Although recent headlines might put some travellers off, Zimbabwe’s outstanding scenery and temperate climate can make it an excellent place to backpack. Tourism is at an all time low, and you won’t have to beat the crowds! Facilities for backpackers are still up and running, and the locals are always keen to see visitors. However, parts of the country have experienced violence and you are advised to be vigilant throughout your visit. You should check with the Foreign Office before you travel to see if they have any advice.
Currency – United States Dollar (USD)
Time – UTC +2
Language – English is the official language, but there is also Shona, Sindebele, Ndebele and numerous but minor tribal dialects
Telephone area code – 263
As Zimbabwe stretches over a high plateau it has a tropical climate that is varied by terrain and altitude, with a cool, dry season between May and October that feels similar to the Mediterranean. Although it never snows in the country, overnight frosts are common, as are freezing temperatures. Winter is the best time to visit the country for wildlife watching, as at this time animals can be seen assembling around watering holes. The country remains largely dry apart from the humid months from November to April, when rainfall is confined to afternoon downpours and electrical storms. During this period temperatures can rise to 35C, which may be a hindrance, but you will find the rain will have little impact on your travelling.
Things to see and do
You cannot go to Zimbabwe without seeing the Victoria Falls. The falls are situated in the Victoria Falls National Park, and the town of Victoria Falls is only a kilometre away (walking between the park and the town is possible but should be avoided at night). The town has plenty of accomodation and places to eat, and there are a lot of of activities to keep you amused around the waterfall. You can go white-water rafting, canoeing, jet-boating and kayaking in the falls and abseiling down the cliffs. You might also enjoy a hike around the neighbouring Zambezi National Park, quad-biking on surrounding land, fishing, or even taking a helicopter, micro-light or ultra-light over the falls to enjoy the scenery from a breath taking angle.
The Backpackers Bazaar (in Victoria Falls off Parkway, Tel: 013-45828, email: email@example.com ) will provide you with independent advice about activities and will also book your accommodation on both sides of the falls. Travel Junction (Trading Post Shopping Centre, Livingstone Way, Tel: 013-41480, email: firstname.lastname@example.org) provides a similar service.
Great Zimbabwe is one of the best medieval sub-Saharan African cities. It is filled with ruins providing a wealth of information about Zimbabwe’s history. The site is divided into several ruins; the Hill Complex, the Valley and the Great Enclosure.
The eastern highlands of the country are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts: fishing, horseback safaris, and hiking in the Bvumva Mountains are all on offer.
The capital Harare is relatively compact, so it is easy to walk around the city and see its sights. The Harare Gardens provide a sanctuary within the city if the temperature begins to get too much, and it is also home to an open-air tearoom and restaurant, as well as markets at the weekends. However, the gardens are not safe after dark. In downtown Harare you can walk through the streets taking in all the colonial buildings. Most of the original buildings are concentrated on Robert Mugabe Road, with the Parliament Buildings being situated on Third Street. The Anglican Cathedral is on the corner of Second Street and Baker Avenue, and is Harare’s oldest church.
All domestic and international flights fly into the airport 20km south of Harare. Many backpacker hostels provide shuttle buses from the airport as an incentive to make you stay there, otherwise there is the Express Motorways bus service which connects to most flights and drops-off at various points in the city. Train and bus services are also available from neighbouring countries for a relatively small fee. Bus services include Express Motorways, Blue Arrow, Ajay’s Motorways, DSB Coachline, and Greyhound Buses.
Buses run between the major cities, but they are poor even by African standards. The best buses are the ones that run from Road Port in Harare to Lusaka, Lilongwe and to some other destinations. Minibus taxis also run within towns and cities, although the price of petrol means that these may be very expensive and are crammed full, so travellers now rarely use them.
The Victoria Falls Train provides awesome views of the waterfall, although it also provides views of the wreckage from the 2006 train crash which sadly claimed many lives. The rest of the rail network connects Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Victoria Falls, but the trains are painfully slow and the tracks desperately need servicing. Night travel is available, and these trains all include sleeping compartments.
