Spotlight on Hwange and Mana Pools National Park
This month we put the spotlight on two of Zimbabwe’s finest National Parks, each beautiful and unique.
Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest game park. Its sheer size means that its scenery, vegetation and game vary hugely.
The park is known for its large population of elephant and is very accessible. The highest numbers of animals are spotted in the dry season (August to October) when the wildlife congregates around the shrunken water holes.
Mana Pools National Park lies at the heart of the Zambezi Valley, where the Zambezi River meanders to the Mozambique border. It is a remote, beautiful place with spectacular views of the broad river, floodplains, riverine woodland and the mountains of the Rift Valley escarpment. It is closed from January to March each year due to the rains.
Below is a summary of the main points of difference between the two:
Hwange National Park
- Home to one of the world’s largest elephant population.
- Located about an hour drive from Victoria Falls- easily accessed.
- Accessible year round/
- Hwange is not only Zimbabwe’s largest national park at 14,651-square kilometres and one of the 10 largest parks in Africa.
- Known for hides alongside waterholes that allow you to view the many animals coming to drink.
- Hwange is considered to be the most mammal diverse park in Africa with over 108 species. This is because it is the transition zone between the Kalahari and Mopane Woodland of Zimbabwe. Known for its large grassed pans where animals congregate.
Mana Pools National Park
- A World Heritage Site.
- Located in the extreme north of Zimbabwe.
- Hard to access or closed in the rainy season.
- Covers an area of 2196 square kilometres extending from the Zambezi River in the north to the escarpment in the south.
- Water-based activities such as fishing, boating and canoeing are available.
- Scenic with the escarpment of the Zambian side as the backdrop. From the landscape and photographic backdrop perspective, Mana Pools definitely has an edge.
Both Parks have a number of exciting new lodges, contact us to get the best rates and our full trip report on each of these.
New Lodges in Hwange National Park
- Robins Camp a former National Parks Lodge has been refurbished and is under new management as a private lodge.
- Verneys Camp is a private concession area in a typically un-used part of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.
New Lodges in Mana Pools National Park
- Chikwenya- the newest in Wilderness Safaris Camps situated on the eastern boundary of Mana Pools National Park.
- Nyamatusi is the latest camp in the African Bush Camps Collection.
Rest and Relaxation options to combine with your Safari
An African Safari offers an exciting and active holiday with twice daily game viewing activities the normal routine and early starts a ‘must do’ in order to maximise your chances of seeing predators. Wonderful as this is it can also be tiring and for some, a safari is best combined with some downtime to process all that you have seen and to truly return home to busy lives rested.
Bodies of water always seem to relax whether it is the sea or the Zambezi. In Zimbabwe, the massive man-made lake- Kariba offers game viewing in a relaxed fashion from the sun deck of a luxurious houseboat or game lodge. While away the long warm days fishing, swimming in a pool or simply reading a book while the call of an African Fish-eagle or a hippo gently echoes across the lake.
In Zambezi National Park lodges along the river are similarly restorative with many offering plunge pools or decks overlooking the Zambezi, fishing, canoeing and gentle game drives available.
If time allows go further afield and enjoy the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean in Mozambique or Zanzibar. Flights easily connect Zimbabwe with Zanzibar from Harare or go via Johannesburg to reach Mozambique. Both destinations offer soft white sand, palm trees and warm waters full of tropical fish.
If vibrant city life interests you more then snorkelling then Cape Town is a perfect choice- the water certainly isn’t warm but the people are! One of the world’s best destinations for ‘foodies’ the city offers a plethora of restaurants, markets, exhibits, museums and shopping surrounded by beautiful mountains and Winelands. The trick here is to choose wisely as there is so much on offer.
Ask us where you should go dependant on the time of year, your family dynamics, preferences and budget and we can ensure you will enjoy your time pre or post safari with accommodation and activities that will make your holiday a memorable one for years to come.
Our tips on how to get the best Family safari
Bring the little ones along on an adventure the whole family can enjoy. Our family safaris feature child-friendly lodges often with family rooms or adjoining rooms that keep your child’s safety and comfort in mind. Many have fantastic ‘kids programs’ to keep them entertained, child-friendly meals and guides who are engaging.
1. The most important decision you’ll make is your choice of camp! Finding the right balance between adventurousness, comfort and security is critical to having a safe and happy trip. We highly recommend you go to a Lodge which has a family programme.
