When it comes to things to do in Zimbabwe there’s certainly no lack of options, even better – most of them are far from ordinary. The iconic Victoria Falls are a must of course – but you don’t necessarily have to explore them the traditional way. And as far as safaris are concerned, who says you have to go on a traditional game drive to see wildlife? Read on for some of our favourite experiences in this beautiful country and its wild and rugged landscapes (a couple of which may even take you into neighbouring Zambia). Now how to fit them all in…
Lace up your walking boots in Hwange
As you know we are an active bunch here at Timbuktu, and nothing gets us more excited than the prospect of exploring Zimbabwe on foot – especially the famed wilderness area that is Hwange National Park. The different habitats and vegetation types as well as countless waterholes mean that a walk here never gets boring, and you’ll be in very good hands – Hwange has some of the best walking guides on the continent, passionate experts who will help you see the bush from a different perspective.
While most camps in Hwange will offer bush walks, two of our favourites are The Hide Safari Camp and Somalisa Expeditions. Both are set within a private concession of the park, which means that they afford the utmost flexibility in activities – so if you can’t get enough of exploring the area on foot, the guides are sure to indulge you with another walking safari. Come during the dry winter months (April – September) to see the animals flock to the camps’ water holes.
Camp out under the stars
Is there anything more romantic than sleeping under a starlit sky in the middle of the Zimbabwean bush, surrounded only by nature and the night sounds of the animals? We think not – which is why camping out al fresco, as to say, counts as one of our top things to do in Zimbabwe. So-called ‘star beds’ are super private, just for you and your other half – you’ll be escorted to your love nest, and most of the time a private dinner is thrown in, too. And no worries, a guide is on standby so you’ll be perfectly safe throughout the night. And if you are thinking of popping the all-important question – this would most definitely be the place to do it!
One of our favourites is Little Makalolo’s Star Bed in Hwange, which sits on a raised platform overlooking Madison Pan, only a short drive from the camp yet very secluded and remote. Also in Hwange is the open-air sleeping deck at Linkwasha Camp and all that separates you from the wild is a mosquito net. In Mana Pools meanwhile, Ruckomechi Camp’s Star Bed (there’s also a Star Bath!) lets you fall asleep to the sounds of nature under a canopy of stars. Pure bliss.
Saddle up for a horseback safari
Experience the mighty Vic Falls from a different, four-legged perspective on a horseback ride. Whilst you’ll begin on the Zimbabwean side of the falls, you’ll cut into Zambia as you venture through Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. After you’ve met your companion for the next two hours and got acquainted with the saddle, your guide will lead you along scenic trails and tracks around the top of Victoria Falls and through the national park. You might even spot some wildlife along the way! And no worries, you don’t have to be an experienced rider to take part – the horses are all well-trained and good-natured, and used to taking their cargo out into the wilderness.
One of our favourite spots to stay on the Zimbabwean side of the falls is the intimate Elephant Camp. Promising a safari feel, this beautiful spot has 12 rooms which each offer spectacular views across Victoria Falls National Park. And just 15 minutes away by road from the falls themselves, it’s also the perfect base-camp to explore that nearby wonder of the world.
Search for elephant
Home to one of the largest populations of elephant in Africa, Hwange National Park is the place to go in search of the majestic tuskers. And chances are you won’t have to search for long for huge herds of them – an estimated 40,000 roam majestically over the plains and through the camps to get to their drinking holes, or your camp’s pool! You might well come face to face with an elephant or two while taking a dip.
Somalisa Camp and sister property, Somalisa Acacia, are both tucked away in a camelthorn acacia island on the edge of an ancient watercourse, which draws lots of elephants to its pumped up waterholes. Not only that though – both also feature rather brilliant ‘elephant pools’ – frequented by elephant families, it’s about as close as you can get to Hwange’s famous mammoths.
Take the plunge
You’re standing on the edge of the bridge, your arms stretched out wide. A voice behind you announces “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” – and then you fall. 111 metres to be precise. Within 4 seconds. Victoria Falls bridge offers one of the highest bungee jumps in the world – and definitely the most scenic freefall of your life, with the mighty Zambezi River thundering below. It’s an adrenaline rush of the finest sort, and a must for all those wishing to raise their heart rate (quite considerably) within an iconic setting.
Need some time to recover following your death-defying jump? The very amenable Stanley and Livingstone Boutique Hotel offers a tranquil refuge only 15 minutes from the Falls themselves. It’s not too quiet though – set on a 6,200-acre private game reserve, you’ll be able to indulge in a spot of Big Five game viewing (including the endangered black rhino), before perhaps retreating for a leisurely massage.
