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By JAMES H 02 December 2019

Hwange vs. Mana Pools – Zimbabwe’s top two safari destinations

YZ expert James visited Hwange and Mana Pools during his recent adventure to Zimbabwe. Here he compares the two national parks as safari destinations:

Zimbabwe is rather spoiled when it comes to nature reserves and national parks, boasting an array of diverse and beautiful landscapes. If you would like the very best safari experiences in Zimbabwe, two corners of the country offer the finest game viewing available. These are two national parks that are bastions of ecosystem and wildlife protection: Hwange and Mana Pools. They really are in a league of their own!

Hwange, to the extreme west of the country and on the border with Botswana, is hugely diverse. It stakes its claim as Zimbabwe’s premier safari area and has the most productive game viewing. Mana Pools is, and I don’t use this word lightly, iconic. Few parts of Africa are as wild and distinctive, alive with monstrously big trees, elephants, rivers, and mountains. The light here is a photographer’s dream and the sense of adventure is palpable.

I thought it might be useful for me to outline the main differences between the two parks, as hopefully this might help anyone who is torn between them. My snapshot below also shows why I believe it is ideal to combine the two!

Hwange National Park

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Hwange gives you the best game viewing in Zimbabwe – along with top guiding and elephant sightings, this should win over many people. It’s also a reserve that’s right on the frontline of human–wildlife conflict. With many settlements surrounding the park and community-owned land alongside the boundaries, this is an excellent place to visit to learn how communities are affected by wildlife and how the camps are helping everyone work together for the future. Imvelo’s two properties in the south-east, as well as the Wilderness Safaris camps, allow for the best insights into this issue. Another advantage of Hwange is that it can be combined very well with a safari in neighbouring countries.

Mana Pools National Park

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Mana Pools is a park that any adventurous safari-goer simply has to visit. Outstanding natural beauty is on show here – it really is up there with the Okavango Delta for awe and beauty. In my opinion, there is nowhere more beautiful to go on a walk than into the bush. The guides are the best at it, and wildlife wise this is an outstanding location for wild dog and birdlife. Another bonus is being able to head out on the river, and if you like a spot of fishing, the tiger fish here are legendary! Mana is a vibrant and fully alive part of the world that’s aided by the sheer size of the wilderness area encompassing the national park.

A snapshot of the national parks:

Hwange

Why visit? Elephant, lion, cheetah, sable, roan, bush walks, hides, railway line, community uplift, great value.

What does it do best? Elephant sightings, value, convenient location, no need for flights (although I do recommend them), insight into bordering community life.

My favourite camp: Camp Hwange.

Mana Pools

Why visit? Outstanding scenery, wild dog, bush walks, boating on the Zambezi river, big tuskers (some standing on their back legs), adventurous camps.

What does it do best? Bush walks, elephant sightings on foot, wild dog, tiger fishing.

My favourite camp: Kanga or Stretch Ferreira Safaris.

If you’re going to choose between the two parks, an important consideration is travel and budget. For the majority of the time you will need to fly in light aircraft to access Mana Pools, whereas Hwange is conveniently located near Victoria Falls and Bulawayo (where time at Matobo Hills works really well). This means that Hwange can be easily incorporated into a road transfer only safari, which is quite rare in the region. Having said that, I am always a fan of flying, as I believe it is a big part of the experience and also maximises your time in the bush!

Overall opinion

So, there you have it. I hope this helps anyone who is struggling to decide whether to visit Mana Pools or Hwange. My recommendation is, of course, to visit both! Check out my top lodge choices below for some inspiration, and if you’d like to discuss a safari to Zimbabwe, don’t hesitate to contact YZ here.