Lower Zambezi Canoe Safaris
Our Lower Zambezi canoe safaris start from Kariba, 600km downstream of Victoria Falls. We paddle through the silent, deep gorges below Kariba. Then beyond the languid but wild mainstream of Mana Pools onto the most remote safari areas – Sapi, Chewore and the Mupata Gorge.
We divide the Lower Zambezi River into 3 canoeing stretches
Kariba to Chirundu – the tamer stretch
- The first is a 3 day leg of about 56km from Kariba to Chirundu run only on the Zimbabwean shore. This safari takes you through a very scenic stretch in the Kariba Gorge.
- The game is not extensive. With the exception of hippos and crocodiles the chance of seeing elephant, buffalo, cats etc. is slim.
- There’s a very interesting historical aspect to this section with the discovery of the Ingombe Ilede archaeological site in 1960. General literature is thin on the subject but it’s well worth the research. Birdlife is very good with Black Eagle nests in the gorge. We’ve had a few sketchy reports of Taita Falcon sightings near Nyamasowa through the years.
- The first day is spent canoeing through the gorge, and with the exception of birdlife and sounds from a few fishing villages en route, it’s often a very eerie experience. The second and third days we see the Zambian and Zimbabwean escarpments recede as the floodplain widens on both sides of the Zambezi. We encounter pods of hippo pods shortly after we pass through the gorge.
- If you’re short on time and keen for a taste of canoeing the Zambezi River then this is an excellent “camping” option. The overnight sites are on islands in the middle of the river. Departure dates are unfortunately limited on the Gorge Safari.
Chirundu to Mana Pools – most popular
- The second canoe stretch is a 4 day leg of about 70km from Chirundu to Mana Pools. This is the most popular “full participation” stretch on the lower Zambezi River. We run it on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean shorelines. The game is superb (hippo pods will be encountered within about 10 minutes of launch) especially in the dry season. Birdlife is good year round but best in the wet season from November to April. On the camping trips, overnight stops are on both the mainland and on islands. One of the Zambian outfits offers a unique “cultural” extension to this safari.
- The safari passes along the Urungwe Safari Area and goes into the Mana Pools World Heritage Site on the Zimbabwean bank. Here we encounter the most game and birdlife on the entire Zambezi River from source to sea.
- Mana Pools is essentially closed from November to April with most of the outlying roads completely impassable so the only way to viably experience the area in the wet season is by canoe.
- The Mana Pools shoreline from Ruckomechi down to Chikwenya on the Zimbabwean bank offers the best game viewing. The best way to explore this section exclusively is on one of the deluxe canoe safaris over four days. They’re “backed up” trips with a full camp crew in attendance.
Mana Pools to Kanyemba – the wilder stretch
- The third canoe stretch is a 6 day “full participation” safari of about 120km from Mana Pools to Kanyemba on the Mozambican border. Game around Mana Pools is excellent but thins out downstream especially when we reach the Mupata Gorge. Scenery is dramatic and the rare Taita Falcon can be found here.
- The trip runs through the Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas within the World Heritage Site. On to Kanyemba and the upstream side of Caborra Bassa dam and the border with Mozambique.
- In reality only four and a half days is spent canoeing and the last day is a 7 hour (hot and dusty) drive back into Kariba. This stretch will appeal if you enjoy a real taste for adventure in a true wilderness area. You get to experience the full diversity of the lower Zambezi River from the open flood plains of Mana Pools and Sapi to the confines of Mupata Gorge and the Chewore Safari Area.
Best time for Lower Zambezi canoe safaris…
- lower Zambezi canoe safaris from Kariba to Chirundu and Chirundu to Mana are available throughout the year
- the lower reaches from Mana through Sapi and Chewore are only accessed during the dry months from late May to October
- May and June – mildest weather and clearest skies – our “Champagne Months”
- July to September – high season – book well in advance especially if you’re planning on a group trip. We take a maximum of 8 guests per trip.
- October and November – devilishly hot, the game is at it’s very best and the migrant birds are in the Valley – our “suicide months”
- November to March – wet season. Road access to the lower stretches of the Zambezi is nigh impossible. The only option is to run the Kariba and Chirundu to Mana “participation” trips.
Choose the right canoe safari “style”
We do it 3 ways – fairly tame, adventure style, intrepid…
Fairly tame: A 4 day shoreline trail from Ruckomechi down to Chikwenya. It’s the full Mana Pools stretch in the World Heritage Site. The trip starts from Ruckomechi, the Wilderness Safaris’ 4 star premier lodge with first class hosting. You move onto fairly basic backed up camps for 3 nights. They’re 1 star. Encounters en route, land, water and otherwise are 5 star.
Adventure: We start from Kariba or Chirundu to do 4 or 6 days worth of canoeing. Your 19 foot Canadian canoe is well laden with provisions and camping kit. Your paddle will hold a mosquito net over a warm bedroll en route. In the wet season you’ll even have a small tent to keep you dry. Irrespective of season you probably won’t sleep much! The days are full and active, you’ll see a million stars at night.
