The word ‘mana’ is Shona language for four, referring to the number of pools created by the river’s changing course in ancient times. The park consists of 2,500 sq. km of river banks, sandbanks, islets and smaller pools. All this, together with the baobab, ebony, mahogany and fig tree forests that frame the area, accounts for Mana Pools’ reputation as the finest national park in Africa.
The park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, after a plan to flood the area as part of a hydroelectricity project was dismissed. In early 2013, it became a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Threats of mining, drilling and poaching continue, but since 1982 the Zambezi Society has fought in the best interests of Mana Pools.
Today the park teems with wildlife, including Zimbabwe’s largest populations of hippopotamus and crocodile in addition to impressive concentrations of elephant and buffalo during the dry season. Other animals spotted frequently are zebra, warthog, waterbuck, eland, impala, monkey and baboon, feasting on the fruit of acacia trees. Carnivores are less prevalent in these parts, but it is unusual for visitors not to enjoy a sighting of lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. And there are over 350 species of bird!
The history of Zambezi River is turbulent in places, especially concerning its status as a trade route for slaves. Now, however, it flows serenely through the north of the park and offers some superb opportunities for boating safari or simple appreciation of its sunsets.
Walking and vehicle safaris also make this area special, with elephant bulls and lion being relatively at peace with the guides in the park. This gives rise to heart-pounding yet safe close encounters, unmatched anywhere else in Africa! Zimbabwe’s extraordinarily difficult professional guides licence examinations ensure that guides are able to track and walk with dangerous game. This is a huge draw for safari in Zimbabwe generally, let alone in Mana, which boasts several of Africa’s best guides.
Mana Pools has some great camps and lodges – but please note that these are closed from January to March, the rainy season.