I knew there was something special about Mana Pools the minute the plane touched down on the dusty airstrip. I could not put my finger on it just yet, but little did I know I was about to experience the magic that Mana Pools has to offer.
Located in the far north of Zimbabwe, Mana Pools National Park lies in the heart of the Lower Zambezi Valley. Mana Pools is remote, it is wild, is incredibly beautiful and it is magical. The night skies captivated me the first night as we enjoyed a barbeque under the stars. Nowhere else have I witnessed such clear skies with sparkling stars. While trying to focus on the stars, my attention was drawn to a lion calling in the night. It seems I was not the only one distracted – it was loud and it was close!
The flood plains are teeming with hippo, crocodiles and impressive birdlife. If hippos are your drawcard, you do not want to skip Mana Pools. Canoeing down the Zambezi River would have to be the most exhilarating feeling I have experienced. A stay in Mana Pools is not complete without a canoeing safari. The guides are incredible, with years of experience (and in my opinion, nerves of steel), keeping us calm and informed throughout our journey down the river.
We were hosted by Nyamatusi Camp of African Bush Camps. A small and intimate luxury camp of 6 tents, boasting uninterrupted views of the Zambezi River. The lodge continues to Nyamatusi Mahogany, the sister camp that accommodates families. The two camps operate independently of each other, but if you have the need for more rooms, they can each take the overflow. Activities to fill your day include game drives in the Mana Pools UNESCO World Heritage Site, bush walks, canoeing safaris and tiger fishing (catch and release).
I managed to do a short walk along the shorelines with our trusted guide. It was incredibly hot under the African sun as we meandered from tree to tree, trying to get a bit of reprieve in the shade. While we did not see too many animals on the walk, our guide shared so many interesting facts and stories that kept us enthralled throughout.
Without a doubt, Mana Pools is an exceptional destination. It should not be overlooked when planning a trip to Zimbabwe. It is a special place that captured my heart, a magical place that can only be experienced. My story does not do it justice!
NYAMATUSI CAMP – FAST FACTS
- 6 Luxury Tented Suites – with air-conditioning above the bed
- All inclusive meals, drinks (excludes premium drinks and champagne) and activities
- Activities include morning & afternoon game drives, walking safaris, canoeing and fishing
- Camp closure 6 January to 31 March
- Main swimming pool and private plunge pool at each suite
- Solar power and in room charging facilities
- Accessible by air from Victoria Falls International Airport (2 hour 30 minutes) and Harare International Airport (1 hour 30 minutes)
- 45-minute game drive transfer to camp
Everyone is exhausted after a long-haul overnight flight, often involving multiple connections and inevitably ending in long immigrations queues on arrival. Not to mention the build-up of going on holiday, delayed flights and lost luggage. On arrival, most of us are simply looking for a hot shower, followed by a G&T while we take in our surroundings, ending the day with a good meal and a comfortable nights sleep.
Victoria Falls is the ideal place to kick-off a safari. No onward flights or long road transfers required as most hotels are only a stone’s throw away from the airport. Comfortable accommodation with all the amenities allows guests to ease into their safari experience. As the properties in Victoria Falls are generally more affordable, there is less of a need to hit the ground running and more time to relax and find your feet. This is especially important when travelling with young children. Compared with the high-pressured start at the top dollar lodges in the Okavango Delta where every minute counts and where you feel compelled to jump on the first game drive on arrival, followed by an early morning wake up call on day one.
After a recent visit to Victoria Falls with my own family, I realized that 2 nights just isn’t enough for first time visitors and especially families to fully appreciate what this corner of paradise has to offer. I found myself rushing from one activity to the next, pressurized by pick-up times, with little time to relax and yet there was so much more than we could have done.
During our 2 night stay in Victoria Falls, we explored the Falls on foot, by helicopter and by Zip Line and that was about all that we had time for bar a mad dash around the market. There is a big choice of activities on offer beyond the falls themselves, one that I feel is grossly underestimated is the canoeing on the Zambezi River. For families, the falls has lots going on to cater to all ages and interests breaking up the typical safari routine.