Zimbabwe is home to some awful drivers, and therefore if you do hire a car try to avoid travelling after dark as unfortunately drink driving is a common problem. However, with recent petrol price inflation and shortages, you may find it impossible to drive in the country.
There is backpacker accommodation in Zimbabwe, although these are usually confined to the major cities and are often pretty run down as they do not actually see that many travellers. In the more rural areas campgrounds can be found in abundance, and as Zimbabwe is blessed with a temperate climate this is often a cheaper and more pleasurable option.
In Harare the Small World Backpackers Lodge (25 Ridge Road, Tel: 335341, email: email@example.com) is one of the best. It is close to Avondale Shopping Centre, overlooks the city and has a bar. Jameson (Cnr Samora Machel Avenue & Park Street, Tel: 774106) is a large hostel located in the centre of town, but is a little dated. On the outskirts of the city you will find York Lodge (1 York Avenure, Newlands, Tel: 746622) which is a safari style lodge and makes for a very charming place to stay.
In the North of the country lies Kariba, which is a small lakeside town that is mainly visited by people wanting to see some wildlife. Camping is available here at the Kariba Kushinga Lodges (Camp Hill, Tel: 3041/2/3, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) or slightly more expensive self-catering chalets which may be a better option if there are a lot of you.
If you venture into the Bvumba Mountains there is plenty of accommodation for all price ranges. The Ndundu Lodge (Bvumba Road, Tel: 63777) is a beautiful thatched cottage that offers inside accommodation or the option of camping, both for a very reasonable price. The owners have also outlined walking trails for their residents to use, and have bikes for hire. There is a bar and restaurant so you will not need to venture far for refreshment if you stay here!
Bulawayo is Zimbabwe’s second largest city and the gateway to the west of the country. The Packer’s Rest (1 Oak Avenue, Tel: 251111, Email: email@example.com) is close to the city and offers relatively cheap and cheerful accommodation. Lily’s Lodge (3 Masefield Road, Tel: 24356) has a more cultural feel to it, and Lily organises traditional evenings with local food and dancing.
In Great Zimbabwe it is best to stay in the Great Zimbabwe Campground, which is inside the main gate of the Hill Complex. Dorms are also available.
Health care issues
Due to current economic problems medicines are in short supply, so make sure you bring a well-stocked first aid kit. Private doctors and hospitals are of a good standard, and thus it is essential to take out travel and medical insurance before you travel. HIV/AIDS is a common and persistent problem in Zimbabwe, therefore do not have unprotected sex, and if you form a relationship with someone it is recommended that both you and your partner get an HIV test.
Malaria is also prevalent so take necessary precaution against this before you travel and whilst you are there (e.g. using DEET mosquito repellent and using a mosquito net at night). Snakes are common in the country so never walk barefoot, shake your shoes out before you put them on, and if you do get bitten seek medical assistance immediately.
The Avenues Clinic (Cnr Mazowe Street & Balines Avenue, Tel: 251180 99) and the Trauma Centre (Lanark Road, Belgravia, Tel: 7000666/815) both in Harare are recommended by expats, and are better to visit than other medical centres and hospitals as they have a larger collection of drugs.
In western Zimbabwe the Bulawayo Central Hospital (Tel: 72111) is the best-equipped and most accessible public hospital, but the Galen House Emergency Medical Clinic (Tel: 540051) is privately run and better than the hospital.
The Department of Immigration Control (Linquenda House, Cnr Nelson Mandela Avenue & First Street, Tel: 791913) – This is where you need to come if you want to extend your visa.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (1 Union Avenue, Tel: 758826) – Provides general information about Zimbabwe, transport, activities and accommodation.
The British Embassy (3 Norfolk Road, Mount Pleasant, PO Box 4490, Tel: 04-85855200 ext. 6806)
The National Railways of Zimbabwe – Check with this organisation for up to date information and details about routes. Harare – Tel: 04-78604416, Bulawayo – Tel: 09-322210, Mutare – Tel: 020-62825, Victoria Falls – Tel: 013-44391