Khwai Tented Camp, Chilo Gorge, Elephants Eye and Victoria Falls River Lodge in Zimbabwe all have standout family programmes and in Botswana
Footsteps Camp, Duba Plains, Selinda Camp, Lagoon Camp, Mashatu Main Camp and Meno a Kwena are standouts.
2. Book a private vehicle. This will allow you greater flexibility than on a shared vehicle meaning you can opt for shorter drives or more frequent stops. Flexibility is key when you have little children.
3. Plan ‘down time’ eg – some days without activities. No matter the irresistible call of the wild, sometimes your kids just need to sleep and play. Stay somewhere with a pool- this will be invaluable in entertaining them on long hot days. Also, remember you can also spot just as much from camp as from a vehicle.
4. Keep kids entertained by bringing a camera and/or binoculars for your children to use on game drives and an animal checklist to tick off what they have seen. We also highly recommend colouring books and a few old-fashioned board games for the time in camp.
Going on a safari with kids is a life-changing experience. The landscape is an enormous outdoor classroom – and safari guides will be some of the most inspiring teachers your children ever have.
Why country combos are key to a great safari!
There are many advantages to combining multiple Southern African countries on your trip. The key is to personalise your trip with combinations that to meet all of your interests for the best experience. We have vast amounts of experience in how to combine areas- from making the journey an integral part of your holiday with experiences such as rail travel to how charter planes inter-country.
COMBINE COUNTRIES TO MAXIMISE YOUR BUDGET
South Africa offers some easily accessible and therefore cheaper safari options such as Kruger National Park allowing you to maximise your budget while still seeing highlights such as Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe where a range of options to suit all budgets are also available.
COMBINE COUNTRIES TO HAVE MULTIPLE EXPERIENCES
The obvious reason is to combine multiple experiences such as game viewing in the Okavango Delta with wine tasting in South Africa’s cape or hot air ballooning over vast plains in Zambia’s South Luangwa with a beach break in Mozambique. we can personalise your itinerary to suit your interests such as visiting championship golf courses.
COMBINE COUNTRIES TO SEE A GREATER VARIETY OF BIRDS AND ANIMALS
By visiting varied geographical areas you combine habitats which effectively means you can view a wider range of species than would otherwise be possible from desert-adapted animals such as Oryx to sea life, or rare birds such as the shoebill. Imagine seeing a zebra migration before swimming with dolphins!
Here’s an overview of the highlights of the main destinations in Southern Africa.
– Best for: active safaris (walking, canoeing, and boating), great guides, high adventure, ancient stone ruins, good value and the best views of Victoria Falls.
– Best for low tourist numbers, boat/mokoro/canoe activities, upscale luxury.
– Best for variety with beaches, mountains, culture and cities, wine areas, and safari areas, budget options available.
– Best for intimate safari camps with rustic charm, good guiding, low tourist numbers so an exclusive experience, Victoria Falls.
– Best for dramatic scenery, spectacular sand dunes, remote wilderness and desert-adapted animals.
– Best for beaches, delicious food and scuba diving.
– Best for great wildlife viewing in iconic destinations such as Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro, great beaches and culture in Zanzibar.
– Best for the Masai Mara for big cat viewing the great migration.
– Best for gorilla trekking, chimpanzee treks and diverse scenery.
– Best for wonderful gorilla trekking, tragic but necessary look at history at the genocide museum.
How to visit Great Zimbabwe
No visit to Zimbabwe is complete without a visit to the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe. Despite this, this gem is still relatively unknown and off the beaten path. It is 30 kilometres from Masvingo, 700km southeast of Victoria Falls.
Also known as Great Zimbabwe Ruins it is an iconic African Iron Age landmark and contains the largest ancient structures in sub-Saharan Africa. The stone walls are up to six meters thick and twelve meters high and are built of granite blocks without the use of mortar.
In 1531, Vicente Pegado, a Portuguese army captain described the area as follows:
“Among the gold mines of the inland plains between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers there is a fortress built of stones of marvellous size, and there appears to be no mortar joining them…. one of them is a tower more than 12 fathoms [22 m] high.”
Awe-inspiring, majestic and timeless, these structures were built by indigenous African people between AD 1250 and AD 1450. At the height of its power, Great Zimbabwe had over 18,000 inhabitants. The city was a main trading centre and fragments of pottery from as far as Persia and China have been found here.
The lack of crowds exploring the ruins today adds to their charm as you can explore alone and feel like you stepped back in time and imagine the place bustling with life as it once was.
