Safari in Zimbabwe
In the heart of southern Africa lies the Republic of Zimbabwe with colorful landscapes, stunning national parks and exotic animals. Safari tourism, trips to protected areas in close proximity to wild animals, is very developed here and continues to improve.
What is a safari in Zimbabwe?
Many people associate a safari with hunting, but this is not always the case. Some operators offer to end the trip with a shooting, but in most cases a modern safari involves some sort of environmental responsibility, in other words, just a direct introduction to the fauna and flora of the savannahs.
Why are safaris in Zimbabwe so popular? In a vast world where all tourist destinations are open to travelers, many people choose safaris and return to them again and again. First, it is the natural locations that simply take your breath away, the opportunity to be alone with the savannahs, rocky mountains and forests, to some extent to feel like a weak man before the greatness of nature – not a king, but just as much a part of it as others. Secondly, it is an incredible feeling to see wild animals not in a cage, not in a circus and not in a zoo, but in their natural habitat. Thirdly, it is an adrenaline rush – after all, the animals are wild, and although the operators take all possible safety measures, there is always a thought lurking somewhere in the corner of your mind – “what if. “. Fourth, it is an introduction to African culture and visiting historical sites.
And fifth, nowadays safaris are organized at the highest level, during multi-day tours travelers live in comfortable conditions and are served by professional guides.
What kind of safari tours are available?
By type of transport:
- air (helicopter);
- by car;
- by bicycle;
By group size:
- numerous (up to 10 people);
- multiday (2-5 days).
- historical (with sightseeing);
- ecological (pure safari).
Obviously, the cost depends on many factors and ranges from $150 to $2000.
Where to go on safari in Zimbabwe?
The most popular safari parks and locations:
- Victoria Falls, the crown jewel of Zimbabwe. A trip here will not leave anyone indifferent. In addition to the waterfall itself, tourists are invited to visit a private reserve 12 km away. You can stay here for a few days, living in a lodge and feel like a real Zimbabwean. The local savannah is home to all the representatives of the Big Five, and, as the locals assure you, sometimes wander into the paths of the village. The reserve is recognized as a protection zone for the black rhino, and they have so proliferated in this region that they are even taken to other areas.
- Hwange National Park is the largest game park in Zimbabwe with more than 100 species of animals. There is a huge population of elephants – up to 70,000 at the watering hole during the dry season. Predators are regularly seen, and there are many antelopes, including the rare sable and great kudu, which live in the teak forests. There are few natural water bodies in the park, but at artificial ones you can always see some animal.
- Lake Kariba . The game centers on the south shore of the lake, in Matusadona National Park, where 4WD, boat, canoe or hiking safaris are organized. The park, with its picturesque scenery and magical sunsets, is an ideal place for photographers. From the depths of the lake rise skeletal trees that have stood here since before the flooding of the Kariba Dam. Matusadon is home to the largest population of lions in Zimbabwe.
- The Mana Basins National Park includes four basins of the Zambezi River, with herds of hippos roaming its banks and waters teeming with crocodiles. During the dry winter months, elephants and buffalo flock here for watering. In this remote wilderness region, travelers settle in camps and lodges ranging from affordable to luxury, and can sometimes see the animals from their room windows.
- Matobo Hills National Park is famous for its flocks of white eagles, endangered white rhinos, baboons, and Nswatuga caves with prehistoric cave paintings. The park organizes safaris in open cars, trips to historic sites and villages where the Ndebele and Kalanga tribes still live by ancient customs.
- The rugged terrain, dotted with gorges and ravines, attracts tourists to the Chizarira National Park. Some 400 species of birds have been recorded here, including the Livingstone’s flycatcher, yellow-spotted nictor, emerald cuckoo, and the rare and elusive Angolan pitta. Hiking safaris on elephant and mountain trails with a professional guide are common in the park.
- Gonareju National Park is famous for its marvelous landscape: exposed rocky cliffs, winding rivers, bushy plateaus, and, of course, giant baobabs. One of the advantages of choosing a safari destination in Zimbabwe is that the park is little affected by mass tourism, giving the traveler a sense of untouched wilderness. For the same reason, the roads leading to it are not in the best condition, so during the rainy season it is not easy to get to the park. Only here is found the endangered species of African wild dog, as well as lions, zebras, giraffes, and gnu antelope. Taking a boat ride on the Mwenesi River, you can see a dumb shark.
A little bit about ethics
Sometimes there is talk about whether it is ethical to take foreigners for money to take them through Zimbabwe’s protected areas, scaring the wild animals. First, it is not idle fun, but an educational excursion into the wonderful world of African nature. Secondly, this type of tourism provides serious support to the people of Zimbabwe, especially after the severe economic crisis. And thirdly, the money paid by safari lovers also goes to support and develop safari parks, their preservation for future generations.
Safaris in Zimbabwe are quite different from those in the savannahs of East Africa. Some may find it less interesting, but I personally liked it better. In Kenya or Tanzania the visibility is very high. At the Serengeti, or even more so from the edge of Ngorongoro Crater, you can see all the herds grazing in front of you and you can decide for yourself who you want to see up close – elephants, gnu, or zebras. In Zimbabwe in general, and in Hwange in particular, forest-steppe prevails: savannah can be found inside the park only in small patches the size of one or two soccer fields, and most of the way goes through bush and low forest. And no one, including the ranger, can tell exactly what animals you will see around the next turn or on the next lawn.
Closer to Hwange, the landscape changes slightly: the flat plain becomes rugged, rivers dry up even in the rainy season appear, and low mountain ranges appear on the horizon. There is an interesting “belt of baobabs” here – nowhere else have I met these mighty trees in such numbers. They grow everywhere from little tree babies to huge, burdened with immense belly of patriarchs. This belt is very sparse — the baobab seems to be quite demanding of climatic conditions. In about fifteen minutes you’ll pass through it, then bypass the industrial city of Hwange with its smoky chimneys, and even later there will be more and more signs of the approach of Zimbabwe’s largest national park and the third largest in Africa – Hwange, the namesake of the city left behind.
As soon as the plume of smoke emitted by Hwange’s industrial zone fades over the horizon, specific road signs and inscriptions will begin to appear on the roadside. We have one warning sign for “wild animals” with a deer in a red triangle, but in Zimbabwe there are almost as many varieties of these signs as there are animals. Apparently, it is important for drivers to know whether it is an elephant, a buffalo, a kudu or a zebra that jumps out in front of them on the road. Knowing the peculiarities of behavior, the driver should theoretically adjust his behavior behind the wheel and get ready for a meeting with this particular representative of African fauna. Especially often there were signs warning of a possible meeting with hyena dogs, and the visual information was duplicated by text. This animal is not that rare in general, but in Zimbabwe they are few, they live only in the area and are carefully guarded. The wild dogs are dedicated to one grungy institution along the road between the city and the national park, so dog PR thrives within a fifty-kilometer radius of where they live.
But what struck me most was the long row of telegraph poles lying neatly almost on the ground. Our car swallowed for kilometer after kilometer, and every single one of the poles lay neatly on the ground along the road, and the telegraph lines were not broken. The wooden poles were just lying there, the iron ones were bent. Very carefully and very neatly, all in the same direction – from the wall of trees and bushes to the road.
– What’s that? Was it a tornado that blew through here? – I asked my friend Andrew, a Zimbabwean who was kind enough to accompany us for the whole trip.
– No,” Andrew said thoughtfully. – Elephants. They scratch at these poles, and the poles can’t stand it. But don’t worry, there’s no current in the wires-they’re telegraph lines.
The ideal term to describe the tragedy of the Hwange telegraph poles is this: they have been SLONED to. Both literally and figuratively. By the way, did you know that “elephant” is an indigenous Russian word? In no other language (with the exception of closely related Slavic languages) are these big-eared giants called by a similar term. In the Old Russian language “elephant” meant something huge, something that could beLONGER the sun or other important part of the environment. The term was used to refer to the largest animal of the Russian forests, the elk. And when our ancestors learned that there is still a much larger animal, the word “elephant” immediately moved to it, because originally it did not mean an elk as such, but, again, something huge. So the moose became an elk, an elephant became an elephant, and the telegraph poles failed to cope with the function of an itcher. Characteristically, the road signs on the section of the poles that suffered from the unkind bashing were also appropriate: they had the worst enemy of the Zimbabwean telegraph service with ears and trunk painted on them.
– And the fact that they are all piled to one side is because the elephants are coming out of the bush,” Andrew anticipated my next question.
– And they probably come out just to scratch themselves. The pole is the toughest thing they can find in this area. The acacia is useless to scratch – it will break, we’ve already passed the baobab belt, and there are no rocks here, as you can see.
But then we turned toward the national park, and the line of defeated telegraph poles, crawling toward Victoria Falls, was left behind.
A real safari.
The size of Hwange Park is quite impressive. Given the lack of smooth asphalt roads, it might take you an entire day to traverse the entire park, and another to return. When you consider that Hwange is right next to the Botswana border, and there are several other national parks on the other side of the border, their total area is not third in Africa, but first.
There are quite a few small campsites in the park without many amenities, designed for very keen wildlife enthusiasts who are happy to sacrifice their physical comfort for the comfort of the soul and can easily do without a la carte restaurants and five-star service. For those who either value comfort or simply don’t have the time, there is an excellent safari lodge called simply and tastefully: Hwange Safari Lodge. Again, it’s not five stars, but three and a half, or even four for sure. The safari lodge has no unreasonable chic and royal luxury, but everything a wealthy traveler craves, he will find here: cozy rooms, an outdoor restaurant with game dishes, a pool overlooking the wilderness and other tourist delights.
