Zimbabwe is a country endowed with so much natural beauty, profound history, vast and remarkable landscapes, and an incredible diversity of wildlife, birdlife, national parks, and reserves to explore. Zimbabwe boasts a range of diverse habitats, from the forested valleys of Matobo Hills National Park, and the watery wilderness of Lake Kariba, to the floodplains of Mana Pools National Park, and the mopane woodlands and savannas of Hwange National Park.
Beyond its astounding landscapes and habitats, Zimbabwe is home to an astounding 500 species of birds, 199 mammal species, 130 species of fish and several rare and endemic species such as the sable antelope.
What sets Zimbabwe apart from its fellow southern African neighbors is the fact that it offers tourists and travelers alike the chance to experience superb game viewing and unforgettable safari adventures without the large crowds – Undoubtedly making it one of the best safari destinations to visit in Africa.
Offering an endless variety of things to see and experience, here are the best things to do and top 10 tourist attractions in Zimbabwe, all of which should be on your Zimbabwean bucket-list.
#1 Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park is one of Africa’s top national parks. Covering a vast expanse of around 5,655 square miles/14,650 square kilometers, it is both the largest and oldest of Zimbabwe’s game reserves.
Hwange National Park is undoubtedly one of the top tourist attractions for wildlife enthusiasts as the park has the biggest diversity of mammals out of the world’s national parks. Home to over 100 species of mammals, including the renowned African Big 5, lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, and buffalo, Hwange National Park’s game viewing and sightings are unparalleled. In addition to its exceptional diversity of wildlife, this world-renowned national park is famous for its profound population of elephants, boasting over 50 000 elephants. The Hwange elephant population is thought to be one of the largest in the world.
The park is also known for regular sightings of some of Africa’s rarest safari animals, such as the brown hyena, the critically endangered black rhino, roan, sable, and the endangered wild dog – Hwange National Park is said to be home to one of Africa’s largest populations of the endangered wild dog. Visiting Hwange during the dry winter months of July to October guarantees spectacular wildlife sightings, as animals gather around the man-made waterholes in the park to drink. Birdlife is also abundant at Hwange National Park, with over 500 species recorded within the park.
What makes Hwange so special is the fact that it is easily accessible as well as its lack of crowds. For all of its biodiversity, huge herds of elephants and ease of sightings in the winter months, the park never gets crowded, which means you have the space and the quiet to soak up the magic of the bush.
#2 Lake Kariba
Situated in the north of Zimbabwe, northeast of Victoria Falls and sharing a border with Zambia, Lake Kariba is landlocked Zimbabwe’s answer to the seaside: a massive manmade lake that provides a wonderful combination of water and wildlife. Stretching for over 140 miles/220 kilometers in length, and measures 25 miles/40 kilometers across at its widest point, it is the world’s largest man-made lake in terms of volume. The traditional and by far the best way to explore the wonders of Lake Kariba is on a houseboat. Kariba is renowned as one of the best places in the world to catch tiger fish, a ferocious freshwater species, as well as for its remarkable sightings of hippos, crocodiles, elephants and vast birdlife.
The lake’s islands also offer ample opportunities for game viewing. Perhaps the most rewarding wildlife area is Matusadona National Park, located on Kariba’s southern shore.
#3 Mana Pools National Park
Regarded as being both Zimbabwe’s best park and one of the finest wilderness areas in Africa, Mana Pools National Park is a superb safari destination. Situated at the northern most point of Zimbabwe straddling the Zambian border, Mana Pools is renowned for its untamed natural beauty: a riverine wilderness on the Zambezi River of pools, floodplains, baobab trees and forests that feels totally remote and never gets crowded.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible and diverse concentration of wildlife, Mana Pools National Park is undoubtedly one of the top tourist attractions in Zimbabwe for wildlife lovers from around the world. The park is famous for its huge elephant herds, as well as exceptional sightings of cheetahs and the entire African Big 5. It is also known as one of the top places in Africa to spot the endangered African wild dog.
Mana Pools is a haven for water-based wildlife, with large populations of hippo and Nile crocodile. They live in the four pools that give the park its name, each one created by the Zambezi River before it altered its course to flow northward. The largest pool is approximately 3.7 miles/6 kilometers long, and acts as a valuable water source, especially in the height of the dry season. The abundance of water present in this area makes it a prime spot for birders.
The appeal of the park is not just its wildlife – it’s how you get to experience the bush in immersive ways: staying in unfenced campsites in the midst of the wilderness and going on walking and canoeing safaris to see its profound and diverse wildlife and birdlife is where the true magic and adventure lies. Mana Pools National Park is also one of the only parks in Africa where you can walk and explore without a guide. It is however advised that you have a lot of bush knowledge and experience before going off on your own.
