Traveling to just a small part of southern Africa is a sensory overload. Between the safari animals, people and culture, I came back with so many photos and just as many stories. Traveling with a group of photographers and artists, we connected through Johannesburg, South Africa, but spent most of our time in the countries of Zimbabwe and Botswana. The roads were very poor so we had to take charter flights to move around. 

Elephants on Parade

It's safari, so first up are the animals. Between the Chobe River Front in Botswana and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, it's truly the land of elephants. So much so, that many of the guides noted the parks are over their capacity with more than 10,000 pachyderms causing significant depletion of vegetation and tree damage. They are also home to Africa’s ‘Big Five’ – elephant, leopard, lion, rhinoceros and buffalo – as well as a multiplicity of other animal and bird species

Difficult to find, but tremendous to observe were the lion prides. We came across a few prides, one just after sunrise, with the lions calm and content after a big kill the night before. That made it easy to observe and capture some closeups.

Safari Animals

Finding the white rhinos in the Matopo Hills took more effort, but we found a large group with the help of rangers that track the massive creatures. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, poaching continues to be a source of concern. The ground powder of the rhino horns is sold to Asian markets where it is mistakenly thought to be an aphrodisiac or health aid. Conservationists have begun cutting the horns off rhinos to protect them, leaving flat stubs where a horn used to be.     

More safari highlights were giraffes, zebras, hippos, buffalo, crocodiles, impala, waterbucks, wildebeest, kudu, vultures and too many other birds to count. View more animal photos here.

People and Culture

We were honored to be guests of the chief at a local Zimbabwe community, Mahenye Village, enjoying their annual cultural festival. Storytelling, dancing, music and teaching the old customs made the festival a photographic wonderland as hundreds of tribe members gathered from near and far. The Mahenye are part of the larger Shangaan tribe that extends beyond today's national borders created by the British under colonization.  We took a few days to make several visits to the village to interact with the local villagers and observe daily life, including the school, health clinic and of course, production of the local palm wine. 

Without a functioning currency and still recovering from land reform, Zimbabwe is not the most traveled country. I can see this changing as the people were very welcoming and there are thriving conservation efforts between the traditional tribal villages and the safari lodges. We enjoyed learning about that at the remote Chilo Gorge Lodge, tucked in the southeast corner of the country at the border of Mozambique and adjacent to the enormous Gonarezhou National Park. View more people and culture photos.

The natural beauty of the land is breathtaking and pristine in these remote places. We rarely encountered other tourists at the national parks in Zimbabwe, including the "View of the World". with its iconic rock formations. The Chobe River in Botswana was more populated but still well preserved. See more landscape images.

No trip to southern Africa is complete without seeing Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, on the Zambezi River at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. We visited in the dry season when the water flow was low, but still impressive. Victoria Falls boasts the largest sheet of waterfalls in the world and twice the height of Niagra Falls. The falls were "discovered" in 1855 by Scottish  Explorer David Livingstonea fascinating slice of Africa’s story. View more from Victoria Falls.

Behind the Scenes

We stayed at some cool, family-owned safari lodges. In addition to Chilo Gorge (shown above), here are some behind the scenes snapshots of our lodging at Amalinda Lodge, where the rooms are built into the surrounding granite rocks.

Some quick answers to some frequent questions: There were very few mosquitos or bugs as it was the dry season. While I had malaria medication, I stopped using it on the trip (better to save the liver for alcohol!). The temperature was generally in the 60s and 70s (F) with no rain, although we bundled up for a few nights at Amalinda where it went down into the 50s at night. As former British colonies, English was widely spoken with the Shangaan tribal village having their own local language.

Above is our intrepid crew, ready to take off on our charter plane. Leading the expedition were famed travel photographer, Trey Ratcliff of the aptly named Stuck in Customs (yes, that literally happened in Zimbabwe) and Neville Jones of Experiential Travel.

Thanks for taking this virtual trip to Africa with me on this photo essay! I have many, many more photos to process and I will be gradually adding more in the Africa galleries.

Next up on the blog is Madagascar, the former French colony off the eastern Africa coast and the world's 4th largest island. It's quite a bit different without the big animals, but super-cute lemurs, rainforests and beaches. Stay tuned for that and feel free to signup for my photo email newsletter.


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