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Striking Landscapes

Top 10 Most Striking Landscapes on Horseback
Over the years I have traveled the world and mostly in combination with one of our horseback riding vacations. Each trip was memorable for different reasons - some good and some just strange like my visit to the Marajo area in Brazil, but that is a story that I will write in the future some time or call me and I tell you all about it. Here I want to share with you some of the most amazing landscapes that I have encountered. It is not possible to mention all of them and I cannot really tell you why I do not list Ecuador, Peru, New Zealand or Mongolia - they all deserve a mention. I guess I just came up with a quick list that first popped into my mind - intuition is usually a good judge.
So here are the Top 10 Landscapes that I have encountered - not necessarily in that order:

1. Valle de Bravo, Mexico
I have traveled to Mexico many times and always thought that I know the country fairly well. That is until I first drove into Valley de Bravo - about 2 hours west of Mexico City. My expereince was so different that at first I thought I slept and woke up in a different country - somewhere in Austria. We were entering this lush big open valley with green meadows and large forest areas - like the Alms in Switzerland (no glaciers though). Then we slowed down and came almost to a crawls when we entered the area where the Monarch Butterfly stays for the winter. Millions - no Billions of them. Later on we would experience them again on horseback. Then on top of the hill we finally got a good look over the lake .. Lake Como, Lugano ? no it was Valle de Bravo - magnificent.

2. Okavango Delta
Covering 17,000 km sq, the Okavango is the largest inland delta in the world, a mix of labyrinth channels, palm fringed islands and fertile floodplains. Trapped in the parched sands of the Kalahari desert, it is a magnet for the wildlife who depend on the delta's life giving waters. More than 400 species of resident and migrant birds, lions, elephant, hyenas, wild dog, buffalo, hippo and crocodiles congregate with a variety of antelope and smaller animals - warthog, mongoose, genets, monkeys and bushbabies to name a few - the ultimate landscape for a horse safari adventure! The main attraction of a horse safari is the joy of riding good horses over superb country, with just about every landscape dotted with game.

3. Cappadocia, Turkey
Just try and imagine a 40 km wide, giant meringue formed between 2 and 10 millions years ago by a couple of hallucinatory volcanoes on the Anatolian plateau. Discover the natural, historical and cultural wealth of Cappadocia's unique landscape, a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. A favorite amongst most visitors to Turkey are the otherworldly fairy-chimneys in Cappodicia. Around three million years ago, an enormous volcanic eruption covered the plateau with tufa, a soft mixture of lava, mud and ash. Erosion and wind took care of the rest, creating a bizarre landscape of phallic chimneys and habitable caves. Cave dwellers (known as troglophytes) have been living here for thousands of years.

4. Copper Canyon, Mexico
What makes the Copper Canyon so special ? Think of the region as both a Wonder-of-Nature and a unique time capsule. The Copper Canyon, deep in the heart of the Sierra Madre, remains virtually unknown and unexplored by both Americans and Mexicans.!" The natural beauty of the region is obvious, but with so little information available, most visitors fail to realize that a long and fascinating human story also lies just below the surface. Starting with the early Mogollon and Basket People, through five centuries of Spanish exploration, Jesuit missions, revolutions, banditry and silver bonanzas, the Sierra Madre’s historical roots are deeply interwoven with its Native American and Mexican cultures.
The Copper Canyon is one of the earth’s richest and most diverse eco-systems, with a range of climate zones that seems custom made for explorers.
The Copper Canyon (Spanish: Barranca del Cobre) is a group of canyons consisting of 6 distinct canyons in the Sierra Tarahumara in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. The overall canyon system is larger and portions are deeper than the Grand Canyon in the neighboring United States. The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara (a part of the Sierra Madre Occidental). All six rivers merge into the Rio Fuerte and empty into the Sea of Cortez. The walls of the canyon are a copper/green color which is where the name originates. It is at the very least, seven times larger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona with which it is often compared.

5. Torres del Paine
Declared Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO in 1978, the Torres del Paine National Park, (located in the Chilean Patagonia) in internationally renowned as one of the most beautiful, unspoiled and remote places of the planet. Their attractions reside on its spectacular mountain range, lakes, flora and fauna that make of this place an ideal destination for Eco-tourism and adventure.
The trails in between the Torres del Paine famous craggy mountains are among the world's classic trekking routes. Breathtaking views together with glaciers, rivers, lakes, forests and abundant wildlife provides the trip with constantly changing sceneries and experiences. Chilean Patagonia is a magical region of long forgotten pioneering and civilization, home to the llama's cousin, the guanaco, pumas and the giant condor.

