Vundu Camp: Our full report
Vundu is a small camp with a long-standing reputation.It sits in a private concession on the banks of the Zambezi River, in the heart of Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park, shaded by a grove of ebony and tamarind trees. An owner-run property, it focuses on offering a variety of activities in a game-rich area of the park.
Vundu Camp, is owned and run by the extremely knowledgeable Nick Murray. Well-respected within the industry, he is a fully qualified Zimbabwean Professional (Zim-pro) guide meaning he has earned perhaps the most prestigious wildlife-guiding qualification in Africa.
Nick has a degree in zoology and wildlife management, and started guiding in Matusadona National Park in 1988, earning his professional guide's licence in 1991. He has been working with and studying wildlife ever since. In 1997 he shifted his focus to Mana Pools where he still spends most of his time guiding, split between Vundu Camp, Little Vundu, the Mana Canoe Trail and private mobile guiding.
Vundu Camp has eight large tented chalets, which are clean, spacious and comfortable, if rather simple in design and layout. Outside the front of each is a private seating area with canvas chairs; inside, large wooden beams support a high thatched roof with canvas walls and shade-mesh windows. All have very secure mosquito nets covering each twin or double bed, polished concrete floors scattered with rugs, and free-standing fans. Comfortable wicker chairs with cushions, and a low table, provide a small lounge area, and a shelving unit supplies storage space.
Two of the bigger chalets each have two double beds, and a larger family chalet has two separate en-suite bedrooms and a shared lounge: ideal for a family or two couples travelling together.
Each chalet has an en-suite bathroom with spacious indoor and open-air hot showers, a flush toilet, and decorative pottery washbasins made by Nick's wife, Desiree, who is also a fully qualified guide of note. Canvas walls provide a great deal of privacy.
At the centre of the camp, with excellent views of the Zambezi, is a raised communal area whose bar, dining and lounge areas are furnished with comfortable cushioned chairs, a tea and coffee station, and a small library. To the front of this wooden building is a sandy area overlooking the river, shaded by an old ebony tree. A fire is lit here every night, providing a focus for drinks before and after dinner.
Behind the camp is a small “pan” (a shallow grassy depression with a waterhole in the centre), which attracts game during the day. This is a great spot to sit beneath the thatch-covered platform and view animals and birds that come here to drink.
The guiding at Vundu Camp is exceptionally good, and stands out even amongst the universally high standards across Zimbabwe. While Nick himself does much of the guiding here, he also uses a few excellent canoe and Zim-pro guides on a freelance basis: not surprisingly, he is acutely aware of the standards of his fellow guides.
Given Vundu Camp's exquisite location beside the Zambezi River, it's not suprising that activities here include first-class canoe trips. On our most recent visit in October 2018 we spent an afternoon canoeing down the Lower Zamebezi with Henry who, like all the guides at Vundu and Nick himself, holds both canoe-guiding and Zim-pro qualifications; the former is an essential requirement considering the high concentration of hippo and crocodile along this stretch of the river. Canoe trips can be organised starting from Ruckomechi and finishing back at Vundu, or you can paddle from camp towards Mucheni, further downstream. Longer two- or three-night canoe trails are also available.
On land, Vundu's 4WD game drives and walks can range throughout the national park, although most take place in the camp's own private concession: a prime area in the heart of the park, covering an area within about 3–4km of the camp. This is classic Mana Pools scenery – with plenty of forested areas, and some of the pools for which the park is noted. It's very common for a drive and walk to be combined, with everyone hopping out of the vehicle when an interesting track or animal has been discovered. We were lucky enough to approach both wild dog and lion on foot to within a few tens of metres. But arguably the most memorable of many wildlife encounters on this trip was an audience with perhaps the park’s largest and most famous elephant resident, Boswell. This gentle giant with his impressive ivory is best known for his ability to stand on his back legs to reach succulent parts of the park’s trees that are out of reach to all but him (there are no giraffe here). These encounters and many before have all been made possible by the experience and skill of Vundu’s guiding team.
In fact the combination of a quality guiding team and Nick’s specialist knowledge of the park’s wild dog packs made this the perfect base for the BBC when they were filming for the 2018 David Attenborough series Dynasties. The film crew was based in camp for a period of three years to get the footage they needed and David Attenborough himself flew in to record the show’s introduction sequence. Dynasties has brought much attention to the park and its wildlife, particularly the wild dogs (called painted wolves on the show) – meaning that both Nick’s guiding and space at the camps are in high demand!
