Mana Pools National Park is a World Heritage site and Africa’s most sensational safari area! A bold claim we realise however the combination of some of the best game viewing alongside the most experienced professional guides, breathtaking scenery, the stunning lower Zambezi river and the most incredible walking safaris really do make this national park stand out.
The river frontage which sits just in front of large areas of open, winter acacia woodland with their cathedral-like statures is like no other safari habitat. The feeling you get when you are there for yourself is not something we can accurately describe for you: it is something incredibly special.
It is the walking safaris here that set it apart. Several of Africa’s absolute top guides are found here. Having lived in Mana Pools for decades in some instances, these guides know individual bull elephants and lion very well indeed. So much so that remarkable close experiences on foot with both species, and wild dog too, are a regular occurrence but not for a person of nervous disposition.
There are several "mobile camps" namely Chitake Springs mobile camp and Ruwesi Canoe trail that take the raw wilderness experience of Mana Pools to a whole new level that we believe is absolutely unique to Mana Pools. Being 5 metres from big bull elephants, huge herds of buffalo or even predator kills on your own two feet will have your heart racing at a thousand miles an hour.
This is all only possible because of the extraordinary skill of guides that have worked this park with these animals for years and years. Vehicle safaris, boat and canoe safaris make up the rest of the activities with 2 camps being able to offer night drives as well.
The camps themselves either sit in the riverine area of the Zambezi River or are set back in the bush along one of Mana’s four natural and large permanent “pools”. These pools help make the area so prolific for game viewing.
There is no average or poor camp here nor any low-cost options. Deciding between them is usually determined by budget or your safari personality and you can be sure of a great experience regardless of where you choose to stay.
Mana Pools is not open year-round as the soil type when wet becomes a sticky bog. Ideally, the best time to visit this park is a little after dry season begins, around the end of June/middle of July, to give the bush a chance to dry up inland and nudge the game toward the permanent pools and the river.
Equally mid-October to November, whilst sensational for game viewing, is extraordinarily hot. Hot enough to have a very serious conversation with us here at Tailormade Africa about your heat tolerances. Only a handful of camps have swimming pools and permanent plumbing for endless cooling showers.
Mana Pools is better suited to clients that have been on safari before or at the very least for those with a strong sense of adventure. It really is a wild frontier only fully felt whilst you are there. Mana Pools is so good that we recommend you plan your entire Zimbabwe safari around it. The rewards for doing so are potentially life-changing.
Little Ruckomechi, along with it's larger equally beautiful sister camp Ruckomechi, is Mana Pools's luxury accommodation offering. It only has 3 guest tents, with a 4th available for group or family bookings, that gives this camp such a wonderful exclusive feel for guests staying there. They both sit on the Western edge of the main national park in their own private concession which gives them licence to operate some activities that are not possible within the national park boundaries. Little Ruckomechi is owned by Wilderness Safaris who are one of Africa's top safari operators and conservationists who work very hard at delivering high levels of service across the board. In both Little Ruckomechi and Ruckomechi Camp, this is very evident. Given the opulent nature and style of the camps, it can be said that the real "Mana Pools" experience of raw untamed wilderness that is synonymous with Mana Pools is perhaps somewhat lost but, that should not be perceived as a negative because that unadulterated, truly wild safari is not everyone's cup of tea. All in all this high-end intimate camp is wonderful and the draw of being able to go out on a boat on the Zambezi River which is only possible at these two great camps make it hard to overlook as the' choice of camp. At the very least in combination with another, more inland camp or one that sits on the shores within the National Park itself.
Little Ruckomechi at a glance :
• Location: situated approx. 4km (20-minute drive) downstream from Ruckomechi
• Setting: overlooks a floodplain, the Zambezi River and the Zambian Escarpment. On the opposite bank of the river (in Zambia) there are some small villages which are home to subsistence farmers. Depending on the wind sound does travel
• Airstrip: Mana West - transfer to camp takes approx. 20 minutes.
• Road & Boat: from Lusaka it’s a 3-4 hour road transfer to Chirundu (depending on day of the week and the number of lorries) followed by an hours boat transfer to camp (43.5 km). The last 1hr50 is most attractive as the road winds its way through the Zambian Escarpment down to the Zambezi River and the Chirundu border post
• Accommodation: 3 airy and elegant twin bedded canvas tents each with 2 x ¾ beds. The pilot/guide/tour leader tent is of the same standard and can be used as a guest tent in the event of an exclusive use booking.