#4 Victoria Falls
Tumbling down 100-metre-high cliffs surrounded by lush forests, Victoria Falls is the biggest sheet of falling water on the planet. Regarded as one of Africa’s most astounding sights as well as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Victoria Falls reigns supreme as one of Zimbabwe’s top tourist attractions.
During peak flood season (February – March), the spray thrown up by the plunging Victoria Falls water can be seen from approximately 50 kilometers away. This spectacular natural spectacle which has people travelling from around the world to witness and experience first-hand, gives the falls its indigenous name — Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “The Smoke That Thunders”.
Stretching 1.7 kilometers wide, the falls span across both Zimbabwe and Zambia. There are pathways on each side of the border that lead you to the edge of cliffs. On the Zimbabwean side, the path winds its way along the edge of the gorge with viewpoints offering breathtaking panoramas of the plummeting water and the renowned rainbows that hang suspended above the chasm. While the sound is known to be somewhat overwhelming, and you’re bound to get soaking wet from the famous falls’ spray (a bucket-list worthy experience in itself), the magnificent spectacle you get to witness is one you’ll never forget.
As the town of Victoria Falls sits right by the falls themselves on the Zimbabwean side, it is famous for its vast variety of thrilling adrenaline sports and incredible safari activities. Some of these experiences include bungee jumping, abseiling, white-water rafting, and wildlife spotting from horseback.
#5 Matobo National Park
Regarded as the spiritual home of Zimbabwe, Matobo National Park boasts some of the world’s most impressive granite scenery. The fascinating granite rock formations and lunar landscape of balancing rocks, known as kopjes – giant boulders stacked on top of each other, as if they’re about to topple over – is not only a remarkable sight and one of the top tourist attractions in Zimbabwe, but a stunning natural spectacle and work of art. This site has an intriguing history, tracing back some 2000 million years ago when molten rock erupted across the landscape.
Several of the rocks are marked with ancient rock art created by the San bushmen about 2000 years ago. In fact, the recreational section of Matobo National Park has Southern Africa’s highest concentration of ancient rock art with 3500 sites dating back 13,000 years. To this day the Matobo Hills are considered incredibly important to the local community as they are used as sacred sanctuaries and shrines.
Matobo National Park is an exceptional wildlife and safari destination. The game park section of Matobo National Park is not only home to Zimbabwe’s highest concentration of white and black rhinos, it has one of the largest leopard populations in Southern Africa and is a great place to spot Verreaux’s eagles, in addition to other wildlife and birdlife species.
**Interesting Fact: Cecil Rhodes, a controversial 19th-century imperialist, businessman, and politician, was buried here. His remains are marked by a brass plaque perched atop World’s View, the park’s most iconic viewpoint.
#6 Chimanimani National Park
Located on the eastern border with Mozambique, the mountainous Chimanimani National Park is known for its unapologetic natural beauty. Famous for its plunging gorges, lush valleys, mountain landscapes, and soaring peaks, with the highest summits reaching over 7,990 feet/2,400 meters, Chimanimani National Park has become a top destination among adventure seekers, keen hikers, campers, and those looking to immerse themselves in nature.
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you certainly won’t be disappointed when visiting this top Zimbabwe tourist attraction and natural oasis. As the lower reaches of the park are covered by dense virgin forest, it is known to attract and provide shelter to several obscure wildlife species including eland, sable, and the blue duiker antelope. It is also one of the best parks in Zimbabwe to spot the elusive leopard as they roam free in the Chimanimani mountains, as well as enjoy incredible sightings of Southern Africa’s smaller cat species such as Serval, the African Wildcat, Caracal, the mysterious Sand Cat, Jungle Cat, Black-Footed Cat, and the African Golden Cat. If you’re an avid birder, you can look forward to some spectacular birdlife sightings when visiting Chimanimani National Park and the Chimanimani mountains.
Amenities in the park include unpaved hiking trails, communal huts and a campsite with basic cooking and ablution facilities. Wild camping is also allowed throughout the park.
#7 Nyanga National Park
Regarded as the home of the Highveld, Nyanga National Park is a wild and wonderful place to visit on any trip to Zimbabwe. Located more than 1,800 meters above sea level, it is said to be perched on the very roof of Zimbabwe, formed by hulking hills of dolomite rock and suspended boulders – Making it quite a unique sight to behold.
