World Heritage Site, Core Area of the Middle-Zambezi Biosphere Reserve, Important Bird Area, and one of the wildest of Zimbabwe's National Parks, situated in the extreme north of the country.
Mana Pools National Park, which fronts onto the Zambezi River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - a status it shares with its downstream neighbouring Safari Areas in Sapi and Chewore. This magnificent and extensive wildlife and wilderness complex is widely recognized as one of the finest in Africa.
The Park has special significance for photographic tourism. It extends for a distance of some 50ms from the Zambezi escarpment mountains, through the flat floor of the Zambezi valley to the river itself, its focal point being the system of alluvial river terraces, up to 3.5km wide, which flank the Zambezi River along the park's 50 km river frontage. This narrow and fertile strip of land supports mature woodlands of magnificent "Winter-thorn" or "apple-ring" acacia, mahogany, ebony and fig trees. In the dry season, the shady glades beneath these huge trees, are filled with huge concentrations of African wildlife - herds of impala, eland, elephant, zebra, buffalo, waterbuck and kudu - a plentiful supply of prey for the lion, leopard, wild dog, hyaena and other predators and scavengers that inhabit this unique and wonderful place.
The Zambezi River at Mana Pools is a wide, meandering vista, dotted with islands and the shapes of elephants, buffalo and other wildlife wading in the shallows in search of food. From the Zimbabwean side of the river, the high escarpment mountains of Zambia form a spectacular and dramatic backdrop to this idyllic river scene.
Pools, pans and springs
The park takes its name from the pools that still lie in the abandoned river channels that run through the terraces. Mana is said to mean "four", referring to the largest of these pools which hold water all year. Away from the Zambezi, where pools dry up during the dry season, wildlife concentrates around a few inland pans and some springs at the foot of the Zambezi escarpment mountains. The lions lie in wait, knowing that thirsty prey have no option but to drink here, and visitors to places like Chitake Spring are likely to be rewarded with incredible sightings of these predators in action.
Mana is also a very special place for birds: fish eagles and many species of stork, heron and other water-based fowl are common, scarlet carmine bee-eaters visit in the dry months to nest in colonies in the river banks, and rare treats include the elusive Pels Fishing Owl and the African Skimmer, which nests on sandbanks mid-river.
A wilderness experience
Mana Pools prides itself on offering visitors a wilderness experience par excellence. Accommodation areas are unfenced and visitors should be aware that wildlife wanders freely through. It is one of the few National Parks where visitors are allowed to walk at their own risk. While this is welcomed by savvy enthusiasts with plenty of bush experience, it is advisable for visitors to be accompanied by an armed and knowledgeable professional guide or a National Parks ranger.
In line with the high quality of the wilderness experience offered in this park, activities in Mana Pools are exclusively nature-based: day-long or extended canoe trips down the Zambezi River, walking, hiking, game viewing, bird watching and, at night, studying the stars in an incredibly clear sky. Limited fishing is allowed, but only from the land. During the safari season (April - October), no motor-boats are not permitted on the Mana Pools river frontage because of noise, pollution and wave action disturbing the wilderness qualities of the park. Boats are permitted only during the rainy season (November - March), but access is not easy by road at this time of year. Near Chitake Spring in the south of the park, remains of dinosaur skeletons have recently been found embedded in deep layers of rock exposed in the eroded bank of a nearby river. These are being investigated by specialists.
A Respect the Wild Code of Conduct for visitors to Mana Pools and other wild areas is displayed at accommodation points throughout the park and visitors are advised to take heed of its advice to get the best out of their wild experience.
Specific behavioural guidelines are also available for visitors to sensitive areas like Chitake Spring.
Access and accommodation
Access to this remote park is by air charter and 4x4 only. There are no shops and mobile phone network coverage is very limited. Accommodation is restricted to a handful of safari lodges, and eco-friendly tented or mobile camps as well as self-catering Parks chalets. Camping on the banks of the Zambezi river is a feature of the Mana experience. There is the large and attractive Parks public campsite at Nyamepi, with shower and toilet blocks or several remote wilderness campsites which can be booked for exclusive use, dotted along the river with basic "long-drop" facilities. Entry to the park is strictly controlled by the National Parks Authority and prior booking is essential, either through an agent or operator or through the Authority itself.
Linked news stories and blogs:-
Latests ZimParks Fees (Travel Advice)
Information for self-drivers visiting Mana Pools for the first time - April 2016
The Marvels of Mana Pools - September 2015
Mana Pools Area - River Lodges and Camps along the Zambezi - September 2015
Codes of Conduct for Visitors to Mana Pools - July 2015
National Parks reinstates unguided public walking in Mana Pools - July 2015
Mana Pools bans unguided walking - May 2015
Mana Pools Camping - some important things to note - July 2014
CNN lists Mana Pools in world's top 30 National Parks! - June 2014
Game walk in magical Mana Pools - Dec 2013
Tails from the River - August 2013
Mining in Mana Pools? UNESCO advises NO! - Dec 2012
Mining threat in Mana Pools causes outrage - August 2012
Mana Pools: proposed new lodge development - Aug 2011
Mana Pools road network expanded - July 2011
Steve Pope - professional guide extraordinaire - June 2011
A legend leaves us - April 2011
New Mana Pools lodge controversy - Oct 2010
UNESCO declares Zambezi Valley a Biosphere Reserve - June 2010
Protea withdraws Zambezi hotel - April 2010
Boats at Mana Pools - first feedback - Dec 2009
Close encounters in Mana Pools - April 2009