Camping at Mana Pools

Mana Pools is a bucket list destination for many overlanders, including myself, and last year, I got the chance to check this one off my list.  Mana Pools, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site sits in the northern part of Zimbabwe against the majestic Zambezi River.

Mana Pools is renowned for its walking safaris, allowing visitors to explore the park on foot with or without a guide. It’s one of the few parks in Africa that allows this. The park offers a pristine and untouched wilderness atmosphere and is home to famous elephants, including one named Boswell, known for standing on their hind legs to reach higher branches for food, a behavior known as upright feeding or elephant climbing.

Knowing little about the campsites, I went into research mode to plan our trip with less than a month to spare. We were planning to visit in July, one of the busiest seasons, and I wasn’t very hopeful about getting availability. However, through many WhatsApp conversations with Christina, the then Zimbabwe National Park Tourist Officer, we managed to pull together a short itinerary.

Here’s everything you need to know about camping at Mana Pools:

There are two types of campsites within Mana Pools: exclusive sites and communal camps. Exclusive sites are more affordable but have no facilities; some have long drops, and you will have the site to yourself. These are great for people looking for solitude. Each exclusive site is limited to two vehicles and 12 people.

Communal camps are more traditional, with sites situated next to each other and have shared ablutions.

Communual Camp

Nyamepi

Nyamepi is the biggest camp in Mana Pools, with 36 sites scattered next to the Zambezi River. Each site can take a maximum of 6 people.  Situated walking distance from reception it offers basic ablutions with flush toilets, showers, and laundry basic and braai stands. You can expect plenty of elephant and hippo activity in camp and several sites offer shade.

Exclusive Camps

Chitake

Probably the most popular and wildest campsite in Mana Pools, Chitake doesn’t sit next to the Zambezi River. Instead, camps are scattered around the Chitake Spring, the only water source in a vast area. We didn’t pre-book Chitake as there was no availability, but took a chance when we arrived and asked at the reception. Fortunately, we got lucky with 2 nights at Chitake 1.

Lion activity in this area is common, and from my experience, this has been the wildest camp I’ve ever stayed at.

Like all camps in Mana Pools, it is unfenced. However, what makes this camp particularly wild is the frequent lion activity. I’ve heard that there is a pride of 26 lions staying in the area, which is no wonder we heard lions every night, far in the distance and just meters from our tent. Hyenas, baboons, and elephants use the dry riverbed as a highway to the spring.

Camping at Chitake is pricey for international travelers, especially if you are the only vehicle camping at a site, as you pay per site and not per person. Ideally, you need to have multiple vehicles or people on site to split the costs.

Chitake #2 is the closest to the spring, set above the escarpment also with not a lot of shade. This site has no facilities. Due to it’s proximity to the spring ( approximately 150 meters) you are bound to get a lot of wildlife action.

Chitake 1 and 3 are my favorites as they provide ample under Natal Mahogany trees shade and are situated right on the bank of the dry riverbed. These sites each have a long drop.

The Baobab site is very pretty but can get windy and doesn’t have any shade, although you have stunning views over the valley at sunset and sunrise. This site has no facilities.

I prefer camping next to the Zambezi River but you have to experience Chitake at least once in your lifetime.

Check-in point for Chitake camps is at Nyakasikana Gate and is only accessible with 4×4 vehicle.

Mucheni

Mucheni another great option for an exclusive site as it offers great views of the river and the mopanie trees, has ample shade and is big enough for a nice group setting. There are 4 exclusive sites situated about 8km from the main camp Nyamepi.

BBC

We stayed two nights at BBC camp and it was amazing. We did walking safaris from here and there was no need to go on game drives as the elephants, baboons, hippos, and antelope grazed around camp all day and night. Pods of hippos in the river make for an amazing soundtrack and we even saw the famous elephant Boswell get up his hind legs to eat from the tree. This site had ample shade and I would book it again when we return.

Ndungu

Situated about 20 – 30 minutes from reception to the west, Ndungu has 4 sites. We stayed at a site called New Ndungu – this site was at first very difficult to find. Personally, I did not like this campsite as it was a bit overgrown, had limited views and just didn’t give me that “Mana Pools” feeling. There is a long drop and concrete structure  for a braai

*With exclusive sites, you can expect game vehicles to pass by or even stop near your camp to go on walking safaris. The site is therefore exclusive in the sense that you are the only one who can camp there. But everyone has access to the roads.

Gwaya

One campsite is situated close to the lodges and next to the tented camps. It offers a flush toilet, cold shower, and braai stand.

Fees & Rates for internationals (non-Zimbabwe residents):

  • Conservation Fee -$20 USD per person per day
  • Vehicle Permit – $10 USD per vehicle per day
  • Nyamepi – $130 USD per site
  • Exclusive Sites (Gwaya, Ndungu, BBC, Mucheni)- $70 USD per person
  • Chitake & Baobab – $300 USD per site

Mana Pools is open all year round, but the best time to travel is during the dry season, which runs from April to October. If you travel in the rainy season, depending on rainfall, some roads may be inaccessible.

Permits for walking safaris whether guided or unguided can be purchased at the Nyamepi Reception. The permits are purchased per day, so if you purchase a permit at 3 PM it will expire at midnight, so be sure to purchase early morning to allow a full day of walking.

Permits for unguided walks are $15 USD per person / per day and are only recommended to those who have experience and are familiar with wildlife in Africa. Guided walk permits cost $25 USD per person / per day.

Contact Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management directly or use Endless Africa as a booking agent to help you with reservations. I recommend making your booking at least 6 – 12 months before travel dates.

ZimParks Bookings:

Endless Africa Bookings:

  • bookings@endlessafrica.com
  • +27 82 433 0284
  • www.endlessafrica.com
  • You need to be completely self-sufficient for the duration of your stay. Water and wood can be collected from reception or you can use water from the river for dishes and showers.
  • No fresh fruit and citrus are permitted inside the park.
  • Before entering Mana Pools gates, you need to get a permit at the Marongora Office, situated up the hill on the A1.
  • All camps are unfenced and within wildlife territory.
  • Join the Friends of Mana Pools Facebook group for hot tips and info.

*Rates are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change.

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