WHERE TO STAY
Norma Jeane’s Lakeview Resort
A step back in time to another era is Norma Jeane’s lakeside resort with its beautiful gardens and genteel feel. The rooms and central area have a colonial feel and look. There are 8 catered hotel rooms, 4 self-catering lodges and 9 communal rooms with shared facilities. The gardens surrounding the lodge are lush and peaceful with incredible views overlooking Lake Mutirikwi.
Kyle Recreational Park Chalets
There are a number of basic but well maintained self-catering lodges at Kyle Recreational Park on the edge of Lake Mutirikwi north of the monument (approx 45 minutes drive). This is a good option for groups who want to be self-sufficient or private as there are 1, 2 and 3 bedroom lodges. You may also spot small game (monkeys, warthogs etc)
Lodge at the Ancient City
This hotel is inspired by and close to the ruins with stone walls and towers that mimic the ancient city. It is larger and therefore less intimate than some other options with an on-site restaurant and a variety of accommodation options from camping to rooms and free-standing suites.
ACCESS TO GREAT ZIMBABWE
The majority of visitors to the Masvingo area are Zimbabweans so the self-catering and self-drive accommodation has been well maintained but may be ‘old fashioned’ in decor and atmosphere.
If driving from Victoria Falls, Bulawayo or Harare, you will first drive to the town of Masvingo. The road is a tarred and fairly busy highway.
Upon arrival in Masvingo, follow the signs to Great Zimbabwe, and turn left off the A4 Beitbridge road. Here, the road is narrow but well maintained. The short dirt road to the ruined city is passable for most vehicles.
* 4-hour drive from Bulawayo or Harare
* 8-hour drive from Victoria Falls
This means that you’ll most likely need to stay overnight to allow yourself enough time to walk around the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.
or ask us to organise a guided tour of Great Zimbabwe Ruins from Bulawayo or Harare where a guide and host will drive you on your trip and bring the country to life for you.
$5 for Zimbabwe residents, $15 for other visitors. Please note this is subject to change without notice. See the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe site for current prices.
Trekking & Walking Safaris
Trekking & Walking Safaris offer something different for the discerning traveller. The original safari in Africa walking offers the chance to meet animals on their terms and must be done with an experienced guide who will both respect the animals and bring a great awareness of the natural world to you, the guests.
Walking safaris can either be based out of a mobile safari camp or from a fixed lodge. The fixed lodge experience allows luxury for those that need it and the mobile safari camps generally offer more adventure for those that are there for the rustic experience.
Walking safaris give you the chance to be in closer contact with the land and to learn more about it- there is no better connection, as you leave the comfort of a lodge or safari vehicle your senses awaken, you pay attention to the minutiae and you are literally grounded. I find they offer the rare chance to feel completely ‘in the moment’ and that in today’s hectic world it is this that is worth more than any other aspect.
Of course a walking or hiking trip also offers the opportunity to stay active whilst on your holiday. Safaris are notorious for their gourmet delights with twice daily teas and sundowner snacks the norm and many find that they miss their daily movement after a week of daily game drives. Whether you do a full walking safari or visit a camp that offers walking amongst other activities it can be a pleasant change and a great advantage for the health conscious.
From specialist walking guides who conduct multiday walks between camps to walking ‘light’ with camps that offer walking as an optional activity, there is a plethora on offer. Although we couldn’t possibly cover all of it we can showcase some highlights. Zimbabwe is known as a walking destination, mainly because of the high standard of the guides there but Botswana is slowly beginning to offer more walking experiences.
We only recommend operators we know offer great guides and the very best safety standards, this is an area where it is worth ensuring you go with a great guide and our expertise will help you find the guide and level of
BEST REGIONS FOR WALKING
EASTERN HIGHLANDS TREKKING- The Eastern Highlands is a region of rugged mountains and scenic beauty. This natural holiday destination offers peace of mind and in a quiet peaceful environment with excellent walking and hiking trails.
MANA POOLS WALKING- Remote and beautiful, Mana Pools is famous for its walking safaris. The area’s sparse undergrowth and canopy of large trees allow for good visibility coupled with incredible beauty.
HWANGE WALKING- Known as ‘Zimbabwe’s Kruger’, the visitor is likely to be rewarded with comparable wildlife viewing opportunities and far less human presence.
