Expert Reviews – Zambezi NP

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On the doorstep of Victoria Falls
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Zambezi National Park (not to be confused with Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, several hundred kilometres away) lies in the Upper Zambezi, close to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and is a boon to those who fly in with minimal time on their hands. It’s such a short hop from the hotels in and around the Falls that you can breeze in and out for an afternoon of hippo-watching and croc-spotting.

If you book into the main safari lodge on the edge of the park, you can use its free shuttle service to travel between the park and Vic Falls town whenever you want, allowing you to visit the town, the Falls, the Zambezi and the bush, all in the same day. The downside for some is that, unusually for Zimbabwe, the lodge and its surroundings feel more like a mid-range hotel in a heavily-managed park than a wilderness camp.

Nonetheless given that Victoria Falls is effectively a mass-tourism zone (albeit one that rarely gets busy, let alone crowded, these days), I think the park is better than one might expect: it’s possible to see the Big Five here, plus a good variety of antelopes including sables, elands, waterbucks and kudu.

The southern side of Victoria Falls:
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Extending westwards from Victoria Falls to the border with Botswana, this relatively small park is really just an extension of the nearby waterfall, and difficult to discuss outside that context. Almost all safari itineraries to Zimbabwe incorporate the mile-wide waterfall, which lies on the border with Zambia, and is justifiably included on a recent National Geographic list of the seven natural wonders of the modern world. And it is an utterly spectacular and an unmissable sight, one whose stature grows with every visit. The national park itself hosts plenty of elephant and other wildlife, but it is arguably most enjoyable for the opportunity to canoe along a wild stretch of the Zambezi where hippos and crocs are joined by a host of interesting water and forest birds.

Vic Falls and the mighty Zambezi
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Zambezi National Park is slowly recovering from years of poaching and wildlife numbers are improving. We saw plenty of elephants, hippos and crocs along with ever-present impalas and waterbucks but it’s fair to say the wildlife viewing isn’t on a par with Hwange or Mana. In its favor, however, is the mighty Zambezi and I’d certainly recommend canoeing down the river and sunset boat trips. The river comes into its own in the early mornings, when the mist rises amid the reeds and makes for some beautiful photography. It’s close enough for a day trip from the spectacular Vic Falls or as a place to stay while visiting the Falls if you didn’t want to stay in town. Some beautiful new camps and lodges have opened here in recent years including the Old Drift and Zambezi Sands.

A pleasant surprise on the periphery of Vic Falls
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My only visit to this small but very scenic park adjoining the majestic Victoria Falls was pretty much an accident. I was due to conduct a quick site visit at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for a Fodor’s update on the Vic Falls chapter of one of their books, before returning to the town centre. As soon as I walked out onto the main deck of the lodge and looked out over the waterhole in front and the dense bush beyond, I couldn’t believe I was just a ten minute drive from the busy town and the tourist mecca of the falls.

I had been told previously that most of the game in this park had been poached to the point of extinction, but my experience that day suggested otherwise. While eating breakfast looking down onto the waterhole, I saw elephants, buffalo, kudu and warthogs all drinking together while vultures circled overhead and a few marabou storks lurked around the fringes. Later in the afternoon I went on a game drive deeper into the bush, seeing a small pride of lions en route to the park’s picturesque riverine sections.

Many visitors to the Vic Falls area head to Botswana’s Chobe for a quick safari fix, but Zambezi is a cheaper and quieter alternative.

Great wildlife sightings within a stone’s throw of Vic Fall’s extreme sports Mecca
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Zimbabwe had changed a lot since my earlier visit in 2002. I was travelling on a press trip and although the tourism authority tried to show us the bright side I had been disappointed by the situation in Harare and how the great rich farming region of the south was now just smouldering bush where farm squatters hoped for a chance to shoot the last of the bushmeat that was all they had to live on. Zambezi National Park offered a chance to see that there was still hope for the country that I had long considered one of the most beautiful in the world. The famous sable eluded us (although I saw them elsewhere) but we saw hippos, buffalos, elephants and lions. I had been lead to believe that the animals were almost shot out – or at best unbearably shy. However we saw a park that was well stocked and where the animals still seemed to react normally to human interaction. My personal feeling is that it is time for adventurous travellers to start drifting back to Zimbabwe. Without our support the country will not make the recovery it deserves.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.6/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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