Going on a Zimbabwe safari is like stepping back in time to the African safaris of old. You will not find overcrowded parks and commercialism; instead you’ll be offered a chance to truly connect with Africa and the incredible experiences on offer. The spirit that made going on a safari in Africa so intoxicating can still be found today in Zimbabwe.
Being able to visit Zimbabwe and immerse ourselves into the Imvelo Safari Lodges experience being offered by Global Basecamps was something we will remember forever.
The Zimbabwe Safari that makes a Difference
While there are a lot of different ways to experience Hwange National Park, we embarked on a journey to Zimbabwe in search of something different. In search of something that not only provides an iconic safari experience, but also a chance to be part of actionable conservation and community efforts.
Founded in 1996, Imvelo Safari Lodges prides itself on the seamless integration between nature, the local communities and tourism in Zimbabwe. Their lodges and camps are located within communal lands and concession areas around the parks bringing the local people directly in contact with the benefits of tourism.
This promotes conservation of the local wildlife and land while contributing directly to the sustainability of the village communities that surround Zimbabwe’s parks. Imvelo’s motto, connecting people with nature doesn’t stop short at tourists alone.
At the height of tourism in Zimbabwe the rural communities received little direct benefit from the influx of money. They viewed wildlife as a problem; elephants destroyed their crops and lions killed their livestock. They were trying to survive and saw little value in conserving the populations near Hwange National Park.
Tourism in Zimbabwe was strange to the locals and they were rarely given the opportunity to meet the tourists, instead only seeing glimpses of them as they cruised through the area on buses.
Since opening Gorges Lodge in 1996 as the largest safari tourism development ever undertaken on communal land, Imvelo has expanded with 5 other properties that showcase their signature community based tourism structure.
Community and Conservation Efforts
Looking more closely at the community and conservation efforts in Zimbabwe, Imvelo is second to none. As I stated earlier, the entire company was born on the idea to integrate people, both locals and tourists alike, with the nature of Zimbabwe.
As part of this quest, Imvelo takes a strong position on sustainable tourism by ensuring that funds and support reach the communities directly. This alone has provided improved opportunity and quality of life for the villagers. In return, they have welcomed tourism with open arms and large smiles.
In doing this, Imvelo has invested more than $2Million into the local communities, distributing the money where it is needed most; education, clean water and initiatives to ensure the local people are directly benefiting from tourism.
Education – providing direct support to 14 different schools located around the lodges, Imvelo ensures education is accessible for future generations. The project alone has taken one of the worst performing schools in the regions, Ngamo, and transformed it into the best by providing clean, safe and proper learning environements for both the teachers and students.
We had the opportunity to experience Imvelo’s signature school visit at Ngamo where we spent a morning picking the kids up in the village with safari trucks, providing them a ride to school and then having time to interact with the children. The experience offered a chance to learn more about their lives and culture.
Nothing beats the intimate human interaction you can experience on this Zimbabwe safari. The difference the program has made in the lives of the children is transparent and our interactions were genuine and heartwarming.
Clean Water for Villages– this is something we take for granted every single day of our lives. Most people consume clean water without even giving a thought to the parts of the world that do not have the same access. Unfortunately, many parts of Africa struggle over something so seemingly simple.
Zimbabwe is no exception to this, especially in the areas surrounding the South and West of Hwange National Park where they experience intense dry spells during late summer and fall.
Recognizing that clean drinking water is imperative to the health of not only the local communities but the wildlife, Imvelo filled a gap by spending the last 7 years establishing more than 80 village wells and boreholes in 4 districts.
It’s an impressive thing to learn that this addition provides clean water to more than 13,500 people and their livestock.
Dry Season Game Water – it’s not only the people that need water during Zimbabwe’s infamous dry season; it’s the safari animals too. Hwange National Park is one of the few parks in Africa that does not have any major rivers or lakes.
This means when it gets hot and the dry season is in full swing, there is not enough water in the park to sustain the number of animals that reside there. It also means that that wildlife leave the few overcrowded water holes in search of water elsewhere. This takes them outside the park; sometimes in villages and sometimes into new areas where the animals never return.
In an effort to keep the wildlife of Hwange National Park hydrated and out of trouble, Imvelo funded, installed and maintains 16 waterholes from May to November every year.
Anti-Poaching Units – due to the remote locations of the Imvelo Lodges in Hwange National Park, they have found themselves on the forefront of the anti-poaching efforts. Rather than trying to fight the problem with small numbers, they have successfully managed to incorporate and involve the local communities in the conservation of the parks that surround them.
