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Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe’s fortunes are as varied as its landscape. Once a British colony known as Rhodesia in honour of empire builder Cecil John Rhodes, it won independence to become Zimbabwe and build a seemingly unassailable reputation as ‘the bread basket of Africa’. Its fertile soil and balmy climate is perfect for agriculture - it’s still the centre of Africa’s lucrative raw tobacco trade - but then came political turmoil once again as the government launched land reform programmes.

Within this upheaval, supply lines were difficult to maintain, getting around became challenging and safety couldn’t be guaranteed. Although safari areas were very sheltered from this upheaval, many travellers chose instead to venture into neighbouring Zambia and Botswana.  

Today, the economy and social system in Zimbabwe are recovering, prompting many travellers to ask if it’s worth making the trip and whether the country is safe and well-stocked again. The answer is an unequivocal: ‘YES!' If you haven’t been on safari in Zimbabwe, now is the time. Travellers have already begun trickling back to enjoy the mega elephant herds in Hwange National Park, the incredible scenery at Matabo and spectacular canoeing safaris in Mana Pools.

I say: go to Zimbabwe, before that trickle becomes a torrent…!

Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
River safaris at Ruckomechi offer a fresh perspective on game viewing.

What makes Zim different?

Firstly, the people. Zimbabwe is rightfully known as one of Africa’s most rewarding game-viewing destinations, with well-educated guides who speak excellent English (Zimbabwe’s education system is one of the best in southern Africa). Zimbabwean guides have a reputation as being among the best in the business, experts who eat, drink and sleep the bush. Their passion for wildlife is infectious and they delight in showing you what makes their piece of Zim special.

Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Guides at Little Makalolo are patient, friendly, passionate & knowledgeable.
Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Educational & cultural encounters are part of Little Makalolo's experience.

Secondly, its close to major travel hubs. Zimbabwe is an easy flight from Johannesburg in South Africa, with Harare and Victoria Falls International Airports being more or less an hour’s flying time from OR Tambo International Airport. Fly into OR, spend the night relaxing in a top boutique hotel in Sandton or Houghton and, 60 minutes after taking off, be in Zimbabwe and quickly en route to your safari wonderland.

Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe has an excellent reputation for top-notch predator sightings.

Thirdly, Zimbabwe’s national parks are superb. In the north, you get a triple dose of natural wonder from Victoria Falls, Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks, a World Heritage Site.

From your deck at Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools  you can see both the Zambezi River and the far-off mountains of the Great Rift Valley. If you prefer a ‘roughing it’ kind of adventure, opt for Zambezi Life Styles where only four tents are set up from May to October each year to make the most of tiger fishing on the Zambezi. Waterbabies will love Mana Pools, where you can spend your  days peacefully canoeing and game watching along the waterways. 

Victoria Falls, of course, needs no introduction. After the rainy season, Mosi-oa-Tunya is in full flood and provides a spectacle that can be seen for miles around. Zimbabwe and Zambia have a healthy rivalry about which ‘side’ is better to see the Falls; I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind, but I will throw into the debate that two-thirds of the Falls are in Zimbabwe, meaning it has the most viewing points.

If you choose the Zimbabwe side, Elephant Camp lies in a private concession only 10 minutes from the Falls. It has sweeping views of Batoka Gorge and the suites are more like mini-apartments, with air conditioning and private plunge pools. What could be better than enjoying an outdoor shower while watching a troop of elephants come down to drink, the matriarchs ensuring that the little ones are safe and sound?

Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Two-thirds of Victoria Falls lies on the Zimbabwean side of the border.
Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
It's easy to see why it's named The Elephant Camp!

The Hwange area is heaven to anyone who is nuts about elephants. Up to a thousand have been counted visiting a single waterhole in a day and nearly 40 000 are said to roam the park, promising superb sightings on day-time game drives. At night, stretch out on Little Makalolo’s special ‘sleep-out’ platform that allows you to drift off beneath the Milky Way and awake to a golden sunrise…

Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Stare in wonder at the Milky Way from your room at Ruckomechi.

Fourthly, Zimbabwe is full of hidden gems. If you’ve done the traditional safari circuit and are yearning for new vistas, Zimbabwe is the answer. It's currently an low-volume high-quality safari destination, making its lesser known parks like Matusadona, Matobo, Gonarezhou and Malilangwe offer the intrepid traveller an authentically wild experience - imagine having acres of teeming wilderness virtually all to yourself!

