Self-Driving - Routes through the Zambezi Valley

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For visitors travelling throughout the Zambezi Valley areas in Zimbabwe by road, here's a run-down of Zimbabwe's route system from Victoria Falls to Kanyemba.  The map above shows the routes mentioned below. 

Victoria Falls:  There is two-lane tar-road access into and out of Victoria Falls from Livingstone, Zambia (over the Vic Falls Bridge - pictured), from Kasane, Botswana, and from Bulawayo via Hwange. 

Upstream from the Victoria Falls town, the tar road turns to dirt as it enters the Zambezi National Park, through a ZimParks entrance gate, where the National Parks lodge accommodation is situated. A sturdy pick-up or 4 x 4, is required in the Park, especially during the rainy season.  4x4 road transfers to the various lodges and camps along the Zambezi River in the Zambezi National Park are available from Victoria Falls town.

Vic Falls-Dete-Mlibizi-Binga:  From Victoria Falls (A) (on the map above) and Hwange it is possible to access the western end of Lake Kariba via the main, tarred Victoria-Falls-Hwange-Bulawayo road.  Turn off at Dete, towards Kamativi and beyond.  You can turn off this road onto dirt towards Mlibizi.   This is the departure/embarkation point for the Kariba Ferry, a car and passenger ferry which traverses Lake Kariba between Mlibizi and Kariba Town (B).  This is a convenient way of crossing the lake without driving.   The journey is 22 hours overnight. Food and basic sleeping facilities are available for passengers.   

If continuing on to Binga , the turn-off is at Manjolo.  Binga will also be the embarkation point for Zambezi Cruise Safaris' new 28-cabin Transcruiser, the MV Zambezi Adventurer, which is currently being assembled in Kariba Town and set to launch late 2020.  This vessel will be the largest on Lake Kariba and will transport passengers up or down the lake (between Binga and Kariba Town or vice versa) on a 2-3-night cruise with set departure dates and space for overlanders or sedan 4x4 vehicles. 

Chizarira National Park (pictured) can be accessed from the east or west via a long dirt "back" road running the length of the southern shore of Lake Kariba between Hwange/Dete - Binga and Karoi.  A 4x4 is essential, especially in the rainy season.  This route can be very slow depending on the weather and the state of the road.  Allow a full day's travel to get from the Binga/Chizarira area to the main Harare-Chirundu highway at Karoi.  This "back" road can also be accessed via a tar road from KweKwe (on the main Bulawayo-Harare road), through Gokwe, but in parts this road is in bad condition.

Currently the access road into the Matusadona National Park from this "back" road, is very severely damaged and is in extremely poor condition. Bridges have collapsed and access routes down to river crossings have been washed away.  It is currently inadvisable to take this route into the Park (rather drive to Kariba and take a boat transfer across the lake).  If you DO wish to brave the route by vehicle, do not attempt it in anything but an excellently-equipped 4x4, never travel alone in a single car, allow at least 8-10 hours to traverse the Park to the lakeshore at Tashinga HQ in the dry season.  During the rains this road is usually completely impassable.  The good news is that changes in the management of the Matusadona National Park announced in November 2019 will result in access roads being upgraded in coming years.

Karoi- Chirundu- Kariba- Zambezi Valley: The main two-lane tar road between Harare and Chirundu (or Lusaka and Chirundu) is the gateway into the middle Zambezi valley.  Beware - this road has many heavily-laden commercial trucks on it.  Exercise caution.   

NOTE:  Roadworks are taking place between 27 August and 31 December 2019 on the steep and dangerous 6km stretch over the Zambezi Escarpment between Marongora and "Hellsgate" - from the 306.5km peg to the 313km peg.  Motorists are advised to exercise extreme caution and to be patient as there may be delays.

The turn-off to Kariba is at Makuti and there is two-lane tar all the way into Kariba town.

From Makuti, the drive to Kariba Town winds scenically through the hills of the Zambezi escarpment.  It is tarred all the way, but exercise caution, as there are many blind corners.  Beware of wild animals on the road, including elephants and sometimes lions.

In Kariba Town itself, the animals are very habituated to people and vehicles, and are liable to wander across the road unconcerned.  Be extremely careful, especially when driving at night.  Hippos and elephants roam at will and are difficult to see, even with full headlights.

If travelling to Chirundu or Mana Pools (C) (on the above map) and the Middle-Lower Zambezi River areas of Sapi, and Chewore, continue from Makuti to the ZimParks office at Marongora (pictured) at the top of the Zambezi Escarpment, where it is necessary to check in and obtain a permit to enter the Valley.    The  turn-off to Mana PoolsSapi and Chewore is at the foot of the very steep and treacherous highway down the Zambezi escarpment into the Zambezi valley below.  (Beware of heavy trucks on this slope).  Once down in the Zambezi Valley, the main highway to Chirundu and Lusaka is two-lane tar, but all other roads are dirt.

For most of these remote areas a sturdy pick-up or 4 x 4 is required, especially during the rainy season. Most safari operators can organise road transfers into the remote areas of the valley from Harare, Lusaka and Kariba. Car or coach hire services operate between the main centres along the tarred roads to Kariba and Chirundu.

Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore:  The dirt road into this World Heritage Site area turns eastwards off the main tarred Harare-Chirundu highway at the foot of the Zambezi escarpment.  It is essential to first obtain an entry permit (free) from the National Parks area office at Marongora at the top of the escarpment.

The road is dirt and can be severely corrugated, rocky and in poor condition in parts.  4x4 only is recommended.  Travellers to Sapi and Chewore and onwards to Mkanga Bridge should be aware that the road involves river crossings which, although possible during the dry months, may be hazardous or impassable during the rainy season.

Chewore-Angwa-Bridge-Kanyemba:  A dirt road leads eastwards out of the World Heritage Site via the National Parks camp at Mkanga Bridge, into the settled lands around Angwa Bridge.  Here, a northwards turn-off takes you a very long way to the Zambezi River at Kanyemba, where there are some fishing lodges.   The road is bad and should only be travelled in the dry season, in a sturdy 4x4. 
NOTE: although some maps show a “Vehicle Ferry crossing” at Kanyemba, this does not exist.

Angwa Bridge-Mashumbe Pools-Mahuwe-Guruve:   From Angwa Bridge, a long road eastwards through settled land passes through Mushumbe Pools and turns southwards to Mahuwe.  From here a tar road climbs the Zambezi escarpment to Guruve from where you can access the western end of the Mavuradona Wilderness Area (4x4 only).   From Guruve there is tar road all the way to Mvurwi which lies just off the main tar road which links Centenary (and the eastern end of the Mavuradona Wilderness Area - pictured) and Harare.

Please also read our informative and practical guidelines:

- Travel Advice for self-drivers: Tackling the remote "back route": Victoria Falls/Hwange to Kariba/Mana Pools (Travel Blog - May 2017, updated in 2020)

Self-Driving - Tips and Practical Advice

Advice for self-drivers in Southern Africa (Dec 2013)

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