Zimbabwe lies on a high plateau, and its terrain consists primarily of grasslands bordered on the east by mountains. The north-eastern border of the country is marked by the mighty Zambezi River, along which is located the incomparable spectacle of Victoria Falls and the magnificent expanse of Lake Kariba.
The Zambezi has become one of the world’s best water adventure travel destinations, offering outstanding white-water rafting in the Zambezi Gorges below the falls as well as excellent canoeing and kayaking above them. Victoria Falls, the Smoke that Thunders, is one of the natural wonders of the world.
In addition, Zimbabwe is home to the stone enclosures of Great Zimbabwe, remnants of a past empire, and to herds of elephant and other game roaming vast stretches of wilderness.
Zimbabwe is an unbeatable destination for adventure travel of all sorts. Not only are its game reserves among the most abundant and beautiful on the continent, but they also offer unusual types of safari experience that are simply unavailable anywhere else.
Victoria Falls is an emblem of the entire African continent. Spanning 5600 feet (1700 m) and dropping 420 feet (128 m) into the Zambezi Gorge, the falls create a roar–and a cloud of mist–so great that they are visible from a distance of 25 miles (40 km). Which is why it is known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, “The Smoke that Thunders”.
While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is the largest. It is also one of The Seven Natural Wonders of the World. And deservedly so, Victoria Falls is an astonishing site and one you should try and see from as many angles as possible.
As well as being a natural wonder, Victoria Falls is a hub of activity. There is something to do for everyone. For the adrenaline junkies, there is white water rafting, kayaking, the 365 foot (111-metre) high bungee jump, river surfing, gorge swings and zip wires.
For the more cautious person, there are river cruises, local cultural and craft experiences, fishing, golf and safari activities. One activity which is highly recommended is seeing the Falls from above, you can soar above the Falls by helicopter or microlight – each of these activities lasts around 15 minutes and costs about $150.
The final activity which should be on your list is Devil’s Pool. From mid-August to mid-January, when the water level in the Zambezi is low, it is possible to walk along a small section at the top of the falls (on the Zambia side) and access the pool that forms there. This provides a truly unique view of the Falls and a unique experience – if you’re brave enough.
Further east, and further downstream from Victoria Falls, is Lake Kariba, an enormous (almost 2000 sq. mi./5200 sq. km) man-made lake. The largest man-made dam, 226km long and in places up to 40km wide. It provides considerable electric power to both Zambia and Zimbabwe. The lake was formed in 1958 by the damming of the Zambezi at Kariba, the lake is now an attraction in its own right.
Its scattered islands, clear, deep waters, and adjoining game reserve complement each other admirably. The reserve, Matusadona National Park, began as a refuge for animals saved from the rising waters of the lake itself. Today, its abundant game gathers along the lakeshore, particularly in the dry months, where it is easily viewed from the water.
Being a lake, you won’t be surprised to read that fishing is extremely popular in Lake Kariba’s waters. The magnificent tigerfish, endemic to the Zambezi River, is a thrilling catch for avid anglers, and the focus of an International Tigerfishing Tournament held in Kariba in October each year. A holiday will be spent on the water as Lake Kariba has lots of ‘floating hotels’, which can be hired and are fully equipped with an efficient crew who are on hand to make your trip unforgettable.
A little less than 19 miles (30 kilometers) beyond the south-eastern town of Masvingo are to be found some of the most extraordinary manmade remains in Africa. Formed of regular, rectangular granite stones, carefully placed one upon the other, they are the ruins of an amazing complex. The structures were built by indigenous African people between AD 1250 and AD 1450 believed to be the ancestors of modern Zimbabweans.
The ruins at Great Zimbabwe are remarkable; lofty, majestic, awe-inspiring and timeless. The quality of the building in places is outstanding. It was built by craftsmen who took pride in their work. There is nothing to compare with it in southern Africa.
The two main areas of stone wall enclosures are the Hill Complex, on the long, steep-sided granite hill and the land below this hill where the Valley Ruins and the Great Enclosure are situated. The stone walls, up to 20 feet (6 meters) thick and 40 feet (12 meters) high, are built of granite blocks without the use of mortar.
South of the Hill Complex lies The Great Enclosure, the largest single ancient structure south of the Sahara. Its outer wall is some 820 feet (250 meters) in circumference, with a maximum height of 36 feet (11 meters).
It is estimated that the central ruins and surrounding valley supported a Shona population of 10,000 to 20,000. With an economy based on cattle husbandry, crop cultivation, and the trade of gold on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Great Zimbabwe was the heart of a thriving trading empire from the 11th to the 15th centuries. The Great Zimbabwe Ruins are now the second biggest tourist attraction in Zimbabwe after Victoria Falls.
Northern Zimbabwe is the country’s most popular region for wildlife safaris, as it’s home to a number of game-rich wilderness areas. Here you will find Hwange National Park, the biggest reserve in the country. Zambezi National Park is located near Victoria Falls, it is home to the Big Four (no rhino). Mana Pools is a popular park where the game viewing is superb.
