Luxury safaris in Mana Pools

The Lower Zambezi River is a quite different creature to the broad, sluggish snake above Victoria Falls. As it flows through Mana Pools National Park, its meanders create a maze of islands, pools and sand bars. After the rains, much of this is inundated as the pools expand, while the reverse process in the dry season adds richness to the tapestry almost daily.

Located in northern Zimbabwe, Mana Pools has Unesco World Heritage Site status and is centred on the four pools from which its Shona name is taken. The largest of these, Long Pool, stretches for 6km and contains concentrations of hippo and crocodile.

Secluded spots such as Mana Mouth, and Parachute Pan on the edge of the floodplains, carry an authentic sense of remoteness. Mana Pools is one of Southern Africa’s least-developed parks (a commendation in my mind) and the feeling of being one of very few humans in this wild space is incredibly liberating.

A platform overlooking Parachute Pan permits the ultimate wilderness experience: a bush sleepout serenaded by the nocturnal gurglings of creatures drinking below.

Less passive pursuits include game drives and walking safaris through this joyous jigsaw of a landscape. If being on safari beside the Zambezi River, with excellent odds of seeing wild dog, is not enough, then you can pick up your paddle and push off on a canoe safari.

I love being able to silently approach elephant drinking on the banks, and then there’s the thrill of keeping an eye out for hippo popping up.

When to Go

As the winter dry season progresses, the swollen rain-fed lakes of the Lower Zambezi recede, and game is attracted to these shrinking pools in ever-increasing numbers. This period can therefore be incredibly rewarding for wildlife viewing and is the most popular time to visit Mana Pools (the moderate temperatures also play a part). The tamer water makes this the ideal time to explore the Zambezi River here by canoe.

The summer rains transform Mana Pools. Sandbanks, islands and floodplains are subsumed by a contiguous expanse of lakes. With so much water available, wildlife tends to disperse to an extent; while concentrations like those seen in winter are rarely encountered, the animals are still around. Less predictable weather and higher temperatures have a predictable effect on tourist numbers, making Mana Pools feel even wilder than usual.

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