Over the past decade, Zimbabwe -- once a prime safari destination -- has had its share of political turmoil under Robert Mugabe, leading to a faltering tourism industry and some game parks and infrastructure falling into neglect. But travelers are once again discovering this scenically beautiful south-central African country that shares a remarkable border with neighboring Zambia: the Zambezi River, which features one of the world’s great natural wonders, Victoria Falls.
The longest uninterrupted curtain of cascading water in the world, Victoria Falls is also home to a number of adventure-related activities, ranging from whitewater rafting in the Zambezi and bungee jumping off a 420-foot-high bridge to “gorge swinging” -- swinging on a cable across a 442-foot-long, 246-foot-high gorge while in full body harness.
While Victoria Falls alone would warrant a visit to Zimbabwe, the country continues to host a number of excellent wildlife parks with well-trained guides, offering a variety of safaris on land and water.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest and most visited game reserve, is located a short distance from Victoria Falls on the fringes of the Kalahari Desert. It’s best known for its herds of elephants, said to be the second largest number in the world (after Chobe National Park in Botswana).
Hwange is also home to large numbers of Cape buffalo as well as lions, leopards, cheetahs, wildebeest, giraffes, black rhinos, impalas, wild dogs, and hundreds of species of birds. The best viewing is during the dry winter months, which are also the coolest, when animals gather at waterholes to drink.
One private park near Victoria Falls, called Antelope Park, offers chances to walk with lion cubs and swim with elephants, among other wildlife encounters, as part of a rehabilitation program. It’s a memorable experience and is a highlight of many visitors’ stay.
Lake Kariba -- the world’s largest artificial lake, formed after the damming of the Zambezi east of Vic Falls back in the 1950s -- is a beautiful spot for a water-borne safari. It’s occupied by hippos and crocodiles, while elephants graze along the shoreline. Matusadona National Park lies alongside Lake Kariba and boasts numerous prides of lions.
Canoeing the Zambezi
Mana Pools National Park, which borders the Zambezi to the south, harbors four large pools that attract elephants, buffalo, hippos, crocodiles and birds. You can also take canoes out into the Zambezi, which flows lazily at this point, for a few hours or a multi-day adventure. Matobo National Park is known for its rhino-tracking expeditions and offers good opportunities for walking and horseback safaris as well as game drives in search of antelope, monkeys, warthogs and birds. Matobo also features a startling sight: an array of balancing boulders, as well as thousands of pieces of ancient rock art.
The famed Great Zimbabwe National Monument -- also called the Zimbabwe Ruins -- originally dates from the 11th century and once harbored a population of 10,000. The stone houses (for which Zimbabwe is named) were abandoned in the 15th century and are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Whether you choose Zimbabwe as a separate destination or combine it with visits to nearby Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, Stride can help find the outfitter and itinerary that are right for you, in what remains a true bucket list destination.