Of all the magnificent sights in Zimbabwe, Mana Pools was the first to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s easy to see why.
Named after the four wildlife-magnet oxbow lakes that sprawl across it, the park is a network of mini waterways and hippo-strewn sandbanks, with startlingly green grasslands and groves of mahogany trees sheltering a spectacular amount of game, including wild dog, buffalo and lion.
And of course there’s the Zambezi – the mighty river that runs through the park, attracting elephant in their droves and canoeists looking for an epic water-based safari. Prefer to be on land?
You’ll be in safe hands with some of the best walking guides on the continent.
Paddle down the Zambezi on a canoe safari
After the rains come, the lower stretch of the Zambezi branches out onto the floodplains of Northern Zimbabwe.
This natural waterpark is a haven and a canoe safari is the best way to explore this seasonal gathering, bringing you much closer to the animals than possible on the land – especially as you wend your way past harrumphing pods of hippo.
Sit safely just a few yards from an unhurried pride of lions lapping at the water’s edge, paddle past elephants as they cross from one side of the Zambezi to another and enjoy the myriad of bird species that make their homes on the banks of the river. Crocodiles and hippos are in abundance and therefore these magical journeys are not for the faint hearted.
This experience is always carried out with a highly qualified guide and can last anything from 2-3 hours to 2-3 days, the choice is yours.
Track wildlife on a guided walking safari
In Zimbabwe, elephant reign supreme and nowhere more so than Mana Pools, which occupies prime land beside the Zambezi River. Apart from the hazy blue forests of Ana trees, the area is rather sparsely vegetated, making it perfect for a walking safari with few hiding spots. Your guide is highly trained in understanding wildlife dynamics and how to find the myriad animals, while remaining mostly undetected. Using the clues left behind by wildlife, you may be walking quietly through the forest when an elephant stands on its back legs to reach the treetop bounty or follow a pack of African painted dog on their travels, sometimes getting within a few meters. Much of the wildlife is quite used to humans tramping through the park! Stop for chilled drinks while a herd of buffalo grazes downwind before returning to camp. The driest, safest and most rewarding time for a walking safari is between May and September
Track wildlife on a game drive
With its life-giving waterholes replenished by the rushing Zambezi River, Mana Pools is a dream safari destination.
You’ll set out at your choice of early morning or late afternoon for an open-air game drive, helmed by your expert guide who knows just where to look for the myriad species that live here. One of the great elephant sanctuaries in Africa, Mana Pools is also home to the rest of the Big Five, cheetah, herds of rare sable and, if luck is on your side, you just might get an African painted dog sighting. Beginning in June, winter is a particularly good time to visit.
Park at one of the sprawling water holes and watch as the parade of wildlife arrives!
Round off your drive with drinks before zooming back to camp.
Watch elephants reaching for the Ana trees
Dedicate at least one of your game drives or bush walks to seeing the elephant of Mana Pools stand on their hind legs, trunk high in the air, in the hopes of finding juicy Ana leaves and seed pods to snack on.
Mana Pools is one of the a few places in the world where this phenomenon happens, so unique and startling that some younger elephant follow behind to enjoy the leftovers.
Your seasoned guide knows the signs of an elephant about to perform this feat and you’ll follow in anticipation, ready to capture the moment on camera. Your best chance of seeing it is in the driest months (June to September) when there is little left to eat on the lower branches.