Horseback Riding in Botswana

Tuli Safari

Overview

This is a classic point-to-point horse safari in Botswana covering approximately 120 miles in the vast Mashatu Game Reserve in the Tuli Block. Mashatu is a privately owned wildlife sanctuary of 75,000 acres, situated at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers.

This is an area of great bio-diversity, magnificent vistas, ancient civilizations and dramatic rock formations bordered by the great Limpopo River in the south. Aptly named the “Land of the Giants” for its baobab studded plains and large herds of elephant, the land remains largely untouched by man and is home to a wide variety of wildlife species including lion, cheetah, leopard, African wild dog, a multitude of plains game like zebra, wildebeest and giraffe, as well as over 350 species of birds.

To make the most of the prime game viewing hours, the day begins just before dawn with a quick breakfast before tacking up and heading toward the next camp as the sun is breaking over the horizon. Gallop along the river courses where huge Mashatu trees provide shade for eland, impala, wildebeest, giraffe and zebra. Five or six hours in the saddle has you arriving at the next camp in the early afternoon with time to relax before an evening walking safari to witness the smaller creatures and plants missed on horseback.

The guide, who is highly qualified and experienced, will point out some of the 350 bird species, and is often able to find elusive nocturnal species like bat-eared fox, African wildcat and the magnificent leopard. There are significant archaeological and historical sites en route, from subtle sign of the ancient indigenous people to relics from the Boer War. The small group size, the fit, energetic horses and the light mobile camp allow this safari to cover a lot of interesting territory in this seldom visited corner of Africa.

Spend the three nights at the permanent tented camp, Two Mashatus, two nights at the permanent Tree Camp, and two nights at the permanent open air camp, Kglotla.

Meals are prepared over an open fire and therefore consist mostly of good, wholesome ‘bush stews’, with local side dishes such as ‘sadza’ (maize meal) and ‘pot bread’. Vegetarian menus and special dietary requests can be accommodated with advance notice. All water in the camps is filtered to the highest standards and is guaranteed perfectly safe for drinking. Bottled water is available to purchase.

  • Overview:
    The herd is comprised of Boerperd, Throroughbred, Warmblood and Arab crosses. Each rider will be matched to a horse, as much as possible. Saddles are McClellan trail rider saddles, specifically designed for long hours in the saddle.
  • Equipment Required:
    Helmets are required.
  • Horse Breeds:
    Boerperd, Warmbloods, Thoroughbred crosses
  • Trip Pace:
    Moderate to Fast
  • Tack:
    Safari (Mclellan type) saddles
  • Weight limit:
    85 kg / 187 lb

Non-rider options are not offered.

Johannesburg.

Tour Itinerary

Please note that on "Tuli 2" safaris running Monday to Monday, Night 6 is spent at Tree Camp, rather than Two Mashatus.

Day 1

Arrival: Stable to Two Mashatus

Following a flight from OR Tambo Airport in South Africa to Limpopo Valley Airfield in the Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana, guests are received at the stables where they will enjoy a light lunch on the banks of the Limpopo River, receive a safety briefing and meet their horses.

The hosts takes great care to match horse to rider based on a guest’s riding experience and professed ability. However, before embarking on the safari, each guest will be given a simple riding test in order to ensure that they are suitably balanced in the saddle and are able to direct their horse in an independent manner. It is crucially important for the safety and enjoyment of the whole group that riders are at least intermediate riders. While the journey is not an endurance test, it does involve long hours in the saddle and, with the possibility of close encounters with elephant and the big cats, riders need to be able to gently and confidently control their mounts.

If at this point a rider is unsure of the suitability of their selected horse, a horse swap is possible. The herd is quite uniform, consisting of well schooled, forward going but calm horses. They are mostly boerperd, a South African breed particularly suited to this type of work.

The route on this afternoon is from the Stables to Two Mashatus, a distance of 11km. It follows the Limpopo River floodplains, with good opportunities for those first exciting encounters with elephant, giraffe, zebra, ostrich and wilderbeest. The route crosses close to a large wetland area which acts as a magnet for game and there is even a chance to come across bat eared fox, black backed jackal and spotted hyena. It then crosses the Majali River close to its confluence with the Limpopo, a favourite haunt of leopards and a resident pride of lion. Across an open plain the famous Two Mashatus Camp awaits.

Day 2

Central Reserve: Two Mashatu to Tree Camp

The first full day of riding crosses the game rich areas of the central reserve. Following breakfast at dawn, riders set off first along the Majali and then the Mataboli rivers in a north western arc towards the beautifully appointed Tree Camp. The route typically yields rich encounters with elephant, waterbuck, giraffe, impala, wildebeest and zebra. Signs of the many predators that make these rich riverine environments their home are bountiful, and chance encounters possible. The ride typically takes between four and five hours, and riders start to form a true bond with their individual mounts. The trappings of modern living begin to fall away as the sense of adventure and journey deepens.

