Considering a safari in Zimbabwe? Again…

For years our clients came to Zimbabwe to enjoy some of the best wildlife experiences the world could offer. But the past decade or more have seen very difficult times for this beautiful country – both politically and economically…

Recently we’ve seen a resurgence of confidence and reinvestment in Zimbabwe. Our clients already know that at certain times of the year (hint: just before the summer rains so September to December), it is much better to view the Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side. But now we are seeing a growing interest in visiting the rest of Zimbabwe.

So we thought it’s time to ask the questions that we all have:  What’s it like now; How’s the game-viewing, Will we be safe?….

We asked some of the top safari experts about the current conditions for tourism in Zimbabwe. Their answers were both heartening and realistic. But overall they demonstrate the overwhelming love that they have for Zimbabwe.

1) Why should our clients consider a safari in Zimbabwe as opposed to say, Zambia or Botswana?

Here there was a remarkable congruence between their answers. The focus was on the following:

  • Prices are lower for the same quality of safari
  • People are friendly and helpful
  • Ease of getting in and around Zimbabwe at relatively low cost

You can fly into all the safari areas from Victoria Falls which has remained unaffected by Zimbabwe’s political and social problems even in the worst of times.

“Zimbabwe has remained a wildlife paradise and very few visitors come to Zimbabwe (at the moment) thereby offering a high ratio of guides to guests at most camps. Furthermore Zimbabwe has remained affordable….” – Steve Edwards, Musango Safari Lodge

“Due to the relative lack of tourism in Zimbabwe over the last 10 years, Zimbabwe remains relatively untouched. In Hwange National Park, for example, a tourist may see a handful of vehicles in a full day of game drives in a high season month, unlike other Parks in the region like Chobe and Kruger, where you will find vehicles queuing to see a Lion kill! If there is a time to come, the time is now! Another reason, is the Victoria Falls is best seen from the Zimbabwean side.” – Gavin Rennie, The Hide Safari Camp

“A safari in Zimbabwe today is something that will wow even the seasoned safari goer since the national parks and private reserves are largely quieter in terms of visitors. Giving you an opportunity to experience the wild in a very private way. The national parks are still teaming with game – contrary to popular belief.  Hwange National Park still boasts one of the largest elephant populations in the world with between 40 to 50,000 animals in the park. The people who run the camps and the lodges in Zimbabwe today are dedicated to the cause of conservation and have continued to deliver an incredibly nurturing and generous service” – Jason Turner, Singita Pamushana Camp

“Zimbabwe has amazing natural beauty that has been pretty much ignored these past 10 years or so, due to the unstable political situation and hyper inflation that was experienced at the time.  Thankfully this is no longer the situation! “ – Lindi Smit, Wilderness Safaris

2) What do you think are Zimbabwes unique attractions?

Again a lot of similarities. The consensus was clear:

  • Fantastic value for money
  • Zimbabwe guides have long been considered the best safari guides in Africa
  • Year round destination – open all year (unlike most of Zambia)
  • Best side to see the Victoria Falls
  • Varied wealth of natural attractions such as Great Zimbabwe, Matobo Hills, Victoria Falls, Zambezi
  • Wonderful National Parks that still offer great game viewing
  • Zambezi River offering a multitude of activities – canoeing, white water rafting, sunset cruises etc

Note on Victoria Falls

For most of the year, the views of the Victoria Falls are spectacular from either the Zimbabwe or Zambia side. However we do agree with our respondents that the Zimbabwe Falls  STAY spectacular throughout the year and we have long been promoting the Zimbabwe side if you are visiting during the low water time from mid September to January.

“Zimbabwe is an inexpensive safari destination to travel to, in comparison to Botswana and Zambia. Everyone is price conscious and if you wish to enjoy a great experience for less then Zimbabwe is the place. The Zimbabwean people are extremely friendly and hospitable.  The safari experience is every bit as good, if not better, than neighboring countries.” Gavin 

“Great wildlife and scenery. Cheap and very affordable. Empty parks – very little traffic and people. Very friendly and accommodating people. Highly qualified guides with immense love, passion and knowledge of the country and our wonderful natural resources. “ Steve

3) What time of the year do you think one should visit and why?

Zimbabwe is a year round destination because it combines scenic attractions with wildlife. So it does depend on your interests. But it shares the summer rainfall climate of the region which has implications for your safari.

Victoria Falls

“If seeing the magnificent Victoria Falls is the motivation to visit, then a good time is July/August – the river is going towards low water so taking photos is easier – when the river is in flood, there is so much water in the rain forest that it’s difficult to photograph! The most exciting time to go white water rafting is when the river is at its lowest … generally in October …” – Yvonne, Victoria Falls Office

Winter and Spring

“March to May is a tremendous time to visit. No or little rain, the bush starting to dry out. The weather cooler than the summer months. Game sightings on the increase. June to July are dry, blue sky, and cold in Zimbabwean terms (probably 18-22°C [64-72°F]  – not cold really!), nights are cooler and can drop to single digits, days are shortest, bush fairly dry and game sightings good. Not a lot beats sitting round a bush fire on a starry evening…” Gavin 

“Our Champagne Season is from late July through to October – the bush is drier – with more visibility and wildlife are forced to come to waterholes. Easy walking and greater visibility on drives.” Steve

“Our winter season is dry … from June through September, and everything turns brown and it gets quite dusty by the end of the season” Lindi

Summer

“The summer months are when the earth comes back to life … everything turns green and lush, and the birding is fantastic.  Also it’s when many of the mammals give birth, so you can see lots of babies!  The bush is thick and there is surface water, so the game no longer has to rely on going to the water-hole or river to drink.” Lindi

“The Emerald Season during the rains – December through April – is a beautiful time of the year when all is green and lush. Harder to see game but all the new born babies are around, all the migratory birds in full breeding plumage, great for butterflies, flowers and colourful insects, the skies are exploding with colour, shapes – very photogenic especially at dawn and sunset”. Steve

4) Some are worried about their personal safety, what can you say to them?