Matusadona borders Lake Kariba, making its soil fertile and its grasses lush. And where there is lush grass, there are antelope galore. Where there are antelope, you can expect to find the second-highest concentration of lions outside Tanzania’s famed Ngorongoro Crater

Long a sacred place for ancient Zimbabweans, their presence still echoes down the centuries at Matabo in the form of beautiful and delicate rock art – some 3 000 paintings are scattered among its massive boulders and rocky outcrops. Matabo, which is home to Big Cave Camp, is an easy transfer from Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo. At Big Cave, not only are you close to rock art ‘galleries’, but the seven A-frame chalets are built from hand-hewn stone lending the lodge a romantic, rustic air.

Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Now this is THE life: relaxing at Zambezi Life Styles.
Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Traditional grain bins at Kalang & stone chalets at Big Cave Camp.

In Zimbabwe's south, Gonarezhou links up with South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park and Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park to form the vast Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Aptly named considering the plethora of wildlife found here, Gonarezhou means ‘Place of Many Elephants’. Bordering this pachyderm paradise is Malilangwe (meaning ‘Call of the Leopard’), a private reserve that is dotted with red cliffs and baobab trees that soar into the sky. Talk of Malilangwe brings us to one of the biggest reasons to visit Zimbabwe, its outstanding commitment to tailored, private and exclusive experiences.

At Singita Pumashana, for example, you jet into Malilangwe at the Buffalo Private Airstrip before checking into one of only six luxurious suites set on a cliff overlooking Lake Malilangwe. Between sensational game viewing, you stretch out in the yoga room, de-stress at the spa (try a ‘Hakuna Matata’ - No Worries - treatment) or work off the delicious high tea on the tennis courts (clay or Rebound Ace, whichever you prefer). At night, choose the perfect accompaniment to dinner from over 220 vintages in Pumashana’s expertly curated cellar. For a once-in-a-lifetime treat, celebrate with family and friends in the exclusive-use safari villa, which sleeps 10, has its own swimming pool, a Swarovski telescope for game spotting, and staff accommodation.

Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Singita Pamushana has impeccable service & superb tailored experiences.
Should I Travel to Zimbabwe?
Savour views of Lake Malilangwe from Singita Pamushana.

Zimbabwe is that ideal combination of spectacular wildlife, down-to-earth people and gorgeous accommodation that runs the gamut from intimate tented camps tucked away in the secret nooks and crannies of the Zambezi to luxurious lodges that will set any honeymooner’s heart aflutter.

There’s really no reason not to go and every reason to hurry before the rest of the world cottons on!

Where to Go in Africa to See Elephants - Zimbabwe
Hwange is known for its large herds of elephant, which tend to congregate around waterholes during the dry season.

Our recommended Zimbabwe safaris:

The 11-day Zimbabwe's Matobos, Hwange, Falls & Kariba safari takes you into four of the country's beautiful wilderness gems. Highlights include exploring ancient rock art sites in Matobos National Park, experiencing the Big 5 in Hwange, cruising on the Zambezi River, witnessing the impressive 'Smoke that Thunders' and tiger fishing in Lake Kariba.

Ideal for: families and couples who are adventurous at heart.

Our expert Monique says: "Offering a prolific, yet remote Zimbabwe safari experience within some of the most acclaimed and yet also unexplored wildlife regions in the country, this safari package is geared towards the adventurous traveller, looking for an ‘’off-the-beaten track’’ safari experience."

The 12-day Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou, Falls, Hwange & Mana Pools safari is a wild and remote adventure offering an authentic safari experience. Highlights include total exclusivity in Gonarezhou, adrenalin in Victoira Falls, big game encounters in Hwange and amazing water-based safari activities in Mana Pools.

Ideal for: both experienced safari goers and newcomers alike who have a passion for wildlife and nature.

Our expert Ramona says: "Largely undiscovered, unspoilt and unique - Zimbabwe has many hidden gems, on this trip you will discover our favourites. Experience Africa’s wildlife and wilderness in authentic safari camps, with genuine hospitality in incredible locations, this is Africa for the seasoned traveller…"

Written by Angela Aschmann. Connect with her on Google+.

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