Oh, the choice! Zimbabwe literally brims with stellar accommodation options – from majestic icons to super-luxe lodges, rustic and comfortable camps, mobile river set-ups and sister properties that beg to be combined. While being vastly different, they all share the incomparable hospitality Zimbabwe is known for – you’ll be hard pressed to find friendlier, more welcoming people anywhere else. It’s almost impossible but we tried to whittle down our favourites, to present you with 10 of the best lodges in Zimbabwe.
Stanley and Livingstone Boutique Hotel
When visiting the iconic Victoria Falls for the first time you’ll want to be close to the action, yet also be able to retreat and process what you’ve seen. Enter Stanley and Livingstone, a tranquil refuge only 15 minutes from the Falls themselves. Set on a 6,200-acre private game reserve, you’ll be able to combine a look at the colossal Falls with a spot of Big Five game viewing – including the endangered black rhino. The hotel’s design pays tribute to its African heritage and colonial past, while also featuring a fresh new look with contemporary accents, thanks to a recent refurbishment. There are only 16 suites, meaning that the (very charming) staff is able to really look after guests – make sure to spoil yourself with a spa treatment, decadent afternoon tea on the terrace or dinner on the manicured lawns. The onsite travel concierge is on hand to book your Vic Falls visit – be it for a leisurely walk, jaw-dropping heli flip or blood-pumping bungee jump.
Victoria Falls Hotel
Our second Victoria Falls choice is one of the continent’s Grandes Dames, a majestic hotel where colonial splendour abounds. An icon of a bygone era, the recently refurbished Victoria Falls Hotel has been welcoming illustrious guests since 1904 – and walking through its grand premises is bound to transport you back in time. The hotel’s serene surrounds offer a haven of relaxation while being in touching distance of the Falls – meander down the private pathway and arrive at the very top of the Falls for jaw-dropping views. Beautiful lily ponds, arched loggias and broad verandas seem custom-built for a spot of high tea or a relaxed G&T, and dinner is an elegant affair. Pick carefully from the rooms and you’ll be rewarded with further stunning views of the gorges and bridge below. There’s also a swimming pool, Edwardian-style spa, two tennis courts and nearby golf course, should you feel so inclined – and of course the main attraction, the falls themselves! Oh, and the pre-dinner sunset cruise along the Zambezi River really ups the romance factor (while spotting crocodile and hippo lounging on the river banks).
Next up on our best lodges in Zimbabwe list is a Singita standout. You might have heard that Singita’s lodges can be a little on the pricey side – but boy, do they deliver. And Singita Pamushana is one of its shining stars, starting with its location: Pamushana is the only camp in the private 60,000 hectare Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, bordering Gonarezhou National Park. Talk about exclusivity! The lodge’s eight tribal-inspired suites are perched high on a sandstone ridge and have their own plunge pools – with to-die-for views of the Malilangwe Dam below. Then there are the game drives – the reserve boasts one of the highest concentrations of the highly endangered black rhino, so you’re in for a treat. Other activities include rock art visits, bush walks, sundowner boat cruises and, back at the lodge, exclusive wine tastings (Singita’s wine cellars are second to none). This one is a definite winner, so if you can afford to stay here – go for it.
Bumi Hills Safari Lodge
A serene beauty of a lodge, Bumi Hills resembles an elegant hotel rather than a traditional bush camp – with a high-end spa to boot. The lodge is set on a range of remote hills on a private concession near Matusadona National Park, with views of the Zambezi Escarpment in one direction and the vast, shimmering expanse of Lake Kariba in the other. Talking of which, the lake is likely to serve as your playground during your stay, with days spent cruising on the water or discovering its surrounds on a walking safari – where you may even spot fossilised dinosaur footprints unique to the area. Other rather lovely activities include stargazing, birding, catch-and-release fishing and game drives (searching for resident lions in particular). Considering the lodge’s spa credentials, booking a treatment is a must – ideally on the verandah overlooking the lake. Heaven.
Changa Safari Camp
Sitting in its own private concession with 4kms of frontage onto Lake Kariba, just east of Matusadona National Park, Changa Safari Camp is a perfect little beach-style hideaway with just eight rooms. Lapped by the waters of the lake and shaded by Mopane woodland, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a secret world where your every whim is being indulged by the super friendly staff. Boat trips on the lake are Changa’s biggest draw – you’ll find great game viewing (hippos, crocs, elephants) and birdwatching onboard. Tiger fishing is another must – the area is known as one of the best tiger fishing destinations in Africa. More water fun is to be had on a trip to the spectacularly positioned Sanyati Gorge, plus there are more traditional game drives and bush walks, too. Changa is a bit of an allrounder really – no wonder it made our best lodges in Zimbabwe list.
