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Top Tips for Zimbabwe

In August/September, I spent 3 weeks travelling around Zimbabwe. I saw all 5 WHS plus one high-potential TWHS - you can find my itinerary here. It was a relaxed trip, I hardly needed a day of rest when I returned home (by comparison: Madagascar took me 1.5 weeks and Chad even 2 to get back to normal!). Also, I didn't meet a single unfriendly Zimbabwean. Herewith are some tips for travelling to Zimbabwe as a WH Traveller.

1. It’s a little different

The countries in Southern Africa have a lot in common (the selection of wildlife, the British-colonial past), so many things in Zimbabwe will be familiar if you’ve been to the region before (the elephants, lions, and English breakfast). I don’t think the safari experience is better than in the neighbouring countries, but neither is it worse: both Hwange and Mana Pools are classy parks, and there are other ones too such as Gonarezhou for the more intrepid wildlife fanatic. We had long and good quality sightings of the behaviour of several iconic mammals, without having to share these with other tourists. Where Zimbabwe definitely does stand out is for its three cultural WHS, including Great Zimbabwe which undoubtedly is the best Sub-saharan African archaeological site.

2. Use Bulawayo as a hub

The southern city of Bulawayo is a convenient hub to cover 3 of Zimbabwe’s 5 WHS. It can be easily reached by direct flight from Johannesburg. It’s a sprawling city with fine architecture from around 1900 in its city centre and good accommodation options. It’s also within a day’s reach from Victoria Falls so you can get to a 4th Zimbabwean WHS – my bus ride there took 6.5 hours.

3. Go your own way

A bit similar to the situation in Madagascar, the tourism industry will gear you to extremely expensive tours and transport options. This is stimulated by the many foreign and domestic safari operators. You may read warnings against public transport, for example in the Bradt Guide where they don’t even list the options ("self-driving is the only viable option") – I think it is a really bad practice to shut visitors from the normal life of the average Zimbabwean. In reality, Zimbabwe is a very easy country to travel in on your own: English is the main language, they are accustomed to tourists, there is very little traffic on the roads, regular departure buses connect the main cities, supermarkets are well-stocked, people are friendly and helpful, and it is safe from hassle, bribery or rampant crime against tourists.

4. Bring small dollar bills

The money situation seems to be confusing (have they adopted the USD or not?), but it is easy now for travellers: just bring US cash in small denominations (1, 2, 5, 10) and a strong credit card (Visa, Mastercard). I also paid for most of my hotels and my safari upfront via credit card or transfer by Wise. Cash USD is the common method of payment nowadays and most prices will be displayed in USD, but they don’t have enough small bills in the country so it’s best to bring them with you. When they don’t have change, you will be asked to buy something extra to round the number.

5. Beware of outdated info

Although not all has become rosy after the demise of Mugabe (certainly not for the residents who have to deal with poor public services), things have changed for the better in the recent 5-10 years. In preparation for a trip however you will find no shortage of disgruntled commentaries, mostly coming from white South Africans and Brits for whom Zimbabwe has been a playground for long. Always look at the dates when these comments were written, as they may only reflect a certain period in the past – 2000-2008 was the worst, followed by a sharp inflation in 2019. But in 2023, fuel shortages have gone, traffic police is courteous (at least to tourists), and the road infrastructure between the main cities is good. Zimbabwean people are very resilient and resourceful, and have found workarounds for daily difficult situations such as power and water shortages, and you will not notice those as a tourist.

Els - 1 October 2023

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Walled City of Baku

Clyde Malta - 13-Sep-23

Walled City of Baku

I visited this WHS in 2023 shortly after the Formula 1 Grand Prix organised around the Walled City of Baku. The metal/concrete protection on the fortified walls was still there as were the spectator stands and lack of painted road signs (really messy when driving through Old Baku towards Gobustan).

It is easier to appreciate the remaining walls around the old city of [...]

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Cold winter deserts of Turan

Els Slots The Netherlands - 20-Sep-23

Cold winter deserts of Turan

The serial transnational site ‘Cold Deserts of Turan’ was added to the World Heritage List last week. It consists of a number of fairly remote and obscure nature reserves in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Only four community members claimed to have visited one of them, based on the respective Tentative Site entries.

However, there is a loophole (and I must give tribute to Clyde for pointing it out to me). Everybody who has made the road transfer between Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and Merv (Turkmenistan) via the land border at Turkmenabat will have crossed Repetek Nature Reserve. The main road goes right through component #8 of the nomination, as confirmed by the official maps, and the road is not excluded from the core zone. It even gained a bit of notoriety in the IUCN evaluation, as an example of “recent linear infrastructure development” that poses a threat to large mammal migrations – not only is Repetek crossed by the M37 highway, but also by the Turkmenabad-Ashgabat-Bereket-Turkmenbashya railway

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Cold winter deserts of Turan

Zoë Sheng Chinese-Canadian - 22-Sep-23

Cold winter deserts of Turan

Visited Altyn Emel NP in 2022 while driving through Kazakhstan. It's most likely the easiest choice and on paper it also looks like a breeze from Almaty. Two problems with the location are: rental cars in Almaty all have a mileage limit because they DON'T want you to drive around the country with their cars so you'll need to look hard for a good deal that will give you unlimited mileage. In the end you are better off flying to the north for those sights and explore locally but even then the mileage limit of 100 km a day will be tight to do anything but just cruise around Almaty which is easily done by taxi anyway

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Viking Age Ring Fortresses

Caspar Dechmann Switzerland - 18-Sep-23

There may have been a time when viking sites were underrepresented on the world heritage list but by now I think they are already overrepresented. Firstly the viking period is a rather limited era and has already 6 sites or more on the list. I haven't visited all of them but I have visited Jelling and Hedeby (and St. Kilda but there the Viking connections is not central). While I found both visits worthwhile and interesting, in both there is very little to see and they need a lot of explanation and imagination and I am not so sure at all that they really need to be on the list.

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Nahanni National Park

Zoë Sheng Chinese-Canadian - 14-Sep-23

Nahanni National Park

Nahanni was my last Canadian WHS and there's a good reason for it. It's not exactly tough to get in but you need to have the right timing and definitely money, not crazy amounts but let's say you spend less flying to Belize and back than getting there domestically. Moneywise we are talking a couple of thou easily and that's just for the flightseeing. You won't save money on the alternatives and it will take you heaps longer. So I finally managed to see it this year after Covid, park closures (park closed again due to wildfires this year just after I went in July) and not being in Canada in summer most years doesn't help too. The season to visit the park is only from June to September and we are talking LATE June to EARLY September if you want to have a good experience.

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