Besides being the home of the Zimbabwean Highveld, Nyanga National Park boasts a fascinating and incredible landscape which is dressed in groves of msasa trees and cypresses which are considerably rare to these regions. Due to the vastly unique landscapes of the park, the unique habitats that exist within Nyanga National Park can host a truly otherworldly array of creatures and a remarkable diversity of wildlife species.
Several of the species in the park are entirely endemic to the region, such as the Old World Samango monkeys with their white-brushed throats that can only be found in these parts of the world. The Nyanga National Park is also home to a number of leopards, lions, and other wildlife species, ensuring you get to enjoy the full authentic African safari and wildlife experience.
#8 Chinhoyi Caves
Located in north central Zimbabwe, the mysterious Chinhoyi Caves is not only one of the top tourist attractions in Zimbabwe, but a place of geological interest too. Made up of a subterranean system of limestone and dolomite caverns and tunnels, the caves are protected as part of the Chinhoyi Caves National Park. The caves have a mystical appeal about them as local elders believe they are sacred. Due to several artifacts found and uncovered in the caves (such as pottery, drawings, and human remains), it is suggested that the caves have been inhabited since at least the 1st century. Most famously, the Chinhoyi Caves provided a refuge from raiding tribes for Mashona chief Chinhoyi and his people.
Undoubtedly the main attraction of the Chinhoyi Caves is the ‘Wonder Hole’. This deep blue natural pool is a collapsed cavern with sheer walls that drops straight down into what is known as the crystalline Sleeping Pool. Besides a bucket-list worthy experience, the glacial blue color of the lake’s water provides the perfect backdrop for the most incredible photographs. It is also the site where visitors can enter the illuminated Dark Cave.
A visit to Chinhoyi Caves is a great opportunity to hear and learn about the historical significance of the caves as well as the folklore that surrounds this mysterious place. Chinhoyi is a popular destination for technical scuba divers.
#9 The Great Zimbabwe National Monument & Masvingo
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Zimbabwe National Monument is located approximately a four-hour drive south of Harare or east of Bulawayo (two of Zimbabwe’s largest towns). Regarded as one of Zimbabwe’s top tourist attractions, the Great Zimbabwe National Monument protects the remains of Great Zimbabwe, the capital of the historic Kingdom of Zimbabwe and the most important stone ruins south of the Sahara. Built between the 11th and 15th centuries, these 700-year-old ruins crumble and crack under the sun, revealing tales of grave history and the nation’s old Shona-speaking folk.
The ruins cover a vast area, including a hilltop acropolis which once housed kings and chiefs. Making it quite an enthralling historical landmark to visit and explore on your trip to Zimbabwe. The valley surrounding the Great Zimbabwe National Monument is scattered with the ruins of more humble dwellings, all of which were built using perfectly cut granite blocks. As various artifacts such as porcelain from China and Arab coins from the East African coast have been discovered at this very site, it suggests that Great Zimbabwe was once a powerful and wealthy center of trade.
Some 20 kilometers away from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Great Zimbabwe is where you’ll find Masvingo. Situated neatly on the edge of the Mutirikwi National Park, Masvingo is the ultimate destination for keen adventure travelers and thrill seekers looking to explore and discover as it has plenty in the way of outdoor exploration up its sleeve. It is also regarded as one of the prime drop off points, welcoming VIP tourists and travelers to the deeper reaches of Zimbabwe, as they make their way through to the southern edge of the country.
#10 Matusadona National Park
A relic of the former state of Rhodesia, Matusadona National Park clings to the southern banks of Lake Kariba, on the Zimbabwean side of the great water body. After becoming subsumed by Zimbabwe following the various upheavals, the area retained its protected status and established itself as one of the top tourist attractions in Zimbabwe.
One of Matusadona National Park’s main allures is that the whole region is beautifully untouched and untrodden. This makes it the perfect African wilderness escape for those seeking an off-the-beaten-track safari adventure. In addition to its vast diversity of wildlife, the majestic Cape buffalo and African elephant are by far the two most popular wildlife species you can look forward to seeing when visiting Matusadona National Park.
The nearby water of Kariba provides ample grazing lands which has only flourished since the creation of the Kariba Dam. This allows ungulates such as giraffes, hippos, rhinos, zebras, wildebeest, aardvark, and an incredible array of antelope (to mention merely a few), and predators alike to thrive along its fringes.
Kariba is also known as one of the best places in the world to catch tiger fish, as well as for its remarkable sightings of hippos, crocodiles, and vast birdlife. The lake’s islands offer ample opportunities for game viewing with the most rewarding wildlife area being none other than Matusadona National Park.