• Guest areas: dining room, lounge and plunge pool
• Activities: take place within Ruckomechi’s private concession and include day and night game drives, walking, sunset river cruises, catch-and-release fishing (from the river bank or by boat) and canoeing (on a shared basis with Ruckomechi Camp). As the Ruckomechi concession is adjacent to Mana Pools it is the only camp to offer motor boat excursions. No private vehicles are available.
• Season: 01 Apr - 15 Nov
• Children: not permitted
Ruckomechi Camp, along with its smaller and more intimate sister Little Ruckomechi, are the real luxury offerings in Mana Pools. They both sit on the western edge of the national park in their own excellent private reserve which gives them licence to operate some activities that are not possible within the National Park boundaries. Ruckomechi Camp is owned and managed by Wilderness safaris who are one of Africa's top safari operators and conservationists and who work very hard at delivering high levels of service across the board. In both Ruckomechi and Little Ruckomechi this is very evident. Given the opulent nature and style of the camps it can be said that the real "Mana pools" experience of raw untamed wilderness is perhaps somewhat lost, but that should not be perceived as a negative because the raw unadulterated safari that can be had in Mana Pools is not for everyone. All in all this high end camp is wonderful and the draw of being able to go out on a boat on the Zambezi River, which is only possible at Ruckomechi and Little Ruckomechi, make it hard to overlook as the choice of camp or at least in combination with another camp more inland or on the shores of the national park itself.
Ruckomechi Camp at a glance :
• Location: in a private concession adjacent to the western boundary of Mana Pools
• Setting: overlooks a floodplain, the Zambezi River and the Zambian Escarpment. On the opposite bank of the river (in Zambia) there are some small villages which are home to subsistence farmers. Depending on wind direction one may hear the sounds of every day village life
• Accommodation: 10 spacious canvas units, 2 of which are 2 bedroom family units. Well laid out and attractively furnished each unit has floor to ceiling gauze panels which can be unzipped to let the outside in. There is a covered deck, sitting area with sofa and table, wooden floor, dressing table with charging station (no hairdryer), free standing fan and mosquito net. A screen and wardrobe separates the bedroom from the bathroom with its double vanity, w.c. and shower, which when the front panel is unzipped becomes an indoor/outdoor shower. Blending effortlessly into its surrounds the colour scheme of cream, teal and pops of blue is calming and peaceful
• Guest areas: set under the shade of age old mahogany and acacia trees is a large outdoor dining deck, an indoor dining area, a separate lounge with small bar and a sunken fire pit cum star gazing deck. A few steps away is an infinity pool with loungers and a (secluded) outdoor bath with a 'view'. Elephants frequently wander through camp and often hang around the dining deck
• Activities: take place within Ruckomech in a private concession and include day and night game drives, walking, sunset river cruises, catch-and-release fishing (from the river bank or by boat) and canoeing. As the concession is adjacent to Mana Pools it is the only camp to offer motor boat excursions. If guests want to explore deeper into Mana Pools they need to book a private vehicle
• Sleep out: at Parachute Pan which is a wooden deck set high up in the branches of a massive rain-tree overlooking an open vlei area
*Children: minimum age 6 years. Children up to 16 years must share with an adult/s. Families with children between 6 - 12 years must book and pay for private activities. Minimum age for walking is 13 years and 16 years for canoeing
Named after renowned safari guide John Stevens, John's Camp is an authentic yet charming camp. It offers the most gorgeous view across a floodplain to the Zambezi River and the Zambian escarpment in the distance. A proper safari camp along the lines of Goliath Camp, Vundu and Zambezi Expeditions this is safari at its best. Whilst the experience is intimate and highly personalised guests will enjoy exceptional service, top notch guiding and great game viewing. John Stevens joined Zimbabwe National Parks over 50 years ago and has worked in and around Mana Pools ever since. The management of the camp is now under Robin Pope Safari's a Zambian safari company that has similar operating style and ethos of how safaris should be. They are a wonderful safari company, specialising in walking safaris in Zambia, Robin Pope himslef being an Africa safari guide icon and it is very exciting to have one of their camps on this side of the river. John is available to guide personally on request and at additional cost should you wish, but the camp resident guides, as with all Zimbabwe guides are fantastic!
