Affordable Volunteer Programs in Victoria Falls - $880 for 2 weeks
99% Rating
(27 Reviews)

Affordable Volunteer Programs in Victoria Falls - $880 for 2 weeks

Join IVHQ and volunteer abroad in Victoria Falls! Highly affordable programs are available for anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks. The program is based within a private game reserve in the province of Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe. Located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, Victoria Falls is a popular destination for travelers to Africa and offers the unique opportunity for IVHQ volunteers to join Wildlife Conservation efforts.Volunteers are accommodated in​ single rooms​,​ located within the conservation center where the program is based.

IVHQ Volunteer Program available in Victoria Falls:

  • Wildlife Conservation: Located within a private game reserve, playing home to the African 'Big 5' (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), IVHQ volunteers in Victoria Falls have the opportunity to get involved in conservation management practices, all of which are vital for the successful operation of the game reserve and the ecosystems of surrounding areas.


  • Programs available year-round, starting on the first and third Monday of each month
  • Program fees include airport pick-up, orientation, accommodation, meals and 24/7 in-country support
  • Highly affordable program fees from $880 for 2 weeks
  • Community-driven projects focused on supporting local needs and delivering sustainable positive impacts
  • Superior support services both pre-departure and while volunteering
  • Free online volunteer training for all IVHQ volunteers
  • Between 5 and 15 volunteers start in Victoria Falls each month
  • Weekends are free to explore Victoria Falls with fellow volunteers - see one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls in the world and explore the area via safari
Project Types
Starting Price
Price Details
Victoria Falls Program Fee includes airport pick-up, orientation, program supervision, accommodation and meals during volunteer program period, in-country 24/7 volunteer support and in-country administration costs.

Questions & Answers

Volunteers must be 18 years or older to participate on an IVHQ program alone. However, if they are volunteering as part of a group with adult minders, or with a parent, guardian or family member who is 18 years or over, they are eligible to participate. When a volunteer under the age of 18 applies to volunteer with IVHQ, it is important that the name of their minder is noted on their application,...

Program Reviews

based on 27 reviews
  • Impact 8.8
  • Support 9.8
  • Fun 9.2
  • Value 9.6
  • Safety 9.7
Showing 1 - 15 of 27
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A little bit of paradise

This was my second trip to Victoria Falls in the past 6-7 months and once again it was one of the best experiences of my life. From the moment you arrive at Nakavango it really feels like you come home for 4 weeks. Everyone is just so welcoming and friendly and soon you create new friendships that will last a lifetime (the only difficult part is having to say goodbye!!). If you come with an open mind, some enthusiasm and a willingness to learn then you will definitely get the most out of your experience. Everyday is a chance to learn from going out game drives to helping out at a local school to even removing lantana – you don’t realise how much you grow as a person until you step out of your comfort zone and try something completely new.
Come with an open mind and get stuck in and you will not regret your decision.

Yes, I recommend
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This was an Incredible experience, well organized with diferent range of activities to do that have a positive impact in the comuniity you are working in. Go with an open mind, energy, and a positive attitude and it will be an extremely rewarding and enriching experience. You will change in a positive way

The program guide IVHQ provides answers almost all of the questions you have about the program, if you need anything else, they have amazing support via Email or im their Facebook group, where you can ask hundreds of volunteers (including myself) about the program

Yes, I recommend
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Live in Paradise!

The Nakavango Conservation Programme in Zimbabwe is a beautiful piece of paradise. And there's not better way to experience it than to live and work on site for a few weeks! Where else would you find yourself camping under the stars surrounded by Africa's Big 5?!

This programme is for you if:

1) You want to experience the African wilderness
You'll get to take game drives through the reserve (almost) every day, and are sure to see to a variety of African wildlife such as buffalo, elephants, giraffe, black rhino, and kudu (and *maybe* a lion or leopard if you're lucky). You'll also get to spend one night a week camping on the reserve, and nothing says 'wilderness' like cooking over a fire and sleeping under the stars (or peeing in the bush!)
Notice, I said *wildlife*! Nakavango is not a zoo. You are never guaranteed to see an animal, and you will not pet them. This is an authentic wilderness experience.

2) You enjoy a work/life balance
You can expect to put in some sweat equity wielding a shovel or hoe (duties include clearing roads, removing alien vegetation, working in the garden, and watering trees in the orchard), but that will take up just a few hours a day. The rest of your week days will be spent getting to know the other volunteers while you eat, relax, play games, and enjoy the pool. On the weekends you will have more free time to go into town and enjoy Victoria Falls, including local restaurants (I recommend the Three Monkeys), souvenir shopping, and all the adrenalin tourism you could ask for (white water rafting and the gorge swing are a must)!

3) You want to make friends
The volunteers at Nakavango include individuals of all ages and nationalities. Have an open mind and invest in developing relationships in order to make the most of your time at Nakavango. Remember, you'll be eating, working, driving, talking, and exploring with these people!

