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Click 'Select to Compare' to see a side-by-side comparison of up to adventures below—includingactivity level, pricing, traveler excellence rating, trip highlights, and more
See a detailed overview of the adventures that await you on our Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa travel experience.
Small Group Adventure
Days in Zimbabwe
5 nights from only $2295
4 nights from only $1395
Track the Big Five through four national parks from Chobe to Hwange.
Small Group Adventure
Days in Zimbabwe
4 nights from only $1695
Track your journey through five countries and see what awaits you, from Chobe to the Serengeti.
Small Group Adventure
Witness the sheer power and breathtaking beauty of Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls on this extension.
3 NIGHTS FROM FROM $1,495
Days in Zimbabwe
20 Days from only $6,095
Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.
Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
*This information is not available for our trip extensions. You must reserve the main trip to participate on this extension.
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Watch this video showcasing what makes this country so unforgettable
Roam Zimbabwe’s grasslands with prides of lions as you learn about the threats they face and the hope for their conservation.
Watch your fellow travelers favorite films & videos
Nature & Wildlife of Southern Africa
Let the wildlife and scenery of southern Africa captivate you in this 2-minute film showcasing the natural rhythm of life out in the open plains.
Produced by Rudi Zisterer
Travelogue: Zimbabwe 1948
Get a glimpse into the past as you witness two travelers' vintage 16mm footage of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe from 1948.
Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova
There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.
January to March in Zimbabwe is the peak rainy season, leading to thicker vegetation and lower temperatures. Almost daily, clear morning skies will close into afternoon thunderstorms. Higher humidity can make the afternoon high temperatures more uncomfortable. Though it's harder to spot big game, many animals give birth at this time, making it easier to spot newborns. Due to plentiful vegetation bird-watching is at its most bountiful. Also, as this is low season, the dollar will go farther—yet certain parks and attractions might be closed.
Victoria Falls is also more closely accessible, as you can witness its might at mid-level without too much spray.
With the rains and an increased food supply, many bird species—upwards of 600—migrate through Zimbabwe during the first three months of the year. For veteran bird-watchers, this is a great time for a birding holiday. Among the most highly-sought-after species during this time are the African Pitta and the Taita Falcon.
Watch this film to discover more about Zimbabwe
After the rainy season, Zimbabwe's climate becomes much more comfortable as humidity is lower, and temperatures begin to cool down through June. With clear blue skies almost daily, the time is ripe for spotting big game as they congregate around various watering holes and rivers. Though tourism has picked up, the parks are still not crowded due to their size. You can also enjoy fewer mosquitoes because of lower humidity.
At this time, Victoria Falls is at full power, which can make its mighty flow harder to enjoy with increased spray.
Many big game species have given birth in the previous months, so many newborn animals are out and about exploring the world. The plentiful vegetation offers food and nutrition for the newborns, so it's not uncommon to see a herd of elephants with a little one in tow.
The busiest wildlife season of the year, the dry climate between July and September makes for the most bountiful game-viewing—the man-made watering holes in Hwange National Park create stunning concentrations of wildlife. Average temperatures climb to highs in September of around 90 degrees. Nights and mornings will also become cooler due to the more extreme temperatures, so it's advisable to pack warm clothing for sleeping.
Victoria Falls is beginning to calm down—though still with a moderate flow. This is the best time to witness its power as the spray has partially subsided, making most of the waterfall visible. The Zambezi River also has perfect water levels for rafting, as they are not too high or too low.
During this time of year, Victoria Falls is at its most stunning. The spray, which comes from the typically thunderous water flow, is almost non-existent. This gives viewers the best opportunity to take in the fall's splendor.
Discover Zimbabwe, where bungee jumpers descend from atop rainbow-laden waterfalls, and elephants wallow in the waters below.
Produced by Tom Varley
October is the month for elephants at Hwange National Park. As the dry season peaks, game is easily viewed as animals search for whatever water is left. The temperature is also highest, though as a dry heat it's easily manageable with good hydration.
As the dry season is in full swing, the air is typically filled with dust—this makes the sunsets and sunrises in Zimbabwe especially beautiful, creating rich red and orange hues.
Soak in the beauty of Victoria Falls in this film illuminating the wildlife, scenery, and outdoor adventures that attract thrill-seeking visitors.
As the rainy season in Zimbabwe begins in November, the landscape comes alive with lush vegetation—thrilling thunderstorms bring downpours in the afternoon. Many animals give birth around this time, and migratory birds begin to flow in from other parts of the continent.
This is a great time to see newborn wildebeest as they learn to walk, bucking adorably on their new legs. Newborn impala are especially cute, with their over-sized ears flopping as they learn to walk and leap from their parents.
