Mana Pools, Zimbabwe - elephants roaming in your campsite

Elephant walking near a camper's vehicle
Elephant walking near a camper's vehicle

Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe

This park, a World Heritage site on the Zambezi River, is organized in a different way from Hwange, which we visited for a game count last year.

You can choose between lodges (like large villas), tented camps (like glamping), communal camps, private campsites with a (barebones) toilet, wild campsites with nothing at all…

For the private campsite, you pay a large sum to camp in very unglamorous conditions. The tradeoff is privacy and relative calm. A campsite is restricted to a set amount of campers. Campers need to bring everything they need, except water. There is an extremely basic tin shack housing a toilet + basin and a cold water shower on the other side, and a fire pit for barbecuing. The only neighbors you usually encounter are the thieving monkeys, and elephants roaming around to eat leaves, Ana fruit, and shoots. Our campsite was very close to the river, and we had a beautiful sunset view.

Animals roam freely and if you don’t bother them, they usually won’t bother you either—except for monkeys, who will snatch anything food related very, very fast. One evening, a young and an older elephant walked all around the periphery of our campsite, eating leaves and shoots. That was a slightly frightening but exhilarating experience!

At night, you go to sleep at nine pm. It's dark; there's no cell service (the wifi was down at the camp office while we were there, so we were totally cut off for the length of our stay, 5 days); you can't even wash the dishes, because you can't see if they're clean; if you sit outside, the mosquitoes will be nibbling. so you climb into your tent (if it features mosquito screens, all the better, as it's hot in September) and go to sleep after a few minutes on your Kindle.

6 am walk at Mana Pools
6 am walk at Mana Pools

One morning at 6 am, we set off with a park guide on foot, for a 2-hour walk.

We set off into the non-roads areas, at a pace more a hike than a stroll, in single file. Our guide, Mash, carried a gun. We walked over all types of terrain and side-stepped constant piles of dung and scat. We saw baboons running after each other, elephant families, 2 hyenas eating a kudu bone, waterbuck antelopes, innumerable impala, ground hornbills, lovebirds, elans. We discovered the water-giving properties of the beautiful sausage tree flowers (that were not around just yesterday) and a type of African “lavender” that is said to stave off mosquitoes. We were shown lion paw marks and the spoors of the hyena following behind them in the hope of a free meal. We studied elephant dung with the Ana fruit seeds intact in it. And as we returned to the car, we found a lioness sitting nearby, as if she had been waiting for us. As she saw us approaching, she loped off into the high grass clumps nearby.

Our sunset entertainment was to find a spot near a waterfront - there are several "pools" and spots along the Zambezi - and have a drink, watching the animals roam, the birdlife, and the sun set over the water.

We didn't take any of the guided tours, as we were able to drive around the dirt roads on our own.

Note: Cost of the early morning walk: $10/person/hour, + gratuity for the guide.

Note: Accommodation prices differ for locals, citizens of southern African countries, and foreigners from further away such as the United States.

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