I had a fantastic time in Africa. We saw a vast amount of wildlife, virtually everything one could hope for, except for rhinos, which we knew we would not see. We did see elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, hyenas, wildebeests, buffalo, hippos, warthogs, African wild dogs, baboons, crocodiles, jackals, nine kinds of antelope, and more! The real highlight for me personally was finding, identifying (of course with the benefit of our guides’ expertise), and photographing over one hundred bird species.
Each one was a new thrill. After returning home I uploaded all one hundred or so bird observations to “iNaturalist.org”. Every one of them was seen and commented on (i.e. my identification either confirmed or corrected). Many were picked up by various “projects” within iNaturalist, such as Birds of Botswana, Birds of Southern Africa, and Owls of the World. One photo (Hooded Vulture) was selected as Observation of the Day, and was nominated for Observation of the Month!
Our guides were fantastic in their knowledge of animal behavior, birds, trees, etc. We had KK in Botswana, and Douglas at Davison’s Camp. Douglas was my favorite. He was absolutely delightful, not only in sharing his passion for the wilderness with all its living things, but also in sharing his own personal stories of life in Zimbabwe.
I loved the trip to the village (called ngamo) in Zimbabwe. This may have been my single favorite part of the trip. It was a moving experience to see the enthusiasm and optimism among the 7th graders we met. They sang songs and danced for us. Their joy in doing so was obvious. The principle was very engaging. We met the Head Man of the village and his wife, who shared with us the structure of the village political system, the local diet, the moral code they live by, their views of their government, etc. This was extremely interesting and educational. I also loved the two boat trips, one on the Khwai River and the other on the Chobe River. These provided very nice variety among many game drives in the jeep.
The transitions from one part of the trip to another worked perfectly! In every case, there was someone at the airport or at the border to receive us and guide us along to the next phase. This was amazing.
Some of the highlights/striking things from the Botswana trip were the abundance and variety of animals. And of course our guides knew every single bird. We saw many lions, their cubs, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, wildebeests , warthogs, hyenas, wild dogs, hippos and crocs and of course too many elephants to count. One striking event happened near the Chobe River after our boat ride. A herd of of elephants just finished drinking and were lingering near by. It was early evening and a male lion was scouting them out, appearing nonchalant. Suddenly, the herd coalesced and charged the lion who ran right past our vehicle. We broke the quiet rule and burst into applause for the elephants.
The amenities/food that stood out in Camp Davidson were the care the staff took to accommodate my gluten intolerance. The meals were all excellent. In Botswana, the mobile camp staff couldn’t do enough for us. The primitive conditions hardly mattered. The safari vehicles in Camp Davidson were far superior to those used by Wilderness Dawning. We hope they will upgrade them soon.
Planning our safari with Next Adventure was fabulous. We couldn’t imagine more knowledgeable, accommodating and eager professionals. I have recommended Next Adventure to several people and will continue to do so. I don’t think there was anything Jeremy could have done differently to prepare us. There were no surprises and the whole trip went off without a hitch.
Describing to a friend what it’s like to be on safari, well, you are awakened at 5:30, breakfast at 6 and in the vehicle by 6:30. The guides take out out for game drives with a cup of tea at 10 and continue on until lunch. Each day is quite different in that you never know what you will see and the guides always seem to know where to find the animals. You think it can’t get any more exciting and then it does. Seeing these animals in the wild is really breathtaking. Usually there is an afternoon siesta then back to the vehicles for more animal encounters. The guides always seem just as excited as we are at each discovery.
Some of Lance’s wildlife photos
“We’re a gay couple that has traveled the world all on our own, from the Galapagos Islands to the Bosphorus Strait, but, given the vastness of the African continent and the remote, seasonal safari areas, we benefitted greatly from Kili’s expertise and thoroughness. We found the whole experience rewarding and truly, not one person missed a beat.” — Rick S.
