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For a small, landlocked country in southern Africa, Zimbabwe offers an astounding variety of natural beauty and spectacular scenery. The country holds great appeal for active adventurers, outdoor enthusiasts and anybody with an appreciative eye for beauty.
Famous sights include the majesty of the iconic Victoria Falls, the giant marble-like boulders of the Motopo Hills, the verdant mountains of the Eastern Highlands, the national parks teeming with wildlife, and the Great Zimbabwe ancient ruins. Zimbabwe's capital city, Harare, is also impressive in many ways.
The Victoria Falls are Zimbabwe's most popular tourist destination and one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Their mile-wide (2km) curtain of water plunges deep into the Zambezi Gorge creating a cloud of mist that can be seen up to 20 miles (32km) away.
This area is renowned for being the 'adventure capital of Africa', offering a variety of high adrenaline activities, including one of the wildest days of whitewater rafting on earth, and a 364-foot (111m) bungee jump into the Zambezi River gorge from the bridge linking Zimbabwe to Zambia. If you'd rather lie back and relax, there are scenic flights over the area, game viewing adventures, and tranquil sundowner cruises above the falls.
Wildlife flourishes in the untamed wilderness of the Zambezi Valley, in national parks, and on the shores of Lake Kariba, where hippo, crocodile, buffalo, rhino, elephant, and lion roam freely. Remote and protected wildlife reserves line the banks of the Zambezi River and the region offers some of the finest canoe safaris in Southern Africa, particularly the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Mana Pools, which is renowned for its outstanding variety of game.
The saltpans and grassy plains of Hwange National Park support one of the largest concentrations of animals in the world, and is the largest game reserve in the country. Lake Kariba is treasured as a source of hydro-electricity, as well as for its fishing resources. It is a beautiful stretch of water studded with islands and the sun-bleached branches of dead trees, surrounded by mountains and forests. Houseboats offer a wonderful opportunity to relax and take in the spectacular sunsets, enjoy a variety of watersports, and spot the vast quantities of game attracted to the lake, including huge Nile crocodiles and hippos.
The ongoing social and political unrest in Zimbabwe, together with an exceptionally weak economy, has deterred many potential travellers from visiting Zimbabwe and experiencing some of the most breathtaking scenery and first-class game viewing safaris in Africa.
Although visitors to the country are urged to exercise caution at all times and to remain aware of recent political developments, the main tourist areas, and national parks in particular, have been largely unaffected by the political situation, being far from the main cities where much of the instability exists.
Ivory poaching, particularly of Black Rhino horn, has become a significant challenge for conservationists. In a desperate attempt to attract business, many game lodges are offering extremely competitive prices to travellers.
Zimbabwe is blessed with a host of globally-recognised touristic gems, mostly of the natural variety, beckoning outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers. The two most famous areas to visit in Zimbabwe are the incomparable Victoria Falls (on the western border), and the wide expanse of Lake Kariba (on the northwestern border).
In both cases, wondrous natural features have ensured the development of tourist hubs which are comparatively safe for visitors, boast plentiful activities and attractions, and offer well-developed amenities.
Victoria Falls alone justifies travelling to Zimbabwe, with the Zambezi River, where the falls are located, also famed for its high-volume whitewater rafting adventures. Lake Kariba is a favourite playground for fishermen and boaters, particularly renowned for its house boating potential.
Of course, Zimbabwe is also home to diverse wildlife and some game viewing is a must during a visit to the country. The Matusadona National Park, which incorporates Lake Kariba, is a good option for animal sightings. Other popular game parks include Hwange National Park, Mana Pools National Park and Matobo Hills National Park. Keen bird watchers will find the Honde Valley and Eastern Highlands well worth a visit.
Culturally, the most popular attraction in the country is Great Zimbabwe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 11th century. Exploring the well-preserved ruins of this mysterious ancient culture is thrilling.
Located in the north of Zimbabwe near the Zambian border, Kariba is the Zimbabwean centre for the tourist industry orientated around the magnificent Lake Kariba. It is also a good base from which to explore surrounding game reserves and attractions in northern Zimbabwe such as Mana Pools, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It's also useful as a stopover en route to Zambia. The town has a number of restaurants, casinos, quality resort hotels, and safari lodges, not to mention a number of large luxury houseboat hotels which use Kariba as a base.