They have given not only given them the stability they need for a more balanced life, but the education and understanding about why conservation is important for everyone, themselves included. Without wildlife, there are no tourists. Without tourists, there is no money.
Through this initiative they have managed to stop local involvement in poaching activities and bring the people that used to rely on poaching as a means to support their families, over to be trained as productive anti-poaching rangers.
In forming the anti-poaching unit, known as the Scorpions, Imvelo has provided extensive support in wages, training, supplies, bedding, tents and communication equipment to help not contain international ivory poaching but also deter local subsistence poaching within the borders of Hwange National Park.
Poaching is a very real thing and one of the biggest struggles for the wildlife in all of Africa, not just Zimbabwe. We’ve seen it with our own eyes, heard about the struggles and pleaded with people to realize the negative impact that it has on the continent.
While on our Zimbabwe safari, we had the privilege of viewing a stunning female cheetah, whom the local guides and rangers affectionately call Cindy. She is alive today due to the efforts of the anti-poaching units in Hwange National Park, who found her entangled in a poacher’s snare one day while on partrol.
They were able to free her with little damage, except for a cut on the face that has now healed into a mile shaped scar, hence the name she’s been given. It is stories like this that show you the real rewards of implementing and funding such impactful projects through tourism.
Pairing conservation with tourism gets even better when you have a chance to experience the unique activities on offer at the Imvelo Lodges. Of course, you cannot go to Zimbabwe without going on a traditional safari through Hwange National Park, but it’s the variety of activities on offer that will keep us going back to Imvelo.
Overnight Train – newly launched is an opportunity to take a ride on the Stimela Star, a purpose built refurbished train car that Imvelo uses to offer an overnight train ride experience from Victoria Falls down to Hwange National Park.
When we visited in 2015, we took this same railway but rode on the original Rhodesian Railway train cars and while it was a fin experience, there was nothing comfortable about it. The Stimela Star, on the other hand, has raised the bar in train transport for tourists coming to Zimbabwe.
Boasting a 3 star experience, we found the cabins extremely comfortable with private rooms, crisp white linens and access to shared showers. The Stimela Star features a lounge with bar, sitting area and dining car in addition to accommodation.
Dinner is served on the train after leaving Victoria Falls Hotel, where you will likely partake in afternoon tea, and arrives at Hwange National Park in the morning where you transfer straight to safari vehicles.
Currently, this is a Imvelo Lodges exclusive activity which makes it reason enough to book a Zimbabwe safari with them.
Horseback Riding Safari – also new for this year is the opportunity to take horseback riding safaris in the concession right outside of the park. This option is available from both Bomani and Camelthorn Lodges.
As a horse nut, this was one of my favorite days. The people that run this excursion for the lodges are fantastic horseman with great stories. They have well cared for horses that are well fed and well kept. All were responsive and easy to handle, even for the inexperienced riders in our group.
Walking Safaris – something that really sets Imvelo apart from other safaris that we have been on is their emphasis on getting you up close and personal with nature. One of their trademark experiences is to participate in a walking safari.
Yes, you read that right, a walking safari in Africa. Sure, there are lions, elephants, buffalo and who knows what else out there but that is what makes it special. Setting off on foot with one of their highly trained and experienced bush guides gives you a new way to look at Africa.
Being off the safari truck, being able to touch and feel things around us was an incredible experience. The guides are fantastic pointing out many things you would easily miss from the truck and really giving an immersive experience.
Zambezi River Kayaking – it’s not all about Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Imvelo also has access to Zambezi National Park and the mighty Zambezi River where they offer trips down the river on inflatable kayaks.
We were there during very high water and while the lower Zambezi is off limits for water activities at this time, being up river from Victoria Falls still allows for water activities.
The kayak trips they offer from their Zambezi Sands lodge are a lot of fun and a great way to see the river up close. We encountered some small rapids, paddled from one bank to the other, explored small islands and kept a vigilant eye out for hippos along the way.
Victoria Falls – no visit to Zimbabwe would be complete without a visit to Victoria Falls National Park to see the biggest waterfall in the world. You can experience the falls in one of two ways, or heck even both.
To see them up close, you can head to the park and have access to a paved walkway that takes you to all of the best vantage points along the falls. This is a very intimate experience, especially at high water. We got soaking wet but had so much fun playing in the mist.
