Inside Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park • Your Ultimate Safari Guide

Mana Pools Canoe Safari

Mana Pools National Park often felt like more of a myth than reality to us. We heard the park referenced many times and knew that it was a fact that those fortunate enough to make it to the park were rewarded with an amazing safari. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is famed for its protected wilderness.

Mana Pools is remote and delivers a true sense of being in the wild. 

It’s widely considered one of Zimbabwe’s finest parks and there is little mystery as to why. The African Park is renowned for its position on the Zambezi River, massive elephants, and healthy lion population.  It occupies around 2,200 sq km of land and is surrounded by safari concessions that act as a successful buffer between man and the wilderness.

Mana Pools is Africa at it’s finest.


Mana Pools National Park


Mana Pools National Park

Our journey began 80km up the Zambezi River from Mana Pools. The mode of transportation to this remote park was a fiberglass Canadian canoe. Canoeing down the mighty Zambezi is no small feat.

The famous river is filled with crocodiles and hippos, by some estimates, there is one crocodile for every 10 sq meters!

Paddling down the river was both relaxing, terrifying, and invigorating. One minute we’d be paddling down a beautiful channel and the next we were face to face with a grumpy hippo. After surviving the daunting canoe safari we arrived in Mana Pools. Here we stayed at our first Wilderness Safaris properties Little Ruckomechi & Ruckomechi.

Upon arrival, we had Little Ruckomechi all to ourselves. It was intimate and after three nights of camping and showering in the middle of the river we were happy to spend some time in the luxurious camp by ourselves.

While staying in Mana Pools we were overwhelmed by the sense of wilderness. It seems to be a park lost in time. On game drives, we would drive over varied terrain only to catch a glimpse of eland moving through the bush or a waterbuck leaping over a fallen tree. And it was only five minutes after checking into camp that we had a herd of elephants right outside our tent.

The elephants of Mana Pools are abundant and they’re impossible to miss. They are ever-present in the camps of Mana Pools. We often found an elephant comfortably walking over decks and munching on the trees around our tent. Some of our closest experiences with these mesmerizing giants came about in this park.

Their presence in camp was palpable and I spent much of my time with those that ambled into camp. It is apparent that they are aware of the camp and feel comfortable at all times with the guests and staff. This made for a humbling safari in a stunning part of the world.


Mana Pools Wildlife


Mana Pools National Park

Mana Pools National Park is home to many of the standard large wildlife throughout Africa. Four of the “Big Five,” animals call the park home, which excludes the Rhino. As mentioned, elephants are abundant and often frequent the safari lodges. Our lodge, Ruckomechi, had some very curious elephants who interrupted meals on the back deck to take a sample from the lunch buffet. Other park favorites include lions, leopards, and a few packs of African wild dogs.

There are a few notable animals that are absent from the park due to the terrain. Giraffe and Wildebeest are absent from the park and there is a debate as to why these two animals have never made it into the Zambezi Valley, but it has been speculated that they cannot make it over the Zambezi Escarpment.

The birdlife in Mana Pools will make any birder jump with joy. Highlights included the African skimmer, Pel’s fishing owl, white-backed night heron, collared palm thrush and Carmine bee-eater.


Mana Pools Landscape


Mana Pools Landscape Zambezi

The 2,500 sq km park sits on the banks of the Zambezi offering view access to islands, sandbanks, and pools. Although, the park is limited in size it is encompassed by safari areas and concessions that amount to around 10,500 sq km of unfenced wilderness.

The Zambezi River is the focal point of the park and wildlife can be found in abundance along its banks. Hippos and crocodiles can be seen just about everywhere and a wide variety of aquatic birds are regulars.

The park derives its name from four permanent pools. Mana means “four” in Shona, the local dialect and major language of Zimbabwe. The pools act as permanent sources of water in the park as they are fed by the Zambezi water table. The largest, “Long Pool,” is around six kilometers long and stays filled year round making it a wildlife hotspot in the dry season.

The park has varied terrain of open plains and forests of mahogany, wild figs, ebonies, and baobabs. The large woodland areas make for a magical feel as the thick canopy just out of reach of elephants filters the light over open plains.


Canoe Safaris on the Zambezi


Mana Pools Canoe Safari Zambezi River

The mighty Zambezi is the fourth largest river in Africa and cuts through six countries on its way to the Indian Ocean. There are many national parks and safari concessions that stake their claim along this famous river. However, the Zambezi Valley is unique in its large wilderness area as the Zambezi divides both the Lower Zambezi and Mana Pools national parks. This large wilderness creates a biodiversity hotspot.

That’s why canoe safaris are a popular day activity for lodges along the Zambezi River. For the more adventurous there is the option to take a multi-day canoe trip down the river. We were fortunate enough to experience this one of a kind trip with the experts at Natureways Safaris.

