Lay of the Land
After years of political turmoil, Zimbabwe is back on the international travel circuit. Its economy has been on the rebound since 2009, and the employment rate is on the rise (though poverty is still rather widespread in the cities). With all members of the Big Five and the iconic Victoria Falls (nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls), Zimbabwe offers all the elements of a life-changing safari, and at a fraction of the cost of one in South Africa, Botswana or Tanzania. Here are the areas to know:
Mana Pools National Park, a sprawling thousand-acre reserve in northern Zimbabwe that has remained largely undeveloped compared to other regions of the country, is one of Africa’s most renowned wildlife-viewing destinations. The conservation area, which is located along the lower Zambezi river, is a wetland for most of the year, when the waters from the Zambezi flood over during and following the rainy season. Mana means four in Shona, a local dialect, and refers to the four permanent pools that provide year-round water to animals and ensure game is always abundant in the region. The area is known for its particularly high concentration of hippos and crocodiles.
Hwange National Park
Roughly the size of the Bahamas, the massive Hwange National Park is the largest in Zimbabwe and home to robust populations of buffalo, hyena and elephant (there are more than 100 strong herds of the latter), as well as other game. One of the largest surviving populations of wild dogs also roam the reserve, which, while not populous, is one of the last on the African continent. The area, located in the western part of the country, is home to many diverse ecosystems including desert sands, woodlands and grasslands.
Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and waterfall that lies on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, was created millions of years ago due to cracks in the weaker sandstone that fills the crevices between the basalt plateau of the upper Zambezi River. Many travelers will consider visiting the landmark, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, either at the beginning or end of a Botswana safari. Logistically it makes sense, as it’s a short hop either by plane or car from Kasane to Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe or Livingstone city in Zambia.
The Falls, known locally as the “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or the smoke that thunders, and it holds a significant place in history due to Dr. Robert Livingstone, known for his medical and cultural impact on the local area. Indagare Tip: In the driest months between October and December, the Zambian side faces mostly bare rock downstream, so the Zimbabwean side features better viewing.
The typical day on safari includes a wake up time of around 5 or 6am for a morning game drive, which lasts a few hours. Guests then return to the hotel for a late breakfast, lounge time and lunch and then an evening game drive at around 4pm. This schedule is determined by when animals are the most active (dawn and dusk).