It’s no secret that I think the most authentic safari camp is one where you can watch animals undisturbed in their natural habitat with hardly any other humans around. Real game viewing is about seeing wild animals living as nature intended. When you go on a real safari, your game-viewing experience doesn’t start when you go out on a game drive. It starts the moment you arrive at your accommodation. The most extreme game-viewing experience is one where you’re totally immersed in the animals’ territory, without any fences keeping them out of your accommodation area, as I learned when I went camping in Mana Pools.
In Zimbabwe, there’s a wealth of opportunities to see animals in the wild: Zimbabwe’s National Parks are still relatively untouched by tourists. There are some fantastic safari camps that understand the value of a truly wild safari. Zimbabwe has the most rigorous safari guide training in the world, so if you’re worried about facing the animals on your own, you don’t have to.
The prices of a safari in Zimbabwe’s are good value compared to Botswana and Zambia: there’s no better place to go on a purely wild safari. The safari camps on the list below are unfenced and have been purpose-built to allow up-close, natural animal encounters. They all offer walking safaris in addition to conventional game drives, so that visitors can experience the wilderness on foot.
If you’re looking for a safari that offers an up-close safari experience, this list is for you.
Note: I have not received any sponsorship in this post; these opinions are all my own. I have included a price guide for each lodge, ranging from $ to $$$$$. Note that most of the safari camps will help organise transport to the camp if you ask.
The most authentic safari camps in Zimbabwe by area
Mana Pools is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural beauty. It is renowned as being one of the last unspoilt wilderness areas in Africa – anywhere you go in this park will be an unforgettable authentic safari experience. Take your pick of any safari in Mana Pools – they will all bring you closer to the wild than almost anywhere else in the world, which is worth every dollar. Seeing an elephant just footsteps away from your bed is almost a guarantee.
- Rukomechi Camp: This permanent tented camp on the banks of the Zambezi River even has a bed under the stars, where you can gaze at the heavens listening to the sound of hippos, lions and other wildlife. Price: $$$$$
- Kanga Camp: A permanent tented camp next to a very active waterhole in one of the most remote parts of Mana Pools. Animals come from miles around to this waterhole, which makes it an excellent base to come face-to-face with lion, leopard, hyenas and more. Price: $$$$$
- Tented Mobile Camp, Mana Pools Safari Company: Eco-friendly safari tents styled in an old-world feel, the Mana Pools Safari Company is the continuation of a legacy started by John Stevens, ex-Warden of Mana Pools, now run by his daughter and her husband. Price: $$$$$
- Vundu Camp: Canvas-under-thatch chalets situated in a forest on the banks of the Zambezi River, frequented by leopard, elephant and impala. Price: $$$$$
- Tamarind Canoe Safari: One of the most natural ways to see animals is from the water. This canoe safari routes along the Zambezi River from Chirundu to Mana Pools. You will be in the midst of hippos, crocodiles, elephants and more; this safari is not for the faint-hearted. Price: $$$$$
- Goliath Safaris: Tented camp led by guide Stretch Ferreira, who hosts a maximum of 12 guests at a time. Situated on the banks of the Zambezi River. Price: $$$$$
- Zimbabwe National Parks Lodges and Campsites: Self-catering basic accommodation for self-drive visitors. Chalets and campsites situated on the banks of the Zambezi River, where wild animals freely roam. Recommended for experienced game viewers only as there are no guides around camp at night. Price: $
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park has one of highest animal diversities in world, containing over 100 species of mammals and 400 species of birds. It is home to the Big Five as well as one of the largest elephant populations on the planet. You could see a herd of elephants numbering in the hundreds if you’re lucky. Hwange is the biggest and oldest National Park in Zimbabwe, and it is augmented by a number of private game concessions in and around its perimeter. The lodges on the list below put you firmly in the animals’ territory, under the watchful eye of experienced guides.
