Camping in Zimbabwe’s national parks gets you as close to nature, the wilderness and animals as you can possibly be. Sometimes frighteningly close! The sounds and noises made by feeding animals all night in “Wilderness Camps” often gave us goose pimples, but pleasant one.
Wilderness campsites in Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park are in high demand and hard to get in. Only a very limited number of cars, one to four, are allowed in each, guaranteeing the upmost privacy and quietness. Especially in Mana Pools, do not expect to show up and find a place. Very different are Matobo & Gonarezhou National Park, which we had more or less to ourselves.
The few tourists in Zimbabwe are mostly South Africans and they know the best campsites from back then, when Zimbabwe was the place to go. So you can bet that the top places are occupied by these world champions in camping. State of the art equipment is standard. It is not uncommon to have tailor-made rooftop tents, trailers and camp kitchen. Quite peculiar is how they set up camp. Although no attackers need to be fought off nowadays, they like to form a semi-circle with their cars and tents, like the “Voortrekkers” did around the end of the 19th century.
All campsites can be booked ahead through ZimParks. Unfortunately, their system is not 100% reliable: you may be told a place is booked and it is not, or have a booking and no slot. The more remote the campsite the more basic, but a small ablution block (showers) is usually standard. The very isolated sites have just long-drop toilets and a spot reserved for a camp fire. No fence, nothing!
We do not even pretend to be keen campers. Definitely, we are not! The cramped rooftop tent and the chilly nights, cleaning the dishes, getting the kitchen stuff in and out of the car, no that’s not us… Nevertheless, we would never want to miss falling asleep with the sound of the animals rampaging around out campsite.
We had no idea how thrilling this would be beforehand, so the main reason for booking the Toyota Hilux plus roof tent was to save on hotel costs. Private lodges in a national park shamelessly ask for the absurd amount of 400 to 450 USD… per person per night!
Our jeep was extremely well equipped and featured everything and more that a camper possibly needs in the bush. The rooftop tent turned out to be small but really easy to use. Moreover, being on top and off the ground, made us feel a bit saver in the national parks.