Planning your safari is one of the most exciting aspects of a trip to Africa. The allure of the African bush, the prospect of sighting the elusive Big Cats, the anticipation of viewing wide meandering herds of antelope gathered beneath the vast African sky, the call of nature and the freedom of the wild, all make for the anticipation of an unforgettable experience.
However, knowing exactly which safari to choose can be a daunting task, so that the renowned Kruger National Park makes for an obvious choice. Home to the Big 5, a wide offering of excellent accommodation, and easy accessibility, Kruger has delighted visitors time and again while on their Kruger Park Tour. But just north of South Africa’s most famous wildlife park, Zimbabwe offers a number of fantastic safari destinations which provide you with a unique and diverse experience.
Mana Pools National Park, distinctive for its pristine waterways fed by the mighty Zambezi River, brings you an immersive experience of its rich biodiversity in a serene natural setting. We take a closer look at what Mana Pools has to offer in comparison with Kruger National Park, so that you can make your next trip with MoAfrika as diverse and exciting as Africa.
What makes Mana Pools National Park different?
While the Kruger National Park is arguably one of the most famous safari destinations in Africa, Mana Pools National Park has the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, largely due to its pristine natural beauty and the biodiversity which flourishes on the scenic banks of its rivers. Located in the far north of Zimbabwe, Mana Pools includes the south bank and islands of the Zambezi River along the border with Zambia.
The Kruger National Park’s location in the prosperous natural bushveld region of the Lowveld makes it a singular destination for wildlife viewing, where you can spot the Big Five, cheetah, elephant, and a myriad of herbivore species, including the endangered rhino.
Mana Pools is equally renowned for the visibility of its wildlife which gather along the river and in the park’s lush flood plains. Included in this wildlife spectacle are large populations of elephants, hippos and Nile crocodiles which gather at sunrise in the Long Pool. In the park’s south, lions stalk prey around the waterhole at Chitake Spring.
Mana is the Shona word for ‘four’, in reference to the four large permanent pools formed by the winding route of the middle Zambezi. These 2,500 square kilometres of river frontage, islands, sandbanks and pools are truly what differentiates Mana Pools from Kruger, offering you access to a world of flourishing biodiversity in the serenity of the water’s edge.
While Kruger’s worldwide popularity has allowed for the development of beautiful luxury lodges, easy access roads and a wealth of world-class amenities, Mana Pools’ attraction lies in the fact that it is one of the least developed national parks in Southern Africa. Made dense by forests of mahogany, wild figs, ebonies and baobabs, the park is home to Zimbabwe’s biggest concentration of hippopotami and crocodiles, as well as large dry season mammal populations of zebra, elephant and Cape buffalo.
The Kruger National Park boasts six major rivers, and many tributaries, with the Crocodile River forming the southern boundary and the Limpopo the northern boundary. The Crocodile River creates some spectacular wildlife sightings, while the Sand River provides some of the park’s best wildlife viewing. The northerly Limpopo River lends the park some of its most beautiful scenery.
However, the intricate water channels which occur throughout Mana Pools National Park create a sparkling paradise nestled in untouched silence away from many human settlements. The ancient eastward flow of the Zambezi River has carved out old river channels which form small seasonal ponds and pools spread over a wide vista.
During the rains, most of the big game animals move to the escarpment, and return to the riverine areas from around April, when more of the high-lying pans begin to dry up. Growing herds of elephants and buffalo gather along the water’s edge, as well as kudu, eland, waterbuck, zebra, impala and many other antelope. This picturesque gathering begins to attract prey animals, including lion, cheetah, Cape wild dog, leopard and the brown hyena, all witnessed at close range on the water’s edge.
Your Kruger National Park trip is packed with adventure and offers a variety of activities, including nature hikes and walking safaris. Mana Pools’ location on the mighty Zambezi allows for a number of river activities not available at Kruger, including fishing, river cruises and canoeing. The park’s wildlife is also habituated to people on foot, making Mana Pools one of Africa’s best national parks for walking safaris.
The best time to visit
Both Kruger National Park and Mana Pools National Park are best visited during the dry season, when access to wildlife viewings are not hindered by the weather. This is especially true for Mana Pools, whose access is limited during the wet months between November and March.
While Kruger is usually best visited from May to September, Mana Pools experiences its best season between late April and mid-November. October and November can become hot and dry, but this is more than made up for by wonderful sightings along the Zambezi floodplain, as well as at Kanga Pan and Chitake Spring, which are the nearest permanent water sources.
Kruger National Park covers the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, and is bordered on the North by Zimbabwe and on the East by Mozambique. You can board a connecting flight from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to the nearby Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport or Skukuza Airport, and enter the park through one of its ten gates.
Mana Pools National Park is situated 388 km from Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare, and is mostly off limits to vehicles from November to April. However, you can fly directly into the Mana Pools airstrip from Kariba, or can drive in from Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) or Harare International Airport (HRE).
MoAfrika Tours offers guided safaris to both Mana Pools National Park and Kruger National Park. Select from a variety of tailored packages which are inclusive of transfers. You can also contact them if you are interested in a Cape Town Safari
Kruger National Park offers a diverse range of accommodation, which has developed over the years due to ongoing demand for the park’s incredible safari experiences. Accommodation ranges from 5-star bush lodges to tented camps and self-catering options. All of these come at different price points and offer a number of activities, such as guided bush-walks, and fantastic amenities, from swimming pools to spas.
While there are a number of luxury lodges located nearby Mana Pools, again the park is differentiated by its natural setting and its close, wild experience. You will most enjoy the park’s offering of luxury tented camps, set in a picturesque wilderness.
You might also be interested in a safari withing the borders of South Africa. On a Pilanesberg safari you will not be disappointed as it is packed with adventure and sightseeing.