Zimbabwe has just been named the top travel destination in Africa for 2017 by the Conde Nast Traveler; it’s one of only two African countries that made the “Best Places to Travel in 2017” this year (Rwanda was the other). The honour is a serious Kudo for the country and a much-needed one too – unlike its neighbours Botswana and South Africa, where the tourism industry is perennially at peak capacity and generating millions of dollars in revenue for the local economy, Zimbabwe has struggled to pull in the same numbers.
It’s not for lack of attractions, Zimbabwe’s majestic Hwange National Park is a wonder on its own, but then there’s also Victoria Falls and Mana Pools, not to mention the incredible cultural and historical heritage of the country and its people. Still, Zimbabwe’s politics and socio-economic image often deter international tourists more in mind for a stress-free holiday.
But the tide could be finally turning for the country’s tourism – Victoria Falls has just gotten itself a new $150 million airport able to receive many more than 1.5 million more visitors than usual and the rest of the country has been investing heavily in building tourism infrastructure development. The country’s lodges, safari camps, and luxury hotels are also upping the ante and retailoring their packages and venues to offer visitors something very special from Zimbabwe.
The Stanley & Livingstone Safari Lodge – Victoria Falls
Few hotels can blend the historical romance of Henry Stanley and David Livingstone’s love affair with Victoria Falls with the luxury and decadence of a five-star hotel, but the Royal Stanley and Livingstone do so effortlessly. The hotel is surrounded by Victoria Falls and it borders the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve, but, really, it’s an attraction all on its own.
Stanley & Livingstone offers sixteen opulent private suites, each with spectacular views of the reserve and the lodge’s waterhole that attracts abundant wildlife; right from the deck of your suite, you can enjoy the game viewing which may even include all of the big five. Each suite includes an elegant carpeted bedroom with a double or twin bed. There’s also an en-suite bathroom which boasts a Victorian bathtub with ultra-luxurious finishes. Each guest has their own secluded patio as well. Meals can be taken on the sundeck terrace and guests are welcome to enjoy deck-side sundowners and game viewing.
Elephant Camp – Victoria Falls
Located just ten minutes away from Victoria Falls, the stunning Elephant Camp is a fairly new luxury tented safari camp comprising decadently large private suites, a spacious deck, lounge, and dining area leading to an outdoor pool with sweeping views of the Batoka Gorge and is close enough to see the spray from the falls.
The camp is situated in a private concession and is well known for its famous elephant herds that frequently pass through the front of the camp. One of the best perks of staying at the camp is the personal interaction with the elephants that are offered to guests. You could also indulge in white-water rafting and bungee jumping on the Zambezi, tranquil river cruises and guided wildlife walks.
Elephant Camp was recently listed as #4 on the “Top 25 Luxury Hotels in Africa” and offers twelve luxury tented chalets, en-suite bathrooms with elegant decorations and fixtures with a style that mimics Zimbabwe’s beautiful remote tented establishments, but at the same time offers luxuries like WiFi and full electricity. Each room is separated into three areas with a private deck and plunge pool in the front. There are also sliding doors leading to a viewing deck.
Somalisa Camp – Hwange National Park
Nestled away on an acacia island, right on the edge of an ancient seasonal floodplain in the heart of Hwange, Somalisa is one of the finest all-around establishments the park has to offer. Guests can enjoy breathtaking views of the savannah plains across the famous Kennedy Vlei line; they can also enjoy views of the great elephant herds that regularly traverse the area.
Somalisa recently upgraded its facilities which deftly combines luxurious comfort with immaculate service and an extensive wildlife experience you won’t want to miss. Somalisa has seven sophisticated furnished sail-tents with gauze sliding doors, a glass wood-burner fireplace, en-suite bathrooms, and an indoor and outdoor shower, along with a beautiful copper slipper-style bath. The main deck is a split-level with a separate lounge and dining area, plus a splash pool for guests directly overlooking another pool frequented by elephants – the natural watering hole is frequented by other wildlife too, including lions and leopards. Somali prides itself on being an eco-camp with green and solar facilities. It also offers unrivalled wildlife guided by local experts including the guides that regularly spotted Cecil the Lion and now keep an eye on his extended family and cubs.
Singita Pamushana Camp –Malilangwe
Tucked away in the private Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in south-eastern Zimbabwe is one of the country’s best-kept secrets – winner of multiple awards for their safari lodge and exemplary service, Singita fully incorporates the stunning natural surrounding environment with a forest-like architecture that gives guests a sense of staying right in the centre of the African bush.
Singita Pamushana has six luxury suites and a villa all catered in VIP safari-lodge style with views of the Malilangwe Dam. The dam and reserve are a particular draw because of the plethora of endangered species that can be spotted. Also on view through guided walks are Baobab trees, the cathedral-like Mopane forests, and a scattering of more than 100 rock art sites that date back almost two millennia. Other activities offered include game drives, golf, horse riding and tennis.
Vundu Camp – Mana Pools
Vundu is a discreet yet expansive lavish tented camp right on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River on the edge of Mana Pools National Park. Its location is a prime game spot with the chance to get a completely unspoiled and adventure-filled safari experience. With its unique situation on the pan, guests can also get out and watch as the wildlife come right to them or explore the surroundings on foot. Vundu is also one of the best places to see the elusive African wild dog.
Vundu has eight luxury large room tents, including a two-bedroom, two-bathroom tent, with an open-air shower. The main lodge is situated amid a canopy of riverine trees right on the banks of the Zambezi River. With the main deck raised ten meters above the river, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail and watch the elephants at the water’s edge. Activities on offer include game drives and canoeing safaris as well as guided walks through the game-rich floodplain and river channels.
Matobo Hills Lodge – Matobo Nature Reserve
Located just fifty kilometres from Bulawayo, the Matobo Hills Lodge is perched on a rocky outcrop with sweeping panoramic views of the Matobo National Reserve, a beautifully stark and distinct locale known for its alien-like massive rock formations and granite outcrops as well as a striking collection of ancient rock and cave paintings depicting Zimbabwe’s rich historical legacy. From the lodge’s lounge/bar area guests are treated to impressive views of Maleme Valley and Mount Ififi in the distance.
The hotel is really an assemblage of luxury hilltop lodges, all individually located with their own balcony areas and unrestricted views of the Matobo. There are thirteen twin-bedded lodges and four double-bedded lodges all with their own shower, bath, and wall-to-wall carpets. The hotel also has an immense swimming pool built into the granite dome to resemble a natural rock pool – if guests are in the mood to get out there are also guided game drives into the reserve.
The Hide Lodge – Hwange National Park
You’ll find The Hide tucked away right inside the Hwange National Park, hidden among the acacia trees to the northeast of the park. The tented camp is an utterly charming blend of relaxed African charm and quiet sophistication. The camp has been operational for almost twenty years and has consistently been lauded for its service and simple yet luxurious facilities. Its location right alongside a popular watering hole is also a key attraction as it draws in an incredibly high density of game throughout the year.
Each room is an individual lodge set along a wide, sandy path beside the watering hole so everyone has an unobstructed view of the wildlife and scenery. Each room is individually stylish and spacious. The main lodge has eight standard tents and two luxury, or “honeymoon,” tents, each with an en-suite bathroom and all mosquito proofed. In addition, on the eastern boundary of the watering hole, is Tom’s Little Hide, a secluded three-bedroom cottage, and The Dove’s Nest, a luxury tree house for two overlooking the night wildlife.
Camp Hwange – Hwange Nature Reserve
Located right in the heart of Hwange and just three hours from Victoria Falls, Camp Hwange is one of the park’s newest tented camp lodges located right next to a busy watering hole frequently visited by herds of elephants throughout the year. Staying at Camp Hwange is glamping at its best and it gives you the experience of a beautiful safari camp while also bringing you very close to nature. Guests can experience the wildlife through game drives by day and by night, and incredible walking safaris.
Camp Hwange is all about experiencing wildlife firsthand – it offers eight canvas and thatch chalets with large gauze windows facing the watering hole so everyone has an undisturbed view while letting the breeze in (and keeping insects out). Each room is furnished with comfortable double or twin beds, each with its own mosquito nets, soft floor rugs, a writing desk and a large wooden truck for storage. The main camp has a firepit, the focal point for late-night drinks and early-morning coffee, a large communal dining table and a few seated areas with views of the watering hole and surrounds.
Gorges Lodge – Victoria Falls
It’s an absurdly easy association to call the fantastic Gorges Lodge near Victoria Falls ‘gorgeous’, except it really is. With uniquely stunning views of the Batoka Gorge and the great Zambezi River, Gorge Lodge is secluded in its wilderness location just a stone’s throw away from Victoria Falls. Each of the lodge’s individual rooms is delicately perched right on the precipice of the gorge, built into the rocky terrain with an elevated wooden deck. There are dramatic views from the balcony and the roar of the Zambezi, 250 meters below.
There are ten stone and thatch chalets, each with its own private garden and viewing deck. Each is beautifully furnished and elegantly decorated with en-suite bathrooms. Four of the chalets are a double story with upstairs bedrooms, two double and two twin rooms. Down the way is also Little Gorges, a newer extension with five luxurious thatched suites – the twin and double rooms overlook the Dibu Dibu River junction.
Amalinda Lodge – Matobo Hills National Park
This exclusive privately-owned lodge is located deep inside Matobo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for enormous beautiful rocky domes, outcrops and stone formations, and collections of ancient rock art and painting, most more than two thousand years old. Amalinda Lodge is tucked away in an ancient Bushman’s shelter and is a multiple AZTA Award winner for the Best Non-Tented Establishment in Zimbabwe.
Amalinda has nine individually thatched rooms including a trio of suites all tucked away amid the giant boulders. The three ‘honeymoon’ suites have been recently refurbished and themed to reflect local historical figures from the area: The Rhodes Suite, The San Suite, and The Lobengula Suite. All are generously decorated with artefacts from a bygone era documenting the lives and struggles of the ancient Bushmen who used to populate the area.