Extraordinary experiences to try in Zimbabwe

Having bounced back onto the map for travellers, Zimbabwe is now one of the hottest safari destinations in Africa. New camps are popping up on a regular basis, new safari areas are being opened up and old, favourite lodges are reopening their doors. Zimbabwe is home to some of the most show-stopping phenomena, including the iconic balancing rocks (which sit precariously on top of each other in the Matopos National Park) and Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world. Combine these with seeing the Big Five (lions, elephants, buffaloes, rhinos and leopards) and you’ve got an epic wildlife-and-nature-centred getaway.

Spend a few days on a houseboat on Lake Kariba

Lake Kariba’s houseboats are a Zimbabwean institution and there are several that can be hired for a few days’ cruising on one of the world’s largest man-made bodies of water. Once onboard you can relax, enjoy some wildlife viewing, a spot of fishing and have evening meals beneath the African night sky: a perfect way to spend a few days, especially when celebrating a special occasion with a group of friends.

Ride the Elephant Express to the Hwange National Park

Visitors staying at one of Imvelo Safaris’ excellent lodges in Hwange (Camelthorn or Bomani) will have the option to ride the quaint Elephant Express train to reach the lodge, instead of a traditional vehicle transfer. This is a wonderful way to arrive, allowing guests some additional game viewing opportunities and the chance to ride on one of Zimbabwe’s oldest railways. For visitors looking to take this experience to another level, they also have an overnight sleeper train, the Stimela Star, which runs between Victoria Falls and Hwange.

Track rhinos in the Matobos National Park

Found in the south of the country, the Matobos National Park is home to some of Zimbabwe’s most breathtaking landscapes as well as a strong population of free-roaming black and white rhinos. A trip here offers a unique opportunity to track these majestic creatures on foot and learn about the sterling work being done to save them from poaching. A morning with the rhinos can be combined with visits to the many fascinating bushman rock art sites dotted around the park.

See the lunar rainbow

At the coming of each full moon, Victoria Falls becomes one of the best places in the world to see a truly incredible phenomenon – the lunar rainbow. The rainbow is formed when moonlight is refracted through the water particles from Victoria Falls which hang in the air. As moonlight is dimmer than sunlight, lunar rainbows are fainter than daytime rainbows but are distinctive and dreamlike against the backdrop of a starry night sky. Visitors are able to take guided tours down in to the rainforest on the edge of the falls to see this but be aware, full moons are hugely popular times to be there so ensure you book well in advance.

Visit the ruins of Great Zimbabwe

For those looking to learn a little about the history of Zimbabwe, the mysterious ruins of Great Zimbabwe are a must-see. The mighty walls, conical towers and network of passageways can all be explored in the company of a local guide who will help you to unravel the mysteries of one of Africa’s great early civilisations. Little is known on the origins of the citadel, and of its inhabitants, who legend says were giants, which you can definitely picture as you gaze at the vast, almost fantastical boulders which rise from the ground up.

Explore the Mana Pools National Park on foot

For safari enthusiasts there’s nothing more exhilarating than a walking safari to explore the bush. With an expert guide leading you, these walks are a chance to learn more about the smaller inhabitants of the bush, often missed on game drives, as well as get up close to a variety of bigger wildlife. They make a lovely change from long days out exploring in a safari vehicle, giving you a more intimate experience of the bush.

Photograph the towering red cliffs of Gonarezhou

Deep in the south-east of Zimbabwe, close to the border with Mozambique is the breathtaking Gonarezhou National Park. Despite its natural beauty and abundance of wildlife, this remains one of the country’s hidden gems, with relatively tricky access and lack of lodges keeping it off many people’s radars. Whilst the wildlife here is exceptional, there’s a lot to be said for the landscape and few places rival the scenery here. The red rock faces of the Cholijo Cliffs are a photographer’s dream, especially in the golden light of late afternoon, and are best photographed with a cold drink close at hand.

Hike in the stunning Eastern Highlands

Spend a few days in the beautiful Eastern Highlands, a few hours’ drive from Harare. Here you can hike through the gently rolling hills, enjoy a game of golf or fish in one of the crystal-clear streams. The birdlife here is exceptional as well so keen twitchers should make sure they have their binoculars and bird books to hand. The accommodation is also superb, surrounded by unspoilt wilderness like the Inn on Rupurara which overlooks a valley (the perfect place for horse riding) and Musangano Lodge, where you can stay in a homely chalet surrounded by mountains and the woodland.

Enjoy a street art tour of Harare

Street art in major African cities is very much in vogue at the moment and Harare is no exception. Spend a couple of nights in Zimbabwe’s capital and you can organise a morning or afternoon tour with a local artist to allow you to learn more about the influences behind the street art movements and what it means to the local people. On foot or by bicycle, this is a wonderful way to explore parts of a fascinating, off-the-radar city that most people know very little about.

Go – and go now

Zimbabwe offers great availability and value for money compared to popular neighbours Botswana and Zambia. As the positive news about Zimbabwe spreads, and more luxury brands build and redevelop camps there, it has never been a better time to visit. If you live and breathe wildlife and love to get off the beaten track, get there while the going is good and you can enjoy this incredible success story before it becomes mainstream again.

Thomas Ryves is Marketing Director at Exsus Travel. Exsus Travel specialises in creating the very best luxury tailor-made holidays, honeymoons and family adventures in over 80 destinations worldwide.

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Comments (4)

  1. Informative post.Beautifully designed by amazing picture. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jerry Hayden says:

    Good to see Zimbabwe being featured.

    Having grown up there we visited most of those places and had the experiences, on the basis of just load up and go. There really are some unique experiences to be had.

  3. Jesse says:

    I love the idea of staying on a house boat with a group of friends. Fishing and having a little cruise sounds great I bet you see some great wildlife too. The elephant express sounds so lovely and a magical ride for both children and adults. I adore seeing animals in the wild and my little boys loves elephants and trains so this is the perfect combination. Wow the lunar rainbow is beyond beautiful I bet it is awe inspiring in person.

  4. Rob says:

    I read this piece a few days ago and I felt compelled to come back to it. It has sort of haunted me. I’ve got 2 friends, not together and who don’t know each other, who left their homeland of Zimbabwe during its difficult days and I know how much it means to them to see Zimbabwe recovering.

    I suppose for me Rhino tracking would be my Number One Experience out of all of these options, with a hike in the East Highlands hot on its heels. Though I suppose we all have our favourites …

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