The Republic of Zimbabwe is located in Southern Africa and shares its borders with Zambia, South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.
Zimbabwe may seem like an odd choice of countries to visit at the moment, but the recent troubles do not stop it from being a beautiful country with a huge variety of things to see and do. Tourism in Zimbabwe is starting to pick up again, and will help the local people to get back on their feet after the recent problems.
Capital city: Harare, population 1.5 million
Time: GMT +2 hours
Languages: The official language is English, but Shona and Ndebele are also spoken.
Population: 12,521,000 (2009)
Money: The Zimbabwe dollar is no longer used as of 2009 due to hyperinflation. The US dollar and the South African Rand are now mainly used, as well as the Euro in some places.
You can change money in banks in larger towns, but its best to use credit and debit cards to withdraw money from the ATMs. Traveller’s cheques are not accepted in many places.
Visas: Many nationalities, including USA, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia can obtain 90 day visas on entry but you should check with the embassy first.
Landscape: Zimbabwe has many rivers running through it, as well as man-made Lake Kariba and the mighty Zambezi River. In the east of the country are the mountainous, and red-tinted kopjes (large granite boulders) are found in Matobo Hills National Park.
Religion: Mainly Christianity, but there are some Muslim, Hindu and Jewish minorities.
Drinking water: Water should be sterilised before drinking.
Country code: +263 but there is limited mobile phone coverage.
Communication: Mobile phone coverage is limited. Internet can be difficult to find but there are internet cafes in Harare.
Climate: Zimbabwe has two seasons, the wet season and the dry season. The wet season is from November to March and the dry season is from August to October.
Best time to visit: If you are visiting Zimbabwe to go on safari, it is best to visit in the dry season when the water is scarcer. The animals collect around the waterholes, giving you more chance of spotting them. Temperatures are more comfortable in the dry season, as the in wet season the air can become very humid.
Getting there: Many airlines have suspended their services to Harare following the recent troubles, but Air Zimbabwe still fly to Harare from London, a flight which takes approximately 10.5 hours. As well as Harare, there are also airports in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.
Getting around: You can travel around Zimbabwe by air, train or car.
By Air: Air Zimbabwe flies to the following airports: Buffalo Range, Bulawayo, Gweru, Hwange, Kariba, Masvingo and Victoria Falls.
By train: Trains connect Harare and Bulawayo with Mutare and Victoria Falls. The trains are not well maintained, are very slow and accident-prone and cannot be relied on. If you take the train you should keep an eye on your things.
By car: Probably the best way to travel around Zimbabwe is by car. Cars can be hired at the main airports and at some hotels. Towns and national parks around Zimbabwe are well-connected by paved roads. Be aware that fuel is always available, and so it is best to stock up whenever you have the opportunity. Fuel shortages are common.
By bus: There are various bus routes around the country, but they are not in the best condition, are often overcrowded and you may have to wait for many hours to catch one. Both Harare and Bulawayo have a local bus service.
Accommodation: Accommodation in Zimbabwe varies from luxury hotels and safari lodges to guesthouses, b&bs, backpacker hostels and campsites. The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority www.haz.co.zw has a list of registered hotels. Guests are expected to pay for their room in US dollars or by credit card.
Places to go in Zimbabwe:
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest game park and is famous for its great herds of elephants. You can go for a walk in the park in search of wildlife, or go on a game drive to find the lions, leopards and rhinos that live here. The scenery here is very diverse, ranging from forest hills and valleys to the desert on the border with the Kalahari. The best time to spot wildlife here is in the dry season.
Victoria Falls is perhaps the most famous tourist attraction in Zimbabwe. The waterfall actually spans the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, so can be visited from either side. The falls have the largest amount of water plunging over them in the wet season, but in the dry season they are calmer and you don’t get quite so wet! The Victoria Falls area offers a great number of activities, ranging from relaxing trips to admire the views, to the adrenaline-fuelled bungee jumping, and helicopter rides to see the falls from the air.
I have to add here that when I was at Victoria Falls I took a microlight trip over the Falls. Although I felt like I was in a flying bicycle, I loved every minute of my 30 minute flight. From above you can really appreciate the size of the waterfalls and the speed and power of the water. I could see crocodiles on islands in the river, giraffes and trails of destruction left by passing elephants. This was definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done.
