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:
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.
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!
Karen & Hank are keen photographers who went on their first photo safari last year to Kenya and Tanzania. This year, the focus turned to Southern Africa, specifically areas in Zimbabwe and Botswana that offer exceptional wildlife viewing in November when the dry season transitions with the start of the summer rains.
Mana Pools and Hwange National Parks in Zimbabwe combined with the Linyanti/Selinda Reserve and Okavango Delta of Botswana provided a range of complementary experiences, ecosystems and wildlife, and we selected camps that could perfectly accommodate their interest in a high-quality photo safari.
We just returned from an incredible safari organized by Kili McGowan at Next Adventure. Kili did an amazing job listening to our needs, and creating a custom photo safari itinerary for us. Each camp was special in its own way, and we felt privileged to be able to learn about some of the history and culture in these two countries, as well as achieve one of our primary goals – to obtain outstanding photographs of wildlife! Kili was extremely knowledgeable about the weather and wildlife we were likely to see in each place. We look forward to traveling to Africa again soon and will enjoy working with Kili to plan our future adventures. —Karen P.
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: