Top 7 Best Bush Camps in Zimbabwe
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Zimbabwe has long been one of Africa’s most rewarding safari destinations. Roamed by some of the continent’s largest elephant herds, parks such as Hwange and Gonarezhou National Parks are home to all of the iconic Big Five.
These parks are also renowned for their exclusive bush camps, many of which occupy private concessions, offering visitors an African wilderness experience that combines intimacy with high levels of comfort. Our Zimbabwe expert Philip Briggs recently visited several of these camps in the course of a lengthy trip through the country; here he reports back on some of his favorites.
Big Cave Camp, Matobo National Park
Big Cave Camp boasts one of the most stunning settings of any lodge in Zimbabwe. Situated in a private reserve bordering Matobo National Park, it is perched on top of one of the enormous granite whalebacks typical of the sacred Matopos Hills.
Accommodations are in comfortable stone-and-thatch A-frame cottages, each with an en suite bathroom and private terrace offering stunning views across the surrounding rockscapes. Other features include a natural rock swimming pool, a lantern-lit cave-style boma (rounded enclosure) for sundowners, and a cozy dining room with a massive teak table where guests and staff eat communally.
There is some wildlife in the private reserve. Look out for the dainty klipspringer antelope, adorable rock hyrax and colorful mocking cliff chat around the lodge. The lodge’s guides can take you into the neighboring national park to track white rhino on foot, visit pristine rock art, and admire the famous view from Cecil John Rhodes’ boulder-top grave.
Bomani Tented Camp, Hwange National Park
When it comes to an exceptional and exclusive Zimbabwean wildlife-viewing experience, Bomani is difficult to beat. This classic bush camp stands on a 20km²/8mi² private concession that is separated from the southern boundary of Hwange National Park by the railway line, and offers excellent general wildlife viewing, with lion, cheetah and buffalo all common.
Game drives also generally venture into an otherwise little-visited part of Hwange known for its dense concentrations of wildebeest, zebra and other grazers. A unique feature of this area is an underground photographic hide that offers fantastic worm’s-eye views of elephants and other wildlife coming to drink at Stoffie’s Pan. Bomani also borders, and is under the same management as, Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can track Hwange’s only white rhinos on foot.
The camp comprises 10 comfortable tented rooms and suites, as well as one thatched bungalow, all of which have four-poster beds with fitted mosquito nets, private bathrooms and terraces offering views over the floodplain. The stone-and-thatch communal dining area has a small swimming pool and overlooks a permanent pan that is a real wildlife magnet during the Dry season.
Camelthorn Lodge, Hwange National Park
Named after the towering camelthorn acacia whose heavyweight branches shade the terrace, Camelthorn Lodge lies in the heart of the private Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary on the southern border of Hwange National Park. This 162-hectare tract of forested community land is operated in conjunction with five nearby villages. It’s a collaborative venture to create a buffer zone to combat crop raiding outside the park while providing clear financial benefits from tourism to locals.
Staffed entirely by community members, this elegant lodge comprises eight large villas decorated in a contemporary African style with mosaics, traditional artworks and stunning wildlife photos. All villas have massive en suite bathrooms with tub and shower, while the elevated balconies, reached via a spiral staircase, offer great views into the canopy and in some cases have a plunge pool.
Game drives are normally conducted on the same private concession used by sister camp Bomani, or in the remote south of the national park, which offers a winning combination of high-quality wildlife viewing and very low tourist densities. In addition, two male white rhinos were translocated to Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary in May 2022 as the first step in a long-term program to return these prehistoric creatures to Hwange. The rhinos often walk right past the lodge, and they can also be tracked on foot. This is the only place in Hwange where you can do this.
Verney’s Camp, Hwange National Park
If you enjoy watching elephants in action, you’ll love Verney’s Camp. This classic bush camp overlooks Verney’s Pan, which used to be seasonal but is now pumped throughout the year to provide a permanent source of drinking water. Sit here for an afternoon in the height of the Dry season, and you’ll probably see several hundred elephants pass by, as one maternal herd after another comes down to drink. These are often accompanied by vigorous greeting rituals and playful recreational swims.
The stunning, spacious standing tents at Verney’s stand on stilted wooden platforms and face the waterhole. If you can tear yourself away from this scene, game drives take place on a private concession or other parts of southeast Hwange that see few visitors. Surrounded by floodplains, and mopane and teak forest, this is a good area to look for lions and African wild dogs, while leopards are sometimes seen on night drives in the concession.
Deteema Springs, Hwange National Park
This exclusive tented camp, set on a remote private concession in the northeast of Hwange National Park, doesn’t skimp when it comes to the ‘wow factor’. The camp sprawls across a low rocky outcrop overlooking year-round natural springs that are clearly a favorite with the local elephant population.
All the luxury standing tents are stilted and en suite, and come with great views. However, tents Number 6 through to 8 really stand out when it comes to nighttime action (elephants splashing, lions prowling, hyenas whooping), all which makes for an exciting night but not necessarily the most solid of sleeps.
There is also some interesting small wildlife around, including bands of dwarf mongoose, klipspringers hopping between the rocks, and colorful birds such as long-tailed paradise whydah, red-billed hornbill and Meves’s starling. The focal point of game drives is nearby Deteema Dam, where you’re likely to see hippos, various antelope, and, with luck, a large resident lion pride.
Nehimba Lodge, Hwange National Park
Another lodge that will delight elephant-lovers, Nehimba, in northern Hwange, overlooks a pumped waterhole that is almost invariably alive with waterbirds (you might see 20 different species in one scan). It also often attracts several hundred elephants at the height of the Dry season.
Accommodations are in stilted wood, canvas and thatch cottages with indoor tubs, outdoor showers and wide balconies, all set in a horseshoe formation around the water.
This intimate bush lodge often provides thrilling in-house wildlife viewing. It also lies within an exclusive private concession that offers good year-round wildlife viewing (particularly lions) and comes into its own toward the end of the Dry season. Because almost all activities take place within this 175km²/80mi² concession, the only vehicles you’ll see are those from the lodge. Standard game drives are supplemented with night drives in search of leopards and other nocturnal creatures, as well as exciting guided walks.
Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, Gonarezhou National Park
One of Zimbabwe’s most exciting and underrated national parks, Gonarezhou is home to all the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino), including what is probably the world’s densest elephant population at around 11,500 individuals roaming an area of 5,000km²/1,931mi².
It also boasts some spectacular scenic highlights including the giant sandstone buttresses of the 200m-/660ft-high Chilojo Cliffs, and the baobab- and palm-studded floodplain near the wildlife-rich confluence of the Save and Runde Rivers.
The only conventional safari lodge servicing this vast wilderness is Chilo Gorge, a clifftop property whose luxurious stone-and-thatch chalets overlooks the Save River as it flows along the eastern park boundary. Plenty of wildlife can be seen from the lodge, which is positioned above a popular elephant crossing point that often gets busy in the afternoon.
Chilo Gorge stands in a community conservation area that incorporates the impressive Chivilila Falls. It is ideally based for half-day game drives around the Save-Runde Confluence as well as guided full-day or overnight excursions to Chilojo Cliffs.
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