Zimbabwe Travel Guide
Zimbabwe is a country in Southern Africa. It is landlocked and is surrounded by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the Southwest, Zambia to the Northwest, and Mozambique to the east and north.
The Zambezi river forms the natural boundary with Zambia and when in full flood (February-April) the massive Victoria Falls on the river forms the world's largest curtain of falling water. The Victoria Falls are a major tourist attraction.
Once known as the Breadbasket of Africa, since 2000, Zimbabwe has undergone an economic collapse and the rule of law has gradually but largely broken down, although there have been a few signs of improvement since the theoretical formation of a unity Government in 2009 and the Zimbabwean economy has been on the rebound. GDP grew by more than 5% in the year 2010 and 2011, from a very low base. Growth is forecast to increase, buoyed by high mineral prices and the improving agriculture sector.
Few African destinations can compete with Victoria Falls for sheer visual drama. At its full, roaring peak, the ‘Smoke that Thunders' is one of the continent's most mesmerizing sights, leaving visitors lightly soaked and absolutely exhilarated at the same time. The falls are on the mighty Zambezi river, which means you can see them from either Zambia or Zimbabwe. Arguably, the best on-foot views are from Zimbabwe’s side - so lovely, in fact, that explorer David Livingstone declared they must have been gazed on by angels.
But while these views have won it international fame, Zimbabwe is so much more than Victoria Falls: it is one of Southern Africa’s most rewarding big game safari destinations.
Zimbabwe is an authentic, rugged destination that we especially recommend to travelers returning to Africa for an off-the-beaten track experience. In addition to delivering superb game viewing in the care of some of the most respected guides in the business, a Zimbabwe vacation offers classic tented camps that are comfortable without being ostentatious, fresh, wholesome cuisine, and one of the warmest welcomes in the world wherever you go.
Zimbabwe’s flagship reserve is Hwange National Park, a short drive from Victoria Falls and home to a full cast of your favorite mammals, from lions, leopards and hyenas to big herds of elephant and buffalo, elegant antelope, giraffe and zebra. Add to these characters the wildlife of the Zambezi River – hippos, crocodiles and shy water buck and you're on safari in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, where activities include game drives, canoe adventures and walking safaris.
Zimbabwe’s less well-known destinations offer some unique experiences that make them well worth the effort of getting there. Fly in to Matusadona National Park, set on the shores of Lake Kariba, a haven for rhinos and elephants and home to a thriving lion population. The far flung wilderness of neighboring Gonarezhou National Park and Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve is hard to beat. Its remote setting makes this fly-in destination romantically adventurous and immensely rewarding, featuring big-tusker elephants, all the big cats and nearly 400 bird species. You may not see much wildlife at Matobo National Park, but it's a lovely reserve of tumbled rocks sheltering ancient San (Bushman) paintings, ideal for short hikes and comfortable walks.
Top places to visit:
Victoria Falls - adventure activities, safaris & iconic scenery
Hwange National Park - classic game viewing, walking safaris & bird watching
Mana Pools National Park - beautiful wilderness, superb game viewing & walking safaris
Matusadona National Park – lions & elephants, boating & fishing
Matobo National Park – lovely scenery & ancient rock art
Gonarezhou National Park and the adjoining Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve – wild, big game & birding
Entering the Country
If you are not staying for longer than six months, you enter Zimbabwe with a minimum of formalities. All you need is a valid passport with a valid visa depending on which category of the visa regime you fall under, a return ticket to your country (or enough money to buy one), and sufficient funds to cover your stay in Zimbabwe. Entry points are categorized into three groups which comprise of:
AIR – Harare International Airport, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Airport, Victoria Falls International Airport, Kariba Airport, Charles Prince Airport, Masvingo Airport, Buffalo Range.
ROAD – Chirundu, Nyamapanda, Beitbridge, Victoria Falls, Forbes, Kazungula, Plumtree, Kariba, Kanyemba, Mukumbura, Cashel, Mt Selinda, Sango, Pandamatenga, Maitengwe, Mphoengs.
RAIL – Beitbridge, Plumtree
Zimbabwe is a multi-racial society where people of all nationalists live in harmony. People living in urban areas have a westernized lifestyle, while in the country areas many African traditions have been preserved.
Zimbabweans are known for their hospitality and friendliness towards each other and visitors alike. Although all Zimbabweans are very helpful it is always advisable to be cautious when dealing with strangers. Police officers are very helpful and are easily identified by their uniforms although some may be plainclothes police. Like everywhere in the world valuables should always be safeguarded or left in the hotel safe box. If you do not know where to obtain a certain service or you are not sure always contact the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Police Post or the hotel information desk.
