Several reasons why Zimbabwe should definitely be on your bucket list of places to travel to.
20 Dec 2018
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Zimbabwe has been my cause celebre for a few years now and is somewhere I firmly believe is the best safari destination in Africa. Whilst friends and colleagues within the travel industry fully get where I am coming from, it has been a little harder to convince “outsiders” as to why this is the case. Long and impassioned speeches are the usual pitch I do, but I can’t do that in a blog, so please see below a more concise (hopefully) list of reasons
A fundamental part of any safari trip is of course, what you see, and Zimbabwe delivers wildlife like nowhere else on earth. The Hwange National Park alone is home to some of the planet’s largest herds of elephant as well as huge herds of buffalo – a truly impressive sight as they make their way across the plains. Lion sightings here are superb whilst the vast open plains of the Eastern part of the park are ideal hunting territory for cheetah. Safari enthusiasts will delight at seeing strong numbers of rare roan and sable antelope here and the green season (December to March) birding is outstanding. Moving South-East the Matobos National Park is home to a thriving population of black and white rhino – sadly and increasingly rare sighting in Africa, but they are well-protected here. Gonarezhou in the far South-East is great for elephant and wild dog, whilst a long hop up to Mana Pools makes for a great spot to see lion, leopard and elephant – many of whom have adapted to climb on their hind legs to feed from the trees. In short, Zimbabwe has it all in terms of wildlife and the sightings rival anywhere else in Africa, you just need to travel around a bit to see it all. Which leads me to….
Variety of landscapes
I can’t think of any other safari destination that offers the sheer variety of landscapes that Zimbabwe does. From the cascading waters of Victoria Falls to the open plains and dense woodlands of the Hwange National Park through the rounded granite kopjes and lush green valleys of the Matobos National Park, the scenery is ever-changing, even in relatively small areas. Throw in the vast Lake Kariba, whose shoreline is characterised by half-submerged leadwood trees and the Mana Pools National Park, all acacia groves and open plains with the not-insignificant Zambezi River as it’s boundary, you have amazing scenery in the North as well. Less well-known are the beautiful Eastern Highlands that run along the Mozambique border, with scenery reminiscent of the Highlands of Scotland, although the weather is somewhat better. In saving the best for last there is also the Gonarezhou National Park, a beautiful and undiscovered corner of the country where the red-rock Cholijo Cliffs are mesmerising at sunset and the Runde River sparkles in the African sunshine.
Superb wildlife and stunning scenery are all lovely to have, but if you don’t have the guides to pull things together then the whole experience falls down somewhat. Perhaps Zimbabwe’s strongest suit is the quality of its guiding, with anyone aspiring to be a guide here made to go through by far the most rigorous and intense guide training programme in all of Africa. The result is that you see very few “fresh-faced” young guides when in Zimbabwe – the guides here are grizzled veterans of guiding and deliver a truly incredible guiding experience. During Zim’s fallow years many drifted away to guide where the visitors and money were, but these guys are drifting back and helping make Zimbabwe the premier destination for safari-goers who are “all about the guide”. Campfire stories anywhere in Africa invariably drift to tales of great guides and wildlife encounters, almost always in Zimbabwe and with Zimbabwean guides. Now is the time to take advantage of this with legendary figures such as Clive Stockhill, Stretch Ferreira, Spike Williamson, Dave Carson and Beks Ndlovu all available to hire for part or all of your safari.
High quality safari trips tend to come with a high price point to match, especially in destinations such as Botswana and Zambia which have some of the most expensive lodges in all of Africa. But if you are looking for a truly extraordinary wildlife experience in superb lodges, but without a huge price tag, then Zimbabwe should be top of your list. There has been a phenomenal amount of investment in the country’s tourism infrastructure over the last few years, not least in the quality of lodges being built. Zimbabwe is now the proud home to lodges that wouldn’t look out of place in some of the more “traditional” luxury safari destinations such as Botswana, South Africa and Tanzania but at nowhere near the same cost. Despite this, a conscious decision has been made to keep prices down at these lodges, in an attempt to attract visitors from high-end lodges back to Zimbabwe. All-in-all this is working superbly well, attracting safari-goers from all over the world to enjoy outstanding lodges and a superb wildlife experience.
It is a destination transformed
For Zimbabweans and the (admittedly limited) regular visitors to the country during its fallow times, this is a destination that has been utterly transformed in recent years. In additional to new lodges being built, old favourites such as Chikwenya in Mana Pools have been re-opened and lodges are being built in new areas such as Jozibanini in Southern Hwange and Great Mana Expeditions in the Sapi Region on the East of Mana Pools. The two principal entry and exit points, Harare and Victoria Falls are unrecognisable from a few years ago, with Harare a thriving, modern African city with a superb arts scene and Vic Falls booming once again as travellers come to see its natural beauty, incredible wildlife and enjoy am increasingly diverse restaurant scene. Roads have been improved beyond recognition, making travelling by vehicle a viable option once more, which helps to keep costs down further and opens up access to areas such as Great Zimbabwe and the Eastern Highlands. Internal air links have been improved massively, both in quality and frequency so itineraries can be planned with utter certainty and in 20 the revamped terminal building at Victoria Falls airport (Zimbabwe’s principal airport) opened to great acclaim and can process visitors more quickly and efficiently than ever before, with large international airlines all planning to fly there from their hubs soon.
It’s quiet…for now
One of the great frustrations of booking a safari (and indeed trying to plan them for our clients) is that availability is becoming an increasing issue, especially in the peak safari months of June to October. We are now recommending booking Botswana 12 months in advance, Zambia 9 months prior to travelling, whilst savvy travellers should be looking at anything up to 18 months in advance for Namibia. Not so for Zimbabwe. Despite the resurgence it is still reasonably quiet, even in the peak months and travellers who don’t have the luxury of knowing there travel plans one year (or more) in advance, which face it is most of us, can look at Zimbabwe safe in the knowledge they won’t be saddled with a “take-it-or-leave-it” option when looking a few months before. This is bound to change and there are some camps where we are seeing issues for the 2019 safari season already, but for now Zimbabwe doesn’t present the challenges that other destinations do.
You are making a genuine difference when travelling here
Of course this is the case nearly everywhere you travel on safari, with camps and lodges increasingly conscious of the impact they are making on the environment they exist in, the people who work there and in turn the people they support. Social responsibility projects are common and very well-managed and the safari industry, as a whole, is doing wonders for wider communities within Africa. However, there is a feeling that this is taken to the next level in Zimbabwe, with lodge workers, staff in restaurants and people you pass driving through villages so genuinely pleased to see visitors back in their beautiful country once more. Tourism is a huge driver in the change taking place in Zimbabwe, bringing in desperately needed foreign currency, creating jobs, helping prevent poaching and creating a sense of well-being that hasn’t prevailed over the country in a long time. For us at Far & Wild, it is how visible the good that you are doing in Zimbabwe is that makes it such a compelling place to visit.
Whatever your reason or reasons for travelling to Zimbabwe we can tell you this – you will see a wonderful variety of wildlife in some of Africa’s most captivating landscapes, accompanied by the best guides that Africa has to offer. The rapidly improving quality of lodges and infrastructure means Zimbabwe rivals any other destination in Africa for getting around efficiently and the genuine good you do by visiting there is so clear it helps make this the premier destination in Africa for a safari right now.