This was our very first trip to Africa, and the first thing we noticed was the vastness of the continent. Even though we conceptually understood the size, and Kili had certainly prepped us, we truly had no idea how big Africa was. I mean, as we were flying over Morocco, we still had 9 more hours before landing in Cape Town. We just didn’t really get it.
What was impressive was that immediately upon landing, we were in a jeep and transferring to the lodge while incredible wildlife was running all around us. We were instantly ‘in the experience,’ and we were giddy like two kids on Christmas Eve. There are so many stories from our trip that it’s impossible to identify a single favorite story. It’s interesting – we used to say that about the countries we’d traveled to (that we couldn’t identify a favorite), but now we say that about Africa…that there really isn’t one story that stands out. The entire trip stands out.
I still vividly remember the first night, falling asleep while listening to lion roars and hippo grunts. One day we woke up from our siesta to an elephant staring into our tent…maybe 15 feet away. We had another, similar experience where we woke up, and we heard rhythmic crunching. It turned out there was a hippo eating in the daytime, which was rare, right outside our tent. He was essentially mowing the grasses.
We watched a cheetah eating an Impala – it sounds gruesome, but it wasn’t. They kill quickly and methodically. We were so close that we could hear the crunching of the bones. We watched the Cheetah lick the blood off its face. We were that close! It really sounds gruesome, but it honestly isn’t. It’s also odd because we cheered for the predators. It isn’t like the TV programs you see where you hope the prey gets away. You simply understand the order, and see that there are millions of Impalas, and only a handful of lions. They have to eat, and they work incredibly hard for a meal.
Deepening Our Ecological Awareness
The other impression, too, is what a closed ecosystem it is. Every animal has a little niche to play. It’s why you can get behind the predators. We thought there would be smells and bones everywhere, but there isn’t. It was an ecological lesson; it really was. We try to do our bit in terms of reducing, reusing and recycling and our footprint – but this really helped us realize what a puzzle of a world we live in, and how each thing plays its part. You just kind of see how it all works. It was a very sensory experience – very visual. There were smells, but they weren’t bad. The kills didn’t last long, so there was no rotting meat. There is a sort of pecking order of everything and it all just goes away.
The main predators kill, say, an Impala, and eat the main parts of the animal. Then, the Jackals and Hyenas take what they need, and then the vultures come…and nothing is left. I mean absolutely nothing. We did find some hippo skulls, which was fascinating…with the jaw…because we got a real sense of just how powerful they are. But, that was about it.
The guides were fantastic – every day was like one long school day in the best possible way. We watched a pack of wild dogs hunt, and try to spook a herd of Cape buffalo. There is a strategy to the hunt. The dogs were on the track, and we were following. Their strategy was that they worked as a group, and they tried to spook the group so they’d run, and in the panic, the dogs could single out their prey.
At one point, we also found some lionesses that had climbed into trees, which is rare. There were only a couple prides where this was happening. Our guide said that it was only the second generation of lionesses that were doing that – climbing into the trees. One was calling to her cubs, but they couldn’t find her because it didn’t occur to them to look up. It felt like we were watching an ecological shift in real time.
Emerging with a Thirst for More
In our planning phase, we gave Kili our wish list of animals to see – which didn’t include birds (we aren’t birders), so she designed our trip around our wish list. And unbelievably, we saw them all.
The food was excellent. We didn’t really have expectations. We did a lot of research once we decided on places, but we weren’t there for the food, if that makes sense. The camps were really luxe. We were really pleased with that. I mean one of the places was off the charts; just the presentation of their food alone was impressive. This was a surprise because it’s so remote. They don’t have access to a lot of stuff, food and otherwise, and they don’t even have a cell signal, so they have to fly everything in. We were confused as to how would they begin to understand the levels of luxury that they did. It really was excellent.
