The Zambezi National Park is only a short drive from Zimbabwe's adventure mecca, Victoria Falls. As such, it offers visitors to the area the ideal place at which to fit in some game viewing between extreme activities. The park has two main game viewing routes; along the river, where there is constant wildlife traffic to and from the water, and the southern Chamabondo circuit that winds through the mopane woodlands where vast herds of buffalo and elephant thrive. In addition, numerous avian "specials" make this a birdwatcher's paradise, including Pel's Fishing Owl, African Finfoot and African Skimmer found along the river.
Located just upriver from the magnificent Victoria Falls and with 50 km of stunning river frontage, the Zambezi National Park makes up for its relatively small size (560 sq.km) with its ease of access, spectacular riverine scenery and diverse fauna and flora. The Zambezi River embodies the essence of the park – attracting wildlife from far and wide to drink, and visitors to view the wildlife, often on exciting canoe or boat safaris. Four of the Big 5 can be viewed here (lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo) along with healthy populations of general game and excellent birding, particularly in Summer.
The Zambezi National Park is relatively small (56 sq. km), with its northern border entirely made up of 50 kilometres of the scenic Zambezi River. The park is easily accessible via the border town of Victoria Falls (popularly known as Vic Falls) and the nearby Victoria Falls International Airport.
Close to Adventures, Away from it All
Due to its proximity and small size, many visitors stay in Vic Falls, entering the park on half or full-day excursions with professional safari operators. One of the more popular activities within the park is guided canoe safaris, where guests drift downriver, viewing the curious animals as they come down to the Zambezi River to drink.
Visitors who wish to stay within the park can choose between the government camps, which offer camping and basic accommodation in huts, or a selection of private lodges that provide exclusivity in a luxurious setting, typically boasting spectacular locations along the river. Given the popularity of the various adventure activities in Vic Falls, a favoured choice is to combine a stay at the park with a couple of nights in the town to get the best of both.
On the Road or the River; Excitement Awaits
Given its small size, the park does not have (or need) an extensive road network. Instead, there are two main routes used for game viewing. The more popular (and therefore busier) route is known as the Zambezi River Game Drive, which winds along the river and you are almost assured of sightings as animals move to and from the water.
The Chamabondo Game Drive, by contrast, leaves the river and snakes its way through the mopane woodland. While game viewing in this area can be challenging, sightings of large herds of elephants and buffalo that depend on the mopane for food in the dry season are possible, as are sightings of impressive roan and sable antelope.
Different Landscapes, Different Animals
Of the Big 5, only rhinoceros are absent, and elephants and buffalo are the most frequently seen throughout the year. Lion sightings are said to be improving, while leopards are a rare treat, and painted wolves (wild dogs) rarer still. The most abundant predator is the spotted hyena, often seen loping across.
Other general game species are well represented, and the diverse habitats – from riverine to floodplain to woodland – equate to a remarkable diversity of species within a limited area. You can expect to see impala, wildebeest, plains zebra, warthog, kudu, giraffe and, of course, many hippos along the river.
Birdlife is also considered excellent, particularly in the Summer, when migrant species arrive to enjoy the rich pickings on offer. Some notable species bird-watchers should look out for include Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Finfoot, Osprey, African Skimmer, Allen’s Gallinule, Bearded Scrub Robin, Rock Pratincole and Slaty Egret, to name only a few.
Aside from game drives, one of the best ways to enjoy the park is by water, whether game viewing from a canoe or trying your luck with a fishing charter. Walking safaris are also offered and bring the bush to life from a unique perspective.
The bustling town of Victoria Falls is just 5km from the Zambezi National Park entrance and some 700km from the capital, Harare. Victoria Falls International Airport is just 18km from the town, which also marks the border with neighbouring Zambia. From here visitors can either rent a 4×4 vehicle for a self-drive adventure, or retain the services of one of the many safari companies servicing the park, for a full or half-day excursion. If you are staying in the park, check with the establishment whether they offer a shuttle pick-up service. If not, these can be arranged in Victoria Falls.
Zambezi National Park is best visited between June and September, when the relatively mild temperatures and absence of rain mean the park is at its most hospitable, as is apparent with increased visitor numbers. The added benefit of visiting at this time is that in the absence of standing water, wildlife is naturally drawn to the river to drink. At the same time, the vegetation is less dense making game viewing noticeably easier. Mosquitoes are also scarce at this time. However, the Wet Season from November to April offers the best birding!