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Laura, Thanks so much for sharing! Your review is fantastic and the tips you provide to future volunteers considering this program are spot on. Thanks for your recommendation and for being an awesome volunteer!
Claire – IVHQ Victoria Falls Program Manager

Yes, I recommend
A medical student from Hong Kong

A life-changing journey in Vic Falls

In May, my friends and I left our air-conditioned rooms in Hong Kong to have a visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site — Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, in which the rainforests house many endangered species, to have a hands-on experience of the actual interaction between animals and humans with our bare feet. We do not want to just come and go, instead, we also hope to contribute to nature conservation and local communities there with the assistance from IVHQ and its local partner Nakavango Consevation program.

David Livingstone, who is the Scottish missionary and explorer, is considered to be the first European to view the falls and name it as ‘Victoria Falls’ in honor of his Queen, but the native name of ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ , which means the ‘Smoke that Thunders’ is also famous. Although it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall round the globe, it is thought to be the largest with a width of 1,708 metres and height of 108 metres.

The Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve where we work in is a 2,500 hectare privately-managed piece of primitive land which is the only “Big Five” area surrounding Victoria Falls, due to the presence of the rarely seen Black Rhinoceros, apart from lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo.

The reserve was fenced in 2000 as an Intensive Protection Zone for Black Rhino in the area. As a result, an intensive Black Rhino monitoring programme is now in progress , aiming to increase the black rhino population in the area, as opposed to the non-stop poaching activity of rhinoceros in Southern Africa. As a result, one of the key focus of our trip is to understand the rhino poaching issue. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of animals at risk of extinction, black rhinos are listed as “critically endangered”, which is on the verge of being disappeared on the Earth.

Because of the above-mentioned geographical features in this area, the focal point of activity at the reserve is preservation and conservation through non-consumptive activity in order to sustain and support the various ecosystems. We took part in the Wildlife Conservation project in the game reserve and surrounding areas within Victoria Falls, which includes:
 Alien vegetation removal, such as the lantana
 Fence patrols to ensure no escape of rhinos and entry of poachers
 Bush walks with International Anti-Poaching Foundation
 Game, predator and bird monitoring, tracking and counting
 Road maintenance
 Reserve clean-up operations
 Camping out on the reserve
 Watching Rhino supplement feeding
 Playing with local children
 School vegetable garden and tree nursery maintenance with the scholars

These hands-on experiences allow us to experience the wildlife which is now difficult to be found in the rapidly developing world, especially in Hong Kong, which is called the ‘Concrete Jungle’. Apart from understanding more about wild ecosystems, at the same time we can also appreciate the relationships between animals and humans. On one hand, some people try to take advantages from other species via poaching or massive deforestation. But on the other hand, there are also different organizations trying to help those vulnerable wild species via conservation. Those anti-poaching team members we visit can even risk their our lives to protect those susceptible rhinos as poachers always hold rifles in their hands. Therefore, it is always meaningful to appreciate how the relationships between animals and humans have evolved as we all understand that human activities have already exploited many animals due to the fiercely growing global populations. As a result, finding a way for sustainable development seems to be a great challenge for our generations.

In addition, we also had the chance to engage in the local community via primary school visits and small-scale vegetable gardening. Therefore, we hope that apart from catching a glimpse of the natural beauty there, we can also help to benefit the local community. During the process, we also experience the local life and have interactions with the natives. And this undoubtedly widen our horizons and allow us to truly understand that we are only a small part of the world.

During the volunteer program, we definitely benefit a lot as we can get in touch with the nature face to face, such as having game drives with elephants or giraffes rambling only meters away from our open game viewing vehicle, let alone having exciting bush walks and tracking on the grassland in Africa to stalk elephants fighting with their tusks. Yet the life there is never that simple as we all encounter an uphill battle — doing manual labor. Living in a well developed metropolis and leading a sedentary lifestyle, I am not accustomed to carrying a heavy sickle and shovel to participate in farming and weeding. However, in my stay there, not only do we need to work as farmers to plow the field, we also need to construct a road in the bush plentiful of spikes and thorns with slashers, and even uprooting a whole bunch of enormous lantana which requires herculean effort to pull it out. But after all, when we finished our work and saw what we had done, the sense of achievement is unparallel and would motivate us to work harder on the next day. Very often, if we just confine ourselves in our comfort zone, in no way can we imagine how far we can reach and how much we can do even if we have the ability to go further.

Victoria Falls is a gorgeous place that has left me so many great memories and "first times", not only because of the picturesque scenaries, but also the lovely people I met there.

