By Matt McMillan
Victoria Falls & Safari
The Victoria Falls bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia are one of Africa’s major draw-cards and a must see on any African journey. Most people spend 2 nights visiting Victoria Falls generally consisting of a visit to the Zimbabwean side of the falls followed by a sunset cruise on the mighty Zambezi river. If you have a little more time then some other options for touring include visits to local villages, bungee jumping, scenic helicopter rides over the falls, an evening at the Boma with local food and dance and then there are options into the Zambian side. The Zambian side of the falls has only 1/3rd of the falls but does have an area where you can swim in some pools near the edge of the falls if you are brave (foolish?) enough. Part of the beauty of the falls is their close vicinity to a wide variety of national parks, each of which offers a unique safari experience. In terms of timing you can visit the falls and nearby parks year round however the months of October through to December and sometimes into January can be very dry so are best avoided.
You can do day tours into some nearby parks like the Zambezi National Park and Chobe National Park however I wouldn’t recommend this as they are very long days and don’t make use of the optimum times for game spotting in the early morning or late afternoon. A 2 or 3 day trip can be made inexpensive by staying in a hotel in Kasane, under a 10 minute drive to the park entrance and doing game drives and river cruises from there. The one exception to this rule may be a day tour to Stanley in Zambia as a visit here almost guarantees you the chance to see endangered Rhino which are very hard to see on any safari experience. I’d consider it a nice add on to your falls experience before embarking on a 5 to 10 day safari in any one of these options;
Zambezi National Park
The small Zambezi National Park is located very close to Victoria Falls and scenic vistas of the Zambezi river and some great game viewing particularly for elephant, hippo, crocodile, buffalo, giraffe and several antelope species. African Wild Dogs, leopard and lion are present but rarely seen and for this reason the park shouldn’t be compared to many of the larger parks in the country.
There are several safari lodges located along the river which offer a nice getaway from Victoria Falls for a night or even 2. I stayed at Pioneers camp, a tented safari camp offering a really comfortable safari getaway with all the mod cons, proper bed, ensuite bathroom with hot water and electricity. I arrived at Victoria Falls airport and was transferred directly into the park by 4WD. Within an hour I was sitting by the mighty Zambezi drinking a local ale and later that evening we managed to do a river cruise without any other boats in sight, spotting an impressive number of elephant, hippo and crocodile before returning the camp for dinner and to sleep with the sounds of the jungle. The following morning we enjoyed a game drive through the park, again not spotting any other vehicle but seeing a variety of game before returning back to town to visit the falls. A visit to the Zambezi NP isn’t going to be the best game viewing you will experience however I found it to be the perfect start to my African adventure.
Mana Pools National Park
The remote Mana Pools National Park is a World Heritage Site located in the north of the country and offers a safari free of crowds and a nice mix between safari and river expeditions. Canoeing is popular here as is fishing, with the famously aggressive tiger fish being prevalent, especially August through to November). Despite travelling in May I managed to have a little luck with the attached photo to prove. I stayed at the lovely Ruckomechi Camp on the banks of the Zambezi and each day consisted of a game drive or walking safari combined with a river excursion. It was this diversity of offering which made Ruckomechi Camp stand out.
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park is renowned as one of Africa’s finest parks for wildlife and I was lucky enough to travel here last year. The park is located between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls and can either be reached by small plane or overland transfer which helps to bring the costs of a safari down but is of course more time consuming.
On my trip we encountered a large variety of wildlife but the most impressive thing was the huge herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe plus plenty of lion. Wild dog and Hyena are also common sightings, although unfortunately I didn’t manage to see them. The park has an interesting variety of landscapes and there are very few lodges which means you are unlikely to see many other tourists on a safari, we certainly never had more than 1 vehicle with us at any wildlife sighting and generally none at all. There are some really lovely lodges to stay in and I was lucky enough to inspect 3 options which I would consider to be exceptional. Davidsons Camp is an excellent superior camp with the new Linkwasha Camp offering unrivalled luxury however my favourite was Little Makalo which offered an intimate and stylish camp with excellent wildlife at our doorstep.