6. Desert Rides  - Chile, Northern Africa and the Middle East
Horseback riding in the Desert is an experience without comparison. It is adventurous, daunting, exciting. Sand, sand, nothing but sand and yet every mile is so different from the next. Riding in the desert gives you a feeling of freedom, a feeling of discovering yourself - because it is just you and the sand. Here are three desert rides nobody should miss:
Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama Desert of Chile is a sparsely populated virtually rainless plateau, running from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes Mountains. The landscape is so desolate it is sometimes described as "moon like". In the heart of this desert is the village of San Pedro, at an altitude of 7,000 feet and surrounded by a green oasis. Many years ago it was considered the center of a Paleolithic civilization that built impressive rock fortresses on steep mountains encircling the valley. With narrow streets and a church constructed in 1577, San Pedro is a step back into the Spanish colonial times and even earlier at the Father Le Paige Museum which chronicles man for 10,000 years.
The Magic of Sahara - Morocco
"The Earth is a peacock, and its glorious tail Morocco" is an old saying that alludes to Morocco’s exotic architecture, colorful lifestyles, and general enjoyment of life. Morocco brims over with contrast, color and mystery and all you can do is simply catch your breath in wonder. It has a timeless quality that no longer exists in the modern world, a sense that the past with all its glory and savagery still lives on, threading in and out of the present, informing with its every word and gesture. On a horse riding holiday in Morocco you are plunged into a culture, a religion and a lifestyle utterly unlike anything that you have ever experienced before; a mystery tour of a land of endless surprises, enchantment and enduring fascination.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Majestic Wadi Rum -- a vast, silent landscape of ancient riverbeds and pastel-colored stretches of sandy desert, suddenly shattered by towering sandstone mountains and sheer, shimmering cliff-faces is only one hour drive from Petra to the east. Wadi Rum is hauntingly beautiful, and always privately moving -- a marvel of God's enduring creation, against which the measure of humankind seems so small and fleeting. Its moonscape-like surface takes on subtly different hues throughout the day and night, changing with the seasons of the year. Here is an unspoilt natural beauty forged by millions of years of geological formation, erosion and evolution. It is only one hour drive to the north of Aqaba. This is also home for the semi-nomadic Bedouin living in their great goat's hair tents, tending their herds of sheep and goat, and preserving an ancient lifestyle that has been practiced in the Arabian desert for thousands of years.

7. Tuscany, Italy
Why did I take the touristy Tuscany as one of my favorite landscapes. Well first of all it really is not that touristy. Once you get away from the coast the country is sparsely populated and you can ride for miles without seeing anyone. Then it is dotted with breathtaking views, full of remnants of pre-Roman history (Etruscan) and some of most beautiful vineyards and best wines in Europe. There is virtually a fort, castles or abbey on top of every hill. Antd not that the food is part of the visual landscape, but after one of the best meals ever you sure appreciate the landscape so much more. It is without doubt one of the most romantic places on earth.

8. Dordogne/Perigord, France
Much has been said about the marvelous castles of the Loire Valley and yes, they are terrific. But if you want to experience culture, many more castles and much more history - you must explore the Dordogne/Perigord of France. Each little village is full of live surrounded by centuries of history. Rivers, forests, castels on top of the hills, the weekly markets with is fresh ingredients, fine wines and a lifestyle that comes across from the people that live here - people that were born here or people that moved here a few years ago ... it is contageous.

9. Monument Valley
Maybe there is not much more to say - everybody already knows the Monument Valley from old classic movies with John Wayne !? So you think you already know it, seen it, done it ....  Not so fast. You do not know the Monument Valley until you have explored it on horseback ! We use local native guides to lead us through this amazing land with its towering monuments and they are able to transmit a certain feeling that one cannot describe, but only feel. Riding on a horse through this every changing and aw inspiring landscape a feeling comes over you -so surreal, so intense, so deep - you do not want to miss it !

10. Uruguay
I have to be honest here -- when I first arrived to Uruguay from Buenos Aires - I was a bit disappointed. Montevideo is not as impressive as Buenos Aires is and the landscapes at first sight are a bit "boring". That is until you start to feel it and to explore it ! Uruguay has these hidden surprises that sneek up on you and soon you are in love with it.
We started driving from Montevideo to the northern border with Brazil and it all seemed to be much the same and relatively flat. So that is it I asked myself? Well, no that was not it. After the first day I started to feel the calmness of the country to come over me. I was able to see things - I would normally miss. A bird here, a goose up there, wide open meadows with water and hundreds of different species of waterfowl. Then out of the blue a large palm tree forest that nobody knows how it got there - palms are not native to Uruguay. Of course the wide open beaches for miles and miles did do their part in converting me to a lover of Uruguay. That was still not enough ! Next we encountered an immense sand dune - normally only seen in Africa and the rumor is that this is exactly where it came from thousands of years ago. Just a mile further we entered into a small community of Polonia that still lives like time stands still - no electricity, no motorized vehicles - live as it was a long time ago. After that I surely was converted and my heart belongs to Uruguay forever, but the very best was yet to come and that is the incredible horsemanship and wonderful Criollo horses. Now, I have been around the block a few times and have seen many great horse people, but the gaucos in Uruguay topped them all. Call me if you want to hear the whole story !
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