Your personal possessions which are not intended for disposal or consumption in Zimbabwe are allowed entry duty-free. In addition, other consumable goods which are not merchandise imported for the trade purposes may be imported up to a value of US$ 250 or its equivalent in other currencies per person. Alcoholic beverages may be included within this allowance by persons over the age of 18 years, subject to a limit per person of 5 litres, of which not more than 2 litres may be spirits. Members of a family travelling together may aggregate their allowances.
There are no restrictions on foreign currency to be imported into Zimbabwe. However, a maximum of $ 10 000 or its equivalent can be exported out of the country. Tourists are entitled to duty-free importation of their goods which they intend to take out of the country, for instance laptops, cameras, vehicles, binoculars, fishery rods and trailers; as well as duty-free importation of goods for personal use (not commercial) worth US$200.00 for consumption in Zimbabwe. A CDI form is required for exports whose value exceeds US$1 000.00.
The use of (Zimbabwean dollar) as local currency was temporarily suspended until a time to be advised. Meanwhile the country has resorted to the use of multiple currencies as legal tender which comprise of US dollar, British pound, European euros, South African rand and Botswana Pula. However, all these currencies are easily convertible in most banks using the inter-bank rate which gives access to use of the common and mostly used currency the US dollar and South African rand as method of payment.
The mostly acceptable means of payment in most establishments is US $ based or its equivalent. Travelers Cheques and International credit cards are widely accepted. Avoid street/border money changers. Instead it is advisable to change all your money or travelers cheques at Commercial banks, hotels or registered bureau de change.
With the exception of children less than one year of age, all visitors coming to Zimbabwe from infected areas are requested to possess vaccination certificates against cholera and yellow fever. It is not advisable to swim in the country’s rivers and dams as they may be infected with bilharzia. It is however worth noting that all tap water is very safe to drink and water in swimming pools is purified hence very safe. If you are intending to visit low-lying areas such as Victoria Falls, Hwange, Kariba, Gonarezhou and Zambezi Valley, It is advisable to take a course of anti-malaria tablets as a precaution. Prophylaxis is 100% effective. However, it is always advisable to check with your doctor or pharmacist before travelling to such areas. Most establishments in the country do have mosquito nets and repellents.
PUBLIC AND SCHOOL HOLIDAYS
It sometimes causes inconvenience to arrive in a country on a public holiday and find everything closed or booked up. So book well ahead if you plan to arrive on a holiday weekend or during school holidays. School holidays are between mid April and mid May, mid July and mid September, mid December and mid January.
DRIVING IN ZIMBABWE
International driving and driving licenses issued in all SADC countries are valid in Zimbabwe. Visitors from other countries not covered by this agreement are able to drive for a period of 90 days using driving licenses issued in their home countries. If not printed in English, it should have a certificate of authority and validity, or a translation of the text with the bearer’s photograph attached. Renewal after expiry of this period is obtained from the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Drive on the left in Zimbabwe and give way to traffic approaching on the road to your right at uncontrolled intersections. At controlled intersections, motorists are required to yield precedence to pedestrians crossing on a green light. At all intersections, a fire engine, ambulance or police vehicle sounding a siren takes precedence over all other traffic: move out of its course and remain stationary until it has passed. The general speed-limit in Zimbabwe is 120km/h on open roads and 60 km/h in urban areas, but watch for the signs.
TRANSPORT AND TOURS
Taxis – can be found at taxi ranks in the main centers or on call from hotels and restaurants.
Car Hire – cars with or without chauffeurs can be hired in most tourist areas from internationally recognizable operators.
Buses/Coaches – Zimbabwe has a variety of both mid-range and luxury intercity coach services.
Trains – A commuter rail link exist between Harare – Mutare, Harare – Bulawayo and Bulawayo – Victoria Falls.
Air Services – Air Zimbabwe, the national airline, operates frequent flights between the main centres and major tourist destinations. Other private scheduled and charter flights are also available on these routes. Feeder services are provided to regional capitals. International flights are also available.
Road tours – A selection of road tours are operated at reasonable cost to Zimbabwe’s main tourist attractions by registered tour operators. In addition, sight-seeing and game-viewing tours are offered with couriers who are fluent in the main European languages.
Boat Hire – At Kariba, Victoria Falls, Mutirikwi and all other water bodies in Zimbabwe, boats are available for hire from registered companies and lake cruises and charters are offered at reasonable cost.
THE WEATHER AND WHAT TO PACK
Zimbabwe enjoys pleasant temperate climate with 365 days of sunshine and 10 sunshine hours per day on average. The seasons are the reverse of those in the northern hemisphere, with midsummer at Christmas and winter lasting from May to August. In winter the days are generally dry and sunny with cold frosty nights in the Highveld. In summer temperature average 25-30 degrees Celsius, October being the hottest month where temperatures exceed 32 degrees Celsius. In low-lying areas it is much warmer all year than Harare and other Highveld centers.