Click on map markers below to view information about top Zimbabwe experiences
Hwange National Park
Tented Camp Experience
Meet the People of Zimbabwe
Zambezi River Cruise
Lake Kariba Cruise
Click here to view more information about this experience
Click here to zoom in and out of this map
*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations
Deep in the bush country of Zimbabwe’s western region, Hwange National Park is the country’s largest park. Just a short distance from small Zimbabwean settlements, a whole host of animals—including wildebeest, impala, eland, buffalo, lion, leopard, antelope, and more—thrive in the park’s diverse teak forest, savannah grassland, and palm forest habitats. Hwange also has one of the largest elephant populations—estimated at 40,000—and more than 400 bird species.
Your lodging serves as a home base between game-viewing excursions, so staying at a location that's actually in the wilderness maximizes wildlife spotting and gives you the true safari experience. Staying at a tented camp in the African bush, you can fully immerse yourself in nature. Imagine waking up to the roar of lions, watching the sun rise over the vast savannah plains, or perhaps enjoying unexpected encounters with animals passing through. Many tented camps feature open dining areas or fire pits where travelers can congregate, enjoy spectacular views, and listen to the sounds of nature.
Its African name, Mosi-oa-Tunya means “the smoke that thunders,” and after just one visit to the thundering falls, you’ll see it’s no wonder why many consider it one of the world's Seven Natural Wonders. Victoria Falls is the world’s largest curtain of water by measure of combined height and width. The clouds of mist cast off during its peak floods—which can force 1.4 billion gallons of water per minute over its edge—can be seen from 50 miles away. Hikes through the area’s many walking trails, lined with a variety of flowering species, reveal beautiful surrounding ebony and fig trees; a helicopter ride above the falls provides breathtaking views; and, the sheer beauty of the falls themselves is simply unforgettable.
Whether in Hwange or Victoria Falls, no trip to Zimbabwe is complete without getting a sense of what life is like in a small village. For a look forward into the country’s future, visit a local school to interact with students and teachers. To get a sense of Zimbabwean social customs, meet with a village leader and discuss the local resident’s customs, economy, and family life. If you really want to get your hands dirty—literally—join in and help out on the villagers’ farm, getting a true feel for how Zimbabweans tend to their animals, plant and harvest their crops, and go about their daily lives.
Referred to as the "River of Good Omens" by Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, the Zambezi is Africa's fourth longest river, whose waters feed the spectacular Victoria Falls. Its banks attract animals in search of water—including zebra, giraffe, buffalo, elephant, and lion—and crocodiles and hippos can be seen navigating the waters or basking along the shores. Whether you take a scenic wildlife-spotting cruise, or enjoy dinner and drinks as you float down the river, exploring the waterways of the Zambezi is an experience many travelers prefer not to leave Zimbabwe without.
The world’s largest man-made lake, Lake Kariba is home to tigerfish, Nile crocodiles, and hippos. While water birds like fish eagles and cormorants also line its shores, bigger game like elephants, lions, cheetahs, and buffalo come to the reservoir for a drink—making the lake an ideal location for game spotting during water safaris.
With its scenic views of surrounding mountains and legendary sunsets, Lake Kariba has become a popular center for boating, fishing, and game-viewing. The lake boats glide past islands and bays teeming with wildlife, the Zambezi escarpment mountains that rise up along the Zambezi River, and Matusadona National Park—a reserve protecting local wildlife, including several rhinoceros.
Immerse yourself in Zimbabwe with this selection of articles, recipes, and more
A look back on what happened to Cecil, why he was such a celebrity, and memories of an encounter with the lion from an O.A.T. traveler.
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) strives to make the country a more accepting place for women’s rights. Discover how here.
Get an in-depth look at the bleak outlook of the elephant population and the efforts being taken to save these gentle giants.
by John Bregoli, from Dispatches
Most people know the story of “Cecil,” the famous lion who was killed outside of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Here it is again in a nutshell: This past June, American dentist Walter Palmer paid about $55,000 to professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst for the privilege of killing a lion. Hunting at night with a spotlight, they spotted a large lion in Hwange. To lure the lion outside the sanctuary, they tied a dead animal behind their vehicle. Once it was outside the park’s boundaries, they shot it with a bow and arrow—wounding but not killing it. They tracked the lion for about 40 hours and finished him off with a rifle. When the lion was later found by park authorities, it was beheaded, skinned, and its GPS tracking collar gone.
