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“Horsing Around in the Bush”
Review of Varden Safaris

Varden Safaris
Reviewed April 26, 2014

A quick 2.5 hour drive north of Harare is Kopje Tops camp, the home base for Varden Safaris in Mavuradonha. The Vardens do horseback safaris, a very different and wonderful way to be out in the Zimbabwean flora and fauna! We are Americans posted in Harare and have traveled in Zimbabwe extensively. Our Varden experience has become a favorite advenutre.

What we loved:
Mavuradonha is a wilderness area, unspoiled by farming or ranching or other human land domination. It is dotted with rock paintings, animal trails, rivers and springs. There are incredible vistas as well as thick vegetation.

It is easy to get to but feels really far away from urban nonsense. The last approximately 25 kms is on dirt road and the last 8 of those is really rough, but if you have a tough car, that’s fun.

The Varden horses are excellent – well looked after, reliable, willing, confident.

The food was excellent – healthy and yummy. Meals began around a cozy camp fire and moved to a group dining table.

The camp itself is very comfortable – they have thatched en suite chalets with real beds, flush toilets, hot water. The windows and doors are open with drop down canvas or reed shades so it feels like camping…without the hard ground.

Activities included daily horse rides and walks. For instance, one day we rode about 2.5 hours out of camp for a picnic by the Tingwa River where we enjoyed huge rocks and pretty pools of water for swimming. We also walked to two different rock painting sites and to a cave littered with pots that are hundreds of years old.

James Varden, who is a pro guide, was not with us but his Aussie wife, Janine, hosted our weekend. She knows a great deal about the area and is successfully working on getting Mavuradonha designated a World Heritage site. She’s fun and knowledgeable and excellent with animals – four AND two legged.

Be aware:
We didn’t see lots of game - wrong time of year with all the tall, tall grass and it’s not an area that tends to have heavy game numbers. NOT a big five area. But elephant move through there and there tend to be giraffe, kudu, sable, etc. There are birds o’ plenty and James Varden is a serious birder.

The camp has no electricity. However, there are solar lanterns around the camp, candles in the chalets. With the long and very active days as well as good company, great food and drink, we did NOT miss electricity at all!

The Vardens prefer guests with some riding experience. And this is not a great choice for families with young children, unless you are looking for an escape sans kids!

WE ARE ALREADY TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHEN WE CAN GO BACK! Thank you, Varden Safaris, for a memorable Zimbabwe experience!

2  Thank JulieW142014
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed February 17, 2014

Myself and my Partner were in Zimbabwe for 3 weeks in January/February 2014. The trip was mainly to visit family as my Partner is from Zimbabwe now living in the UK but we started our trip with a two day riding Safari with James and Janine at Varden Safaris. It was the perfect way to start our holiday! With our limited riding experience (we had both ridden a small amount when younger but not for a good few years!) we were worried that we wouldn’t get the full experience…we were very wrong! James and Janine are such welcoming and friendly people that our stay was made brilliant simply by them. From horse rides, walks up the mountains, camp fire socialising and experiencing the African sky at night we were able to take in all kinds of scenery that was no less then breathtaking and generally enjoyed every minute. We had two wonderful guides who accompanied us on our rides with James, Dougy and Luxon, and we were even taken to where Dougy lives on our last day which was really special for us and we were so happy to have been invited. The memories and photos we have from our Safari are fantastic and we have already raved about Varden Safaris to all our friends and family. Pension (the chef) and Alice (generally looked after us during our stay) were also brilliant people and could not do enough for us which made us so relaxed we never wanted to leave! It is a real experience being in the Mountains where you cannot use your phone and you end up just enjoying time together! The food Pension cooked for us was sensational! Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner were all equally as delicious! This is a wonderful place to visit and I cannot express how much I would recommend this to others. Thank you again to all of you at Varden Safaris who made this visit so amazing.

5  Thank Aims1989
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed February 15, 2014

Janine and James Varden are the best - know the bush, care for their horses, and can take you into a magical landscape in Zimbabwe - a really special experience. Despite the rainy season, the unpredictability of the water and electricity, they made my horse safari personal and super fun - I felt like a princess. The food was fantastic, including the wild mushrooms we gathered during the ride. The home base villa was grand, and their staff is top notch. This is a rare and special experience for anyone who truly loves to ride in the woods, and is up for an adventure.

2  Thank Diane F
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed February 9, 2014

Spent two nights at the Siya Lima farmstay - an easy 2,5 hour drive from Harare.
Our highlights included candle lit, delicious meals in the farm house, long rides through beautiful country side with Dougy our knowledgeable guide, seeing Zebra and other wildlife, swimming in natural pools under a water fall and walking the farm and learning the history of the region.
The accommodation is what I would call rustic, romantic African. There is nothing like it!
Janine and James can organise just about any kind of African holiday and I'd recommend their services to anyone travelling to the region. They also organised a full day walk for my partner and I in the Zambezi national park, with a renowned guide who leads an anti-poaching project in the area. Our holiday was filled with off-the-beaten-track and non-touristy adventures thanks to the local knowledge of the Vardens!

3  Thank satu_aa
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed August 4, 2013

Visisted Zimbabwe with a friend during the rainy season and chose Varden Safaris as our main operator. What an expreience! We did walks in Mavuradohna with Mr. James Varden (propably Africa's funniest, most knowledgeable, most interesting and generally just likeable guide - make sure you ask for his views of the chinese involvment and expect to be entertained). We walked unbeaten paths, carried our own food, tented wherever we got the opportunity and got to see plenty of wildlife, scenery and just experience the African bush at its lushest.
Would reccomend Varden Safaris to anyone interested in contributing a bit during their journey that aint afraid of some physical challenges. The food was simple (as to be expected when you have to carry it yourself), but tasty, the lodging was self-carried tents on whatever ground nature provided.
Varden Safaris really offers a true African experience!

3  Thank matiasrake
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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