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10 Best Zimbabwe Safari Destinations
After 10 years in the political cold, Zimbabwean tourism is starting to ‘happen’ again. At one point in the early to mid nineties, Zimbabwe was the go-to holiday destination. Every able-bodied person visiting Zimbabwe makes it their mission to go white water rafting on the Zambezi River. It was so popular that it almost became a street for young adults.
In the intervening 10 years since Zimbabwe went off the tourism map, the world has changed but I’m happy to report that the essentials that make Zimbabwe popular as a tourist destination have remained largely unchanged – like the unwavering friendliness of the people, the pristine wilderness. Lack of national parks and urban sprawl.
Here are my top 10 Zimbabwe destinations:
1. Victoria Falls is the obvious number one. Next to Cape Town, Victoria Falls is the most famous attraction in South Africa. It should be done at least once in a lifetime. It is still natural and not over developed. Millions of liters of water flow over the 1.2 km wide lip in a high water spray so thick that you sometimes cannot see the rock formations over which the water tumbles.
2. If pachyderms are your thing, Hwange is the place for you. This is the country of elephants. It is a fantastic sight to see hundreds of elephants at the water’s edge. Unlike humans, elephants are organized. No baring here. Each herd waits patiently before taking a chance. Other wildlife is diverse and abundant. Apart from the usual Big Five, small mammals such as bat-eared foxes, jackals and civets abound making Hwange an all-round safari destination.
3. Zambezi Canoe. If you want to do the real thing, it’s a must at Mana Pool Nature Reserve. It’s an unspoiled wilderness with fantastic wildlife – and very few tourists to boot. Sleep under canvas every night and listen to the sounds of Africa. This is the taste of the world as it was created.
4. The rock formations of Matopas National Park are a natural engineering feat. Enormous boulders lie on top of each other in a seemingly trivial balancing act. The national park has many excellent examples of San Kale, a healthy rhino population and is of great local historical importance. Notorious colonist Cecil John Rhodes loved the beauty of the landscape so much that he chose it as his final resting place.
5. South Africa does not have many examples of ancient architecture. The most notable exception is the mysterious ancient city of Masvingo, also known as the Zimbabwe Ruins. Believed to be connected to King Solomon’s mines, the once bustling city’s magnificent walls were built by a lost civilization. If you like myths and legends, read Wilbur Smith’s epic novel from the 70s, The Sunbird, which is originally set in the metropolis of Zimbabwe.
6. Lake Kariba is a vast water desert. One of the most popular ways to enjoy wildlife is from a houseboat. These live yachts range from large to small, basic to luxury. Almost all boats are equipped with small tender boats so that guests can enjoy game viewing and encounter Africa’s most famous freshwater game fish – the tiger! There are two centers for boarding houseboats – either from Kariba town on the north side of the dam or at Binga on the south side.
7. Go horse riding in Mawradoha. This destination is a ‘far from nowhere’ kind of place – a pure bushveld destination where you can lose yourself in the completely untouched rugged scenery. The area is home to more than 300 species and is also a paradise for birds. Apart from riding, you can swim in natural streams and waterfalls and discover many rock paintings hidden in caves and cliffs.
8. Go trout fishing in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. Here where Zimbabwe touches Mozambique, the countryside turns into rolling green hills interspersed with crystal clear streams. A spectacular golf course with great views is housed in the grand old Leopard Rock Hotel.
9. Take a dip in the clearest, bluest waters of the Chinhoi Caves. The caves are steeped in history and are named after a local chief who sought refuge from Ndebele invaders. The caves are best experienced in summer when the sun is high in the sky and shines directly on the water. The main lake known as Sleeping Pool or Chirorodzira (Fallen Pool) leads to an extensive cave system. The full depth of the cave system is unknown and is believed to be more than 200 meters deep. There is a campsite and a small hotel but the best place to stay in the area is at Henderson’s Farm. The camp has an incredible hilltop location from where one can see for miles.
10. Gonarezhou in the southwestern corner of Zimbabwe is a 5000 square kilometer area that forms part of the newly created Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a huge pan-African ‘peace park’ initiative that includes South Africa’s Kruger Park and Mozambique’s Gaza Park. Gonarezou, or ‘place of the elephants’ in the local language, has an impressive rugged landscape with large red sandstone cliffs, a wide variety of animals and plants, and an estimated 400+ species of birds.
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