Mana Pools National Park is one of the surprisingly less-visited national parks in the country, considering the extravagant beauty of nature that you get to see here. It was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1984 by UNESCO and was the first one in Zimbabwe to get the designation.
It is a 2196 sq km area with lush floodplains, tall canopy of ebony and mahogany trees, beautiful view of the mountains of the Rift Valley escarpment with the mighty Zambezi river running along the northern boundary of the park. The area covers 10,000 sq km along with the Sapi and Chwore safari areas.
The vibrant greenery surrounds four ('Mana' means four in Shona) lakes- Main, Chine, Long and Chisambuk- left behind by the river's old path of flow, owing to which the wildlife here is extensive. On the opposite bank of the Zambezi is the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia, to which the wildlife here has no problems swimming across to. Hence there is no dearth of game and other wildlife here at any given time of the year. During rains the wildlife moves further into the bush where there are smaller seasonal water bodies and during the dry season comes back to the river.
Mana Pools is known for its walking and canoe safaris. The remoteness of the park has left is largely unspoilt and its fair inaccessibility has preserved its wilderness. The area is known for its large elephant and buffalo herds and game like kudu, impala, zebra and other antelope. There are predators like lion, leopard and it is one of the few places to see wild dog. There are scores of hippos and crocodiles in the water and large variety of beautiful birds including many fish eagles, water birds and red-necked falcon.
Visitors have different options of activities here. There are a few good camps that are simple and rustic and appeal to the truly adventurous traveler who wants the purest safari experience. Stays here can be combined with walking safaris, canoe safaris or both. There are also options to spend few days on a canoe trip; paddling away in a two-man canoe, experiencing wildlife at close quarters, walking with one of the best guides in Africa to get close to wildlife, spot birds and insects that cannot be seen from the canoe, then relaxing at the end of the day with a hot water bucket bath, a superb meal set on the shores of the lakes and sleeping under the stars in a tent that you have helped put up or has already been put up for you.
The Jun-Oct dry season is a good time to be on a safari as majority of the animals converge on the water bodies. The Nov-May season is a great time to see the beautiful bush, with a variety of wild flowers and baby animals. The foliage becomes dense and hence it is exciting to try and spot wildlife.
The park can be accessed, preferable by a 4WD, from the A1 on the Harare-Chirundu tarred road. The last fuel stop is at Marongora, 315 km northwest of Harare, also where the office of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management is located. You can get your permits here and then proceed towards the main camp at Nyamepi; your vehicle will be inspected and your permit signed by a warden. After registering at the office in Nyamepi, you have the option of staying at a campsite there or under any tree near the Zambezi. The wildlife here is pretty used to humans but nevertheless visitors should be cautious. It is essential to get cans and drinking water if driving. You can hire an armed ranger at the Nyamepi camp for your safaris. The area can also be accessed by light aircraft from Vic Falls.