The magnificent views of the world-famous Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side are arguably without parallel and a safari at big-five Hwange, one of Africa’s most iconic national parks, is unforgettable.
Easily reached from South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, the Victoria Falls is a magnet for visitors. There are a number of good hotels located near the falls, which are now coming back to former standards. A popular way to reach the Victoria Falls is on the luxury Rovos Rail train from Pretoria. It's well worth spending several days at the Victoria Falls, as there is much to do. As well as visiting the falls and exploring the town, visitors can interact with African elephants, take a sunset Zambezi cruise on the smooth waters above the falls, with its large pods of hippo, crocodile and birdlife, and see the animals that come down to the river to drink. You may even be fortunate enough to see an elephant swimming across the Zambezi River, with its trunk held high.
Horse riders can book an overnight horseback safari along the Zambezi Gorge, golfers can play at Elephant Hills and fishermen can test their skills with some tiger fishing. Or you can take an overnight canoe safari down the gentler rapids above the falls, sleeping in a dome tent on the banks of the river, under amazing skies. Adrenalin-fuelled activities include white-water rafting in the turbulent Batoka Gorge below the falls, and bungee jumping from the iconic Victoria Falls Bridge.
About a three-hour drive to the south of Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park is the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe and can be visited all year round. Its huge variety of game – with all big-five present - is impressive, making it one of Africa’s most rewarding national parks. Predators include lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog. With over a hundred mammal species, huge populations of elephant and the lack of crowds, Hwange offers an outstanding safari experience. The safari lodges are of a good standard and include the option of small luxury tented camps. Walking safaris and sleep-outs are offered, with strategically placed hides adding an exciting extra dimension to the safari offering. Birding is also superb with over 400 recorded species. The quality of Zimbabwean guiding is legendary and there is little doubt that this country will return once again to its rightful place as one of Africa’s premier safari destinations.
Easy to reach from the capital city of Harare, vast Lake Kariba was formed by the creation of the Kariba Dam. Popular with locals and tourists alike, visitors can canoe, kayak and fish as they soak up the sunshine. Tiger fishing is particularly good with international competitions held annually. Sunrises and sunsets over the lake are spectacular and game viewing from the river is a delightful way to end the day. Accommodation is mainly on the east and southern shores of the lake and ranges from well-established lodges to laid-back houseboats. A few days spent on a houseboat exploring this vast lake is immense fun – it’s 170 miles long and 24 miles at the widest point.
To the south of Lake Kariba, the Matusadona National Park is home to a sizeable range of animals including the big-five – the black rhino numbers are small but important. Buffalo and plains games are numerous and predators include lion, leopard and hyena. Birdlife is superb with many species of waterfowl and raptors as well as colonies of the brightly coloured bee-eater.
Located in the Lower Zambezi valley, about 60 miles downstream from Lake Kariba, Mana Pools is an area of upmarket tourism. Highly regarded as pristine and virtually unspoiled, Mana Pools is a World Heritage Site offering visitors superb game viewing by canoe. The huge pools of permanent water attract hippo, elephant, buffalo, black rhino and Nile crocodile. The mixed habitat means that the birdlife is out of this world, with many species of stork, heron and waterfowl as well as Fish eagle and the much-prized Pel’s fishing owl.
In the south of the country near Bulawayo, don’t miss the view from the ‘Top of the World’, the burial place of Cecil John Rhodes in Matobo (or Matopo) National Park. The reserve contains many well-preserved Bushman rock paintings and strange stone formations that look as if they have been piled up by external forces. Leopard concentrations are high here and both black and white rhino have been successfully re-introduced.
A visit to the national monument of Great Zimbabwe is another must-see. Located about 15 miles from the town of Masvingo (formerly Fort Victoria), the ruins date from the 11th century and are the largest sub-Saharan stone structure ever constructed. Built from huge granite rocks using dry-stone wall techniques, Great Zimbabwe was once a palace for kings, and its history has been much debated. Regardless of its provenance, a visit here is awe inspiring.
Other places of importance include the Eastern Highlands that run for about 180 miles north to south along the eastern border with Mozambique. This is an area of astounding beauty with fabulous hiking and excellent trout fishing.
In the far south of the country, Gonarezhou National Park is part of the Transfrontier National Park that is being developed to link with the Kruger National Park in South Africa and Parc Nacionale de Limpopo in Mozambique, giving migrating animals a huge area in which to roam through these three countries.