Zimbabwe's best natural attractions
1st July 2021
The alluring scenery and Big Five wildlife would be enough to tempt visitors to Zimbabwe alone. Add in the spirit of the people and the spectacle of Victoria Falls - one of the world’s greatest natural wonders - and you have a top wish-list destination. Some of Africa’s finest attributes are all present in Zimbabwe. From the huge variety of creatures filling immense plains with drama, to the distinctive and gracious local culture, there is no shortage of memorable experiences here. Anyone hoping to sample something a little different can try a canoe safari, while history lovers can retrace the steps of Cecil Rhodes and David Livingstone.
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this enchanting African country. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Zimbabwe.
Observe the Smoke that Thunders
With columns of spray that shoot hundreds of metres into the air, the mile-wide Victoria Falls are an absolute must-see. Its name in the local Tonga language, Mosi-oa-Tunya, means "The Smoke that Thunders," which aptly captures its power. Surrender to the full force of the planet's largest sheet of falling water when you explore the surroundings on foot, accompanied by an array of birds and primates in the lush forest. Or perhaps you would prefer to see the falls from a boat, helicopter, or even a steam train? All possible and all unforgettable.
Go on a water safari
Head to Mana Pools National Park on the Zambezi floodplain for a safari with a difference. A canoe trip along the Mana Pools waterways will bring you up close with wetlands and islands fringed by pristine forests. The whole area is never crowded, and the waterways are frequented by elephants, buffaloes, and crocodiles. Walking or canoe safaris are the norm here, offering a unique perspective on all that wildlife. Big cats are relatively easily seen here, and the birdlife is another highlight. This is far from the busy safari hotspots of East Africa, but all the more rewarding for it.
Discover the secrets of Hwange National Park
Showcasing over 100 species of mammals and all sorts of exotic birdlife, Zimbabwe’s largest and most important national park occupies more than a million hectares of grassy plains interspersed with patches of woodland and low vegetation - the perfect backdrop for all that wildlife. Safaris here offer the Big Five, fantastic scenery, and a true wilderness experience with expert guides who know every inch of their territory. During the dry season - June to October - wildlife congregates around water holes making sightings far more successful and frequent. The wet season won't yield many sightings of big game, but birders will be amazed by the 500 or so species of birds.
While there are lots of well-known things to do in Zimbabwe, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy an alternative adventure in Zimbabwe.
Uncover where Zimbabwe got its name
The Great Zimbabwe National Monument is an African archaeological wonder which offers a glimpse of a lost civilisation. Zimbabwe translates as “house of stone” in honour of this stone settlement, a power hub in the region from the 11th to 16th century which was recognised by UNESCO for its significance to World Heritage. The ruined city that stands near Lake Mutirikwe could once have housed over 10,000 people and contained palaces of the ruling monarchs of the time. Great Zimbabwe was once the capital of the region but was abandoned in the 15th century, possibly due to local water supplies becoming unreliable.
Enjoy Sundowners at Lake Kariba
Lying right on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is the world’s largest man made lake if measured by volume, and it is quite a sight - more than 200 kilometres long and 40 wide. By damming the Zambezi river in 1959 the Kariba gorge was flooded and the reservoir - created for hydroelectric power generation - was created. Controversy raged at the time of construction, but today the lake is better known for its beautiful scenery, plentiful wildlife spotting opportunities and amazing sunsets. Sport fishing is a popular pursuit at Kariba, with a good stock of fish and some exciting game fishing possibilities. Birdwatchers will enjoy time at the lake, too.
Look for Rhinos at Matobo National Park
A combination of geological curiosities, ancient rock art and some great wildlife make this a great destination to discover. Located near the attractive colonial city of Bulawayo, it’s easy to combine the two into a single trip. Many visitors come to see the remarkable rock formations which include rounded rocks balancing precariously atop towering pinnacles, some of which have been adorned with San art from millennia ago. As well as the geological attractions, the park is a draw for birders in search of raptors, and is home to large numbers of rhinos and leopards.
Zimbabwe is a year-round destination, though your chosen activities will dictate which time of year is best for your trip. Broadly speaking, classic safari wildlife watching is at its best during the dry season, from April to October. Birders can visit all year round, though the wet season - November to March - is considered better as many migratory species appear, and because birds will be sporting their breeding plumage.
Victoria Falls is at its photogenic best between May and September, when the flow is moderate, but the spray does not obscure your view. March to May is the period when the Zambezi is at its fullest and the drama of the falls is overwhelming - but much of the view will be hidden by the abundant spray. October to February sees relatively low flow over the falls and though it might not be at its most magnificent, the river below is often calm enough for boat rides and rafting at the foot of the falls.
Zimbabwe’s autumn stretches from March to May and provides relatively cool, settled weather that is ideal for outdoor adventures. November may be worth considering as an off-peak adventure, if you’re prepared to risk the first showers of the approaching summer. December to February is hot and wet, but the payoff is the vegetation bursting into life and the newborn young out in the reserves.
Zimbabwe is an intriguing country with dramatic landscapes and an abundance of wildlife. But did you know any of our top facts about it?
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Zimbabwe. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
See Victoria Falls by moonlight
During the full moon, you can experience Victoria Falls by moonlight! Arrangements can be made for a lunar viewing in the evenings, so you can see this spectacular natural attraction in a whole different light. This is a magical experience you won’t forget!
Cycle in Hwange National Park
If you’re a keen cyclist, you may like to take part in the Pumping Legs for Water Ride that takes place annually in Hwange National Park. Well organised and great fun, this is not just about having a good time, it is to raise money for the solar water pumps that feed the animal's watering holes that they are so dependant on.
Experience a walking safari in Mana Pools
Mana Pools is one of Africa’s best walking safari spots and this is a must-do activity when visiting Zimbabwe! As Mana is situated on a floodplain with large open canopy trees there are no surprises for man or beast lurking in the shrubbery, which makes this thrilling activity relatively safe.
Visit the grave of Cecil John Rhodes at sunset
Matobo Hills National Park is home to the grave of Cecil John Rhodes, a British imperialist who founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe and Zambia – with his company in 1895. If you’re keen to visit, a sunset trip is a great time to experience the park and this historic attraction. If you are clever about how you work your timings, it is possible to watch the sun go down as the moon rises, just sitting on one of the balancing rocks nearby!
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Zimbabwe, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'When a Crocodile Eats the Sun' by Peter Godwin
A moving memoir of a dutiful and loving son who was born in Zimbabwe but chooses to live his adult life in New York City, returning to the land of his birth frequently to visit his elderly parents. On each trip he describes the dramatic changes that Zimbabwe is undergoing, and discovers a long hidden secret his parents have been concealing from him.
'The Grass Is Singing' by Doris Lessing
A cast of believable and complex characters populate this riveting and agonising tale of racism and psychological intrigue against a backdrop of the daily lives of those who live and work on a dysfunctional Zimbabwean farm, suffocating in the heat of Africa and the weight of the apartheid.
'The Stone Virgins' by Yvonne Vera
Using factual events as a framework for her novel, one of the most celebrated African writers conjures up an accurate portrait of the sacrifice and divisions caused by the violence and brutality of Zimbabwe’s post-independence civil unrest. A haunting book which tells the tale of this bloodstained era from the perspective of two sisters.
Do you already have an idea of what your dream holiday in Zimbabwe entails? Whether you're ready to book or would like your ideas to be fined-tuned into something more, send an enquiry and our trusted local experts will design your perfect tailor-made holiday.