OKAVANGO DELTA- Exploring this water wilderness on foot is exhilarating, walking safaris in the delta often also utilise some form of watercraft such as a dugout canoe given the nature of the terrain.
SPECIALIST WALKING GUIDES
ZIMBABWE AND BOTSWANA
BENSON SIYAWAREVA- A fully licensed guide in both countries, Siyawareva has run some of the region’s most significant camps (Little Makololo in Hwange, Savuti in Botswana), in addition to helming his own guiding operation for ten years. He reads the bush brilliantly and is thus an expert tracker.
LEON VARLEY- Leon Varley has been leading walking safaris in Zimbabwe’s finest National Parks since the early 1980s and is one of Zimbabwe’s most experienced guides. His experienced Ndebele trackers and support team have been with him almost as long.
STRETCH FERRIERA- Stretch has nearly 30 years’ experience in the area and over this time, has gained a wealth of knowledge of the bush and its residents in particular in Mana Pools.
DAVID FOOT- David has worked in the Kafue and Luangwa in Zambia, the Matusadona and Mana Pools in Zimbabwe the Nyika National Park in Malawi. He is now based in Botswana. With 32 years of experience under his belt, and his passion for the wilderness, its wildlife and birdlife he will bring the bush alive.
Affordable Botswana and Zimbabwe
For authentic, uncrowded wild Africa there is nowhere better than Botswana or Zimbabwe. Boasting incredible large reserves and massive wildlife populations. However, there is a misconception that Zimbabwe and Botswana are unaffordable destinations. Many travellers opt instead for the busyness of Kruger or the Masai Mara.
The main myth is that only luxury or high-end options are available however this is completely untrue. Particularly in the past few years many excellent mid-range and even budget options have come to life and today no matter what your budget or preference is we can build a safari or holiday in Zimbabwe or Botswana.
Accommodation ranges from safari camps, safari lodges, camping safaris, hotels, bed & breakfasts, houseboats to even self-drive and self-catering facilities. We have decades of experience of living, working and travelling in Botswana and Zimbabwe.
- Travel at the right time of year can greatly maximise your budget. June to September is the peak season and thus more expensive. Instead, check out the ‘shoulder season’ (typically April/May and October/November) or even the green season (January to March). Camps can slash their rates by up to 40% and if you choose your location carefully, the game viewing is still incredible.
- Personalised, first-hand knowledge is key to making sure that you are matched with the correct product for your price range and expectations. Using a local operator such as Zimbabwe Holidays helps ensure you get the right fit. We are familiar with products of all budgets and which offer the best experience and can access the best available rates 🙂 We also are always travelling and trying these ourselves. Nothing beats first-hand experience.
- Try deals at new camps. Many new camps have a reduced rate introductory offer while they are not as well known. This is where local knowledge comes in handy!
- Keep in mind that good value does not mean a lack of creature comforts, while you may not get the private plunge pools and butler service that has become common in lodges that charge thousands of dollars per night many affordable options offer incredible guiding, more than comfortable rooms (hot running water, central swimming pools, etc), great locations for wildlife viewing and much more
Get in touch for great deals and please be sure to let us know your budget and expectations when enquiring- there are so many great options and we want to make sure that we connect you to the correct one for you!
New Activities in Zimbabwe
For this month’s blog, we would like to highlight some of the new activities that have recently opened up in Zimbabwe. Most of these are based in Victoria Falls, with its bustling tourism industry and reputation as an ‘adventure capital’. These activities really help to diversify what is available in town, and now there is much more on offer than simply adrenaline activities.
Further afield, horseriding safaris are now offered to guests at Imvelo Safaris Hwange lodges and an incredible new zip line and suspension bridge have opened in the Eastern Highlands- the ‘Skywalk’ and ‘Skyline’ with the aim of attracting more visitors to this beautiful region of Zimbabwe.
NEW IN VICTORIA FALLS
The Elephant Encounter affords guests the opportunity to unobtrusively interact with some of the biggest personalities in Africa, in a pristine wilderness environment overflowing with raw natural beauty. Guests spend time and connect with elephants in the most positive and natural way possible.
A number of art workshops led by an experienced tutor. The experience caters to everyone from beginners to professionals. You can choose to paint on a Breakfast Cruise, to paint a group of habituated elephants, to go on a village tour and more!
This constellation based activity sees you guided to a clearing in the African bush, surrounded by unobtrusive lanterns where you can lie back on cushions and chairs for a one-hour presentation on the African Night Sky. The talk combines astronomy with local folklore regarding the constellations historical, cultural and folklore tales.