During our stay, we were so glad to have the chance to visit the Masuwe Primary School and play with the kids there. The kids there are so adorable and playful that they would share their snacks with me and come to grab my glasses and ask me to take a picture for them. The hyperinflation in Zimbabwe is so severe that the government there even has to adopt the US dollar as the main currency. The high unemployment rate is also worrying, as across the country over 90% of adults are jobless. While schooling is not free (or even expensive) , having their kids studying in formal school (even though it is already a formal school, Masuwe Primary School only has 4 classrooms, so some students have to sit on the floor), the families have to squeeze their pockets which are already shivelled. What is more shocking is that among the 128 million school-aged children in Africa, 17 million will never attend school, which is more than 10% of the children population. Therefore, when I saw the proverb, “Knowledge is power”, painted on the wall of the school, I can truly feel the sorrow but also the hope the teachers there want to bring to the children. Education issues should never be taken lightly as they can affect the entire life of our next generation.

Another fascinating activity I have there is camping on the grassland which are open to all the wildlife, including the hyenas and lions. In Hong Kong, at most we can only go camping in the country park’s designated areas, but in Zimbabwe, I have the precious chance to even construct the road to our campsite. During the campfire party, volunteers from different countries, including the US, Britain and Germany, all played and chatted with each other, and exchanged our own culture. Some volunteers from Germany taught us how to make the “Stick Bread” and on the other day our team from Hong Kong in return also taught them how to make Chinese spring rolls. The sky full of twinkling stars and the faces of those friendly people we spent only a couple of week with have already been imprinted on my mind which I will never forget.

Apart from the people, the animals I met in the jorney are also amazing. In the program, I have the chance to have bush walk with a male adult male cheetah, whose name is Sylvester. In 2010, two days after the birthday of Sylvester, his mother and four of her cubs were killed by a male lion. Being the sole survivor having his umbilical cord attached and unopened eyes, he was rescued by a game scout. Lacking the maternal care for the initial 22 months of his life, he cannot survive in the wild as he does not know how to hunt. Since then, Sylvester is kept in the sanctuary that has large areas of open vleis, and he is now leading a healthy life with vigor and vitality, and even takes up the role of an ambassador cheetah to spread awareness of cheetah conservation in Zimbabwe. Similar to all other species on the brink of extinction, the problems complicating the survival of cheetah are multifactorial, including habitat loss and degradation, human-wildlife conflict and illegal wildlife trade. Due to these challenges, number of wild cheetahs in Africa drops to 9,000 to 12,000 recently, compared to 100,000 cheetahs across their historic range in 1900, therefore, they are the most endangered big cat in the birthplace of humanity.

Although in many peoeple’s mind cheetah is a powerful and fierce creature, it can also live under the risk of extinction. On the other hand, humans are not born with any lethal weapons on our body, but the destruction we have on the nature and the Earth is far more massive. And this can be further illustrated by another activity we did in Zimbabwe, which is to clean up the reserve area. This is such a “memeorable” experience as that day we have to clean up a mountain of household rubbish rife with used diapers and condoms. Although there is a public landfill not far away from the “crime scene”, those people lack of social morality just dumped their own wastes at the entrance of the private reserve.

During the adventure in Victoria Falls, what I learnt and experienced is far more fruitful than what I have written here. The program coordinators and staff there are all kind and friendly which make me feel like home. I would always recommend this program to my friends, because for me, this is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience that make my university life much more memorable.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Kelvin, Wow! Thank you for taking the time to post such an incredible and in-depth review of your time on the program in Victoria Falls. It sounds like the program was a great opportunity for you and your friends to have an experience that was outside of your comfort zone, and also and eye-opening learning opportunity. We agree that the program coordinators in Victoria Falls are not only knowledgeable but also kind and caring, which is a huge reason that this program receives such great feedback. Thanks for recommending IVHQ to your friends; we would love to welcome them onto an IVHQ program in the future. We wish you all the best.
Claire – IVHQ Victoria Falls Program Manager

Yes, I recommend
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Best decision I have made.

Every morning you wake up at 6 and have breakfast, at six thirsty you take a game car to the assigned activity you have planned for that day. The activity could be roadwork, help a school, gardening or other activities. Before the days work activities you begin with a game drive. Once you have finished your work you arrive back at Nakavango and have lunch. You have some downtown after lunch then you return to begin another work assignment. Six thirty you will have dinner and than after dinner you have the night to yourself.
The people that I met changed my life, its crazy how you can go for two weeks and become so close to people. Our volunteer group was like my second family, I have learned about different nationalities and people. It is amazing of how different people from different parts of the world can sit down at a table and have the best talk. I have never laughed so hard in my life and I never had a bad moment with the people I was around.
The food was amazing. Personal I am a picky eater and don't like to try new things, but I have no complaints about the food and enjoyed every meal. The cooks were amazing and very friendly, every time you walked into the kitchen you felt welcomed and always had a nice conversation with the cooks. Every staff member that worked was truly amazing and was very nice and made you feel welcomed in your new home. The guides were so knowledgable and were great to drive around with we always had fun even when you were working hard.
You come for the big five animals but you fall in love with Zimbabwe for the trees and the birds and the great people. Leaving after two weeks was one of the hardest things I had to do and I wish I could have stayed longer. This trip was the best decision I have ever made.