The airport at Kariba town is small, but regular flights to Kariba come in from Victoria Falls and Harare. The town is also only about four hours from Harare by road. Once there, the town is easily walkable, or you could make use of local taxis.
Lake Kariba itself is one the largest manmade lakes in the world. It powers the hydroelectric Kariba Dam in the Zambezi River Basin, which provides much of Zambia and Zimbabwe's electricity. The large dam walls are an impressive sight, and worth a day trip.
Such a large body of water attracts a multitude of game, especially in the dry seasons, so the game reserves bordering the dam make for excellent game viewing. Lake Kariba has a thriving commercial fishing industry and is also a world-renowned tiger fishing spot. The annual tiger fishing contest attracts teams from around Southern Africa and beyond every year.
Because of its size and the abundance of wildlife it attracts, Lake Kariba is ideal for a safari holiday. You can travel the lake by canoe or on a houseboat for several days at a time, camping on the shore at night at designated spots as you go.
For a more relaxed lake trip, hire a luxury cruiser or join a tour guide group for a day. The lake is no less impressive for being manmade: there are lots of islands and thousands of tiny inlets to explore. The Matusadona National Park, with its iconic half-submerged forest still standing after the lake was flooded half a century ago, is a favourite with photographers.
The majestic Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders), is located on the Zambezi River, between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Explorer David Livingstone named the falls after Queen Victoria when he first saw them in 1855. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the falls have been attracting travellers and adventure-seekers for decades, its pounding waters creating a mist that can be seen for miles and the sound of the falls, especially in the rainy season (November to April) making it difficult to hear anything else. There is a trail that runs along the cliff adjacent to the waterfall which visitors can use to reach the scenic viewpoints; a helicopter tour is another phenomenal way to see the falls from above. Guided tours are available, and there are opportunities to bungee jump (one of the world's highest) and white water raft down this section of the Zambezi. It is impossible to visit the Victoria Falls without being blown away by its beauty and power, and both Zimbabwe and Zambia are justifiably proud of this great wonder.
The granite formations in Matobo National Park contain rock art and San artefacts that date back thousands of years. Surrounded by huge rock formations and delicately balanced boulders, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a scenic place to see game like white and black rhinos, leopards, zebras, monkeys and much more. One of the strangest, but most fascinating attractions in Matobo Hills is the lizard feedings that take place three times daily at World's View, which is also where Cecil John Rhodes is buried. Although the game viewing can be spectacular, this area is mainly fascinating because of its ancient cultural remnants, making it a particularly exciting Zimbabwean attraction for those interested in rock art.
A popular but somewhat risky Vic Falls attraction is Devil's Pool, a naturally formed swimming spot right on the edge of the falls. The pool is only safe to swim in between September and December (and not always, even in these months), when the river flow is at the right level, but even then this is quite a daring adventure and not for the faint hearted. Aside from the thrill of swimming on the edge of the falls, Devil's Pool is also a great spot for those once-in-a-lifetime holiday photos. Ferries from Livingstone Island take visitors to this exciting attraction whenever the water levels are deemed safe enough, however this activity is predominantly accessible only from the Zambian side of the Falls.
There are three primary national parks to explore while on holiday in Vic Falls - the Victoria Falls National Park, the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side of the falls and, about 120 miles (193km) further south, the Hwange National Park. These parks feature a vast selection of wildlife including elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and various antelope; there are also occasional sightings of lion and leopard. There are a number of operators in Vic Falls town offering safaris to these national parks, as well as elephant-back safaris on Nakavango Estate and the 'walking with lions' experience at Masuwe Estate.
The Victoria Falls National Park incorporates the iconic falls - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - and is therefore an absolute must for travellers in the region. Apart from the falls, and the gorgeous rainforest beneath, the national park includes varied landscapes populated by diverse game, including the Big Five: elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino.
The Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is situated along the upper Zambezi River, on the Zambian side, and also incorporates part of Victoria Falls. Travellers will find that crossing the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia at Victoria Falls is generally very pain-free as border officials are totally accustomed to people popping over for a few hours to view both sides of the falls. Naturally both countries want to encourage tourism.
The largest game reserve in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park, covers more than 5,637 square miles (14,600 sq km) of land in the western tip of Zimbabwe, near the Kalahari Desert. The park contains large numbers of gemsbok, hyena, African wild dogs, and elephants, and safari lodges within Hwange offer a range of safaris either on foot, by 4x4, or on horseback.
