Zimbabwe and Botswana with African Bush Camps

We arrive in Harare on a domestic flight and leave on a small charter plane to Mana Pools, flying over Zimbabwe’s landscapes dipped in green hues.

African Bush Camps’ tented camp Kanga Camp sits on its own concession, overlooking a busy water pan. It’s the first camp we’re staying at on our trip to visit all the African Bush Camp properties in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.

Kanga Camp

Kanga Camp is like going on an armchair safari. We sit on the deck and watch animals: a mix of antelope, buffalo, elephants, lion and leopards.

What’s interesting about Mana Pools, in northern Zimbabwe, is that this national park closes from the end of November until March for the rainy season. We are the last guests to stay here this year – and then the lodge is packed up and closed. Until next year.

Kanga Camp

Female kudu

Who’s it for?
  • 4-star property
  • fans (no air conditioning)
  • rustic style and no WIFI (isolation travel at its best!)
  • game walks and drives, perfect for keen photographers
  • 6 tented rooms, outdoor toilet
  • combine with another lodge for Mana Pools as there’s no canoeing here

Next, we head to African Bush Camp’s mobile bush camp, Zambezi Expeditions, on the banks of the wide Zambezi River. Bush camps are by nature more basic than tented camps.

Zambezi Expeditions

By far this bush camp was the best experience of my trip!

It’s open and wild. Game is free to move around the camp, and we had elephant and buck walk right past our tents. At night, we hear hippos walk up from the river and graze nearby. A pack of wild dogs came through the camp when we were on a game drive, ironically, and killed an impala outside one of the outer tents. Amazing!

Wild dogs

But take note, this is a rustic camp. There’s a bucket shower and flushing toilet, and we brush our teeth with a flask of water. The absence of running water is a reminder of how people used to live here – but it’s not suited to luxury clients. Yet for a camp that’s in the middle of nowhere, it has amazing food and even a laundry service.

Zambezi Expeditions spoils with choice when it comes to activities: game drives, canoeing and walking safaris. It’s amazing to see how many people are on walking safaris (always with a professional guide, equipped with a gun). On our walk, we come within metres of wild dogs and 3 lionesses who had luckily just eaten. Animals in Mana Pools are used to humans – and aren’t as skittish as in other parks!

walking safaris

Specifically, I’d like to point out that the Mana Pools guides are experts! Many of the guides I interact with are older, as guiding is considered a profession in Zimbabwe. We feel in safe hands, especially on our walking safari, where a guide needs to be experienced and quick-thinking.

Note: there are no giraffe or rhino at Mana Pools.

Who’s it for?
  • 3-star property
  • adventurous traveller
  • rustic style
  • clients who love walking safaris (which Mana Pools is famous for) and water activities
  • the public is allowed into park, you will come across people on self-drives

Lake Kariba & Hwange National Park

Then we stop off at Bumi Hills that’s undergoing renovations and opening in January 2018. It looks to be amazing, perched on the hillside, looking straight onto Lake Kariba. Bumi Hills will have a beautiful spa, large swimming pool, with boating and fishing activities (game drives won’t be a priority here). It’ll be a great stopover camp between safaris.

Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is next on our itinerary! We stay at African Bush Camp’s flagship lodge, Somalisa Camp, perfect for meeting elephants up close. Somalisa converted their swimming pool into an elephant drinking hole. The elephants have mud fights in their waterhole and then come up to the lodge for a languid drink of water. But don’t worry, guests have a sparkling new pool and don’t have to compete with the elephants!

Somalisa

Somalisa

Tents are large, each with a copper bathtub, and indoor-outdoor shower. The private concession opens onto the Hwange National Park and is unfenced.

Who’s it for?
  • 5-star property,
  • photo opportunities with elephants is amazing
  • if travelling with family go next door to Somalisa Acacia,
  • great food (pizza oven + boma),
  • game drives and elephants everywhere

Zambia

The next day we fly down to Victoria Falls Airport and leave Zimbabwe. The border crossing’s a breeze to Livingstone and we’re in Zambia! African Bush Camp’s newest lodge, Thorntree River Lodge, is contemporary with an African twist. Each room has a plunge pool, there’s a main pool and a fire pit right on the river.

Thorntree

Thorntree

With lots of chill areas, it’s the perfect launchpad for activities around The Falls (and only 20 minutes’ drive to Livingstone). Thorntree is a great place to come home to and relax with a gin-and-tonic!

We book an 18-minute helicopter flight with UAC Helicopters over the Victoria Falls and Batoka Gorge.

“We’re going to drop down 100 meters into the gorge,” says our pilot. And we do, following the twisting river, my fear of heights growing with each curve.

Helicopter Zimbabwe Falls

Who’s it for?
  • 5-star property
  • has a family unit (two mirroring rooms with plunge pool)
  • no age restriction for children

Botswana

Next, we drive to the Kazangula border and take the ferry across to Botswana. Our Bushtracks transfer handles all the paperwork and waits in the queues for us. With loads of trucks and people around, I really recommend a transfer company to assist at this border crossing.

From Kasane Airport we transfer to Linyanti on a small charter plane and hop off at Linyanti Bush Lodge. This tented camp in the Linyanti Reserve is great for day or night game drives, and mokoro boat trips (depending on water levels). We see huge herds of buffalo, antelope, lion, and amazing birdlife.

Lion

Buck

Between April and November, Linyanti Bush Lodge offers scenic helicopter flight over the Linyanti Marsh. On our flight, we saw hippos, buck and crocs and the helicopter flies low so it’s an amazing experience!

Personal touches are everything at Linyanti. On our sunset drive, for example, we arrive at a table with drinks, the fire’s going, chicken wings roasting and comfortable camping chairs set up in a circle. Gorgeous! And in the evening, at the boma, the staff sing for us – just amazing!

Sunset

Who’s it for?
  • 4-star property
  • rustic and tents have own deck
  • Linyanti Ebony (next door) if travelling as family
  • food is excellent
  • offer 30-minute helicopter scenic flights

Botswana’s Khwai Community Area

Our trip is coming to an end. Our last stop is at the Khwai Tented Camp bordering Botswana’s beautiful Moremi Reserve. The Khwai area is a community area with villages – and we learn how villagers live surrounded by wild animals. The lodges contribute to villagers’ life and are busy building a school.

Khwai is a busy reserve with a high density of lodges. There are lots of vehicles but at game sightings, every group is respectful of the other. In the same area is Khwai Leadwood Camp that’s opening soon.

Who’s it for?
  • High-end 4-star property
  • viewing deck over pan and shared pool (no private pools)
  • visit villages, mokoro trips (water level depending)
  • lovely bush breakfasts

My favourite African Bush Camps?

Zambezi Expedition! It was amazing to be so wild, at night you waited to hear what animals would walk through the camp. This camp is basic yet produces such amazing food, and has exceptional guides. I loved that we could go walking, canoeing, and enjoy game vehicles drives.

Robyn Signature

Contact us if you’d like to book a safari to Southern Africa or want to know more about the African Bush Camps.