We are very well traveled – we started out hesitant to take a trip that was all planned, and we don’t do group tours. We’re a gay couple that has traveled the world all on our own, from the Galapagos Islands to the Bosphorus Strait, but, given the vastness of the African continent and the remote, seasonal safari areas, we benefitted greatly from Kili’s expertise and thoroughness. We found the whole experience rewarding and truly, not one person missed a beat. Kili had designed the itinerary for us to see a wide variety of species and surroundings. We usually saw elephants, but each time, it felt different. We never got bored. We were always a little sad to leave, but eager to see the next place. Kili had the camps build upon each other – the first one was nice, but unbeknownst to us, it was the least special. She was very thoughtful.
We are definitely going to go back to Africa, but we are going to go to different countries. We’ll go back and to Kenya and Tanzania, and we might go to Namibia, and certainly Rwanda. Some places you travel to see the terrain, and others you go to see the buildings and the history. I see now that traveling to see history and architecture means having a more static experience. When we go back to Africa, it will probably be completely different. It’s dynamic; always changing. You can never go and have the same experience twice.
In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was booming. It was a sought-after destination, and Next Adventure was one of the few photographic safari experts to specialize in travel to Zimbabwe.
Over the past couple of decades, Zimbabwe tourism has struggled, but there is optimism in the air. Three of the most influential safari operators are opening new camps in the Zambezi valley. Vic Falls town is humming again with lots of new lodges and development, and more travelers are opting for a full Zimbabwe Safari Circuit.
Zimbabwe is a country of remarkable diversity with a variety of excellent wildlife viewing regions. There’s boating and walking safaris, archeological touring, ground-breaking conservation work, one of the seven woders of the world and some of the best naturalist guides on the continent.
We’re excited to be working on a wonderful itinerary for a family of four that includes Zimbabwe’s iconic destinations as well as stops in the lesser known areas in the south.
We love how this itinerary unfolds. We start off with the stunning beauty and adventure of the Zambezi Valley and the predator rich pans of Hwange National Park, then there’s a mid-point stop to explore Vic Falls before continuing to the granite wilderness of Matopos and a fascinating World Heritage site, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.
The circuit ends in the Gonarezhou area which ties together all the themes that make for a great safari: community-based conservation, cultural experiences, and a wide range of activities in a truly breathtaking wilderness setting.
1 night in Johannesburg on arrival at The Intercontinental
3 nights in Mana Pools at Zambezi Expeditions or Little Ruckomechi Camp
3 nights in Hwange National Park at Somalisa Camp or Davison’s Camp
2 nights in Victoria Falls at Victoria Falls Hotel or Old Drift Lodge
3 nights in Matopos at Amalinda Lodge
1 nights in Masvingo to tour the Great Zimbabwe Monutment
3 nights in Gonarezhou National Park at Chilo Gorge or Singita Pamushana
Here’s a google map to see how their trip is coming together:
When I was a kid I read things about Daniel Boone and the Native American explorers and scouts. They had lore like “they could tell from a broken twig that an animal had passed this way…” I didn’t make much of it at the time. It was an abstract idea, filtered through the experience of a city kid, but what we experienced in Africa was amazing. — Alan S., Berkeley, CA
When travelers return home from an African wildlife safari, they often describe the experience as being “beyond words.” Luckily, our recent clients Jane & Alan found the words to describe what it was like to be out on a game drives while visiting Khwai Tented Camp & Linyanti Bush Camp. Enjoy their photos below along with their excellent description of a classic african game drive!
First, the guides knew their miles-wide terrain as well as I know my back yard. There aren’t very many roads – what passes for roads are basically dirt or sand paths, with non-stop bone-jarring ups and downs. Anything else looked like a track that had been run over by a jeep (more likely, a Land Cruiser) a few times – top speed 20 MPH, with curves and ruts all over the place. We also learned what “all-terrain vehicle” meant – deep sand, thigh-high water, marsh (in search of buffalo), etc. (The cars were modified so that their air intake valves were at shoulder height, allowing the vehicle to go through deep water without compromising engine intake.)