Wild, diverse, remote, beautiful – those of us at Timbuktu who’ve been to Ruckomechi in the heart of Mana Pools tend to start swooning whenever the name comes up. Looking out from the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, the lodge offers spectacular views of the broad flowing river, the adjacent woodland and the mountains of the Rift Valley escarpment. The camp itself practically screams (understated) luxury, with a sense of space prevailing wherever you go. The well-trained guides are ready to show off the area’s pristine wilderness setting and abundant wildlife – the area is renowned for its huge herds of elephant and buffalo, abundant birdlife and its potential for great predator viewing. And if you’re trying to seriously impress your other half, this is the place to do it – either with a romantic ‘Star Bath’ in a scenic, secluded and secretive spot, or a ‘Star Bed’ by a busy waterhole. Or both! Book it as a surprise – major brownie points guaranteed.
Mana Canoe Trail
Mana Pools and Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park
Now this one is a little bit different – the Mana Canoe Trail is a mobile camp that will take you on a thrilling three-day adventure on the mighty Zambezi River, encompassing both Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park and Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park. The river and its surrounds will be your home for the duration of the trail, as you’ll spend most of each day either in a canoe or walking. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart – although no prior river experience is required (you do however need to show a reasonable level of fitness, and be at least 14 years old). And no, you won’t need to put up your own tent – a land-based support crew erects the simple mobile fly camp at each evening destination along the river. If you are the adventurous type then this mobile safari camp is for you – put your trust in the expert hands of the walking and river-qualified guides and follow the flow of nature, soaking it all up as you glide along.
Located in a private concession in the enormously productive south-eastern corner of Hwange National Park – one of Zimbabwe’s most pristine wilderness areas – Linkwasha practically sells itself as one of the best lodges in Zimbabwe. Situated on the edge of the famed Ngamo Plains, which offer fantastic summer game viewing, the camp looks over a magnificent pan that is a magnet for game year round, especially in the dry winter months. The brilliant open-air design of the nine luxurious tents and multi-level decks (with uninterrupted views of the prolific waterhole) make for a seamless flow. The surrounding area boasts a staggering amount of wildlife, making for absolutely thrilling game drives; come evening, dine under the stars before retreating to your open-air sleeping deck (a highly memorable experience for the romantically – or should we say adventurously – inclined).
Ok, so we are ‘cheating’ a bit here, as Somalisa is not one camp but a collection of three different lodges in Hwange Park. The reason why they all make our top list? Different target audiences. Somalisa Camp, tucked away in a camelthorn acacia island on the edge of an ancient watercourse (which draws lots of game to its thirst-quenching waterholes) was recently rebuilt and is perfect for those in search of high level comfort and an authentic safari experience. On the same island you’ll find sister property, Somalisa Acacia, which also benefited from a recent rebuild – but is ideally suited for families and children, who will go nuts for the kids activities offered in the lodge’s Ngwana Club. The ‘elephant pool’ at both lodges meanwhile is sure to be a hit with both young and old – frequented by elephant families, it’s about as close as you can get to Hwange’s famous gentle giants. Last but not least, there’s Somalisa Expeditions, a rustic bush camp near the game-rich Kennedy vlei line. Think bucket showers, solar power and simple yet comfortable accommodation, as well as walking safaris with highly skilled guides and mesmerising waterhole observations – the perfect choice for intrepid explorers.
Bomani Tented Lodge and Jozibanini Camp
Yes we’re grouping some favourites together again but bear with us, as this recommendation is a winning combo. Bomani Tented Lodge, is set in a private concession of the magnificent Ngamo Plains, on the edge of the remote and unspoilt south eastern corner of Hwange National Park. What Bomani might lack in elaborate design it more than makes up for in charm and location in a more remote part of the park – you won’t be elbowing other vehicles for great sightings here. We love pairing it with Jozibanini, which is situated further southwest in an area that, for the past two decades, was occupied only by wildlife and park rangers. This tiny (there are only three tents), rustic yet comfortable camp is the real deal, sitting respectfully in this untamed wilderness where San people once roamed. This really is as remote as it gets, and you’ll have a vast swathe of Hwange all to yourself – highly unusual in the southern hemisphere’s busy game parks. During the dry season, Hwange becomes a hub for elephants in the region – large herds can be seen congregating at waterholes throughout the day. Watching them up-close from an underground hide is a magical experience.