Around Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is an unbeatable safari destination

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi

Zimbabwe, a fantastic safari destination. Mesmerising!

That’s how I can sum up the famous Victoria Falls.

I had the privilege of taking in the sights and exotic sounds of the unique Victoria Falls, which have drawn tens of thousands of visitors across the world.

The unique destination attraction has been on my travel bucket list for years. And recently, an opportunity arose to make my dream Zimbabwean Safari trip a reality, courtesy of Jenman Safaris and Kenya Airways.

It was with excitement that I boarded the flight to Victoria Falls, with no idea that every sense of mine would be dazzled when I got there.

Travelling to Zimbabwe has become more smooth through Kenya Airways’ direct flight from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. Being able to fly directly from the Mother City to one of Nature’s wonders cancels the strain of connecting flights, making it ideal for parents who travel with children too.

I have never travelled first class before, and Kenya Airways first class has set a very high bar. The service on board was royal treatment – perfect at all levels. Food and the service with a personal touch and attention to detail alone is worth the upgrade from economy. Not to mention that after landing, as a first-class passenger, there’s the added advantage of being the first to disembark.

After a two hours and 30 minutes flight, we touched down on Zimbabwean soil.

I was privileged to have experienced the trip from Cape Town with Kim Sparrow from Jenman Safaris, who is also originally from Zimbabwe and knows Zimbabwe inside-out. Travelling a country with a local is always a plus and beneficiary for any traveller, especially when it comes to navigating your way around the foreign land.

We had everything crammed into only a four-night stay, and I was determined to make the most of the experience.

The Ilala Lodge was to be home for the duration of my first night of stay.

The ambience of a luxury hotel, authentic African history, the stylishly decorated rooms were offered a warm welcome. Designed to provide the ultimate experience in modern comfort, the Lodge’s amenities are out of this world. With high ceilings made from thatched grass, this accommodation venue is the ideal sanctuary for a getaway. The Victoria Falls National Park borders the front of the property, and wild animals often graze on the hotel lawns.

I spotted a few – elephants and warthogs.

There are many dining options offered at the Lodge. Guests can dine inside or enjoy al-fresco dining on the patio of this classic hotel, overlooking the beautiful lush gardens. For breakfast and dinner, I chose the outdoors. I wanted to take in the spectacular view of Victoria Falls, and one can still catch a glimpse from different vantages at the Lodge.

From the Hotel, it’s about a 10 minute walk to Victoria Falls – imagine the excitement and the convenience of not having to book special transport if you want to.

Victoria Falls is a spectacular sight – awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur on the Zambezi River, forming the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

I’d always wanted to visit the Falls from both the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides, as the border post is only a short distance away – over the historic iron bridge. The cross-frontier excursions are relatively easy and even encouraged by authorities on both sides. I’m glad I started on the Zimbabwean side, where there are many more views of the Falls, and one can experience the magic of the rainforest. This distinct ecosystem has been formed because of the spray from the Falls.

As a traveller, I had the option of taking a guided tour of Victoria Falls with one of the tour guide companies or just wander off on my own and exploring and appreciate the sights and sounds on my own. The first option was more appealing, and Wild Horizons was on hand to provide me with the rich history as they guided me through the journey. I realised that I could have overlooked some of the best and interesting things about the place had I not had the tour guide to draw my attention to these.

A word of advice – if you’re scared of heights, rest assured you are safe. At most lookout points, there are just some piled branches preventing one from crossing over and approaching the sheer cliff.

And another throw in tip – make sure you wear a shoe with a solid grip to avoid slipping on the wet ground from the sprays.

Next on my itinerary was Nantwich – perfect for unwinding and self-care time. The place is situated in an intimate eco-lodge with beautiful views – perfect for safari lovers who want to get off the beaten track and discover the pristine wilderness and abundant wildlife of Northern Hwange National Park.

One of the best things about this place was being able to read a book while watching the sunset in the outdoor bath and watching elephants gaze in the bush.

Another plus was being able to do a safari walk in the morning just after sunrise and getting to spot a few animals while feeling safe and secure.

Zimbabweans are renowned for their hospitality, so little wonder that service at Nantwich, Hwange, was beyond amazing. Most people could speak isiNdebele and isiZulu, a reminder of the rich history and roots the human race shares.

I did not ask for the roaming service from the Cellular network provider, so I depended on wi-fi for internet connection. The place has wi-fi access in the main house and not in the bedrooms. This was pure bliss – I got the much-needed rest from the rat race and indulged in good food and dipping in the pool all day.

One of the most exciting things I have done in Zimbabwe was gorge swing. This was a first for me! New places have a habit of nudging us to stretch ourselves a bit. After all, what’s a holiday for if you can’t create memorable experiences?

I’m an adrenaline junkie, no doubt about that. So I had to take the gorge challenge.

Let me take you through the process (and ease your fears, yes, I saw that eyebrow) – the harness is attached to a rope, the rope gets attached to the middle of a cable that runs across the full width of the gorge. Once you are all set, you stand on a platform on the edge of a sheer 120m cliff and jump off. This is a free fall for about 70m straight towards the rocks. In the river below are its inhabitants – the crocodiles.

There’s a wide variety of activities and experiences offered by the Wild Horizons, including White Water Rafting, Zambezi River Cruises, Chobe Day Trips, Helicopter Flights and more.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and Dinner at The Boma

The last night was spent at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge- a sunset-facing 72-room lodge, which boasts endless views of pristine wilderness stretching to the horizon. There’s also a waterhole frequented by elephants, buffalos and kudus: a perfect way to spend the last night. The rooms have elegant African inspired decor with glass sliding doors opening onto a private balcony boasting unrivalled views of the bushveld. Opulence at its best!

Dinner at The Boma was the best way to end the Zimbabwean experience. The eatery is a local attraction and is open for dinner daily from 7pm. Guests are given a warm traditional dance welcome – the African style and feast on mbira music. The spread of Zimbabwean and other African dishes make it difficult to choose one dish or select the regular and familiar meals. Did I mention the mopane worms to set those taste buds rushing?

The highlight of the evening was the renowned, energetic, interactive drumming show. During the feast, small drums are placed next to each person for the drum show. I eagerly played along as the instructor gave instructions.

Tip: Make sure you allocate time to experience the culture of the country outside the tourist attraction areas.

Travelling back from Zimbabwe was done through Livingstone airport in Zambia. This is a great little bonus if you want to experience both countries. The border entry is a smooth process. It took us less than 20 minutes to complete all the formalities. While I missed the first-class royal treatment, the economy was equally spectacular in service and provided great meals. Kenya Airways provides direct flights from Cape Town to Victoria Falls at affordable prices.

Tip: Bring a surgical mask, while checking in you may be required to use only a surgical mask.

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