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Zimbabwe's top national parks

By Martha Hales

Encounters with Africa’s iconic wildlife come as standard in Zimbabwe’s splendid national parks, many of which you will be able to enjoy in blissful solitude making your experience all the more magical. There’s lots to see in Zimbabwe and plenty of unusual ways to see it on top of the classic game drive. Whether you choose to spot wildlife from the deck of a houseboat, a canoe, on horseback or on foot, the knowledgeable guides will make your safari into a true adventure. Safari in Zimbabwe is a fantastic way to support the ongoing protection of the incredible wildlife, not to mention the pristine wildernesses they inhabit. Add the spectacular Victoria Falls into the mix and you have all the ingredients for a fantastic African adventure. Here’s an introduction to six of our favourite national parks in Zimbabwe, each offering something different. 

Zimbabwe's top national parks: Matobo landscape

Mana Pools National Park

Over the centuries the Zambezi River has altered its course and left behind four major and several smaller pools on the floodplain. This UNESCO listed watery landscape attracts a whole array of animals, especially during the dry season from June to October when water is scarce. Imagine canoeing down the Zambezi watching pods of hippos wallowing, exotic birds flitting along the riverbank, elephants lumbering nearby and herds of waterbuck and impala grazing in the distance. African wild dogs and big cats are here in abundance, and these predators follow their prey to the water. It's a thrilling prospect, and one that won’t disappoint. The area is part of a transfrontier conservation area that links into Zambia and the numbers of big game are fantastic, and all concentrated into a relatively small area during the dry season.

   Zimbabwe's top national parks: Hippo walking

Matusadona National Park

This is another water-rich park which deserves your time, stretching from the shores of Lake Kariba and bound by the rivers Ume and Sanyati. It also encompasses the impressive upland Zambezi escarpment, rising to 600m and forming a picturesque backdrop to all that nature. One great aspect of having a park full of wildlife bordered by a huge lake is that there are unusual options available for wildlife watching. It’s a lovely idea to use a houseboat as your base, from where you can observe a constantly changing cast of creatures wandering in and out of your view including elephants, huge herds of buffaloes, lions, leopards and rhinos. Birds, hippos and crocs are commonly spotted around the shores and when you get the urge, walking safaris are another possibility.

Zimbabwe's top national parks: Zebras & Impalas

Hwange National Park

Zimbabwe’s most popular park is also one of the finest, home to the Big Five among a world-beating 108 different mammal species. The park occupies a huge area approximately the size of Belgium and its most famous occupants are the huge herds of elephants that roam the bush. When you’ve tired of the elephants, keep your eyes peeled for hyena, giraffe, zebra, various antelopes, wildebeest and lots and lots of lions. Conveniently located a short hop from Victoria Falls, this is a park that can easily be combined with Zimbabwe’s top attraction while feeling a world away. Guides here are known for their amazing knowledge and bring bush walks and game drives to life, and with such a diversity of wildlife to show off it’s a great learning experience.

Zimbabwe's top national parks: Elephants at watering hole

Zambezi National Park

If you are tight for time and would like to squeeze a brief safari adventure into your itinerary alongside Victoria Falls, this small National Park is a good option as it is right on the doorstep - a day trip is feasible. Once again, the dry season is the best time to visit as lots of creatures congregate along the river to drink. The Zambezi National Park is likely to turn up sightings of buffaloes, giraffes, elephants, impalas and in the water you are almost guaranteed to see hippos and crocodiles, too. This may not be a Big Five safari destination bursting with drama, but the wildlife is ever increasing - lion numbers are on the up - and it is also great for birding. For a quick blast of the genuine African bush experience with a lovely stretch of river, this is a great destination.    Zimbabwe's top national parks: Zambezi river

Gonarezhou National Park

Now that wildlife populations are increasing after decades of poaching, this vast wilderness park enjoys great diversity of animals and is usually quiet so those magical wildlife moments are unlikely to be shared. Conservation efforts have redoubled recently and Gonarezhou, as part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is gaining a deserved reputation for fantastic, off the beaten track safari experiences with excellent guides available for walking safaris or game drives. One of the most notable spots to drink in the view and watch animals at the riverbank is Chilojo cliffs, a russet outcrop which looms above the Runde river. Sightings of elephants are common, and lions are fairly abundant, too. The popularity of this park is increasing along with the wildlife populations, so go before everyone else discovers it.

Zimbabwe's top national parks: Elephant in front of Chilojo cliffs

Matobo Hills National Park

Birders and fans of ancient culture will love this scenic park, which combines incredible geological formations with some of the oldest rock art in this region of Africa. This was always a sacred place to the Matabele people, and still holds spiritual significance today. The grave of Cecil Rhodes (Zimbabwe’s prior name of Rhodesia reflects his place in local history) is located inside the park and is worth a visit for the fabulous views over this unique landscape scattered with towering granite pinnacles topped with balanced rocks. Although there is not an abundance of wildlife here, you are likely to be in proximity to leopards, and you may well see baboons, rhinos, kudus and klipspringers. One star attraction is the birdlife - there are more eagles here than almost anywhere else and you would be unlucky not to spot one when you visit.

Zimbabwe's top national parks: Matobo Hills National Park

Make it happen 

With our trusted local partners to help you plan and prioritise, organising your Zimbabwe adventure is a breeze. They are based there full time, so they are the best people to advise you on how to structure your itinerary to make the best of this amazing safari destination. Who better to help you plan your holiday than someone who has up to the minute local knowledge and on the ground experience? Enquire with our handpicked local experts today to see for yourself what a difference they can make to your African experience. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.