Few safari destinations can ever hope to outshine Zimbabwe when it comes to a raw, authentic, and absolutely astonishing wildlife experience. We have visited Zimbabwe several times and know all its parks extremely well, from the incredible species and landscape diversity of Hwange National Park to Matusadona National Park on the shores of Lake Kariba – from the legendary and iconic Mana Pools National Park that caresses the mighty Zambezi to the magical confluence of the Save and Runde Rivers in Gonarezhou National Park and the stark boulders and prehistoric art of Matopos National Park… Suffice it to say that Zimbabwe does not lack for wondrous sights and sounds that make for a unique safari experience.
Zimbabwe Safaris & Tours
First inhabited by the San, or Bushmen, and then the Bantu-speaking farmers of the Iron Age, and then the Shona-speaking people from south of the Limpopo, the land now known as Zimbabwe has seen much over the years. From the start of the second millennium, the it saw the rise of several powerful kingdoms, including the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, the ruins of whose capital can still be seen today at the famed Great Zimbabwe – the largest pre-colonial stone structures in southern Africa. European contact and conflict began in the 17th century, first with the Portuguese, then with the Boers, and finally with the British. In the late 19th century, the region called Matabeleland became subject to the British South Africa Company and was renamed Southern Rhodesia, after the British-born mining magnate, Cecil Rhodes.
[showhide type=”history” more_text=”+ Read More” less_text=”– Show Less”]The indigenous people attempted several times, in the form of chimurenga (Shona for “revolutionary struggle”) wars, to resist British rule, but these were unsuccessful. European settlement therefore became the norm, and – in a critical turn of events – the government enacted laws that effectively prohibited blacks from owning farmland, leading to mass displacement of indigenous people and a system of law and custom that looked very much like apartheid South Africa. In the spirit of the post-World War II decline of colonialism, the white government of Rhodesia declared independence from the British Empire in 1970, calling itself the Republic of Rhodesia, but this declaration went unrecognized by the international community. Ten years later, the Republic of Zimbabwe officially became independent, with the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) leader Robert Mugabe as its president, and Harare (then known as Salisbury) as its capital.
Since 1980, Zimbabwe has continued to have a tumultuous time of it. The Mugabe era has seen the effects of a controversial land redistribution campaign (a response to the British land-grab of the colonial era), a decline in exports, and the world-famous hyperinflation of the Zimbabwean dollar. Meanwhile, the international community has openly disapproved of Mugabe’s record on human rights and fair elections. But today, Zimbabwe is beginning to find some stability. The Zimbabwean dollar has been abandoned in favour of the U.S. dollar, helping to steady the economy, and tourism – once a major part of the Zimbabwean economy – is picking up once again. The reality is that Zimbabwe is a beautiful country with vast areas of indescribable natural beauty and unbelievable wildlife sightings. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Zimbabwean political and economic arenas, these wild areas are not only completely safe from the traveller’s point of view, they are also must-see destinations for the nature-lover. So pack your bags and gear up for the safari of a lifetime!
A Personal Experience
Sangeeta’s Note: Despite all the bad press, in August 2012 I personally went on safari to Mana Pools National Park and Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe. What I found were plenty of friendly people (and a bush pilot who was the spitting image of Denzel Washington!), a spectacularly beautiful country, blessed with unbelievable wildlife and some of the best safari guides in the world. Never once did I feel unsafe or threatened – so much so, in fact, that two years later I went back to Zimbabwe with my husband and daughter, this time to the Lowveld, where the natural beauty is simply incomparable. It was a magical experience for us all, and I could not recommend it more highly.
Geography of Zimbabwe
The landlocked country of Zimbabwe borders South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Namibia to the west, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the north and east. The majority of the country lies on a series of plateaus, from the Highveld that runs diagonally across the country from the southwest to northeast, to the Midlands and Lowveld on either side. The
The Zambezi River forms a natural boundary with Zambia; similarly, the Limpopo River serves as the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Zimbabwe is also home to a number of stunning geographical wonders. Perhaps most famous is Victoria Falls (also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders”), one of the Seven Wonders of the World, located on the far western border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Not far, a bit further east on the Zambezi, is
Not far, a bit further east on the Zambezi, is Lake Kariba, the world’s largest manmade lake and a sight to see. Zimbabwe is also noted for its numerous rock formations: the Great Dyke, which bisects the country from north to south, is the world’s longest linear mass of mafic and ultramafic rocks; scattered across the country are balancing rock formations and kopjes; and there are many hills and cliffs of ancient, Precambrian rock.