Beyond the activities, the town has a holiday vibe, showcasing the country’s culture, local crafts (curio shopping) and a great variety of restaurants, which really add to the experience. Not accounting for the day of arrival and departure which are often lost due to flight times and transfers, one full day simply isn’t enough to take it all in. I would comfortably recommend a 3-night stay in Victoria Falls town itself. There is a selection of properties to match all budgets, offering potentially good value for your money, helping to stretch the budget when combined with the top dollar lodges in more remote game areas.
Day 1: Relax and enjoy a slow start to your safari
Dinner at the hotel
Day 2: Tour of the falls followed by the flight of angels (12 – 15 minute helicopter scenic)
Lunch at the Lookout Café (which will reopen in Dec 2019 after it burnt down half a year ago)
Canopy Tour / Elephant Interaction / Sunset Cruise
Day 3: Option 1: Full day upper Zambezi Canoe or Rafting experience
Option 2: A combination of the following with lunch on the terrace at The Victoria Falls Hotel
Horse Riding, Bicycle Tour, Village Tour, Pay It Forward (Family), Bird Watching, Shopping, Bunji Jumping, Croc Farm (Family), High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel, and more
Independent Dinning Options:
Traditional (Family): The Boma, Jungle Junction
Formal: The Livingstone Room, The Palm Restaurant
Casual: Zambezi House, Three Monkeys, The Lookout Cafe (will reopen Dec 2019)
The same could be said when coming off a safari in the delta. Days of early rising, long bumpy game drives and a day in transit, including the border crossing, is taxing of the best of us. Ending with 3 nights in Victoria Falls to slowly get re-acquainted with civilization before diving back into your daily routine at home is always a good idea.
Guests that have a little bit more time are recommended to spoil themselves with 4 nights in Victoria Falls, the 4 nights could be split between 2 nights in town and 2 nights in the quieter Zambezi National Park. The options are endless, we have put together some stunning itineraries which can be found on our “Best in Travel Zimbabwe 2019”, the packages for 2020 will soon be released.
I tested the idea of combining 2 nights in Vic Falls with 2 nights in the nearby Zambezi National Park. We stayed at Zambezi Sands which is only an hour outside the fast-paced Victoria Falls town, but it felt like another world. A remote safari experience where you can fully immerse yourself in the wilderness and unwind in the peace and tranquillity of the Zambezi National Park. We had the river to ourselves to enjoy at leisure on our evening cruise compared with the typical sunset commotion experienced from town. Practically speaking, many visitors combine Victoria Falls & Chobe on a 4-night stay which involves two border crossings and double entry visas. Both can be avoided if you replace Chobe with a safari experience in the more exclusive but less wildlife dense Zambezi National Park.
After doubting this combination for years, I feel like I have found the sweet spot, which has been underestimated by us all. Our 4-night stay was the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation, and provided for a well-rounded experience as outlined below, suited to both families and individual travellers.
Day 1: Arrival at Zambezi Sands from Botswana in time for lunch and an afternoon siesta Sunset cruise where we had the river to ourselves (no traffic compared with VF & Chobe)
Overnight Zambezi Sands, Zambezi National Park
Day 2: Game drive including an incredible bush breakfast on the banks of the Zambezi River
Overnight Zambezi Sands, Zambezi National Park
Day 3: Morning game walk (another highlight) before our departure to Victoria Falls
Lunch at the Lookout Café overlooking the Batonka Gorge
Afternoon canopy tour, which was a thrill for both the kids and grown-ups alike
Dinner at the highly recommended Palm Restaurant and overnight at Ilala Lodge
Day 4: Morning tour of the Victoria Falls followed by a flight of angels (it was a treat to fly over the path that we had just walked and see the falls from a different perspective)
Lunch on the terrace at the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel (you have to try the signature frozen lemonade)
Afternoon exploring the local market and curious shops (great arts and crafts to be found here not to mention the experience itself)
Dinner at The Boma Restaurant offering visitors a traditional dining experience with entertainment (the kids loved it and I got my mopane worm certificate)
My guiding experience at Zambezi Sands was exceptional and the walking and canoeing activities stood out as the highlights of my trip. With all the new developments in this area, Safari Destinations are excited to present two new packages for 2019 showcasing this ideal combination:
Rounding off this 4-night package, I would recommend a 3 night stay in the game rich Hwange National Park. The trio showcases the best of Zimbabwe combining the beauty of the Victoria Falls, the peace & tranquillity of the powerful Zambezi River and the spectacular wildlife found in Hwange. For those wanting to combine a visit to Botswana, 3 nights at a game rich, land based camp in the Delta with a possible extension to the contrasting Makgadikgadi would be a match made in heaven.