Living in South Africa, which is also perceived by many to be dangerous, I smiled when I read the answers to this question. The passion comes through with a fog horn! The only area where they had doubts were Harare but most tourists don’t go there, except perhaps to the airport. (Very similar to Johannesburg in South Africa which most of our guests never see!)

“Their greatest fear should be on the way to their departing airport in whatever country they live ! Every country has its areas which are less safe. In Zimbabwe, these are high density suburbs in Harare at night. Having said that I would happily feel safe in these areas in the daylight…. If a visitor comes to the wildlife areas then there is very little, or nothing, to be worried about…

Personally, I have 2 young children and many friends with the same. We travel all over the country without fear or the question of safety crossing our minds. I live in Harare (considered a hot spot in the worst violent times), and my family and I are completely safe. I would not have gone into the Central Business District or high density suburbs in the most violent times, whilst probably nothing would have happened to me, this is simply being streetwise. Even in the worst of the violent times, the violence was isolated and not nationwide! As terrible as it was, and unforgivable possibly, to say that the whole country was not safe is so far from the truth! But this is what the media portrays.

Our Government of National Unity, as imperfect as it is, has brought about a stability that we have not enjoyed for 10 years. Their doing away with the Zimbabwe dollar and introduction of the United States Dollar, South African Rand and Botswana Pula has meant a more stable economy.. … reinvestment in businesses – in general very positive vibe, encouraging foreign investment like not seen in 10 years.” Gavin

“We have been operating in Zimbabwe since the 80’s, all through the difficult times, and have never had a situation of concern. We certainly do not feel that there is any threat to the safety and security of our guests and would encourage visitors to this beautiful country.” Lindi

“All the major tourist resorts (Victoria Falls, Hwange, Kariba, Mana Pools, Great Zimbabwe, Matobo) are very safe. Peace still prevails even in most of the major towns. The only place you need to be more alert is in Harare…” UTC

“ Their greatest fear should be on the way to their departing airport… Once in Zimbabwe they are safe and will be so until they get home. There is, of course, a lot of theft in and around the capital but 90% of our guests don’t even go to Harare…” Steve

5) Some say all the Game Reserves have been poached out? – and certainly there are plenty of documentaries about that – what is your response?

This is a hot issue! Our respondents made it very clear that though there has been wide-scale poaching of wildlife in certain areas, we should not assume that the main National Parks in the north and north-west of the country have been poached out…

Again their replies sum it up best:

“Yes there are a lot of press reports about the poaching in various parks. Unfortunately the media must sell their article and the ‘juicier’ and most horrific of these articles are the ones that ‘sell’ – so yes there has been poaching and we have had a distinct drop in the ability of the National Parks staff to patrol due mainly to a lack of funds and transport and morale…. The parks however are still blessed with an abundance of wildlife!” Steve

“Zimbabwe has gone through a major transformation in the last 10 years. Many commercial farmers have been removed and new land settlers/farmers now occupy the land. Most have little or no experience in large scale commercial farming… Many settlers have been allocated land in non-arable areas where high concentrations of game naturally occurred. Because the new settlers could not grow crops to sustain themselves and their families, they resorted to poaching the wildlife and selling meat or cutting down trees to sell for firewood. So in the majority of these areas little game exists and this is the source of the documentaries that the game has been decimated. Many commercial farms bordered game reserves or had private game reserves on them, so for the reasons above, these private game reserves have been infiltrated and large scale poaching has taken place or does exist.

BUT we must not confuse this with the National Parks like Zambezi National Park, Mana Pools National Park, Hwange National Park and others. Some are massive like Hwange, and simply cannot be patrolled, so some subsistence poaching does take place. In the most part, tremendous numbers of game still thrive. Offering a fabulous game experience. We can compare our Parks to the likes of Kruger – some poaching does take place in Kruger but is the game experience still great  – Yes!

If poaching does take place on ‘old’ commercial farms and once ‘private’ game reserves, does this mean that all the animals in Zimbabwe have been decimated – No! Sadly, on most occasions, the people behind the documentaries try to cast a very BAD picture to raise support and an immediate ‘Help’ reaction from NGO’s etc. But it is not accurate reporting.” Gavin

6) How easy and safe is it to travel in Zimbabwe by road/air, are there certain areas that you would recommend?

Again there was a lot of consensus here. The Zimbabwe road network has always been good and there is quite a bit of road investment at the moment bringing the road back up to standard. However it’s probably easiest (and quicker) to fly to most wildlife destinations.

“Generally the road network is still good although we recommend using a tour company for transfers. Air Zimbabwe connects Bulawayo and Victoria Falls and Hwange. Simply safe everywhere. I would avoid Harare if possible– common sense should prevail just as in any city in the world. Driving around Zimbabwe is safe.” Steve

“Access into Zimbabwe by air is simple. There are international carriers that fly direct into Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. The introduction of Solenta Aviation has meant more scheduled flights on offer within Zimbabwe. Solenta is also linking Lusaka (capital city of Zambia) with Lake Kariba and this will grow to linking with other towns like Victoria Falls. Safety is not a concern at all!

The roads are safer than they have been for many years – the introduction of Toll Fees has meant that the roads are being repaired and maintained. Increased police presence and new speed cameras is encouraging and should not be seen as anything else.” Gavin

“It is very easy and safe to travel in Zimbabwe by road and air.  There are several flights daily to Victoria Falls and Harare from Johannesburg and private charter companies such as Sefofane connect many wildlife destinations.” Lindi

 I hope that this answers any lingering questions you might have…

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