Zambezi Island Sunset

Paddling down the Zambezi River is a unique safari experience you can’t find throughout Africa. We’re not even sure of where else in the world you can do this. Canoeing down the Zambezi is tranquil and touches on the roots of being an explorer back in the day.

What makes these canoe safaris so unique are that they are entirely self-sufficient. There is no support team- just the guest, guides, dangerous wildlife, and an ancient river.  The guides navigate a maze of sandbanks, hippos, and islands crossing back and forth between Zambia and Zimbabwe. All while the guests view wildlife from the safety of their canoe. A common sight along the banks of the river are elephants as they cross between parks and enjoy the soft grass of the islands.

The Tamarind Canoe Safari is the most popular canoe safari route to take on the Zambezi. It consists of four days of canoeing with three nights of camping. The safari begins in the border town of Chirundu and ends in Mana Pools National Park. It’s an unconventional way to arrive at a national park in Africa, and one surely to be remembered. The safari covers roughly 75 km and is never taxing at a leisurely pace.

Each day on the canoe safari starts with coffee and tea while packing down camp. You paddle for a few hours before making a stop for breakfast or you can opt to knock out the majority of paddling and have a brunch. After a nice siesta, you finish up the day in warm afternoon light before setting up camp on one of the many islands. Camping on the islands of the Zambezi leaves you enveloped in the wild of the mystical river.


Where to Stay in Mana Pools?


Wilderness Safaris

Canoe Safari

Ruckomechi is located along the western boundary of the park in a private concession. The one camp is now two after a recent facelift moved the original camp, leaving a smaller more intimate “Little Ruckomechi” in its stead.

The two camps are only a few minutes drive apart from one another and sit on the banks of the Zambezi River. In the distance, guests can see the Lower Zambezi National Park and the towering Zambezi escarpment. Despite having the same name each camp is unique in its experience.

Both camps offer a wide array of safari activities. Game drives are conducted in custom-designed safari vehicles equipped with cupholders and blankets for cool mornings.

Another option for guests is to take to the waters on a riverboat cruise. It’s a favorite activity of ours in the evening because it can be enjoyed with a gin and tonic in hand. Of course, there is always the option to catch Tiger Fish while fishing on the river.

Two unique activities at Ruckomechi are canoeing and walking. After coming off four days in a canoe we gave that activity a skip, but for those looking to get their feet wet, so to speak, we highly recommend the activity. We often preach the beauty and tranquility of bush walks. It is a unique experience to a handful of African parks that allow for total immersion into the wilderness for safari guests.

There likely is no better place to go on a walk as the guides of Zimbabwe are regarded as some of the best in Africa and are required to go through rigorous tests and training. It’s worth noting that Mana Pools National Park is the only park in Africa where you can walk unaccompanied, should that interest you.


Little Ruckomechi in Mana Pools

Little Ruckomechi is the smaller more intimate camp. Natasha and I had a lovely night together in the camp all by ourselves. The camp consists of just four ensuite tented rooms situated in between a grove of Ana trees.

The rooms all provide spectacular views of the river from low wood decks. Inside the tents are stylish decorations that blend the old and new of safari effortlessly. Rooms feature an open mesh wall facing the Zambezi providing views over the Zambezi from an open-air shower, bed, and seating in the room.

Book Little Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools


Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools

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.

The common area capitalizes on the camp’s superb location. The large deck and sunken fire pit is where the majority of our time was spent at camp. Almost all meals and afternoon tea is served on this deck, unless requested otherwise.

This meant every meal was joined by fantastic views out to the Zambezi River.  A small walkway leads to a plunge pool and sun lounges. We visited in May while the weather was too cold to enjoy, but by August the pool is likely a welcome relieve during midday.

We had high expectations for our first Wilderness Safaris camp and we were not let down. The camp seemed to blend in seamlessly with the surrounding environment.

It was also evident that the lodge does take to heart conservation despite being a publicly traded company. Clear steps to reduce plastic, use recycled products, leave a minimal footprint, and harness renewable power sources made the camp a hit for us. Of course, having a stunning room with gorgeous views made the experience all the better.

Book Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools


Best Time To Visit Mana Pools

Spotting wildlife in Mana Pools, like almost all parks in Africa, is best in the dry season. The dry season in Zimbabwe and Mana Pools is at its peak from June – October. The dry season makes it easy to spot animals in the bush while they concentrate around sources of water. The main source of water for the wildlife is the Zambezi River where the lodges and campsites are located. This creates for great game viewing while in camp too.

December to March is the green season. Rains begin to fall in November and by December the road network becomes difficult to traverse. Wildlife disperses in the park with the bountiful sources of water and foliage increases providing them greater camouflage.

There is a brief shoulder season in May before the peak season arrives in June. However, given the current state of international affairs tourism is down in Zimbabwe and the park is unlikely ever to be too busy like in the Kruger or the Serengeti. There are also a limited number of camps in the park and that limits the number of visitors in the park at one time.


What’s A Typical Day On Safari?

