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
Wojciech Fedoruk 1 October 2023
Good to hear Zimbabwe seems to be quite easy and pleasant. Thanks for your tips, I will use them in about 6 months.