches or riding alongside game on a horseback safari, horse trekking offers an exhilarating and environmentally sustainable way to explore some of the world’s most incredible landscapes.
1. New Zealand
With lush paddocks perfect for lengthy gallops and towering hilltops offering panoramic views of Hollywood-worthy countryside, New Zealand is a country made to be explored on horseback. From carriage racing to rodeos to medieval fairs, the two islands are bursting with equine entertainment, and visitors can ride just about everywhere, from the mountains to the beach – you can even ride through Lord of the Rings set locations. One of the most spectacular treks is at Cape Farewell, the famous sliver of sand jutting out from the top of the South Island. Here, you’ll clamber up rocky outcrops, navigate weaving sandstone tracks, and gallop down the stunning Wharariki beach. There are several treks available from a 1 or 2 hour scenic route for beginners, to fast-paced all day adventures for those who fancy playing cowboys for a day. Best of all you’ll get an incredible view of the famous spit.
Catch a flight to New Zealand, explore adventure trips in New Zealand, and read Why New Zealand is a Great Destination for Indie Travel
2. South Africa Safari
The ultimate in eco-friendly safaris, there’s no better way to get up close to your photo subjects than slinking through the jungle on horseback – in fact, you’ll be surprised how much closer you’ll be able to creep with the aid of a few animal companions. Hidden Trails offer horseback safaris through the South African wilderness – perfect for those who are conscious of their impact on the environment. Ride alongside zebras or buffalo, take your horses to a watering hole shared with elephants and hippos, and snap away at giraffes and rhinos from the comfort of your saddle. More experienced riders can enjoy breathless sprints over open sandy tracks, take their horse for a dip in one of the lakes, or jump some of the natural obstacles along the way. If you choose an overnight option, you can even enjoy camping out under the stars as your horses graze next to you in the moonlight.
3. Cappadocia, Turkey
Cappadocia – derived from the ancient Hittite word ‘Katpatuka’ – is generally believed to translate as the ‘Land of Beautiful Horses’, and it’s a fitting tribute to a place steeped in equine history. Famous for its alien-esque topography and magical hot air balloon rides, the area was once renowned for its elite horse breeds, and horse trekking is still big business amongst tourists. Here, the horses know the land better than anyone, a fact you’ll be grateful of as you navigate rocky canyons, dodge potholes, and zigzag in and out of the iconic ‘fairytale chimneys.’ Kirkit Adventure and Kapadokya Ranch are just two places offering trekking, from 2 hour starter trails to week-long excursions, exploring the area’s varied terrain and camping out in the mountains.
A horse trek to end all horse treks, Mongolia has everything the intrepid cowboy could dream of – endless miles of untrampled terrain, nomadic encampments deep in the wilderness, and some of the world’s last remaining wild horse herds roaming the horizon. Mongolia has a rich history with the horse, and trekking here utilizes the talents of local horsemen, native horses, and Mogol-style horsemanship – an enticing cultural experience in itself. Add to that the wildly assorted topography from forested highlands in the north to vast steppes in the Gobi desert, and the chance to spot everything from free roaming ibex, moose, and wolves to one of the region’s rare snow leopards (if you’re lucky). Horse Trails Mongolia and Zavkhan both run treks that support local communities and offer the opportunity to camp out or visit some the region’s nomadic tribes, like the legendary “reindeer people.”
Read Why You Should Make Mongolia Your Next Asian Destination and browse through adventure trips in Mongolia
5. Machu Picchu
The high altitude Inca Trail has become something of a right of passage for adventurous travelers in South America and remains one of the world’s most trampled hiking routes. Whether you’d prefer a little help tackling the trail or just want to add a twist to the legendary route, horseback trips are a fun (and less-exhausting) way to experience the historic surroundings. The famous Inca citadel is the culmination of a multiple-day journey (choose anything from a day ride of the surrounding ruins to an epic 10 day trail), but whichever track you choose, you can be assured that this will be a trek where the journey really is just as impressive as the destination. Amble along peaceful glacier valleys, cross gurgling streams, and climb into the clouds as your horse scales heights of over 4800m above sea level. Trot past sacred Inca landmarks and weave through majestic cloud forests, taking care to look out for the region’s wildlife – Andean condors prowl these areas, and the fields are full of llamas, the national animal of Peru.
Worldly equestrians rave about the legendary Icelandic horses, pony-sized equines bred by Viking settlers and famous for their unusual gaits (including a unique easy-to-sit-to pace, known as a tölt) as well as for being one of the world’s purest breeds of horses.