Once the media picked up the story, the incident sparked global outrage—most of it directed at Palmer. It also led to ongoing discussions about the ethics and business of big-game hunting. But while laws were apparently broken regarding permits and quotas on the land where the lion was killed, such “baiting” is legal in Zimbabwe, even on the edge of a protected reserve. And while Palmer is certainly the villain of the moment, he is just the latest in a long line of trophy-seeking lion hunters.
Cecil—the latest victim in a dwindling lion population
According to National Geographic, 2,000 years ago more than a million lions roamed the Earth. The current figure may be as low as 20,000—mostly in Africa. What happened? Like so many species, the decline of lions like Cecil is largely the result of loss of habitat due to human encroachment. But that’s not the only reason. In the 19th century—when there were still about a million lions in the world—pith-helmeted British colonials began slaughtering lions and other exotic African wildlife by the tens of thousands (Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway did their part, too). By the 1940s, there were about 450,000 lions left in Africa, and by the 1990s, just 50,000. But the killing of an individual lion never before sparked such outrage.
What made Cecil so special?First of all he had a name, which is unusual for lions in the wild (although the name “Cecil” was a curious choice, since most Zimbabweans do not wish to be reminded of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes). More importantly, Cecil was the “ultimate” lion. An enormous 13-year-old male with a long, shaggy black mane, he really did stand out in a crowd. And he was unafraid of humans. Becoming accustomed to people over the years, Cecil would allow vehicles to approach him (often within 30 feet) for photographs.
Memories of Cecil from an O.A.T. travelerPeople always seem to remember their celebrity encounters with Cecil—including many O.A.T. travelers. Ronna Tom, a 20-time O.A.T. traveler from Aiea, Hawaii, recalls a memorable moment with one of the world’s best known big cats …
“It was my privilege to observe this magnificent lion for two days while on a safari in 2010. At the end of the day and finally reaching the border of our campsite we noticed a lone Land Rover parked on the side of the road. Getting closer we saw that it was Cecil in all his glory having a late afternoon nap. This huge black-maned lion was stretched out and ignoring all the hushed chatter coming from our vehicles. He would occasionally slip us a sideward glance, yawn, stretch his body, roll over, sleep, and wake up with a curious stare but never once attempting to challenge us. It was sunset and the amazing golden sun light would fall on his face and at times across his body. For over an hour I was privileged to watch Cecil relaxing and allowing us to see his ‘softer’ side.It was truly a magical moment of time in his life that he shared with us.”
“My initial reaction upon hearing of his death was one of sadness that something like this could happen to such a beautiful animal … I will always cherish my encounter with Cecil the lion.”
There is little doubt that Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), is committed to making a difference—after all, they have a logo resembling a flame coming to life, an acronym that also happens to be the Ndebele word for “come forward,” and a strong mission to their work. Since 2003, the members of WOZA have made it their goal to help the women of Zimbabwe speak out and better their futures.
Zimbabwe has undergone major change in recent decades, and for a long time was seen as a failure of African governance. Hyperinflation, joblessness, and a general distrust of the government permeated the country. Today, however, Zimbabwe is making progress on the road to stability—life expectancy has increased dramatically, commerce is slowly returning as the Zimbabwe dollar gains strength, and general optimism has led to a baby boom.
Zimbabweans have learned that they need to be vocal advocates for their own futures, and the members of WOZA help them do exactly that. WOZA’s stated goals include encouraging women to speak up when their rights and freedoms are at risk, to become public leaders in their communities, and to unite across different backgrounds in identifying and working on issues that affect women.
WOZA today has more than 75,000 members, both women and men, and leads initiatives in constitution-making, democracy, education, children’s welfare, protesting police brutality, and recognizing the rights of women. WOZA members have been arrested (in fact, more than 3,000 members have spent time in jail), beaten, and denigrated in the press—but they have also been recognized the world over for leading the charge towards a freer and more inclusive Zimbabwe.
In 2009, President Obama presented WOZA and its leader, Magodonga Mahlangu, with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, which honors those who creatively and courageously defend human rights. In the words of President Obama, “By her example, Magodonga has shown the women of WOZA and the people of Zimbabwe that they can undermine their oppressors’ power with their own power—that they can sap a dictator’s strength with their own. Her courage has inspired others to summon theirs.”
WOZA describes its tactics as “tough love,” a method of strategic nonviolence in response to aggression. As described on their website, “the power of love can conquer the love of power. ‘Tough love’ is our secret weapon of mass mobilisation. ‘Tough love’ is the disciplining love of a parent; women practice it to press for and to bring dignity back to Zimbabweans. Political leaders in Zimbabwe need some discipline; who better to dish it out than mothers!”