How can this program be improved?

For people who are doing this program I would recommend staying for longer than two weeks. Two weeks is not enough time you will not want to leave. Another thing is it gets cold in the mornings so make sure to bring some warm clothes. Bring more money than you expect because it is very hard to get cash in Zim. There are many worthwhile activities that cost money you can use a credit card but have some cash in hand.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Samantha, Thanks for your awesome review of the Victoria Falls program! It sounds like you were surrounded by a friendly and inspiring group of people and we are always so happy to hear about the connections and friendships formed while on our volunteer programs. Thanks for being a great volunteer and we wish you could have stayed longer too!
Claire – IVHQ Victoria Falls Program Manger

Yes, I recommend
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Gloves on pants off! And get ready for Nakavango. You won’t need many things. Just take your boots and your sunscreen with you. You will probably need an alarm in the morning, but don’t worry you will get use to it. Try to be ready for breakfasts by six, so you are able to see the sunrise. Nakavango is facing west, so sometimes it can be hard to see it, but don’t worry you will see it if you try. The staff will probably tell you to be ready at 6:30am, but Dean is ready ten minutes before, so be ready a little bit earlier. Take always your water bottle with you, and also an apple or an orange. If you take an orange, I highly recommend you take two because everyone it’s going to ask you for a little bit.

Few hours latter you are going to be dirty, sweaty, smelly and, tired, but happy. All at the exactly same time. When you get back to Nakavango, lunch is going to be waiting for you. Food is great! Deva is probably the best cook I have ever met. You have to hurry up! If you are late, there won’t be much food for you!

I know it is hard not having expectations before going to Victoria Falls, but please try to. This place is completely different from everything you have ever seen, smell, or try. It is a magical place, full of love and lovely smiles. Enjoy it as much as you can because it will never be enough time.

Probably you read a hundred reviews before these one, and you already know it’s an amazing experience and that it will blow your mind. My only big advice that can totally change your experience in Zimbabwe is talking to Ian. Try to get to know him, and listen everything he has to say. You will be impressed by how much you can learn from someone that you just met. He taught me amazing things, not only about Zimbabwe, but also about caring, doing what makes you happy, about family… And try the Amarula!

The only problem I have is I can’t wait to go back.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Amira, What a great review! We are so thankful that you have taken the time to share a little about your experience volunteering on the Victoria Falls program. It sounds like your days were full, satisfying and inspiring. We can’t wait to have you back!
Claire – IVHQ Victoria Falls Program Manager

Yes, I recommend
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IVHQ Victoria Falls

My time in Nakavango with IVHQ was one of the best time of my life. I have just love everything about the program from the daily drive in the bush to the accommodation (the food is sooo good). People are really friendly, the staff is so nice and full of knowlegde, I have learn so much about conservation during my time here. The landscape are beautiful, there is many activities to do during the week end so bring extra money. Meeting people from all over the world is also a really cool part of the experience. I would highly recommend to go for 4 weeks if you can. It was my first time in Africa but definitely not the last one.

How can this program be improved?

Maybe doing more lectures during the afternoon, we did one and it was really interesting.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Diyé, Thanks for your great review of the Victoria Falls program! We are so glad to hear that you loved everything about the program, from the volunteer work to the local team and other volunteers. Thanks for being an awesome volunteer and we hope you are planning your next trip to Africa soon!
Claire – IVHQ Victoria Falls Program Manager

Yes, I recommend
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Vic Falls - Worth It!! Every minute!

I wanted to volunteer in an area outside of my normal comfort zone. - I did. I enjoyed every single minute of it. You definitely work hard at times, road work, plant removal, weeding and gardening, but you also have a lot of fun, fishing, game drives, and weeked activities are plenty! - Bungee jumping, swinging into a gorge, crocodile cage diving!

The staff at the Conservation Program are all top notch, the cooks are amazing, cleaning staff are friendly and social- and all of them want to ensure you enjoy your peaceful stay. Many times, from breakfast, or lunch, we would watch Giraffe in the distance from our eating area. The falls are absolutely stunning, and the town is small but friendly as can be.

My only problem is, I chose this as my first volunteer opportunity. There is no way that the next one can exceed this one, as everything was so perfect from start to finish.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Nick, Thanks for your awesome review of our Victoria Falls program. We are stoked to hear that you enjoyed every minute of the experience and it certainly sounds like you made the most of every moment spent outside your comfort zone! Victoria Falls is a hard program to beat but we would love for you to join another program and have another top notch volunteering experience with IVHQ.
Claire – IVHQ Victoria Falls Program Manager

Yes, I recommend
Me and Sylvester!

