Amazing Riding Safari combined with one of the must see/do National Parks in Africa Mana Pools

We at Varden Safaris believe in active, getting out there touching, smelling and hearing the bush. We focus on riding – walking and canoeing safaris.
We understand that riders in particular don’t like to be confined to a noisy smelly game drive vehicle with strangers.

This 8 night safari combines 2 of Zimbabwe’s most diverse habitats and exceptional areas. Mavuradonha is a true wilderness area possibly the biggest left in Zimbabwe. By combining the ride with 3 nights in the iconic National Park Mana Pools you will certainly see large amounts wildlife. Mana Pools is famous for Canoeing the Zambezi River and Walking in the flood plain area. As well as the old gentleman elephant bulls.

Mavuradonha although very mountainous and therefore not a fast ride still provides challenging and technical riding.

James Varden one of Africa’s top professional guides will accompany you on this safari.

Undoubtedly, the Mavuradonha Mountains are one of Zimbabwe’s hidden treasures (even to locals) – a little known area of pristine bush situated only 180 km due north of Harare. This stunningly beautiful wilderness area of some 600 square kms has been, and still is, totally unpopulated since the Bushman and Monomatapa Empires. Exciting developments in recent times see Mavuradonha well on the way to achieving Monuments and Museums National Heritage Status. Due to amazing and newly found vestiges of ancient populations.

Geographically, the Mavuradonha Wilderness comprises the Mavuradonha Mountains, the Malingura Hills, the Mvukwes Range the Rwazi Plateau, and part of the Zambezi Escarpment. The Zambezi Valley is situated to the north of the Wilderness. Geologically the Wilderness is at the head of the Great Dyke Complex. This is a rugged, unique and distinct line of hills that cuts through the granite shield of Zimbabwe, 760 km north to south. The Great Dyke is possibly part of the same geographical fault line as the Great Rift Valley and is composed of ancient rock solidified from molten magma deep within the Earth.

Due to the ruggedness and remoteness of the Mavuradonha’s, there is only one real road into the Wilderness, which terminates at Kopje Tops Lodge – the only way to get around is on horse back or foot. No electricity, beeping cell phones or throbbing generators to disturb the peace, you will feel you are truly away from it all and may never want to leave..

Primarily focusing on horse riding safaris there are a multitude of safari options to take depending on your riding ability. All Riding Safaris are led by well known Zimbabwean professional licensed safari guide James Varden with over 23 years experience as a safari guide, James has an intimate knowledge of the area and great passion for sharing this wonderful part of Zimbabwe with his guests.

8 Night / 9 Day Horseback + Mana Pools Camp Zambezi Horses and Hippos

In a nutshell:

  • 1 night Kopje Tops
  • 2 nights Bat Caves (1 night out rough optional)
  • 2 nights Kopje Tops
  • 3 nights Mana Pools

Ask about additional add ons to Hwange and Victoria Falls.


On arrival into Harare you will be met and transferred by road to the Mavuradonha Mountains, a 3 hour drive. Relax in the comfort of Kopje Tops Lodge or get to know your horse with an afternoon ride before drinks and dinner.

Accommodation is in 6 chalets scattered at the base of Kopje Tops, sleeping up to 12 guests all with full en suite and hot showers.
One Honey Moon suite with claw foot bath.


Early morning tea/coffee is served in your room. Followed by a full cooked breakfast to stand you in good stead for your day in the saddle.  Our route takes us roughly in the direction that the Tingwa River flows but with tracking elephant and other game, visiting cave paintings, swimming in waterfalls and natural pools and having 600 sq kms of mountainous wilderness to explore means that we hardly ever take the same route twice. We lunch normally where we can swim and sunbathe a little, reaching Bat Caves in time to witness the evening flight of the Egyptian fruit bats whose numbers have been estimated at up to 20 000 and are the largest known colony south of the equator.

Bat Caves Camp is a more rustic yet very comfortable bush camp situated a day’s ride from Kopje Tops Lodge. After a long day in the saddle you will appreciate the hot bucket showers, comfy beds and wholesome, freshly prepared meals. Set above the Tingwa River, and very remote, all our supplies will be brought in via porter or pack-horse as there are no roads. There are long drop loos at Bat Caves.


