Zimbabwe Trip Report

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa known for its rich cultural heritage, stunning natural beauty, and warm hospitality. The country boasts incredible landscapes such as the majestic Victoria Falls, Zambezi River, abundant wildlife, and ancient archaeological sites like the Great Zimbabwe ruins. Zimbabweans are known for their resilience and strong sense of community, contributing to a vibrant and diverse culture. In April, I was lucky to experience the best of Zimbabwe for myself. Although my itinerary was just eight short nights, I saw four distinct areas, plenty of wildlife – including more elephants than I can count – and was impressed by the outstanding quality of the guiding.

Victoria Falls & Mosi-oa-Tunya

My trip started in Victoria Falls, at Palm River Hotel, located on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi River. I got in just in time for an afternoon cruise on their Ra-Ikane boat. Departing in the golden hour of the late afternoon, we enjoyed canapes and drinks as we glided along, while hippos yawned and birds looked on.

The following day, I visited a few more hotels and lodges, then finally made my way to Thorntree River Lodge on the Zambian side of the river. Located upriver far enough to be away from the crowds, staying at this luxury lodge was like being on a mini safari, with motor boating, game drives, village visits, and a tour of the falls on offer. The highlight (besides the food) was the herd of elephants that made their way through camp that afternoon, blocking access to our tents as they snacked on some of the camp’s delicious trees. An evening sunset cruise followed by a hearty dinner rounded out the day…

Hwange National Park

On the morning of my departure from Thorntree, the elephants were back, blocking the road out of camp and threatening to make me late for my flight. After some careful nudging by my guide, we made it past them and continued on to the border, where I crossed over into Zimbabwe, making my way to the Victoria Falls Airport for the scenic flight to Hwange National Park. After arriving at the camp airstrip, a game drive brought us to Somalisa Expeditions Camp, a charming, tented camp in the southern part of the park. Elephants come here multiple times a day to drink from the small pool at the edge of the swimming pool, bringing the phrase “armchair safari” to life. The beauty of safari is the exploration of the unknown, the small happenstances that coalesce into being in the right place at the right time, wherein magic can occur. Stopping to spot sable at sunset… enjoying sundowners with elephants at the water hole… a lucky leopard sighting right as my guide turned on the flashlight for our night drive back to camp. The following day, we did a walk to “approach” an elephant bull (from a safe distance, of course), an exciting activity that included a lesson in ethnobotany, my favorite subject. I also loved learning more about life in the bush as my guides shared their personal stories and anecdotes.

Lake Kariba

Next, I headed to Bumi Hills Safari Lodge at Lake Kariba. Kariba is the world’s largest artificial lake and reservoir by volume and has an interesting history. The lodge sits atop a hill, offering expansive views of the massive lake, where wildlife roams the shore. After being at a fairly rustic tented camp for the previous two nights, I welcomed the additional infrastructure and wi-fi at the lodge. From Bumi, one can have a truly authentic visit to a nearby (1 hour away) village, where I learned about local life, harvested sorghum,and spoke with an African Bush Camps Foundation representative about their boma project. On the way back, we took a detour to the lake shore and did a short game drive to see the elephants, hippos, impala, various birds, and other wildlife. Later that afternoon, we took a long, relaxing ride in a motor boat to watch the sun set behind the mountains surrounding the lake. One thing I will never get enough of as long as I live are those gorgeous African sunsets! Finally, we returned to the lodge for dinner and my last overnight there before continuing my journey.

Mana Pools National Park

After breakfast, we headed back to the airstrip for the flight to Mana Pools National Park. This stunning, scenic paradise is quite remote, and lies on the Zimbabwe side of the Zambezi River (with the Lower Zambezi National Park residing in Zambia just on the other side). Situated across from the majestic hills and nestled in an idyllic river valley, Nyamatusi Camp offers views of the river, canoeing for the adventurous safari-goer, walking safaris, and game drives, with a variety of big game ~ including the elusive wild dog, and elephants who stand on their hind legs to feed. Although I did enjoy the game drives, the most exciting sightings were had on foot, and even right in camp. Because off-road driving is not allowed in the park, when we ran out of road, we hopped out of the vehicle and continued tracking lions on foot (we found them and lived to tell the tale!). While I was in my tent for siesta, an elephant bull stopped by to enjoy my plunge pool for a few moments before continuing on his way. During dinner one night, another elephant casually browsed from the trees and grasses, coming right up to the deck where we were eating, then quietly moseyed into the dark of the night. Around the same time, my guide jumped up, saying, “leopard!”, which I thought must surely be a joke. At his insistence, we all ran to the vehicle, driving a short distance to where, lo and behold, was a female leopard walking through camp. He had apparently heard an alarm call given by some nearby impala that tipped him off to the leopard’s presence. That was a dinner to remember!

We know that the quality of the guides, their knowledge, and experience can take a safari from average to exceptional. April is a quieter month for wildlife viewing in Zimbabwe, but my experience was greatly enriched by the expertise of my guides and the genuine warmth of the camp staff. Zimbabwe guides must undergo the most rigorous training anywhere in the industry, and this is exemplified in everything they do. For those looking to have an authentic safari guided by some of the best professionals on the continent, a variety of activities to choose from, diverse landscapes, and the chance to see iconic wildlife species, Zimbabwe is a wonderful option!

Click here to view an itinerary similar to mine.

Thank you to African Bush Camps for the outstanding safari!

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