Whether you’re ready to put these sturdy little horses through their paces (don’t be fooled – they might be small, but they can still get up some speed) or just want to sample the countryside without getting sore feet, the landscapes in Iceland are as unique as the horses. Fancy riding through lava fields, scrambling over tough volcanic rocks and gliding over vast expanses of desert? Or perhaps you’d prefer to get your hooves wet along the wind-ravaged beaches or hunt out the perfect spot to view the magical northern lights? Whatever route you take, make sure you take a stop at one the natural hot springs to ease those aching limbs along the way. Horses North and Ishestar both run horse trekking expeditions.
Horse riding isn’t a popular pastime in South East Asia, but the aptly named Thai Horse Farm, a Thai-German company, offers horse treks in Northern Thailand, winding through the mountains and jungle of the Sri Lanna National Park. This is a region famed for its distinctive hill tribe communities, and although the area is overrun with hiking tours, taking to the saddle will allow you to get further afield and visit some of the more off-the-beaten-track settlements unreachable by foot.
This is a journey that is as much about the cultural experience as it is about the enviable riding terrain – riders can camp out in the wilderness and get involved in cooking up some tasty Thai grub, learn about tribal traditions first hand, and help out looking after the horses. And with a backdrop of tropical paradise, there’ll be plenty to see as well as do – trails run through rocky mountain paths, mango plantations, rice paddies, and cool shady forests.
8. Quebec, Canada
Forget snowboarding and dog sledding – horse riding through the snow can be just as thrilling. Hit Quebec in the winter months and you might be lucky enough to add a snowy backdrop to your horse trek, or else swap the reindeer for equines and opt for a horse drawn sleigh ride. Imagine frozen-over lakes, forest valleys speckled with frost, and hooves leaving fresh tracks in virgin snow, and you’ll come close to imagining the winter wonderland. The ground might be slippery underfoot, but local horses are well accustomed to traversing snowy fields, and as long as you dress warm, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the ride.
9. Andalucían Coast, Spain
From winter wonderlands to coastal paradise, those preferring a warmer climate can always hit the beach instead – on horseback, of course. Andalucía is the perfect place to enjoy the adrenaline rush of a flat-out gallop along a long stretch of beach – hair whipped with sea spray, sand churning out from beneath you, the only sound the rhythmic drum of hooves hitting the ground. If that’s not enough fun for one day, take to the waves and practice your jumping skills, canter through pinewoods along the coast, or hop down from the saddle and experience a traditional Andalucían horse show where you’ll be able to appreciate the locally bred horses and skilled horsemen in all their glory – far more impressive to equestrians than the county’s famously controversial bullfights.
10. Sahara Desert, Tunisia
A list of the world’s greatest horse treks wouldn’t be complete without a trek through some of the world’s most treacherous terrain – the Sahara Desert. With vast, imposing stretches of sand, interspersed with laid-back oasis villages and undulating dunes, Tunisia – the smallest of the five North African countries – offers unique and challenging terrain for horse riding. Riding on small Barb Arabian horses known for both their sturdiness and speediness, you’ll soon understand the importance of a good horse in the unforgiving yet indescribably beautiful landscapes of the Sahara. More experienced riders can enjoy a fast paced dash across salt plains, sandy dunes, and dried out river beds, taking in the landscapes made famous in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, filmed in the country’s desert.
Read more about ecotourism around the world:
- 10 Festivals that Celebrate Local Produce
- Paradise on a Budget: Eco Retreats that Won’t Break the Bank
- 10 Tips for More Eco-Friendly Travel
- How to Plan an Eco-Friendly RTW Trip: 9 Destinations to Go Green
- 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Ecotourism
- 8 Green Ways to Experience Belize
- 10 of Europe’s Most Eco-Friendly Cities
One can bet that wherever there is the opportunity for outdoor exploration, there is a horse, donkey or camel waiting to help us do it. Global Basecamps specializes in custom Inca Trail treks that can be hiked or ridden. Our custom Galapagos tours offer ample opportunity to jump into a saddle and explore nature as you’ve never seen it before. And if you’d like a change of pace, our Morocco tours will find you on camelback, riding through the beautiful Sahara Desert during sunrise. Wherever you travel with us, our commitment to sustainable travel assures you that your environment, and your animal friends will be well-taken care of.
Photo credits: 1. New Zealand – toolmantim, 2. South Africa Safari – marko8904, 3. Cappadocia – girolame, 4. Mongolia – Alastair Rae, 5. Machu Picchu – MyFavoritePetSitter, 6. Iceland – sela-v, 7. Thailand – mksystem, 8. Quebec, Canada – Sebastian Bergmann, 9. Spain – 3oheme, 10. Tunisia – mckaysavage