The Zambezi River is the lifeline of Mana Pools National Park, extending throughout the entire reserve and giving it its name, which translates to Four Pools, a reference to the remnants of four ancient oxbow lakes carved out by the river before it changed its course. Once a major route for the dark trade in slaves and ivory, the river now attracts a plethora of wildlife species and birds. Activities at Mana Pools are centred on the mighty waters of the Zambezi and guests can choose between a range of adventures, from fishing and birding to river cruises and canoeing.
The Zambezi is inhabited by the sharp-toothed tiger fish, the fiercest game fish found in African inland waters, and Mana Pools is famed for some of the best tiger fishing spots on the continent. Keen anglers will thrill to the fight as they trawl to slow-moving river waters in search of this mighty adversary. Other fish species that are regularly caught include tilapia bream and barbel, or catfish. Fishing is best in the early morning or the afternoon.
River cruises provide a new perspective on the area as you glide along quiet waterways, enjoying the opportunity to get up close to water birds and wildlife. Choose to explore the river on pontoon boat or via speedboat, although park regulations limit the areas where speedboats are allowed. Alternatively, opt for an even more intimate river experience as you paddle yourself in a canoe. Accompanied by a professional guide, glide with the current, stopping to gaze at elephants, hippos and crocodiles from a safe distance.
Both river cruises and other activities along the Zambezi’s banks offer the ideal opportunity for birdwatching, highlighting an extraordinary amount of various bird species. Mana Pool is home to more than 350 bird species and the Zambezi River and the floodplains provide the ideal habitat for a great deal of them. Several types of kingfisher can be easily spotted along the river, as can darters, cormorants, herons and storks. African fish eagles perch in the high trees lining the river, while colourful colonies of the beautiful little carmine bee-eaters nest in the sandy banks between August and November. Some of the more rarely spotted yet worthwhile species include the elusive Pel’s fishing owl and the African skimmer.