If you’re looking for a safari that offers an up-close safari experience, Zimbabwe is the place for you.
A landlocked country in the heart of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe is defined by its game-rich national parks, fascinating cultural history, and some of Africa’s most beautiful and dramatic landscapes. Zimbabwe is perhaps best known for being home to Victoria Falls – the largest waterfall in the world and a playground for adventurers, with white water rafting, helicopter tours and bungee jumping. In the southwest of the country, Hwange National Park is the obvious choice for a Big Five safari, with one of highest animal diversities in world as well as one of the largest elephant populations on the planet. In the north, Mana Pools National Park is especially good for an active combination of walking and canoe safaris.
Perhaps the most important thing to mention in the context of safari holidays is that Zimbabwe has always been well known for the exceptionally high standards of its safari guiding, not least because guides have to complete one of the most difficult guide license procedures anywhere in Africa. One of of the many upsides of this is that walking safari is so much a part of every day in Zimbabwe that most camps don't even consider it to be a separate activity. Most safari camps in Zimbabwe are unfenced and have been purpose-built to allow up-close, natural animal encounters, which means your game-viewing experience starts the moment you arrive at your accommodation.
THE S&A TO DO LIST
- To really enjoy the night skies and sounds of an African night, sleep out at one of the star-beds to be found in Hwange (Linkwasha, Little Makalolo, The Hide) and Mana Pools (Ruckomechi, Kanga Camp)
- Don’t miss out on a canoe safari activity while in Mana Pools
- For an up-close encounter with big game species, take a safari walk with the guides at Camp Hwange, Hwange Bush Camp, Vundu Camp and Goliath Camp, the guides are legendary!
In a private concession in the north-west of the park where the Kalahari's flat plains start to transition into rugged hills, Camp Hwange is owned by ZimPro guide David Carson and managed by ZimPro guide Julian Brookstein and his wife, with an emphasis on being immersed in the wild and walking on to big game whilst being looked after by experienced guides. Independent and owner-run, The Hide is consistently voted one of the best tented safari camps in Zimbabwe, known for its friendly staff, exceptional wildlife experiences and spectacular views of the nearby waterhole in a wildlife-rich area, whilst Davison’s Camp has one of the best locations in Hwange in the private Linkwasha Concession and is run by the excellent guiding team at Wilderness Safaris. Somalisa Camp, owned by respected guide, Beks Ndlovu (who runs African Bush Camps) sits in a private concession on the edge of a seasonal flood plain in the heart of Hwange where elephant, kudu and sable abound. The main area includes split level decking with a separate lounge and dining area, as well as a small splash pool for guests overlooking the “Elephant Pool” and a natural waterhole where herds of game congregate to drink. In one of the most remote parts of Mana Pool, Kanga Camp is known for 'armchair' safari during high season, being located next to a very active waterhole makes it an excellent base to watch lion, leopard, hyenas and more from the comfort of the camp as the animals comes to the pan to drink. In the same park, Vundu Camp is owner-run and guided by Nick Murray who has a particular affinity with the wild dogs in the park. There are also some authentic safari options available a short distance away from Victoria Falls that allows you the best of both worlds, such as Victoria Falls River Lodge a tented camp that looks out over the banks of the Zambezi River with a view of the spray of the falls.