Beautiful Zimbabwe, Beautiful Experience!

Where to begin?! If you are seriously interested in traveling with a purpose in a beautiful country with incredible down to earth people, learning about conservation and education... then this is the program for you! Volunteering in Victoria Falls Zimbabwe was one of the best decisions of my life thus far. During every part of my adventure, from the second I landed at the airport, to the second I boarded my plane home, I felt safe, informed, happy and grateful. Zimbabweans (and Botswanans!) are some of the kindest, generous and most helpful people I've ever met. Everyone was willing to sit down with you and tell stories, share information or go out of their way to answer your questions or to just chat.

Each day we (the volunteers) were ready at 6:30am, with our backpacks full of waters, apples, work gloves and extra rain gear totally geared up to take on the morning work load! Since we went during the beginning of the rainy season, we did a lot of road construction, digging irrigation trenches, invasive species removal, and clearing and rebuilding bridges/dams. So we'd spend the morning doing these various projects, then come back to the Nakavango Conservation Center for lunch! A delicious meal was served by the wonderful Deva, and volunteers would just sit around and chat about the day so far, or get intellectual and chat about conservation ideas and wildlife management methods. Sometimes Ian would give lectures in the classroom about his experiences managing African wildlife and how his work has been effected by factors like poaching or climate change. Other times volunteers would call up Sheppy (our kindhearted taxi driver) and he would drop us off downtown Vic Falls to explore the shops or get some ice cream. Then at 4pm, we would rally the troops again and head back out for an afternoon of work. Sometimes afternoon work would consist of tilling the sustainable garden in the backyard, or turning the compost beds, or simply going on game drives to look for jaguars, baboons or an African sunset. Dinner was served around 7pm, and volunteers would once again sit around, sometimes drinking African wine, just chatting about the days adventures. One night we all sat out in the backyard admiring the gorgeous night sky, filled with stars, galaxies and planets. We would go to bed early, to wake up and do it all again the next day! Nakavango offered consistency in our work days, so you definitely get used to a schedule, however each day is different and there is always something exciting happening! As for weekend activities, Justine McGregor is AMAZING at offering her advice and organizing our big group adventures. On Saturday our group did the Gorge Swing (amazing for adrenaline seekers and badasses!) as well as the Canopy Tour (little bit more low-key with incredible zip line views.. thanks Michael and TK!) On Sunday a group of ladies adventured into Botswana on the Chobe National Park day trip (highly recommend!!) We got some more stamps in our passports and had the opportunity to see gorgeous Botswana and Namibia.

At the risk of sounding cliche and sappy... I'll say that journeying to Nakavango Conservation Center in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe was an absolute life changing experience. Thats all there is to it. It seriously was a transformative experience. To see the way these people live and to be so grateful and appreciative, gave me new insight into the human spirit and what it means to be happy. The Nakavango Staff (Justine, Dean, Delta, Damien, Ian, Deva, Derry, Noel, Cornelius, Ndaba, and all the rest!) was hospitable, kind and always willing to provide information. They truly became family. As for my fellow volunteers...they too became family. We already have plans to journey to Cartegena, Columbia for Juan and Aura's wedding at the end of the summer! If you are at all hesitant to sign up for this trip... JUST DO IT! It's a once in a lifetime experience and every part of this trip is worthwhile and incredible!! Ngiyabonga (thank you) Zimbabwe!!!

How can this program be improved?

I wish I went for a longer period of time!! 2 weeks was absolutely not long enough! I could have easily stayed there for months. Even if you are hesitant to stay longer then 2 weeks..just do it! I wish I stayed longer because there is just so much to see and do every day!

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Emma, What an absolutely fantastic review! We are so thankful that you have taken the time to write a detailed description of your time on the Victoria Falls program in Zimbabwe, as this will be such a valuable resource for anyone considering volunteering on this program. It sounds like your days were jam-packed with rewarding volunteer work, adventure, sightseeing, delicious food, learning opportunities and conversations with our local team and other volunteers. Sometimes clichés are appropriate and we are so happy to hear that your time at Nakavango Conservation Center was a life-changing experience. Thanks for being an awesome volunteer and we hope you have a great time reminiscing when you catch up with everyone in Cartagena!
Claire – IVHQ Victoria Falls Program Manager

Yes, I recommend
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Amazing Experience at Nakavango in Vic Falls!

I've travelled a lot and done other volunteer programs, including 6 months in Ghana. But one of the best adventures I've ever had was bush camping at Nakavango. It was indescribable. We set up our tents and campsite just in time to enjoy one of Africa's epic sunsets in one direction and to the other was a herd of 27 female elephants (from 40 years old to 2 months old) walking out single file to meet at the watering hole and take a drink. Meanwhile, giraffe are walking past and hippos are surfacing to the top of the water to get out and enjoy their nightly grazing of the grass. As the sunset and we ate a delicious meal of chicken and rice around the camp fire under a blanket of stars. Taking in the scene and the sounds of the wild animals was almost too much. No photo can do it justice.

