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15 of the world's great horse treks

By Darley Newman, for CNN
February 3, 2014 -- Updated 0528 GMT (1328 HKT)
If there were any crocs here, they'll have scattered. If there were any crocs here, they'll have scattered.
HIDE CAPTION
1. Okavango Delta, Botswana
2. Hovsgol Province, Mongolia
3. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
4. Cappadocia, Turkey
5. Ring of Kerry, Ireland
6. Golden Circle, Iceland
7. Wadi Rum, Jordan
8. Bryce Canyon, Utah, United States
9. Tian-Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan
10. Central Pacific Coast, Costa Rica
11. Haleakala National Park, United States
12. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
13. South Queensland, Australia
14. Avenue of the Volcanoes, Ecuador
15. Doñana National Park, Spain
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 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
  • In Kyrgyzstan, riders can tour along the giant Tian-Shan and Pamir-Alai Mountains
  • For beach-lovers, Doñana's wide, sandy stretches will not disappoint

(CNN) -- What better way for a travel website to usher in the year of the horse than with a list of equine-themed destinations?

OK, it's a tenuous link, but for all those looking to huff, snort and trot their way through 2014, here are a few spots to consider.

1. 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.

Rates: Starting at £445 (US$724) per person, per night.

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

2. 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.

Rates: Horse Trek to hidden Hagiin Har Lake trip starts at US$4,195 for 12 days.

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

3. Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

Four hooves and fresh air.
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, past emerald rivers and glacial carved valleys.

At the end of the day riders can retire to a working estancia, where a hot bath and a pisco sour by a roaring fire await.

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.

Rates: Four-day estancia ride starts at US$1,550.

Blue Green Adventures, 1200 M. Bulnes, Puerto Natales, Chile; +56 61 410009

MORE: 15 amazing, unique, bizarre hotels

4. 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.

Two-hour to 13-day tours range from €40-1,530 (US$55-2,107) per person.

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

5. 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.

Rates: 1 hour for €35 (US$46) and six nights/five days for €1,450 (US$1,997) per person.

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

READ: 10 great, epic train journeys

6. Golden Circle, Iceland

Call these ponies ... if you dare.
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.

Rates: The Golden Circle eight-day tour costs €1,766 (US$2,432) per person.

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

MORE: 10 trips to soothe your soul

7. 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.

Rates: Eight days/seven nights starting at US$1,445.

Terhaal Travel and Tourism, P.O. Box 911558, Amman 11191, Jordan; +962 6 581 3061

8. 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.

Rates: Two-hour tour US$60.

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

9. 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.

Rates: From €80-95 (US$106-126) per person per day.

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

MORE: 20 trips for animal lovers

10. Central Pacific Coast, Costa Rica

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

Rates: Starting at US$120 per person for one day.

Centaura, Apdo 51-4400 San Carlos, Costa Rica; +506 2475 52 26

11. Haleakala National Park, Maui, United States

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.

Rates: Pony Express crater ride US$110 for a two-hour ride.

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

READ: Palaces, castles, chateaus: 12 regal stays

12. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Four-legged taxis.
Four-legged taxis.

With no vehicles allowed, walking or riding horses are the best way to experience the beauty of the Rocky Mountains in Canada's oldest national park.

Riders can pack into Banff, where trails through dense woods are juxtaposed with openings that reveal striking snow-capped peaks, rushing rivers and turquoise-colored, glacier-fed mountain lakes.

This trail is a good pick if mountain scenery and the chance to spot wildlife, like black bears, elk, and deer appeals.

Nights are spent in the cool mountain air in tented camps or backcountry lodges.

Rates: Two-day Backcountry Lodge Trips start CA$554 (US$554).

Warner Guiding & Outfitting, Box 2280, Banff, AB T1L 1C1, Canada; +1 403 762 4551

13. South Queensland, Australia

Australia's bush or beach? You can have both if you head along the popular Sunshine Coast through tropical rain forest trails and into the bush to round up cattle with your guide, Olympian Alex Watson, on his agile Australian Stock Horses.

You may spot wallabies, koalas, kangaroos and colorful parrots and visit historic gold rush towns on this unusual trek, suitable for beginners and advanced riders.

Rates: Overnight ride AU$350 (US$311); seven-day trips per person AU$2,800 (US$2,696).

Equathon, Beach Road, Noosa North Shore, QLD, Australia 4565; +61 (0) 7 5474 266

14. Avenue of the Volcanoes, Ecuador

Just one hour south of Quito are genuine haciendas and working organic farms available for riders on the lower slopes of Corazon Volcano in the heart of the "Avenue of the Volcanoes," a spectacular valley dividing the eastern and western ranges of the Andes Mountains.

You can learn about the lives of the chagras, pure Ecuadorian cowboys who depend on horses for their livelihood, as you ride their hardy Criollo horses through farmland, alpine terrain and cloud forests and to four of the 11 volcanoes in the area.

Rates: US$180 for one day and night; 10 days on the Volcanoes and Haciendas Ride for US$2,400.

Hacienda de Alegria, Manuel Barreto N32-147 y Coruna; +593 9980 2526

READ: Thrill seeker's bucket list -- 50 amazing experiences

15. Doñana National Park, Spain

On this beach tanning is the last thing on your mind.
On this beach tanning is the last thing on your mind.

Located on the coast of Southern Spain, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Guadalquivir River Delta, Doñana is one of the largest parks in Europe.

You can ride through thick forests of pine and rolling Mediterranean scrublands, breathing in rosemary, red lavender and thyme. Endangered species, such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the rare Iberian lynx, can be spotted, as well as myriad birds that stop to rest at this strategic location between Northern Europe and Africa.

If you want to ride your horse on the beach, Doñana's wide, sandy stretches will not disappoint.

Rates: Epona's Training and Trail Riding vacation six nights €1,370 (US$1,824).

Epona, Hacienda Los Nietos, Autovia N-IV, km 519. PO BOX 86. 41410 Carmona (Sevilla, Spain); +34 954 14 8293

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