Zimbabwe: The Top 6 Must-Dos
Featured destinations: Africa
Published 11 April 2016
Zimbabwe: a land of immense beauty inhabited by warm and friendly people, with a political landscape leaving much to be desired.
For anyone thinking about a trip to Zimbabwe there are two important things to realise. Firstly, what happens in the corridors of power in Harare, the capital, is a long way away from the national parks and other attractions found mostly on the country’s periphery. Secondly, by visiting Zimbabwe, travellers are supporting ordinary people working to make a living under sometimes difficult conditions, rather than promoting what can only be described as an unethical regime. So don’t ignore the obvious issues that exist in Zimbabwe, but go there in the knowledge that a diverse land containing excellent wildlife densities and some of the best guides in Africa awaits you.
Here we’ve picked six of the highlights on offer in this incredible destination.
Gaze upon the majesty of Victoria Falls
No first-time trip to Zimbabwe would be complete without a visit to Victoria Falls which, with its brand new international airport, promises to become even more of a gateway into the country than it is already. The volume of water flowing over Africa’s most famous waterfall varies dramatically throughout the year. Visit in April and you’ll likely see the longest continuous sheet of flowing water in the world, come six months later and what you’ll find is a bone-dry cliff with perhaps a few small waterfalls spilling over its lip into the chasm below.
Give yourself at least two nights here as you’ll want to devote a good few hours to walking through the rainforest on the opposite side of the gorge, from where you’ll enjoy some truly incredible views. Victoria Falls isn’t just about the waterfall these days though, for anyone looking for adventure and adrenaline can bungee jump from the famous bridge, which has linked Zimbabwe to neighbouring Zambia for over a hundred years. A gorge swing, a zip-wire and microlight and helicopter flights over the falls are just some of the other high-octane activities on offer here.
Canoe Along the Banks of the Zambezi River
Mana Pools National Park in the far north of Zimbabwe is a vital wildlife and wetland habitat, well-deserving of its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the national park itself stretches far away from the Zambezi River, it is along the water’s edge where the majority of the big game is seen. Elephant, buffalo and lion to name but a few all come down to drink in the heat of the afternoon.
Mana Pools is also home to Zimbabwe’s highest concentration of hippo and crocodile and so canoeing provides not only a fantastic way to view game along the banks of the river but also much adventure and excitement as you navigate past its aquatic residents. Starting just inside the park’s western boundary these trips will drift slowly downstream, stopping at fly-camps along the way where a night under canvas awaits and the surrounding area can be explored further on foot.
Walk with Africa’s best guides
If you like walking then you will love walking in Zimbabwe. The ZimPro, Zimbabwe’s professional guiding qualification, still sets the benchmark against which standards are measured. Guides can only reach ZimPro status through countless hours spent walking through the wilderness, and they will often know individual animals by sight. What makes Zimbabwe different from many other safari destinations is the flexibility and self-confidence that the guides have. For a guide to be able to jump out of a vehicle when they see something of interest in the distance, turn to their guests to tell them to keep the noise down, beckon them to jump off the vehicle and follow them to explore on foot is something really special.
Step back in time at Great Zimbabwe
Yet another of Zimbabwe’s World Heritage sites, Great Zimbabwe was a settlement in what is now southern Zimbabwe from about the 11th to the 15th Centuries. What remains today are three impressively well-preserved complexes: The Hill Complex (thought to be an early seat of power for Great Zimbabwe’s rulers), The Valley Complex (thought to have been the treasury) and The Great Enclosure (which displays how architecture and construction practices developed over the lifetime of the site in incredible detail). Each of these is well worth spending a few hours exploring with a local guide. After gaining independence, it was these ancient ruins that gave the new nation of Zimbabwe its name, and the whole site has been very well looked after despite it being off the beaten track for most international visitors.
Experience the remote and isolated Gonarezhou National Park
Deep in the south of the country, about a two-hour flight in a light aircraft from Harare is Gonarezhou National Park. This is Zimbabwe’s second largest national park after Hwange and it’s remote, wild and nearly empty of human visitors. Getting to Gonarezhou is easy but it can be a little more expensive than the more popular national parks in the north and west of the country. For anyone who makes the commitment however, what awaits is very special indeed.
Right in the heart of the park are the Chilojo Cliffs, towering sandstone structures which provide incredible views across the park and the Runde River as it meanders towards neighboring Mozambique. The game here isn’t used to seeing people and so it can be skittish, but there are still good predator sightings are to be had. It’s quite possible to drive through Gonarezhou for the entire day and not see another vehicle, and so for international visitors it’s best to let someone who knows the area well do the driving.
Discover the diversity of Matobo Hills
The Matobo Hills add yet another layer of variety to what Zimbabwe has to offer visitors. A vast landscape of rising hillocks dotted with huge boulders balancing at impossible angles, the Matobos offer something for everyone. Although there are no lion or elephant here, wildlife enthusiasts can still track white and black rhino, which are found in healthy numbers. For those looking for culture and history there are a staggering array of cave paintings in the area, many of which are incredibly well preserved.
Visit Zimbabwe with Round the World Experts' Southern African Predators Journey, or chat to your Expert about arranging a tailor-made holiday to this fascinating country.