14 best places to ride and experience horses around the world

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The best way to discover the world is on its oldest form of transportation

Horse safari in Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world, is a good way to see wild life in Botswana

CNN  — 

There’s nothing quite like exploring the world on its oldest form of transportation.

From horseback safaris in Botswana’s Okavango Delta to riding through the landscapes of Cappadocia, Turkey, here are some of the best equine-themed treks across the globe.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

You may spot crocodiles as you splash through the canals while tracking zebra, giraffe, elephant, leopard and hippo through the lagoons of the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world.

If you fly in from the cool safari town of Maun, you’ll understand why horse safaris are such a good way to unobtrusively observe the wildlife here. Nights are spent at Macatoo Camp on a private game reserve.

After riding, tour agencies can provide sundowners, candlelit dinners and unique tree house or luxury tent accommodations.

African Horseback Safaris, P.O. Box 20671 Maun, Botswana; +267 686 1523

Hovsgol Province, Mongolia

On the steppes of Mongolia, life is dictated by the elements, much as it has been since the Bronze Age.

Horse-riding nomads still travel the vast grasslands, mountains and river valleys with the changing seasons, moving their homes and caring for their herds.

Lake Hovsgol, an alpine lake known as Mongolia’s “dark blue pearl,” located in Northern Mongolia, has shores that are sparsely inhabited and remain in a truly pristine state.

You can visit locals who choose to remain in this isolated region, like the Tsaatan families who herd domesticated reindeer.

Riders should be prepared for extreme terrain in far-flung locations and the rare chance to experience one of the last remaining nomadic horse cultures on the planet.

Nomadic Expeditions, 1095 Cranbury-South River Road, Suite 20A, Monroe Twp, NJ 08831, United States; +1 609 860 9008

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

Four hooves and fresh air.

The jagged peaks of the Andes Mountains contrast with the wild pampas, Chile’s soft grasslands, in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia.

Rides here go from estancia to estancia on an eco tour through ancient forests, emerald rivers and glacial carved valleys.

At the end of the day riders can retire to a working estancia.

You’ll be covering some ground on these multi-day adventures with distances varying between 20 and 40 kilometers, so you need to be experienced and in shape.

Blue Green Adventures, 1200 M. Bulnes, Puerto Natales, Chile; +56 61 2411 800

Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia’s lunar-like landscapes are an exotic place to explore on horseback.

Trails meander from village to village amid otherworldly fairy chimneys – the bizarre rock formations for which the region is famous – past Byzantine churches, centuries-old monasteries and underground cities.

You can meet Turks still living a traditional lifestyle in old villages carved out of the area’s soft rock. You can camp out under the stars or stay in family-run pensions and cool cave hotels, feasting on tasty local cuisine and strong Turkish tea.

Kirkit Voyage, Amiral Tafdil Sokak 12 Sultanahmet, 34400 Istanbul Turkey; +90 212 518 22 82

Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Most visitors tour the Ring of Kerry in a car or tour bus, but on a horse you can pass tranquil lakes, mountains and walk along dramatic beaches, steering clear of the lonely hawthorn trees that stand beside old cottages. Locals say these are a sacred meeting place for fairies.

The O’Sullivan family, well-versed in local lore, have been leading riders here since 1968. Mr. O’Sullivan often greets guests at the end of the ride with a well-deserved dram of whiskey.

Killarney Riding Stables, Ballydowney, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland; +353 64 66 31686

Golden Circle, Iceland

Call these ponies ... if you dare.

Iceland’s distinctive small horses glide through lava fields here. Their unique way of moving, called the tölt, allowed Icelanders to use these horses as their sole mode of transportation for centuries.

You can combine riding with visits to Iceland’s top sights, including the mighty Gullfoss waterfalls and hot springs. You can spend nights on local farms soaking in hot pools under the stars.

But it’s best not to refer to the horses as ponies. Though small, these strong Viking horses are said by Icelanders to be so tough they can’t possibly be called ponies.

Ishestar, Sörlaskeið 26, 220 Hafnarfjörður, Iceland; +354 555 7000

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Horse fans can conquer the panoramic landscapes of Wadi Rum – The Valley of the Moon – and learn about desert survival with nomadic Bedouin tribesmen on their strong Arabian horses.

The Bedouin are thought to have been some of the original breeders of Arabian horses. Wadi Rum’s epic landscapes featured extensively in the Oscar-winning film “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Here you can see 2,500-year-old petroglyphs, stunning sandstone formations and surprising wildlife. Combination tours take travelers to Petra and the Dead Sea.

Terhaal Travel and Tourism, P.O. Box 911558, Amman 11191, Jordan; +962 6 464 1959

Bryce Canyon, Utah, United States

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the world’s most striking places to ride horses.

The canyon is filled with a sea of pink and red hoodoos, bizarre rock spires that over time have been eroded by the elements into peculiar formations.

Called “The Legend People” by the Paiute Native Americans, who thought the hoodoos were people who had been turned to stone as a punishment for bad deeds, hoodoos have been a source of curiosity for thousands of years.

Cowboy guides recount the history and distinctive geology of this spectacular national park, as you ride among bristle cone pine trees, one of the oldest living organisms on the planet.

Spring, when there’s still snow atop the rusty red hoodoos, is a particularly beautiful time to visit.

Canyon Trail Rides, P.O. Box 128 Tropic, Utah 84776, United States; +1 435 679 8665

Tian-Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan

The native horses of Central Asia are the perfect companions for a tour along Silk Road routes next to the giant Tian-Shan and Pamir-Alai Mountains bordering China and Tadjikistan and on the shores of the world’s second-largest alpine lake.

Ishen, Gulmira and Rash, the owners and operators of Shepherd’s Way Trekking, have been guiding horse rides in the Tian-Shan range for more than 17 years and offer an authentic view of Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic, herding culture.

From their base at Barskoon village (350 kilometers east of Bishkek) you can take in eagles, ibex, mountain goats, petroglyphs and sip fermented mare’s milk, kymyz, in a yurt.

Shepherd’s Way Trekking, 720000 Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic; +996 772 51 83 15

Central Pacific Coast, Costa Rica

Beaches, rain forests, volcanoes. We're sold.

Galloping on the beach is a thrill and Costa Rica offers a great spot for it.

Beach riding can also turn rainforest adventure to see howler monkeys, colorful macaws and red-eyed tree frogs.

If you’re there at the right time you may also be able to take part in a “cabalgata,” a huge block party on horseback, and traverse local plantations. More sedate folk can ride through private farmland below the famously furious Arenal Volcano.

Smoke billows out from atop and bright red lava creates a spectacle at sunset.

Centaura, Apdo 51-4400 San Carlos, Costa Rica; +506 4001 7292

11. Haleakala National Park, Maui, U.S.

You can be inside the crater of a volcano one day and riding through a lush rain forest the next in Haleakala National Park.

The crater ride is for fit riders only, as you descend more than 600 meters from the rim to the crater floor, through rapidly changing conditions and colors as your horse’s hooves crunch on volcanic cinders.

Various vantage points along the trail reveal large cinder cones at the crater floor and dark rivers of lava flows.

To get to the remote Kipahulu section of Maui for the rain forest portion of Haleakala, visitors must first brave the Road to Hana, a winding scenic highway of more than 600 bends that runs along the stunning Northeastern coast.

Off the road in the rain forest, rocky trails climb past ferns, bamboo, mango trees and lush vegetation. Near the end of the ride are the Waimoku Falls, which at 120 meters is the tallest waterfall on Maui.

Pony Express, P.O. Box 535 Kula HI 96790; +1 808 667 2200

12. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada