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I first came on safari in Zimbabwe in 2003 and I’ve been coming back as often as I can, in my role as a travel journalist and guidebook author.

When it comes to Zimbabwe, the question people most often ask me is: why? In a region of safari big-hitters, what makes Zimbabwe stand out from neighbouring South Africa, Zambia, and Botswana?

For me, safari in Zimbabwe has always felt like a double-concentrated version of the Southern African experience. The country is considerably smaller than its neighbours, with a small but elite portfolio of national parks. It’s easy to travel around, and has impeccably high levels of professionalism across the local safari industry.

And for historical reasons that have nothing to do with wildlife or tourism, Zimbabwe flies well under the radar, even compared to the relatively niche Botswana next door. It’s the kind of place where the joy of seeing wildlife is rarely tainted by having to enjoy those animals through crowds of vehicles.

The main drawback of going on safari here is the backdrop of historical political instability. What keeps visitor numbers low is also what has made a visit here unpredictable in the past. Those days seem to be behind a country that made headlines for all the wrong reasons, but which is now one of the best places to go on safari in Africa.

Mana Pools zimbabwe 1

Take a hike in Mana Pools National Park

Where to go on safari in Zimbabwe

Our expert's top picks

Zimbabwe's best safari camps & experiences

Lodges, camps and hidden gems

Linkwasha Camp
Hwange National Park

Linkwasha Camp

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Close to Ngamo Plains, one of the most wildlife-dense areas of Hwange National Park, this uber-luxurious camp faces out onto the surrounding savannah; I’ve seen lions walking along (and sleeping under) the camp’s boardwalks. Elephants often pass by really close, and it’s a good area for African wild dogs. It’s a wonderful place to immerse yourself in Hwange’s special surroundings.

Camping at Main Camp
Hwange National Park

Camping at Main Camp

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

The bungalows here are fine, but the campsites have shade and acceptable ablutions blocks. But the real treat of camping here alongside the park headquarters are the honey badgers that roam around the camping area after dark. Ask at the park office about reserving one of the mobile campsites out in the remote wilds of the park.

Nantwich Lodge
Hwange National Park

Nantwich Lodge

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Bestselling thriller writer Tony Park owns this lodge out in the park’s west. It’s an excellent place to stay, the safari trails in this part of the park only see a fraction of those elsewhere but with much the same wildlife, and if Tony’s in residence, he’s a fine host and raconteur. He’s also a good friend – ask him about the first time he met and threatened to report me to the park’s authorities…

Ruckomechi Camp
Mana Pools National Park

Ruckomechi Camp

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

On a remote private concession and right by the Zambezi River, Ruckomechi gives you the best of all possible worlds. Expect luxury safari tents, impeccable service, fine dining food and wildlife sightings even before you leave the camp.

Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge
Gonarezhou National Park

Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

On stilts high above the Savé River, this superb safari lodge takes full advantage of the park’s scenic landscapes. I could sit on the terrace of my own private terrace for days and not grow tired of the view.

Rhino Safari Camp
Matusadona National Park

Rhino Safari Camp

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Everything you could want in a tented camp while on safari, Rhino Safari Camp removes you from the Lake Kariba crowds. Staying here does what every safari lodge or tented camp should aspire to: you feel like you’re a part of the park’s wild environment while doing so in supreme comfort – if you’re lucky, you’ll hear lions roaring at night from the safety of your own bed.

Great Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Welcome to one of Africa’s most celebrated archaeological sites, and the best-preserved medieval ruins south of the Sahara, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Zimbabwe. The site dates back to the 13th to 15th centuries and is a fascinating add-on to any safari visit. Combine it with a visit to Gonarezhou National Park and Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands.

Imire Rhino & Wildlife Conservancy
Zimbabwe

Imire Rhino & Wildlife Conservancy

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Not far from Harare, this impressive 10,000-hectare private conservancy is devoted to rhino and elephant conservation. A visit here, or even a spell volunteering, can really deepen your understanding of the conservation challenges Zimbabwe faces, thereby adding considerable depth to your safari.

Savé Valley Conservancy
Zimbabwe

Savé Valley Conservancy

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Savé Valley Conservancy is one of the best-run private conservancies in Southern Africa. It’s a great place to visit, the wildlife is exceptional and you can do all the things – walking safaris, night drives, off-road excursions – that aren’t allowed in national parks. Although you won’t see it, part of the conservancy is also a hunting concession – Savé Valley is one of few places in Africa where this complicated conservation mix works. Whatever your view, ask them any questions you want, and visit with an open mind.

Elephant zambezi zimbabwe

Elephants wading in the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe safaris: Need to know

Everything you wish you'd known before you booked

The best times for safari in Zimbabwe

As is the case throughout much of southern Africa, the best time to go on safari in Zimbabwe is during the dry season months from April to October.

Not only are these the best months when it comes to weather conditions (clear skies, mild temperatures), but it’s also when wildlife-viewing is at its best; during the dry season, animals congregate around the last remaining water sources, making them easier to find and see. There are downsides to visiting at this time: this is high season, which means higher prices and you’ll share safari trails with many more travellers and their vehicles.

If you visit during the November-to-March wet season, bring your binoculars: this is when migratory bird species from Europe and North Africa arrive in Zimbabwe to escape northern winters. The volume of water from the Zambezi River that cascades over Victoria Falls also increases exponentially at this time, although it’s not necessarily the best time to see the Falls: especially late in the wet season, the amount of water is so great that the Falls themselves may be obscured by clouds of spray.

Inside tip

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Things have improved dramatically on this front in recent years, but it’s not that long ago that self-drive safari-goers in Zimbabwe were stopped at checkpoints every few kilometres and asked for money. If this happens, politely decline, but carry an open pack of cigarettes, a can or two of South African beer, or small denomination US dollars and you should soon be on your way.

How a safari in Zimbabwe works

Zimbabwe is popular both as a self-drive and as a guided tour destination.

If you’re self-driving, cars can usually be picked up in Harare or Victoria Falls, although some travellers choose to pick up their vehicle across the border in Kasane, in Botswana. From Kasane, it’s an easy and short cross-border drive to either Victoria Falls or Hwange National Park. You can book lodges or camps directly, and booking campsites in national parks is usually done through the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (www.zimparks.org.zw).

If you’re on a guided safari tour, which can be either a private or a group safari, you’ll most likely fly into Victoria Falls, from where you’ll later be transferred from one park to the next by road or by small plane flying into one of the parks’ airstrips.

About the author

Zimbabwe safaris

Anthony Ham

Anthony is a renowned travel journalist and guidebook author and is one of the world's leading authorities on Africa safari, wildlife and conservation. He has been travelling to Africa for more than two decades to research Africa safari guidebooks for Lonely Planet. He is widely published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, The Monthly, Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), National Geographic Traveler, BBC Wildlife, Lonely Planet Traveller, Africa Geographic, The Independent, Travel Africa, among many others.

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