Zimbabwe Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Zimbabwe, a land of stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, beckons travelers with its diverse landscapes and vibrant history. From the world-famous Victoria Falls to ancient archaeological sites and thriving wildlife sanctuaries, Zimbabwe offers a unique blend of adventure and culture for tourists. Embark on a journey through this enchanting nation, where the spirit of Africa comes to life.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Zimbabwe as a tourist largely depends on your interests and the experiences you seek. Zimbabwe has a varied climate, so here are the different seasons and the best times to visit for various activities:

  1. Dry Season (May to October):
    • Best for Safaris: This is the prime wildlife-viewing season. Animals are drawn to water sources, and the sparse vegetation makes them easier to spot. Game drives and walking safaris are at their best.
    • Victoria Falls: The falls are impressive, and activities like white-water rafting are popular during this period.
  2. Shoulder Seasons (November to April):
    • Green Season: The months leading up to the rains are known as the “green season.” This is an excellent time for birdwatching, and the lush landscapes are a paradise for photographers.
    • Victoria Falls: While the falls are not at their fullest, they are still a magnificent sight, and accommodations may be more affordable.
  3. Rainy Season (November to March):
    • Victoria Falls: This is when Victoria Falls is at its peak, with a roaring volume of water. While some activities may be limited, the falls are a stunning spectacle.
    • Malaria Risk: The rainy season brings a higher risk of malaria due to the presence of standing water, so take precautions and consult a travel clinic.
  4. Cultural and Historical Tourism: Zimbabwe’s cultural and historical sites, such as Great Zimbabwe and ancient rock art, can be visited year-round. These sites offer insights into the nation’s rich heritage.
  5. Hiking and Outdoor Activities: If you plan to hike, kayak, or enjoy outdoor adventures, consider visiting during the dry season (May to October) for favorable weather conditions.
  6. Fishing: If you’re interested in fishing on Lake Kariba, the best time is during the warmer months from September to November and from April to June.
  7. Birdwatching: Birdwatching is excellent in the green season (November to April) when migratory birds are present, and vegetation is lush.
  8. Photography: Zimbabwe offers stunning photographic opportunities year-round, but the green season can provide a unique, verdant backdrop.

The best time to visit Zimbabwe depends on your specific interests and activities. Be sure to check the specific weather conditions and plan accordingly to make the most of your trip.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Zimbabwe as a tourist can be an adventure in itself, given the diverse landscapes and varying road conditions. Here are the best ways to get around the country:

  1. Domestic Flights: For long-distance travel between major cities and national parks, domestic flights are the fastest and most convenient option. Airlines like Air Zimbabwe offer regular services.
  2. Private Vehicle: Hiring a private vehicle with a driver or self-driving is a popular choice, especially for exploring national parks and rural areas. Zimbabwe has a network of paved and unpaved roads, but road conditions can vary. A 4×4 vehicle is often recommended, and self-driving in remote areas may require careful planning.
  3. Buses: Long-distance buses are available for intercity travel. Operators like Intercape and Greyhound offer routes between major cities. Be prepared for varying levels of comfort and journey durations.
  4. Minibuses and Commuter Taxis: Minibuses and commuter taxis are common for local transportation within cities and towns. They are a cost-effective way to get around urban areas.
  5. Trains: Zimbabwe has a limited but scenic railway system that connects some major cities. The trains offer a unique and leisurely way to see the countryside.
  6. Taxis: In major cities like Harare and Bulawayo, metered taxis are available for local transport. In rural areas, taxis may not always use meters, so it’s important to negotiate fares beforehand.
  7. Bicycle Rentals: In some tourist areas, you can rent bicycles for local exploration, which is a great way to immerse yourself in the surroundings.
  8. Walking: For shorter distances within towns and cities, walking can be a practical and enjoyable way to explore local markets and attractions.
  9. Guided Tours: Consider booking guided tours for specific activities or destinations, especially for wildlife safaris or exploring historical sites. Many tour operators provide transportation as part of the package.

