Zimbabwe is a one-of-a-kind and fascinating safari site that is popular among safari “regulars.” Zimbabwe is making a resurgence as one of the finest African safari locations, offering reasonable value, uncrowded safaris, and magnificent, distant wildlife experiences. It was often ignored due to the political upheaval of the last decade.
- Vast, remote wildlife regions and national parks
- Uncrowded and unspoilt
- Very friendly people
- Great variety of destinations
- Excellent photographic opportunities
- Some of the best game viewing in Africa
- Safe to visit
- Good value-for-money
Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe’s far northwestern corner, is by far the most popular tourist destination.
Magnificent Victoria Falls
The magnificent Victoria Falls, often known as Mosi-oa-Tunya (or “the smoke that thunders”), is a majestic curtain waterfall on the Zambezi River that separates Zimbabwe from its northern neighbor, Zambia. The falls are also accessible from the Zambian side, however the view from the Zimbabwean side is often superior. Victoria Falls is known as Africa’s adventure capital and is frequently paired with safaris in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, or even South Africa. Whitewater rafting, bridge leaping, bungee jumping, flying fox, helicopter and microlight flights are among the adrenaline-pumping sports, while sunset river cruises, fishing trips, and traditional village tours are among the more mild pursuits.
Zimbabwean Safari Route
The “Milk Run” safari circuit in Zimbabwe is a triangular route that connects Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, and Bumi Hills or Lake Kariba. Because of their proximity to Victoria Falls, the western and northern parts of the country are the most well-known safari destinations, making them more accessible than some of the more remote parks, such as Gonarezhou in the country’s far south-eastern corner.
Hwange National Park
The largest and most popular park in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park is a Big 5 safari destination, known for its huge herds of elephants and buffalo which congregate at the waterholes in the dry season. At 14,600 km², it offers a variety of scenery, game (over 100 mammal species) and vegetation which ranges from the semi-desert scrub in the south to forests, granite hills and mopane woodlands to the north. Hwange is one of the easiest game reserves to get to and its safari lodges offer day and night game drives and often, walking safaris.
Gonarezhou National Park
The next biggest national park to Hwange, Gonarezhou National Park is remote and, therefore, the least developed and most untouched. It borders Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and South Africa’s Kruger National Park to make up the vast Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park wilderness area. It is a Big 5 destination but the wildlife can be skittish and shy as they’re not used to humans. However, birding is excellent. You’re likely to see large elephant herds, and the less common antelopes like nyala, roan and sable, and even some wild dogs.
Mana Pools National Park
Over the millennia, the mighty Zambezi River has carved for itself a series of valleys, islands, channels, sandbanks and ox-bow lakes. Thanks to the mineral-rich ancient volcanic soils, the vegetation is lush and plentiful, making Mana Pools a wildlife haven – and a wealth of big game is attracted to its floodplains. The area is perfect for both canoe safaris and hiking safaris. At Mana, you’re likely to encounter big cats, large herds of buffalo and elephants and resident packs of wild dogs as well as the large antelope like kudu, eland and waterbuck. The rivers are alive with crocodiles and hippos. Birding is superb, especially in the dry season when the migrant birds return.
Matobo Hills National Park
Easily accessible – a thirty-minute drive from Bulawayo, Matobo Hills offers dramatic scenery with its imposing granite boulders, seemingly thrown down at odd angles by angry giants in prehistoric times. It’s an area steeped in ancient history and folklore. Superb examples of bushmen rock art can be seen, it’s a sacred site of the proud Ndebele people and it’s where you’ll find the grave of Cecil Rhodes, carved into a high rock outlook at ‘World’s View’. You may see white rhino, leopard (supposedly Africa’s most prolific concentration of leopard) and black eagles. Unfortunately, no lions or elephants remain in this reserve.
Matusadona National Park
When the Kariba Dam was built in the late 1950s, much of the Zambezi Valley was flooded, resulting in Lake Kariba; one of the world’s largest man-made lakes. Matusadona National Park was established on its southern shores to cater for the wildlife displaced in the process. Today, there are many excellent safari lodges and houseboats on its shores, offering game drives, bush walks and boat and canoe safaris to explore its vast expanse. Matusadona is a Big 5 national park. It has the largest concentration of lions as well as white and black rhino and many of the larger antelope. The birdlife is prolific and the African fish eagle is a common resident.
Climate and when to visit
Zimbabwe has a warm, subtropical climate with hot summers and mild winters. The rainy season is in the summer, from November to April, and some lodges are closed during this time. Halfway through the rainy season, the water level of the Zambezi River starts to rise, so that its peak flow is from March to June. This affects destinations like Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba and to some extent even Mana Pools National Park. October is the hottest month of the year, and the dry season is from May to October. The peak of the dry season, from July to October, is the most popular time to be on safari and the best time to visit Zimbabwe. During this time, the days can be nice and warm but the nights can be cold. Please take a look at our detailed travel calendar showing the best time to visit Victoria Falls.
Safety in Zimbabwe
Zimbabweans are peace-loving and friendly people, and they receive visitors with warmth and enthusiasm. Even at the height of the political turmoil and economic instability (around 2008), tourist regions like Victoria Falls were safe to visit and largely unaffected by politics. By and large, the country’s tourist regions and national parks remain peaceful, safe and unaffected by the political challenges the country has faced. Tourist numbers are on the rise again, and once-struggling lodges and businesses are starting to flourish. We have no hesitation in recommending Zimbabwe as a safari destination.
Zimbabwe has endured a period of hyperinflation that has decimated its economy and local currency, the Zimbabwean dollar. So much so, that the entire country now uses the US Dollar. This has brought economic stability and the country is once again on a growth path. As a tourist, it is advisable to bring USD in cash in small denominations (many places don’t have change to offer), so make sure you have plenty of $1 and $5 bills. For higher denominations, ensure that you bring notes from 2004 and later, as some merchants are hesitant to accept older dollar bills. Most of the bigger hotels and lodges now also accept credit card payments (Visa and MasterCard).
What to see and do
Zimbabwe has many beautiful national parks and wildlife reserves and offers some of the best game viewing in Africa. Many of Africa’s legendary safari guides hail from Zimbabwe and, in general, the standard of professional guiding in Zimbabwe is higher than most other countries in Africa. Game viewing does not always have to be done by vehicle. Guided walking safaris are popular in certain areas (Mana Pools and Matusadona National Parks are some of the best destinations for walking safaris). In addition, there are many activities on offer. In an area like Victoria Falls, there is so much to see and do that you can easily spend four or five days there, especially if you enjoy a bit of adventure.