Just stunning…there is a constant parade of animals coming down the hill and you can see the vastness of the flat, open landscape. — Courtney, SF
Honeymooners Christian and Courtney wanted a special kind of adventure, a honeymoon safari, to celebrate their wedding. They connected on their own with a non-profit organization to volunteer in a rural area of Zimbabwe, and Next Adventure linked a custom safari with our partners at African Bush Camps including a visit to spectacular Victoria Falls. They raved about the seamless operations, the quality of the camps and guiding, and the perfect order of diverse experiences in the safari designed by Kili.
After a week of volunteer work and rugged accommodations, the happy couple flew out to Mana Pools National Park to start their honeymoon safari at Zambezi Expeditions on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. Upon landing in Mana Pools, they were greeted by a herd of ostrich and Lovejoy, their guide. Lovejoy, like all the guides and staff Christian & Courtney encountered, was excited to show off his country and was friendly, knowledgable, attentive, and far exceeded any expectations of hospitality. Lovejoy even went out during the midday siesta to search for a pack of wild dogs that Christian & Courtney hadn’t yet spotted. Of course, he found the pack of wild dog and brought all of the guests out to see them. From canoeing and walking safaris to driving in the park, each day was full of wildlife sightings at a nice pace.
As you might have guessed, the Next Adventure team fully supports taking the whole family on safari! As family safaris have grown in popularity, the options for quality family experiences have also grown. Some of the best camps and lodges now provide dedicated family spaces and phenomenal creative resources ensuring a safari with children or grandchildren is a pleasure for all.
The beauty of these family-friendly camps is that guests can spend quality time with the kids as well as finding time to pursue their own interests or just relax while in camp. Here are a few of Next Adventure’s favorite places to spend time in the bush with kids of all ages!
Jeremy’s Pick for Family Safaris: Imvelo’s Elephant Express
The combination of iconic Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls typically makes for a family trip of a lifetime! With Imvelo Safari Lodges, you get a tremendous value, comfortable accommodations and outstanding wildlife experiences in Hwange. Children ages 7 and up are welcome at all properties, and they will marvel at the wildlife and cultural programs which are integral to the Imvelo safari experience. Best of all, every family member will love the Elephant Express train transfer, a vintage open-air railcar that rides along the edge of Hwange National Park for truly unique wildlife viewing with a nostalgic twist!
Imvelo – Kids on Safari
Kili’s Pick for Family Safaris: Lamai Serengeti Lodge
One of my favorite options for families is the Lamai Serengeti Lodge, which sits tucked amongst the rocks of a kopje in the Northern Serengeti with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. It’s just a few miles from where the wildebeest cross the Mara River, and, for roughly a quarter of the year, between late July and October, this is where you’ll find the iconic seasonal migration. One of the advantages of this lodge is a range of options for families of different sizes, including the Main Lodge (8 tents, children 8 & up), the Private Camp (4 tents, children 5 & up) and the exclusive use Mkombe’s House (up to 4 adults, 6 children of any age). Private vehicles are available at main & Private camp at an additional cost while a private vehicle is included in Mkombe’s House. Walking is possible for children 12 and older. This is an ideal location to include on your family’s Tanzania safari!
Lamai Serengeti Lodge
Louise’s Pick for Family Safaris: Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge & EleFun Centre
Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge was one of my granddaughter’s first safari experiences when she was just 18 months old. To say that this luxury lodge is a perfect choice for kids of all ages is an understatement. The wildlife viewing in the renowned Sabi Sands is unparalleled, and the lodge excels at making families and kids feel right at home. Two newly opened luxury villas add to the ambiance and are exquisite, spacious, and perfect for a family stay. The rest of the 25 suites are equally charming and can accommodate families as well. The EleFun Centre is staffed by a professional childcare team and organizes age appropriate activities in the Junior Tracker (ages 4-8) and Junior Ranger (ages 9-12) programs. There is a play area and organized games for kids of all ages available all day long in addition to the formal programs.
Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge
Nicole’s Pick for Family Safaris: Lewa Wilderness
In the heart of Central Kenya’s Laikipia region, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is one of the most successful private conservation efforts. This rugged home to the Big 5 and many endangered and rare species has been part of the Craig Family legacy since 1972. Lewa Wilderness features 10 suites, four of which are specifically designed for family safaris, and children of all ages are welcome, little ones under age 5 stay for free. Lewa Wilderness is the hub of all activities on the conservancy, offering East Africa’s only open cockpit biplane and a stable yard of horses suited to all levels of experience. Guests can also camel ride among the wildlife, enjoy flexible game drives, take guided bush walks, visit the local community enhancement projects, and much more.
Whether you’re looking for adventure, education, relaxation or (D.) All of the above, there are so many wonderful family safari options! Get in touch today to start planning your perfect family safari.
So much of what we do here at Next Adventure is getting to know each client and pairing them with just the right selection of destinations and experiences. The Johnson Family, a group of 7 travelers, was looking for something unique and adventurous, an active safari for the whole family. After considering a lot of options, we crafted a customized tour of Zimbabwe that featured extensive time in Hwange National Park including a 3-day walking safari with specialist guides and platform sleepouts and 2 nights at the luxurious Linkwasha Camp followed by 3 nights on the Zambezi at the spectacular Ruckomechi Camp near Mana Pools.
In May, I had an opportunity to travel with African Bush Camps to experience their intimate safari camps in Botswana and Zimbabwe, and I also had a chance to visit a few other camps and lodges nearby. It was a great experience and a wonderful introduction to a safari company that is leading the industry in environmental design and sustainable community-supported conservation.
Explore a full interactive map of my itinerary below, and get in touch to learn more about safari options in Southern Africa.
Linyanti Bush Camp – Chobe – Botswana
My first stop was Linyanti Bush Camp on the Linyanti channel just outside of Chobe National Park. As we approached the camp after a game drive from the airstrip, we spotted our first cat, an adult female leopard coming out for the evening’s hunt. The camp is simple, classy and comfortable with a nice dining tent and a sitting area looking out over the marshes. The lack of water in the channel was the talk of the camp as the rains were late. News of the coming floods was traveling faster than the water itself. The staff was genuinely warm, they were wonderful storytellers, and they seemed to make an immediate connection with each guest.
In the evening, we had one of the most beautiful sundowner experiences I can remember on the edge of a perfectly still pond mirroring a huge sunset. A family of curious elephants cautiously approached for a drink while we clinked our glasses and snapped hundreds of photos.
Khwai Tented Camp – Moremi – Botswana
We were welcomed to Khwai Tented Camp with traditional songs and a personal introduction by the whole team. The camp sits on a seasonal lagoon, the main area is comfy and rustic, and the staff really makes you feel at home. The guest tents can feel a little close together, but they are classic and well-appointed with bucket showers and a nice, spacious deck overlooking the lagoon.
The camp is on a community-run concession on the eastern border of the Moremi Game Reserve where we had a good sighting of an adolescent leopard posing and changing positions and soaking up the last of the day’s sunshine. After a fun sundowner with lots of elephants and hippo interactions, the night drive back to camp was very busy. We had a serval sighting, and we watched a baby hyena climbing all over it’s mother. With lots of time for photographs, and our guide was very good helping us with nighttime photo settings. Our group arrived just outside of camp for a lively bush dinner with singing and dancing amongst hundreds of lanterns and millions of stars.
The Khwai village visit was particularly meaningful. We met with an elderly San woman who talked about the relationship between her culture, the government of Botswana, the national park service and the wild game that regularly pass through the village of 200 people.
Victoria Falls Hotel – Vic Falls – Zimbabwe
Stately, classic and a little aged around the edges is part of the charm of The Victoria Falls Hotel. The beautiful grounds are meticulously trimmed by resident warthogs, and mongoose families scurry about. A grand patio overlooks the Gorge with a huge column of mist rising over the falls.
The hotel is in a constant process of updates and reconfigurations to stay current. Some rooms have newer bigger bathrooms that are completely modern and chic, while other rooms are being combined to make for very large and luxurious suites. The common areas can feel a bit formal, and the dining room seems unchanged from the historic photos that line the halls.