John's Camp at a glance
• Location: At the beginning of each season camp is set up at a semi-permanent site where it remains for the whole season
• Airstrip: Mana Pools Main is a 45 minute leisurely game drive from camp. Alternatively guests can transfer from Lusaka by road to Chirundu and then by boat to camp
• Accommodation: Five generously spaced twin/double tents set under fly sheets and with large gauze windows. En-suite facilities include a flush loo, bucket shower, wash basin and bathroom amenities. Outside on the small veranda is a canvas hand basin and a couple of directors' chairs
• Guest area: Dining is al fresco - under a shady tree in the heat of the day or on the banks of the river in the moonlight. At night guests gather around the fire pit to plan the following days activities
• Activities: Include walking, game drive and land based catch and release fishing and photography. A private tour of the National Park Headquarters where guests can interact with the rangers who protect not only the wildlife but the park itself can be arranged. More adventurous guests may opt to sleep out under the stars in a 'mozzi dome' tent away from main camp or spend an evening on a rustic platform
• Season: 14 Apr -30 Nov
• Children: No children under 12 unless the camp is booked exclusively
Kanga is located in the heart of the national park in its own "unofficial" private concession next to the Kanga Pan. This is one of the most remote parts of the park and as the pan is the only permanent water source in a 10km radius it attracts a large amount of game to the camp. In fact so much so that an armchair safari on the decks of the camp overlooking the waterhole is a must do activity with large and regular rewards. Lion Leopard Elephant and buffalo frequent the camp often. This is a semi luxurious camp and is really lovely. Importantly though the essence of Mana Pools is not lost and you definitely feel like you are in very wild African bush which is what Mana is all about. It is owned by African Bushcamps who have a whole host of similar camps in Zimbabwe and Botswana and are absolute favourites of ours. They epitomise true traditional safari values of high quality guiding, superb safari camp locations and effortlessly combine luxury with authentic safari camps. Beks Ndlovu, owner and professional guide is fast becoming an icon through his efforts in the safari and wildlife conservation world. It is easy to see and feel his passion and operating ethos in all of his safari camps, guides and staff. It is best to combine Kanga with a camp on the Lower Zambezi shoreline and Kanga does have a sister camp, Zambezi Expeditions. This way you get the full Mana Pools experience!
Kanga Camp at a glance :
• Location: in a remote private concession in the heart of the park 15km (1hr50 drive) inland from the Zambezi River
• Setting: on the edge of Kanga Pan which is the only permanent water source within a 10km radius. Comprising of multiple open vlei lines, river systems of the Ruckomechi River, mopane woodland to Jesse bush and riverine forests this diverse area is a complete contrast to the flat Zambezi floodplain
• Airstrip: Dandawa - transfer to camp takes approx. 30 minutes
• Accommodation: 6 secluded tents each with a private deck overlooking the Pan. All the tents have just been refurbished with attractive new softs. The 2 honeymoon tents which double as family units are lovely. They comprise king-size bed, 2 day beds, writing desk, wooden floor, floor to ceiling gauze windows (lots of zips!), good lighting, tea/coffee station (thermos of hot water is provided) and mosquito net. Behind the bed is hanging space, a double vanity and w.c. Set under the branches of a massive tree is an outside shower and bath. Although comfortable the 4 standard Meru style tents are quite a bit smaller and have an outdoor shower, washbasin and flush loo.
• Guest area: sculptured around the trunks of ancient ebony and nyala berry trees are four tiered decks shaded by canvas sails. There are two seating decks, a dining deck, fire deck and pool deck
• Activities: morning, afternoon and evening game drives and walking. Canoeing and fishing is on request as the Zambezi River is an hour's drive away. Bush dining accompanied by impromptu entertainment by the staff are a highlight
• Sleep out: overlooking a dry river bed 'Kanga under the Stars' comprises four platforms (3 for guests and 1 for the guide) furnished with a mattress, bed linen, tin trunk and mosquito net. At ground level and set a few steps away from each of the platforms is a wash basin and flush loo
• Season: 1st April to 10 December
• Children: not below 7 years. As children under 16 are not permitted on walking safaris nature walks around camp can be arranged. Families with children younger than 12 years will be required to pay for a private vehicle. Families of 5 or more guests automatically qualify for a private vehicle
• General: at the beginning of the season (Apr - mid July) game is sporadic and in order to compensate for this guests are taken on a full day excursion down to the flood plains where they can enjoy a picnic lunch and a spot of canoeing. From around mid-July until the arrival of the first rains Kanga Pan literally becomes a magnet for all manner of game. With so much activity going on around camp guests can sit back and enjoy an 'arm chair' safari which, for some guests, makes a pleasant change to bouncing around in a vehicle. In order to experience a beautiful contrast in landscape Kanga should be combined with Zambezi Expeditions or one of the other river front camps.
Zambezi Expeditions is a wonderful semi permanent camp that sits along the shoreline of the Lower Zambezi river in Mana Pools National park itself. The camp itself is a bit of a throw back to the original and deliberately simple type of safari camp of a bygone era, of which there are several in Mana Pools alone, and in our opinion the best way to experience Mana Pools. The safari experience as a whole, the game viewing and activities, the camp atmospherics and extremely high level of guiding is the camps primary focus. Which is how it should be of course. The floodplain area of Mana Pools is so beautiful, with big cathedral like Winterthorn Acacia trees littering and otherwise open landscape. The fruit pods of this tree species being a favoured food of Elephant and other herbivores, this area is teaming with wildlife. Walking safari's, Canoeing and Vehicle safaris are the activities on offer here and they always deliver epic safari experiences. The camp is owned by African Bushcamps who have a whole host of similar camps in Zimbabwe and Botswana and are absolute favourites of ours. They epitomise true traditional safari values of high quality guiding, superb safari camp locations and effortlessly combine luxury with authentic wilderness safari camps wilderness. Beks Ndlovu, owner and professional guide is fast becoming an icon through his efforts in the safari and wildlife conservation world. it is easy to see and feel his passion and operating ethos in all of his safari camps, guides and staff. It is best to combine Zambezi Expeditions with its sister camp, Kanga, located in the heart of the park away from the river shoreline. This way you get the full Mana Pools experience!
Zambezi Expeditions at a glance :
• Location: at a designated operator site along the Zambezi River within Mana Pools National Park. Will be moving to a new site near Nkupi at the beginning of July 2017 until the end of the season
• Setting: in the shade of ancient trees looking out over an expanse of flood plain with the river and Zambian Escarpment in the distance
• Airstrip: Mana Main - approx. 20 minutes to camp
• Transfer: between ZE and Kanga is approx. 1hr50 game viewing en route
• Accommodation: 6 guest tents each set on a wooden deck. Tents 6 & 7 are connected by a short walkway & can be taken as a family unit. The maximum number of guests permitted in camp at any one time is 12. En-suite facilities feature a shower, with running water, wash basin and flush loo. Game wanders freely through camp and around the tents.
• Guest area: a mess tent with self-service bar, tea/coffee station, dining and seating areas. Breakfast is set out next to the camp fire whereas lunch is served in the mess tent. Dinner may be taken in the mess tent or outside under the stars. Guests are often entertained by impromptu song and dance or storytelling.
• Activities: morning and afternoon game drives, walking, fishing, birding and canoeing
• Season: 1st April to 10 December
• Children: not below 7 years. Children under 16 are not able to participate in walking safaris however nature walks around camp are on offer. Canoeing is not recommended for children under 16 however this is at the discretion of the guide. Families with children younger than 12 years will be required to pay for a private vehicle. Families of 5 or more guests automatically qualify for a private vehicle.
This camp easily makes it into Tailormade Africa's ultimate top 10 safari camps in Africa in its original authentic and deliberately simple form. Goliath Safaris camp is owned and run by one of Africa's premier safari guides, Stretch Ferreira who has operated here in Mana Pools for 25 years. By any standards, that in itself is impressive. His knowledge of Mana pools is extraordinary and along with a couple of other supreme guides in this park he has the ability to transcend the normal safari experience for you. The camp is not for everyone, nor is the style of safari experience. He knows individual Elephants at a quite personal level and in turn they know him and accept him. This leads to walking safaris like no other in that it is possible and likely that you will be sat on the floor with a giant Bull Elephant within 5 meters of you. Similarly you might even crawl up to a pack of Wild dog or walk onto some Lion that also just seem to know Stretch. There are few guides that have the skill and the relationships with truly wild animals like this. The guides he has under him have equal measure of passion and love for Mana and of course can't but help being fonts of knowledge themselves. The camp has a lovely position right on the river bank overlooking the Lower Zambezi River and is a deliberately simple affair, but it gets away with it because you understand very quickly that you are there for extraordinary experiences. It is still very comfortable, the food is great and the hosting of Stretch and the team in camp is remarkable and homely. Undoubtedly Goliath Camp lives al lot on the availability of Stretch himself being at camp and taking guests out. This can't happen every day of course so expectations should be managed but at least once in your stay at Goliath there is a very good chance you would get him as your guide.
