Zimbabwe has been through some difficult times due to political unrest, but has again emerged as one of the top safari destinations in Africa. The wildlife viewing is incredible, the safari camps are small and intimate and the guides some of the best in Africa, if not the world. Zimbabwe Safari Guides train for a minimum of 7 years before they become fully qualified safari guides and so their knowledge of the African bush and safaris is second to none!
Zimbabwe is home to world renowned national parks including Hwange and Mana Pools which are legendary amongst safari goers. Hwange National Park is the most accessible national park in Zimbabwe, due to its location close to Victoria Falls. Being on the edge of the Kalahari Desert it offers mixed habitats which attract a variety of wildlife.
Mana Pools National Park is a world Heritage Site and is top of many safari goers. Situated on the lower Zambezi River (opposite the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia), Mana Pools National Park is all about the big game with large elephant bulls that are famous for standing on their hind legs to reach the pods of Acacia trees that are generally out of reach. Safari Camps are situated along the river, although heading inland can offer an amazing wildlife experience. Mana Pools National Park is an adventure playground with walking safaris and canoeing safaris highlights of the national park and your safari to Zimbabwe.
Victoria Falls is one of Africa’s main tourist attractions and forms the border with Zambia. In general the Zimbabwean side is better year round as there is always water going over the edge, even in the dry season. Victoria Falls is very easily combined with safaris to Zimbabwe, Safaris to Botswana, Safaris to Zambia and Safaris to South Africa. It is also the adventure capital of Africa with a host of adrenalin activities including bungee jumping white water rafting and canoeing.
Other areas of interest within a safari to Zimbabwe include the Matopos National Park with its unique landscapes of balancing rocks and one of few places where you can track rhinos. Matusadona National Park and Lake Kariba offer some breathtaking sunsets across the lake with petrified trees forming great silhouettes. Gonarezhou National Park in the very south offers an off-the beaten track safari amongst the Chilojo Cliffs. For some history and culture, The great Zimbabwe Ruins offer some of the most incredible rock structures in the world.
Luxury Safaris to Zimbabwe
A safari to Zimbabwe offers guests some of the best game viewing coupled with some of the best guides in Africa. From the world renowned Mana Pools on the Zambezi River to the huge herds of elephants in Hwange, a safari to Zimbabwe will not disappoint, regardless of whether you are first timer or regular, there is something for everyone in Zimbabwe. Take a look at some of our Zimbabwe Safari ideas below and then get in touch and let’s start planning your dream safari to Zimbabwe…..
Where are the best areas to go on safari in Zimbabwe?
The Best Safari Areas of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is considered one of the best safari destinations in Africa with some of the best safari guides. We love Zimbabwe because each area is completely different offering such diverse safari experiences. Combine that with the best safari guides in Africa and you have a dream safari destination.
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park is one of Zimbabwe’s top wildlife safari destinations. With its proximity to Victoria Falls, it makes an easy add-on to a visit to the falls. Renowned as the best place in Africa to see large herds of elephants, a safari Hwange will not disappoint. During the dry season months of September and October it is not uncommon to have over 1,000 elephants come and drink at 1 waterhole within 24 hours. Being on the very edge of the Kalahari Desert, Hwange has a mixed habitat which attracts a wide range of animals from the desert adapted gemsbok to water dependent animals like elephants and buffalo. Hwange is also renowned for its rarer animals like sable and roan that live in mopane woodlands.
Predators are present in good numbers with good prides of lions being the dominant big cat. Cheetahs are often seen out in the open vleis, although they are shyer. Leopards enjoy the woodlands where they can use the thicker bush to stalk their prey. Wild dogs are present in the park but cover huge distances on a daily basis and so sightings are sporadic.
What makes Hwange so special are the pumped waterholes that maintain the wildlife through the harsh dry months. A series of man-made waterholes are scattered through the park and during the dry season are where the animals congregate, making it easier to know where to look.