The best aspect of the Vic Falls Hotel is its on-going commitment to providing a comprehensive array of services to hotel guests and visitors. The full-service salon and barbershop make for a nice stop in the middle of a long safari, and the famous high tea on the veranda is a great way to pause and relax in style during a busy day of activities.
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge – Vic Falls – Zimbabwe
The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has a wide range of accommodations from the newer, more exclusive Club, to the private stand-alone Suites to the Main Lodge. The Bar at the Main Lodge is busy and fun with a great view over a frequently visited waterhole below. The rooms have wonderful views with new bathrooms and all the amenities, and I found the staff to be particularly friendly and helpful. While the lodge is a little outside of town, the famous Boma restaurant is very close by. With nightly drummers, singing, dancing, fortune-tellers, The Boma serves an amazing buffet of traditional Zimbabwean dishes, a huge variety of grilled game meats and the must-try mopane worms (salty and crunchy). Sure, the dining experience is a little touristy, but it’s also great fun. There’s more than enough really good food, and you can’t help but enjoy the energy of the show.
Ilala Lodge – Vic Falls – Zimbabwe
Ilala Lodge is another nice option right in town and one of the closest lodges to the Falls. The main dining and bar area is huge, opening up to a wide veranda with beautiful grounds right under the spray. It feels classy and relaxed, and the in-house restaurant, The Palm, is one of the best in town. The lodge is just around the corner from ATMs and shopping at the nearby Elephant Walk, famous for its persistent souvenir-selling entrepreneurs.
Gorges Lodge – Vic Falls – Zimbabwe
Imvelo’s Gorges Lodge has what no other lodge can offer: an absolutely breathtaking setting right on the edge of the sheer cliffs of the Batoka Gorge with an almost-nightly fly-by of black eagles and lanner falcons. Gorges is located a few miles outside of Vic Falls, and it’s nice to get out of the touristy center of town. The lodge is charming with a cozy little bar and open-air dining room. The staff is hired directly from the nearby village: warm, friendly and homespun. The chalets are comfy with recently refurbished bathrooms and showers and sliding glass doors that open up right over the gorge. Little Gorges is a small tented camp next door, and the brand new tents are really well-designed to take full advantage of the awesome cliffside views.
Activities in Vic Falls
Vic Falls has become a destination for a wide variety of wildlife and adrenaline activities. Within an hour of crossing the border, I was leaping off the Vic Falls Bridge for an exhilarating Gorge Swing. I found it to be much more pleasant than the traditional bunjee jump which leaves you yo-yoing upside down for a few minutes after the jump. The gorge swing attaches at the torso which means that after the jump, while they reel you in, you can comfortably look around at the mossy, rain-forested walls of the Batoka Gorge from a completely unique perspective.
I also had an opportunity to experience the Falls from above on a short helicopter flip. It’s amazing to see the mighty Zambezi River spill over the shelf of the Falls with the gorge cutting it’s way East to the horizon. While the helicopter was fun, the microlight flight I did in 2014 is my favorite. With just you and a pilot puttering 1000 feet over the Falls on a moped with wings, you can feel the cool air from the Falls as it updrafts and jostles the tiny aircraft.
Somalisa Camp – Hwange – Zimbabwe
Somalisa Camp was the talk of the safari industry. It had just won a design award at We Are Africa as well as the first Gold certification in Zimbabwe from Green Tourism. While my expectations were high, Somalisa delivered. It is an oasis of a camp. As we approached, a small family of elephants was stopping by for a drink from the plunge pool right in front of the camp. On our orientation, a half-dozen elephants wandered between the tents and welcomed us by shaking the camelthron trees for a tasty little snack. The guest tents are incredibly well-designed with lots of character and thoughtful features: perfectly positioned charging points and light switches, a cozy wood burning stove, luxurious cowhide carpets and a spacious bathroom with a giant copper and porcelain tub and indoor/outdoor showers.