Safari Jackets
  • 06:00 – Wake up call
  • 06h30 – Breakfast
  • 07h00 – 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.
  • 12:00 – Lunch time
  • 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 – ZZZZZZZZZ

Check out our Mana Pools Video!

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Mana Pools Park Fees

Mana Pools

Mana Pools National Park is open all year round; however, the park is largely inaccessible from December to April. National parks in Zimbabwe are similar to many parks in Southern Africa and very affordable.

  • Citizen: Adult – $8.00 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

Camping In Mana Pools

Camping In Zimbabwe

There arise one communal campsite and several exclusive campsites that visitors can book through ZimParks. The campsites we stayed at while on the canoe safari are designated by the parks department and unmanaged. They are not open to private individuals.


Essential Items For A Safari in Zimbabwe

Safari Dresses for AFrica

There are a few things that one should pack for an African Safari:

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!

I used this a lot in the on my Ruaha safari. Early mornings in the park can be pretty chilly so it helps break the cold. Once the sun comes out temperatures climb and things get very dusty. So, I use the shemagh to cover my face and electronics.

If you’re planning on going on a walking safari, make sure to pack a good pair of safari boots.

If you want to be able to spot and identify wildlife and birds then a good pair of safari binoculars is a must.

Packing the right safari clothes is always a good idea, but it’s never essential because you can wear whatever you want. We also go in depth on the best women’s safari clothes!

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.

Make sure to get travel insurance before your international trip. We like to use World Nomads!

If you want to get decent photos of wildlife on your safari to make sure to grab a camera well suited for your safari.

We recommend at least one solid pair of safari pants.

Vests are great for storing all your belongings while on safari.

Wear a dress to feel and look stylish on safari.

For when it gets hot on safari, and trust me it will.

To keep warm at night!


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!

Travel in Zimbabwe An Honest Opinion


Book A Safari in Zimbabwe


Tongabezi Lodge

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.

Plan Your Safari in Zimbabwe


Check Out Some Lodges in Zimbabwe


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.

Read About Our Time At Musango Safari Camp/x_button]

Book A Stay at Musango Safari Camp


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.

Read About Our Time At Little Makalolo

Book A Stay at Little Makalolo


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.

Read About Our Time At Victoria Falls River Lodge

Book A Stay at Ngorongoro Victoria Falls River Lodge

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.


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!

Check Rates


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.

African Safari Tours


Grayl Waterbottle
Travel Water Bottle

Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem 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 favorite water bottle for travel in our post.

Best Travel Water BottlesGrayl Ultralight Water Bottle


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.

Fuji X-T3

Best Cameras for SafariBest Cameras for VloggingBest Travel Cameras

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!

Shemagh

I used this a lot in the on my Ruaha safari. Early mornings in the park can be pretty chilly so it helps break the cold. Once the sun comes out temperatures climb and things get very dusty. So, I use the shemagh to cover my face and electronics.

Safari Boots

If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.

I love my Merrell Moab Ventilators and have been going strong in them for two years! Check out my other recommendations on women’s shoes, and we have a post on the best safari boots.

I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.

Best Binoculars for Safari

Binoculars

If you want to be able to spot and identify wildlife and birds then a good pair of safari binoculars is a must.

Safari Clothes for Africa

Safari Clothes

Packing the right safari clothes is always a good idea, but it’s never essential because you can wear whatever you want. We also go in-depth on the best women’s safari clothes!

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.

I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.

Women’s PantsMen’s Pants

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!

Shop on AmazonShop on BackcountryShop on REI

Africa Adapter

Adaptor

You’ll need this adaptor in Southern Africa, and this one in Eastern Africa.

Buy Before You Land


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.

Lonely Planet


Things to do in Crete

Rainbow Sandals

Sandals are great for walking around at night when you’re relaxing. Get yourself some Rainbow brand sandals, seriously everyone around you will be wearing them – and for a good reason. They are uber comfortable once you break them in and last forever!

Rainbow Sandals


Buff Headband

Buff

I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!

Buffs


Things to do in Crete

Sunscreen

Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.

We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.

Purchase Sunscreen


Beach Packing List Sunglasses

Sunglasses

Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.

We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.

See Sunglasses


Best Travel Towel - REI Micro Lite towel

Travel Towel

Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.

Best Towels For Travel


THANKS FOR READING!

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About the Author

Cameron

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Cameron Seagle is one of the creative forces behind The World Pursuit. He is a writer and photographer for the travel website. Cameron has been traveling for the last four years. He found a passion for conservation and safari while living out of a truck in the African bush. Obsessed with finding the best gear and travel products, he loves to research new product releases. In his free time, you can find him shooting photographs, summiting mountains, and snowboarding. Cameron currently lives in Banff with his partner and blogging co-conspirator Natasha. Cameron's favorite countries are Ireland, Scotland, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Japan. And he can never resist an excellent beach destination.

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