Beyond Cecil the Lion: A True Zimbabwean Safari and Conservation

A 12 day trip to Zimbabwe 
5 out of 5 stars
3 reviews

Cecil the Lion was one big cat amongst thousands. When this hunted lion was tragically propelled to world fame, the stories obscured the majestic beauty and enchanting safari that Zimbabwe should be known for. Nowhere else in Africa offers such dazzlingly untrammeled wilderness, nor such exclusive safari experiences. This luxury safari celebrates the true Zimbabwean storyline, revealing so much more than the Big Five and one famous lion. Privately guided, this Zimbabwe safari provides insight into a mystical, forgotten world. 

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Victoria Falls, Zambezi River, Hwange National Park, Lake Kariba, Matusadona National Park, Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, Greater Kruger, Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, Gonarezhou National Park

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Victoria Falls – Serenity and the Falls

Nature takes center stage as soon as you touch down in Zimbabwe. Wisps of green forest rescind to reveal the Zambezi River, where the odd hippo and sunbathing crocodile occupy the banks. A nearby cloud is actually the mist rising from Victoria Falls, one that’s accompanied by a growling thunder. Baboon troops flit around the trees, along with peculiar monkeys that happily return your stare. There’s something wonderfully serene about it all, the escape into nature helping to slow your heartbeat and soothe all notions of stress. You’ll be greeted at Victoria Falls Airport and transferred to a lodge along the banks of the Zambezi, where seductive views accompany you through the afternoon. Depending on your arrival time, you may choose to visit Victoria Falls this afternoon; transfers from the lodge to the park gate are included.

What’s Included: airport transfer, transfer, accommodation, dinner

Day 2: Victoria Falls – Hippos and a Helicopter Above Victoria Falls

Wake to the drama of hippos, rumbustious males quarreling for wading rights as coffee and breakfast are brought to your balcony. Nothing artificial interrupts your vista, and it’s easy to spend two or three hours watching the wildlife pass by. Later in the morning, you can visit Victoria Falls, where a self-guided hiking trail provides a dreamy immersion in the cascades’ scale and power. 360-degree rainbows flutter around the mist, and there are over a dozen viewpoints to stop at. In the late afternoon, you enjoy the ultimate panorama as a helicopter takes you above the falls. Watch how the Zambezi widens then vanishes into the chasm, a mile of falling water that rises again in clouds of mist. The walking trail is best for enjoying its power; the helicopter ride is all about the visuals.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Hwange National Park – The Undeveloped Safari Wilderness of Zimbabwe

There’s something indelibly special about your first hour in Hwange National Park. It’s the first day of safari and the first game drive, so there are certain expectations about seeing particular animals: elephants, buffalo, lions, zebras, all the safari favorites that Africa is famous for. But little can prepare you for the scale. Wilderness extends in all directions, stretching beyond the horizon like a never-ending canvas. When you spot an elephant, you soon find it’s a herd of 30. Buffalos surround the vehicle, upwards of 100 creating an unruly mass of bushy hair. Zebras and gemsboks congregate in the hundreds, perhaps thousands. This first hour on safari showcases how Zimbabwe isn’t about a few animals. You’re quickly immersed in a world that seems to refuse any notion of boundary.

From Victoria Falls, you fly on a scheduled light aircraft flight to Hwange National Park, where the game drive begins from the airstrip. Spend two to three hours leisurely exploring some of the park’s central trails, winding towards a luxury lodge that stands over a popular waterhole. After lunch, you continue the exploration, slowly unraveling the complexity of the landscape. Travel north to thicker savannah and forests, home to huge elephant herds and endangered species like roan antelope. Further south, amidst these 15,000 square kilometers of protected wilderness, are Kalahari-style grasslands and dozens of desert specialists. Hwange is home to over 100 mammal species – much more than Africa’s most famous parks – and over these three days of game drives, you’ll be intimately experiencing a healthy proportion of these.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 4 – 5: Hwange National Park – Much More Than Cecil the Lion: An Intimate Discovery of Hwange’s Big Cats

One game drive in Hwange National Park and you quickly realize why the story of Cecil the Lion was so misleading. A lion pride lounges in the shadows, two playful cubs preventing their mother from sleeping. A resplendent mane flutters on the breeze, the male’s rustic brown hair appearing golden in the morning light. You find a leopard hiding in a tree, unambiguous blue eyes returning your gaze. Out on the open savannah, there are too many hyenas to count, both spotted hyenas and the much rarer brown subspecies. Cheetahs hide in the scorched grass, expertly camouflaged yet easily spotted by your local guide. You soon understand that this national park wasn’t the home of a single lion or a single pride. This abundant landscape supports thousands of majestic predators and these two days of game drives offer a fabulous opportunity to see them on a hunt. Not man hunting cat of course, but the drama of cats hunting their prey.

Tension rises as the lionesses start to move. Each slow footstep seems deliberate, every glance an inspection of the dinner menu. With dusk approaching, they’re heading out on the prowl, wandering menacingly across the dust-enshrouded plains. A zebra herd grazes nonchalantly up ahead, ears and eyes watching the lions. So the zebras move. But the threat remains, and over a long patient hour, the lionesses move closer and closer, cutting off the herd’s access to the water. This is a real hunt, slow, drawn-out, and deliberate. You could watch for an hour, and nothing might happen. But on a multi-day Zimbabwean safari, there’s a great chance to see the hunt play out, the big cats laying an ambush and striking with ferocious accuracy. At the very least, you should encounter a pride tearing into a carcass. These two days of game drives are flexible and focus on the big cats, the guides’ local knowledge revealing the true world of hunters and hunted.