The name of this national park may appear in guidebooks in a distorted and unrecognizable form. I personally came across both “Huonj” and “Huinj”. If you read somewhere in the scarce Russian-language sources about such a park, you know: we are talking about Hwange. If the name Hwange were English, it would probably read that way, but it is a local African word. While in Zimbabwe, I more than once noticed that the pronunciation of local words is almost always guessed correctly by the Russian person and my companions were often surprised that I immediately pronounced the name, strange to me, correctly. I had never studied Shona or Ndebele, or even the common Swahili language; I spoke purely intuitively, and I always got it right. Try it: first, read the names the way they are spelled, not with reference to the English language, and second, put the accent where you think it is most appropriate. The percentage of mistakes will be small. I’ll also give you a hint: in the vast majority of cases, the stress is on the second syllable from the end. So no hwange, gentlemen! Hwange, period.
All rooms at the Hwange lodge have a view of the watering hole. This is more interesting in safari lodges than the sea view in beach hotels. Armed with a telescope, binoculars or heavy-duty camera optics, you can even without leaving the comfort of a lounger on the balcony to get an idea of the local fauna, provided you spend a decent amount of time observing. Lodges are always built so that from the rooms, verandas and open areas you can see the waterhole (natural or pumped artificially). Animals keep to the water even in the rainy season, and even in the dry season all around the island will come to the lodge. The guests of the lodge have a full illusion of living in the middle of a wilderness, though the animals are reliably separated from the tourists. But the wide and deep concrete moat, which usually plays the role of an obstacle, is made in the form of an escarpment, which is perfectly visible to animals, but invisible to people – a small but pleasant trick. The fence of this ditch is rather duck-like and protects guests (especially small ones) not from animals, but from accidental falling into the ditch.
This combined obstacle, while not looking solid, for animals is insurmountable – jump over the moat with a fence only a lion, but the king of beasts is enough of the prey that grazes below. A baboon might make it across, but baboons are all too common at the lodge; they’ll be coming in from all directions, all the way to the front door.
In the lobby of the Hwange Lodge there’s a big board that keeps track of the animals that come to the watering hole. I don’t know who keeps it, but it’s kept diligently. Some are seen by guests and staff at the lodge every other day, some once a week, the rarest once a month, and such regulars as impala, baboons, zebra, gnu, warthog, and marabou never leave the lodge. Before my eyes, an imposing elephant came out of the woods, wiggled its ears, thought for a while, couldn’t find something to lean on, and went back into the woods without even drinking the water. A friend assured me that he had seen a buffalo. And there are about forty or even fifty names in the table.
To see as many animals as possible, we couldn’t wait to go on a real safari. The duration in Hwange is the same as in Gweru – three hours, the cost is half as much ($30), and the experience is several orders of magnitude more. Even the car is more comfortable. The only thing is that you won’t be driven by a white girl, but by a black guy, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? A ranger is a explorer, not a cabinet scientist, he knows better the habits of animals, because he observes them every day, and has more other information, and loves his Motherland more. Therefore, I strongly recommend choosing safari only in national parks and not to be tempted by advertising campaigns of African fauna conservation companies, no matter what guidebooks say. Three hours before sunset, Moses seated us inside his Land Rover and we set off for our African adventures. It didn’t take long – the first adventure took place even before we saw the first beast (wandering around the lodge observation deck doesn’t count).
The sky suddenly decided to come to its senses and confirm the renown of the rainy season (all the days before it had not dropped a single drop). The white clouds that had been streaming across the sky since the morning grew puffier and puffier, showing signs of light grayness, then of heavy lead, and, finally, of long gray tresses hanging from the sky. The rains were very localized, but one was hovering just ahead. About a kilometer from the lodge gate, it hit us. Although the lodge stands at the border of the national park and the watering hole is actually already there, we had to drive three or four kilometers along the pavement to the official gate of the Hwange Park to get the documents processed there. The rain beat mercilessly on the cab of the jeep and on the tent that sheltered the passengers. On seeing the wildebeest and kudu grazing in the distance, Moses tried to stick his head out of the cabin to tell us something, but instantly realized his mistake, hid back and, giving the gas, waved: “There will be more!” Giving the gas was also a mistake. Although it was clear that Moses wanted to get out from under the small but harmful cloud as quickly as possible, maintaining the same speed, cruising for a safari (about 30 km/h) would have been more correct. Rain splashes reflected from the cabin flew into the body, and even I, though I was sitting in the last row, tried my best to cover the lens embrasure with my chest so as not to get it wet before time. When we were finally clear of the nasty gray cloud, Moses looked out of the cockpit again to see if we were all right. He grimaced, clutching his head, and promising that if it rained again we’d be on our way. I guess he wanted to make us happy.
– Shhhh! – We all said in one voice. – That’s all we needed! Keep driving! We’re not sugar coated.
Hearing this Moses was surprised and smiled – evidently he had never seen Russian tourists before. Our ranger didn’t have to worry any more and didn’t have to solve the dilemma “forward or backward” – Zimbabwe sky sent no more gray clouds after scare for scare. They walked across the sky, but kept a respectful distance and did not interfere at all.
Maybe it will be widespread impala or zebra, maybe the long spotted neck of a giraffe will appear from the bushes, somewhere, gracefully swinging their twisted horns, you will be met by red-striped kudu antelope with an escort of ostriches, and around the next turn a herd of elephants will appear. I personally find this unpredictability much more appealing than when you plan in advance who you are going to see and drive straight to them.