Zimbabwe is pure adventure and the place where travelers can unlock the natural wonders of the world. With three geographical regions, the country is filled with attractive sites and astonishing views.
The Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo) call the national parks home so that you can catch a glimpse of exotic beauty. Victoria Falls is also located within Zimbabwe’s borders and it is worth visiting this natural wonder because it will take your breath away. With an extensive history, you can also visit important World Heritage Sites like the Mana Pools or Khami Ruins.
Mauya – Welcome to Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has more recently made the news due to its instability within the government. With violence, disruptions, and a struggling economy, Zimbabwe is working towards a brighter future. But even with their own struggles, the country has remained upbeat and have always welcomed visitors to explore. The people are known for their grace and kindness, which is just another reason that people fall in love with Zimbabwe.
Harare is the capital of Zimbabwe and it is known for its skyscrapers, line lanes, and questionable character. While word on the street doesn’t favor the capital, many people are on the fence about whether it is worth a visit. But with fine dining, museums, markets, and bars, Harare can provide good entertainment. While you may be tempted to go directly on safari, Harare can be rewarding in itself and it is worth spending a few days to explore the capital.
Culture and Language
As part of Africa, Zimbabwe has a long history that begins about 2,000 years ago. The San people were the first culture in the region, which were then taken over by the Bantu during their expansion. The Bantu made Iron Age pottery and greatly influenced the region. As more cultures came and tribes were established, Zimbabwe changed. Many of the tribes that began years ago as still present in the country today.
During colonization, Great Britain claimed Zimbabwe and it was named Southern Rhodesia. While the country eventually became self-governing, the Queen and Great Britain’s government still had the ultimate say in all of Zimbabwe’s affairs. In fact, many Rhodesians fought in World War II to support the United Kingdom. But within time, Zimbabwe did gain its independence. In April of 1980, Zimbabwe was independent.
However, the country has struggled in the past 20 years with instability and violence. Poverty and unemployment are major issues in Zimbabwe and the resulting elections have failed to find a solution. Instead, the elections throughout the years have led to more problems are people seek the power to rule the nation. Protests went hand in hand with violence and the economy had collapsed by 2016. The most recent issues in 2019 were the price of fuel, which increased by 130%.
But while the country has struggled, the people have remained optimistic. While the country is far from perfect, they are on their way to stabilizing and building a better future. The people are known for being extremely polite and overly welcoming to visitors. Also called Zimbabweans, the people are known for having a deep respect for their culture, heritage, and ancestry, while also keeping open arms.
The culture of Zimbabwe is difficult to envision because it is so diverse. With various tribes and foreign influences, the country truly is unique. But many traditions are upheld and there are strong beliefs in ceremonies or celebrations. The Shona people are the majority in the population but some of their main groupings are the Zezuru and Karanga.
The diversity of Zimbabwe continues into its languages. The country has 16 official languages including English. The main languages besides English are Shona and Ndebele. Shona is spoken by about 70% of the population, while Ndebele is spoken by about 20%. Immigrant languages are also present and some of the most popular are Afrikaans, French, and German.
For travelers, you can rely on English in urban areas, but it may be limited in rural areas. This is because English is the language used by the government, businesses, and within schools but it may not be the primary language that is spoken in the home.
For US tourists who are interested in visiting Zimbabwe, a tourist visa is required. But you can obtain a tourist visa at the port of entry, which includes any airport or land border. The Embassy of Zimbabwe does not currently accept any applications for visas prior to your arrival to the country. There are multiple visa options and they all have a different price.
A 30-day and single-entry tourist visa costs $30 US dollars, while the 45-day and double-entry tourist visa costs $45 US dollars. Both of these visas can be extended one time by visiting the public window of the Zimbabwe Immigration Office. There is also an option for a 12-month and multiple entry visa, which costs $160 US dollars.
Other visa requirements include a US passport with a recommended 6 months validity remaining. It is also recommended to have 2 blank pages in your passport. Travelers will also have to prove that they have a return ticket and adequate funds for the duration of their trip.
However, if you are crossing into Zimbabwe via its border with South Africa, you will need 6 blank pages in your passport. This is due to each country’s individual requirement. South Africa requires 2 pages to exit the country, 2 pages for transit into Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe uses 2 pages. If you do not have the 6 pages open in your passport, you will likely be denied. South Africa is very serious about this requirement and will force you to turn around if 6 pages are not blank.
While there are no currency restrictions, except that you cannot leave with more than $2,000 US dollars. Due to the economy, Zimbabwe has heavily relied on the US dollar and it is the only currency that is widely accepted. However, travelers should be certain that they bring enough cash for the duration of their trip because there have been many issues and restrictions with taking money out of the local ATMs and banks.