Our favorite safari camps in Hwange include the award winning Somalisa Camp which has one of the most active waterholes in the whole of the park. Elephants even drink the water from the swimming pool. Their sister camp, Somalisa Acacia is our top pick for families as they accept kids of all ages.
Located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, the mighty Zambezi River plunges 120 meters into the Batonka Gorge below. At the peak of waterflow, the Victoria Falls are a mile of falling water, one of the greatest sights in the world. Knowing when to visit the Victoria Falls is key when planning your safari to Zimbabwe, so the below guide should help with this.
The catchment area for the Zambezi is in the highlands of Zambia which means it takes a couple of months after the rains to see the full effect of the floods. From January through to April the falls are rising as the water from rains start to flow into the Zambezi in bigger volumes. From May through to about July the falls are at the highest and the best place to see the falls in all their glory is from the air. Get up in a helicopter over the falls to fully appreciate the sheer size and volume.
Seeing the falls from the ground is exciting as you get drenched by the spray, but the sound and power is felt as you walk along the soaked walkways and viewpoints, but don’t expect to see the falls as the spray is intense.
From August the floods subside, and the falls start to dry up with September and October the lowest months with a few trickles. The Zimbabwean side is the best at this time as the main falls are still flowing. A unique activity during these months is the opportunity to swim in the Devil’s Pools and peer over the edge of the falls, 120meters down into the gorge below.
On the Zimbabwean side there are several accommodation options ranging from hotel, B&Bs to luxury riverside safari lodges.
Downstream from Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River was dammed to create hydroelectricity for both Zimbabwe and Zambia. This created one of the world’s largest manmade dams that stretches for over 270kms and is over 50kms wide in some places. Along the shores of Lake Kariba are some of the best wildlife viewing in Zimbabwe. Wedged in between the lake and escarpment is a thin floodplain that attracts good herds of elephants and buffalo that in turn attract lions.
Lake Kariba is often seen as a destination to visit if you have the time, but this is far from the truth. Lake Kariba must be a place you include in your safari to Zimbabwe. It offers a slightly more relaxed safari experience as the animals remain on the floodplain for most of the day. The option for water activities is also an appeal.
For those looking for an exciting experience, tiger fishing is exceptional here. Regarded as one of the one fiercest freshwater fish, tiger fish put on a big fight.
Our pick of safari lodges on Lake Kariba is Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, located on a ridge with incredible views out over Lake Kariba towards Zambia. Great game viewing, some of the best guides in Zimbabwe and so much to do, you will love Bumi Hills.
Mana Pools National Park
Mana Pools National Park is one of the iconic wildlife reserves and safari destinations in Africa. Regarded as one of the wildest parks in Africa, the best way to fully appreciate the park is by getting out on foot and exploring the floodplain forests with your expert guide. Situated downstream from Lake Kariba and wedged in the Zambezi Valley, Mana Pools looks across to the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia.
The park is renowned for its impressive floodplain forests and thin undergrowth which allows for some of the best walking safaris in Africa. The wildlife here has become accustomed to seeing people on foot and so are generally more relaxed. It is not uncommon to have elephants walk within meters of guests on a walking safari. Lions and wild dogs are both approachable on foot making for some exciting safari experiences.
Canoeing along the Zambezi River is one of the other adventure activities on offer from the safari camps. Paddling around islands, through channels and getting a waterside view of the animals as they come down to drink offers a different perspective.
Due to the thick black cotton soil that makes up the floodplain, Mana Pools closes during the rainy season from December to the end of March when it is impossible to drive. From April the park starts to dry, and the animals start moving towards the floodplain where there is permanent water. Please note that in October, it is the best time for game viewing, but it can be uncomfortably hot.
Mana Pools is one of the best places in Africa to see the highly endangered wild dogs. Several packs live on the floodplain hunting impala and baboons. Because they are used to seeing people on foot, it offers a rare opportunity to track and see them whilst on a walking safari.