Mana Pools National Park has a split personality: it incorporates a vast expanse of flat, arid land which becomes a broad expanse of glorious lakes after each rainy season, which lasts from November to April. Animals follow the pools in search of water, and as the lakes dry up Mana Pools National Park is one of the best places in the country to view game like elephants, hippos, crocodiles and buffalo as they make the most of nature's bounty before it disappears. Mana means 'four' in Shona, and refers to four permanent pools in the middle Zambezi that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Far from any human settlement, Mana Pools National park is a great place to experience a truly wild Zimbabwe.
The capital of Zimbabwe during the Iron Age and dating back to the 11th century, Great Zimbabwe was home to the royal palace and an estimated 18,000 people in its heyday. At some point the city was abandoned, and now it stands empty and ruined, with its most prominent features being the mighty stone walls that reach 16 feet (5m) high, and the famous Zimbabwean Birds that were perched on top of eight monoliths around the city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins are majestic and impressive, and form the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert. Exploring the ruined city is extremely thrilling; it is a mysterious place, inviting flights of the imagination and with a palpable sense of age.
The climate in Zimbabwe is sub-tropical with a summer season of about eight months (October to April), with hot, sunny days the norm. Summer daytime temperatures range around 86ºF (30ºC) in the main centres, though the low-lying areas such as the Zambezi Valley, Kariba, and Victoria Falls tend to be hotter, and there is always a possibility of an afternoon thunderstorm.
The Zimbabwean winter climate is pleasant, with warm, dry days from June to August (though temperatures do drop more extremely at night) and the average temperature is around 68ºF (20ºC). Rain occurs mostly between November and March in Zimbabwe, though rainfall patterns do vary according to region.
The best game viewing time is during the months of August, September and October: this is the dry season when animals congregate at the waterholes. The best time of the year for white water rafting on the Zambezi is September, October, and November.
The de facto official currency is the US Dollar (USD). The Zimbabwe Dollar (ZWD) was effectively abandoned as the official curency in early 2009 after runaway inflation. The South African Rand (ZAR) and British Pound (GBP) are also sometimes accepted.
Major international credit cards are accepted in most of the larger hotels, restaurants and shops. Many smaller establishments still do not have credit card facilities. Diners Club and American Express are often not accepted. ATM facilities, dispensing USD, are available in the cities, although in smaller towns and rural areas you'll need to bring cash.
English is the official language in Zimbabwe, although it is only spoken as a first language by a tiny percentage of the population. Several indigenous languages are spoken including Shona and Ndebele.
Electrical current is 220-240 volts, 50Hz. Three-pin rectangular blade plugs are common.
US nationals: US passport holders must have a passport valid for at least the duration of their stay. A visa is required. A 90-day tourist visa or 30-day business visa can be obtained on arrival.
UK nationals: Passports must be valid for at least the period of intended stay. A visa is required. A 90-day tourist visa or 30-day business visa can be obtained on arrival.
CA nationals: Passports must be valid for at least the period of stay in the country. A visa is required. A 90-day tourist visa or 30-day business visa can be obtained on arrival.
AU nationals: Australian passport holders must have a passport valid for at least the period of stay in the country. A visa is required. A 90-day tourist visa or 30-day business visa can be obtained on arrival.
ZA nationals: South Africans must have a passport valid for at least the period of stay in the country. A visa is not required for stays of less than 90 days.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for at least the period of intended stay. A visa is required. A 90-day tourist visa or 30-day business visa can be obtained on arrival.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for the period of intended stay. A visa is required. A 90-day tourist visa or 30-day business visa can be obtained on arrival.
All visitors require travel itineraries, tickets, and documents for return or onward journeys, as well as sufficient funds for the duration of their stay. Visa fees, where applicable, are payable in US dollars. Fees vary depending on nationality and type of visa. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources. If travelling on business, you'll also need multiple copies of a letter from your company and an invitation letter from a Zimbabwean company, both on company stationery.