Skydive and enjoy a ‘Flight of the Angels’ over the Falls in one! The Skydive Tandem Company offers skydiving with a 30-minute scenic flight and stunning views of Victoria Falls included.
Stay active and experience the culture and surrounds of Victoria Falls on a Victoria Falls Bike Tours. These guided tours allow you to learn about local culture, mythology, history and the natural wonders of the area in a way that will leave you enriched and informed. They offer 3-hour, half day or full day tours.
Imvelo Safari Lodges are thrilled to announce the launch of daily horseback riding activities for guests enjoying a safari at Bomani Tented Lodge and Camelthorn Lodge in the south of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s premier national park.
MUTARAZI ZIP LINE AND SUSPENSION BRIDGE
The SkyWalk consists of two suspension bridges allowing for the first time a full panoramic view of the Mutarazi Falls and its surroundings. One is 30m and takes you over the lip of the Falls and the other is 90m that is above the entire Falls.
The ‘SkyLine’ is the most beautiful zip line in the world. Depending on the weather you may find yourself flying through clouds or crystal clear skies over the 2nd highest waterfall in Africa. At an estimated height of 500m and flying for 400m at 50-70km/h it is both uplifting and exhilarating.
The Timeless romance of Rail Travel
There’s a certain magic to rail travel that can’t be found on a plane or on a vehicle. A voyage on a luxury train manages to combine adventure with total relaxation. The soothing rhythm of a steam engine, the timeless elegance of parquet flooring, plush upholstery, exquisite service and all the while an ever-changing view to toast outside the windows.
The cuisine and wine pairings can only be described as sublime and without television or Wi-fi in the public areas, time melts away. Some journeys are meant to be savoured.
A common misconception is that luxury rail journeys are expensive. However, this isn’t the case with most rail journeys coming in at cheaper than similarly luxurious hotels whilst including more. An example is that the Rovos Rail three-night adventure from Johannesburg to Pretoria comes in at USD$2050 per person sharing in a standard suite. This price includes accommodation, meals, excursions, all beverages including alcohol, 24-hour full room service and laundry. By using the train as your method of transportation you also save the cost of your airfare (on average USD$200 one way on this route). That leaves you paying USD$616 per night all-inclusive for a truly special experience. This is comparable to many mid-range safari lodges.
Another misconception is that you can’t see the country you are travelling through when travelling by train. However, this is also untrue, there are many options that combine rail travel with touring such as the ‘Shongololo Express’. The ultimate in touring, this train offers a true safari experience, by rail. The train traverses South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. A variety of off-train excursions are undertaken in a fleet of air-conditioned vehicles that maximise comfort while travelling comfortably during the night, the Shongololo Express saves you precious time, arriving each dawn at a new destination and allowing you to truly see a great variety of sights.
If you would like to experience the romance of a golden age of travel, of crisp white tablecloths, crystal glassware, epic views and epicurean delights contact us today.
Family-Friendly African Safari
When you think of you may not think of it as being a family-friendly holiday. However contrary to popular belief you can comfortably experience thrills of the African bush with your family. Today, children are specially catered to with children’s programs that are imaginative, immersive and engaging.
Here are our top tips on what to consider when picking the perfect destination for your dream trip:
- Make sure the lodge or camp allows children and check the age limit carefully.
- Check if the lodge has family suites available. If not what are the sleeping arrangements?
- Book a private vehicle. This will allow you greater flexibility than on a shared vehicle meaning you can opt for shorter drives or more frequent stops. Flexibility is key when you have little children.
- Stay somewhere with a pool- this will be invaluable in entertaining them on long hot days.
- Canoeing or walking safaris are generally not suitable for children under the age of 12.
- Find out what activities are on offer for children and if they offer a children’s programme.
- Bring a camera and/or binoculars for your children to use. It will help keep them interested and busy while game-viewing.
- Give children an animal checklist to tick off what they have seen and keep them interested and occupied.
Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia all offer great child-friendly options and these can be paired with a city break such as Cape Town or even a few days at the beach in Zanzibar.
Picking the right place to go is vital and it is key to have first-hand knowledge of what is both safe and enjoyable for children to do in the bush and this is where we come in! We have children and we live here and often travel with them so we can really advise you on what will suit you best. In today’s busy world, we believe that time out with your family is precious and we will ensure you get the best experience possible.