Arrive in Victoria Falls and transfer to the Victoria Falls Hotel. This 5-star colonial landmark offers the same splendid panorama and genteel Edwardian ambience that made it a legend when it opened in 1904. This afternoon, join our Expedition Leader for a privately guided tour in Victoria Falls National Park. The world's largest curtain of falling water spans more than a mile and plummets 350 feet into the Zambezi Gorge below, which divides Zimbabwe from Zambia. View the falls from varying vantage points via the network of trails along the rim as we walk through the rain forest microclimate created by the profuse spray. This evening, gather for a welcome dinner as our Expedition Leader shares an overview of our safari adventures to come.
Days 2–4: Victoria Falls / Hwange National Park
Fly this morning to Hwange National Park and Davison's Camp, where we have exclusive proximity to outstanding wildlife viewing. Bordering the Kalahari Desert on Zimbabwe’s western edge, Hwange is the country's largest and most renowned national park. Its 5,600 square miles are comprised mostly of desert sandveld with teak and mopane woodlands and dry acacia scrub interspersed with salt pans, grasslands and granite outcrops. The varied habitat is home to huge herds of elephant and buffalo, plus a vital predator population including lion, leopard and cheetah. Other game frequently on view are zebra, giraffe, sable, roan, blue wildebeest and impala. We also keep an eye out for endangered gemsbok, brown hyena and African wild dog. The variety of birdlife is among the best in Africa, with more than 400 species. While our focus is game drives, a well-situated platform at camp provides a chance to spend a relaxed afternoon watching passing wildlife at close range. Bush walks with renowned guides are a highlight, as safety permits.
Day 5: Hwange / Lake Kariba—Board Zimbabwean Dream
After a final morning wildlife drive in Hwange, we fly to Kariba to board the boutique riverboat Zimbabwean Dream. This deluxe three-deck vessel, ideal for cruising the vast expanse of Lake Kariba, is our floating safari base for the next three days. Created when the Kariba Dam was built on the Zambezi River in the late 1950s, the lake is the largest manmade body of water in the world, more than 140 miles long and 25 miles across at its widest point. Today, the dam provides electricity for 70 percent of Zimbabwe's residents, and the resulting lake is a haven for a wide array of waterbirds and wildlife along the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Lake Kariba's size makes it feel more like an inland sea, and given how few visitors come to this region, we're assured a serene experience in these watery wilds. Aboard the Zimbabwean Dream we find a relaxing rhythm, typically making two excursions per day, leaving the ship each morning and afternoon for wildlife-focused activities via smaller boats and safari vehicles.
Days 6 & 7: Cruising Lake Kariba / Matusadona National Park
The unusual landscapes of Lake Kariba provide diverse contexts for exploration. In some places, drowned trees still reach skyward from the depths of the reflecting water. Via covered pontoon boat, cruise close to the shoreline and reed-fringed backwaters that shelter a variety of animals and birds. Hippos congregate along the shoreline, often giving their presence away by the mere sight of their ears and eyes peeking above the water's surface. Crocodiles are just as stealthy, though we frequently see them hauled out on the lake's edge.
Along the way, we'll explore Matusadona National Park, with the chance to disembark for a land safari. Bordered by the Sanyati and Ume Rivers, the park's 540 square miles of untouched terrain is home to numerous animal species. We'll hope to see elephant, Cape buffalo, impala, waterbuck, side-striped jackals and possibly lion. Though the cats are elusive, the park harbors two prides of lion—about 40 in all—and they are adept hunters, even killing crocodile on occasion. We're sure to see lots of birds, with frequent sightings of Egyptian goose, maribou stork, saddle-billed stork, goliath heron, African skimmer and the coveted African fish eagle. Some of the park's wildlife may be descendants of the more than 6,000 animals rescued during Operation Noah, after the dam was completed in 1959. As the water level rose, many creatures struggled to survive, moving to higher ground that would eventually be submerged. A team of intrepid rangers moved large mammals, big cats, impala and more to safety in Matusadona, transporting many on wooden rafts.
After each full day of discovery, return to the Zimbabwean Dream to watch the sun set blood-red over the water, dine on gourmet cuisine including freshly caught bream and tilapia from the lake, and head to the sundeck after dark to watch the sky sparkling with stars.
Days 8–10: Kariba / Mana Pools National Park
After breakfast on board, leave the Zimbabwean Dream behind to return to Kariba airport for our light aircraft flight to Mana Pools National Park, arriving in time for an afternoon game drive. This is true wilderness, with one of Africa's highest dry-season wildlife concentrations. Our scenic camp lies within the private Ruckomechi Concession, tucked into a large grove of acacia and mahogany trees along the Zambezi River and backdropped by the Great Rift Valley escarpment. Mana Pools National Park abuts the southern bank of the river, bordering Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. Mana means "four" in the Shona language, referring to the four large pools, remnants of ancient oxbow lakes, which sustain great numbers of hippo, crocodile, elephant, buffalo, Burchell's zebra, waterbuck and kudu, plus aquatic birds on islands and sandbanks. On these broad floodplains, we also find herds of graceful eland and plenty of predators, including lion, leopard, cheetah and jackal. Rafts of Nile crocodile lie along the river's edge. Some 380 bird species reside in the park, including the Nyasa lovebird, Livingstone’s flycatcher, banded snake eagle, yellow-billed kites and huge numbers of iridescent carmine bee-eaters that burrow nests into the sandy riverbanks.
The riverine environment is ideally suited for exploration by boat and on foot, with walking safaris providing an intimate perspective that simply isn’t available in a vehicle. We have opportunities to cruise a stretch of the Zambezi River aboard a leisurely pontoon boat and an exhilarating speedboat, surveying an environment rich with waterbirds. We also explore the landscape on wildlife drives in open 4x4 safari vehicles, allowing a chance to get very close to big game and large herds of animals.
Day 11: Harare / Depart
Our safari comes to a close after breakfast with a final game drive en route to the airstrip. Here, we board our morning flight to Zimbabwe's capital of Harare, where we meet our homeward departures.