​Overview – Mana Pools NP

Philip Briggs
Expert
By Philip Briggs

Philip has traveled through Zimbabwe several times and is the author of more than 20 guidebooks to various African destinations.

Philip is the Zimbabwe expert for SafariBookings and author of more than 20 guidebooks to Africa.

Philip is our Zimbabwe expert and author of more than 20 guidebooks to Africa.

Mana Pools National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, protects a pristine wilderness area along the lower Zambezi River. Roamed by four of the Big Five (no rhino), it is one of the best places in Africa for walking safaris and canoe safaris, which are led by experienced professional guides. For this reason, the park is highly recommended to adventurous travelers seeking an immersive bush experience.

Best Time To Go June to October (Best wildlife viewing)
High Season July to September
Size 2,196km² / 848mi²
Altitude 329-1,180m / 1,079-3,871ft

Pros & Cons

  • Top wildlife viewing with four of the Big Five present (no rhino)
  • Some of the best guides in Africa work here
  • Guided walking safaris and canoeing safaris are a major attraction
  • Unguided walking is permitted, though not necessarily recommended
  • Excellent river fishing
  • Great birding destination
  • Less accessible than some other parks in Zimbabwe (4WD vehicle is essential)
  • The limited road network may frustrate those who prefer game drives to walking
  • Difficult to visit in the Wet season

Mana Pools NP Safari Reviews

  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Wildlife

The park is home to most big safari animals. The endangered black rhino has become locally extinct, but most visitors will encounter at least one of the big cats. Large herds of buffalo and elephant roam around the floodplains. The river teems with crocodiles and hippos. Wild dogs are resident in the area as well.

Scenery

‘Mana’ is the word for ‘four’ in the local Shona language, and the park’s name refers to a group of four oxbow lakes set on a baobab-studded stretch of the Zambezi floodplain. Ironically, despite their high billing in the park’s name, these pools often dry up during the peak tourist season. A more reliable scenic highlight is the Zambezi River, a mesmerizing African waterway whose islands and sandbanks are lined with lush riverine forest set below a mountainous escarpment.

Activities

The main activities are guided walking safaris and game drives. It is possible to do one or the other exclusively, but many guides recommend a hybrid that involves driving to a specific hot spot or until promising tracks are located, then setting out on foot. Unguided walking, though permitted, is not recommended unless you have significant bush experience. Many camps offer canoe safaris, which are a wonderful experience, but do check availability in advance.

Weather & Climate

The weather at Mana Pools is most pleasant in the first few months of the Dry season, which runs from April to October. There can be a bit of dust in the air at this time of year, but overall the conditions are very agreeable. October and early November (before the rains break) are also dry, but temperatures skyrocket and it can become intolerably hot. Rain is a near-daily occurrence during the Wet season (November to March), and humidity hangs in the air.

Best Time To Visit

Wildlife viewing at Mana Pools is best during the Dry season (April to October), when the sky is clear and animals cluster on the Zambezi floodplain to stay hydrated. Generally wildlife numbers increase as the Dry season progresses, peaking from June onward. If you do decide to visit during the rainy months, be prepared for stifling conditions and the potential frustration of getting stuck on muddy roads. Most camps close from November to April.

Want To Visit Mana Pools NP?

24 Mana Pools Safaris

Mana Pools NP Safari Reviews

  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
Most Helpful Expert Review
Expert
Mike Unwin  –  
United Kingdom UK

Mike is an award-winning wildlife writer, former editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

River Wild
5/5

Mana Pools was once one of those ‘best-kept secret’ parks, celebrated by locals and aficionados for its scenic grandeur, hair-raising safari yarns and general wilderness appeal, but relatively little known to the broader safari...

Full Review

Latest User Review
Michelle Welch  –  
New Zealand NZ
Reviewed: Dec 28, 2019
4/5

Mana Pools is one of the most beautiful destinations on the planet. Waste disposal upstream and the relaxation of rules around fishing, motor boats and generators are threatening to spoil this once pristine relatively undisturbed ecosystem....

Full Review