We had a lively dinner with other guests from all over the world, and the staff was exceptional. The host, the servers, the manager, the chefs and the guide all made an impression with their enthusiasm, warmth and professionalism. On our game drives, we spent time with a small pride of lions, relatives of Cecil, a cheetah posed for us on a fallen tree, and giraffes wandered through the Ngweshla Pan under one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Bumi Hills – Lake Kariba – Zimbabwe
Bumi Hills Safari Lodge has been a staple on the shores of Lake Kariba since the 80s, and it was a pleasure to experience it for myself. Bumi is perched high on a hill with a spectacular view of the lake, and the game drives around the lodge offered lots of elephants, zebras and two lionesses on the prowl. On our sundowner cruise, the lake was perfectly flat, while the shore was crowded with thirsty elephants. While in some ways Bumi is showing it’s age, the recent renovation and relaxing resort feel offer a much-needed pit stop during a safari.
Kanga Camp – Mana Pools – Zimbabwe
Kanga Camp is easily one of the more unique and interesting camps in the Mana Pools area. It is set a little more than an hour from the Zambezi River around a very productive waterhole which is frequently visited by bathing elephants and thirsty leopard. It feels like a rustic, remote outpost, but the guests tents and main areas are homey and comfortable. Like all of the African Bush Camps properties, they seem to have thought of everything from the guest’s perspective while keeping a truly classic safari feel with big roomy tents, thoughtful amenities, a big outdoor shower area, and a secluded deck right on the edge of the waterhole. From Kanga, the game drives can include a visit to Mana’s Long Pool or a trip out to the Zambezi Expeditions camp for a paddle down the river. However, the more popular activity is to choose a comfortable armchair and watch the parade of game come visit the only reliable waterhole for miles.
Perhaps the best experience of my trip was the Kanga Under the Stars sleepout. We dined in a dry river bed, with our barefeet buried in a foot of sand, and we sat up late around the bonfire listening to hyenas calling all around us. With a bright full moon, we barely needed a flashlight to climb up onto the rustic lofted sleeping platforms draped only in mosquito netting. It was the best sleep of the trip!
Ruckomechi Camp – Mana Pools – Zimbabwe
Since I was in the neighborhood, I also had an opportunity to visit Wilderness Safaris’ Ruckomechi Camp which was just recently refurbished. The result is truly breathtaking. The centerpiece is an expansive deck that stretches along the Zambezi with stunning views of the hills just across the river in Zambia. The two main common areas, a bar tent and dining tent, are light and airy and luxurious, and the guest tents are simple and chic. As striking as the accommodations are, the best part of Ruckomechi is the friendly staff, the excellent guiding and the variety of ecosystems you can explore.
Zimbabwe has long been a favorite destination for us at Next Adventure. I was first there as a two year old in 1981 less than a year after the country became independent. In the mid to late 90’s almost 90% of our safaris included Zimbabwe since we received so many requests for it. In the early 2000s, Zimbabwe went through a tumultuous transition politically, but continued to draw loyal safari-goers who cherished the country’s unique offerings.
I was honored to be asked to be one of the first travel professionals to take part in Wilderness Safari’s new Hwange Walking Safari, which is now offered in June, July, and August as an expertly guided small group departure on set dates. Having both traveled and lived there, my love for Zimbabwe was only rekindled during my latest exploration in November 2015 when I took a small group of select clients on an exploratory walking safari through Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park.
Our scouting safari was in November and it was much hotter than expected — nearly 50 degrees Celsius (that’s about 122 Fahrenheit). Due to the extreme heat, Wilderness Safaris suggested we modify our itinerary for the best experience while keeping the integrity of the walking safari.
The group trip differs slightly from my exploratory and will have no more than 7 guests (sorry no children allowed unless you book a private departure) staying at Davison’s Camp, Linkwasha Camp, and a fly camp (dome tents, mattresses, and separate shared toilet & shower facilities) in Hwange National Park’s Linkwasha concession. This is an ideal choice for those who want to feel the land under the soles of their shoes and have time to observe the daily struggle for survival of the region’s unique flora and fauna.