For anyone who has any interest in animals and nature, do yourself a favor and go to Nakavango. It's a unique experience that people paying four times as much to stay at 5-star lodges miss out on. You will learn so much about the entire ecosystem and the issues that these animals and the environment are faced with and hopefully you will feel as empowered as I do to help educate others.

How can this program be improved?

The only suggestion I have is to include optional lectures during the downtime. I really loved learning as much as I could so I would have enjoyed more instructional time while I was there. The staff is incredibly knowledgable.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Laurel, Thanks for your awesome review! Your experience bush camping at Nakavango sounds picturesque and incredible, we would have loved to be there too! This is clearly an excellent program for anyone with an interest in animals and nature. You are an absolute legend for continuing on the conservation work by educating others on your return home. Thanks for being an IVHQer!
Claire – IVHQ Victoria Falls Program Manager

Yes, I recommend
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My Experience In Victoria Falls

I had never traveled out of the country before this trip and I only recently got my passport in May of 2016, but for some reason when I was looking at the different programs through IVHQ this one really stuck out in my mind and making the decision to travel across the world to Zimbabwe, as my first trip out of the United States, was one of the best choices I have ever made. First, the site coordinator really tries to do everything she can to help make you as prepared as possible for the trip and to relieve as much stress as she can. Second, the program is based on a wildlife reserve so every day when you drive to whichever location you are working at for the day you're going on a mini safari drive. The staff is absolutely wonderful and the accommodations are quite nice for volunteer housing as well. I would highly recommend this program to anyone that is interested in wildlife and learning more about ways to help to make a difference in the environment to protect these animals.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Emily, We are so glad that you decided to join the Victoria Falls program in Zimbabwe. This is a massive trip for a first time traveler and we are very proud of you. Thanks so much for your great recommendation and for being an IVHQer!

Yes, I recommend

IVHQ Victoria Falls Wildlife Conservation

Volunteering with IVHQ at Nakavango Conservation Programme was an amazing and life changing experience. On this program we stayed on a private game reserve, were able to live in nature and have a truly amazing and humbling experience. Living on the land the way we did made me realize everything I take for granted at home and how simple and amazing life can be.
I remember one day on a drive to the school, which we would volunteer with once a week, we drove through a little village that was on the way. Here was saw people using the land and living a very humble lifestyle. Seeing these happy people who clearly did not have the material items that I have, made me realize how I want to change my life and become a better person.
The actual work we completed on this program was physically demanding but you saw progress being made. The staff at Nakavango and IVHQ were sooo amazing, the accommodation and atmosphere were fantastic. There is a lot of activities to do on the weekends and this trip was a perfect combination of work and play. I had the best time volunteering there and I would 100% recommend this program.

How can this program be improved?

Honestly I don't believe that much could be improved or changed. I had an amazing time and never felt as though something needed to change. If I were to suggest an improvement it would be to have more work on some days because after a while I felt as though there was too much free time and the game drives became repetitive.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Zenya, It is absolutely our pleasure, thanks for being an IVHQer! We are so glad that you had a great time on the Victoria Falls program. It looks like you really made the most of your volunteer experience and free time – you look like a great group of volunteers. We hope to see you at another IVHQ program again soon.

Yes, I recommend
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And People Think Safaris are Fun..

We were part of a team that helped tranquilize a black rhino in order to relocate it to a safer location. Once the rhino was knocked out, we physically (by hand) had to lift the rhino onto a tarp and then slide it onto the back of a truck. It took a team of about 25 people to do it. When you think about that fact that you are handling a black rhino, an endangered species that is so heavily protected by the people who inhabit the land it roams, it really puts into perspective where you are and what you are doing. This was the first day I was on the program.

How can this program be improved?

Don't allow wifi throughout the entire place. During the two weeks we were there, the wifi only worked in one room. We bonded so much more because people weren't hiding in their rooms on the internet.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Stephen, what an incredible experience! Thanks for sharing this story with us. It’s great to have you as an IVHQer and we hope to welcome you back on another IVHQ program again in the future.

Yes, I recommend

The best time in Nakavango with IVHQ-Victoria Falls

I spent 4 weeks volunteering with Nakavango conservation program through IVHQ and it was definitely a one in a life time experience. Since the first time i got there to the very last day the local staff was the most friendly and helpful it could be. The accommodation was so good with a room to my self and a ceiling fan. The food was really good as well.
During the week we helped out in the reserve and also in the community, we did things like trash pick ups, helping in the local school, maintaining roads in the reserve, soil erosion management and cutting and burning invasive plant species. The best thing is that most of this activities are inside the reserve so you spent the whole week seeing the most beautifull animals every single day, girafes, elephats, lions, zebras, crocodiles, hienas, you name it. But i have to say my favorite activity of the week was camping in the reserve, we did it once a week and it was unbelievable. From having elephants passing by our camp or having hienas come SO CLOSE while we were having dinner or even waking up at 2am with some really weird noises right next to your tent... And the stars, dont forget to look at the stars.
In the weekends we normally went to town and did a lot of activities, some of us bungee jumped, went to Botswana for the day and did an horse safari.
On my last week we got so lucky, a giraffe had a piece of metal in her paw so we had to take her down with a rope and jump on top of her for the vets to take it off. I have to say running next to a 1300kg giraffe is, at least, intimidating.
So to future volunteers, just come, you will have the time of your lifes.

