Rediscovering Zimbabwe, a Different Kind of Africa Safari

Outdoors & Animals

Elephant and buffalo at waterhole in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe isn’t usually the first country travellers think of when planning a Southern Africa safari. At least, it hasn’t been in recent times. This however has more to do with years of political and economic uncertainty than any shortcomings as a destination. In fact, with its idyllic climate, wide range of wildlife viewing, awe-inspiring sights, both natural and man-made, and relative lack of crowds, Zimbabwe might just strike the perfect balance as Southern Africa’s greatest hidden treasure.

With stability steadily returning to the country, tourism isn’t far behind. Of course, tourism in at least one corner of Zimbabwe never really stopped. Sending, on average, over a thousand cubic metres of Zambezi River water over its precipice every second, Victoria Falls stretches over 1700 metres across and 108 metres high. That’s 40 percent wider and over double the height of Niagara. The water then flows through a series of gorges, each one marking a former location of the falls. Suffice to say, it’s one of Africa’s most impressive sights, and one of nature’s great spectacles that every traveller should try to see in their lifetime.

Morning light at Victoria Falls from Zambia looking into Zimbabwe
Morning light at Victoria Falls

What else is there to see in Zimbabwe? Let’s start with the 900-year-old Great Zimbabwe ruins, rumoured (and readily disputed) to be the former capital of the legendary Queen of Sheba’s empire. Covering 1800 acres in land area, these make up the largest ruins site anywhere on the continent south of the Sahara. Up to 20,000 people lived and thrived here during the city’s heyday. It’s certainly not the only former settlement of its kind in Southern Africa, but it was by far the most developed. Sadly, years of plundering, particularly in the early part of the 20th century have taken their toll and robbed us of many insights into the city’s history. Its majesty however, continues to inspire over 500 years after the city was abandoned.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins near Masvingo in Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe ruins

Zimbabwe is also a prime Africa safari destination, with parks and game viewing to compete with any in Africa. Hwange National Park in particular is home to one of the world’s highest elephant populations. Besides the abundant elephants, animal lovers can also expect to see giraffes, hippos, buffalo, zebra, lions, and if they’re quite fortunate, leopards and white and black rhinos, which round out the Big 5. Hwange’s plentiful wildlife and close proximity to Victoria Falls make it Zimbabwe’s most popular national park for wildlife lovers, though it’s far from the only one the county has to offer.

Lioness surveying the landscape in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Lioness surveying the landscape in Hwange National Park

Matobo National Park is where the natural wonders and fascinating human history of Zimbabwe come together. Adventurous Globetrotters can track rhinos on foot here, but the park is particularly known for its beautiful rock formations and Stone Age cave art. Because it’s relatively light on big game – you won’t find any elephants, buffalo, or lions, for example – Matobo doesn’t receive the same visitor numbers as Hwange or other popular African parks. That can make the wildlife experiences it does have to offer more enjoyable. It’s also an excellent park for bird watchers, while history buffs will be interested to visit the final resting place of industrialist Cecil John Rhodes.

Matobo National Park landscape, Zimbabwe
Matobo National Park landscape

Lake Kariba is another Zimbabwe highlight where nature and human hand come together. This is the world’s largest man-made lake, providing a whole host of water-based or water-adjacent activities such as sunset cruises, fishing, beachside BBQs, and guided wildlife walks. Kariba is particularly known for its rich ecology, a result of burning the soon-to-be submerged vegetation before the lake was filled, thus creating the lake area’s fertile soil. This has attracted numerous water bird species, hippos, and Nile crocodiles, plus many land-dwelling animals including elephants, lions, cheetahs, leopards, and buffalo.

Herd of elephants on the shoreline of Lake Kariba in Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe
Herd of elephants on the shoreline of Lake Kariba in Matusadona National Park

While many travellers in the last 20 years have only seen the tip of Zimbabwe with a visit to Victoria Falls, there is so much more of this magnificent country waiting to be explored. From Hwange to the magnificent ruins of a lost empire, Zimbabwe could be the next great Africa safari adventure you’ve been looking for.