Safari Map of Zimbabwe
Wildlife of Zimbabwe
As recently as a couple of decades ago, Zimbabwe was one of the most prized wildlife destinations on the continent, and for good reason. Unfortunately, with the country’s slide into turmoil, the bottom fell out of the tourism industry, leaving behind fantastic parks that received little to no revenue to sustain them. Poaching became rife, and the vicious cycle grew even more vicious with each passing year. It is a testament to the many wildlife enthusiasts, park rangers, profession al guides, and the people of Zimbabwe that the parks have made it relatively intact through these turbulent years. And while the political situation in the country is still uncertain, tourist numbers have recently been going up steadily year by year, and we predict that as the country becomes more stable, it will once again become a premier safari destination.
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Zimbabwe is home to a great many species, including all the members of the Big Five, an incredible variety of birdlife, and more. But there are also truly special sightings in Zimbabwe that are hard to find elsewhere. For example, the African wild dog, an oft-misunderstood animal nearing extinction, can be found in several places in Zimbabwe. Also known as the “painted dog,” this unique animal has no close relatives, although it looks like a cross between a dog, wolf, and bat-eared fox! (In India, the equally-endangered dhole is an offshoot of the same species). Several impressive conservation efforts to save this charismatic species are underway, including the Painted Dog Conservation Project, launched by Dr. Gregory Rasmussen, which runs a centre near the entrance of Hwange National Park (we highly recommend a visit there).
Equally exhilarating is the African elephant experience in Zimbabwe. While it may not have the largest elephant population in southern Africa (that honour goes to neighbouring Botswana), the interactions visitors can have with wild elephants in Zimbabwe can be highly personal. Matusadona National Park, by Lake Kariba, is well known for its long-tusked elephants who drink and feed along the shores of the lake, as well as for its anti-ivory poaching program. Meanwhile, Gonarezhou National Park on the opposite side of the country boasts an increasing population of more than 11,000 elephants in its 5,053 km² area (“Gonarezhou” literally means “Place of Many Elephants” in Shona). Together with our excellent guides across the country, you can sit in peace with these majestic animals, marvelling too at how you yourself are not only a human being, but a part of nature.
Zimbabwe is home to beautiful national parks and reserves, run by the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority, including the following:
- Chimanimani National Park
- Chizarira National Park
- Gonarezhou National Park (part of Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area)
- Hwange National Park
- Kazuma National Park
- Kazungula National Park
- Lake Kariba Recreational Park
- Mana Pools National Park
- Matobo Hills National Park
- Matusadona National Park
- Nyanga National Park
- Victoria Falls National Park
- Zambezi National Park
Buluwayo: The second-biggest city in Zimbabwe, Buluwayo is a beautiful location with a number of attractions for those interested in arts and culture, including the Amakhosi Theater, the Museum of Natural History (considered the second-largest in the southern hemisphere), and the National Art Gallery.
- Harare: This city is Zimbabwe’s capital and centre of commerce for the country, and features museums such as the National Gallery, the National Archives, and the National Botanical Garden, as well as its famous flea markets, for those who wish to learn about Zimbabwean history and culture.
- Kariba: This town lies on Kariba Dam, which in turn is the reason for Lake Kariba – the world’s largest manmade reservoir. Kariba is also just across the water from Matusadona National Park, known for its elephant and bird populations.
- Masvingo: Formerly known as Fort Victoria, Masvingo is a tourist attraction in its own right, but it is also famous for its proximity to the Great Zimbabwe – the treasured stone ruins of the old capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe – Lake Mutirikwe – known for its plethora of bird species and aquatic activities – and other exciting locations.
- Mutare: The temperate town of Mutare is Zimbabwe’s fourth-largest city and the capital of the Manicaland Province, and it is an excellent location for those wishing to explore Zimbabwean urban life, with plenty of museums and theatres, with the added ability to escape to some of the nearby camping areas and nature reserves.
- Nyanga: national park, outdoors
- Victoria Falls: The town is named after the great waterfall and serves as “base camp” for most tourists visiting the Falls on the Zimbabwe side, with all the basic amenities that for the adventurous traveller.
Popular Self-Drive Routes
Most travellers do not opt to self-drive in Zimbabwe, preferring instead to work with a travel agent to plan a route and arrange transportation. For more information on how you can plan your safari, enquire now.