It is precisely because WOZA’s members feel such deep pride for Zimbabwe and have optimism for the future that they can practice tough love. However, many of those in power in Zimbabwe see WOZA as troublemakers, as evidenced by the recent arrests of both Mahlangu and founder Jennifer Williams. They were observing a peaceful WOZA protest from a distance, when officers started an argument over whether protesters should notify police before an action. Before long, both women were in custody along with about eight other protesters, but only some police officers were officially charging those detained with any crime. Incidents such as this are an indication that despite Zimbabwe’s economic gains, there is much work still to be done in terms of judicial reform.
Though there is much ground still left to cover in the process of creating a free and fair Zimbabwe, WOZA will continue their work no matter what the opposition. In an open letter, the sentiment of WOZA was phrased simply: “WOZA members believe that it is better to light a single candle than to complain about the darkness.”
by Laura Chavanne, from Dispatches
Silence begat silence as our group gathered outside our vehicles for the evening sundowner. Our drivers had strategically chosen a spot, as they did every night, based on a lack of dangerous animals in the area. If they’d known in advance about the sight that awaited us, they never let on—but this was Chobe National Park, after all, so we had luck on our side.
We saw them before we heard them: a herd of some 30 elephants just a few hundred feet from our vehicle, moving slowly and sure-footedly across our field of vision. No one spoke or moved, amazed that we could see a group of such massive creatures—the largest land mammals on Earth—in such close proximity, without hearing so much as the snapping of a twig. They continued their journey past us, walking single-file, in silhouette against the glow of the setting sun.
An elephant’s ability to move silently is one of many physiological marvels that make these creatures endlessly fascinating to observe. The secret, in this case, is a system of natural “shock absorbers” that grip the ground firmly enough to smother the terrain beneath and prevent sound from escaping. Even more fascinating, however, are the behaviors that demonstrate the animals’ high levels of intelligence and socialization: the systematic uprooting of a dead tree, perhaps, exposing fresh, green vegetation underneath; or the gentle touching of two trunks, serving as a greeting between two elephant acquaintances.
The scientific community may frown upon anthropomorphism, but for the casual observer—myself most definitely included—the apparent humanism of elephants is too captivating to ignore: Within them, we see something of ourselves. They mourn … they love … they feel.
And yet we remain their greatest threat—in some ways, now more than ever.
Botswana’s Chobe National Park is home to the world’s largest concentration of elephants, and offers unparalleled opportunities to see them in the wild … but while conservationists and safari enthusiasts view the pachyderm population here as a blessing, the growing population of humans who coexist with them must regrettably disagree. Throughout southern Africa, the past several decades have seen shifts in a delicate ecological balance, placing conservationists on an earnest quest for a solution.
Of elephants and ivory The cause for protecting the African elephant is fraught with complications—not the least of which is the sheer disparity between regional populations within the continent: Of the 470,000-690,000 elephants that exist in Africa today, it’s estimated that around 280,300—that’s at least 40%—live in the southern African region, including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa. So while as a whole, the African elephant is classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a “Vulnerable” species, the organization has supplemented this rating with regional findings, stating specifically that while elephants are indeed “Vulnerable” in eastern Africa, they are merely “Near Threatened” in western Africa and of “Least Concern” in southern Africa.
While lions have been known to take weakened or young animals down on occasion, the elephant has no natural predators—yet human influence has been impacting them for thousands of years. A North African subspecies of the African bush elephant (which could possibly have been a species of its own, according to some scientists) became extinct around 200 BC due to overuse in Roman military battles and gladiatorial contests. And by 100 BC, two species of Asian elephant—Syrian and Chinese—had already been hunted to extinction for their ivory tusks, which cannot be removed without killing the animal.
Less than a century ago, history seemed doomed to repeat itself in Africa. Even though the ivory trade has operated continuously throughout modern history, by the 1940s there were still as many as three to five million elephants roaming the continent. In the 1970s, however, after decades of depression and war, renewed global prosperity precipitated a boom in the ivory trade—during which around 75,000 African elephants per year were killed for their tusks, most of them illegally with highly effective automatic weapons. By 1979, the population had plummeted to around 1.3 million … and by 1989, only 600,000 remained. Amid growing panic that the world’s elephants were headed for extinction, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the international trade of ivory in 1989.
Today, illegal poaching continues to haunt the African continent, with newly affluent Chinese and Vietnamese markets using their financial clout to establish extensive black market connections. Conservationists have decried 2011 as the worst year for elephants since the 1989 ban, with 23 tons of illegal ivory seized—representing 2,500 animals—versus just ten tons in 2010. While the overall elephant population is notoriously difficult to count, this number points directly to a severe problem, centered primarily in eastern and western Africa. The majority of black market seizures, for example, have occurred in Kenya and Tanzania. And a 2012 study estimates that around 5,000 elephants have been poached in the West African Republic of the Congo over the past five years. In these regions, conservationists and wildlife officials are on the offensive, deploying anti-poaching units and urging China to enact and enforce a moratorium on ivory.