Tree Camp will be reached in time for a refreshing shower and lunch. After a welcome rest in the comfort of the camp, nestled in the cooling shade of the majestic Mashatu Tree, a hearty tea will be served. This is followed by a guided bush walk up the Majali River in search of crocodile and other game. Kudu, warthog, klipspringer and eland are all present in the area around the camp, as are elephant, lion and hyena. Waterfowl fly low past the camp and birdsong abounds. This is a truly beautiful place and it is impossible not to immerse oneself in nature and experience the exceptional qualities of Africa’s wilderness areas.

Day 3

Valley of Elephants: Tree Camp to Kgotla

Waking in Tree Camp is a magical experience. One feels fully immersed in nature, surrounded by birdsong, and alive to the new day as the early morning light filters through the majestic tree’s leaves. After a quick breakfast, riders set off on the journey’s first long ride – up onto the edge of the mini escarpment and then down, through the Valley of the Elephants and on towards the distant sandstone citadels guarding the Limpopo and Motloutse Rivers.

The first part of the journey is not to be hurried, as the horses wind along well worn elephant paths, past giant baobabs and the occasional shallow watering pan. Soon, however, the country opens up and the horses can start to stretch their legs along soft ground leading to the headwaters of a stream flowing off the ridge and down towards the Limpopo. This is prime elephant country and the guides are always on the lookout, using all their sharpened senses. Once the path leaves the river, the terrain is once again more open and the pace faster. A second river is then joined, which leads directly down to the veterinary control gate on the main road through Mashatu Game Reserve.
The route then follows the road for a short while before heading across flat country towards the intriguing Sacred Rock massif. Here the mopane vegetation is short and it is safe to ride quite fast across the plain. Large herds of zebra, wildebeest and impala habit this area. The guides plot their route using individual mashatu, leadwood and apple-leaf trees as their markers.

Soon riders reach the old leadwood enclosure (used in the past as a traditional law court of a Botswana village) known as ‘The Kgotla’. This open-air enclosure forms the perfect, secure camp for the night. The camp is not far from the banks of the Motloutse River and, with high concentrations of game living along the river’s fertile floodplain, the area is home to large prides of lion and clans of hyena. The sounds of these predators at night provide enduring memories!
In the afternoon, search for the area’s resident lion on a game drive and draw the day’s adventures to a close with sundowners at the ancient “Amphitheatre” rocks. Whilst big cat sightings from horseback occasionally happen, the outfitter follows a ride away policy. The best opportunities to approach lion, cheetah, leopard and spotted hyena occur whilst on game drives where the vehicle acts as a natural hide and is largely ignored by the predators.

Back at the Kgotla, dinner is enjoyed around a large log fire. The night is spent with a ceiling of stars and Africa’s night-time melody to sing you to sleep; a veraciously rare experience which is just about as far away from city life and the modern world as anyone can imagine.

Day 4

Sandstone Cathedrals: Exploring the Motloutse

The riding this day is more relaxed and tailored to the group, since a different camp does not need to be reached by nightfall. A particularly interesting route to follow is first along the Motloutse River, stopping at well known elephant drinking holes to watch the herds come and go before winding down towards the impressive Solomon’s Wall, a tall dolomite dyke which was breached by the river in ancient times. This is the favorite haunt of troops of baboon, which are always fascinating to watch. The trail then follows the banks of the river, flanked by giant mashatu and leadwood trees, towards the mighty Limpopo. This area is renowned for its dramatic sandstone rock formations, steeped in color and home to eland, klipspringer and kudu.

Some of the oldest civilizations in southern Africa settled in this valley. Archaeological evidence in the area includes middle and late stone age tools, rock art and the legendary Mapungubwe Dynasty. Mapungubwe means “Place of the Jackal” in the Venda language and this dynasty existed around 1220 AD. The Mapungubwe topography itself is ancient and timeless and, combined with marvelous wildlife sightings, makes for an incredible riding experience.

The game drive in the afternoon takes guests to the foot of the impressive Mamagwa massif, a free standing formation which was used by British troops as a defensive position against incursions from the Transvaal Boers at the end of the 19th century. Sundowners are traditionally taken at the far western edge of the massif, with endless views over the wilderness landscape whilst watching the sun slowly slip over the horizon. The drive back to Kgotla in the dark provides more excellent opportunities to spot lion, leopard and hyena.