The Chalo Way
Our approach to Zimbabwe is a little different from the way we are approaching other safari countries so far. Our experience has shown that the absolutely best way to enjoy a safari in Zimbabwe is to go on a privately-guided safari with a high-quality, professional guide who will stay with you for the entire duration of your safari. To that end, Chalo Africa has partnered with some of the finest guides in Zimbabwe to bring you world-class safaris. Although we can certainly send guests to specific safari camps where they can avail of the services of the excellent guides located at that camp, we recommend that you go to Zimbabwe our way – the Chalo Way.
Now, privately-guided safaris are usually very expensive and normally out of reach for the average safari-goer. But because Chalo Africa has teamed up with a few of the best Zim-based guides in the business, you, too, can experience this luxury! Our guides can craft bespoke, exclusive safaris just for you (the more expensive option), or you can enjoy their fantastic guiding in small group safaris (4-6 people is ideal) at prices that are very reasonable once they are spread out over the group. The more expensive option could include private planes, whereas for the latter option, we can use charter flights to keep costs in check.
Whichever option you choose, do it sooner rather than later. Zimbabwe is quickly becoming an ‘open secret’ in the safari world, and there is a short period now where you will be able to experience a one-of-kind safari in remote areas that are sure to become very popular in just a few years.
Climate of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has a tropical climate, with temperatures reaching up to 35°C (95°F) in the hottest parts of the Lowveld during the humid rainy season, but for much of the year the climate is actually fairly temperate. Naturally, temperatures will always be cooler at the higher altitudes of the Highveld than in the Lowveld. Rainy season is during the summer months of November to March, while dry season is during the cool winter months of April to October.
Best Time to Visit
Generally, the best time to visit Zimbabwe is from June to November. However, depending on your individual safari desires, you may wish to go at another time. Our Zimbabwe experts will be happy to help you determine when is right for you. Enquire now!
Things to Do on a Zimbabwean Safari
- Victoria Falls offers helicopter rides, bungee jumping, gorge swinging. and the Devil’s Pool for more adventurous travellers.
- Outstanding white-water rafting in the Zambezi Gorges below the Falls, as well as excellent canoeing and kayaking above them.
- Visit to the Painted Dog Conservation Project (Hwange) to save this charismatic species from extinction.
- Boating, fishing, and game viewing along Lake Kariba. You can even rent a well-equipped and fully-crewed houseboat on the lake.
- Matusadona is an excellent location for walking and game viewing by boat.
- Mana Pools walking safaris and its famous “canoe trails” on the Zambezi.
- Jungle mountain hiking, trekking, and bush camping far from civilization in Chizarira.
- Gonarezhou is an excellent bird watching and photographic destination. It also offers daytime and full moon walking trails.
- Cultural and historical visit to Great Zimbabwe.
- Open-sided vehicle game drives and night game drives.
- Guided bush walks.
- Star-gazing, fly-camping.
- Scenic plane rides and helicopter rides.
- Bird-watching, fishing, horseback riding.
- Interaction with habituated elephants.
- Rock art viewing and fossil hunting.
Health & Vaccinations
Health care services in Zimbabwe are few and not of good quality, and in the rare case of an emergency, travellers are usually evacuated to South Africa, where facilities are excellent. It is therefore imperative that you be prepared with all the necessary medications you may need during your travels. Make sure you have the latest safety tips from the establishment where you will be staying, and take common sense precautions as you would when travelling elsewhere.
As always, when travelling to any destination, please be sure you are up to date with all routine vaccinations. Commonly recommended vaccinations for travel to Africa include the following: Tetanus, Diphtheria, Polio, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Rabies, and Meningitis. Visit your doctor several weeks before your trip to ensure that you have all the vaccines and medications you need.
Malaria Recommendations for Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe as a whole lies in a moderate-risk zone for malaria, with peak season being from November to June in all areas below 1200 m and year-round risk in the Zambezi Valley. Risk in the cities of Harare and Buluwayo is slight. Therefore, it is recommended you consult your doctor to see whether you should take malaria prophylaxis before entering Zimbabwe. The course should start 24 hours before entering Zimbabwe and should be taken for 6 weeks after leaving the country.
Other prevention methods such as using mosquito repellent and sleeping under a mosquito net are also recommended.
Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements for Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe requires a valid yellow fever certificate from all foreign visitors and citizens over 1 year of age travelling from an infected area or having been in transit through infected areas (>12 hours). This rule applies to travellers from the following countries: Angola, Argentina, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Côte dʼIvoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, French Guiana, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Suriname, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, and Venezuela.
There is no risk of contracting yellow fever in Zimbabwe. If you are travelling directly from USA or India and are not transiting through a country with the risk of yellow fever, you do not need the yellow fever vaccination certificate.
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