When planning your transportation in Zimbabwe, it’s essential to consider the distance between destinations, road conditions, and the specific experiences you wish to have. Be sure to do your research, make transportation arrangements in advance, and check local conditions, as road and weather conditions can vary. Patience and flexibility are often key to enjoying the journey in Zimbabwe.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Zimbabwe is English, and it’s widely spoken throughout the country. Here are some basic English phrases that can be useful for tourists when visiting Zimbabwe:

  1. Hello – Hello
  2. Good morning – Good morning
  3. Good afternoon – Good afternoon
  4. Good evening – Good evening
  5. Thank you – Thank you
  6. Yes – Yes
  7. No – No
  8. Please – Please
  9. Excuse me – Excuse me
  10. How are you? – How are you?
  11. What is your name? – What is your name?
  12. I don’t understand – I don’t understand
  13. Help – Help
  14. Goodbye – Goodbye
  15. Water – Water
  16. Food – Food
  17. Delicious – Delicious
  18. I need a taxi – I need a taxi
  19. Where is…? – Where is…?
  20. Restroom – Restroom

While English is the official language, Zimbabwe is home to various ethnic groups, each with its own languages and dialects. Learning a few basic phrases in local languages, such as Shona and Sindebele (Ndebele), can also be a sign of respect and may enhance your interactions with local people. Here are a few Shona and Sindebele words and phrases:

Shona:

  • Mangwanani – Good morning
  • Masikati – Good afternoon
  • Maita basa – Thank you
  • Ehe – Yes
  • Kupi? – Where?
  • Ndatenda – Please
  • Samaita sei? – How are you?
  • Ndinonzwisisa – I don’t understand
  • Ndimutoro – Help
  • Kuwirirana – Goodbye

Sindebele (Ndebele):

  • Lapha – Good morning
  • Lula emini – Good afternoon
  • Ngiyabonga – Thank you
  • Yebo – Yes
  • Kuphi? – Where?
  • Ngiyacela – Please
  • Unjani? – How are you?
  • Angifihli – I don’t understand
  • Ngiyakuncitsha – Help
  • Hamba kahle – Goodbye

While English is widely understood, making an effort to learn a few local phrases can go a long way in fostering goodwill and connecting with the people of Zimbabwe.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Zimbabwe offers a variety of accommodation options for tourists, catering to different budgets and preferences. Here are some popular places to stay in Zimbabwe:

  1. Victoria Falls:
    • Luxury Lodges and Hotels: Victoria Falls is known for its upscale accommodations, including iconic lodges like Victoria Falls Hotel, The Royal Livingstone, and The Elephant Camp. These offer stunning views of the falls and luxurious amenities.
  2. Harare:
    • Hotels: Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, has a range of hotels to choose from, including Meikles Hotel, Rainbow Towers Hotel, and Bronte Hotel. They offer comfort and convenience for city exploration.
  3. Hwange National Park:
    • Safari Lodges: Hwange National Park has several safari lodges and tented camps, such as The Hide, Linkwasha Camp, and Davison’s Camp, offering fantastic wildlife experiences.
  4. Lake Kariba:
    • Resorts and Houseboats: Lake Kariba has beautiful resorts like Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, Rhino Safari Camp, and Changa Safari Camp. You can also rent houseboats for a unique experience.
  5. Matobo Hills:
    • Lodges and Guesthouses: Matobo Hills offers lodges and guesthouses like Amalinda Lodge and Big Cave Camp, providing a comfortable base for exploring the UNESCO World Heritage-listed area.
  6. Great Zimbabwe:
    • Lodges and Guesthouses: Great Zimbabwe is home to lodges like Great Zimbabwe Hotel and Norma Jeane’s Lake View Resort, offering proximity to the historical site.
  7. Bulawayo:
    • Hotels and Guesthouses: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, has a selection of hotels and guesthouses, including Holiday Inn Bulawayo and Nesbitt Castle, known for its historic charm.
  8. Eastern Highlands:
    • Lodges and Guesthouses: The Eastern Highlands, including Nyanga and Mutare, offers lodges and guesthouses like Troutbeck Resort and Far and Wide, surrounded by lush landscapes.
  9. Gonarezhou National Park:
    • Bush Camps and Tented Accommodations: Explore Gonarezhou National Park by staying in remote bush camps and tented accommodations, providing an immersive safari experience.
  10. Local Homestays: For a more immersive cultural experience, consider staying with local families in homestays in rural areas. This provides a unique opportunity to engage with local communities.

