When people talk about favourite holiday destinations you expect the Caribbean, the Algarve, maybe the South of France or Italian Lakes, perhaps Florida for a Disney-fest – but I would like to add Zimbabwe to that list.
When we said we had Zimbabwe on our itinerary for our African Adventure this summer, friends vocalised their concerns with the political situation – especially with the violence after elections just days before we were due to travel. We were heading to Victoria Falls, over 900km from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe and where the majority of the troubles have been, and so were hoping that all would be well.
We flew into Vic Falls and had to wait HOURS to get through immigration – as all visitors have to purchase a visa (in US$, as Zimbabwe no longer has its own currency) and then these are hand written and stuck into individual passports. It was a time consuming process – but eventually worth it.
So here are the Price family’s top tips for a once in a lifetime trip to Zimbabwe:
1. Accommodation – Matetsi River Lodge
This was our first destination and it was AMAZING! We were lucky enough to stay in their River House – which sleeps 8 and has it’s own private dining room and kitchen, so you don’t have to go to the communal areas at all. We honestly felt like the only people there – despite there being 18 other suites. Like the whole resort it is right on the banks of the Zambezi with stunning views across to Zambia.
The rooms are well appointed – with air con, loads of storage, modern bathrooms, mosquito nets – and stunning views out across the river.
We also had our own private pool. It wasn’t heated – but all of the kids, and the husband, managed a brief dip. It was winter when we were there – but I can imagine in summer it would be a great place to chill and escape the heat.
Some of the wildlife does venture down to the lodge – so you do have to be a bit aware. I have to say I never thought I’d hear my daughter yell ‘Mum, Mum, a monkey has just stolen my gluten free breakfast biscuits’!! The cheeky thing had crept through a gap in the door as the girls were chilling in their room, it had swiped a packet of biscuits, climbed up a tree, perfectly opened the packaging and sat munching the gluten free delights! It was quite a sight.
On the subject of being gluten free, Matetsi handled this dietary requirement brilliantly – and made some fabulous GF options available. They also coped with a very fussy 8 year old who pretty much ate chicken nuggets and chips for every meal. The rest of us were more adventurous and the food was wonderful. As were the drinks – gin and homemade lemonade being my tipple of choice after Chris, the wonderful butler, rustled one up for me the first day. All of the food and drink was included in the price of the stay.
Our laundry was washed every day, also included in the holiday cost, which with 6 of us was incredibly useful. The final evening the housekeeper had run us a bath and left a bottle of sparkling wine in an ice bucket next to it, for when we got back from our game drive – now that is perfect service! (I won’t include the photo of us in the bath – do not fear!!)
I managed to have an open air full body massage whilst we were there – there is a separate spa / gym / pool / wine cellar complex – and it was wonderfully relaxing, and needed after being thrown around on game drives!
We have been lucky enough to stay in some amazing places around the world – but Matetsi will hold a special place in all of our hearts forever.
2. Game Drives
Matetsi allocated our Guide, Clever (yes, that really was his name) and Tracker, Mongoose (I don’t think that really was his name – but it was what Clever called him the day we met and it stuck!) the afternoon we arrived. We went straight out on our first game drive and it was fabulous.
Within minutes of leaving our house we’d seen loads of elephants at a water container. Then we saw impala, zebras, kudus and lots more – along with an amazing sunset. And this was just day one.
We were up early for our game drive the next morning and it was cold. Proper bone chilling cold – which we hadn’t prepared for at all (the other mornings we layered up in ALL OF THE CLOTHES we had!) When we got in the vehicle there were blankets and HOT WATER BOTTLES – which was incredibly welcome. We were delighted to see lions that morning- which is not a given – and it made the bone shaking coldness worthwhile. We were also helped by Mongoose setting up a drinks station where we could have rangers coffee (coffee with a huge shot of Amarula in it!!) to warm up.
As well as game drives, Clever and Mongoose took us fishing on the Zambezi! I am not renowned for my love of the water – but Mongoose having set up the drinks and snacks on the boat before we arrived definitely helped. As the 15 year old so eloquently put it – ‘Mum’s only in it for the wine’!!