- Camp Hwange: Consisting of eight chalets; situated in a private concession overlooking a water hole within the National Park. The focus is very much on being immersed in the wild whilst being looked after by experienced guides. Price: $$$
- The Hide: Consistently voted one of the best tented safari camps in Zimbabwe, The Hide is known for its exceptional wildlife experiences. It offers spectacular views of the nearby waterhole in a wildlife-rich area of Hwange. Price: $$
- Little Makalolo Camp: Affectionately called “Little Mak”, this private, remote camp has six permanent tents and a main area overlooking a prolific waterhole. A log-pile hide nearby is the perfect viewing spot for herds of elephants that come to the water for a drink. Price: $$$$
- Davison’s Camp: Located in one of the best areas of Hwange, run by the excellent guiding team at Wilderness Safaris. Price: $$$
- Linkwasha Camp: Self-titled as the most luxurious camp in Hwange, this remote camp is rightly proud of the epic wildlife experience on offer, in one of the best locations of the park. Price: $$$$
- Nehimba Safari Lodge: This exclusive safari lodge is situated on a private concession in the north of the National Park. The chalets have private open balconies which offer the opportunity to see the animals up close. Price: $$$$
- Somalisa Camp: Owned by respected guide, Beks Ndlovu who runs the operator African Bush Camps. Situated in a private concession on the edge of a seasonal flood plain where elephant, kudu and sable abound. Price: $$$
- Zimbabwe National Parks Lodges and Campsites: Self-catering basic accommodation for self-drive visitors. The more remote campsites and chalets have hyenas and other animals roaming close to the accommodation at night. Recommended for experienced game viewers only as there are no guides around camp at night. Price: $
Matusadona National Park and Kariba
Lake Kariba is located along a section of the Zambezi River, downstream from Victoria Falls. Kariba is the largest man-made lake in the world by volume, at an area of 5,400 square kilometres. Despite the man-made dam wall, the lake is situated in a natural animal habitat which has been mainly preserved. Elephants, crocodiles, hippos, lion and more can be found around the lake’s many bays and peninsulas, which are accented by petrified trees jutting into the skyline. Kariba is home to the Big Five as well as hundreds of other species of mammals and birds. Matusadona National Park lies on the southern shores of Lake Kariba, incorporating part of the Zambezi Escarpment. A number of safari lodges and houseboats operate in the area for visitors to enjoy the prolific wildlife and bird species on the islands and lakeshore.
- Rhino Safari Camp: This rustic, personal camp is remotely situated on a peninsula that becomes a seasonal island. It is frequented by elephants, hippo and crocodiles, as well as the eponymous black rhino. Price: $$
- Changa Safari Camp: A permanent tented camp on the shores of Lake Kariba offering thrilling up-close widlife encounters. Price: $$$
- Zimbabwe National Parks Lodges and Campsites: Some of the self-catering accommodation is unfenced, offering an authentic experience for travellers on a budget. For experienced game viewers only. Price: $
Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Park
The expansive waterfall of Victoria Falls is situated in a National Park that also encompasses a rainforest. Zambezi National Park, home to the Big Five, is on the other side of Victoria Falls Town, and these two parks are the backbone of any safari in the area. As Victoria Falls is an adventure destination and comparatively built-up compared to towns around other National Parks, the accommodation can be quite touristy and gimmicky. However, there are some authentic safari options available a short distance away from the town, so you can have the best of both worlds.
- Victoria Falls River Lodge: The first lodge to be set in a private game area within the Zambezi National Park, and comparatively close to Victoria Falls town. A luxury tented camp looking out over the banks of the Zambezi River, and with a view of the spray of the falls. Price: $$$
- Zambezi Sands: Approximately an hour away from Victoria Falls Town, this permanent tented camp is on the banks of the Zambezi River, where wildlife is abundant. Price: $$$$$
- Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge: Stone and thatch lodges offering views of both the river and a water hole. Situated approximately 60 minutes from Victoria Falls, on the border of Chobe Forest Reserve, guests are spoilt for choice when it comes to wildlife sightings. Price: $$
- Zimbabwe National Parks Campsites: There are four camp sites that are unfenced and completely in the wild: Chundu 1 and 2, Chomuzi and Siamunungu. For experienced game viewers only. Price: $