Matobo National Park
Matobo National Park combines spectacular scenery, granite rocks towering above the plains with a safari experience. The wildlife viewing isn’t as good as Hwange as Matobo has no lions or elephant, but white rhino and leopard are spotted quite regularly and the birdlife is regarded by some as being the best in Africa so I think a visit here would round out your safari experience nicely. Matobo is located close to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second biggest city which has an international airport allowing you to easily start or finish your Zimbabwe safari here.
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park is one of the most famous, most accessible and hence most popular/crowded wildlife destinations of Africa. Most people do what I did and stay at a hotel in Kasane and then do day trips from there. From a budget perspective this works out well however the downsides were immediately apparent to me when I entered the park to find a log jam of safari and self drive vehicles. At any lion sighting you would find vehicles jostling for position. In saying this I did have some spectacular game viewing here with huge herds of elephant and buffalo, giraffe, hippo, zebra, crocodile, jackal and a large variety of bird-life and antelope. And then there was the large prides of lion we were lucky enough to see swimming across the river. Amazing.
If you prefer something less crowded then I’d recommend you consider a stay at one of the private concessions that adjoins the National Park, namely Savuti Marsh or Linyanti Swamp in the western reaches of the park. Nothing obstructs the free movement of game between the Park and the surrounding reserves and here you can enjoy superb wildlife viewing whilst enjoying privacy and intimacy in a true safari setting.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is the largest inland Delta in the world and is made up of intricate network of channels and lagoons. It is renowned as being one of the best places to see animals and birds in Africa whether it be in the wet or dry season. I visited the Delta this year and stayed at the lovely Moremi Crossing lodge which offers very comfortable lodging in a great location for wildlife. When considering a lodge in Okavango the options are endless and you really need to consider the sort of activities you want to do and what species you want to target. At Moremi Crossing they offered water based (Makoro canoe or motorised) along with walking safaris. No game drives are offered so if you aren’t keen on walking then this isn’t the camp for you however I loved the interpretive nature and experience of walking through the bush and not knowing what you would find. We typically walked between 5km and 8km in the morning and then did a water based excursions in the afternoon and managed to see a large variety of birdlife and wildlife including giraffe, hippo, crododile, buffalo, antelope and a lot of antelope of all varieties. Elephant were everywhere and completely in their element. We didn’t however see any cats, we did track them on our walks and heard them nearby to us however unfortunately (or luckily) didn’t see them. Guides aren’t permitted to carry weapons either so apart from a cap gun device used to scare animals we were completely at the mercy of our guides experience and ability.
If a walking safari isn’t your style and you want to focus on seeing cats then there are a multitude of other camps we can consider which offer more variety. On reflection I wish I had combined Moremi with another camp in Okavango as the scenery is so stunning that only spending 2 nights didn’t seem like nearly enough. Another thing to consider with the Okavango is that any visit here is expensive due to the isolation of the camps which requires small generally 6 seater plane journeys to hop in between them and the 2 main airports of Maun and Kasane. Whilst the flights were expensive I loved seeing the scenery of the Delta from the air and keeping an eye out for game along the way as it was surprisingly easy to spot giraffe, elephant and hippo from the air.
Zambia is less popular for a safari however with less tourists and congestion and a wide variety of game it should not be overlooked. Also its most popular options for safari are as all within reach of Lusaka or Victoria Falls by plane or overland transfer.
Main destinations are as follows;
Kafue National Park – Zambia most remote park offers wonderful scenery and intense wildlife.
Lower Zambezi National Park – fishing, canoeing amongst crocodiles and hippos and the chance to see an elusive leopard.
South Luangwe National Park – off the beaten track and good for walking safaris and big game.
Another nice point of difference with Zambia is that you have the opportunity to complete your safari with a beach holiday across the border on Malawi Lake. Its freshwater but offers some fantastic resort stays combined with community interaction and a range of activities.
In conclusion I’d personally recommend considering the falls as a good starting point with either Zambia, Zimbabwe or Botswana offer a number of diverse options. Whilst they can be expensive a stay in a nice safari lodge in an isolated area like Hwange, Mana Pools or the Okavango Delta (or nearby private concessions) is a must do experience in my opinion. A splurge for 3 days to a week won’t break the bank and a truly wild safari experience is why you always dreamed of visiting Africa right?
If you want to find out more about the destinations in this article, or have any questions in general please contact us.