Marvel at the rock art paintings of Matobo
Talk about a history lesson – Matobo, Zimbabwe’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to a whopping 3,000 officially registered rock art sites, featuring one of the most astonishing collections of San paintings in the world. They are estimated to date back 6,000 – 10,000 years and offer an invaluable glimpse into the lives of the San Bushmen. It’s fascinating stuff, and definitely one of the more unique things to do in Zimbabwe – make sure you explore these sites with a guide, who can enlighten you with lots of background information and the symbolism of the paintings.
Fitting seamlessly into its granite rocks surroundings, Amalinda Lodge impresses with impresses with luxurious rooms – built directly into the granite! The camp offers excursions to see the incredible surrounding artwork with an experienced guide who’s able to tell you the wide-ranging history of the area. A stay here will also offer you some great wildlife spotting opportunities including white rhino, zebra, wildebeest and warthog.
Explore the Chilojo Cliffs
Gonarezhou National Park’s Chilojo Cliffs, majestic red sandstone cliffs that have been formed through eons of erosion, are unlike anything else you’ll find in Zimbabwe. The best view is from above the clifftop, with endless views over the Runde River and extending plains. Take a game drive to marvel at the cliffs and their surrounding wildlife – lion, leopard, cheetah (including the rare king cheetah), buffalo, giraffe, zebra and many species of large antelope roam the river’s banks.
It might cost an arm and a leg, but nothing beats Singita Pamushana when it comes to accommodation in Gonarezhou. The lodge offers a day trip exploring the park, with lunch at the cliffs – a scenic lunch spot if ever there was one. Back at the lodge itself the spoils continue – Singita never does things by half.
Capture a bird’s eye view of Vic Falls
It’s all very well exploring Victoria Falls on foot, but to get a real sense of the magnitude of the Falls means to soar high up into the sky like a bird – yup, we are talking about a heli flip. It might not be the cheapest way to experience ‘the smoke that thunders’, but if not here, where else? And we can tell you, the view is epic in the truest sense of the word! Let your pilot swoop you up over the Falls and the Zambezi River during the 15-minute flight – it’s short but oh so memorable. There are also longer 30-minute options, adding on a scenic flight up the Zambezi and over the scattered islands. Mind-blowing stuff, and one of our most highly rated things to do in Zimbabwe for sure.
If you wish to continue your Vic Falls experience on a stylish note, then the grand Victoria Falls Hotel should be your choice of accommodation. The hotel’s serene surroundings make for a rather relaxing stay, while being in touching distance of the Falls – meander down the private pathway for jaw-dropping views.
Glide along on a Mana canoe journey
A Mana Pools canoe safari is a truly unique, not to be missed experience. Following the rains, the lower stretch of the Zambezi flows into the floodplains of Northern Zimbabwe, creating a series of pools and meandering oxbow lakes. This natural waterpark begs to be explored on a canoe – you’ll end up far closer to the animals than on dry land. Gently float on the water while observing a pride of lions lapping at the water’s edge a few yards away, and revel in the circus tricks of the Mana Pools elephants who stand up on their hind legs to reach the juicier leaves on the higher branches. It’s a serene and totally memorable experience.
While you won’t be sleeping on the water, Zambezi Expeditions offers the next best thing – a luxury mobile camp set up alongside the floodplains of Mana Pools. Getting ready for a canoe safari from this vantage point is a cinch, and it means that you’ll be able to explore different parts each day, moving to wherever the water takes you.
Swim in Devil’s Pool
It’s called Devil’s Pool for a reason – this rocky natural infinity pool overlooking Vic Falls is strictly for those who don’t suffer from vertigo! The adventurous dip starts with a boat trip to Livingstone Island, followed by a tour. Then it’s time for a swim on the wild side as you inch across the Zambezi before taking the plunge into devilish waters. The view from the edge of the water, as you feel the force of the river flowing past you and crashing down over the precipice, is one that you won’t forget in a hurry. Depending on the time of your visit, you’ll then be rewarded for your bravery with a light lunch and drinks on the island. Oh, and one more thing – as the natural pools are only revealed during the hotter months of the year, the Devil’s Pool swim is usually only available from mid-August to January.
And here’s a bit of trivia for you – Devil’s Pool lies smack bang in the middle of the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides of Victoria Falls but is approached from the Zambia side. Pick up is usually from the Royal Livingstone, which is within touching distance of the Falls, so it makes sense to book yourself in – you could do a lot worse than make this grand colonial house your base!