Bush Camps in Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe stands as an enduringly rewarding safari haven within Africa, boasting expansive parks like Hwange and Gonarezhou National Parks, where magnificent herds of elephants freely roam. These remarkable parks proudly host the complete ensemble of the iconic Big Five, adding to their allure as premier wildlife destinations.
Notably, these parks are acclaimed for their exclusive bush camps, situated within private concessions. These camps offer visitors an immersive African wilderness encounter that seamlessly blends intimacy with elevated levels of comfort. Philip Briggs, our Zimbabwe expert, recently embarked on an extensive exploration of the country, visiting several of these camps and sharing insights on his top picks.
His firsthand experiences provide valuable insights into these camps, highlighting their unique qualities and exceptional offerings. As he recounts his journey, Briggs sheds light on the distinctive attributes of these exclusive bush camps, showcasing their ability to deliver an authentic and luxurious wilderness experience, setting Zimbabwe apart as a prime destination for discerning safari enthusiasts seeking an unforgettable adventure.
1. Big Cave Camp – Matobo National Park
Big Cave Camp stands as a picturesque lodge with an unparalleled setting within Zimbabwe. Nestled in a private reserve bordering Matobo National Park, the camp sits atop one of the colossal granite whalebacks characteristic of the revered Matopos Hills.
Accommodations consist of comfortable stone-and-thatch A-frame cottages, each featuring an en suite bathroom and a private terrace offering breathtaking vistas across the surrounding rocky landscapes. The lodge boasts unique amenities, including a natural rock swimming pool, an atmospheric lantern-lit cave-style boma for sundowners, and a cozy dining room adorned with a massive teak table where guests and staff dine together.
While the private reserve hosts limited wildlife, guests may spot the graceful klipspringer antelope, endearing rock hyrax, and vibrant mocking cliff chat in the vicinity of the lodge. Additionally, the lodge’s knowledgeable guides offer excursions into the neighboring national park. These guided tours present opportunities to track white rhinos on foot, explore pristine rock art sites, and behold the iconic view from Cecil John Rhodes’ resting place atop a boulder. The camp ensures a memorable and immersive experience amidst the captivating landscapes and rich heritage of the Matopos Hills.
2. Bomani Tented Camp – Hwange National Park
For an extraordinary and exclusive wildlife experience in Zimbabwe, Bomani stands out as an exceptional bush camp. Situated on a 20km²/8mi² private concession, the camp is distinctively positioned just beyond Hwange National Park’s southern boundary, demarcated by the railway line. Its environs offer remarkable wildlife sightings, with frequent encounters of lion, cheetah, and buffalo.
The game drives traverse a less-explored section of Hwange renowned for its dense concentrations of wildebeest, zebra, and other grazing animals. An exceptional feature is the underground photographic hide providing unique, ground-level views of elephants and other wildlife congregating at Stoffie’s Pan for drinking. Moreover, Bomani shares management with Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary, enabling guests to embark on guided foot tracking experiences to encounter Hwange’s exclusive population of white rhinos.
The camp boasts ten comfortable tented rooms and suites, along with a thatched bungalow. Each accommodation unit offers four-poster beds with fitted mosquito nets, private bathrooms, and terraces overlooking the floodplain. The communal dining area, fashioned from stone and thatch, features a small swimming pool and overlooks a permanent pan, a thriving wildlife hub during the Dry season (April to October).
Bomani presents a captivating blend of comfort and immersion in nature, inviting guests to savor unparalleled wildlife encounters while relishing the serene beauty of the Hwange landscape from the camp’s vantage points.
3. Camelthorn Lodge – Hwange National Park
Nestled within the Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary on Hwange National Park’s southern edge, Camelthorn Lodge derives its name from the stately camelthorn acacia that graces its terrace with its sprawling branches. This sanctuary, spanning 162 hectares (400 acres) of forested community land, stands as a collaborative initiative involving five neighboring villages. The aim is to create a protective buffer zone against crop raiding while ensuring tangible economic benefits for the local communities through tourism.
