The reviews of the parks on this page are my own subjective opinions based on the limited time I was there. In each case, I indicate the dates I was in the park and I offer a short description. I also give each park a rating of "G" (Good); "VG" (Very Good) or "E" (Excellent).
Zimbabwe offered one advantage that made it stand out – you could get out of the vehicle and walk! During the walk, the guide carries a rifle for protection. It is wonderful from time to time to actually "touch the earth" inside the game parks, something that is forbidden in most areas. I should caution, however, that you don't see as much while walking as you would from the vehicle. Oddly enough, animals that will allow a vehicle to come within yards will not allow a human on foot to come within several hundred yards. Over the centuries, animals have learned to fear humans on foot. Vehicles, however, are a relatively recent addition to Africa and animals in the parks do not associate them with danger. If one is Africa long enough to see most of the animals in a traditional vehicle-oriented safari, then I highly recommend adding some walking safaris for variety.
This park is very much untouched by tourism. The dense brush and poor roads make it difficult to find game and there is no development within the park. The advantage of the place is the ability to get out and walk (with an armed guide). The park offers a number of scenic viewpoints from the tops of its hills. It is certainly worth a short visit if you are in the area. The park suffers from an overpopulation of elephants. Virtually every large canopy tree has disappeared (knocked over by elephants) and new ones are knocked down before they can even develop. We did witness one fascinating scene in Chizarira. A herd of elephants was digging for water in the sand of a dry river bed. Although we approached as quietly as we could, eventually they detected our presence and ran off in a thundering stampede. After they left, we went over to inspect the areas where they had been digging and found dozens of holes about a foot in diameter and two to three feet deep. Water was slowly seeping into these holes. After digging a hole, the elephants would wait patiently while the hole filled up before having a drink. While in the park, we stayed in a mobile tented camp set up by the safari company (i.e., bucket showers and chemical toilets).
Hwange (previously known as "Wankie") is the largest national park in Zimbabwe and well worth a visit. There are many vast, wide open spaces that make it relatively easy to spot game. It is mostly a very dry area, but manmade waterholes have been created at various points in the park. Elephants are very prevalent. We also saw lions, eland, sable, waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, steenboks and numerous birds. One special memory was sneaking up on foot (with a knowledgeable and armed guide) to a large herd of cape buffalo. Night drives are also possible in the park. We stayed in a mobile tented camp (bucket showers and chemical toilets) set up by the safari company within the park.
"Matusadona" supposedly means "place where the dung rolls downhill," or something like that. Despite the implicit warning, we experienced no such problems. The park is a mixture of dense woodlands and the open shore of Lake Kariba (one of the largest man-made lakes in the world). In the interior of the park, it can be very difficult to spot game, but walks are possible. While in the park one day, we had the services of a very experienced local tracker. At one point he noticed tracks in the sandy road that he said indicated a leopard was dragging a dead impala and was being followed by two hyenas. We parked the vehicle and set out after them. After several miles, we finally spotted the hyenas briefly, before they spotted us and ran off. Sure enough, there was a dead impala. We then heard (but never saw) a female leopard and cub in a nearby den. No one volunteered to poke their head into the den for a closer view.
Along the shore of the lake, spotting game could not be easier. We saw large herds of cape buffalo, elephant and impala. We also saw plenty of zebra, several lions and a great assortment of birds. Several elephants along the lake had developed "floppy trunk" disease, which is exclusive to this area. Its cause remains a mystery. The infected elephants gradually lose the use of their trunk, which will ultimately prove fatal. The shore of Lake Kariba was also the only place of the entire three-month trip where insects (small annoying flies) were a real problem. Take repellent! We stayed in a mobile tented camp (bucket showers and chemical toilets) set up by the safari company in the interior of the park.
Note: I visited Zimbabwe in 1998 and the comments above relate to that visit. Since that time, Zimbabwe has undergone some troubling changes. In a blatant and cynical attempt to retain personal power, Robert Mugabe, who has led the country since majority rule in 1980, has instituted a policy of seizing White-owned farms and distributing the land to Blacks. Land reform is certainly a worthy goal. Great Britain (the former colonial master of Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, and the country that caused and benefited from much of the land ownership inequities) has offered funds to compensate White land owners. These funds, however, were cut off after Mugabe diverted them to the use of himself and his cronies and instigated violent farm takeovers by so-called "war veterans" (Blacks who theoretically participated in the war of independence during the 1970s, but many of whom, in fact, were born after the war and are merely Mugabe supporters). Violence has erupted in parts of the country, the economy has suffered and, together with the effects of a current drought, Mugabe's policies may lead to massive famine. Dissent throughout the country has been stifled, sometimes violently, and reporters have been jailed or intimidated for criticizing Mugabe's policies. These problems may or may not affect the areas of the country visitors are likely to enter. If you considering traveling to Zimbabwe, I strongly recommend checking the latest U.S. State Department travel advisories and other sources for information about current events in the country. (Also, you might want to consider whether you want your tourist dollars to help support Mugabe's regime, which by most accounts is corrupt and dictatorial.)
For reviews of game parks in other countries see: Botswana Game Parks, Kenya Game Parks, Namibia Game Parks, South Africa Game Parks, Tanzania Game Parks, Canoe Safari in Zambia and Uganda Game Parks.