Self-Driving: "The Back Road" - Victoria Falls - Karoi - Kariba Town - Mana Pools

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Driving the Kariba South Road - Victoria Falls to Karoi, to Kariba Town or Mana Pools.

In Zimbabwe, there is no short or quick way to travel between Victoria Falls and Kariba (or vice-versa). The traditional tar (paved) route is through Bulawayo, a distance of nearly 1300km. While the Bulawayo route affords more comfort, road safety and guaranteed fuel and goods supply en-route, it is less scenic or interesting than the direct route, known as The “Back Road”, which meanders south of Lake Kariba through remote wild areas and Communal Lands, with some spectacular scenery and sometimes daunting river crossings. Travellers should be well prepared and equipped with a reliable four-wheel-drive with good clearance, sturdy all-terrain tyres, more than one spare, all the tools to cope with breakdowns.

It is a long, slow and very remote journey - mostly along unpaved roads which seasonally can be in poor condition especially after the rainy season. Even through the long, dry months, buses and trucks ply the roads and major centres like Binga, see higher volumes of traffic where subsequently, the roads are more potholed. Expect some sections where clay soil churned up during the rains has dried, making the surface very bumpy and rutted and good vehicle clearance is essential. Some parts of the route are occasionally graded and improved, but travellers should be aware that though major rivers have good concrete bridges, potholes and minor river crossings can prove challenging. There are virtually no information/direction signs over much of the route, so familiarise yourself with the route before embarking on the trip. (For the latest updates on the road, see CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS below).

Tackling this road with anything other than 4x4, even in the dry months, is not advisable! Travellers should be totally self-sufficient with food, water (though the odd roadside tuck shop will be seen) and vehicle spares in case of breakdowns. Because of the remote nature of this journey, rope in some companions as it is advisable to travel in convoy with at least one other vehicle.

As with any bush adventure worth doing, critical commodities include enough fuel for the distance to be travelled – plus a healthy reserve - and the time to enjoy the scenery, or those long, boring broken roads. Allow adequate time for the inevitable puncture or breakdown, en-route.

FUEL is usually only available in the main centres at Victoria Falls, Hwange, Binga, Karoi, Kariba and Chirundu. Selected filling stations take payments in US$ cash for fuel and the locals will often point you toward the most convenient service station and even offer advice on prices, as price can vary quite widely from station to station.  

DISTANCE from Victoria Falls to Kariba (through Karoi) is roughly 770kms (480 miles), though excursions to visit both the Matusadona and Chizarira National Parks along the way are almost mandatory if you have time, as it would involve at least an overnight stop at each and extra mileage in and out.

TIME is the real problem and it is not advisable (or safe) to attempt this trip in one day. Expect an average speed of 50-60km and at least 10 hours travel time between Binga and Karoi.  

Coming from Vic Falls, break the journey with an overnight stop at Maabwe Bay (which offers chalets and camping between Mlibizi and Binga), or in Binga (lodges and chalets available), or Chizarira (remote camping off the main route) before tackling the long journey south of Lake Kariba to Karoi, where you join the main highway north to Chirundu, with turn-offs to Kariba and/or Mana Pools. In the dry season, you can make Kariba Town in one very long day from Binga/Chizarira. However, you will not make it to Mana Pools because of National Park entry cut-off times. You will need to spend a second night en-route either at Makuti Travel Lodge (chalets), Marongora (camping only) or at Chirundu (various options). A possible break for this journey in reverse coming from Kariba/Karoi, to Vic Falls would be the Tashinga Campsite on the shores of Lake Kariba within Matusadona National Park. This is quite a long detour, but well worth the excursion for a few extra nights (not worth it for one night).

MATUSADONA NATIONAL PARK:  In recent years, since African Parks have partnered with ZimParks to manage the Matusadona National Park, the access road into the park from the Back Road has been improved considerably and is usually pretty well maintained. Allow half a day to traverse the park to the lakeshore at Tashinga HQ (67km from the turn-off) in the dry season. During the rains this road becomes impassable due to the river crossings, and possible eroded wash-aways on hilly roads. Such driving is always slow going and expect higher than average fuel consumption coming out (climbing the escarpment) than on the drive in. 

CHIZARIRA NATIONAL PARK: This park is known as the “Home of the Hidden Gorges”, and is the fourth biggest of Zimbabwe’s national parks besides Hwange National Park (the largest), Gonarezhou National Park, and Mana Pools National Park. It is a rugged, mountainous park made up in part by the Zambezi Escarpment. For the 4x4 enthusiast though, it is well worth a visit. The Park is sign posted with the entrance gate 11km south off the main Binga to Siabuwa road.