Day 5

River Trails: Kgotla to Tree Camp

On this day the journey turns northeast and follows a series of river trails on the way back to the center of the reserve. Life in this arid environment is always concentrated near water, and the ride promises sightings of elephant, zebra, giraffe and wildebeest. The route crosses the watershed and then winds along ancient paths adjacent to a stream flowing north towards the Majali River. At these elevated heights, the sweeping views to the north reveal the true wilderness character of Mashatu Game Reserve. Baobab trees scatter the landscape as they have for centuries, and remarkably two of these giants are found growing directly in the stream itself. This provides an excellent spot for both horses and riders to stop for a rest and a drink.

The remainder of the day’s riding is a mixture of elephant trail trekking and canters across relatively open mopane veld. The final stretch is along the Majali River itself, past rocky pools, cliff faces and ribbons of green grass. Encounters with baboon, kudu, klipspringers and crocodile are likely. Tree Camp is finally reached after 4-5 hours of riding.
That afternoon guests leave their horses to a well earned rest and will go either on a guided bush walk or, subject to availability, a game drive with Mashatu Main Camp guides. This opportunity, while provided at an extra cost, should not be missed as the near guaranteed sightings of lion and leopard, and sometimes of cheetah, are legendary. The guides are very knowledgeable about the structure and whereabouts of the various prides and individuals, and failure to find them is very rare indeed.

Day 6

Deep into the Wilderness: to Two Mashatus

With an early departure from Tree Camp, this ride offers sweeping views to the east and south, bathed in early morning light, as it traverses along the edge of a ridge near the centre of the reserve. The path then descends to a game rich area along the Majali River. The deep river pools are the favorite haunt of baboon and impala. Sooner or later the great herds of elephant come past for their daily drink, to play in the water and enjoy a dust bath. The final part of the ride is first across open plains with some fast canters, and then through cool riverine vegetation along the approaches to Two Mashatus Camp.

This is the original Tuli Trail camp and is beautifully situated nestled amongst giant mashatu and apple leaf trees close to the banks of the Limpopo River.  This area typically boasts the highest density of elephants in the reserve, who sometimes roam through the camp in a gentle yet determined way.  It is also excellent for lion and leopard as well as baboon, bushbuck and waterbuck. Guests sleep in standard safari tents with en suite facilities.  After four to five hours in the saddle, this is the perfect place to relax.  On hot days the swimming pool at Two Mashatus is particularly welcoming.

Day 7

World’s View

The day’s riding explores an area of the Northern Tuli which is hardly visited by humans. The route at first follows a stream to its source before arcing to the west on high ground and then descending to the upper reaches of the Majali River. It then follows the river all the way back to Two Mashatus. This is a relaxed ride during which guests become immersed in the wilderness. There are good opportunities to see elephant, giraffe, zebra, eland and kudu, but it is the sense of being completely away from manmade features that is so compelling on this ride. Spend your final night enjoying Two Mashatus camp.

Day 8

Farewell: Two Mashatus to stables

The final ride is back to the Stables, following the Limpopo River upstream. The route passes game rich habitat, including a hyena den and a large wetland which can be home to large flocks of waterfowl. Other notable sightings include Kori Bustard, the largest flying birds in Africa, bat eared foxes and ostrich.
Once at the Stables it time for a shower and meal on the banks of the great river, and then a short journey to the Limpopo Valley Airfield for the flight to Johannesburg in South Africa.

Itinerary Addendum

This itinerary is flexible. Changes may occur at the guide's discretion due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances.

Tour Map

Tour Dates & Pricing

The Tuli Safari runs Saturday to Saturday year round. There is also the option to run Monday-Monday on the Tuli 2 itinerary, with Night 6 at Tree Camp rather than Two Mashatus.

Pricing & Options

  • Base Price
  • $4,790High Season: April through November
  • Pricing Variation
  • $4,040Medium Season: February and March
  • $3,415Low Season: January and December
  • Transportation
  • $1,050Round trip charter flights (must arrive at OR Tambo by 9:30am on Day 1)
  • Wildlife Management Fees
  • $140Conservation levy of $70 is due on site in Botswana.
Additional Pricing Information:
Insurance Required Prices are based on the dollar/pound exchange and are subject to change. Ride price is set, guaranteed, and final at the time deposit is paid.


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Contact Megan Barrett

The Tuli Safari is an incredible adventure enabling equestrian enthusiasts to thoroughly appreciate spectacular landscape and a profusion of wildlife that is unique to the Tuli District of Botswana. Experiencing this majesty in a small group aboard willing horses under the guidance of personable and knowledgeable guides is unrivaled. The magic continues after dismount with evening game drives, spectacular sunsets savored from high vantage points, animated conversation over excellently prepared meals beside the fire, and culminating with the awe of gazing upon the majesty of the Southern Constellation before drifting off to sleep. This is a lifetime experience not to be missed.

Robert Savarese, 2013

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