Ride Zimbabwe - James Varden Safaris

Mana Pools

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Ride Zimbabwe is the 2017 rebrand of the well-known conservation-conscious Varden Safaris, and also incorporates James Varden Safaris.

It is a true independent company with James and Janine Varden as hands-on owners and operators.

The company offers a varied combination of world-class, privately-guided walking, canoeing and riding safaris all focused on wildlife and wilderness experiences.

Private Guided Safaris
James Varden is recognised as one of Africa’s top walking guides.  He specialises in walking safaris in the Zambezi Valley. As a fully-qualified Professional Guide, with more than 25 years of experience, James is licensed to walk in dangerous game areas in Zimbabwe, and you are sure to be in safe hands with him.  Experiencing the Mana Pools floodplain area on foot with James, truly makes for a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime, safari.  

Apart from walking and riding, James' other passions are birding and photography. The Zambezi River is a birders' paradise with over 400 species recorded and many of these stunning water birds you are able to spot from the water as you glide peacefully past on your canoe safari (see below).

Riding Safaris
Ride Zimbabwe's core business is offering multi night (up to 7), small group, world class riding safaris in Hwange National Park, and in the south-west of Zimbabwe (near the city of Bulawayo), chosen for their uniqueness and wildlife experiences.  

One of the most adventurous and exceptional ways of enjoying wildlife is on the back of a horse – becoming at one with nature.  You will be riding well-seasoned bush-savvy horses, handpicked by Janine Varden for their temperament and job suitability. The company has excellent tack and back up services. 

The riding safaris take place either out of Main Camp in Hwange National Park, or on Cawston Wildlife Ranch, a privately owned wildlife rich area of some 32,000acres.   

Horse and Hippo Safaris
Horse riders are an adventurous lot and like to be out and about rather than in the back of a game-drive vehicle.   The company's most popular safari is the Horse and Hippo. This 11 night all-inclusive safari includes horse riding, game drives, walking and canoeing in two of the most famous National Parks in Zimbabwe and indeed Africa, Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park.  The package includes a charter flight to Mana Pools and back for a last night's stay in Victoria Falls. 

Out of the Saddle Safaris
As an add-on to their Ride Zimbabwe operation, James and Janine specialise in offering very personalised tours and safaris throughout Zimbabwe, "searching for the illusive and exclusive".  They can organise your entire Zimbabwe adventure, to any destination, including Victoria Falls, Hwange, Kariba, Matusadona and Mana Pools National Parks.  They can sort all the logistics, including transfer options linking various destinations via private air charter or road transfer.


Related articles:-

Horse & Hippo Safari - an incredible 11-night adventure (News Nov 2019)

Reviews 5

David & Jennie Stauffer, USA 6 June 2018
My wife & I spent a week with the Vardens at Matopo park and the Cawston Wildlife Estate around Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. They are fantastic guides and hosts, We had a marvelous time with James as our guide on our horseback safaris, seeing the rhinos and the other game was a great time. It always amazed my wife and I how good he was at spotting the game. Evenings were relaxing sitting around the fire talking with Janine & James. The food and camping experience was just terrific, the guys took good care of us and made sure we had everything we needed. Their horses are very healthy, well maintained and well mannered. They have horses to accommodate different levels of riding skill. If you go give Engine a pat from me. Hi David and Jennie, Such a pleasure to meet you and have you in camp and on such a special occasion! Your 25th Wedding anniversary. Thanks for choosing to spend it in Zimbabwe and with us. So happy to read this review and we hope that you won't leave it another 25 years before returning to Zimbabwe! Best regards, Janine, James and the Ride Zimbabwe team.
Chris & Clarie Derby, Australia 31 July 2017
In June and July of 2017 myself and my wife had the pleasure of undertaking a bespoke safari with James Varden. It was different to any other we had done and included travels to some very remote parts of the Mavhuradhona Wilderness Area as well as first hand cultural experiences that allowed us to gain a small but important understanding of Zimbabwe's past and present rural lifestyle. The numerous different destinations and the current political situation in Zimbabwe required the trip to be lead by someone who was a professional safari guide, a skilled woodsman, a fixer, a diplomat, an ornithologist, a botanist, a geologist and a historian. James managed admirably. If you are planning a special adventure and especially if you are planning a difficult one, James should be part of that plan.
Kirsty Jenkins (Horse trainer), Scotland 30 June 2017
Some of my most special times in Zimbabwe were spent with Ride Zimbabwe. If you want to do more than just tick off the big five, if you would rather have an authentic bush experience away from the usual tourist loop, contact them. There is no better way to explore this under-appreciated country than from the back of a horse. The horses are lovely, and part of the family. Ride Zimbabwe definitely don't stick to the trails, be ready for some branch ducking! What a treat to get into the wilderness this way. James and Janine have a love for the animals, land and ecosystems of Zimbabwe that shines through to everything they do. As one of the top professional guides in the country, James happily shares his depth of knowledge. This is something not to be taken lightly. Having been on a variety of safaris around the continent I know that a guide like James can add so much to the experience by discussing the details of the landscapes, birds, vegetation, or animal behaviour you are seeing, and how each fits into the bigger picture. With all the important things covered, the little luxuries aren't missing either: sundowners and siestas, french press coffee, and delicious food even in the middle of nowhere. This is Africa as few visitors see it - go if you get the chance.
Anthea Myburgh, South Africa 31 May 2017
I did a week on trip with the Vardens and had a blast - the worst part was handing over my horse and leaving in a vehicle for the airport.... They have a super herd of horses - well loved and cared for who are willing, honest and forward. A great lodge team - everyone always had a smile on their faces. And Janine & James were fantastic hosts with so much knowledge to share. I loved every minute of my riding safari and look forward to coming back for the next adventure! Thank you - humans & steeds :-)
Molly Adams, UK 31 May 2017
I was with the Vardens for a month and had the most incredible experience learning about a beautiful country and looking after some great horses. They have a range of horses to cater for all experience, ability, size etc. They are lovely people and James is a phenomenal guide with endless bounds of knowledge about the land and its wildlife. A safari with the Vardens is an experience I would highly recommend!
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Telephone +263 24 2861766
Mobile +263 772 256434
Skype Janine.Varden
Price Top-end
Full Catering


Horse and Hippo Safari (11 nights)
A wonderful, adventurous Horse and Hippo Safari for 2020. Eleven nights combining horse-riding, canoeing on the Zambezi River and site-seeing in Hwange National Park, Mana Pools National Park and Victoria Falls. Expires: 30 November 2020

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