Once in a life time holidays don't come better than in a safari capacity, and a lot has changed in Zimbabwe over the past decade. Now, find out why it's on the up...
It has been about ten years since I was last in Zimbabwe, and I have been itching to go back ever since. I was interested to find out what the country I had known so well was going to look like after all the problems they've faced in recent years.
Just before I landed in Bulawayo, I got nervous. Were the people going to be bitter from their recent history? Were the camps going to look dated? Would the parks look run down and neglected?
I shouldn't have worried. As soon as the warm Zimbabwe sun hit my face, it felt great to be 'home' again. From start to finish, I felt nothing but 100% safe, and I was thrilled to see how the country had picked itself back up and was looking fantastic once again.
At each camp we went to, we were greeted by smiles and genuine warmth. Each of the lodges and camps we stayed at had a swanky new re-furb and were looking wonderful - the epitome of luxury travel. They were brimming with happy guests, and every evening was full of excited dinner party chat around the table about all the fabulous game experiences people had encountered that day.
The masters of safari
Zimbabweans truly are 'old hands' when it comes to safaris: the management at every place was slick and professional, and the guides were truly incredible in terms of their knowledge and understanding of the bush. Many guides that had left to work in other African countries during the bleak times were back - and so chuffed to be so. The guides really do have a complete respect and empathy for the bush and the wild animals.
My best safari experiences
Some of my best experiences were tracking rhino on foot in the Matopes National Park with Ian Harmer, a renowned specialist guide in the area for the past 20 years. My favourite was probably getting up close and personal with a herd of grazing buffalo in Mana Pools, whilst keeping a safe distance behind an old ant hill. One of my other favourite experiences included coming across a recent Impala kill whilst on a walk and watching our guide, Fisher, put Miss Marple to shame with his incredible detective work. With bits of the carcass having been scattered around within a 25 metre radius, Fisher began to piece together the various clues and ascertained it was wild dog - and we were able to slowly piece together the story. It didn't matter that we didn't actually see the kill happen (and rarely you do with wild dog) - it was exhilarating enough to piece together the crime scene and know that only an hour ago the dogs had been there.
Zimbabwe National Parks
During our ten days in Zimbabwe, we encountered such a huge variety of experiences and places. We spent our first two days exploring Matopos National Park, where Cecil Rhodes is famously buried. It's a beautiful park, renowned for its spiritual quality, rhino population and rock art (it has the highest density of rock art in the world).
From there, we were driven to Zimbabwe's largest National Park, Hwange (the size of Wales), famous for its huge population of elephant. At one of the camps we stayed at, Somalisa, the elephants came right into camp and began drinking out of the small swimming pool. I must have been standing about five metres away from them!
Onto Victoria Falls
One of the seven natural wonders of the world - and by far the largest waterfall in the world due to the sheer volume of water that cascades over rocks - was hugely impressive, and a must-see for once in a lifetime holidaymakers. We enjoyed a lavish high tea on the famous terrace of the majestic Victoria Falls Hotel with fabulous views - Victoria Falls was buzzing with people, and had such a vibe to the place.
Mana Pools National Park
From there, we flew to Mana Pools, which has to be one of the most special National Parks. Sitting on the banks of the Lower Zambezi River, this park is teeming with game all navigable by drives, walks, gentle boating and canoeing. I must say, it was lovely to take a breather from game drives, and to be on the water and cruise up close to the elephants.
Now is the time to visit Zimbabwe
I would go back to Zimbabwe tomorrow. The rates at the lodges are still relatively cheap in comparison to it's African neighbours; sadly, they have to be at this stage in order to get Zimbabwe back on the map. However, give it a few years and Zimbabwe will be the same price as the likes of Kenya and Zambia. So book your tailor made trip now!
Zimbabwe needs our support
Park fees that tourists pay to visit the national parks help to protect Zimbabwe's wildlife - and to get these fees, they need people visiting their country. I used to struggle with the moral issue of travelling to Zimbabwe and how it meant supporting Mugabe and his regime there, but the camps and lodges that we visited and support are privately owned. Although a small minority of the room cost goes towards government taxes, the vast majority goes into the hands of those that really need it - the Zimbabwean people. With 90% unemployment currently standing in Zimbabwe, tourism is a huge earner.