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Travelogue: Rekindling my love for Zimbabwe

Sara Hinds returns to Zimbabwe to find a country rejuvenated, with wonderful wildlife, luxurious lodges and a warm welcome for tourists.

I first visited Zimbabwe in the mid-1990s when it offered some of the best game viewing opportunities in Africa, a range of luxury lodges and camps, and high-quality safari guiding. At the time, Hwange National Park was renowned as one of Africa’s finest game parks. 

Then the political and economic situation changed. In early 2000, I stayed overnight at the Victoria Falls Hotel. The famous waterfalls were still beautiful, of course, but the surrounding town felt tired – a victim of the country’s downturn in fortunes. Other African nations had become top safari destinations in Zimbabwe’s place.

So, it was with some trepidation that I ventured back to Zimbabwe in May 2018. But I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised; times have changed for the better, as the highlights of my trip reveal. 

Lounging by Lake Kariba

Along Zimbabwe’s border with Zambia is Lake Kariba, the largest man-made lake in the world. Visitors must cross its waters by boat to reach the Changa Safari Camp, which is situated in a quiet corner of the Matusadona National Park. During my sunset crossing, I watched silhouetted elephant grazing on the banks, and fish eagle perched on fossilised trees nearby. I arrived at Changa Safari Camp to a warm welcome, eager to see more wildlife – but first, a bath. If you’re seeking relaxation in the African bush, a candle-lit soak in the lodge’s luxury outdoor tub is just the thing. As I bathed to the sounds of hippo in the nearby river, I realised that this was one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever been.

Morning in an elephant hide

A short flight to Hwange National Park put me in reach of many lodges boasting elephant hides, including my two stopovers: Davisons Camp and The Hide Safari Camp. Waking up early and heading out to a hide, equipped with a large mug of coffee, is the perfect way to watch the morning unfold. Hides are built near watering holes for a reason: during the dry season, thirsty animals gather around these remaining sources of water for a drink. Watching a family of elephant drink and play around a water hole is a delight; you can clearly see the herd hierarchy and family organisation, with the youngest tripping between the feet of the elders.

Sleeping beneath the stars

Sleep outs are an opportunity to feel immersed in the great African wilderness, and many of the best lodges in Zimbabwe provide comfortable outdoor platforms for exactly this. As you bed down outside, usually with a guide discreetly camped nearby, you’ll drift off and wake up to the soundtrack of the bush. With little light pollution, the night skies are awash with twinkling stars.

One property offering the perfect sleep-out experience is Somalisa Camp, located on a dried-up watercourse in Hwange National Park where elephants are frequent visitors. It’s also a family-friendly choice. There are two dedicated units for families, each with interconnected walkways linking the parents’ room with the children’s room. Somalisa also boasts clear views of its own, small watering hole as well as seats around an open fire – the perfect spot for trading stories of the day’s safari. 

Falling for Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls is unsurprisingly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also known as ‘The Smoke That Thunders’, it’s the largest waterfall in the world and lies on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. This is where the Zambezi plunges over a sheer drop into deep gorges below, sending a haze of swirling spray and mist into the air. The natural beauty of the Victoria Falls never fails to stun, but now its surrounding town feels revitalised and ready to accommodate the growing stream of tourists returning here. I stayed at two camps upstream from the Falls, Victoria Falls River Lodge and The Elephant Camp, which both have a safari-lodge feel and lie on quiet stretches of the Zambezi.

From the cheerful greeting of ‘mauya’ (‘welcome’ in Shona) upon arrival, to the farewell flight home, Zimbabwe has given me plenty of reasons to feel optimistic. During my trip, I stayed at some of the finest lodges I’ve ever been in, and my game drives showed me that wildlife here is thriving. Of course, there are ethical issues to consider, and – after the 2018 elections – I understand why some people remain cautious about travelling to Zimbabwe. But I left feeling that it wouldn’t be long before tourists were flocking here once more. I, for one, am already planning my return to this beautiful location.

 

If you’re feeling inspired, take a look at our suggested Classic Zimbabwe itinerary, or speak to one of our travel specialists today.