Goliath Safari Camp at a glance :
• Location: meters from the Zambezi River in the heart of Mana Pools National Park
• Airstrip: Mana Main - transfer to camp takes approx. 25 minutes
• Accommodation: six spacious East African style tents with twin beds, teak furnishings, en suite shower, flush w.c. and washstand. Offering outdoor living at its best the public areas comprise of a covered lounge and bar, an open-air dining area and riverside campfire seating
• Activities: there is no set routine as each day is planned around animal movements and what the guests want to do. Stretch usually takes guests out on an early morning walk whereas drives (night drives not possible), canoeing and fishing (from the river bank and bring your own rods) may be in the company of another guide.
• Season: 1 May-31October
• Children: under 12 accepted if camp is booked exclusively. May participate in walks if Stretch feels it's appropriate.
A traditional old style safari camp that is not going to win any awards for style. However, what it lacks in safari chic is more than made up for in warmth and character. Owned by professional safari guide Nick Murray, who is supported by a loyal, skilled and dedicated team, Vundu, and its sister camp a few Kilometers away, Little Vundu, are one of a kind type camps. Here the focus is fully on introducing guests to the real Mana Pools where they may experience never to be forgotten close up interactions whilst tracking wild dog and lion on foot. We wouldn't necessarily recommend either of the Vundu Camps or indeed the similarly awesome Goliath Camp for first time safari goers due to the very raw nature of the wilderness experience here. However if you have good sense of adventure and are worldly well travelled in rustic countries shall we say then perhaps it'll be right up your street. For safari purists or repeat Africa clients though, this is gold!
Vundu is a typical example of why one shouldn't judge a book by its cover. One has to look beyond its dated décor and vehicles, which may have seen better days, and focus on Nick, his team, the game and the experience. No nonsense and down to earth Nick is passionate about Mana Pools and is hugely pro-active when it comes to supporting anti-poaching initiatives in the Zambezi Valley.
As well as Little Vundu, Nick and his team operate a 2 night canoe trail down the Zambezi known as Ruwesi Canoe Trail and an extremely wild, walking only safari camp deep in the heart of the park Chitake Springs Mobile Camp
A traditionally old style safari camp that is not going to win any awards for style. However, what it lacks in safari chic is more than made up for in warmth and character. Owned by professional safari guide Nick Murray, who is supported by a loyal, skilled and dedicated team, Little Vundu, and its sister camp a few Kilometers away, Vundu Camp, are one of a kind type camps. Here the focus is fully on introducing guests to the real Mana Pools where they may experience never to be forgotten close up interactions whilst tracking wild dog and lion on foot. At this smaller more intimate camp it should be said that to get the most out of little Vundu you should try and book out Nick Murray himself as the private guide for you at camp
We wouldn't necessarily recommend either of the Vundu Camps or indeed the similarly awesome Goliath Camp for first time safari goers due to the very raw nature of the wilderness experience here. However if you have good sense of adventure and are worldly well travelled in rustic countries shall we say then perhaps it'll be right up your street. For safari purists or repeat Africa clients though, this is gold! Little Vundu is a typical example of why one shouldn't judge a book by its cover. One has to look beyond its dated décor and vehicles, which may have seen better days, and focus on Nick, his team, the game and the experience. No nonsense and down to earth Nick is passionate about Mana Pools and is hugely pro-active when it comes to supporting anti-poaching initiatives in the Zambezi Valley. As well as the sister camp Vundu Camp, Nick and his team also operate a 2 night canoe trail down the Zambezi known as Ruwesi Canoe Trail and an extremely wild, walking only safari camp deep in the heart of the park Chitake Springs Mobile Camp.Children: not under 6 years. Families with children of 12 years and younger must pay for a private vehicle. Walking will be tailored to suit families with children under 16