Mana Pools National Park is a remote wilderness area located in northern Zimbabwe along the mighty Zambezi River. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and designated Ramsar wetland, Mana Pools protects over 2,500 square kilometers of precious floodplains, forests, and wildlife habitat. With its dazzling landscapes and concentrations of iconic African wildlife, Mana Pools offers an exceptionally raw and magical safari experience.
Location and Geography
Situated on the southern banks of the Zambezi River along the border with Zambia, Mana Pools encompasses 2,613 square miles (6,766 sq km) of remote wilderness. The park sits within a broad floodplain, flanked by forested escarpments and cut through by the meandering channels of the Zambezi and several smaller rivers.
During the annual rainy season from November to April, these rivers flood the plains, creating expansive marshlands dotted with interconnected lakes and pools. As the floodwaters gradually recede in the dry winter months, wildlife is drawn from all directions to the remaining pools and waterholes. It is this seasonal phenomenon that gives Mana (“four” in Shona) Pools its name.
Exceptional Wildlife Viewing
Thanks to the abundance of life-giving water, Mana Pools supports incredible concentrations of wildlife during the dry season months between June and October when game viewing is at its peak.
Herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra, eland, and other antelope species flock to the marshy pools and rivers to drink, bathe, and graze on the nutritious grasses. Alongside them are enormous numbers of hippos, crocodiles, and some of Africa’s highest densities of lions, hyenas, and African wild dogs.
In the lush riparian forests lining the riverbanks, visitors may spot leopards, black rhinos, waterbucks, bushbucks, and other forest-dwelling creatures. Keen birders can catch glimpses of nearly 500 bird species, including vibrant bee-eaters, fish eagles, storks, hammerkops, rollers, and more.
With wildlife activity concentrated around the life-giving waters of the floodplains, Mana’s pools transform into spectacular centers of action come dry season. Early morning game drives reveal herd animals quenching their thirst while vigilant impalas peer over their shoulders for lurking predators. At dusk, the pools come alive again as nocturnal creatures emerge under the starlit African sky.
Adventure Safaris on Land and Water
What sets Mana Pools apart is the range of adventures available to visitors. Guests can partake in traditional game drives observing wildlife along the floodplains and woodlands. But the park’s rivers and channels also provide unique water-based safaris.
Guided canoeing and boating allows visitors to silently paddle just feet from grazing hippos, yawning crocodiles, and elephants frolicking in the shallows. Special walking safaris through the forests and plains provide intense encounters with wildlife on foot. Visitors willing to spend a night under the stars can sleep on remote “star beds” rolled out onto sandbanks overlooking the Zambezi floodplain.
No matter the mode of transportation, Mana offers an incredibly raw, up-close safari experience that blurs the lines between humans and nature.
Remote Wilderness Beauty
Complementing its superlative wildlife and viewing opportunities, Mana Pools is equally famous for its breathtaking natural scenery. As one of Africa’s last untouched wildernesses, the landscapes here shine with pristine, unspoiled beauty.
Golden savannas ripple across vast floodplains in subtle hues ranging from green grasses to tan brush. Stands of acacia trees pepper the plains while dense thickets of wild date palm, mahogany, baobab, and other trees flank water channels. Silvery ribbons of water sparkle in the harsh sunlight.
Looming above it all are escarpments draped in thick miombo woodlands. Their precipices open up to endless vistas of Zambezi floodplains dotted with glinting pools. Sunsets bathe these dreamlike landscapes in watercolor hues of gold, orange, pink and purple.
With its diversity of scenic habitats from riparian forests to open savannas, Mana’s landscapes astound visitors with their pristine beauty and create a visually stunning backdrop for its exceptional wildlife viewing opportunities.
When to Visit
As a seasonal floodplain, Mana Pools undergoes dramatic transformations between wet and dry seasons. The peak viewing months are during the dry winter period between July and October when wildlife gathers around the area’s permanent water sources.
The preceding rainy season from November to April brings its own appeal, with sprawling wetlands that attract masses of migrant birds. Wildlife also disperses across a wider area, making sightings more challenging but equally surprising.
No matter the month, visitors should come prepared with sun protection, mosquito nets/repellent and sturdy, closed-toed shoes for walking on uneven terrain. Game viewing vehicles are available, but adventurous travelers can explore the park through guided walking, boating and canoeing safaris.
Where to Stay
As a protected wilderness area, facilities in Mana Pools are rustic yet intimate. The national park operates several public campsites with shared facilities. Visitors can also enjoy all-inclusive stays at exclusive private safari camps and lodges.
Remote, eco-friendly lodges like Kanga Camp blend into the bush while offering raised tent platforms with river views. Nyamatusi Camp and Zambezi Expeditions provide a range of safari tent accommodations steps from the Zambezi. From cozy bush camps to mobile tented expeditions, Mana’s camps capture the spirit of authentic, adventurous African safaris.
No matter where you lay your head at night, Mana’s mix of water-based activities, overland game drives, walking safaris, remote fly camping, and stargazing guarantee an incredible adventure in one of Africa’s last true Edens.
Since its UNESCO inscription in 1984, Mana Pools has provided a refuge for wildlife and natural habitats that have disappeared across much of Africa. As humans encroach on natural landscapes almost everywhere, Mana Pools preserves a precious glimpse back in time to Africa’s primordial wilderness and wildlife-filled landscapes.
Beyond scenery and superb wildlife sightings, Mana Pools represents the front lines of conservation on a continent undergoing rapid development and population pressures. Revenues from tourists help fund anti-poaching patrols protecting Mana’s black rhinos and elephants while ensuring the whole delicate ecosystem remains intact for future generations.
Visiting Mana Pools not only allows adventurers to experience a iconic African safari, but also helps support crucial conservation efforts maintaining one of the last untouched wildernesses left on the planet.