Inside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park • Your Ultimate Safari Guide

Bordering Botswana, Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest national park and covers an area of 14,600km². Its massive size leads to varying landscape, game, and wild bush. The park moves from desert scrubs on the edge of the Kalahari in the south, to granite hills and woodlands filled with mopane and teak in the North.

One characteristic that will strike all visitors in Hwange is the importance of water. The park’s large population of wildlife is sustained by managed water holes, or pans.  Nearly 100 mammal species call Hwange National Park home. That includes all of the big five animals, even the endangered rhinoceros.

The park is easily accessible and full of the highest numbers of animals. These are best spotted in the dry season (August to October) when the wildlife congregates around the shrunken water holes.


Hwange National Park


Wild Dog Chase

We landed in Hwange National Park after a two-hour flight with Wilderness Air coming from an awesome safari in  Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe. It was a long ride in a small Cessna 206 so were relieved when we landed in the park. Our guide Luke greeted us at the airstrip and took us away to our first camp in Hwange National Park, Little Makalolo.

Little Makalolo is a classic style safari camp. A small main lounge, bar, and dining area with a fire pit as the central feature. We settled right into camp and took some time to ourselves after the long journey. It’s amazing how a shower, a cup of coffee, and the sounds of the bush can revitalize a weary traveler.

Hwange National Park

Our first evening out was a relaxing game drive. We found ourselves winding through thick bush and deep sandy tracks. The park was starting to dry and out and a few trees had dropped their leaves. However, the vegetation was still thick and the wildlife was dispersed throughout the park.

None of this stopped us from having phenomenal wildlife sightings. It was the kind of safari experience and sightings that only a park like Hwange can deliver. We saw majestic male lions who are decedents of the famous Cecil the lion, a pack of nine African wild dogs, cheetahs, hundreds of elephants, kudu, and a side-striped jackal.

African Safari Animals

It would be tough to compete with the wild dog hunt we saw on day two, but then we moved to Imvelo Safaris. On our first day with Imvelo, our guide surprised us with a bush lunch and an afternoon of sitting in their photographic hide. The hide is exclusive to Imvelo and is essentially a shipping container buried next to a watering hole.

Upon settling in the hide our guide turned on the pump and freshwater started to pour out from in front of the hide. A short while later we had elephants towering over us from a few meters away. It was and is the closest we’ve ever been to such a large herd of elephants.


Best Time to Visit Hwange National Park

Hwange National Park 2

Spotting wildlife in Hwange, like most parks in Africa, is best in the dry season. The dry season in Zimbabwe and Hwange is at its peak from late June – October. The dry season makes it easy to spot animals in the bush as they concentrate around sources of water. Water is a precious resource in Hwange as the large majority of water holes are managed by pumps year round to help maintain the animal population.

Lions in Hwange

December to March is the green season. Rains begin to fall in November and by December most wildlife disperses in the park with increasing foliage providing greater camouflage. There is a brief shoulder season in May before the peak season arrives in June. It is an anomaly in comparison to the rest of Zimbabwe as tourism in the park is in high demand and many of the lodges fill up completely during peak season.


Hwange National Park Fees

The National Park is open all year round. National parks in Zimbabwe are similar to many parks in Southern Africa and are very affordable.

  • Citizen: Adult – $5.00 USD per day
  • SADC: Adult – $15.00 USD per day
  • Non-resident: Adult – $20 USD per day

Private Vehicle Fees

  • Locally Registered Vehicles – $5.00 USD per day
  • Foreign Registered Vehicles – $10.00 USD per day

Hwange National Park Landscape

Hwange National Park

Hwange National Park is the largest park in Zimbabwe and one of the largest in Africa. Its name comes from the local chief at the time of its formation in 1929.  The park is located in the Northwest of Zimbabwe and borders Botswana. It is only a one hour drive south from Victoria Falls which makes it the perfect safari add on to the falls.

Sunset in Hwange

Hwange’s landscape is a combination of Kalahari sand, woodlands, and teak forests. It’s even common for the lodges to use the teak as firewood as no wood is allowed to leave the park. The landscape has wide grass plains fringed by palm trees and acacias. The diverse landscape and abundance of food support large herds of elephant and Cape buffalo. However, in recent years the elephant population appears to be out of control destroying large woodland sections.


Hwange National Park Wildlife

Wild Dogs

Hwange has an incredible amount of wildlife with over 100 species of mammals and almost 400 bird species. The park contains one of the largest elephant populations in the world and visitors are sure to have more than their fair share of close encounters with the animal.