We love Mana Pools, and we are sure you will as well. There are several safari camps we recommend. For us, the best choice is the rustic Zambezi Expeditions, located on the river’s edge within the park. A small camp with friendly staff and some of the best safari guides in the country. Nyamatusi and Nyamatusi Mahogany offer a more luxury option on the river and located in a wilderness area bordering the park. Kanga Camp is unique in that it is located inland away from the river, but during the peak of the dry season, offers some of the most incredible game viewing right in camp.
Matopos Hills National Park
Matopos Hills National Park is a small national park just outside Bulawayo. Even though it is a small park, it certainly packs a punch with lots to see and do in the area. Visually, the Matopos are a stunning landscape of granite boulders balancing precariously on top of each other as if a breeze could blow them over. Walking this incredible landscape reveals hidden caves that are works of art. The caves of the Matopo Hills offer guests some of the best-preserved San Bushmen paintings.
Wildlife within the Matopo Hill National Park cannot compete with the larger parks like Mana Pools and Hwange, but what Matopo Hills is able to offer is some of the best rhino tracking in Africa. Having the ability to track both black and white rhino on foot is a special experience and for this a visit to Matopos is a must.
Gonarezhou National Park
Is the far south-east corner of Zimbabwe, bordering Mozambique is the Gonarezhou National Park, a huge, truly wild reserve. It is the second largest national park in Zimbabwe and due to its location has a wide range of landscapes and habitats. The park is home to good numbers of lion, cheetah, wild dog, buffalo and giraffe, but Gonarezhou is most famous for its large elephants.
Chilo Gorge is the best lodge in the Gonarezhou and offers guests an incredible experience perched above the river. They also offer the option of a mobile camp inside the park for the more adventurous.
The Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve is a 130,000 Acre private reserve near Gonarezhou. Here Pamushana is the only property offering some of the most exclusive safaris in Zimbabwe, in search of the Big 5.
Hwange National Park
Home to the best elephant viewing in Africa
Hwange National Park is located a short 45-minute flight south of Victoria Falls, making it Zimbabwe’s number one safari destination. This huge park sits on the edge of the vast Kalahari Desert taking in grasslands, woodlands and ancient riverbeds. Being on the edge of the Kalahari Desert means water is scarce, so the parks authority from back in the 1960s started pumping waterholes throughout the dry winter months to sustain the wildlife. The animals have come to rely on these waterholes and as a result the elephant numbers throughout the year are some of the highest in Africa. During the peak of the dry season, it is not uncommon to have over a thousand elephants coming down to one waterhole to drink over the course of 24 hours.
The rainy season in Hwange starts around mid-November and lasts until March. The rainy season brings with it new life in the form of baby antelope that are born after the first rains. Migrant birds fly in from Asia and Europe and are in their breeding plumage. Waterholes fill with water and the arid landscape turns a vivid green as grasses sprout. There is now an abundance of food and the animals look healthy and happy. Due to the abundance of food and surface water, the large herds of animals (elephants) spread out more and some of the bull elephants migrate to the Zambezi, Chobe and other parts of Zimbabwe. The older bulls and family herds remain in the park throughout the year. With less pressure from large herds of elephants at the waterholes, the smaller and shyer animals are bolder and more regularly seen whilst on game drives. This is a great time for photography as the skies are blue, vegetation bright green and the sky is clear of dust and smog. On top of this, the rates at the camps are at their lowest and tourist numbers are low, meaning a more private experience for guests.
From April through to May, the vegetation starts to dry up and the so do the seasonal waterholes meaning the animals start to move towards the permanent water of the park. May is the start of winter and nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing, so warm clothes are a must. Rates at the camps increase slightly as the shoulder season starts.
June is considered peak season at some camps and so rates increase to their highest. We are now in the peak of the dry season as most temporary waterholes have now dried up and the animals rely on the pumped waterholes to survive. The vegetation is starting to thin out and the later in the season you travel the more barren it starts to look. As the dry season intensifies, the herds of animals at the waterholes increase with family after family of elephants making their way down to drink. This time of year offers the best game viewing as food starts to dry up. The weak are preyed on by the large prides of lion who have learnt to hunt adolescent elephants as they come down to the waterholes to drink. During the peak of the dry season, in October, it can be quite a sad time to travel as many of the weaker animals do not make it as lack of food starves them. June, July and parts of August can get exceptionally cold at night and early mornings. Safari camps often provide hot water bottles and blankets for game drives, so it is advisable to take warm clothes if travelling at this time of the year. From September the temperatures start to rise with October being exceptionally hot and uncomfortable. As soon as the rains start the temperature drops to a much more comfortable level.