The owners of Maabwe Bay lodge and campsite, between Mlibizi and Binga, assist in up-dating road information from time to time. Annually, the Wild Zambezi team also attempt the journey, or sections of it, gathering route information as they go, and this coupled with other sources form regular updates to this report. See the map above for detailed points en-route related to the following information: - 

Travelling along the Bulawayo to Victoria Falls road, there is a Total garage at the Cross Dete crossroads – this is the turnoff which heads to Binga. Heading north-east toward Binga (Cross Dete to Binga is 154km), this road is tarred between Crossroads and Kamativi and is in reasonably good condition as it is apparently maintained by a mining company in Kamativi. The road to the Maabwe turn-off, 65km from Kamativi, is generally potholed and it is necessary to drive alongside the road in some places, while the remainder of the road through to Karoi is in similar condition. There are no camping facilities in Binga at this time, so Maabwe is a good break-point stopover. The road between the Mlibizi turnoff and the Binga turnoff at Manjolo is very potholed and in poor condition. But the gravel section to Maabwe Bay – 23km off the main road - is in good condition.

After the Maabwe turn-off, the first 10km of the Binga to Karoi road is tar, while the next 90km to Siabuwa is gravel and slow going, though has recently been graded with some pothole repairs so is in reasonable condition.

For visitors planning to visit Chizarira National Park, the roads have been rebuilt in recent years, but the gravel road into the park up the Zambezi Escarpment hills is still fairly rough.

From Siabuwa to the tar road 80kms short of Karoi, the gravel surface has wash-aways in parts, but is generally not too bad. This section is very dusty in the dry season. Proceed slowly and with caution.

The roads into the Matusadona National Park have been repaired and the road is in better condition than it has been for many years. Apparently, emergency fuel is sometimes available at Tashinga though is very expensive, and should not be relied upon as a guaranteed source.

Generally speaking, for safety reasons it is not advisable to stop at the settlement near the high-level bridge over the Sanyati River - if you have to stop rather do so in a more remote area. 

The 80km of tarred road through Magunje to Karoi has been resurfaced and is currently in good condition. This road meets the Harare-Chirundu highway a few kilometres North West of Karoi. From here travellers head north to Makuti, turning left to travel down the Zambezi Escarpment 76km to Kariba Town, or continuing straight to the Mana Pools turn-off or Chirundu. For more road and travel information on these routes, read this article - Self-Driving - Routes through the Zambezi Valley.

There is a third route, too. Travellers from the eastern parts of Zimbabwe can also travel through Gokwe, turning off just before Kwekwe (Harare side) of the main Harare/Bulawayo highway and heading north toward the southern shore of Lake Kariba. This road is tar and in variable condition with pot-holes, deteriorating shoulders, overgrown verges and the like. Once through Gokwe, travellers will intersect the Kariba/Vic Falls Back Road at about the halfway mark close to the Chizarira Park boundary, at the Chilimba Business Centre (between Siabuwa and the Siakobva turn-off). Total distance from Kwekwe to the business centre is approximately 300km. From this T-junction, turn left to get to Binga (130km) and on to the Falls driving on a good gravel road that runs close to the river in places. Turning right at the Chilimba Business Centre will head toward Karoi (220km).



MAPS.ME is a Satellite Mapping App which operates OFFLINE, and has good detailed mapping of this back road and important points along the journey. Download it from the links below.  

Google Play download:

Apple Store Download:



Mana Pools National Park (Nyamepi) - Mana Pools turn off (Harare-Chirundu main road) – 72km

Mana Pools turn off (Harare-Chirundu main road) - Marongora National Parks office – 16km

Marongora National Parks office - Makuti – 16km 

Kariba – Makuti – 76km

Makuti – Karoi – 87km

Karoi-Magunji – 35km

Magunji – Sanyati River Bridge – 80km

Sanyati River Bridge – Chilimba Business Centre – 107km

Chilimba Business Centre – Manjolo – 115km

Manjolo – Binga – 20km

Manjolo – Kamativi - 110km

Kamativi – Cross Dete – 29km

Cross Dete – Victoria Falls – 155km



Wild Zambezi has been fortunate enough to experience the long self-drive route along the southern shore of Lake Kariba several times.  We can certainly vouch for it as a true adventure for those who are independent and very well prepared.

However, the other way of getting you and your vehicle between Victoria Falls and Kariba or Mana Pools (or vice versa), is to take the Kariba car and passenger ferry. 

Kariba Ferries offer a fully-catered overnight journey of 22 hours along the length of Lake Kariba, from Mlibizi to Kariba (or the other way).  Note that it is essential to consult the Kariba Ferry schedule on their website and to be in touch with their booking office well in advance of your trip. The Ferry only runs when it has enough bookings to justify the trip.  So it is vital to pre-plan with this in mind.


See also these related articles in Wild Zambezi's Travel Advice section: -

Self-Driving - Routes through the Zambezi Valley.

Self-Driving - Tips and Practical Advice.

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