Exuding elegance, the lodge is entirely staffed by community members and features eight spacious villas adorned in a contemporary African aesthetic, embellished with mosaics, traditional artworks, and captivating wildlife photography. Each villa boasts expansive en suite bathrooms with tubs and showers, while elevated balconies, accessed via spiral staircases, offer mesmerizing views into the lush canopy, with some featuring private plunge pools.
Safari experiences typically unfold within the private concession shared with Bomani, the lodge’s sister camp, or in the secluded southern reaches of the national park. This remote area promises exceptional wildlife sightings with minimal tourist presence. Notably, Ngamo Wildlife Sanctuary welcomed two male white rhinos in May 2022, marking the initial phase of a long-term endeavor to reintroduce these majestic creatures to Hwange. These rhinos frequently traverse past the lodge and are available for captivating guided foot tracking, an exclusive opportunity only available at Camelthorn Lodge within Hwange National Park.
4. Deteema Springs – Hwange National Park
Nestled on a secluded private concession in the northeastern part of Hwange, this exclusive tented camp doesn’t compromise on delivering an awe-inspiring experience. Perched atop a low rocky outcrop, the camp overlooks perennial natural springs, an enduring favorite watering spot for the local elephant community.
The luxury standing tents, all elevated and featuring en suite facilities, offer splendid views. Notably, tents Number 6 to 8 steal the show during nighttime activities, as they provide captivating glimpses of elephants bathing, lions on the prowl, and echoing hyena calls. While these nocturnal displays offer excitement, they might not guarantee the most restful slumber.
The surroundings also boast an array of intriguing small wildlife sightings, including playful bands of dwarf mongoose, agile klipspringers navigating the rocky terrain, and a vibrant birdlife featuring species like the long-tailed paradise whydah, red-billed hornbill, and Meves’s starling. Game drives in the area often center around Deteema Dam, offering glimpses of hippos, diverse antelope species, and, if luck favors, sightings of a sizable resident lion pride.
5. Verney’s Camp – Hwange National Park
Verney’s Camp offers a riveting spectacle for elephant enthusiasts. Positioned as a classic bush camp overlooking Verney’s Pan, this once-seasonal watering hole now serves as a year-round oasis, attracting a multitude of elephants. During the peak of the Dry season, spend an afternoon here, and witness the procession of several hundred elephants, as maternal herds gather for a refreshing drink. The interactions often include animated greeting rituals and joyous recreational swims, painting a vivid picture of their communal life.
The camp features stunning and expansive standing tents, perched on raised wooden platforms, all oriented toward the waterhole. While the captivating scenes here are hard to leave behind, game drives unfold on a private concession and less-visited areas of southeast Hwange. This diverse landscape of floodplains, mopane, and teak forests offers promising encounters with lions and African wild dogs. Additionally, the elusive leopards occasionally grace night drives within the concession, adding a thrilling element to the wildlife explorations at Verney’s Camp.
6. Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge – Gonarezhou National Park
Gonarezhou National Park, often overlooked yet brimming with excitement, shelters the entire Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhinoceros. Notably, it hosts approximately 11,500 elephants, marking perhaps the world’s highest density in an area spanning 5,000km²/1,931mi².
The park boasts breathtaking scenic marvels, such as the colossal sandstone formations of the Chilojo Cliffs, towering at a majestic height of 200m/656ft, and the picturesque floodplain adorned with baobabs and palms near the thriving convergence of the Save and Runde Rivers, teeming with wildlife.
Within this expansive wilderness, Chilo Gorge stands as the sole traditional safari lodge. This clifftop retreat offers luxurious stone-and-thatch chalets overlooking the meandering Save River along the park’s eastern boundary. Positioned above a renowned elephant crossing point, the lodge provides captivating wildlife sightings, particularly during the bustling afternoons.
Situated in a community conservation area encompassing the remarkable Chivilila Falls, Chilo Gorge serves as an ideal base for half-day game drives around the Save-Runde Confluence. Additionally, the lodge offers guided full-day or overnight excursions to the awe-inspiring Chilojo Cliffs, presenting guests with unforgettable encounters amidst the park’s rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes.
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