Breakfast before setting off for a day tracking game through the tributaries of the lower Tingwa, Dateema and Mashonjeri Rivers. There is nothing like catching up with a herd of elephant you’ve been tracking for hours. No guarantees of finding them but that is part of the fun and experience of learning about the bush. Return to Bat Caves bush camp OR sleep out rough on Explorer safari.

If you want to experience what it was like for the early explorers sleeping on a mountaintop or on the sandy floor of a cave, this safari is a must for you. You will feel the wind in your face, the proximity of the bush and the calls of the wild all around. On the Explorer safari we travel deeper in the heart of the wilderness and so for one or two nights we sleep out rough carrying our own food, water (wine for dinner), washing in rivers, a spade for a loo and sleeping on the ground with a mat or grass bed and sleeping bag.

This safari starts the same as the Tingwa Valley but we carry on from Bat Caves and the riding becomes progressively harder, the elephant paths narrower and more precipitous as we climb higher into the mountains. We always end up somewhere spectacular to spend the evening: a cave, an ancient Monomatapa fortress, or perched above the world on a mountaintop to watch the moon set on one side and the sunrise on the other.

No set daily itinerary on this safari other than to say that the first and last nights will be spent back at Kopje Tops Lodge, two nights at Bat Caves or 1 night out rough deep into the Wilderness


Breakfast at about 07h30 before heading out for the return journey. You can decide on the type of terrain you want to ride and how hard or easy it should be. The professional guide will then work out the route with you. Some are mountainous with precipitous paths, some quick and relatively easy. Some are best for rock paintings, others meander along rivers lined with tall waterberries and through open vleis. There are at least ten different ways back through eight different valleys ensuring you never take the same path home. Arrive back into Kopje Tops at approx 16h30.


After a leisurely break fast at Kopje Tops Lodge you will mount your horses again for&nbsp to experience some of the local culture as well as see our community projects like Honey for Money in action.
Enroute you will get the chance to stop at African Villages and get a taste for the way the locals live – there maybe the chance to buy some vegetables from the local growers for your dinner that night. You will also pass through the Raphia Palm area. This is a declared National Park Botanical Reserve within our area and is to protect the magnificent palms Raphia farinifera. You can either join the locals for a traditional lunch in our head grooms Dougie Village or you can opt for a lunch back at Kopje Tops. In the afternoon you can go for a last faster ride in one of the flatter areas of Mavuradonha. Our last night is spent at Kopje Tops reminiscing on the weeks ride, with good food and wine.


We are up early this morning in anticipation of heading to Mana Pools to start the next leg of this exciting safari. After a quick breakfast we say farewell to the horses and staff and head off on our 2.5 road transfer to Harare in good time to meet the charter flight to Mana Pools.
It is then a short air charter flight (approx 1 hours) to Mana Pools National Park. After being collected by your guide you are driven to the first night’s camp, a distance of approx 30 km. This is a leisurely game drive through the spectacular Mana Pools floodplain.

On arrival at ‘Vundu’, your first camp, you will enjoy a lunch of cold meats, salads and freshly baked breads. Then it’s a short drive to the launch spot near the confluence of the Ruckomechi and Zambezi Rivers. Your guide will give a full safety briefing and will also run through the basic ideas of steering and controlling the Canadian style 18ft canoes. A slow paddle gives you time to get used to the canoes. You should start to see some of the multitude of animals and birds that are attracted to the water’s edge. Hippo, buffalo, elephant and crocodile as well as a variety of antelope species may be seen.

Your arrival at camp is around sunset. The camp is fully prepared and you will be able to sit back and relax with sundowners, snacks and hot showers all waiting for you. Dinner and overnight in spacious walk-in tents.


You are woken just as the dawn breaks. Hot water is placed in raised basins`outside each tent, while tea, coffee and biscuits are already waiting by the campfire.`While everyone gets their personal kit together the support staff load the canoes`with everything that will be needed for the day. Guests need only worry about a small daypack carrying the essentials such as sunblock, camera and spare film, hat and binoculars.