We flew into Harare and connected by light aircraft transfer (about 1.5 hours) to Mana Pools National Park in the Northeast of Zimbabwe. Famed for canoeing safaris and excellent walking, Mana Pools is right on the Zambezi River. We were based at Wilderness Safaris’ Ruckomechi Camp, open during the dry season (April 1-Nov 15). We loved the camp as it was but with a complete relocation and renovation for the 2016 season, it’ll be even better!
Everything at Mana Pools is focused on the Zambezi. You can paddle a canoe, ride a pontoon boat, zip along in a speed boat, cast a line for fishing, set out on foot on the shore, or explore adjacent areas by 4×4 vehicle. It was refreshing to be on the water in that heat. Our canoes held 2 or 3 people, one of whom was a guide. There were intense moments with hippos as the waters were so shallow; our skilled and confident guides handled mock charges so well that we felt safe enough to be exhilarated. There was amazing elephant and buffalo viewing along the riverbanks and dense concentrations of game on all of our activities.
On our morning walk, we rounded a corner to find an entire herd of elephant fast asleep in the shade! It was a gentle reminder that extreme heat is brutal on the wildlife, and they have to seek relief too. Sundowners were spectacular along the river, and one evening we had a very exciting encounter with a leopard. Mana Pools is everything you could want in a wilderness and so a great place to begin our safari.
We next flew to Hwange National Park. Upon arrival at Little Makalolo Camp, we immediately were impressed with our guide’s knowledge of the area. He asked us to meet him at hide in front of the camp—which is a famous spot for wildlife viewing. It was mid-afternoon and we were all wilting from the heat, but, moments after we settled into the hide, a huge breeding herd of elephant showed up. Our guide knew exactly when they would appear and how long they would stay! We gazed in awe at the babies frolicking in the water. We were so close to the elephants that we were sprayed by elephant snot—it was awesome (and a little gross)! Our game drives through the woodlands of the area were prolific, and the diversity of wildlife near the pans was remarkable. After a few days of luxury camp life, we were ready to walk!
The following morning, we set out on foot across the Linkwasha concession—with sprawling pans and wildlife great and small sharing our journey. Walking is at a moderate pace, and the day’s routing is tailored to the guests’ abilities and interests. Our expert guide, Lewis, read the landscape and interpreted local wildlife stories while we ambled. Packed lunches and siestas beneath shady trees were welcomed breaks before we arrived at our modest fly camp. The attentive staff of steward, chef and waiter catered to every need while we settled in for the evening of dinner, campfire stories and stargazing.
We finished our walk at Linkwasha Camp set amid the Ngamo Plains. The contemporary tents were a perfect end to our meander through Hwange. Despite the heat, we were able to enjoy the natural splendor of the park and see spectacular game including the rare sable antelope along the way. What clearly makes a walking safari in Zimbabwe superior to those offered in other countries is the guiding. Still collectively the finest guides on the continent in my opinion, all of our Zimbabwean guides showed a caliber of knowledge and training that are superb.
Book your walking safari to Zimbabwe and experience this guiding for yourself!
In celebration of my 10-year anniversary as Managing Director of Next Adventure, I decided to return to my roots. When we were founded in 1996, nearly 90% of our business was to Zimbabwe as it experienced a golden age.
As an 18 year-old, I spent months exploring Zim after my father bought me a one-way ticket to Harare. If Kenya was the first love from my childhood, then Zimbabwe was the first love of my adult life. I’m excited to take a small group of travelers there this November to see first-hand the safari renaissance there.
Click to view a PDF of our exclusive Insider’s Safari to Zimbabwe Itinerary.
We pride ourselves on expanding travelers’ horizons and ensuring our safaris go beyond the must-dos that everyone else knows about. That’s why we’re called Next Adventure. Zimbabwe boasts many key features that we find essential: