Great For: Safari in an uncharted land.
Highlights: Wild and rugged adventure.
Most of Gonarezhou remains unexplored. This Zimbabwean landscape is an extended part of the Greater Kruger, with large numbers of rhino and elephant among the highlights.
Facilities are basic and the land is hard to get around, which only adds to the adventure for many; just give yourself time and remember to be patient.
If Gonarezhou sounds a little too wild, consider Malilangwe Private Game Reserve, an unfenced concession bordering Gonarezhou. It’s expensive to stay in the Singita lodge here but you’ll get a very intimate big five experience without losing any of Gonarezhou’s wild and rugged allure.
Best Time to Visit Gonarezhou: All year round in Malilangwe but May to November in Gonarezhou National Park.
Combine With: Anywhere you can. Gonarezhou is hard to get to which is part of the appeal.
Hwange National Park
Great For: A classic safari experience.
Highlights: The lack of other visitors; the wealth of wildlife.
Elephants in the woodlands, lions and leopards hunting antelope, wild dogs running in packs, and just about every animal you could wish to see on a safari…welcome to Hwange, one of Africa’s best national parks, yet one of its least visited.
Tourism has died in Zimbabwe so it feels like you are alone in this 15,000 km² park, especially when visiting outside June and July.
From woodland to grassland you get a classic safari experience, making Hwange a great choice if you only plan one safari destination (almost on par with the Greater Kruger).
It is safe to visit and relatively affordable compared with Botswana and South Africa; make the jump into Zimbabwe and you will be rewarded.
Best Time to Visit Hwange National Park: April to December; it’s hot and wet January to March.
Also Consider: The Greater Kruger.
Combine With: Victoria Falls is a few hours north by road or rail. Botswana’s safari destinations are a few hours west by road.
Mana Pools National Park
Great For: Being alone in the wilderness; with lots of hippos and elephants.
Highlights: Connecting with your wild side.
Mana Pools is the Zimbabwean half of a World Heritage wetland, where hippos and elephants are so numerous there is no point trying to count the sightings. The other half is directly north in Zambia: Lower Zambezi National Park.
Mana Pools receives less than 10% of the visitors north of the river as it’s harder to get to and tourism is lower in Zimbabwe. So you enter a wilderness without other people, enjoying a private concession-style safari experience for a very low price.
The challenge is getting here. The next challenge is wanting to leave, especially when walking and boat safaris add another dimension to the big game viewing.
Best Time to Visit Mana Pools National Park: The landscape turns to swampland from November to March; it’s almost impossible to travel in these months. September and October are hot but the ultimate months for game viewing.
Also Consider: Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia is a little easier to get to.
Combine With: Hwange National Park and other destinations in Zimbabwe.
Matusadona National Park
Great For: A serene safari that includes the big five.
Highlights: Relaxing on Lake Kariba; intimate encounters.
Lake Kariba feels like a waterside escape, the kind of place you visit to lie on the beach and dip in the water. Except animals live here as well, not least the complete big five. So you spend the days mixing quiet relaxation with safari adventure, sometimes hippos walking across the sand you want to sunbathe on.
While there is a lot of life it is thinly spread, so you need a good guide in order to spot the more elusive animals. We also wouldn’t recommend Matusadona if you only visit one safari destination; this park is a tranquil complement to a more rugged adventure elsewhere.
Best Time to Visit Matusadona National Park: June to October provide the best game viewing.
Also Consider: The iSimangaliso wetlands in South Africa.
Combine With: Mana Pools and Hwange national parks.
Great For: The best views of Victoria Falls.
Highlights: The Victoria Falls walking trail.
Victoria Falls is best viewed from the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi River. More than two thirds of the falls are on this side, so you have more to explore and more viewpoints to enjoy; plus, during peak flow this is the only side where you get views as well as spray.
You’ll probably stay in Victoria Falls town, a tourist-centred place that provides a little modern comfort after a wild adventure in Zimbabwe or neighbouring Botswana.
Best Time to Visit Victoria Falls: Any month of the year. Peak waterfall flow is May to July.
Also Consider: Crossing the bridge and the Zambian side.
Combine With: From here the adventure heads out in many directions. Walk to Zambia and continue south; travel Zimbabwe; or cross the nearby border to Botswana and Namibia’s Caprivi Strip.