Equally as good is a helicopter ride from town over the Batoka Gorge and the mighty Victoria Falls. You really get the perspective of size from the air and it shouldn’t be missed. We’ve done it twice now in our travels to Zimbabwe and would do it again without hesitation.
Where We Stayed
During our Zimbabwe safari we had the opportunity to stay at a nice combination of the Imvelo safari lodges including Gorges Lodge, Bomani Tented Camp, Camelthorn Lodge and Zambezi Sands.
Our stay was one of the many packages on offer with Global Basecamps, our booking platform of choice for safaris in Zimbabwe.
Gorges Lodge – located only 30 minutes from Victoria Falls town, we found this lodge to be the perfect place to start a Zimbabwe safari. It is away from the busy vibe of town yet close enough that you don’t have to spend hours commuting after that long international flight.
It’s a paradise location, right on the edge of the Batoka Gorge and has some incredible views to wake up to each morning. The rooms are spread throughout the property giving you a literal feeling of being alone, which we found blissful while battling jetlag.
Meals were served community style and included a BBQ dinner, yoga breakfast and lunch on the go while out on excursions. Due to the location, it is possible to have access to all the adventures on offer from Victoria Falls, including a visit to Victoria Falls National Park, safaris in Zambezi National Park, hiking in Batoka Gorge, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping and much more.
Bomani Tented Camp – we absolutely loved the old style safari camp feel at this property and the camp is located right on the edge of Hwange National Park on the Bomani concession.
This means you have immediate safari access straight from the camp, it also means you are camping in the wilds of Zimbabwe.
The camp is laid out with a main lodge area featuring a bar, dining area and fire pit . The accommodation tents span out to either side with considerable distance between them, again giving you the feeling that you’re out there all alone. Being able to experience Africa like this is intoxicating and exciting.
The tents are as luxurious as tents come featuring running water, shower, toilet, electricity, large beds and classic African décor sourced from the nearby villages.
Camelthorn Lodge – the epitome of luxury, this lodge is gorgeous and located in the same concession as the Bomani Tented Lodge, yet nowhere in site. In an effort to provide a more permanent relationship with the local communities, Imvelo built Camelthorn Lodge with large, stone buildings.
Each ‘room’ features a luxurious amount of amenities, including a fireplace, locally produced furniture and décor, large beds, upper level balconies overlooking the plains and a front porch with hammock.
It was hard to not feel right at home here as the center lobby gave us the perfect place to share drinks with friends, chat with the guides. Yet we were able to retreat to our rooms for reflection after a day full of adventure.
Like the other camps, Imvelo has created the perfect balance in each property, allowing you to feel isolated during your visit, if you want to, and Camelthorn is no exception to this.
Zambezi Sands – after having our fill of safaris in Hwange National Park we headed back towards Victoria Falls and into the Zambezi National Park for a stay at the stunning Zambezi Sands property.
This lodge is located inside the park and directly on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. It is the ultimate place to end a Zimbabwe safari. The lodge sticks to the layout of the other properties, with a central lobby and dining area and rooms spread throughout the property, although they are in the closest proximity here compared to the others.
We loved the feel of this place, it was so peaceful and they’ve done a fantastic job of integrating it with the surrounding nature of the Zambezi National Park and the Zambezi River.
We enjoyed kayaking on the river by day and safaris in the park in the evening. We were even treated to elaborate bush breakfasts and some incredible sundowner experiences.
Of all the properties, this one is the most unique and we highly recommend you include it on your next Zimbabwe safari trip.
How to Plan Your Own Safari in Zimbabwe
With Imvelo offering 6 lodge options- 4 in Hwange National Park, 1 in Zambezi National Park and 1 in Victoria Falls- Global Basecamps provides exclusive access to a custom built safari package that caters to your interests.
Global Basecamps offers a number of sample itineraries on their site to give you ideas on how you can put together a Zimbabwe safari. Personally, I think the perfect itinerary will have you visiting all of the areas that Imvelo offers lodges, like we did. You can get a classic safari experience at Bomani and Camelthorn or you can get really remote with Nehimba and Jozibanini.
Pairing one of those with a stay at Gorges at the beginning of your trip and Zambezi Sands at the end of your trip will give you not only a fantastic trip but a good look at some of the best sites in Zimbabwe.
Booking with Global Basecamps is a simple process once you know where you want to go. They offer submission forms and 800 numbers that give you direct access to their travel planning specialists, for free.
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Disclosure: This post was made possible in collaboration with Global Basecamps. However, all opinions, crazy stories, experiences, raves and insane love for Zimbabwe are 100% mine. As always.