Zimbabwe offers more variety in terms of styles of safari than any other African country. Whether walking, riding, canoeing, boating or on a traditional safari, a visit to this spectacular country will appeal to all ages. Enclosed by two great rivers, the Zambezi River to the north, and the Limpopo River to the south, the plateau between is a land of granite kopjes, astoundingly lovely national parks, rugged mountains, ravines and lush forests. Wilderness aside, it is home to the Victoria Falls, one of the great wonders of the natural world, and the mysterious stone ruins of Great Zimbabwe, remnants of a great empire which have inspired and puzzled writers and historians alike for centuries.
The Zambezi Valley provides the main focus for safaris in Zimbabwe. Birdlife is prolific, from African skimmers to the vibrant colonies of carmine bee-eaters. The wild hills, valley floor and thick bush of Matusadona National Park overlooking Lake Kariba, one of the world’s greatest man-made lakes, provide excellent walking and the chance to track rhino on foot under the supervision of an expert guide.
Mana Pools National Park on the banks of the Lower Zambezi should surely qualify as one of Africa’s most beautiful parks. The shaded pools and oxbow lakes are carpeted in lilies, and attract game to drink throughout the day. Dappled, shy bushbuck, kudu, eland, impala all have their turn whilst buffalo and waterbuck make their way to the sandbanks of the Zambezi; herds of elephant wander through the tented camps overlooking the river as they forage for seed pods.
Away from the Zambezi, the most visited park is Hwange, the size of a small European country, renowned for its heavy concentrations of game, particularly elephant and buffalo, and packs of endangered wild dog. Safaris here are by vehicle or on foot. Matopos National Park provides a very different landscape of wind-blasted sculptural granite hills and rock kopjes, with a population of both black and white rhino, and ancient Bushmen cave paintings, famous too for its raptors.
The fortunes of the country are still tied to President Mugabe whose policies have reduced the economy to tatters; poverty and unemployment are endemic and political strife commonplace, but in spite of this Zimbabwe still has much to offer (the upside is that there are relatively few visitors and no mass tourism). Don't expect bargain prices though, as these have held fairly steady – it's just the visitor numbers that have plummeted. By supporting the tourism industry there we can help ensure that the industrious and creative people of Zimbabwe, victims of a criminally repressive regime, have employment and a future, and that the extraordinary parks and wildlife of Zimbabwe might be preserved for future generations.
Prime time: May – October
Hottest time: September and October
It can be quite chilly at night and in the early morning from June to August, dropping to freezing in some areas. Daytime winter temperatures are pleasant.