Zimbabwe is a bit of a secret, with some of the greatest wilderness and wildlife areas in Southern Africa. The country’s affordability, less populated safari parks, conservation efforts, and the stunning new Victoria Falls Airport have all contributed to Condé Nast Traveler designating the country as one of the Best Places to Travel in 2017. The airport’s completed expansion in 2016 now offers international flights by major airlines and serves as a new hub for the area.
With all of the incredible developments, Zimbabwe is rapidly growing despite years of economic recession. Safari operators have shifted from boycotting the country to supporting its return to the Southern African traveler circuit. The increases in western tourist dollars have also helped contribute to ending poaching and protecting wildlife. The wilderness is now flourishing again in Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks. Zimbabwe is back in the game and our clients are taking notice.
I had the pleasure of experiencing this rejuvenated part of nature first-hand during my recent trip to Zimbabwe. Our good friends and partners, Wilderness Safaris, own and operate several camps in both Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park. I was thrilled when they invited me to visit their properties. My first stop included two nights at Linkwasha Camp located in a private concession in Hwange National Park. The camp has a contemporary design while honoring the earthy tones and classic safari camp feel. The tents are huge with all the comforts one would expect from Wilderness Safaris, such as electric blankets, ceiling fans, hair dryers, battery charging station, and the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in.
Hwange is the country’s largest game reserve, and also home to the largest population of elephants in Africa, which is estimated at about 45,000 (Chobe National Park in Botswana has the second largest population). In the dryer months, hundreds of elephants can be seen at the waterhole in front of the camp. The park is also abundant with lions, leopards, wild dogs and buffalos, as well as over 400 different species of birds, and an array of mammals and plains game.
From there, my two hour flight took me to Mana Pools for a two-night stay at Ruckomechi Camp. The camp lies on the banks of the Lower Zambezi, with a superb view of the mountains and of Africa’s Great Rift Valley across the river in Zambia. All of the tents in Ruckomechi Camp have remarkable views of the river and each have an ensuite bathroom. From the exceptional location to the unique décor, Ruckomechi Camp truly has an authentic African feel that really makes you feel like you are in the bush. With a couple hours of downtime before my first game drive, I decided to sit quietly by the main pool and absorb my surroundings and enjoy conversation with the other guests. To my amazement, three elephants wondered up to the pool for a drink, and then continued feeding on the plants around camp right before my eyes.
Mana Pools National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a true Zambezi Valley classic, is famous for its canoeing and walking safaris. I took my first canoe safari on the Zambezi River under the watchful eye of my professional guide.
Our two-hour journey took us past pods of hippos, and a couple of crocodiles that were sunning themselves on the riverbank. I must admit that I was a bit nervous at first, but Zimbabwe has a reputation for producing the best safari guides in Africa. A minimum of six years in a guiding school is required, and additional classes are mandatory in order to take guests on canoeing excursions and walking safaris. Knowing this, I felt at ease and was able to completely relax as we floated peacefully down the river.
One of my favorite parts of my stay at Mana Pools was spending a night under the stars in a safely raised star-bed overlooking a productive waterhole. The deck consisted of a private sitting area with spotlight, canopy bed draped with mosquito netting, and bathroom facilities. I listened closely to the silence of the night, broken by calls of the lions, grunting of the hippos, and ghostly wail of the hyenas. As the night wore on, I peacefully drifted off to sleep to the lullaby of the bush.
Despite all of the encompassing experiences I had, there is one thing in all of my trips to Africa, that makes me long to be in the bush the most. It is not the wildlife, the wide open spaces, the sparkling night sky or African sunsets, it’s the sound of the bush at night which is utterly indescribable—if only I could bottle it up in a jar and take it home.
Some photos from Wilderness Safaris.