Zimbabwe may be one of the most beautiful countries in Africa, but it is perhaps better known as one of the more troubled nations on the continent. From its independence, in 1980, through Robert Mugabe’s ongoing reign, many tourists have left Zimbabwe off their itineraries. Despite the country’s reputation in the West, however, it has much to be proud of, and Zimbabwe has an astonishing array to offer tourists. It boasts one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, impressive natural attractions (such as Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world), and some of the most diverse wildlife on the continent.
In 2009, Zimbabwe’s longtime single-party rule ended, and the nation established a power-sharing government. Although Mugabe has yet to agree to the terms of the Global Political Agreement, economic revival has begun, signaling a fresh beginning and a brighter future for this African nation.
1. Victoria Falls: These great cascades, located near the Zimbabwe–Zambia border in the Zambezi River, are undoubtedly one of the most impressive natural wonders in the world. An average of 550,000 cubic meters (19,420 cubic feet) rush through them every day. The falls and surrounding area are not only a national park but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site; they have awed and inspired visitors for hundreds of years. A large number of water sports and extreme sports are available to tourists around the falls, from bungee jumping to white-water rafting. The town of Victoria Falls, on the southern bank of the Zambezi River, is easily accessible by bus and car and has a small international airport with daily domestic flights, as well as service to cities in South Africa and Namibia.
2. Chinhoyi Caves: These dolomite and limestone caves are located near the town of Chinhoyi, a couple of hours from Harare. Within the caves is a large, deep blue pool, known as the Silent Pool. It is believed that the caves were once the hideout of the bandit Nyamakwere, who threw his victims into the pool to drown them. The pools in the caves offer super diving with great visibility and exciting underwater tunnels and caves to explore.
3. Kariba: This inland sea, nestled in Zimbabwe’s breathtaking mountains, is surrounded by game reserves and a prime fishing and water sports area. Kariba is one of the largest manmade lakes in history, having once been a river. It is a lovely watering hole, feeding ground, and home to a myriad of mammals, birds, and fish, and it is dotted with small islands teeming with life. We highly recommend putting Kariba at the top of your itinerary.
4. Mbare Market: Need to do some souvenir shopping? Or do you simply want to experience the buzz of African market life? If you are in Harare, visit the Mbare Market, where vendors sell everything you might wish for. Prices are almost never fixed, so be prepared to bargain.
5. Hwange National Park: The largest national park in Zimbabwe, Hwange is located between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls and boasts one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in Africa, including elephants, buffalo, zebras, and giraffes. Some of Africa’s most obscure and unusual mammals, such as the gemsbok, can be found here. Walking, driving, and horseback safaris in this massive park make for unforgettable experiences.
6. Bulawayo: Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, located in the southwestern part of the country, is known for its vibrant art and music scene, colonial buildings, and tree-lined streets. Home to a large number of the nation’s museums, Bulawayo is a great city to spend some down time in before or after a tour in one of Zimbabwe’s national parks.
7. Matobos National Park: A short drive from Bulawayo, this national park is one of Zimbabwe’s greatest tourist attractions, with its impressive granite outcrops and a large variety of birds. The greatest concentration of ancient San rock art can also be found in the Matobo hills. There is a small game park where visitors can see white and black rhinoceroses.
8. Great Zimbabwe Ruins: Near the southern town of Masvingo reside the most impressive medieval ruins in sub-Saharan Africa. Dating between A.D. 1250 and 1450, the ruins possess the craftsmanship, size, and timelessness to make them one of the most impressive tourist destinations on the continent, a testament to the intelligence and skills of the ancestors of today’s Zimbabwean people. The ruins consist of two large stone enclosures and a conical tower, built from granite and soapstone. Similar ruins exist throughout the rest of Zimbabwe and in surrounding countries, but none can match Great Zimbabwe in magnitude.
Zimbabwe enjoys a moderate climate year-round. Temperatures are higher and rain is more frequent between November and April. It is cooler between May and October.
Visas: To enter Zimbabwe most foreigners require a visa, which can be obtained in advance from an embassy or a consulate or, in some cases, at the airport. All foreigners must have proof of vaccination against yellow fever and cholera. For complete visa details and requirements, check the website of the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Washington, D.C.
