Zimbabwe has always held an air of mystery for me. I began my career in the travel industry some eight years ago when the problems had escalated to such an extent that we were no longer promoting the country. The situation altered little in the ensuing years and so Zimbabwe remained a very obvious gap in my safari education!
But things are now changing and changing fast. Tensions have eased, and interest has increased dramatically. It was the right time to go and see for myself how the tourism industry was reacting after years in the wilderness so to speak, and whether it was again a destination that we could wholeheartedly recommend to our clientele.
My safari began at Singita Pamushana, located within the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. Singita has a well deserved reputation for having some of the best lodges in Tanzania and South Africa, and Pamushana did not disappoint. The lodge is beautiful and luxurious, but not over the top, and the game viewing is spectacular with almost everything to see and not one other vehicle for miles and miles. Malilangwe is also linked by direct flights from Johannesburg, so there is no need to fly via Victoria Falls or Harare.
I then moved on to Gonarezhou and Chilo Gorge Lodge, owned by Clive Stockhill who has just won the Prince William award for Conservation in Africa. Gonarezhou is not only amazingly beautiful but also particularly good for birding with two substantial water pans located in an IBA (Important Bird Area) although a couple of close shaves with an elephant family were my personal highlights!
Next stop the Matopos and Camp Amalinda, like something out of the Flintstones, with starkly beautiful rock formations and rooms built into them. Cecil Rhodes is buried here, so it is well worth visiting his grave to learn something about the historical importance of the region. I also spent time in the Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks, two of the country’s finest, with a good choice of places to stay and incredible game viewing. I couldn’t believe the sheer number of elephants and big cats, let alone the diversity of plains game - sable, roan, eland, kudu, nyala and impala to name just a few - but the absolute highlight was walking up on a pack of 23 wild dogs. An awe-inspiring experience!
Zimbabwe has always been renowned for its mobile camping and walking safaris, largely because its guides are acknowledged to be the best in Africa. This is still the case, and the requisite exams for aspirant guides remain far more comprehensive than in other countries. There is a wide choice of such safaris in Hwange, Gonarezhou, Mana Pools and Matopos, each a rare and privileged experience with a guide whose knowledge and enthusiasm is second to none.
Zimbabwe may not be on your vacation radar, and that is understandable given the country’s recent history, but I would urge you to reconsider. Overseas tourism does not support the government (any taxes paid are negligible), but is instead providing a lifeline to local communities and businesses that have been fighting to stay afloat for the last few years.
The hotels, lodge and camps we have chosen to work with will make you feel very secure and welcome, indeed everyone I met on my travels was keen to emphasise that Zimbabwe had turned an important corner and was again a safe place to travel. There is still some way to go of course, but what cannot be questioned is that Zimbabwe is a staggeringly beautiful country with so much to offer - an amazing array of game, canoeing on the Zambezi, walking in the Matusadona, Lake Kariba…and last, but by no means least, the mighty Victoria Falls!
View The Ultimate Travel Company's Zimbabwe vacations.