Game drives, the Big Five, vast wilderness, sundowners, and canvas camps—they’re the stock ingredients baked into a luxury safari in Africa. What makes Zimbabwe an irresistible setting to write your next big safari adventure is the ability to park the game vehicle and travel through its national parks on foot or pick up a paddle and navigate the currents of the Zambezi River.
Inhabited for millennia, Zimbabwe is a fascinating destination. Albeit one grappling with the echoes of a tangled colonial history. Joyfully, many organizations are working to recover biodiversity and combat poaching, throwing open the door for the tourism needed to buoy conservation efforts. Each of our top selections for best Zimbabwe safari camps and lodges is downright luxurious, but more importantly, they’re committed to the wellbeing of wildlife, uplifting Zimbabweans, and supporting local communities. In other words, travel as a force for good.
Best Safari Camps in Hwange National Park
Lions, elephants, and wild dogs—oh my! Established in 1930 and roughly the size of Connecticut, Hwange National Park is the oldest and largest in Zimbabwe. You’ll find a mix of open grassland savannas and woodlands creating a varied landscape; on the Ngamo Plains, safari-goers are treated to superb big cat sightings. Lacking permanent water sources, wildlife congregates around borehole-pumped water holes and pans, often in dizzying volumes—especially during the dry season.
At the intimate, six-tent Somalisa Expeditions, elephants gather at the small pool. Shoulder-to-shoulder, they take long measured drinks of water as unblinking guests etch the magical moment into memory. Located in Hwange National Park—a destination known for plentiful pachyderms—this vintage-style camp has earned a reputation for up-close elephant encounters. Enveloped by bush, set beneath the dappled shade of an acacia grove and next to a seasonal flood plain, the camp setting is nothing short of sublime. The property offers just six Meru-style tents and has been designed and decorated to harken back to a bygone era of early safari camps. In the evening, gather at the bonfire to recount your day beneath a star-painted night sky.
Seated on the hem of Ngamo Plains—one of Hwange’s most wildlife-rich viewing areas—elephant, buffalo, and antelope quench their thirst in Linkwasha Camp’s first-come, first-serve pool. Dressed in earthy neutrals, mixed textures, and Ndebele accents, the stylish camp reflects a contemporary African aesthetic. Linkwasha’s nine oversize tented suites take refuge in the shade offered by leadwood trees and boast patio views of the busy waterhole. By day, spy on wildlife from the sunken blind, luxuriate in a poolside cabana, explore the 34,000-acre Linkwasha-Makololo Private Wilderness Area during twice-daily game drives, or venture out on foot for a guided bush walk. Tucking into the star bed means dozing off to a chorus of hooting owls and whooping hyenas.
Little Makalolo Camp
Small indeed—counting just six tents—checking into Little Makalolo Camp means arriving as a stranger but departing as friends. At this intimate property, a high-quality of service is delivered with the warmth of a first-name basis. A classic bush camp at heart, the property trades in the currency of unfettered, soul-stirring wildlife encounters. At camp, elephants may join you for a drink at sundown. Otherwise, crisscross the remote Linkwasha-Makololo concession while seated in a 4×4 to sight wildlife in relative exclusivity. When you’ve earned a rest, rinse away the dusty day in an outdoor shower, dip into the pool to watch the wildlife parade, or take a seat at the open fire—a shared area that invites you to exchange stories with other guests.
Best Safari Lodge in Gonarezhou National Park
Though it’s the country’s second-largest national park, Gonarezhou‘s off-the-beaten-path location in southeastern Zimbabwe preserves its hidden gem status. Translating to ‘the place of elephants’ and home to some 11,500 of them, it’s one of the highest densities of pachyderms on the continent.
Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge
The EJ Zimbabwe luxury lodge of choice for the area is Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, founded by Clive Stockil, a pioneer in community conservation. The property isn’t ornamental in its brand of luxury, but you will feel as if you’ve stepped into the early days of African safari, an ‘old Africa’ experience if you will. Guests explore the park from different perspectives, some thrilling, others contemplative. Expect big cats, buffalo, hippo, painted impala, birdlife, and the presence of elephants, everywhere. Unmissable highlights include hiking to Chivalila Falls and a full-day excursion to admire the red sandstone Chilojo Cliffs. Mobile fly camping is a tantalizing offer for adventurous travelers.
Best Safari Lodge in Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve
If you’re visiting the private Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, you’re exclusively a guest of Singita Pamushana safari lodge. Thanks to extensive conservation efforts and anti-poaching measures (which guest stays contribute to funding), the rhino population is thriving here—a huge draw for visitors.