It is important that you have a Yellow Fever vaccination. It is currently required that you have a current Yellow Fever vaccination if you are traveling from a country where the disease is prevalent or listed on the WHO website. However, it is always recommended that you are up to date on all booster. Tuberculosis is also prevalent in Zimbabwe and you may want to take preventative measures.
While your visa is one of the first important expenses of your trip, you also need to be prepared and plan the rest of your spending budget too. Zimbabwe is an expensive country and even backpacker’s will need to be ready to raise their budgets a bit. But there are also a lot of different parts of your budget and one of them that can greatly increase the price is choosing to go on safari. Other important parts of your budget will include the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
The airfare is the first part of your budget that you will need to consider and be prepared to pay a hefty price. The average cost of a flight from the United States (New York) to Zimbabwe is $900 US dollars. But the cost can easily increase over $1,000 US dollars and may cost up to $1,700 US dollars if you hesitate to make a reservation or make a last-minute decision. On the flip side, if you book in advance, you may be able to find special deals that lower the price to about $750 US dollars.
But you shouldn’t expect prices to lower during the tourist high season. May to October are the most popular months to visit Zimbabwe because there is a lower malaria risk and almost no rain. However, travelers should know that September and October are the driest and hottest months. These peak tourist travel months are also some of the best times for you to view game and wildlife.
The next most important part of your trip will be your accommodation. There are a lot of options in Zimbabwe, but the most affordable options are a hostel or camping site. These types of accommodation usually cost $8-$12 US dollars per night. If shared or outdoor accommodation are not your preferred option, you can also look at guest houses.
Guest houses are another popular option that have a slightly higher price but are still affordable. Most guest houses will cost $15-$60 US dollars per night. Boutique guest houses or hotels are some of the nicest options, which don’t have the price of luxury locations. Nicer guest houses will cost $60-$150 US dollars per night. If you are staying in the city and want a western hotel, you should expect to pay a minimum of $300 US dollars per night.
It is also important to discuss safaris as a type of accommodation. Typically, travelers will book a safari, which includes lodging, meals, and activities. Safaris will also provide you with transportation to the park or reserve. However, the most affordable safaris will likely cost about $150 US dollars per night.
An all-inclusive safari will be more expensive and usually has a base price of $250 US dollars per night. However, luxury safaris are very popular, and many have a base price of $1,000 US dollars per night and some options can even go up to $10,000 US dollars for a complete experience. But the good news is that these types of safaris will cover the cost of transportation and meals, which means that you don’t have to worry about those as extra costs.
If you’re not going on safari, you will need to purchase your food and plan the price accordingly with your budget. Eating locally is the best way to save on money and there is a large variety within Zimbabwe’s cuisine. Sadza is a popular dish, which is a cornmeal porridge that is served as a stew with beef. Nhedzi is a wild mushroom soup that is another favorite. Peanut butter is also a staple within the cuisine and bota is a porridge for breakfast, while dovi is a stew with traditional meat and vegetables.
Game meat is very popular in Zimbabwe and you may have the chance to try exotic flavors like ostrich, warthog, or crocodile. Mopane worms are also served, dried or in stew, and as a snack. For the beef jerky lovers, biltong is a dried beef or game meat, which can be a perfect option for travelers on the go.
In relation to your budget, local establishments will cost about $5 US dollars per meal. This is the most affordable option. But for travelers who want to dine out at nicer restaurants, you should expect to spend $10-$25 US dollars per meal. Meals in the big cities and at fine dining establishments can be very expensive and may cost up to or more than $50 US dollars.
Drinks are also a part of your budget, but they can be affordable. Beer is the most affordable option and many options will cost about $2 US dollars. Other types of alcohol will be more expensive and in the tourist areas, you should expect to pay up to $8 US dollars for a drink.
Overall, travelers on a lower budget should be prepared to have to raise their standards. The minimum backpacker budget would be $60 US dollars per day, and it would be tight. Backpacker’s would need to plan ahead and take the time to find deals or affordable options. A more reasonable budget would be to spend $100-$150 US dollars per day. However, many travelers who wish to stay in nicer locations will spend about $250 US dollars per day. Luxury vacations will be very expensive, especially if it includes a safari, and travelers can easily spend hundreds or even thousands of US dollars per day.
How to Get Around
While there are big cities in Zimbabwe, the majority of the country is rather difficult to access because it is rural. Some of the top tourist destinations are even difficult to access without hiring a private driver. For safety and convenience, private drivers one of the most popular methods of transportation. Renting a car and self-driving in Zimbabwe can be hectic and dangerous because of the road conditions. Taxis can often be hired, and a half day would cost about $40 US dollars, while a full day would likely cost $80 US dollars.
