It has been said that the Budapest is Hungary’s heart, but her soul is the Great Plain. Nomadic horsemen and their bighorn cattle, sheperds and their unique sheep can stil be seen today grazing in the Hungarian Puszta, grassland that literally means emptiness in Hungarian.
Hortobagy National Park was created to protect the diverse flora and fauna of the Puszta. The vast plain is the nesting site of more than 150 species of bird and over 340 species are founded here during migration. The Park was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1999.
Today, the National Park is also known for its wild herds of the rare Przewalski horses. Hortobagy National Park has the biggest population of wild Przewalski horses in the world. More than 300 Przewalski horses from different zoos and animal parks in Europe were brought to live in the Hortobagy breeding herd in 1997. After several years of successful breeding, some of the mares had been chosen for reintroduction into the wild in Mongolia.
Wild herds of Przewalski horses can be observed closely during a safari program in the Hortobagy Wild Animal Park. Visitors can book a trip with a land rover with expert guidance to the wild horses and auroxes. In the Wild Animal Park, you can see also other ancient wildlife of the Hungarian Puszta on their natural conditions. Some of these animals were driven to extinction by the spread of civilization, like Przewalski horses, wolves and jackals. The others (for example foxes, wildcats, roe deer, cranes) are still living wild in the protected areas of the Puszta.
The Mata Stud Farm, situated in Hortobagy village, has a 300-year history with the traditional Hungarian Nonius breed horses. It is one of Europe’s oldest traditional studs. In addition to the beautiful horses, here you have a chance to meet the Hungarian csikos (herdsmen) and the gulyas (cattlemen). Visitors can also take country carriage ride in the puszta where they can observe the semi-wild Nonius horse herds, the Hungarian grey cattle, the water buffalos, the Racka sheep and the Mangalitsa swine in their natural habitat.
3 Tips for Hortobagy
- Outside Budapest area, people speak rather German with the tourists than English, so practice your German travel vocabulary before leaving the capitol
- There are hardly any guide signs on the roads for the sights, and if there are, they are usually in Hungarian
- If you are traveling during the cooler or colder months, don’t be surprised if the heating is on only few hours during the night, so pack your wool socks with you!