Zimbabwe's best natural attractions
By Martha Hales
Mountain ranges with panoramic views compete with dramatic rock formations and immense waterfalls for your attention in Zimbabwe, a country where you can easily combine a safari with a wealth of other natural wonders. The jewel in the crown of Zimbabwe’s impressive array of natural attractions is without a doubt Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. This is the most popular visitor destination in the country, but in contrast to this, Zimbabwe’s numerous National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries are rarely busy. Here’s the lowdown on some of Zimbabwe’s best natural attractions to tempt you to book that dream African adventure.
No visit to Zimbabwe would be complete without a trip to experience the incredible sight of the mighty, mile-wide Zambezi River plunging 108 metres into the Batoka Gorge, sending up clouds of spray that have earned the falls the local name of Mosi-oa-Tunya - ‘The Smoke that Thunders.’ This is not the world's highest or longest waterfall, but it is the largest curtain of falling water on earth. When the Zambezi is in full flow from around February to May depending on rainfall, the noise and spray are an awesome sight. But bear in mind that the mist and spray also obscures the view of the falls, and you are likely to get soaked while you visit!
The best time to visit Victoria Falls for moderate drama yet visible surroundings is between May and September. Whether you decide to walk around the viewing platforms, bungee jump off the bridge, take a boat trip or helicopter ride around the falls, you can't fail to be awestruck. If you are in the area for long enough, there are national parks and wildlife adventures to discover, too.
Not far from the town of Bulawayo, the Matobo Hills stretch for around 30 kilometres, forming one of the most scenic areas of the Matobo National Park in southern Zimbabwe. As well as a wonderful abundance of wildlife that can be spotted on safari, including rhino, baboon, wildcat, giraffe and a good number of eagles, the park has a recreational section which is set up for hiking.
Many visitors are just as impressed by the unique geological formations as they are by the wildlife watching, as the granite outcrop of the hills has been weathered over the millennia to create some amazing formations. Numerous clusters of rock pinnacles support huge balancing rocks on top, seemingly placed by the gods. Indeed the communities that live in the area have a long tradition of worship which is intertwined with the landforms, and the whole region is also the site of some of the most important rock art in southern Africa. UNESCO have listed the Matobo Hills for their unique and natural formations, their importance in local society and for their stone age rock art.
The Eastern Highlands
One of the most scenic areas in Zimbabwe is situated in the east of the country near the border with Mozambique and consists of a string of mountain ranges scattered with lakes, forest, rivers, meadows and gorges. The crisp climate of the upper reaches is a brilliant place to escape the heat of the plains and soak in the glorious views. It’s not a place known for its safari animals, but the birdlife is fantastic and it’s a wonderful area to explore on foot or on horseback. This chain of mountains stretches almost 300 kilometres, divided into three separate ranges: from north to south, the Nyanga Highlands; the Vumba Mountains and the Chimanimani Mountains. Mount Nyangani is Zimbabwe’s highest peak and stands at 2,592 metres high in the Nyanga range, an area of the highlands also renowned for the impressive Mtazari Falls which drop a dramatic 750 metres making them the tallest falls in the country. The central Vumba range is misty and damp with good forest cover and excellent birding and hiking, while the southern range is more rugged and popular with excursion hikers who enjoy multi day treks in the region.
Views of the Chilojo Cliffs in Gonarezhou National Park
If jaw dropping scenery is top of your wish list, make sure you plan to visit the Gonarezhou National Park, where an abrupt outcrop of red sandstone cliffs is the major landmark. The striated, russet coloured sandstone cliffs soar skywards from their location near the river Runde, overlooking the valley and forests below and offering a magnificent view of this section of the National Park. Millennia of erosion have created this scenic outcrop which stands sentinel above this protected zone in the southeast of Zimbabwe. The park offers a variety of habitats to its abundant wildlife, and its name actually translates as ‘home of many elephants’ to give you a clue about what you might see here. There are a variety of species of antelope including the unusual nyala and suni, and it is also home to leopard, cheetah, lion, giraffe, buffalo and zebra. Birding is a popular activity here, and there are also a notable number of freshwater fish to look for.
Among the pools, swamp and streams of the Zambezi floodplain, huge numbers of creatures roam. An outstanding wilderness environment and accessibility of water have made this region a real hotspot for wildlife in Zimbabwe, and during the dry months especially it is a great place to set off on a walking safari or a canoe safari. As well as thousands of elephants, this park is home to vast numbers of buffalo and plentiful ungulates such as nyala, impala and zebra. All these different antelopes are desirable targets for predators such as wild dog, leopard, lion and hyena who stalk the region in search of their next meal. In the waterways you can’t miss the wallowing pods of hippo and the stealthy crocs, but spare some time to investigate the riverbank where an incredible variety of birds - around 350 - wade in the shallows and dart about in the shade. The raptors of the Mana Pools region survey this watery beauty and luxuriant wildlife from the treetops or on the wing, hunting for a variety of fish in the rivers and streams.
Straddling the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Lake Kariba is the largest body of water in Zimbabwe, sprawling over 200 kilometres when full. It may be a manmade lake resulting from the construction of the Kariba Dam in the late 1950s, but today it is a well established leisure destination for locals and visitors from further afield. Popular for sport fishing, sightseeing and leisurely wildlife watching from the deck of a boat, this is a slow paced corner of Zimbabwe where it can be a fun option to rent a houseboat for a few days and potter around a stretch of the 200 kilometre long shoreline and islands, enjoying the legendary sunsets and perhaps having a go at fishing for tigerfish. There are a number of islands in the lake to explore, while during the early and late part of the day you can watch for elephants and buffalo who come to the shore to splash about and cool down in the water.
Zimbabwe is a wonderful destination for the natural splendour of its landscapes and the wildlife that roams its beautiful wildernesses. Our trusted local experts can create a bespoke itinerary tailored to your precise requirements, so why not enquire today and see how your dream trip could look? To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.