For many visitors the gateway to Zimbabwe is Victoria Falls’ international airport. The town of Victoria Falls is a great place to start a Zimbabwe holiday, as not only can you see the famous waterfalls, but there are also loads of exciting adventures on offer in the town and its surrounding area – everything from horseback safaris in the nearby Zambezi National Park to thrilling white-water rafting in the Zambezi River.
An hour’s drive away from Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park is easily accessible and also suitable for self-drivers without a 4x4, and a great destination to combine with spending a few days in Victoria Falls.
To the east of Hwange and straddling the Zambian border, Lake Kariba is a popular destination for a relaxing few days onboard one of the many houseboats that ply the lake’s calm waters. There’s game viewing to do from the houseboat itself, but you can also stay at a lodge on an island or on the mainland in Matusadona National Park, where you can spot the Big Five.
If you travel to Lake Kariba it definitely makes sense to head further east and add Mana Pools National Park to your itinerary. Mana Pools may not be Zimbabwe’s most easily accessible reserve (you’ll need to have a 4x4 to explore on your own), but this unspoiled wilderness is undoubtedly one of Africa’s greatest parks and an excellent place to do walking and canoeing safaris.
Microflights over Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe’s most visited attraction and one of Africa’s most thrilling natural wonders: a wide expanse of cascading water roaring down 108-metre-high cliffs. Once you’ve seen the falls on from the mist-drenched footpaths, you can get an aerial view in a helicopter – or for the brave – from the back of a tiny microlight. Besides waterfall-related activities, there are plenty of other adventures on offer in the town next to the falls and in the surrounding area. You can get your heart pumping on a white-water rafting experience on the rapids of the Zambezi River, bungee jump off the bridge that connects Zimbabwe and Zambia, go gorge swinging and abseiling, or do a walking safari in the nearby Zambezi National Park.
Hwange National Park is one of Africa’s prime safari destinations, with abundant wildlife – more than 100 species of mammals, including massive herds of elephants, both black and white rhino, lots of lion and buffalo and rarer species such as sable and roan antelope. The dry season here is superb for wildlife watching, as both predators and prey congregate in huge concentrations around the park’s manmade waterholes.
The huge watery wilderness of Lake Kariba is a relaxing get-away-from-it-all destination where you can stay on a houseboat for a few days and explore the lake’s bird and animal life, go fishing or just simply soak up the sun on deck.
Matusadona National Park, which lies on the shores of Lake Kariba, is a wonderful Big Five reserve where you can do wildlife viewing either from boats on the lake or from lodges in the north of the park or on islands. The park is particularly good for buffalo, leopard, hyena and lion, while more than 240 species of birds, including an impressive array of water birds, will keep the birders happy.
For a wild safari adventure, there aren’t many better places on the continent than Mana Pools National Park, a haven for abundant animal life – huge elephant herds, lots of buffalo, high concentration of wild dog as well as lion, leopard and cheetah in an exceptionally beautiful riverine habitat. You can explore the park by 4x4 or experience this magical wilderness by doing a canoe safari, paddling along the Zambezi River and camping out under the stars on islands. It’s also a top destination for walking safaris, with some of the best guides in Africa.
While difficult to access and low on animal density, Chizarira National Park rewards intrepid safari travellers who come for a truly wild off-the-beaten-track experience in a breathtaking landscape of rugged gorges and ravines as well as for the chance to spot leopard.
For the best wildlife viewing in northern Zimbabwe’s parks, you should visit during the dry winter months of June to October, when vegetation is thinner and animals gather around water sources, making them very easy to spot. During this popular travel period, camps in Mana Pools get booked up far in advance, so be sure to plan your lodging several months before.
From November to April most roads in Mana Pools National Park are closed, so the best way to explore the park in these rainy months is by canoe.
Hwange National Park is the easiest reserve for accessibility and self-driving, while the other parks are a bit more challenging and require hiring a 4x4 and doing a bit of planning. Matusadona National Park is only accessible by boat, small plane or by a difficult 4x4 road, while Chizarira is the least accessible – with tracks that are challenging even for 4x4 drivers (and most roads inaccessible during the rainy summer months).