Private drivers with a company would be more expensive and could cost $70-$100 US dollars per day or more. However, private drivers would eliminate the need for having to navigate difficult routes and are the safest option. For travelers who can’t afford a private driver, the other options are include using local buses, taxis, and walking.
Local buses are the most affordable option and many journeys will cost less than $10 US dollars. Luxury buses are another option, but they will be more expensive. However, you’ll be more comfortable when traveling. Luxury bus tickets often cost $30 US dollars. Taxis are also affordable for short rides and have similar fares to buses.
Walking is also a safe option when you are touristy areas. However, you should always keep your belongings close by and be aware of your surroundings. Travelers should also avoid walking at night or alone.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
With a vast landscape, there are a few different cities that have caught tourists’ eyes in Zimbabwe. Here are the top city destinations in Zimbabwe.
As the capital of the country, Harare is a mega cosmopolitan city with tower skyscrapers and wide lanes of traffic. The city has multiple galleries and museums, as well as historic sites. With plenty of green space scattered amongst the hotel, restaurants, and shops, one of the most popular times to visit are when the jacarandas are in bloom.
With a mixture of colonial and Victorian architecture, Bulawayo is a historic gem. The picturesque city is perfect for taking casual strolls or shopping amongst a variety of market for fine crafts. The city is also nearby to a few parks to the southwest, which makes it a popular hub for travelers.
The nearby deepwater caves are what have put Chonhoyi on the map. For extreme adventurists, the caves have an expansive system for exploration. The town itself is rather small and there isn’t much to it, but with a laid-back vibe, it is the perfect place to rest before you head underground.
Located in the highlands, Mutare is a popular spot because it is located close by to Nyanga National Park. Here, the lush greenery is nested in the Bvumba Mountains and the Samango monkeys are a favorite site. With a small slice of civilization, this is an oasis before you hop off into the wilds of Africa.
With golf courses and vineyards, Gweru is a posh city in Zimbabwe that is often a favorite for travelers who want to experience South African sophistication. The city is a hit with all travelers, especially those who are coming with families.
Points of Interest
With amazing views and sites, there are plenty of points of interest in Zimbabwe that have become major hotspots. With so much surrounding nature tourism, many of the places are national parks. Here are some of the top points of interest in Zimbabwe.
Often considered to be a wonder of the natural world, Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe’s top point of interest and a must-see destination. Victoria Falls is located on the Zambezi River and straddles both Zimbabwe and Zambia. The waterfalls size is only rivaled by Iguazu Falls in South America and during certain periods of wet season, it becomes the world’s largest waterfall. While it is a stunning site, global warming has drastically affected Victoria Falls and in 2019 after heavy drought, the falls lost a significant amount of water. Now, is the time to visit this amazing site and protect its future.
Matobo National Park
Matobo National Park is one of the protected areas just outside of Bulawayo, which is famous for its stunning rock formations. The large bluffs and granite peaks provide a beautiful backdrop and the nearby Nswatugi Cave showcases some of Africa’s earliest history with hominids. The Hove Wild Area is also nearby and gives you the opportunity to view African game animals like antelope, wildebeest, baboons, and leopards.
Nyanga National Park
With impressive dolomite rocks, the Nyanga National Park is one of Africa’s most visually stunning locations. The msasa and cypress trees that scatter the area are rather rare and are the perfect habitat for wildlife. With Old World monkeys, leopards, and lions, this park is a popular destination for nature enthusiasts.
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park is the area that most people envision when they think of the African landscape. In this terrain, there are woods and groves, plains and flats, termite mounds and watering holes. With all of Africa’s most famous wildlife, guests have the opportunity to view hyenas, wild dogs, leopards, cheetahs, and elephants. This is also the face of Zimbabwe’s ecotourism and the most popular park within the country.
Mana Pools National Park
Fed by the Zambezi River, these pools are extremely popular for game watching because of all the animals that come to re-hydrate. Some of the favorite animals to spot in the Mana Pools National Park are crocodiles, hippos, and elephants.
Matusadora National Park
Perfectly preserved, Matsuadora National Park is a famous area within Zimbabwe because it reminds people of an untouched Rhodesia. The park is nearby the town of Kariba and the Kariba Dam, which are two more attractions nearby. With tranquility, this is the ideal getaway to escape the chaos of the city.
Get Out and Go
With a picturesque vision, Zimbabwe embodies the heart of South Africa and going on safari. The numerous national parks have been preserved to keep Zimbabwe’s unique wildlife safe and tourists are eager to catch a glimpse of the vanishing Big Five. With plenty of adventure, Zimbabwe showcases its love of nature and proudly displays its culture. For anyone looking to explore this massive continent, Zimbabwe is one of the best countries to visit.