An insider’s overview, from the experts at Steppes Travel
Following the recent political changes in the country, there has been a noticeable revival in Zimbabwe. Reinvestment and positive changes are taking place, new lodges are being built and a quiet optimism prevails that Zimbabwe will return to being one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations. And with good reason.
It’s hard to sum up Zimbabwe, especially its scenery, because it changes and inspires at every turn. This beautiful country offers dramatic landscapes, warm people and wildlife that easily matches that of its neighbours. It is home to some of the most qualified guides in Africa. And it is currently great value for money.
Mana Pools National Park:
- Stretching along the southern flank of the Zambezi River, Mana Pools is one of Africa’s most renowned game-viewing areas.
- When the floodplains recede after each rainy season, the residual lakes gradually dry up, attracting many large animals in search of water.
- It is one of the few places you are likely to see elephant go up on their hind legs to reach the favoured pods of the acacia trees.
Matusadona National Park:
- Hugs the southern shores of the world’s largest manmade reservoir, Lake Kariba, with its sensational sunsets, tiger-fishing, abundant birdlife (over 240 species) and large herds of animals that drink from its waters.
- The lake can be seen either from the comfort of a luxury motor cruiser or from one of the many lodges on its shore.
- Home to what is considered to be the second largest concentration of lion in Africa, and walking safaris are a constant source of excitement.
Hwange National Park:
- Just a few hours from Victoria Falls in northeast Zimbabwe, Hwange is roughly the size of Belgium.
- This vast wilderness area of Kalahari sands, grasslands and teak forest is home to one of the highest concentrations of game in southern Africa, especially elephant.
- Wild dogs are sighted frequently.
- The unmissable Victoria Falls, “the smoke that thunders”, are most impressive after the rains — from May to June — when the curtain of water is at its most dramatic.
- The town itself is a focal point for action-packed fun, with activities including a helicopter ride, whitewater rafting, kayaking and sundowner cruises on the Zambezi River.
- Famous for its unique geological formations of balancing boulders, excellent rhino population and ancient rock art.
- Cecil Rhodes’ grave at World’s View is a popular stop from which to appreciate this extraordinary landscape, which has been a spiritual stronghold of the San people for centuries and convey an air of spirituality and timelessness.
- Excellent opportunities to track rhinos on foot.
- In the far southeast, Gonarezhou is a remote and undeveloped wilderness varying from open plains to dense bush.
- Together with neighbouring Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Limpopo National Park (Mozambique), the three make up a truly vast wilderness area the size of the Netherlands.
- Game viewing is good, birdlife is prolific and the mighty red sandstone Chilojo Cliffs dominate the landscape.
- Three major rivers wind through the semi-arid scrublands, attracting large elephant herds as well as lion, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and much more.
- The ruins of a once great trading capital, built between 1100 and 1450, and spread over two complexes.
- Surely one of Africa’s most complete and impressive ancient settlements.
- A helicopter flight over Victoria Falls, for a dramatic perspective
- Explore Mana Pools by canoe safari; the sensation of slowly gliding past colourful colonies of birds whilst watching elephants swim to reed covered islands is indescribable.
Voice of experience
Calvet Nkomo, our guide in Hwange, Zimbabwe, looks back at us, his brows furrowed as the dwindling remnants of sunlight drift across the plains of Imbiza, imbuing this almost prehistoric landscape with hues of pink and purple. “I can teach and train for years but some things…’’ Calvet pauses again, glancing over at the silhouette of a herd of elephants in the distance. “Well, some things you just know and feel. They can’t be taught. You can’t Google the bush.’’
The next day, after a lazy morning in the gathering heat, a feverishly animated Calvet bounds into camp with a big announcement. “Lions!” Without hesitation, the entire party leaps into the Land Cruiser, armed with our cameras. We had caught a glimpse of Bubesi, the new leader of Cecil’s pride, the day before and now there is a rumour he is nearby. Bubesi has taken over much of the territory once dominated by Cecil, Hwange’s most famous lion until his untimely death at the hands of a trophy hunter in 2015.
Guides are an integral part of any safari experience. Often building up a store of knowledge over decades, there are few things they don’t know about the bush. As we pass another group watching a dazzle of zebras quench their thirst around a waterhole, I can’t help feeling a little smug. I know we’re in the right vehicle, with the best guide.
Read more about Nadia Hussain’s visit to Zimbabwe here.