5 Reasons to Visit the Zambezi River According to a Zimbabwean Safari Lodge Host

Written byLaura Field

Often overshadowed by other large bodies of water in the world, the Zambezi River is a sight to behold and a force to be reckoned with. It’s the longest east-flowing river in Africa and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. It flows through seven African countries and is home to various wildlife including hippopotamuses and crocodiles. 

The mighty Zambezi also supports several bird species including pelicans, herons and flamingos and is the life force for creatures like elephants, zebras, buffalo and giraffes. Not to mention the spectacular Victoria Falls that feature on the river, straddling the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Perched on the Zambezi’s banks, Matetsi Victoria Falls is a luxurious safari lodge dedicated to showcasing the splendor of Zimbabwe and everything that its landscapes, culture and people have to offer. What started as a family dream has now become a thriving, tight-knit, family-run reality. 

Matetsi sits on 136,000 acres, providing expansive space for guests and wildlife to roam and explore, all while providing the perfect setting for Matetsi’s concerted conservation work. The retreat’s 16 suites, two family suites and one private villa all pay homage to intricate Zimbabwean design and ensure luxury while staying in the heart of nature. 

Matetsi’s team is proudly 100% Zimbabwean, with the majority of team members hailing from the local Victoria Falls area. The heat of the African sun is matched only by the warmth and commitment to outstanding hospitality shared by all members of the Matetsi team.

Take It From a Local Expert

We caught up with Matetsi’s Camp Host, Lloyd, to hear directly from a Zimbabwean living and breathing safari lodge luxury about exactly what makes visiting the Zambezi River so special.

1) Boat Cruises At Sunrise or Sunset

There’s no better way to visit a body of water than to glide down it by boat. Whether it’s at dawn or dusk, Matetsi offers boat cruises and canoeing expeditions down the longest east-flowing river in Africa. 

A special way to visit the Zambezi is to have a chunk of it to yourself and luckily, Matetsi’s Private Game Reserve includes nine miles of exclusive river frontage. River cruises are led by personal guides and trackers, roles that Lloyd says are key to an incredible experience as the trackers are expertly trained to spot the incredible wildlife that lives on and around the river. 

Some guests have even witnessed elephants swimming in the water and have sighted the rare Pel’s fishing owl. Lloyd himself studied how to be a professional guide, inspired by the many different bird species in his homeland and wanting to share their magnificent sights and sounds with others wanting to experience the wonders of Zimbabwe. 

Lloyd says Matetsi’s setting on the Zambezi is particularly unique because “We are very close to borders that connect us to four countries (Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia). We get to see different breeding herds of elephants from Botswana and huge herds of buffalo from the Hwange National Park because they’re attracted to the availability of water ponds that pump water throughout the season.”

2. Unforgettable Safaris, Expert Tracking and Tireless Conservation

As committed to wildlife as it is to the human population, Matetsi also prides itself on rigorous and ambitious conservation projects. The 136,000-acre Matetsi Private Game Reserve ensures that every inch of Matetsi land is protected and regenerated. 

The property lies in the Northwestern corner of Zimbabwe, an area renowned for having the second largest elephant population in the world and still holds significant tracts of African teak, both of which are abundant at Matetsi. 

The lodge has donated four vehicles explicitly for the purpose of helping anti-poaching initiatives. The team has also developed an in-house Anti-Poaching Unit and spearheads initiatives like de-snaring vulnerable elephants caught by cruel and dangerous poacher traps. 

Matetsi sits in an area that is also part of the world’s largest transfrontier conservation area where Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia all converge. With an absence of fences throughout the game reserve, animals are free to roam their land and guests can enjoy thoughtful and considerate safari experiences that don’t hinder the local flora or fauna. 

Lloyd himself grew up in a rural area of Zimbabwe where most people in his village were cattle herders. He says that many people like him are inspired to train as trackers so that they can help cattle herders find any animals that go missing over their vast lands. This tracking expertise also comes in handy on safari expeditions at Matetsi where every outing includes a safari guide and an expert tracker so that guests have the greatest chance of seeing and following magnificent beasts like lions and elephants roaming free. 