We try to be in the canoes and on the water in time to watch the sunrise – one of the most magical times of the day. You paddle for a further one or two hours before stopping to breakfast under a grove of acacia trees. After breakfast you will be taken on a walk into the floodplains and surrounding woodlands. This is a great time to try and catch some of the predators before they hide up for the day. You will spot a variety of animal spoors and may even find yourself engrossed in tracking down a particular species.

Returning to the canoes you head downstream to an area renowned for its huge, old elephant bulls. We try to time our trip to catch them swimming or wading out to the grass islands. Our break for lunch coincides with the heat of the day.

After you’ve refreshed yourself with a great lunch and ice cold drinks you have the choice to either take another short walk or just to relax and enjoy an afternoon siesta. The late afternoon and evening is spent drifting down to camp, arriving at sunset. Overnight at camp ‘Chessa’ in comfortable tents.


Today you continue drifting down the Zambezi and enter the ‘Wilderness Area’ of Mana Pools National Park, where there is limited access to people and vehicles. Paddle through a maze of small channels before once again joining the main Zambezi River. Lunch is on one of the shallow sandbanks in the middle of the river.

This afternoon is your last of canoeing. There may be time (depending on water levels) to explore on foot Chikwenya Island, a unique island which is host to a prolific bird population and a number of interesting mammal species. In the afternoon you will paddle into Illala camp to spend your last night on the river.


On your last day relax in camp and have a late breakfast before transferring to Mana Pools Main airstrip and your light aircraft charter to Harare or your next destination.

PACKAGE PRICE (per person sharing, based on a minimum of 2 persons travelling together): please email us

NOTE: There is a maximum luggage limit of 10kgs per person on the canoe safari and on the charter flights. Soft bags only

Prices include –

  • road transfer to/from the Mavuradonhas
  • charter flight to/from Mana Pools
  • accommodation including all meals throughout
  • all safari activities including riding, walking, birding (and canoeing – 10 day package)
  • services of a fully-licensed professional guide and experienced groom
  • all local drinks (soft & alcohol)
  • conservation fees for Mavuradonha Wilderness

Prices exclude –

  • park fees for Mana Pools (currently USD 100 per person for the 4 day canoe trip) approx National Parks fees are to be paid in cash on arrival at Mana Pools.
    Caaz civil aviation departure tax if required.
  • visas (if required),
  • health requirements,
  • travel insurance,
  • gratuities,
  • all items of a personal nature and any service not specified.



TYPE OF HORSES: Ex-Polo ponies, Arabs, Quarter horse-cross and Thoroughbreds. All sure footed, experienced and very well schooled by our talented grooms. The horses are all conditioned to seeing game. Between 14 and 16 hh in size.

WEIGHT LIMIT: Maximum weight 210 lbs if experienced riders, 180 lbs if novice.

TACK: Mostly English style leather and Wintecs, some stock/McClennon saddles.

OTHER ACTIVITIES: We welcome non-riders at Kopje Tops.

Both the Tingwa Valley and Explorer Safaris can be done on foot. We also specialise in fully guided birding safaris. With over 300 species in the area it’s a birders paradise. We can arrange walks and rides out of the wilderness into the adjacent communal lands to learn about rural African farming techniques and experience the local culture. The famous Tengenenge Sculpture community is only a 40 minute drive away from Kopje Tops home to many sculptors including several internationally famous artists. Not to mention exploring on foot the many rock cave paintings that surround Kopje Tops combined with refreshing swims in the nearby waterfalls, returning to Kopje Tops to experience the wonderful food produced by our experienced chefs – enough to keep any non-rider busy for days!

CONSERVATION: The Mavuradonha Wilderness is part of Zimbabwe’s successful CAMPFIRE project set up to ensure that the local community derive direct benefit from tourism in their area and therefore recognise the value of wildlife. We pay an annual lease fee to the rural district council and employ locally as the land we are on is State land that is set aside for the protection of wildlife and local heritage.
We have also established The Honey for Money Project which teaches local communities on our boundaries how to keep bees to generate income, therefore decreasing the need to poach wildlife or cut down trees.

Email us now!