Southern Zimbabwe also boasts a wide variety of wildlife but lower in density than the northern parks. Matobo National Park regularly provides visitors with great sightings of white rhino and in remote south-eastern Zimbabwe is Gonarezhou National Park. The park has a great diversity of animal species; 500 species of birds and 150 mammal species.
Hwange National Park is one of Africa’s finest havens for wildlife and is home to vast herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra and has a very large concentration of giraffe. It is also home to many predators and endangered species plus very large and varied birdlife.
Bordering Botswana, Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest game park with an area of 14,600km2. Its sheer size means that its scenery, vegetation and game vary hugely. The park is home to over 100 mammal species, including lions, giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs. In fact, wild dog population in Hwange is thought to be of one of the largest surviving groups in Africa today.
The landscape includes desert sand to sparse woodland as well as grasslands and granite outcrops. Due to the lack of water, man-made waterholes were introduced to sustain the animals through the dry season. The park has an interesting variety of landscapes with one part running alongside the North-eastern end of the Kalahari Desert.
Walking, driving and horseback safaris are a popular way of seeing wildlife. Accommodation is provided at a number of game Lodges.
Mana Pools National Park is a special paradise for game viewing. As the name implies it is a place where there are a number of large pools. The magic of this national park stems from the pervading sense of the wild and also in the park’s relative remoteness.
The word ‘Mana’ means four, in reference to the four pools around the park headquarters: Main, Chine, Long and Chisambik. They are actually on the mainland, in an area of deep and good quality alluvial soil, along a portion of the southern bank of the Zambezi. They owe their existence to the scouring action of the flooded river that created a number of elongated troughs which retained water long after the flood had subsided.
The area has a park-like appearance. Massive acacia albida trees tower over what appears to be, from a distance at least, a carefully manicured lawn. Further away a border of mopane trees and combretum scrub begins and there is visible a line, like some extraordinary tide-mark, a browse-line that exactly demarcates the height to which browsing animals of the area can reach.
Game drives and especially the bush walks offer the opportunity to stand near buffalo or elephant or watch crocodile and hippo from close quarters.
It is not only by Land Rover or on foot that the excitement of the area can he enjoyed. Canoe safari companies organize guided canoe trails down the Zambezi from Kariba in the west, to Kanyemha in the east or any portion in between. Each trip is accompanied by well-trained, competent and experienced guides and is an incredible way to experience the river at first hand.
Every kind of wild animal and bird is viewed at close hand as the canoe glides silently past. One can drift within meters of grazing buffalo, slide by sleeping crocodiles, watch wading elephants and enjoy a sense of openness, freedom and a feeling of being totally at one with the environment which is hard to match elsewhere.
Gonarezhou National Park in the far southeastern corner of the country is Zimbabwe’s second largest national park after Hwange. This 5000 sq. km park is a remote undeveloped wilderness varying from open pans of tall grass to the dense bush.
Gonarezhou along with South Africa’s Kruger and Mozambique’s Gaza make up The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. This huge Transfrontier area is dedicated to conservation, biodiversity and economic development of the surrounding local communities. The combined Park includes more than 500 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, at least 116 species of reptiles, 34 species of frogs and 49 species of fish.
Gonarezhou means a place of many elephants, and the park lives up to this name with its 10,000+ elephant population. The park also features lions, cheetahs, giraffes, antelopes and a variety of aquatic wildlife. It is also home to the endangered cape wild dog also known as the cape hunting dog. There were several sightings of the dogs in Gonarezhou this past year.
The beautiful Chilojo hills stand out among the many attractions in Gonarezhou. Standing magnificently and overlooking the scenic Runde River Valley, these prominent red sandstone cliffs came into existence after many years of erosion.
It is best to visit Gonarezhou during the dry season for the same reason as most other highly vegetated destinations, as the thickness of the bush is less and animals gather at permanent water points, making them easier to spot.
Matobo is considered the spiritual home of Zimbabwe when you see it, it’s easy to understand why. When you enter the park you are surrounded by a dramatic and enveloping scenery that is unique and extraordinary. The landscape of Matobo is breath-taking, consisting of an abundance of small hills, massive granite outcrops and boulders which balance on top of each other, creating spectacular forms, known as Kopjes.
The Matobo National Park is right in the middle of the Matobo Hills area. The Matobo Hills are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inscribed in 2003. The large boulders have been associated with human occupation from the early Stone Age right through to early historical times. The Matobo Hills has one of the highest concentrations of rock art in Southern Africa dating back at least 13,000 years.
The park is home to a wide range of game, including Africa’s largest concentration of leopard. White Rhino are also relatively common and Matobo N.P is one of the best parks in Zimbabwe to see them. Lion and elephant are not found in the park. Other wildlife species in the park include giraffe, zebra, hyena and many antelope species including kudu, sable, klipspringer and Africa’s largest antelope- the eland.
Matobo is a haven for birds, about 400 of 674 Zimbabwean bird species can be spotted in the park. It hosts the world’s largest concentration of black eagles.
Matobo National Park is easily accessible, it is less than an hour’s drive from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city.