Vundu Camp comes with few pretences and less of the luxury, or safari chic, found at many new safari camps and lodges. However, in terms of the pure safari experience – the activities, the area, the game and the guiding – we rate Vundu as one of the finest on the subcontinent. Mana Pools is a really stunning park; the game in this area is prolific; and the guiding at Vundu is absolutely top-notch.
Country manager: Zimbabwe
- Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
- Ideal length of stay
- We recommend a 3–4 night stay at Vundu Camp. The camp offers a wide range of activities, and most travellers could happily spend 2–3 days just walking here. For longer in the park consider combining Vundu with a private mobile safari or the Mana Canoe Trail.
- Due to its remote location Mana Pools is almost exclusively accessed by light aircraft, usually from Harare, Victoria Falls or one of the other parks within the county. There is a good network of these light aircraft flights; speak to us for the details.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- We have visited Vundu Camp many times over the years, and have always found the food to be tasty and filling. Our last visit in October 2018 was no exception. On a previous visit we were particularly impressed with the effort the camp made to cater for guests with gluten and dairy dietary requirements.
Breakfast was a selection of fresh fruit, toast, cereals and warm porridge, followed by a hot breakfast cooked to order.
Lunch was a buffet of chicken and feta salad, pasta salad, a bean salad and fresh cooked bread rolls.
In the evening, drinks are typically taken around the bar, where savoury snacks are served, followed by dinner around the large communal dining table. During our stay we started with filo pastry parcels filled with feta and butternut squash, followed by pan-fried bream served with boiled potatoes and steamed vegetables. We then enjoyed a delicious chocolate éclair for dessert.
- Knowledgeable guides and a stunning location within deep, shady riparian forest beside the Zambezi River make Vundu Camp a great spot for birdwatching in Zimbabwe. Come here to see bee-eater colonies, kingfishers and plenty of raptors.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Photography holidays
- The guiding team at Vundu Camp, headed by owner Nick Murray, is one of the best in Zimbabwe. The opportunity to canoe the Zambezi, approach big game on foot and explore Mana Pools with an expert gives photographers a huge range of potential subjects.
- See ideas for Photography holidays
- Walking safaris
- Mana Pools is one of Africa's best parks for walking, and Vundu Camp focuses squarely on the very best professional guiding. The open environment gives good visibility, and walkers can often get surprisingly close to relaxed bull elephants, or packs of wild dogs.
- See ideas for Walking safaris
- Wildlife safaris
- Mana Pools is one of Africa's top wildlife destinations. Vundu Camp has some of the best guides in the park so come here on your Zimbabwe safari for one of the best wildlife experiences going!
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Attitude towards children
- Vundu Camp welcomes children aged 10 years and older, but this is flexible.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Minimum age 10 years
- Special activities & services
- Generally recommended for children
- With considerable caution, we can recommend Vundu Camp for mature children over 10 – largely because Nick and Desiree have their own children, who also spend some time in camp, and so are very understanding of the needs and interests of children on safari.
- This is a very open safari camp and dangerous animals pass through. Children must be under parental supervision at all times.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Vundu Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Vundu Camp have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- A small diesel generator is on during the day and charges an inverter in the chalets, giving guests light throughout the night. There are also UK-style plug sockets in each of the chalets for charging electronics.
- All game-viewing vehicles have two-way radios. There is no cellphone reception, but there is intermittent WiFi in the main area, sufficient for emails and WhatsApp but not much more. The first hour is free, with subsequent time charged at US$5 per hour.
- TV & radio
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Water is pumped from the Zambezi River and filtered multiple times for washing and showers. Bathrooms are fully plumbed, with flushing toilets and hot and cold running water.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- All guides have first-aid qualifications, and there is a doctor on stand-by in Harare.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- All guests are escorted to their chalets after dark.
- Fire safety
- There is a fire extinguisher by the bar and in each chalet.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry is included, but as underwear is not accepted, each chalet has a small pot of washing powder allowing guests to handwash their smalls.
- There are no safes in the chalets. All valuables should be handed to the manager or guide who will store them safely in the office.
- Accepted payment on location
- No credit cards or travellers' cheques are accepted at Vundu Camp, but cash payments may be made in US dollars, South African rand or GB pounds.
Other lodges in Mana Pools National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.