When planning your stay in Zimbabwe, consider the specific destinations you wish to explore and the type of experiences you seek. Booking accommodations in advance, especially during the high season, is advisable. Zimbabwe’s lodges and camps are known for their warm hospitality, and they offer a blend of adventure and comfort, ensuring a memorable stay in this diverse and culturally rich country.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Zimbabwean cuisine is a reflection of the country’s diverse culture and history. When visiting Zimbabwe, be sure to sample some of the following must-try foods:

  1. Sadza: Sadza is a staple food in Zimbabwe, made from maize meal (similar to a stiff porridge or polenta). It’s usually served as a side dish and accompanies various stews, vegetables, or meat dishes.
  2. Nyama: Nyama means “meat” in Shona, and Zimbabweans are known for their love of grilled or roasted meats. Try nyama choma (barbecued meat), often served with a spicy sauce.
  3. Mopane Worms: Mopane worms are a popular delicacy in Zimbabwe. These caterpillars are usually dried and fried, offering a unique and slightly nutty taste.
  4. Matemba: Matemba are dried kapenta fish, which are small sardines often fried with onions, tomatoes, and other spices. They are a popular snack and source of protein.
  5. Peanut Butter Stew: A hearty and flavorful dish, peanut butter stew is made with chicken, vegetables, and peanut butter. It’s served with sadza and is a savory delight.
  6. Boerewors: This South African sausage is also popular in Zimbabwe. It’s typically grilled and served with a variety of side dishes.
  7. Sadsa Rezviyo: This is a variation of sadza made with millet or finger millet (known as “zviyo”). It’s a nutritious and staple food in some regions.
  8. Bota: Bota is a traditional breakfast porridge made from cornmeal. It’s sweetened with sugar and flavored with peanut butter, milk, and butter.
  9. Huku NeDovi: This dish consists of chicken stewed with groundnuts (peanuts) and served with sadza. The creamy, nutty sauce is a delicious accompaniment.
  10. Chibage neDovi: Chibage is pumpkin, and this dish features pumpkin stewed with groundnuts, creating a creamy and savory dish.
  11. Rice and Chicken: A popular dish in Zimbabwe, often flavored with various spices and served with a side of vegetables.
  12. Wild Game Meat: If you’re adventurous, you can try game meats like crocodile, kudu, or buffalo, which are occasionally available in restaurants.
  13. Mazondo: Mazondo are deep-fried or stewed beef hooves. They are flavorful and popular among locals.
  14. Maheu: Maheu is a traditional Zimbabwean drink made from fermented millet, maize, or sorghum. It’s a refreshing, non-alcoholic beverage.
  15. Chikanda: Chikanda is a traditional snack made from orchid tubers, groundnuts, and spices. It’s shaped into patties and is both unique and flavorful.

Zimbabwean cuisine offers a blend of flavors and ingredients that reflect the country’s diverse cultural influences. Sampling these dishes is an excellent way to experience local culture and savor authentic flavors.

What to See? 🔍

Zimbabwe boasts a wealth of natural wonders, cultural sites, and historical landmarks that are a must-see for tourists. Here are some of the top places and attractions to visit in Zimbabwe:

