Walking Safari in Zimbabwe's Mana Pools


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A walking safari in Mana Pools is synonymous with getting very, very close to elephant - which you can do, and a whole lot more besides.

The high canopy of Acacia Albida trees and wide floodplain of the Zambezi makes prime walking territory. You can see for miles, and the wildlife gathers en-masse at the rich alluvial feast on the banks.

Mana Pools is one of the few true wildernesses in the world where you can get out on safari to encounter elephant, lion and wild dog in such close proximity, and on foot.

Bizarrely, anyone can take themselves off for a walk in Mana, and do not need to be accompanied by a guide or armed ranger - we would not recommend this for a second, firstly due to the ample chance to get yourself in to terminal trouble with elephant, hippo, buffalo or lion - but also because without a guide with local knowledge you are likely to see very little and understand even less. Fortunately Mana Pools remains a favourite playground for some of Zimbabwe’s best professional guides.

Post-protracted recession, repression and general malaise, Zimbabwe is well and truly back in the spotlight and now one of the most exciting places to safari on the African continent”

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isolation and simplicity

Without doubt, part of Mana Pool's charm is its isolation and simplicity. Due to the rugged terrain of the escarpment and the poor quality of the roads in the area you'll access the park by light aircraft and on arrival find mercifully little here. Totally unfenced, the tracks are rough and camps fairly small and minimalist, there is not a plunge or swimming pool to be found in the park and the emphasis is very much where it should be, on the wildlife.     



Zimbabwean's take great pride in the quality of their bushcaft and nowhere is this more on display than in Mana. A combinaton of sedentary and good natured elephants bulls - they've got plenty to eat and have historically been well protected - has allowed a few of the park's long-term guides to build up a remarkable relationship with these gentle giants where they are able to make an improbably close approach, generally talking to them as they advance closer. The experience of literally sitting in the shadow of an elephant as it peacefully munches acacia pods is something that can never leave you.    


out on the river

While Mana is first-class walking country, it also offer great canoeing so you can choose to mix it up a bit and get out on the river for a different perspective. As your guide is armed you're also able to intersperse canoeing (and driving) with walking, so if you see something while paddling (or driving) along that would merit further investigation on foot, say vultures coming on a kill, there is the freedom to do exactly that. 


cutting tracks

A great walking safari is a lot to do with fieldcraft and to be able to get out in the cool early morning air, cut fresh lion tracks in soft sand and spend the next few hours tracking them down is a tremendous pleasure and priviliged in these times of instant gratification. 


Chitake Springs

Among Mana's most charismatic mega-fauna is a particlarly healthy population of wild dogs. These social canids are, along with elephant, the most rewarding mammals to encounter on foot. Seldom out-for-the-count, as lion often are, they are active, inquisitive and not particularly wary of man making a close approach infinitely possible. They are however remarkably ephemeral, disappearing apparently without trace for months on end before popping up again when and where you least expect them. The Chitake Springs inland from the Zambezi are a well-known stronghold so if they are not to be found on the rich grazing plains of the Zambezi it might well be worth taking an expedition out there. 


African Wild Dogs

African wild dogs are critically endagered and it takes very large tracts of wilderness, like Mana, to accommodate them as they are particularly prone to human persecution (both intentional and unintentional) and disease outbreaks from domestic dogs. Happily their conservation status across East and southern Africa appears to be improving. Incidentally not all wild dog look alike with the southern African population (Zambia, Zimbabwe & Botswana) being a great deal more colurful (whites, and golds) than the East African race which is predominantly black.  


a week on the wild side

It may be a cliche but there is something very special about the Zambezi River and nowhere is this more so than at Mana, a mile wide and packed with wildlife the park certainly merits a week-long sojoun. 


Mana Pools versus Lower Zambezi

Directly across the Zambezi from Mana Pools NP lies Zambia's Lower Zambezi National Park, so ecologically the two areas are very similar indeed. However, the two parks have quite different characters and this is largely down to their separate histories. 

Mana is much older and has been a park since 1963 whereas the Lower Zambezi was only gazetted two decades later. Walking safaris particularly, and to a lesser extent canoeing, were encouraged by the authorities in Mana from its inception and so the park's operators have always had a proud tradition of being both wild and active.

Zimbabwe's fall from southern Africa's bread-basket to economic basket-case through the 1990's to date coincided with the rise in reputation of the Lower Zambezi NP over the water. During this period the Lower Zambezi camps have undergone a process of near-endless 'improvements' and all the lodges within the park are extremely high-end, typically with swimming pools and/or plunge pools, cavernous tents, miles of decking et cetera. The Mana camps meanwhile went in to survival mode and remain now largely unchanged in style from how they were 25 years ago.  Which you'd prefer is largely down to personal taste - if you enjoy luxury and being pampered then heading in to the Lower Zambezi is a no-brainer. If you'd prefer to concentrate on what's outside the tent or have a nostalgia for safaris of old, then Mana may well be a better fit.

Important to note is that through all the years Zimbabwe has been suffering economic and political turmoil, its wildlife estate has been remarkably unaffected. If anything the safari experience for people visitting recently has been superior to that of the boom years in the 1980's and early 90's - simply because there are less people around.

Both Mana and Lower Zambezi are outstanding National Parks and we are fortunate indeed to be in a position to choose between them.


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Our experienced travellers include:

Vanessa Janion
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