I’m excited to start sharing stories about my time in Zimbabwe, a vastly underrated destination and one of my favorite countries in the world. For over thirty years, Zimbabwe has been synonymous with political chaos due to Robert Mugabe’s notorious regime. While there is no doubt that his dictatorship has had a lasting impact, Zimbabwe offers so much more than what international news headlines suggest.
If you’re thinking of going to this exciting country that’s blessed with wildlife, natural wonders of many kinds (not just the famous Victoria Falls), a lively culture, and ancient history, here are the essential things you need to know before you go.
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Why visit Zimbabwe?
Where to start? If you love adventure, wildlife, ancient history, stunning landscapes, variety, and hanging out with friendly locals, Zimbabwe needs to be at the top of your to-visit list. During my time in Zimbabwe, I bungy jumped from the top of a bridge near one of the world’s seven natural wonders, saw a herd of 400+ elephants (yes, 400) walk past my hotel room, watched wild dogs hunt a kudu at sunrise, and befriended a handful of Zimbabwean creatives. The landscape stokes a sense of wonder — there are five national parks after all — and plenty of upcoming Zimbabwean-led conservation projects to get excited about. With a new power in place, there is optimism in the air as the country clocks into a new era.
If you’re traveling to Zimbabwe in search of wildlife and plan to venture out on safari, the best months to visit are between May to October, during the country’s dry season. The end of the dry season tends to be very hot with little respite from the sun, so pack a wide-brim hat and sunscreen.
If you want to see Victoria Falls flowing at its maximum capacity, the best months to visit are between April and June. However, sometimes during the rainy months, the flow is so heavy that you may not be able to catch a full view of the falls because of the cloud-forming spray that plumes off of the cascades.
Safety, health, and other practicalities
Is Zimbabwe safe? This is the first question that most people asked when they heard I planned to travel to Zimbabwe. I tend to use the same safety strategies wherever I’m traveling to — no matter if it’s Singapore or East Timor. I try not to show off expensive belongings, I avoid traveling alone at night, and I keep my head down in destinations notorious for human rights violations.
(My trip was with a group of Zimbabweans and other Africans who knew the country very well — so my experience might not be the same as a solo female traveler. The consensus I got from travelers in general is that they felt safe. It just takes one incident anywhere to make you feel otherwise, though.)
Aside from general safety strategies you should use every time you travel, these are some Zimbabwe-specific considerations to plan for before your trip.
Wildlife: Surprise! Wild animals can be unpredictable. Obey your park ranger or tour guide during safari. If you see a wild animal, retreat to shelter or your vehicle. Never startle or try to intimidate a wild animal.
Political demonstrations: In November 2017, a military coup (many Zimbabweans refuse to call it a coup, but it was) overtook the Zimbabwean government and overthrew Robert Mugabe, the country’s only president/dictator in thirty years. Many Zimbabweans demonstrated on the streets of Harare in support of a new government. The Zimbabwean coup d’état was fortunately peaceful. Still, there have been political demonstrations in the past that have turned violent quickly. Foreigners have few rights within Zimbabwe so it’s essential to stay far away from any political activity.
Road blocks: On many roads, police road blocks may slow you down. Most of the time the officers are simply checking for license and registration and are little more than a general annoyance. There are reports of some corrupt officers seeking bribes, though. Keep only small bills readily available and stash the rest of your cash elsewhere.
Cash and fuel shortages: Zimbabweans prefer to be paid in US dollars due to instability of their own currency. ATM lines can be very long (think 4+ hours) and there are occasionally limits on what you are allowed to withdraw from the machine. Fly in with US dollars. There are also fuel shortages. If you are doing a long road trip, bring an extra fuel container.
Silencing of the press: There is no freedom of speech in Zimbabwe. Foreigners can be and have been imprisoned for speaking out against the government. Keep your social media accounts private and do not post or say anything that could be considered adversarial about anything related to Zimbabwe before and during your trip.
Petty theft: Take normal precautions against petty theft — especially in the densely populated areas. Avoid advertising your camera with a bulky bag with “Canon” or “Nikon” emblazoned across it.
Malaria: Consult your doctor for advice on what to take as an antimalarial in Zimbabwe. I typically take doxycycline in high-risk areas, pack mosquito-repellent clothing, and use bug repellent. Mosquitoes tend to be most active during sunrise and sunset.
Typhoid: You can contract typhoid through contaminated water or food. Use a water purifier in rural areas.
HIV/AIDS: According to UN AIDS Organization, Zimbabwe has an HIV prevalence rate of 13.5%. Make sure that your travel first aid kit is stocked with latex gloves just in case you have to administer first aid.
Travel insurance: Check your policy before purchasing travel insurance. I’ve now had multiple scenarios where my travel insurance did not cover my for some countries — like East Timor and Zimbabwe. Now, I just use World Nomads. Their service is the best out of the few I’ve dealt with and they offer the most coverage.
WiFi: You can get a SIM card of data for around $5 USD per GB for your phone and use that as a hotspot while you travel. WiFi can be a bit of a hit-or-miss in hotels.
How to get to and around Zimbabwe
Fly: The main airport is in Harare. You can also fly into Victoria Falls International Airport which is a convenient airport for travelers excited about seeing one of the natural wonders of the world.
Drive: Be aware of road blocks, fuel shortages, and aggressive drivers.