Transportation: There are a number of international flights to Harare International Airport, but in recent years many big airline companies have been cutting service to Zimbabwe. It is best to fly to a neighboring country and catch a connecting flight. Several domestic flights run between many of Zimbabwe’s larger cities and to Victoria Falls.
The most common form of transportation in Zimbabwe is car. A number of bus companies within Zimbabwe service domestic destinations, as do buses that enter the country from neighboring nations. Local buses tend to depart when full and do not operate on a particular timetable, whereas express buses operate on a schedule. Express buses usually offer the fastest way to reach your destination, but they are more expensive.
Zimbabwe has experienced significant political, social and economic instability in the past three decades, and visitors should be aware that the situation there is unpredictable and can deteriorate at any time. That said, foreigners can and do visit Zimbabwe without incident all the time. Before planning your trip to Zimbabwe, check the U.S. Department of State’s consular website for detailed current travel warnings.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, according to scores based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Zimbabwe or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
People have been living in Zimbabwe for thousands of years, and ruins such as Great Zimbabwe indicate that the land has been home to powerful civilizations. Zimbabwe’s modern history began when Portuguese explorers arrived in the 16th century with hopes of colonizing the land. European missionaries, traders, and ivory hunters followed them.
In 1888 the British-born businessman and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes, with concessions from local chiefs, began mining in the region. In the same year, the area was proclaimed part of the British sphere of influence. In 1889 the British South Africa Company was chartered, and in 1890 the settlement of Salisbury, now known as Harare, was founded. In 1895 the British South Africa Company named the region Rhodesia, after Cecil Rhodes. A large number of British settlers began to arrive in Rhodesia, amassing farmland and overseeing mining operations.
In 1965, Rhodesia made its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (although the country remained a self-governing colony of Britain until 1980, with the majority population of black Zimbabweans living under white minority rule). Because of the disorganization in governance, the United Nations started to impose sanctions on Rhodesia in 1966. During the late 1960s and 1970s black guerrilla and political movements began to form, and, after nationwide elections in 1979, the country’s first black prime minister, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, was elected.
Britain finally agreed to independence in 1980, and in pre-independence elections Robert Mugabe became prime minister. His party, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), won an absolute majority.
After independence, Mugabe declared a plan for national reconciliation and reconstruction, which he pursued in his first few years in office. Land redistribution caused a large portion of Zimbabwe’s white population to leave the country, though many whites remained and continued to serve in civil service positions.
Over the next few decades, Mugabe’s government grew increasingly authoritarian and became notorious for its violence and brutality. Whites in government and civil service positions were forced out of the country in the late 1980s. The economy fell apart as the political situation became more unstable. Mugabe remained the unopposed leader of Zimbabwe until the early 2000s, when the Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) rose up against his government. Mugabe responded with violence, causing the deaths of many MDC supporters and innocent bystanders.
In 2009 pressure from foreign governments forced Mugabe to accept the MDC and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, as part of his government. Mugabe is currently president of Zimbabwe, with Tsvangirai as his prime minister.
1. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in southern Africa. It sits between South Africa and Zambia and is bordered to the west by Botswana and to the east by Mozambique. It is slightly larger than Montana and is divided into ten provinces. The climate is usually tropical, depending on altitude.
2. The population of Zimbabwe is roughly 11.6 million. About 82 percent of that population is ethnically Shona and 14 percent Ndebele. Roughly 75 percent of Zimbabweans practice some form of Christianity, and 24 percent practice indigenous religions.
3. English is the official language of Zimbabwe, and Shona and Sindabele are both widely spoken.
4. The currency in Zimbabwe is the Zimbabwe dollar (the symbol is ZWD). Because of hyperinflation, several other currencies, like the euro and the American dollar, are in use. Visitors to Zimbabwe should have no problem using American greenbacks. Debit and credit cards are rarely accepted, so cash is essential.
5. Owing to the sometimes volatile political situation in Zimbabwe, visitors should be very mindful of expressing in public their opinions concerning Zimbabwean politics and the economy.