Victoria Falls is one of the natural wonders of the world. When in flood, it is the widest curtain of falling water in the world. The cascade is on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe as the Zambezi River is the demarcation, so technically the Falls are in Zambia. The best views are from the Zimbabwean side of the Falls. It is the highlight of many a vacation in southern Africa.
The small town is a tourist hub with many hotels, a few trendy bars and cafes and many curio markets. Victoria Falls is also where great adventure activities are offered such as bungee jumping off the iconic Victoria Falls bridge. There is a high wire zip line called the Flying fox over the gorge as well as abseiling into the gorge offered. White water rafting on the Zambezi is popular, one of the highest-graded rapids in the world, it delights thrill-seekers.
For more sedate activities, a sunset cruise on the Zambezi is popular. Drift along and watch wildlife such as elephant and buffalo come down to the water’s edge to drink. Drift past pods of hippopotami and crocodiles sunning themselves on sandbanks. Then take in the spectacular sunset. The Zambezi Valley is famed for having some of the best sunsets in Africa. There are several day trip options into nearby Zambia and Botswana on offer as well.
Hwange National Park
About the size of Belgium, the Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest conservation area. It is about a 1-hour drive from Victoria Falls. The park was once the royal hunting ground of Mzilikazi, the king of the Ndebele people before it was designated as a national park in 1929.
The park is home to one of the largest elephant populations in Africa with around 50,000 elephants. Seeing large herds of elephants and buffalo is common in the park. The park has been under increasing pressure from surrounding populations. Zimbabwe’s economic and political decline led to a decrease in tourism revenue and the economic situation impoverished local communities who turned to poaching as a source of income.
In recent years, tourism has been making a comeback. There are several private concession areas of the park such as that by Wilderness safaris which has a lovely lodge. These conservation areas are well managed and offer an excellent safari vacation.
The park and the surrounding conservation concessions are a last refuge for the highly endangered African Wild Dog. The park is also home to rare antelope species like sable and roan antelope. Predators such as cheetah, lion and hyena are also commonly seen. In the dry winter months, the wildlife congregates around manmade waterholes offering really good game viewing from hides.
The country of Great Zimbabwe takes its name from the ruins of an 11th-century city called Zimbabwe, which means “house of stone” in the local Shona language. These impressive ruins are called Great Zimbabwe today. The ruins lie 3okm/18 miles outside the city of Masvingo. The site spans over 7 kilometres and is estimated to have been home to a population of about 18,000 people.
There are several different stone structures, the most impressive of which is the Great Enclosure and the Royal Palace. The Great Enclosure is formed by a large high circular wall and a tower. It is the largest ancient manmade structure south of the Sahara, made even more impressive by the fact that no mortar was used and each stone had to be cut and balanced precisely. The Royal palace is a citadel on the hill, which could easily be defended.
Several carvings of stone birds were found here which are said to be fish eagles and are represented on the Zimbabwean flag. The city was the centre of an agricultural region, but its main trade was in the working of gold, and the people here had an extensive trade route that reached as far as China. The city declined in the 15th century, probably due to a series of droughts and the site was abandoned.
Visitors can take a guided tour with a knowledgeable local guide who can tell them all about the history and architecture of the impressive buildings.
Mana Pools National Park
The Mana Pools National Park is not as visited due to its remote location, but a couple of luxury safari companies have private concessions here with luxury camps on them. Most guests are generally flown into the region on a private plane. Mana Pools takes its name from four permanent pools in the winding Zambezi River floodplain. Across the border lies the Lower Zambezi National Park, forming a continuous wildlife conservation area.
It is one of the most beautiful national parks in Africa. The lodges here specialise in walking and canoeing safaris. The region has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its biodiversity. Its where the renowned episode of Dynasties, featuring the endangered African Wild Dogs was filmed. Sightings of elephant herds and buffalo herds in their hundreds are common. Predator interaction is particularly good as lions have good hunting on the floodplains.
The floodplain has a beautiful aspect, dotted with acacia trees which drop pods which are the favourite food of elephants, sightings of these creatures are always good. Walking safaris are particularly rewarding too. Guests can experience a safari at a slower pace, learn about bushcraft and medicine and seeing wildlife interactions on foot, adds a whole new dimension to the safari. The park has very good concentrations of wildlife and sightings are always good. This is a very remote safari destination that is sure to be a memorable experience.
Matobos National Park
Less visited than Zimbabwe’s other attractions, the Matobos National Park lies about a 45-minute drive outside the city of Bulawayo. The granite hills were formed over 2 billion years ago with granite being forced to the surface, this has eroded to produce smooth “whaleback dwalas” and broken kopjes, strewn with boulders and interspersed with thickets of vegetation.
The Ndebele gave the area its name, meaning ‘Bald Heads’. These kopjes are dotted with Masasa trees which get new leaves in spring in vibrant colours, rather like autumn is meant to be. Guests can come and explore this amazing landscape.
The region was so beloved by colonial magnate Cecil John Rhodes that he asked to be buried here. Guests can hike to see his gravesite at a point called World’s View. Tracking rhino and going on game drives are also popular activities. Guests mostly see antelope on game drives. The region has a high concentration of leopards, but these are shy and seldom seen. The park does not have as much wildlife as Hwange, but a visit is extremely rewarding.