Seated atop a sandstone ridge and presiding over the glimmering Malilangwe Dam, Singita Pamushana is a crown gem among Zimbabwe luxury safari lodges. Snug in the 130,000-acre private Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve adjacent to Gonarezhou National Park, it’s an exclusive journey into untouched wilderness with few others to share it with—save for the Big Five and more than 500 bird species. In this wonderous ecosystem, ‘upside-down’ baobab trees, flat-topped acacia woodlands, and ironwood thickets punctuate the landscape, lending cover to the stars of a celebrated comeback story: black rhino. Activities are plentiful (think: game drives, rhino tracking, boating, and tennis) and scheduled at your own ambition. The rock-hewn property features just eight suites (each complete with a private plunge pool), with design drawing on Shangaan culture and stonework inspired by ancient Zimbabwe ruins.
Best Safari Lodge in Lake Kariba
Counter to Hwange’s pumped water holes, the wildlife that grace the shores of Lake Kariba sip in abundance. The lake came into existence in the 1950s when a dam flooded the valley, corralling wildlife in concentrated numbers onto islands and the southern shore. Exceptional birdlife and the Big Five can be spotted in the area, with the lake offering activities that are a welcome departure from 4×4 game drives. In 2019, the NGO African Parks (in partnership with Zimparks) signed a 20-year agreement to restore and manage nearby Matusadona National Park; it’s an exciting development that expects to see elephant and rhino populations stabilize and grow.
Bumi Hills Safari Lodge
Backdropped by a dramatic Zambezi escarpment and overlooking the radiant shores of Lake Kariba, it’s hard to turn away from the wide-open vistas afforded by Bumi Hills Safari Lodge. Drink in the views from the lip of the infinity pool while seated on wrap-round timber terraces, from the private deck that features in each of the 10 suites, or up-close from the bow of a boat. Snug in a private concession near Matusadona National Park, wildlife roams in plentiful numbers, enjoying the lakeshore as much as guests do. (Imagine: elephants bathing in thigh-deep water.) Twice-daily game drives are complemented by sunrise and sunset cruising, boat safaris, catch-and-release fishing, and cultural visits. Don’t miss a trip to view the fossilized dinosaur footprints. Fun fact: Bumi Hills Safari Lodge is considered one of the 10 most romantic honeymoon destinations in the world, as curated by Extraordinary Journeys travel experts.
Best Safari Lodge in Mana Pools National Park
Most famously depicted by photos of elephants standing on hind legs and twisting their trunks into the fruit-laden branches of albida trees, Mana Pools National Park is a remote natural wonder. Big game congregates here, frequenting the four oxbow lakes (‘pools’) and hanging out along the shores of the life-giving Zambezi River.
Where the lazy serpentine Sapi River meets the wide Zambezi River, Chikwenya Camp’s seven tented suites sit tucked amid the shade offered by a grove of albida trees. Located on a private concession on Mana Pools National Park’s wild eastern boundary, wildlife wanders freely through the unfenced property. The swoon-worthy camp is swathed in tranquility and handsomely appointed—but don’t mistake creamy beiges for boring. Game drives bristle with iconic African wildlife, and untamed adventure awaits you on the Zambezi. Pick up a paddle for a canoe safari to spot elephants lumbering down the riverbank, sleeping crocs, and bobbing hippos off in the distance. This sublime Zimbabwe safari lodge is open seasonally, from April to November.
Tembo Plains Camp
Hugged by a tight-knit riverine forest, Tembo Plains Camp is situated within Sapi Private Reserve and honors the animal it is named for: elephants. Unthinkable to those checking in, it was only designated as a private reserve in 2016 after a decades-long tenure as a hunting area. Today, guests enjoying private safaris spot painted dogs, lions, leopards, and elephants wading in the Zambezi. Uniquely, the camp’s design marries stone with canvas, a nod to the country’s ancient ruins and founders Derek and Beverly Joubert’s zeal for low-impact backcountry adventure. (The Jouberts are renowned conservationists, filmmakers, and National Geographic Explorers at Large.) Tembo Plains is the only Relais & Châteaux-associated property in Zimbabwe. So yes, you can have your sustainable safari and bush manicure, too.
Ruckomechi and Little Ruckomechi
Situated on the Zambezi riverbank and ensconced within a private concession, Ruckomechi’s most frequent visitors are perhaps the elephants that sniff out the fruit of its shady albida trees. Ruckomechi’s canvas-cloaked camp has 10 spacious suites (two of which are family suites), complete with ensuite washrooms. Its river-facing pool invites midday respite, and the outdoor fire pit is an inviting space to swap stories while stargazing—that is, if you’re not overnighting in the dreamy star bed. A few miles downstream, Little Ruckomechi offers a boutique, private paradise. Umbrellaed by towering ana trees, its four breezy ensuite tents appeal to exclusive-use groups, families, and reclusive travelers. It boasts a modest plunge pool and a firepit encircled by chairs where you’ll dig toes into the sand. Game drives, night game drives, walking safaris, and fishing are available to guests at both properties, but canoe safaris and boat cruises depart from Ruckomechi. Guests who want to enjoy water-based adventure may prefer the larger camp.