I have always been in love with Mana Pools.
Mana is my mentor – a remote and wild park that feeds my soul with all her sights & sounds – I’ve visited her time and again in her different seasons. Her moods are many and despite the diverse ecology and terrain, each one of these trips has been memorable for one thing. I’ve had some of the best close-up game encounters ever! Sitting under the watchful eye of a professional guide meters away from lion, wild dogs, the legendary standing bulls of Mana and a myriad of plains game and birdlife is just one way in which this park immerses you and brings you back to the fundamental core of nature and our place in it.
Your clock adjusts to sunrise and sunset and you fall into beat with the natural order of things, according to the rhythm of nature and camp life – the game is clearly abundant in peak season and our recent visit took us to just a few of the camps that have the privilege of operating in and being the custodians of this special park:
Chikwenya, Vundu, Little Vundu, Camp Zambezi and Zambezi Lifestyles as well as Goliath Safaris (I had stayed at Kanga and Rukomechi on my last trip).
Zambezi Lifestyles – *top spot – really enjoyed being right on the flood plain (Ngundu 2 site), saw game all over the place (NOTE the camp moves between different sites depending on which is available, all are on the river) enjoyed the simple comfort of the tents and space of the camp – 4 tents set up boasting the new flush toilets in the open air bathrooms – great bucket shower – excellent local staff managing camp (Cloud was a treat to be in camp and on safari with, very passionate, knowledgeable and eloquent, we also did our canoe trip with him, we weren’t just ‘guided’, we were educated too) – tents/hardware were all solid – food was amazing (I made a point of going to meet the cook, these bush cooks really are talented is all I can say!) – Highlight: herd of 400+ buffalo and sitting on the vehicle near Zebra Vlei watching a pack of 7 adult wild dogs with pups in the late afternoon, they went off on the hunt as the sun went down.
Goliath Tented Camp – *top spot – also really enjoyed being in this camp (I rate both Zambezy Lifestyles and Goliath as my trip highlights) – Camp is on a private concession so in the same location annually. Owner and Pro-Guide in camp is Stretch (Andrew) Ferreira, he is running the camp – the location is stunning with shade over the central areas looking out onto a channel and island just in front of camp, beyond the island is the main river. The first thing you feel here is welcome and are encouraged to feel right at home and ‘part of the family’ – camp layout is neat and functional with a super river front lounge/dining/breakfast/fire pit areas, the tents are set slightly back – the extended size east African tents are very nicely fitted with tasteful teak and wrought iron furnishings, the beds are very comfortable and I loved the open air shower area – vehicles are open top and in good condition – food was awesome! Highlight: pride of 5 lions right outside camp having a snack out of the cooks cell phone, about 15m from us.
If you are a safari addict and look for close wildlife encounters with excellent guides – then Mana Pools should be your next destination! Our recommendation for an intense safari experience is the 10 night itinerary “Spezialised Guides of Zimbabwe” with:
|3 Nights Goliath Safaris Tented Camp, Mana Pools Natonal Park|
|3 Nights Musango Safari Camp, Matusadona National Park|
|3 Nights Camp Hwange, Hwange National Park|
|1 Night The Elephant Camp, Victoria Falls|