Zimbabwe is one of the most interesting safari destinations in Southern Africa.
This beautiful country is blessed with varying, and at times, otherworldly terrain and an exceptionally pleasant climate year-round. Lush mountain ranges culminating at 2600 metres form its charming eastern border with neighbour Mozambique, with coffee and tea plantations and spring-fed waterfalls along its path. In the north, the mighty Zambezi River creates a thriving riverine border with Zambia, feeding into the world-famous Victoria Falls. Home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than 3000 known rock art paintings, and nine National Parks, Zimbabwe is an ideal, relatively compact, all-encompassing destination for wildlife and cultural safaris.
Mana Pools National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mana Pools is remote and wild, magnificent and majestic. Bordered by the banks of the Zambezi in the shadows of Zambian mountains, it is named for the four (mana) natural ponds that dot its centre and attract hippos, crocodiles, elephants and lions daily. Despite being the home of lions, wild dogs, leopards and sizeable herds of elephants and buffalo, Mana Pools is the only national park in Zimbabwe where we’re allowed to walk without an armed guide. Mana Pools is magic for wild camping, with the scenery best enjoyed from riverside tented camps through which the park’s non-human residents freely wander. This is an African safari at its most natural.
Matobo National Park
Idyllically located in the spectacular Matobo Hills, the Matobo National Park is renowned for its rich human history, its remarkably diverse flora and fauna and its magnificently rugged terrain of granite hills and balancing boulders. The reserve is compact, easily accessible and home to an impressive range of African wildlife including the highly endangered black and white rhinoceros as well as Africa’s largest concentration of leopard and black eagles. Sometimes referred to as the Sistine Chapel of rock art, the Matobo area has 3000 registered rock art sites amongst which are some of the continent’s finest rock paintings. This has earned the area the UNESCO World Heritage Rock Art Site designation.
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest nature reserve and home to a profusion of wildlife. Hwange provides sanctuary for all the country’s endangered species, including a population of wild dogs thought to be among the most sizeable surviving groups on the continent and approximately 30,000 elephants, one of the largest concentrations in the world. Viewing Hwange’s 100 species of mammals and 400 species of birds is made easy by the concealed lookouts and elevated viewing platforms at the dams and water holes dotting the park’s grasslands and mopane forests. In Hwange National Park it’s not unheard of to see all the Big Five, plus cheetah, rhino and wild dog on a single day of game drives. A truly rewarding safari destination!
Once Zimbabwe’s political and religious capital, the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe is the biggest and most significant dry-stone archaeological complex in sub-Saharan Africa. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this significant complex was once home to 20,000 inhabitants and is composed of numerous ruins each of which served its own religious, royal and domestic purpose. With its name originating from the Shona for ‘great stone houses’, Great Zimbabwe is composed entirely of rectangular granite blocks stacked on top of one another without the use of mortar. The walls and towers of the city measure up to 11 metres tall and 6 metres wide in places. The climb up to the towering hill complex reveals the scale of the city and the almost incomprehensible mastery of its 11th century Bantu builders.
Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks
At 108m high and 1.7km long, Victoria Falls, “The Smoke that Thunders” is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and another of Zimbabwe’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Providing spectacular views of thundering water and hosting a dizzying array of adrenaline sports (including white water rafting, bungee jumping, gorge swings and canopy tours), Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe’s most frequented tourist attraction. But to view it simply as a tourist town is to miss the beauty and proximity of its wildlife. Unbeknownst to most, Victoria Falls city sits near wildlife, with elephants, buffalo and leopards known to frequent its residential neighbourhoods. Only a few kilometres upstream, the charming Zambezi National Park provides excellent canoeing, fishing and riverside game viewing opportunities with barely another human to be seen during game drives that reveal herds of buffalo, kudu, zebra, giraffes and elephants.
Chimanimani National Park
Bordering Mozambique, Chimanimani National Park is situated along the eastern boundary of Chimanimani District in an area of rugged mountain grandeur. With savannah valleys and rivers wedged between forests, spectacular peaks and shear sandstone rock faces, Chimanimani National Park wonderfully preserves the wild landscapes and pristine beauty of this lush mountainous area. A hiker’s paradise, the best part of a Chimanimani hike is that we can cool off in the area’s numerous natural, crocodile-free, freshwater streams and waterfalls.
Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park
With the mountains of the Zambezi escarpment rising behind it, the southern shoreline of Lake Kariba provides a uniquely picturesque scene. Its shoreline is lined with partially submerged dead trees, eerie reminders of when the area was flooded to create the Kariba Dam, and its wildlife forced to its southern shores. As a result of the flooding, the remote Matusadona National Park on the southern shores of Lake Kariba hosts an impressive concentration of elephants, lions, cheetah, black rhinos and crocodiles. Lake Kariba also provides the best boating opportunities in Zimbabwe, with spectacular sunsets and excellent game viewing possible from the deck of private houseboats, lakeside campgrounds and permanent tented camps. Boating through the forests of petrified trees with the call of lions echoing from shore is a uniquely Kariba experience.