  1. Victoria Falls: One of the most famous natural wonders in the world, Victoria Falls is a stunning waterfall on the Zambezi River. Explore the falls from various viewpoints, and consider adventure activities like white-water rafting and bungee jumping.
  2. Great Zimbabwe: Visit the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its impressive stone ruins and historical significance. The site offers a glimpse into the country’s rich history.
  3. Hwange National Park: Explore Hwange, Zimbabwe’s largest national park, for incredible wildlife encounters. The park is home to a wide variety of animals, including elephants, lions, and cheetahs.
  4. Mana Pools National Park: Enjoy a unique safari experience in Mana Pools, known for its picturesque landscapes and the opportunity to go on guided walking safaris.
  5. Matobo Hills: Discover the stunning rock formations and ancient rock art of Matobo Hills. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its rich cultural and historical heritage.
  6. Lake Kariba: Relax on the shores of Lake Kariba, the world’s largest artificial lake. Take a boat cruise, go fishing, and enjoy the serene waters.
  7. Eastern Highlands: Explore the lush landscapes of the Eastern Highlands, including Nyanga and Vumba. Enjoy hiking, birdwatching, and scenic views.
  8. Chinhoyi Caves: Visit the Chinhoyi Caves to explore this underground wonder, featuring a crystal-clear pool known as the “Pool of the Fallen.”
  9. Bulawayo: Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo, has a rich history and several attractions, including the Natural History Museum and the National Art Gallery.
  10. Antelope Park: For an interactive wildlife experience, visit Antelope Park near Gweru. You can walk with lions and engage in conservation activities.
  11. Chimanimani Mountains: Explore the rugged and pristine landscapes of the Chimanimani Mountains, ideal for hiking and trekking adventures.
  12. Gonarezhou National Park: Experience the wilderness of Gonarezhou, known for its raw and untamed beauty, including the Chilojo Cliffs.
  13. Khami Ruins: Explore the historical Khami Ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with remnants of a pre-colonial kingdom.
  14. National Museums: Zimbabwe has several museums that provide insights into the country’s culture and history, including the National Museum in Harare and the Bulawayo Railway Museum.
  15. Vumba Botanical Gardens: Visit the Vumba Botanical Gardens to see a wide variety of exotic and indigenous plant species in a lush setting.

Zimbabwe offers a diverse range of experiences, from the awe-inspiring natural wonders to the country’s rich historical and cultural heritage. Be sure to explore the national parks, historical sites, and the enchanting landscapes that make Zimbabwe a unique and rewarding travel destination.

What to Do? 📸

Zimbabwe offers a wide range of activities and experiences for tourists. Here are some must-do things to make the most of your visit to this diverse and beautiful country:

  1. Visit Victoria Falls: Witness the breathtaking power of Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Explore the falls from various viewpoints and consider adventurous activities like white-water rafting and bungee jumping.
  2. Go on Safari: Zimbabwe is renowned for its wildlife. Take a safari in one of the country’s national parks like Hwange, Mana Pools, or Gonarezhou for incredible game viewing.
  3. Explore Great Zimbabwe: Visit the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe to explore its historic stone ruins, an archaeological site that sheds light on Zimbabwe’s rich past.
  4. Experience Local Culture: Engage with local communities to gain insight into Zimbabwean culture. Consider visiting tribal villages, attending traditional ceremonies, or experiencing local dance and music.
  5. Hiking and Trekking: The country offers numerous opportunities for hiking and trekking, including exploring the Chimanimani Mountains or trekking in Matobo Hills. Enjoy the stunning landscapes and abundant birdlife.
  6. Matobo Hills Rock Art: Discover the ancient rock art of Matobo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These ancient artworks provide a glimpse into Zimbabwe’s cultural history.
  7. Lake Kariba: Relax on the shores of Lake Kariba, enjoying boating, fishing, and sunset cruises. The lake offers serene waters and beautiful sunsets.
  8. Birdwatching: Zimbabwe is a paradise for birdwatchers. Explore the diverse ecosystems and spot various bird species in national parks and reserves.
  9. Adventure Sports: For thrill-seekers, consider activities like white-water rafting, bungee jumping from Victoria Falls Bridge, or kayaking in the Zambezi River.
  10. Enjoy Local Cuisine: Savor traditional Zimbabwean dishes like sadza, nyama (meat), and various stews. Don’t miss the opportunity to try local delicacies.
  11. Visit Bulawayo: Explore Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo, which offers historical sites, museums, and the picturesque Matobo National Park.
  12. Canoeing Safaris: Experience a unique safari by canoe in Mana Pools, where you can get up close to wildlife along the riverbanks.
  13. Gonarezhou National Park: Venture into Gonarezhou, known for its remote beauty and wilderness. Enjoy the Chilojo Cliffs and other stunning landscapes.
  14. Eastern Highlands: Explore the Eastern Highlands, which offer hiking, waterfalls, and lush landscapes in areas like Nyanga and Mutare.
  15. Visit Historical Sites: Beyond Great Zimbabwe, visit other historical sites like Khami Ruins and the Chinhoyi Caves.
  16. Local Crafts and Souvenirs: Shop for local crafts and souvenirs in markets and art galleries, supporting local artisans.
  17. Antelope Park: Engage in wildlife conservation at Antelope Park, where you can walk with lions and participate in other conservation activities.