On one drive Clever collected some elephant poo, reconstituted it by soaking it in some water – and then drank the water! This is seemingly a common thing for local people to do for its health giving properties! Mr and Master Price both partook. I didn’t (and informed Mr Price he had to clean his teeth before he could even think about a kiss that day!)
All of the drives were amazing – and we saw different things every time.
You do get a bit blase a few days in – with ‘oh look, more impala’ as if you’re talking about sheep when driving through Wales or such like, but to then see elephants walking across the plains as the sun sets – takes your breath away.
3. Elephant Interaction
We moved on from Matetsi to The Elephant Camp – about half an hour away, and closer to Victoria Falls itself. We were lucky enough to have the 4 suites in West Camp to ourselves (there are 12 further suites over in the main camp).
It wasn’t quite up to Matetsi accommodation wise (but I’m not sure anything would have been!) but we were staying in tents (admittedly tents with a lounge area with sofas, and a full on en suite) but I’m taking it as a camping trip!! (I’m renowned for my love of camping about as much as my love of boats!!)
The main attraction about staying here was the chance to interact with the elephants who live on the camp. In the 1980s Zimbabwe culled lots of elephants – this resulted in many orphans, and the Elephant Camp took them in. They have continued to take in orphaned and injured elephants ever since. The elephants can roam around the park in the day – but at night are stabled. They are used to interacting with humans and so visitors can go and see them and feed them. Having seen lots of elephants in the wild in the preceeding few days – it was wonderful to get up so close to them. All of us enjoyed feeding them – and when one coughed all over the 15 year old, it was very amusing for the rest of us!
4. Sylvester the Cheetah
The other amazing thing that The Elephant Camp had to offer was the chance to interact with their resident Cheetah – Sylvester. He was orphaned as a cub (his mother and the rest of his litter killed by a lion) and so has been brought up by the rangers. He therefore lacks the hunting instinct to be let back into the wild.
Older children are allowed to take Sylvester for a walk – but because our youngest kids are only 8 and 6 that wasn’t an option, but we could still do the interaction.
It was amazing to see such a majestic creature up close. The photos were incredible (although it does look like our 13 year old is trying to be all ‘gangsta’ rather than a public schoolboy from Worcestershire…….)
5. Victoria Falls
My parents visited the Falls at a similar time of year a few years ago, from the Zambian side – and there wasn’t much water, and they could actually walk onto the river bed – so we didn’t have high hopes for water flow. However, it was perfect! There was enough water to be truly spectacular – but we could see quite a lot without getting completely soaked (although we did by the end!)
We started off with a walk with our guide who had collected us from the Elephant Camp. He was really informative telling us about the geography and history. Interestingly whilst there is a statue of Livingstone at the Zimbabwean side of the falls, he didn’t actually set foot on that side, having ‘discovered’ them from the Zambia!
We walked along going to many different view points – which got progressively wetter as we went along! We walked all the way down to the bridge across the gorge that connects Zimbabwe and Zambia (built in England and shipped across many years ago. It reminded me of Ironbridge in Shropshire)
After that we went to the Lookout Cafe for lunch. The food was fab, as was the wine, and the view over the gorge quite spectacular!
From there we were picked up and taken to do ‘The Flight of Angels‘ – a 13 minute helicopter tour over Victoria Falls. The 15 year old and 8 year old refused to fly – but the 13 year old and 6 year old did (there is no lower age limit). The four of us had an amazing time – bucket list stuff. It gave a real insight into the geography seeing it from the air. And I managed not to throw up – which is unusual for me!! It was spectacular.
The whole thing really was a once in a lifetime trip – and one we would thoroughly recommend to anyone considering a safari. We didn’t see any political trouble at all – and aside from a slightly ear flapping elephant, and being within striking distance of a lion, didn’t feel unsafe at all.
So there you go – Zimbabwe is now high up on the Price family favourite holiday destinations list!!
Note: This is not a sponsored post, we paid for everything we did. All of it was organised by our wonderful Travel Counsellor Michelle. We just wanted to share the amazing trip we had – and keep a record of it for us to look back on.