For Lloyd, a Matetsi safari is particularly special because “We get to see animals roaming freely in and out of the lodge and we have waterholes on the reserve which makes our gaming and safaris even more active as animals don’t walk long distances in search of water.”

3. Sommelier Hosts and Fine Dining in the Bush

A selection of Africa’s finest wines can be sipped on the banks of the Zambezi and paired with the exceptional dishes served by expert Zimbabwean chefs using locally sourced produce. 

No dining spot is too exclusive for Matetsi guests, Lloyd assures that he and his team are equipped to set up a fine dining experience even out in the bush. He also fondly remembers times when pristinely prepared, exquisite bush dinners have had to be entirely changed and adapted due to a last minute change in the weather (unexpectedly ardent rainfall). So whether it’s on the banks of the river or hidden out in the bush, no dinner setting is off the cards at Matetsi. 

Ever enthusiastic about deepening his knowledge, Lloyd is completing his WSET Level 1 to become a certified sommelier. He wants to be able to better advise guests on which wines to pair with their food to enhance their dining experience at Matetsi; an experience that’s hard to beat elsewhere along the Zambezi.

4. Enjoy the Magnificent Victoria Falls

What would a trip to the Zambezi be without visiting its world-renowned feature, the Victoria Falls? 

Also known as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ (the Smoke that Thunders), the Victoria Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Lloyd and his team have extensive experience organizing thoughtful guided tours of the waterfalls, including the option to explore the surrounding rainforest on foot, learn about the falls’ history and get to know the area’s impressive flora and fauna. Every stay at Matetsi includes a complimentary guided walking tour for every guest. 

For anyone wanting to experience Victoria Falls from above, it’s possible to organize a helicopter ride to see the renowned ‘Flight of the Angels’ aerial view to witness the cascading falls in all their glory. This is then followed by high tea while soaking up the spray and the vistas of the falls from the comfort of the Victoria Falls Hotel terrace. 

For budding adrenaline junkies, Lloyd recommends a bungee jump off the Victoria Falls bridge, ziplining across the Bakota gorge or whitewater rafting down the rapids of the Zambezi. So however guests prefer to experience the Victoria Falls, Matetsi has it covered. 

“Getting to see the rainbow and the mist of the falls combined together during the day is so unique,” Lloyd says. “My favorite things about the falls are their vast depth, the ancient history of the gorges and the vegetation in the rainforest next to the falls which is evergreen and extremely lush all year round.”

5. Personal Touches Showcasing Zimbabwean Hospitality

No thoughtful detail gets forgotten at Matetsi. Lloyd and his team pride themselves on showcasing impressive Zimbabwean hospitality right on the banks of the Zambezi River. 

Lloyd says he challenges himself to come up with new and unexpected ways of impressing guests and making their experience stand out. From whipping up an elegant cocktail on arrival to creating personalized menus tailored based on dietary requirements and complete with guests’ names, Lloyd loves accompanying guests throughout their stay to make sure it’s unforgettable and surprising from start to finish. 

Without any hesitation, Lloyd says his favorite thing about being Camp Host at Matetsi is “To help and plan for the guests. To meet and greet all the guests and welcome them from all over the world. That feeling is special, knowing that you’re ready for them and that you’ve planned everything perfectly. I enjoy serving the guests and making sure they’re happy. I believe that first impressions are everything; guests can work out who you are in a short period of five minutes and I love showing how good we are in that short space of time.”

A Zambezi Adventure Awaits

Lloyd’s story is just one example of Matetsi’s commitment to its community. The team is 100% Zimbabwean, of which 60% is from the local Victoria Falls area. Matetsi’s team highlights the importance of not just importing foreign hospitality professionals to run a hotel but actually seeing the promise and talent of Zimbabweans and nurturing their potential to become well-loved hospitality experts. This dedication is part of the Matetsi magic and for guests, it’s far better to learn about the essence of a place from the people who’ve grown up there and know its intricacies by heart. 

The little corner of Zimbabwe where Matetsi lies is a place where the dull hum of daily life is left well and truly behind, making space for an igniting of the senses and a feeling of profound wonder. 

Matetsi is proof that when the natural beauty of a place and a commitment to conservation and career development converge, a harmonious example of regeneration occurs where people, wildlife, nature and life in general flow as freely as the remarkable Zambezi River itself.

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