Zimbabwe is a country with an abundance of natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural richness. With these must-do activities, you can immerse yourself in the heart of Africa, creating lasting memories and experiences to cherish.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to Zimbabwe as a tourist, it’s important to be aware of the local culture and take steps to ensure your safety. Here are some tips on culture and safety in Zimbabwe:

Culture:

  1. Respect Local Customs: Zimbabwe is a diverse country with various ethnic groups, each with its own customs and traditions. Respect for local customs is essential. For example, when visiting rural areas, it’s customary to ask for permission before taking photos of people or their property.
  2. Greetings: Shaking hands is a common form of greeting in Zimbabwe, often accompanied by inquiries about one’s well-being. Learning a few basic phrases in local languages can also be a sign of respect.
  3. Dress Modestly: In rural areas and villages, it’s important to dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees as a sign of respect for local customs.
  4. Tipping: Tipping is customary in Zimbabwe, especially in the service industry. It’s polite to tip tour guides, drivers, and restaurant staff if service isn’t included in the bill.
  5. Greetings: Politeness and friendliness are highly valued in Zimbabwe. When interacting with locals, use courteous language and maintain a respectful demeanor.

Safety:

  1. Health Precautions: Ensure you have travel insurance and check if you need specific vaccinations before traveling to Zimbabwe. Malaria is prevalent in some areas, so consult a travel clinic for necessary medications and use insect repellent.
  2. Water and Food Safety: Be cautious about drinking tap water and consuming street food. Stick to bottled water and well-cooked meals to avoid waterborne illnesses.
  3. Traffic Safety: Be cautious when using public transportation or walking in cities. Traffic rules and pedestrian safety can vary.
  4. Wildlife Encounters: When on safari or visiting national parks, follow the instructions of your guide and maintain a safe distance from wild animals. They are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
  5. Security: Zimbabwe is generally safe for tourists, but petty crimes like theft and pickpocketing can occur, especially in crowded areas. Keep an eye on your belongings, use hotel safes when available, and avoid displaying valuable items.
  6. Medical Facilities: Familiarize yourself with the location of medical facilities and pharmacies in the area you’re visiting. Carry essential medical supplies, including insect repellent and over-the-counter medications.
  7. Currency Exchange: Be cautious when exchanging currency, especially in local markets. Use official currency exchange facilities or reputable banks to avoid scams.
  8. Travel Documents: Keep your travel documents, including your passport, safe and secure. Make photocopies or digital copies of important documents.
  9. Local Etiquette: While Zimbabwe is generally tolerant, it’s a good practice to be aware of and respect local customs and traditions. For example, avoid public displays of affection in rural areas.

Zimbabwe is a beautiful and culturally rich country, offering diverse experiences for travelers. By respecting local customs and following safety guidelines, you can have a memorable and enjoyable trip while engaging with the friendly people and stunning landscapes of Zimbabwe.

Conclusion

For tourists, Zimbabwe promises an unforgettable odyssey through untamed wilderness, historical treasures, and the warm embrace of its people. Discover the wonders of Victoria Falls, explore the ancient ruins of Great Zimbabwe, and traverse the country’s national parks. As you venture through this remarkable nation, you’ll leave with cherished memories and a deeper appreciation for its abundant natural and cultural heritage. Visit Zimbabwe, where the heart of Africa awaits.