Affectionately called “Little Mak”, Little Makalolo Camp is probably the most comfortable safari camp inside Hwange National Park, combining the canvas construction of a classic bush camp with welcome contemporary features. The activities are varied and its guides highly professional; walking in this area is a highlight not to be missed. The six tents and main areas overlook a prolific waterhole, the log-pile hide nearby is the perfect viewing spot for herds of elephants that come to the water for a drink. The overall design of Linkwasha Camp is modern and stylish, with an open-air feel - each of the massive tents has glass sliding doors, affording panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and allowing plentiful natural light into the rooms. In Mana Pools National Park Rukomechi Camp is a permanent tented camp on the banks of the Zambezi River which offers guests the chance to sleep out under the stars in their romantic Star Bed, and drift off to sleep to the sound of hippos, lions and other wildlife. A short distance downstream, sister property Little Ruckomechi is a smaller more intimate camp with just four large tented chalets. In the south of the country in Matobo Hills National Park, owner-run Amalinda Lodge sits in a spectacular setting amongst the ancient boulders of the hills, a comfortable lodge with buildings that have been cleverly designed into the rocks – lending the impression that it has almost grown out of the landscape itself. The camp offers historical and cultural activities such as scenic walks to Cecil Rhodes' grave and Bushman rock-art trips, rhino tracking of black and (particularly) white rhino on foot, and some gentle safari activities that pleasantly contrast with and complement the more safari-focused camps in the larger national parks. But Zimbabwe’s flagship property for luxury is undoubtedly Singita Pamushana Lodge, deserving of its name ‘Place of miracles’. It sits high up on a hillside, overlooking 150,000 acres of Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in southeastern Zimbabwe, which shares its southern boundary with Gonarezhou National Park. Each of the spacious suites is spacious, decorated with Shangaan tribal colours and art, filled with all the luxury amenities you can think of and a plunge pool outside. Although it’s one of the more upmarket safari options in Zimbabwe this region is still under-utilised by overseas tourists, meaning it feels very exclusive and quite remote. Pamushana is owned by The Malilangwe Trust, and it’s notable for running some very impressive community and wildlife-support programmes in the area.
Set on the Zambezi at the site of one of Earth’s seven natural wonders, Victoria Falls town is a well-known adventure destination that has a strong claim to being the hub of Southern African safari. For the adrenaline-junkies there is white water rafting, bungee jumping, river surfing, kayaking, heart-stopping gorge swings, zip wires, helicopter rides over the Falls - alongside the more sedate Victoria Falls activities such as river cruises, elephant rides, rich local arts, crafts and cultural experiences, fishing, golf and safari adventures. Victoria Falls is comparatively built-up compared to towns around other National Parks so the accommodation can be quite touristy. Our top picks in the heart of the action would be Victoria Falls Hotel an impressive colonial edifice dating back to 1905 that sits above the gorge with wonderful tea gardens, a large swimming pool and all the other facilities one might expect of a larger property. For something more low-key and homely, Batonka Guest Lodge is a pleasant colonial bungalow situated in a residential area of town. In the north of the country, guests are brought as close as possible to incredible wildlife whilst traversing the mighty Zambezi River on the 65km Mana Canoe Trail which meanders downstream through the beautiful Mana Pools National Park. This is one of Africa's ultimate adventure experiences, filled with the excitement of hippo and elephant encounters and camping on the banks of the Zambezi. Two relatively new ‘off the beaten track’ bush camps worth mentioning in this category are Hwange Bush Camp, a new mobile tented project by the highly successful Dave Carson and his Camp Hwange team including the guru of Hwange himself, Spike Williamson, and John’s Camp in Mana Pools by Robin Pope Safaris, set alongside the Zambezi. Both camps offer Meru-style tents with bucket showers without the focus on modern luxuries and comforts - the appeal of staying is much more about the safari experience, and of being truly isolated in the African bush. For exceptional guiding, Goliath Tented Camp is owner-run and guided by Stretch Ferreira, who has a particular affinity with the older ‘standing’ elephant bulls in the Park.
Situated on the southern bank of the Zambezi River, within a 500 square kilometre private concession some 50km upstream of Victoria Falls, Matetsi River Lodge is the perfect place to unwind at the beginning or end of any safari trip to Zimbabwe. Made up of two camps, each with a separate set of public areas and nine guest rooms, each camp has comfortable lounge and dining spaces, notably featuring an interactive kitchen, leading out to decks above the river with a lovely swimming pool. Guest suites have air-conditioning, indoor and outdoor bathrooms and small private plunge pools – this is place well-suited to those who like to keep their creature comforts in the bush.
Looking to extend your trip?
A safari in Zimbabwe combines well with time in South Africa or on the beach in Mozambique or Mauritius...