Hwange National Park 1

Hwange National Park is also well known for its predators, with good numbers of lion, leopard, cheetah, and wild dog. We were exceptionally lucky in seeing a wild dog hunt and kill on one of our first days in the park. Other highlights for us included a large coalition of five cheetahs and even a lion kill. Other rare animals that are regularly spotted in the park are the roan and sable antelope.


Typical Day on Safari in Hwange

Safari Jackets
  • 05h30 – Wake up call
  • 06h00 – Light bush breakfast
  • 06h30 – Depart on morning activity. We recommend doing walking safaris in the morning as after about 9:00 temperatures will get too hot to walk.
  • 11h30 – Return from morning activity and get ready for lunch.
  • 12:30 – Siesta time! Now is the perfect time to relax, read a book, or jump in the pool
  • 15h30 – Afternoon tea and coffee
  • 16h00 – Head out on afternoon activity. Usually accompanied with sundowner drinks
  • 19h30 – Return from afternoon activity and relax with drinks before dinner.
  • 20h00 – Dinner time!
  • 22h00 – Sleep! It’s been a long day on safari

Lodges in Hwange National Park


Wilderness Safaris — Little Makalolo

Little Makalolo

We stayed with Wilderness Safaris in Mana Pools National Park and absolutely fell in love with their camps. We were more than excited to experience their Little Makalolo camp while in Hwange. Little Makalolo is special as it was one a few private camps located within Hwange National Park. Wilderness Safaris enjoys a large concession for their sole exclusive use within the national park. It serves well for those looking to disconnect from the modern world and reconnect with the bush.

Little Mack Zimbabwe

Little Makalolo, or “Little Mack” is a small camp with only six tents and a private waterhole with an above ground hide. The six tents are connected via a teak walkway. On the two nights we stayed we saw a side-striped jackal and a hyena on the path, and felt reassured to have guides walking with us at night. The center of the camp is a false mopane tree that provides shade during the day and serves as a dramatic backdrop to the large fire pit. 

Hwange National Park

There’s no WiFi at Little Mack and only small solar lights in the tents. The large tents are built in the shade of large trees, with outer walls to allow the flow of wind and cool cement floors. Each tent has a large en-suite bathroom, with full plumbing and hot water. The rooms also include indoor and outdoor showers, as well as one honeymoon tent with a bathtub.

Elephants

While the camp has a plunge pool it was much too cold for us to enjoy, but we’ve told it’s a highlight come September/October when temperatures in Southern Africa skyrocket. The tents are all shaded by a wooded area and it helps keep the tents cool during the day.

Wildebeest Hwange

All of the tents sit at ground level nestled down tree lines that look out towards a wonderful waterhole. Guests can sit in camp or the hide at the waterhole and have amazing wildlife sightings. Large herds of buffalo and elephants are known to frequent the waterhole providing guests a show from the tents.

For us, the highlight of Little Makalolo is the central deck and fire pit. On the cool evenings in late May we enjoyed sitting around the fire with a glass of Amarula and listening to the sounds of the bush.


Imvelo Safaris in Hwange National Park


Imvelo Hides

We stayed at two separate lodges with Imvelo Safaris. They have a private concession just outside the park and two famous lions referred to as the Bomani Brothers like to hang around the region. They’re a beautiful pair and they are likely the offspring of the famous Cecil the Lion (Cecil and his brother both mated with the mother).

Imvelo Safaris also operates Stofies Hide which is an exceptional place to get photos. The hide is one of the only ones of its stature in Zimbabwe. Imvelo Safaris is responsible for managing the pan as well as many other in the park. They pay to run the pumps and it’s a crucial element in the conservation of the park.


Camelthorn Lodge

Hide ime

Camelthorn is situated in woodlands just south of Ngamo’s famous Plains. The lodge is located outside the park in community lands, but the drive to the main gate takes less than five minutes. The rooms at Camelthorn are some of the largest we have seen for a safari lodge.

The large rooms are concrete buildings with massive bathrooms, a fireplace, lounge, and a second-story deck. We felt extremely comfortable at Camelthorn and after some time in a tent, it felt nice to be in a more sturdy structure. Meals at Camelthorn are a communal affair and we enjoyed the large bar, communal area, and fire pit at night with our fellow safari-goers.


Bomani Tented Lodge

Imvelo Safari Lodges

Bomani Tented Lodge is more in line with a traditional safari camp with large tents on a pan. The camp lies in the private Bomani concession. The area is surrounded by large plains that and the camp often sees massive buffalo and elephant herds at the watering hole.