Public transportation: It’s uncommon for foreigners to take public transportation. Buses can be very crowded and unreliable. It might be the cheapest way to get around the inner city areas, but it won’t be the most convenient. There are some tourist-specific coach bus companies, like Pathfinder, that are comfortable and travel longer distances.
Taxi and private driver: Hiring a private driver in Zimbabwe is the best way to get around (though it’s also the most expensive). Taxis are metered while private drivers charge per trip or by the day. You can get both through your hotel room.
Train: Trains run at night and connect Harare to Bulawayo, Mutare, and Victoria Falls. First class tickets come with a sleeping compartment.
Accommodation in Zimbabwe
Accommodation options in Zimbabwe range from one-star hotels to luxury hotels to glamping tents in the heart of the wilderness. Hostels are not very popular (there are only three in Victoria Falls and one in Harare) and neither are homestays. Zimbabweans are known for their manners and hospitality, so you’ll likely enjoy experiencing 5 star service even in 3 star resorts.
The best regions to visit
You can’t visit Zimbabwe without seeing Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is technically in Zambia, but the best vantage point of seeing the stunning natural wonder is from the Zimbabwe side. The region is packed with all types of wildlife — especially as you get closer to the Zambezi River.
My favorite region in Zimbabwe is Hwange,where you can visit Hwange National Park. In this sanctuary, elephants, painted dogs, hippos, antelope, giraffes, lions, and many other types of wildlife roam freely. It’s one of the best places to embark on a sunrise or sunset safari and Hwange also is home to the Presidential Elephant Herd, an impressive herd of over 400 elephants.
Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, is worth visiting for just a day or two to see the daily life of urban Zimbabweans and experience the country’s cultural hub. Visit during September to October to see the streets lined with vibrant jacaranda trees.
If one of your goals in life is to see a baby white rhino in the flesh (mine is), your best chance is at Matobo National Park. This conservation area is a UNESCO World Heritage site with armed guards who protect white rhinos from poachers. It’s also home to ancient bushman cave paintings and many types of other southern African animals.
Venture from dry savannas to green rolling hills in Nyanga National Park where you can witness the impressive waterfalls and stretch your legs on the many bushwalking trails. The region is rich with lakes, rivers, and wildlife not commonly seen in Zimbabwe’s other reserves. Travelers can also trek Mount Nyangani, the highest mountain in the country.
Bungee jump, zipline, and ride the gorge swing at Victoria Falls Bridge
Thrill seekers absolutely need to go on one of the adrenaline adventures around Victoria Falls Bridge. The bungee jump from the Victoria Falls Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe is over 111 meters high and flings you through a gorge and over raging rapids. Downstream, in the gorge, you can zipline, swing, and bungee jump over crocodile infested waters. If you simply want to watch the action, there is a cafe perched alongside the cliff with a prime viewing platform.
Skywalk and zipline
Walk or zipline above Mutarazi Falls, the second highest waterfall in Africa, in Zimbabwe’s highlands at Far and Wide.
Going on safari is every adventure traveler’s dream. Safaris at Zimbabwe’s national parks depart just before sunrise and sunset every day. Expect to see lions, giraffes, elephants, water buffalo, hippos, painted African dogs, rhinos, all types of antelope, and more. Since Zimbabwe’s national parks are much less crowded than its neighbors in South Africa, there’s a chance you’ll have a path to yourself.
Walk with the rhinos
Track white rhinos on foot with the help of a trusted guide in Motobo National Park. You’ll learn about conservation strategies and the politics surrounding rhino horn trade.
Cruise (or white water raft) on the Zambezi River
The Zambezi River is 1,600 miles long and provides a habitat and source of fresh water to hundreds of species of wildlife. If you take a cruise along the Zambezi, you’ll see crocodiles, bird life, cheetahs, leopards, spotted hyenas, pythons, hippos, elephants, and other creatures coming to drink.
Dive the Chinjoyi Caves
A dolomite and limestone cave system that weaves underground and leads to the Chinjoyi Pools — a dark blue pond pooled at the bottom of the main cave. Tec and experienced cave divers can explore the underwater network of tunnels that span 100 meters deep. Divers can camp inside the national park or stay at the local motel. (I didn’t get a chance to dive here, but it’ll be the first thing I do next time I’m in Zimbabwe!)
Other Zimbabwe Tourist Attractions
Great Zimbabwe: Step back in time by walking among the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, a medieval city and UNESCO World Heritage site built in the 11th century. The layout of this stone city was masterfully planned with narrow corridors that prevented attacks on the city and a plethora of lookout points where the royalty could see enemies coming from miles away.
National Gallery of Zimbabwe: Admire the work of local Zimbabwean and other Southern African artists at this museum built in the late 1950s. It has a strong emphasis on Shona sculpture, arguably the main craft that Zimbabweans are known for.
Bulawayo Railway Museum: A collection of locomotives that have been taken off of Zimbabwe’s main railway system that connects the country with trains built in the late 1800s.
Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences: Famous for hosting the ngoma lungundu, a 700 year old replica of the Ark of the Covenant (not Noah’s Ark) and the oldest wooden artifact discovered in sub-Saharan Africa.
Souvenir shopping: All throughout the country you’ll find small markets with jewelry and sculptures. Look for handmade beads crafted from recycled glass and paper, textiles, and wooden or stone sculptures.
Would you want to visit Zimbabwe?
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