What’s Included: accommodation safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 6 – 7: Matusadona National Park – Lake Kariba and the Big Five

The sense of scale is equally impressive in Matusadona National Park. After the chartered micro flight, you settle into an opulent lodge on the shores of Lake Kariba. It feels like an iconic waterfront getaway, pristine waters lapping down below and an air of tranquility filling every moment. But this is Zimbabwe, so nothing is completely quiet. Giraffes elegantly wander in the distance. Hippos congregate beneath the lodge. Buffalo herds can be heard grazing nearby. An elephant wanders past as you’re eating lunch, swinging his trunk towards the high branches. While the big game isn’t as diverse as in Hwange, it’s highly concentrated around the water, making for a very relaxed safari experience. Hwange was about adventure and exploring a large area; Matusadona is all about focusing on the small details.

Boat safaris are added to your program, elegant journeys that bring indelible moments with a rich diversity of birdlife and aquatic antelopes. Walking safaris are possible, from one-hour walks around the lodge to a full day exploring on foot. When you arrive, the guide will detail the options; then it’s up to you to individualize your program with the choice of activities. Drives can focus on your favorite animal, they can seek out something you haven’t seen before, or they can combine with a walk and boat ride for a thrilling full-day journey through the park.

The Big Five initially take center stage. Belligerent buffalos block the trails, rhinos provide moments of beautiful calm, while lions and leopards should be no strangers after Hwange. Yet as the safari continues, you come to appreciate the magic that lies in the interaction. The animals aren’t seen as snapshots. They’re constantly connecting with their surroundings. Watch the lakeshore for an hour and the silent communication between herds, size dictating who gets the best place to drink. Admire two herds of grazing zebra, a flirtatious female creating a macho battle between young males. Safari’s immersion is all about these special moments that are revealed when you stop, wait, and allow the theater to play out.

What’s Included: accommodation, domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 8: Matusadona National Park – Exclusive Rhino Tracking

The black rhinos explore at dawn, bashfully wandering across open plains, exploring for a few hours before hiding out in the bushes. White rhinos are twice the size, more confident and comfortable with their power. You stand speechless as one approaches, graceful horns, and inquisitive eyes barely ten meters from the vehicle. These endangered giants are far from a normal sight on an African safari. Matusadona is relatively unique in providing a haven for both subspecies. While you are likely to see the rhinos throughout your three days, most guides will recommend a day that’s exclusively focused on these rare creatures. You’ll seek them out when they’re active, admiring how they combine elegance with power. It’s usually possible to see some of the rhinos on foot, a true impression of their size.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 9: Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve – The Untouched Safari Paradise of the Greater Kruger

Few African names ignite the imagination like the Kruger. Yet few people are aware that the ecosystem stretches beyond South Africa and into Zimbabwe. This is the epic savannah that provides refuge for half of the world’s rhinos and an astonishing population of cats, the same savannah that attracts millions of visitors to South Africa. Gonarezhou is the undeveloped and untouched northern stretch of the ecosystem, a vast national park that sees just a handful of visitors a week. For adrenaline and adventure, Gonarezhou is difficult to rival. Malilangwe is a private concession sharing unfenced borders with the Gonarezhou National Park, centered around a lake that attracts nomadic wanderers from hundreds of miles around. Safari here is as easy as it comes, a single two-hour game drive likely to reveal inexhaustible moments of beauty and charm.

You travel to Malilangwe by light aircraft, touching down to what’s widely regarded as the best luxury lodge in Zimbabwe. Over the next three days, the program continues to be fully flexible, with a wide choice of activities. On relaxed days, you can stay within Malilangwe and maximize your time at the lodge, which overlooks the lake and its migratory visitors. Or you can venture into the unknown and uncover the surprises of Gonarezhou, from rowdy elephants to peculiar antelopes and stealthy predators. Wildlife is not used to visitors or vehicles here, and you’ll witness the surprise in different pairs of eyes. As with all your destinations, meals and selected drinks are included, and you can expect a high gastronomic quality.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 10 – 11: Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve – Flexible Private Safari in Gonarezhou and Malilangwe

Malilangwe’s choice of destination makes it an ideal final safari stop. After more than a week in the wild, the benefits of an individualized program become ever more important. Your mood may prefer very leisurely days, or you could be inspired by the adventure and want to keep exploring. Then there are the little extras that a private concession loves to deliver. Sip sunset cocktails at a raised vantage point, watching hippos emerge from the water. Take a picnic to a private lakeside spot and enjoy the herds coming for a drink. Follow a pride of lions for two hours and get to understand their behavior. With walks and drives, you take in the wonder of the Greater Kruger and the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, these two final days likely to have you planning a return to Zimbabwe.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 12: Malilangwe to Harare – Departure

After a relaxed morning, you enjoy a final aerial safari, the plane swooping low over the Greater Kruger savannah then crossing the country’s interior to Harare. A representative greets you here and assists you in transferring to the international terminal and your homebound flight.

What’s Included: domestic flight, airport transfer, breakfast



Your custom trip package will include accommodations, transportation within the country, guided tours and activities, unique experiences, trip planning, and 24X7 support during your trip. 

Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates!