African elephants - Loxodonta africana - walking past a waterhole in acacia woodlands at dawn,  Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, Africa

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Mana Pools National Park

Top choice in Zimbabwe

This magnificent 2200-sq-km national park is a Unesco World Heritage–listed site and its magic stems from its remoteness and pervading sense of the wild and natural. This is one park in Zimbabwe where you’re guaranteed close encounters with plenty of hippos, crocs, zebras and elephants and are almost guaranteed to see lions and possibly wild dogs, leopards and cheetahs.

What sets Mana Pools apart from just about any other park in the world is that you're allowed to walk around on foot without a guide. For first-time visitors it's hard to fathom how such an arrangement is possible, especially given the prevalence of elephants wandering about as well as cats and other predators. While incidents are rare, be aware this is about personal responsibility: wild animals are incredibly dangerous – and fast. Walking with a guide is still highly advised (per person, per hour US$30); without a guide costs US$15 per person.

Note that the park closes in the rainy season from January to March. Also be aware there's no fruit allowed inside the park.