Intrepid: We can include premier lodging at the start and end of this bucket list experience but we get back to basics on these canoe safaris. We delight in doing all 230km camping style. The Kariba-Chirundu stretch is epic but quiet. The Chirundu-Mana leg is first-class wildlife. Fewer than 200 souls canoe the remote lower stretches through Sapi and Chewore each year. The full 10 day trip down to Kanyemba is worth a gazillion stars.
- Private lower Zambezi canoe safaris could be arranged for up to 8 people in a party.
- See our Upper Zambezi River canoe safari options on our sister site Victoria Falls Network
Notes on prices
The from price shown is for the green season. See tips and notes below for high season prices.
Kariba rendezvous 07:30 for a briefing and walk down into the Gorge. Demonstration and paddle to lunch, siesta over the heat of the day, paddle down to Crocodile Rocks Island to overnight camp.
Early rise with tea/coffee and biscuits, paddle, then breakfast, setting off again till lunch and a siesta. Paddle on once its cooler to your overnight camp at Twin Logs Island.
Early rise, breakfast and paddle to Chirundu for a resupply then paddle on after a light packed lunch to overnight at Kakomarara Island.
Early rise and breakfast before a paddle for a well-earned lunch and siesta before a paddle mid afternoon to overnight camp on Lone Acacia Island.
Early rise, breakfast and then paddle, lunch, siesta and mid afternoon paddle onto overnight camp on Trichelia Island near Mucheni in Mana Pools.
Early rise, breakfast then paddle, lunch and siesta. The trip passes Mana Pools HQ at Nyamepi, paddle on to overnight camp on Chikwenya Island in Mana Pools.
Early tea/coffee, paddle breakfast en-route to lunch, siesta and paddle on to overnight camp at False Gorge. Near Shamashanga G Camp. That's the old hunting and fishing camp in the Sapi Safari Area.
Early rise, paddle to breakfast on the river bank en-route to your lunch and siesta. paddle exploring shoreline of Chewore (home of Great Elephant) Overnight camp at Mupata Gorge.
Today is spent mainly in the austere Mupata Gorge, viewing many endemic species of wildlife, taking in its spectacular geographical features. Night’s campsite will be at towering Red Cliff.
Early rise, breakfast and paddle to the take-out point at Kanyemba. This is the end of the full 10 day canoe trip. A hot and dusty 7 hour drive back to Kariba follows. ETA in Kariba is 16:00
Tips and notes
There are two canoeing seasons – green season and high season.
- Green season – November to May
- High season – June to October
No single supplement applies unless clients request a private safari.
Price Includes: Road transfers from and to Kariba Town. All meals. Drinks include mineral water, cordials, tea, coffee and imported wine with dinner. Use of` camping and canoe equipment. Services of a qualified canoe guide.
Price Excludes: Drinks not mentioned above (soft drinks and alcohol). National Parks Fees and any personal expenses
CHILD POLICY: As a general rule we do not recommend children under 14 years of age on canoe safaris for safety reasons.
• No children under 14 years of age will be accepted with mixed groups.
• Children under 14 years of age are welcome if the trip is private or in conjunction with other families.
• Please note that our Camp Zambezi Safari is our most family friendly and children of all ages are welcome.
0 to 5 years of age – One child is free of charge, second child 50% of adult rate.
6 to 13 years of age – 50% of adult rate.
14 years of age and above full adult rate.
Note: Your luggage for the safari should not exceed 10 kilos per person. We recommend using a soft duffel bag and not a suitcase.
The canoes are two-man Canadian-style canoes, and the paddles are American Carlisle paddles.
Two-man dome tents, sleeping bags, liners, mattress, flysheet.
How to get there
Our canoe trips are semi participatory, and you’ll carry everything in your canoe in the same manner as the Zambezi River’s first explorers. A fully qualified canoe guide will navigate you down the river and take care of the cooking, washing up and other camp tasks. Each safari we offer covers a different section on the Zambezi River each offering a unique experience. All our safaris are eco friendly, we believe in leaving each campsite as nature made it.
Road transfers are including to and from Kariba Town. This is a three hour transfer each way, in the back of an open vehicle, towing your canoes on a trailer behind you. Air transfers may be arranged at an extra cost.
Animals seen on the trip usually include elephant, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, hippo, crocodile and plentiful birdlife. Lion, leopard, painted hunting dog etc. are more rarely seen but are certainly in the area. We cannot guarantee plenty of game while on safari, particularly during the green (rainy) season.
"Our canoe trip was amazing. We spent a month in Zim, had knowledgeable guides. I honestly say we had no bad experiences. I highly recommend Zim to everyone!"Paul and Rochelle read more >>
"Canoe Safari – July Hi Liz! We just returned from our 6-week trip and are finally settling in enough to attend to our email messages 🙂 Sorry for the delay."Melinda read more >>
"Zimbabwe July:: We had an amazing time. everything was really well organised and I have to say the trip is probably one of the best organised that I have ever"Tina F read more >>
"Mana Pools Canoe – September Hi Mark Just wanted to let you know that Ruckomechi and the Mana Canoe Trail were amazing. It is said that Zimbabweans are the kindest"Damien D read more >>
Lush and green… the sheer excitement of the arrival of life-giving water is infectious!
A rare and extraordinary Canoe trail adventure
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