In the heart of Zimbabwe lies a sanctuary of unparalleled beauty and biodiversity—Hwange National Park. Renowned for its abundant numbers of elephant, said to be between 30,000 and 45,000 individuals, it stands as a testament to Africa’s natural splendor.
Within this vast expanse of wilderness, nestled amid the untamed terrain, lies Somalisa Camp, a great example of responsible tourism within an ethical wildlife economy – and location of our latest safari!
In this blog post, we delve into the intricate ecosystem of Hwange, exploring the delicate balance between conservation and sustainable tourism, and look at the vital role of initiatives like African Bush Camps Foundation in nurturing a harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife. Well and we show you some of the beautiful animals you can encounter here!
The Jewel of Zimbabwe
Hwange National Park spans over 14,600 square kilometers, making it Zimbabwe’s largest national park and one of Africa’s premier wildlife destinations. Its diverse habitats, ranging from grasslands to woodlands, support a staggering array of fauna and flora, including the iconic African elephant. These majestic creatures roam freely within the park’s boundaries, their presence defining the landscape and captivating the hearts of all who encounter them.
However, the conservation of Hwange’s wildlife is not without its challenges. As human populations expand and encroach upon traditional wildlife habitats, conflicts inevitably arise. Elephants, in particular, face threats from habitat loss, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict—a complex issue exacerbated by competing interests for land and resources.
Water, the Essence of Life
At the heart of the struggle for survival in Hwange lies the fundamental need for water. With the region’s arid climate, access to reliable water sources is essential for both humans and wildlife. During the dry season, water becomes scarce, forcing animals to travel long distances in search of sustenance. This quest for water often brings them into conflict with nearby communities.
Recognizing the critical importance of water in mitigating human-wildlife conflict, the park management alongside conservation organizations and eco-tourism operators such as African Bush Camps have implemented innovative solutions to support both wildlife and local communities. One such initiative is the establishment of artificial waterholes strategically positioned throughout the park. These waterholes serve as lifelines for Hwange’s wildlife, providing a reliable source of water year-round and reducing the need for animals to venture into inhabited areas outside of the park.
Somalisa Camp: A Sanctuary for Responsible Tourism
Amid the wilderness of Hwange, Somalisa Camp stands as a beacon of ethical tourism and conservation excellence. Operated by African Bush Camps, a Zimbabwean owned safari company, Somalisa embodies a commitment to sustainability, community empowerment, and the protection of wildlife habitats.
African Bush Camps was founded by a professional Zimbabwean guide, Beks Ndlovu, in 2006 and today runs 17 camps in not only Zimbabwe, but also neighbouring Botswana and Zambia.
Central to Somalisa’s ethos is the principle of local custodianship – as you’ll be guided by local guides, some of the best in the industry, who truly can call themselves custodians of the land. Through these expertly guided game drives and bush walks, guests have the opportunity to observe Hwange’s magnificent wildlife in their natural habitat while learning about the park’s conservation challenges and the importance of ethical tourism practices.
Moreover, Somalisa Camp actively contributes to community development initiatives, supporting local schools, healthcare facilities, and conservation education programs – all run by their own foundation. By engaging with local communities and fostering mutually beneficial partnerships, the African Bush Camps Foundation helps to empower people, thereby reducing the pressure on natural resources and promoting sustainable livelihoods.
About the camps: Somalisa Camp & Somalisa Acacia
Nestled within the breathtaking landscape of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Somalisa Camp and Somalisa Acacia are located door to door adjacent to two large waterholes on each side of the camp, that attract herds of elephants. And that’s where the magic begins!
Personally we have never been this close to elephants before outside of a vehicle. At both camps you can sit at the terrace and not only watch the elephants drink, but sit or even swim right next to them while you listen to their careful slurps. The human swimming pools are located right next to the elephant pools, which have been given up (and remain unchlorinated) to make sure the elephants have safe drinking water.
As you will learn elephants are picky when it comes to their water sources and often prefer the cleaner water from the pool over muddier water in the water hole. That’s why they choose to come as close to the deck as you’d imagine. You can sit in your deck chair in awe while you experience how how the elephants navigate around muddy patches and make sure to remove any little piece of wood or plants from their chosen spot to drink.
It’s truly a spectacle, that will leave you completely speechless!
The rooms at Somalisa
Apart from the water hole magic both camps are set up with the same style of elegantly designed tents, that sit on elevated wooden platforms and provide the utmost comfort (apart from an AC, which we dearly missed during the hot mid day air in November). Each tented room has it’s own private veranda, some of them directly in front of the water hole, others a bit to the side (which means less views of wildlife, but quieter nights).
The only difference between the two camps is that Somalisa Acacia caters to families with children specifically, while Somalisa Camp is for adults only.
Both camps prioritize conservation efforts, employing eco-friendly practices such as solar power and water recycling, which allow the camp to recycle 80% water used. Visitors to Somalisa contribute directly to the preservation of Hwange’s diverse ecosystem, supporting local communities and wildlife conservation initiatives. Each guest has to pay a daily conservation levy, that goes directly to African Bush Camp Foundation. By choosing these eco-conscious retreats, travelers not only indulge in luxury but also play a vital role in safeguarding Africa’s natural heritage for generations to come.
Practical Tips: Seasonality, How to get there, How to book
The best time to visit Hwange National Park is during the dry season from May to October (aka winter in the Southern hemisphere). However, we visited the park in November, a month that although it can get quite hot, offers unique opportunities for game viewing as animals gather near remaining waterholes in even bigger numbers, ensuring unforgettable safari experiences despite the heat.
Given that there is no AC in the rooms at Somalisa we usually stayed at (or in) the pool during lunch breaks as it got really hot in the tented rooms. Our tip would be to book a room that has some tree canopy for extra shade (we tested two different rooms and let us assure you it makes quite a difference).
To reach Somalisa Camp in Hwange National Park from Victoria Falls, we recommend to take a bush plane flight to maximise your time in the park. We flew in from Victoria Falls on a 10 seat bush plane and landed directly next to a waterhole, where we saw the first elephants from the plane! But it is also possible to take a road transfer which will safe you costs and decrease your carbon footprint. Yet we would only recommend the ground transfer if you stay at least one week in Hwange, otherwise it might cut your time in the park a bit too short.
We booked our stay directly with African Bush Camps, which was an easy affair. They also managed the booking of our bush plane flights as well as the pick-up from our hotel in Victoria Falls. It all went smoothly, so it’s definitely possible to book directly with them. If you’re planning a longer trip with multiple stops and not only staying in African Bush Camps properties we would recommend to book via an expert safari travel company – in Austria we always recommend the services of Pinto Africa.
Hwange National Park and Somalisa Camp by African Bush Camps epitomize the symbiotic relationship between conservation, sustainable tourism, and community development. In the face of mounting pressures from human encroachment and climate change, these initiatives serve as beacons of hope, demonstrating that through collaboration and innovation, we can preserve Africa’s natural heritage for future generations.
As visitors to this remarkable wilderness, we have a responsibility to tread lightly, to respect the delicate balance of nature, and to support initiatives that prioritize the well-being of both wildlife and local communities. By choosing ethical tourism operators like African Bush Camps and contributing to conservation efforts within Hwange National Park, we can ensure that this majestic landscape and its inhabitants continue to thrive for generations to come.