Floating down the river, between Mana Pools and Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, the wilderness surrounds you really is one of the ‘classic’ African safari experiences. There are several different guides and set-ups with whom we can organize a Mana Pools Canoe Trail, and we will discuss these options with you.
However, what they all have in common is that these canoe trails usually take several days, in contrast to many on the Zambian side of the river which tend to only be day-trips. These canoe safaris make real adventures for travellers who want to explore the Zambezi River and Mana Pools National Park in an exciting way, while enjoying the peace and tranquility of a long (up to 65km) stretch of the Zambezi River.
The paddling is generally leisurely, even if occasional stretches paddling into the wind can be tiring. There are usually two people in each Canadian-style fiberglass canoe, sharing the work. Heading downstream, on some stretches you may be able to just float along – with a drink in one hand, enjoying the sun, the scenery and the spectacle
These canoe safaris will usually get you very close to the wildlife. Highlights include paddling past elephants as they make the river crossing and silently gliding past the many species of resident and migrant birds which often perch on overhanging branches. Navigating safely around the 1200-or-so hippos that live along the route can be tricky, whilst any water activities in a river in which there are such fearsome crocodiles is bound to have fraught moments. Hence although these trails can be magical, they aren’t for the nervous or faint-hearted.
With an experienced guide, you can periodically pull up on the riverbank to take a guided walking safari, allowing you to get even closer to some of Mana Pool’s dry-land game – and sometimes it is possible to get exceedingly close to the elephants, wild dogs, and other game in this park.
At night, simple fly-camps are set up on the river’s edge and provide basic but surprisingly comfortable accommodation. Dinner is eaten around the campfire, and despite the noises of the bush – sleep normally comes swiftly after a day’s paddling. After a pre-dawn wake up, the canoes are usually launched again just in time to catch the sunrise from the water.
We only recommend multi-day canoe trips here which are accompanied by a guide who holds both a canoe guide’s license on the Lower Zambezi (i.e. qualified ‘Zimbabwean river guides’) and also a full Zimbabwean professional guide’s license. Sometimes these will be held by two separate guides who both accompany the trip, at other times one guide will hold both licenses – or there will be two canoe guides, one of whom holds a full ‘pro’ license.
In either event, these qualifications (and the high levels of experience needed to hold them) will mean that you have with you an armed and experienced guide who can lead you walking, as well as canoeing. So you’re not just confined to paddling on the river, but can also explore its banks and floodplains.
Having said this, canoeing here is not for the faint-hearted. This river has some strong currents; there are plenty of large crocodiles and hippos about. Most animals have fairly predictable behaviour, but not all – so these trips are not devoid of risk. Because of this, we are very careful; we only recommend canoe trails conducted by guides with high levels of experience and qualifications for this stretch of river.