In southern Africa, however, the story is very different. Some nations actually support the legalization of the ivory trade, arguing that if their elephant populations are strong enough, they should be allowed to profit from them as a reward for their conservation efforts. While conservationists naturally disagree with this position, they’re having a difficult time discouraging locals who view elephants—sadly, but with reason—as the world’s largest garden pests.
Confronting “the elephant problem”In some national parks, including Chobe in Botswana and Kruger in South Africa, the elephant populations have apparently grown too large for the landscape to support. Elephants are notoriously destructive feeders, uprooting trees and stripping bark to expose nutrients. As a result, other herbivores have a harder time finding sustenance, and birds of prey lose valuable nesting real estate. Of greater concern, however, is what happens when elephants make their way into residential areas outside the national parks. A hungry herd can destroy entire harvests in a single night, which is devastating for local farmers in these poverty-stricken areas. In rare instances, when normally docile elephants feel threatened enough to charge, people have been killed.
Whether or not there truly are too many elephants in southern Africa is actually a subject of debate. Some scientists insist that the elephant population is simply returning to normal levels following its devastation before the ivory ban—only this time, there are more humans around to notice. A probable explanation, but not one that offers an easy solution. The humans certainly aren’t going anywhere, but options for reducing the elephant population have not met with success. Contraception is costly and takes years to yield results—and while scientists have developed formulas that don’t affect hormone levels, they can’t predict how the inability to reproduce will upset the elephants’ social well-being. Translocation to areas with less concentrated populations can also have negative effects on social structure, as family units are not always moved together; plus, research on its long-term success is inconclusive.
No other method, however, has fueled as much passionate protest as culling. The systematic “removal” of breeding adults from the population was banned in 1995, but every so often it comes up for debate—as it has most recently in the case of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Aside from the fact that most humans without firsthand experience of “the elephant problem” abhor the idea of killing an elephant as if it were a rodent, some scientists theorize that culling actually contributes to population growth. New animals have a tendency to migrate into areas where culling has occurred because there’s less competition for resources, bringing populations right back to their original levels. While proponents criticize detractors as being clouded by anthropomorphism, the backlash—at least for now—has been sufficient enough to keep the ban on culling in place.
Thankfully, scientists have recently implemented a potential—and completely humane—solution. One possible cause for the high concentration of elephants in just a few small areas could be the closure of the animals’ ancient migration routes through the continent—either by fences or other man-made barriers, human settlements, and danger zones created in times of civil unrest. To this end, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) opened in March of 2012. Encompassing no fewer than 37 protected areas in five countries, including Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana, Kafue National Park in Zambia, and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, the international sanctuary will create “safe corridors” for elephants throughout its 150,000 square mile area. The hope is that if the animals can migrate great distances when their resources are depleted, they will—thereby reducing overpopulations in strained areas like Chobe. While it’s too early to determine whether the theory is correct, success would be a win-win situation for both the elephants and the humans who share the land with them.
On a much smaller scale, conservation groups are working with farmers on a humane and inexpensive—yet surprisingly effective—elephant repellent. As it turns out, elephants and humans share a particular aversion that can render even our favorite foods completely unpalatable: massive amounts of chili peppers. Rather than relying on electric fences to keep elephants out of their fields, farmers are coating fences with a mixture of hot pepper and engine oil to keep would-be grazers at bay. Another option is to burn elephant dung laced with capsaicin, which can repel herds of elephants for miles. An elephant’s sense of smell is actually 100-200 times better than a human’s, so we can only imagine how powerful a deterrent this must be. And to those who consider this method cruel, conservationists have only one response: Just consider the alternatives.
Kindred spiritsThey say an elephant never forgets, but of all the characteristics humans and elephants share, perhaps the most powerful is the ability to mourn. Scientists have observed both vigils and burial rituals in elephant communities—and not just for their own kind. Elephants have also been known to grieve over humans. Most famously, just a few months ago, they did so elaborately after the death of a so-called “elephant whisperer” in South Africa. Yet both researchers and local people have recorded stories of elephants covering deceased or sleeping humans with branches—as if to acknowledge a kindred spirit, and pay respects to a departed soul.
So long as we, too, return the favor, perhaps we can once again find the balance we destroyed so long ago—and man and beast can live in harmony, with no reason to fear one another.
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