Best Safari Lodge in Matobo National Park
A beguiling landscape carpeted by granite boulders, a plentiful population of leopards, a successful rhino breeding program, and a staggering collection of rock art make the UNESCO-inscribed Matobo Hills a worthy stop-over.
Hugged by an amphitheater of boulders, the four-bedroom Khayelitshe House is an exclusive-use home enveloped by 1,200 acres of private land in the heart of Matobo Hills. A combination of the Ndebele words Ekhaya and Litshe (translation: ‘home in the rocks’), its name is a nod to the granite kopjes that dot this scenic landscape. If the property feels inviting, it’s thanks to owner Beks Ndlovu, experienced guide and founder of African Bush Camps. Khayelitshe was originally intended as a private getaway before it was converted into a guest house. Off-grid and remote, its design is eco-friendly, and the stylings are charmingly eclectic. Fully staffed, guests can explore the nearby national park, enjoy game drives, guided walking safaris, hike to view ancient rock paintings, track white and black rhino on foot, and visit the burial site of controversial imperialist Cecil Rhodes. A pool, outdoor fire pit, and a handful of verandas and lounges are all welcoming hang spaces for families or groups to gather at the end of the day.
Best Safari Lodge in Victoria Falls National Park
Translating to the ‘smoke that thunders,’ Mosi-oa-Tunya, or Victoria Falls, needs no introduction. Measuring 5,603 feet wide, the cascade earns the superlative of the world’s ‘largest curtain of falling water.’ For many visitors, it’s the first stop in Zimbabwe or an easy add-on to a South Africa itinerary. In addition to sightseeing the falls, safaris into Zambezi National Park and thrilling pursuits like bungee jumping, river rafting, and canoeing easily round out a one- to three-night visit.
Palm River Hotel
If the day is clear and the air is still, you might just be able to hear the thunder of Victoria Falls and see spray that hangs above them from your room at Palm River Hotel. Situated two-and-a-half miles upstream of the natural wonder, the five-star hotel is close enough to the action while avoiding the hubbub. If you’re checking in after having spent time in Zimbabwe’s safari camps, the creature comforts of a luxury hotel, plus proximity to Victoria Falls town (hello artisans, village visits, and microbreweries), are a welcome change of pace. (A guest shuttle makes daily trips.) Palm River Hotel’s Queenslander architecture, distinctive archways, and palm-printed wallpaper give it a grand hotel-meets-White Lotus vibe (and we’re totally here for it.) Breakfast, lunch, sunset, and bird-watching river cruises depart from the jetty in front of the hotel. Palm River Hotel’s 73 rooms make it the largest property on our list, but a diversity of suites, from deluxe to honeymoon to presidential—and an exclusive-use villa—accommodate the needs of honeymooners and families alike.
Visiting Victoria Falls doesn’t mean forsaking a Zimbabwe safari camp for a lodge in town. Tucked 10 miles into Zambezi National Park, Mpala Jena invites you to quite literally kick off your sandals and embrace barefoot luxury. You can make the easy 40-minute vehicle or boat transfer (spot crocs and hippo along the way) to Victoria Falls during a stay that also includes game drives in custom-built, open Land Cruisers, river cruises, and bush walks. Mpela Jena is situated in a tree-lined riverside setting and hosts just five breezy canvas tents. Swings, boho hammocks, plush bean bag seats, and fringed patio umbrellas are playful and stylish accents fit for the glossy pages of a magazine. The property is reputed for the warmth of its attentive staff and exceptional guides.
Matetsi River Lodge
Twenty-five miles upriver from where the Zambezi tumbles over Victoria Falls, family-owned and operated Matetsi River Lodge offers travelers an exclusive hideaway from which to explore the area. Set on a private 136,000-acre game reserve of the same name, you’ll spot herds of elephants sipping from the water hole or a pride of lions stalking a buffalo—but it wasn’t always this way. The rewilding and protection of Matetsi Private Game Reserve is a years-in-the-making story still being written. Guests visiting this 16-suite, design-forward luxury lodge and villa support ongoing conservation and in-house anti-poaching efforts, all while enjoying the region’s unique blended offering: river adventure, safari, relaxation, and of course, the iconic cascade. Attentive-but-not-obtrusive butlers and 100 per cent Zimbabwean staff are a welcoming embrace upon arrival.
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