Zimbabwe: Return to Paradise
You may think Zimbabwe off limits due to is past political problems. But think again as Francis finds out that it is possible to visit and enjoy the wonderful wildlife and superb hospitality in this great safari destination.
Along with several others from Aardvark I spent a lot of time in Zimbabwe in the 1990s. It was always a well developed country with good roads, reliable phones, and plentiful food, with electricity and clean water at all times. Despite what the press reports, that’s still the case today. In fact the infrastructure is better than that of Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi or Zambia.
When I was leading overland trips, Zimbabwe was a place where we could get things done. Have equipment made or repaired, buy anything in the shops, enjoy some terrific food and great adventures. Zimbabwe had easy and reliable communications with the rest of Africa as well as the UK. Zimbabweans were hard working, well educated, intelligent and capable people. They were also great people to spend time with and to work with. They still are.
It is a small country by African standards, just 50% bigger than the UK. But with a population of less than a quarter of ours it feels spacious. The country has a unique feel of mystery and antiquity. Set as it is between two great rivers, a big range of mountains and a vast desert it also seems to be more defined as a country than most.
Much of its land is on a granite plateau, giving rise to some wonderful rock formations, fertile farmlands and mineral wealth. Thanks to the altitude the climate is for the most part just right. A delightful mix of not too hot and never too cold, with dry sunny weather for eight months of the year. It’s no surprise that the country was such a hit with visitors in the 80s and 90s.
Zimbabwe is blessed with some amazing landscapes and geographical features. With the mighty Zambezi forming its northern border with Zambia for its entire length and the eastern mountains for most of the eastern border with Mozambique.
For many people the prime reason for visiting Africa is to see wildlife. But Zimbabwe has so much more to offer than just a superb safari. With the Victoria Falls, the jumbled, magical Matopos Hills, the mysterious ruins of Great Zimbabwe, the beautiful Eastern Highlands. Zimbabwe has plenty of good opportunities for walking, fishing, golf, horse riding, and boating. As a place for a holiday it has it all.
The camps and lodges here are also first rate. With attentive hospitality, great food, and superb service, all done in a relaxed and informal way. Many camps are stone and thatch; Zimbabweans are great thatchers, and create some amazing roofs with simple materials.
For most of us the focus will still be on the north and the great wildlife areas of Zambezi, Hwange, Matusadona and Mana Pools. Each of these is a fantastic haven for some of the country’s amazing wildlife. Each area has unique features that make it well suited for being conserved as a piece of wilderness.
One of the best things about a safari here for a real enthusiast is the chance to dismount from your vehicle, to walk with some of Africa’s finest guides. To follow tracks and actually find large beasts while on foot, instead of avoiding them as in many places. It is exhilarating, and just the best way to experience the bush. You may not always get as close as you do in a car, but the thrill is so much more intense. You can also see the small things that complete the picture. The beetles, ants, termites, fallen feathers, leaves, flowers, and the minutiae that comprise the greater part of this incredible display of nature.
Another feature of Zimbabwe that I adore is the amazing collection of true characters that the country seems to produce. Many of whom you can meet in a single visit. What is it about the country that guys like Dudley Tafuruka, Stretch Ferreira and Steve Edwards stride through its landscapes?
Dudley is an enormous character, a bear of a man with a huge grin and a superb sense of humour. He guides guests at Somalisa in Hwange with supreme aplomb. Allowing them to experience this wonderful park at its best and most personal. He has had years of experience with some of the greatest names in the Southern African safari business. He brings great knowledge, wisdom and fun to a safari. He has gravitas as a guide and a bush expert, something which many guides here posses in spades.
Stretch is an aptly named giant of 6 foot 6, who has lived at Goliath Safaris Camp in Mana Pools for the past 25 years. He has a great sense of fun, and a passion for Mana Pools and its wildlife. He knows each of the resident elephant in his locality as individual characters. He took me to meet two bulls called Grumpy and Penelope, the memories of which will stay with me forever.
Zimbabwe is a complete destination. It has superb wildlife in well managed reserves, plentiful wilderness, stunning landscapes of epic proportions. An incredible standard of guiding and outstanding hospitality. More than that, it also offers plenty of activities in one easy location.
Zimbabwe is back from the brink. It should no longer be a pariah, but a paragon among the finest of all safari destinations.
Francis’ Zimbabwean Highlights
- Getting up close and personal with elephants in Mana Pools and the sheer number of elephants in Hwange
- Canoeing on the Lower Zambezi is divine
- Mana Pools is one of the most picturesque places on the planet
- To be able to walk and get pretty close to the wildlife, with some of the best guides on the Continent
- The whole length of the Zambezi – it’s all beautiful and each bit has a different character
- Zimbabwe is good for safari between March and October but at its absolute best from May to end-October
If you’ve got questions, or you think there’s something more about Zimbabwe safaris that we should have included, please ask in the comments section below, or pop us an email. We’ll be sure to reply and may amend the article to include our answer.
We would be delighted to help you plan a holiday, or answer any questions if you’re at an earlier stage. Our team of experts have travelled widely throughout Africa and can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris. If you would like to talk to someone who has been there and done it, please just give us a call or drop us an email and we will do the rest.