Imvelo Safari Lodges

The main lodge sits on the Bomani pan and consists of a dining room, lounge, and bar, built on a raised viewing platform. Not far from the pan’s edge lies the campfire pit the perfect place to relax after sundown. The Bomani camp staff were wonderful in preparing us a special candlelit dinner outside our room while listening to the sounds of hyena in the distance.


General Info for Traveling in Zimbabwe


Victoria Falls

Visas to Zimbabwe

Visas for Americans traveling to Zimbabwe cost $30 USD payable in cash at the border. Visas are good for 30 days. Americans have the cheapest visas while the Canadians and Brits have it the worst at $75 and $55 respectively. More info on visas here. As we were traveling between Zambia and Zimbabwe we opted for the recently released KAZA visa that is a dual visa good for both countries, it costs $50.

Cash in Zimbabwe

Having enough USD before you enter is sure to make life easier. If coming from Livingstone there is a Barclays Bank in town that is able to change cash for you. If coming into Kariba, we found an ATM in Siavonga on Lake Kariba (Zambian side). The ATM’s in Zambia dispense Kwacha, so you will have to change that into USD before you enter. I would be hesitant to run out of USD anywhere in Zimbabwe besides Vic Falls, Harare, and Bulawayo.

Language in Zimbabwe

The three main languages in Zim are English, Shona, and Ndebele. You will be able to get by fine with English in Zimbabwe.

Food In Zimbabwe

The local meal in Zimbabwe is sadza and is a combination of maize, relish, and meat and it is delicious!


Want To Know More About Zimbabwe?

Lake Kariba

We drove around Zimbabwe and love the people and the country. Read more about travel in Zimbabwe!


Book A Safari in Zimbabwe


Canoe in safari

Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.

However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.


Check Out Some Lodges in Zimbabwe


Ruckomechi Camp

Ruckomechi Camp

Ruckomechi consists of 10 large spacious safari tents. Each room is stylishly decorated and has a large bedroom area. The en-suite bathroom has an amazing shower that opens up to the Zambezi via a tent flap allowing you to choose indoors or outdoors, we choose outdoors.

A unique experience at Ruckomechi is a bath on the banks of the Zambezi River, where guests can soak in a bubble bath. We, of course, had to take full advantage of this enjoyed a romantic bubble bath together while listening to the sounds of the wild.


Game Drive in Zimbabwe

Musango Safari Camp

Nights at Musango Safari Camp are spent listening to hippos grunt and munch on the grass below our tent. In the morning we could watch impala, bushbuck, and elephants walk by grazing on the grass between our tent and the lake.

However, Musango is still family-friendly with an electric fence around the camp, so we weren’t worried about an unexpected visitor in the middle of the night. Though, there are a few residents that we were always happy to welcome.


Little Makalolo

Little Makalolo

We stayed with Wilderness Safaris in Mana Pools National Park and absolutely fell in love with their camps. We were more than excited to experience their Little Makalolo camp while in Hwange.

Little Makalolo is special as it was one a few private camps located within Hwange National Park. Wilderness Safaris enjoys a large concession for their sole exclusive use within the national park. It serves well for those looking to disconnect from the modern world and reconnect with the bush.


Victoria Falls River Lodge

Looking for the perfect Victoria Falls Accommodation? On the banks of the mighty Zambezi River is the secluded Victoria Falls River Lodge.

Set among the wildlife in the Zambezi National Park, but still deep enough in the bush to go undetected is the ideal lodge to experience Victoria Falls from.


What To Pack For Zimbabwe

Elephants in Zimbabwe

There are a few things that one should pack for an African Safari. We help you create your safari packing list and share some of our favorite safari products.

Things to do in Crete
Travel Insurance

We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage

SafetyWing is perfect for digital nomads. See our full review here!


Overland Tour in Africa

Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.


Grayl Waterbottle
Travel Water Bottle

Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem of buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!

However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about our favorite water bottle for travel in our post.


Travel in Zanzibar
Camera Gear

Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm. 

For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.


Safari Hat

A good hat is both stylish and functional. In peak dry season there is little to provide shade, UV rays are intense and can easily burn the unsuspecting traveler. Check out our full break down of the best safari hats here!


Safari Bag

great daypack for travel is a solid idea to throw your stuff in for game drives and bush flights. Or you could try out a safari backpack.


Safari Pants

Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).

We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.


Safari Shirt

You’ll want a safari shirt while on safari. They are lightweight and keep the bugs away. Plus they look ideal in photos and blend into the environment around you!


Africa Guidebook

Guide Book

Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights. Are you going on safari? We always carry our Robert’s Southern Africa Bird Book and a good mammal guide.


Africa Travel Tips

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