Yes, I recommend
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Real Experiences at the Nakavango Conservation Programme

My six weeks in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe were nothing short of amazing. The first day I arrived at the Nakavango Private Game Reserve, I saw several African elephants trumpeting not far off the two-track road we were traversing. I saw plentiful amounts of giraffe, zebra, impala, kudu (an African antelope), warthogs, hippos, crocs, baboons, bugs, birds, lizards, you name it. I absolutely loved each and every sighting. To be cliché, as Taylor Swift would put it based on her latest music video, while volunteering at Nakavango I saw all of my “wildest dreams” come to life. I was also particularly lucky to see the black rhino while at Nakavango, a creature that played a significant role in my decision to go to Zimbabwe in the first place. This reserve is a special place; it is the home of 8 black rhino when there are less than 300 remaining in all of Zimbabwe (a country about the size of Texas). That speaks wonders about this reserve. While volunteering here, I was grateful for the chance to do things that help protect these prehistoric-looking creatures from the evils of poaching. While I could write stories for days about my encounters with the black rhinoceros at Nakavango, for this program review, I am going to share an experience I had with another beloved African animal that I will never forget. Long story short, this animal encounter got my heart racing even faster than when I went sky diving in Hawaii the month before traveling to Africa.

Each day on the reserve, we went out in the safari cruiser and do different tasks to help the ecosystem here thrive. We did a morning job from about 7am-12am and an afternoon job from about 4pm-7pm (taking refuge and relaxing during the heat of the day). One night, we were out particularly late on the reserve removing invasive plant species (it’s very tough work digging up massive Lantana roots, by the way) until dark had almost fully set in around 7:30. As we drove back to HQ in the dark, only the outline of the trees were visible in the sky that was still dimly lit from the last remnants of sunlight over the horizon.  I was in the back left seat of the 12-person cruiser and the girl in the front left passenger seat next to our guide—remember, cars in Zimbabwe are English-style with the driver on the right side of the vehicle—had a spotlight, shining the trees beside the road as we drove. We all liked these dark drives home; it was fun to try to spot eyes staring back at us from the depths of the forest while in the safety of the cruiser.

We were cruising along and she was shining the right side of the road. But I was looking to the left for anything in the bushes, when we passed a HUGE bull (male) elephant on our side only about 5 meters from the road! I was the only one who saw it because it was so dark, but regardless how dark it was there was no way I could miss the outline of an animal that large and that close. As we passed, he moved back and I could hear him stepping on twigs over the roar of the cruiser motor. I quickly yelled “Dean (our guide), elephant on the left!” He quickly replied, “Nice” before stopping the vehicle, putting it in reverse, and backing up towards it. At that point, I was already kind of on edge because I knew how close the big guy was to the road and I didn’t think Dean did. But he backed up anyways until we were about 15 meters ahead of where I saw him on the road. Dean then stopped, cut the engine, and shut the lights out so we could sit there in the dark and just listen to him.

We all heard him making a ruckus behind us—breaking branches, grunting, stomping around—and I assumed he was about 20 yards off the road. I couldn’t see him but that made sense because I think he retreated into the forest a ways after we passed him. We all sat quietly in awe, listening to the incredible grunts he was making with his mouth and waiting for him to settle down/go back to feeding. He did settle down slightly, and started working his way through the woods, parallel to the road in our direction. He soon closed the gap and was only about 5 yards behind our car, but he was still out a ways to our left. We could hear he was close.

To me, it was clear that he knew we were still around and was coming closer on purpose. Remember, I was in the back left corner, the closest seat to the elephant with the best view from the elevated back row. It was very dark though and I still couldn’t see him, but I searched diligently nonetheless. There was a 2-meter-tall bush in front of me that I had to look around, but I finally saw his white ivory horn come into my view in the starlight. My heart was racing. I was so excited to see him and could now see the outline of his massive body again. I assumed he was just grazing and would continue along, although he was still making rather loud vocalizations, which was unusual. Soon though, it became apparent this was not his usual stroll through the forest to eat.

