I accidentally turned myself into a travel agent by posting about my recent horseback safari trip in South Africa- but I'm totally here for it and happy to help! Here's a list of the most recent frequently asked questions (and their answers) about horseback safaris. Answered by someone who has literally only gone on one single trip, so hopefully these answers are accurate. As a disclaimer: I'm not a real travel agent. Consult with one of the many horseback safari companies to plan your actual trip! Then come back to me to book your photographer to document it ;)
Q: What should I pack? My riding boots, riding clothes, what else?
A: I have an entire packing list right here for you!
Q: When is the best time of year to go?
A: It totally depends on where you’re going, how much you want to pay, what you want to see, and your preferred temperature. For example: I went to South Africa during their summer, which is also their rainy season. The bush was very green and the temps were pretty high: around 90 to 95 degrees. And in my experience, going Dec 1-12, it only rained once so it was still very dry (in fact I got nose bleeds every day multiple times a day). During the rainy season in SA is when a lot of the animals give birth, so we got to see lots of babies! From warthogs to zebra to antelope, so many had given birth right around the time we were there.
The prices for Ants Nest/Hill are the same year round. But if you were to go to Botswana for the Okavango Delta, their high season is about $1,000 more per 3 days (per person) versus their low season. But if you go during the low or mid season, the delta will be dried up.
My best advice would be to contact a travel agency like African Horse Safaris, tell them exactly what you want to see and experience, and they will match you with the right trip. We didn’t start our trip planning with saying “we want to go to South Africa” we started by saying “Jeni is an advanced rider, Zach is a beginner, we want to go in December, want to see giraffes, I’d like to swim with the horses, be able to canter, and we need to sleep in a building with an attached bathroom- not a tent.”
Q: How long was your travel time?
A: We flew with Turkish Airlines, so our layover was in Istanbul. It was 12hr the first leg, then a 6hr layover in Istanbul. We got a pay-by-the-hour hotel inside the airport which I will always recommend! *that or a Priority Pass to get into lounges to shower. The next flight was Istanbul to Johannesburg, about 10.5 hours. Personally, flying doesn’t bother me much. But if you struggle with those long distances, consider breaking up your trip more and do a 2-3 day layover.
Q: What vaccinations do you need?
A: This totally depends on what region of Africa you’re going to! We didn’t need malaria for Waterberg, but we did for our second part of our trip in Uganda. Consult with your safari travel agent and your doctor on the recommended vaccines.
Q: Do you need a visa?
A: It totally depends on where you’re going and where you’re coming from! For South Africa, as a US resident and passport holder, we did not need a visa. We did for Uganda, and it was easy to obtain.
Q: How was the food?
A: Absolutely delicious. I of course can only speak for Ant's Nest/Hill, but the food was consistently so good, so fancy, and always different. I want to go back, just for the food! Varieties of meat, vegetables, and grains/starches were served for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was a lot of fruit, eggs, cheese, pancakes, etc. They cater to vegetarians/vegans as well.
Q: What animals do you see while riding? Are they completely wild?
A: In South Africa, they have reserves that are either private or government owned. The reserves are fenced to keep animals in, but also as just one way to protect them from poachers. So on the specific reserve we were on, it had most animals you’d see on any safari except for hippo, lion, elephant, and cheetah. They don’t have the first three because they want to cater to all levels of riders. Only intermediate plus-advanced riders can ride with those animals. Ant plans to introduce cheetahs to his reserve soon!
Botswana, for example does not have reserves. All the animals are completely free so 1. you must be an intermediate plus rider to ride in the Okavango Delta, and 2. you won’t be able to get as close to the animals as you can in a reserve because they’re not as used to the horses. and 3. you have a chance of seeing lions, hippos, elephants, and any other animals that you could find in the wild. (I keep mentioning Botswana because that’s where we want to go next!!)
Q: Did you ride every day? How long were the rides?
A: Again, I can only speak for Ant's Hill/Nest. But we had the option of what activity we'd like to do, and signed up for your chosen activity the night before or mid day. Of course I wanted to ride as much as I could. Generally, there's a ride every morning that lasts for about 3 hours, then a ride in the evening that lasts for 1.5 hours. Sometimes we'd have other things planned like a game drive on a different reserve to see the Big 5, or one evening we went out on vehicle to watch the vet capture and treat buffalo. One evening there was a thunder and lightening storm, so we couldn't go out to ride and went on a game drive instead (we saw absolutely nothing because all the animals were hiding from the rain, but it's okay). They keep things very organized and always keep you in the know of what's happening!
Q: Where do the horses live?
A: On Ant’s reserve, they have two lodges and two stables. They have a herd of about 90 horses total, 45 at each stable, and each horse has their own stall. The horses live free with the animals, so like I mentioned above, they’re able to become friends- or at least acquaintances- with the safari animals, allowing us riders to get really close to the animals on our rides. A lot of times, after the ride is over, we’d let the horses loose wherever we are, then they eventually make their way back to the stables to eat their hay and grain.
Q: What camera gear did you bring or recommend?
A: I brought my main camera, Canon R6 and 70-200mm lens. That's what I used most of the time. I personally thought that lens was perfect and never found myself wishing I brought anything else. I also packed my Canon G7x, but barely used it. Zach brought a GoPro and insta 360 camera. We strapped the GoPro to his head and I carried the 360 cam on a stick, and got decent footage... but definitely preferred my main camera over everything else. I taught Zach and a girl we met at the lodge how to use my camera and directed them for each shot I wanted, so I could get photos of myself!
Have any more questions? I’m happy to answer what I can, but beware that I’m not an expert, by any means. Send me a DM on Facebook or Instagram. Or are you ready to plan a horseback safari of your own and want me to document it? Email me to chat about it.