My Magical Horseback Riding Trip in Botswana
My horseback riding trip in Botswana started in Jo’burg, South Africa, where I met my travel buddy Nica in the airport. We had originally met while horseback riding in Morocco a few years back. The fantastic things about horseback riding trips are that you can so easily go on your own; you feel safe as you’re part of a group; you will always meet like-minded people when you’re there, but you can also still have some solitude when you’re riding your horse — just your four-legged friend and the view.
We stayed in Sandton in the Radisson Blu, having taken the Gautrain from the airport. If you’re passing through Jo’burg I can recommend it; the train was fast, simple, cheap and clean. The next day, we headed back to the airport to meet the group we’d be riding with and the company that was organizing the transfer to the Botswana border at Limpopo Valley.
The fantastic things about horseback riding trips are that you can so easily go on your own; you feel safe as you’re part of a group; you will always meet like-minded people when you’re there, but you can also still have some solitude when you’re riding your horse.
Yet, two disasters happened on this six-hour transfer and here’s what I’ve learned from them:
First, when you give a hotel your passport so they can photocopy it, make sure they give it back to you! It wasn’t until we had gotten to the border and Nica was searching through her bags that we realized her passport was still in Jo’burg. She had to go back to get it at a hefty cost and a lot of stress and lost a day of riding. It was a beautiful moment the next day when our horses started whining to each other across the river valley as she was being escorted to meet us and join the group!
Second, don’t let yourself become dehydrated after a long flight. Also, if you’re even slightly prone to bladder infections, take antibiotics with you and don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel unwell. I ended up with a bladder infection, which wasn’t exactly great during a six-hour car journey. While bouncing around on a horse — jodhpurs undone to relieve the pressure — I tried to flush it out with plenty of water, but after four days of me silently stressing I finally spoke up. On the first night, to get to our tents from the communal area we had to be escorted with a torch in case there was a lion in camp, so the idea of going back and forth every half hour to pee wasn’t ideal!
Amazingly, Nica had some antibiotics with her, and I spoke to one of the guides who called their 24-hour medical helpline. I spoke to a doctor and we decided I should take the antibiotics. Just knowing there was some help at the end of the phone was a great relief.
If you see a lion, stay still, hold your ground and make eye contact, and whatever you do don’t get off your horse.
So, back to the ride. We started with a briefing about what to do if we see wildlife. If elephants start charging at you, canter away in the opposite direction in a controlled manor. If you see a lion, stay still, hold your ground and make eye contact, and whatever you do don’t get off your horse. Apparently to them, a human on a horse is a weird four-eyed creature not to be messing with; once you’re off the horse you look like two good meals.
The horses were great, very well schooled, and not a single one spooked the whole week (handy when encountering herds of elephants). We had some fabulous long canters winding through the bush. We even had the opportunity to ride our horses around a natural cross-country course made from fallen trees.
We moved from camp to camp staying in A-frame tents. This trip was the most luxurious camping ride I’ve ever been on. Beds are already made for you, with your luggage next to the bed when you arrive in camp. Fresh towels and even lip balm are provided, with a private shower and toilet next to the tent and as much alcohol as you’d like at no extra cost (great, I couldn’t drink). Two nights were spent sleeping under the stars in an old court (Kgotla)–essentially a round enclosure made out of wood. We fell asleep around the embers of the campfire, hearing the leopard’s wood-saw call and the gentle crunch of branches underneath passing an elephant’s feet. Magical!
Every morning, tea was brought to your tent with a wake-up call at 5:30 a.m., followed by breakfast at 6 a.m. and getting on the horses by 7 a.m. We had delicious flapjacks and an apple (core saved for my horse) at around 10 a.m. and arrived at the next camp for lunch around 1 p.m. A couple of times we had a game drive in the afternoon, spotting leopards sleeping in trees as well as giraffes, warthogs, zebras, ostriches, lions with cubs, cheetahs, hippos, crocs and hyenas. We listened out for the go-away-bird, learned about baubau and fever trees — and who even knew what a kori bustard was!
Every evening was finished off with a sundowner. We jumped in the jeeps and drove to find a beautiful vista and have a mug of Amarula as the sun set before heading back to camp for another delicious meal. The food on this ride was amazing, some local dishes alongside pastas and salads. Bobotie was particularly good. It’s like a Shepherd’s Pie but with egg on top instead of mash.
We were looked after very well the entire trip. Everyone we met in Botswana was warm, friendly and welcoming. On the day we left, all the staff at the stables sang the most beautiful farewell songs to us. As I fought to hold back the tears, I comforted myself with the knowledge that I absolutely must go back again to Botswana one day.