Our pick of safari camps in Hwange includes Somalisa Camp a premier camp in the heart of the national park with one of the most active waterholes in Africa. Somalisa Acacia Camp is the family friendly option, also with an extremely productive waterhole in front of the camp. Somalisa Expeditions is the adventure style camp offering some of the best guiding in Zimbabwe.
When is the best Season to go to on a safari to Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in Southern Africa and so follows the same weather patterns as South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. When deciding when to travel to Zimbabwe, you need to consider a few things that will help determine when the best time is for you.
Traditionally, the rainy season starts in mid-November and ends in March, so is not the best time if you are looking for large herds of animals or if you are looking to go to Mana Pools as it closes during the rains. Hwange is considered a year-round destination as many of the animals are resident, so lion, cheetah, wild dogs and other game remain in the park, they just tend to spread out a bit more as there is more surface water available. Birding at this time of the year is fantastic as the migrants have arrived and are in full breeding plumage. From about December/January Victoria Falls starts to increase as the flood waters from the catchment areas start to reach the falls.
The rainy season is one of the best for wildlife photographers as the colors are vivid with bright blue skies, thick green bush and large white clouds. There are plenty of baby animals around as most antelope and elephants will give birth while there is plenty of food around. The rain also washes the dust out of the air making the skies clear and bright. There are fewer tourists in the parks and so guests get a more exclusive safari experience and best of all, the rates at the safari camps and lodges are a fraction of the price.
From April, Mana Pools reopens as the dry season sets in. The bush is still thick, and the animals are still spread out as there is still a lot of surface water around and walking safaris may not be possible as the thick bush makes it dangerous. This is a great time of year to be on a safari in Zimbabwe as the bush is changing and animals are having to adapt to drying conditions. The later in April and into May you can travel the better the game viewing gets as the smaller waterholes start to dry up and the animals start moving towards the permanent rivers and pans. Rate wise, this is considered the shoulder season and the rates reflect this. Temperatures are warm during the days, but from May nighttime temperatures can drop quite dramatically and it is advised to have jackets on hand for morning and afternoon game drives.
Victoria Falls is pumping now, with some of the highest water levels crashing 120 meters in the gorge below. With so much water going over the falls at this time of the year, the spray often prevents you from getting a clear view and so it is best to get up in a helicopter and get a bird’s eye view of the falls.
From June, the smaller pans have dried up and the bush has started to thin again, making it easier to see the animals. This is the start of the peak season at many camps which is reflected in the highest nightly rates. The larger herds of elephants start congregating around the main waterholes in Hwange and in Mana Pools the animals like eland and buffalo start to make their way down onto the floodplain.
Temperatures in Hwange can drop as low as 43 Degrees at night (sometimes even lower, causing waterpipes to freeze) and so warm clothes are a must for the morning and afternoon game drives. Victoria Falls is in full flow now making it tricky to see the falls from the ground.
The later into the dry season you travel, the bigger the herds of the animals that congregate at the main waterholes, especially in Hwange where you can see over 1,000 elephants at one waterhole within 24 hours. Most of the waterholes in Mana Pools have dried up and the animals are all out on the floodplain relying on the water from the Zambezi River to sustain them through the dry season.
Day time temperatures start to rise from August, through to October when daytime temperatures can rise to well over 95 Degrees with very little wind to cool things down. This is however the best time for game viewing as there is little surface water and the animals congregate around the permanent waterholes and rivers.
Victoria Falls start to dry up from August time until the rains start again. In September, October and November, Victoria Falls can be very disappointing as there is very little water cascading into the gorge below.