The temperatures given are those for the main centers and it must be realized that it is considerably warmer all year round in low-lying areas such as Kariba, Victoria Falls, Hwange, Gonarezhou and the Zambezi valley. During the rainy season (November to March), a light jacket may be needed in the evenings. Most hotels expect men to wear a collar, jacket and tie in bars and restaurants after 18:30hrs, except in the warmer parts of the country.
Electricity in Zimbabwe is 220-230 AC voltage. Most outlets take a 13 amp fused square –pin plug but round pins are still in use so an adapter that can take both is useful.
SHOPPING IN ZIMBABWE
In general, shops are open from 0800hrs until 1700hrs and closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Most restaurants are also closed on Sundays. Selected pharmacies have day and night service in all the main centers. VAT is charged on everything, except certain basic commodities, and applies to meals served in hotels and restaurants. A 2% tourism development is levied on all tourism products and services.
Zimbabwe has a number of airports located in the various towns and provinces.
Harare International Airport –The biggest and busiest airport in Zimbabwe situated in Harare. The airport’s runway, at 4,725 metres (15,500 ft), is one of the longest in Africa. It compares with OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, whose longest runway measures 4,418 metres (14,490 ft).
Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport situated some 20km out of Bulawayo the city of kings. There are 2 airlines operating out of Bulawayo Airport which are Air Zimbabwe and South African Air link.
Victoria Falls Airport – An International Airport that is located 21 km out of Victoria Falls town the hub for tourism in Zimbabwe. There are 4 International airlines that operate out of Victoria Falls Airport namely British Airways Com Air, South African Airways, Air Namibia and Air Zimbabwe.
Charles Prince Airport – formerly named Mount Hampden and renamed after former airport manager Charles Prince (who was a Royal Air Force officer during World War II), is located approximately 8 km northwest of Harare, Zimbabwe.1973 the airport was converted to civilian use.
Departure taxes – A departure tax of US $35 is levied on all foreign investors (non-residents) at all Zimbabwe airports on International flights and this tax are often incorporated in the ticket fare. When flying within Zimbabwe a departure tax of $10 is charged. The revenue stamp can be bought at the airport or pre-purchased at any commercial bank. A total of US $5 is payable for each domestic ticket. However, this tax is often incorporated in the ticket fare.
Zimbabwe offers a diverse range of travel experiences that cater to various interests. Here are some notable travel experiences in Zimbabwe:
- Wildlife Safaris: Zimbabwe is renowned for its exceptional wildlife and national parks, making it an excellent destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Hwange National Park, Mana Pools National Park, and Matobo National Park are popular choices for game drives, walking safaris, and birdwatching.
- Victoria Falls: One of the most famous natural wonders in the world, Victoria Falls is a must-visit destination in Zimbabwe. You can witness the awe-inspiring sight of the mighty Zambezi River cascading over the cliffs, creating a spectacular display of water and mist. Activities like white-water rafting, bungee jumping, and scenic helicopter rides are available.
- Adventure Sports: Zimbabwe offers numerous thrilling adventure activities. In addition to white-water rafting at Victoria Falls, you can go canoeing or kayaking on the Zambezi River, embark on a multi-day trekking expedition in the Eastern Highlands, or indulge in zip-lining and abseiling in the beautiful landscapes.
- Great Zimbabwe Ruins: For history and archaeology enthusiasts, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins are a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site. These ancient stone structures are remnants of a medieval city and provide insight into the country's rich past and the Shona civilization.
- Cultural Encounters: Zimbabwe is home to several vibrant cultures, and interacting with local communities can be a rewarding experience. You can visit traditional villages, attend cultural festivals, participate in traditional ceremonies, and engage with artisans to learn about the customs, traditions, and arts of Zimbabwe's diverse ethnic groups.
- Walking and Hiking: The country's diverse landscapes offer excellent opportunities for walking and hiking enthusiasts. The Eastern Highlands, including Nyanga National Park and Chimanimani National Park, boast beautiful trails with breathtaking scenery, waterfalls, and unique flora and fauna.
- Houseboating on Lake Kariba: Lake Kariba is a vast man-made lake offering opportunities for houseboating adventures. Enjoy a leisurely cruise along the lake, go fishing, spot wildlife along the shores, and soak in the tranquility of this picturesque water body.
Remember to check the latest travel advisories and consult with local authorities or tour operators for the most up-to-date information and recommendations for your specific travel plans.
Important Things to Know:
Passport Requirement: Yes
Visa Requirement: Yes. 30-Day Visa Issued in Arrival.
This Destination is Best For: See Above.
Is This a Family-Friendly Destination: Yes
Best Time To Travel to This Destination: Between July and October.
Recommended Vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Measles, Rabies, Chickenpox (Varicella), Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis, Flu (influenza), Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR), Polio and Shingles