Quickly, he turned his tusks right at me and the truck, and started stomping towards us with a perfect line aiming at me in the back row. His grunting became louder and it was clear his temper was starting to flare again. He got close, uncomfortably close. Only three meters from me! We were still separated by the about 2-meter-tall bush on the ground, but he stood well above that exposing his large head to my view, with both of his big ears flapping wildly and both of his tusks above the bush that now looked small. His size alone was enough to make a 23-year-old man shake in his shoes. Then, he did something I never thought I’d see an animal do.

In one motion, he violently ripped a large branch off the tree next to him and threw it on the ground as he quickly lunged in and out of the bush between us before standing his ground. I couldn’t believe my eyes! He flinched at us in an attempt to scare us away, similar to what a bully would do to the small kid on the playground. And oh did it work. This was not your average, chubby neighborhood bully. This this was a 6-ton bull elephant with ivory tusks thicker than my arms and a trunk that could knock me unconscious with one flick. Unlucky for me as the closest one to him, it was like I had drawn the short straw and was the main target of this bully’s abuse!

After he flinched at us, my heart was beating faster than I can remember it beating in years. My friend Owen from Maine, who was in the middle seat of the back row next to me, grabbed my hip unconsciously and pulled me back towards the middle of the vehicle. Everyone was moving back in their seats. The scene was unbelievable! My mind was scattered, full of excitement and fear as he continued to make a lot of noise, break branches, and flinch at us to intimidate us. I imagined that this guy could flip our truck with one quick swipe of his tusks if he wanted to. Finally, Dean (a well known guide in Victoria Falls who has been at it for 25 years and really knows his stuff about elephant behavior and everything about this environment better than the back of his hand) decided to call it quits and started up the car to drive off. This startled the elephant; he grunted before scurrying off as if to say “That’s right.” We drove off unharmed, but not without a skipped heartbeat here and there.

As intimidating as this display was, I loved every second. We all did. Of course it helps that no one got hurt, but we all were beyond amazed by such a unique encounter. We talked about it the rest of the night. Dean thinks that the elephant was in musth, a mating time where their hormone levels (like testosterone in humans) are raised and they are more aggressive. He obviously didn’t like when we backed up close to him, stopped there, and stood our ground. It didn’t help that it was at night in the dark forest, a place he felt should be his at that time. For this, I don’t blame him one bit. He was a wild creature that deserved having space away from humans when it is night time and time for him to eat or mate in peace. All in all, it was incredible experience, one that I am glad happened without a doubt. We had seen elephants roaming gracefully many times, but it takes an experience like this to gain a true appreciation and respect for the massive, wild, unique creature that he was.

There was an operation on the edge of the reserve there called ‘The Elephant Experience’ that allows tourists to come in and ride elephants. There are many ethical arguments about such operations, including how the elephants got there, how they are treated, and how they cope psychologically with being held captive. In addition, the captive elephants (that are allowed to roam the reserve under supervision) have destroyed the native ecosystem in the area they are limited to, which has stressed the rest of the reserve—which is only 30 square kilometers—as a result. It is us volunteers and the staff at the reserve that are left to clean up the mess that these contained elephants cause. That is why it is so important for volunteers to visit the reserve and do things like plant native trees, remove invasive trees, protect trees from elephants (which I learned are programmed to be sometimes volatile), work to combat soil erosion, and do several other things on the reserve to try to boost the ecology of that ecosystem to be in the best balance it can.

Regardless of these ethical and environmental issues, many people still partake in these rides, and many really love their experiences. I even met a tourist in town that claimed their elephant experience was life changing, and helped him appreciate the true size and beauty of African elephants. But is that the best way to really observe the complexity and awesomeness of an African elephant? Can that man’s staged “horseback-riding-like” experience on a tamed, African elephant even be compared in the same light as my wild elephant experience?

My answer is absolutely not. I would take my elephant experience over theirs 100 times out of 100. My glimpse at that elephant in its natural, free environment was more authentic than any elephant ride could ever be. Never again will I be that close to an animal so large, so territorial, so powerful, so in control, so beautiful. It was clear that he should have the right to stroll the dark forest at night as he pleases. We did nothing to intentionally disturb that creature, and Dean knew when to call it quits before the situation crossed the line. He waited just long enough for us all to have an experience that made us learn to admire that and respect these magnificent creatures for what they are.

As appealing as it sounds to go somewhere simply as a tourist and ride an elephant, I think more meaningful experiences are possible while volunteering in a program like IVHQ’s in Victoria Falls. More meaningful, real elephant experiences that take place under real circumstances in their real environment. Experiences like that are how the true personality of these amazing beasts can be understood. How their actions can make a lasting impact on someone. How one’s love for this symbolic African animal can take new meaning.

Trust me, I know.

How can this program be improved?

There could have been more food for volunteers with bigger appetites, but besides that it was as close to perfect as they get.

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Lance, Thanks for taking the time to share a few of your experiences while volunteering in Victoria Falls. It sounds like you has really memorable time. Thanks for being an IVHQer!

Yes, I recommend

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