The are loads of places to stay in Victoria Falls, and the town is only about 10 minutes walk from the Falls. There are some cafes and restaurants in the town, as well as a market selling carvings, paintings, and other crafts. It is possible to cross over the bridge into Zambia on a day visa.
The Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Thirty kilometres southeast of Masvingo, these are the ruins of one of the oldest buildings in Southern Africa. Zimbabwe (which means a great stone building) was named after these ruins. The ruins were discovered in 1870 and have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. Take a look at the high stone walls and admire the craftsmanship. There is no ceiling on any of the ruins. A picture of the ruins can be found on old Zimbabwe banknotes.
Mana Pools National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mana Pools is filled with lush greenery and abundant wildlife. Mana’s pools are actually ox-bow lakes, and are home to a large variety of animals, including zebra, impala and antelope. The scenery here is beautiful, and you can explore the area on foot or on a game drive. Game-viewing canoe trips are also possible on the Zambezi River.
Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park
Man-made Lake Kariba is situated on the Zambezi River in the northwest of the country on the Zambian border. The lake holds around a million gallons of water. The game here is found on the shores of the lake, in Matusadona National Park. The Matusadona Mountains look down over the lake, giving great photographic opportunities. Lake Kariba can be explored on boat and canoeing trips, and walks and drives can be taken in the park. The ‘big five’ (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino) can be found here.
Matobo Hills National Park
Matobo Hills National Park is within easy reach of Bulawayo, and is home to some spectacular red-tinted granite rocks known as kopjes. Here you will find ancient rock paintings, interesting rock formations, caves and Cecil Rhodes’ grave. Take a walk here to admire the scenery or watch the leopards and white rhinos that call this area home. The lack of lion and elephant means that it is safer to walk around where you like and admire the views.
Chizarira National Park
This National Park is the most remote in Zimbabwe, and the rugged terrain makes it difficult to traverse. This does make it the perfect stop for hikers, and means that the number of visitors is low. You can admire the scenery and watch the animals, which range from kudu to roan, elephant and buffalo. The park is also home to a wide variety of birds.
Gonarezhou National Park
Gonarezhou is wild and undeveloped, and is rarely visited. It has large numbers of birdlife. A stay here will make you feel like you are out in the wilderness. The forests and cliffs are home to elephants and antelope, among other species.
On the Eastern edge of Zimbabwe is a range of hills and mountains known as the Eastern Highlands. The scenery here is beautiful, and there are some great walking trails. Zimbabwe’s highest peak is here – Mount Nyangani is at an elevation of 2593 metres. The Eastern Highlands are divided into three areas: the grasslands and waterfalls of Nyanga National Park, the forests and gardens of the Bvumba Mountains and the Chimanimani Mountains with their flowers and spiky rocks.
You wouldn’t come to Zimbabwe for the cities, but if you find yourself stuck there for a couple of days, there are things to amuse yourself with. In Harare there is a variety of restaurants and shopping centres, and you can look around the markets. It is interesting to just people watch, and take in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Bulawayo again does not have a huge amount for the tourist, but there is a museum of Natural History, as well as some shops and cafes.
Activities available in Zimbabwe
The main tourist activity in Zimbabwe is game viewing. This can be done in a car or four wheel drive, on foot, or, in some places, by boat. Canoeing safaris are available in Mana Pools National Park on the Zambezi River. Lake Kariba offers boat cruises. Lake Kariba is also the place to go if you like fishing, as tigerfish are abundant there.
Keen hikers should head to the Eastern Highlands, where the mountains offer a variety of walking and hiking trails, ranging from a short stroll to an extended multiday trek. It is possible to climb Mount Nyangani, which takes about one and a half hours. From the top you can look out over the panoramic views of Zimbabwe. Trout fishing is popular in Nyanga National Park.
Those in search of thrills should head straight for Victoria Falls, where a wide range of adrenaline sports are on offer. You can throw yourself off Victoria Falls Bridge with an elastic rope attached to your legs on the 111m bungee jump there, or go white water rafting on the Zambezi River (not allowed when the river is high). Helicopter and microlight flights over Victoria Falls will give you a bird’s eye view of the area. Also available is the ‘adrenaline day’, where you can zipline over, abseil down and throw yourself off the edge of the Victoria Falls gorge on a gorge swing.