Travellers to Zimbabwe who are coming from infected countries require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Vaccinations against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid are recommended. A high prevalence of AIDS/HIV exists in Zimbabwe. There is a risk of malaria all year in most of the country, particularly in the Zambezi Valley, Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park and in the Eastern Highlands; the risk is very small in Harare and Bulawayo. Mosquitoes are chloroquine resistant. Precautions against mosquito bites should be taken to avoid any number of mosquito-borne diseases. Cholera outbreaks occur usually during the rainy season when flooding and contamination of water sources takes place. Rapidly declining health standards are also responsible for Zimbabwe having one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Visitors are advised to take food and hygiene precautions. The standard of tap water in urban areas is considered low, and bottled water is available. The current economic instability has led to shortages of medication in public hospitals, and striking is common; it is advisable to bring a supply of personal medication. Medical insurance is essential. Private clinics expect cash payment and medical costs can be high.
On 6th September 2018, a Cholera outbreak was declared in Harare. The situation is being monitored by the World Health Organisation. Visitors are advised to seek the advice of a health professional before traveling.
A service charge is usually included in the bill in Zimbabwe, otherwise a 10 percent tip is customary for staff in restaurants, hotels and taxis. In general, tipping for good service is discretionary. Some tour guides and game rangers depend largely on tips for their income.
There have been violent protests in Zimbabwe in January 2019, and the current situation is unsettled. Tourists are advised to exercise caution, and to monitor news and travel advice websites for updates. Note that access to internet has been disrupted and some apps may not be available. Visitors should avoid political activity, demonstrations, and rallies. There is a moderate level of crime. Thus it is wise to use taxis and hire cars to avoid walking the city streets alone at night.
Victoria Falls is considered the most safe and well-policed of Zimbabwe and the majority of visits are hassle-free. The resort areas around Lake Kariba are also considered to be safe, especially on guided tours and package holidays.
*In March 2019, the Tropical Cyclone Idai hit Zimbabwe, causing significant flooding and mud slides, especially across the eastern parts of the country. Roads and bridges have been affected, as have electricity, water and telecommunications. Visitors travelling to affected regions should follow advice given by local authorities. They are also advised to check prior to travel that their hotel is still open, and they should monitor local and international weather updates.
In Zimbabwe it is against the law to take photographs of public buildings or government institutions, and it is not advisable to take photographs anywhere in the vicinity of such buildings, or any roadblocks and illegally occupied farms, as this could lead to arrest. It is also illegal to take photographs of police and military personnel, as well as of demonstrations. It is a criminal offence to make insulting comments about President Mugabe and his government. It is also an offence to continue driving when the President's motorcade goes past, no matter which side of the road you are on. Visitors should be aware that an open hand is the political symbol of the main opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and a friendly wave may therefore be misinterpreted as a provocative gesture. Homosexuality is illegal. Civilians are not permitted to wear camouflage clothing.
Business in Zimbabwe is conducted in English, and is fairly informal, with drinking and socialising very much part of the business scene. Dress is fairly conservative, but lightweight suits or casual jackets are more suited to the hot climate than formal business wear.
It is customary to shake hands with men and women at the beginning and end of a meeting. Business hours are generally Monday to Friday, 8am to 4.30pm, although hours vary considerably depending on the establishment; some businesses close at 11am on Wednesdays, and some are open on Saturday mornings.
The international dialling code for Zimbabwe is +263. Local mobile phone operators provide network coverage in most cities, towns, and tourist areas throughout the country. Internet facilities are available in most towns and cities, but internet cafes are often crowded.
Travellers to Zimbabwe do not have to pay duty on items to the value of US$200 provided this allowance is not claimed more than once in a 30-day period. These include goods for personal consumption, including tobacco, and alcohol up to 5 litres with no more than 2 litres of this being spirits. Prohibited items include narcotic and amphetamine drugs, indecent or obscene reading material, toy firearms, and blade knives.
Official tourism website of Zimbabwe: www.zimbabwetourism.net
Zimbabwe Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 332 7100.
Zimbabwe Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7836 7755.
Zimbabwe Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 421 2824/1242.
Zimbabwe Embassy, Canberra ACT, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6286 2281/2700.
Zimbabwe Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 5125.
United States Embassy, Harare: +263 (0)4 250 593.
British Embassy, Harare: +263 (0)4 338 800
Canadian Embassy, Harare: +263 (0)4 252 181/2/3/4/5.
Australian High Commission, Harare: +263 (0)4 853 23 555.
South African High Commission, Harare: +263 (0)4 760 404.
Honorary Consulate of Ireland, Harare +263 (0)4 771 949.
New Zealand High Commission, Pretoria (also responsible for Zimbabwe): +27 (0)12 435 9000.
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