Zimbabwe

Vibrant culture, historic sites, wildlife up close and personal

Overview

I bet if you had to come up with something interesting to say about Zimbabwe, you could probably muster one or two thoughts about a dodgy political past, rampant inflation or the collapse of Mugabe. Relevant points though they may be, they don’t begin to scratch the surface of what this historic nation is all about. Did you know for example that Zimbabwe has a host of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is home to the world’s biggest man-made lake, the ruins an impressive 11th century empire, and scores of beautiful rare butterflies? Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, and despite economic setbacks, Zimbabweans are working hard to shape their country’s global reputation as a welcoming destination with warm smiling people and a bucket list must for safari, nature and culture.

Landlocked between the rivers of Zambezi in the north and Limpopo in the south, and just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, Zimbabwe is technically tropical, but experiences a sub-tropical climate due to its elevation. Mild dry weather in the southern hemisphere winter May to October sees the peak of the tourist season with the best game viewing. Low season arrives with the wet summer as winds from the east cross Mozambique bringing heavy rainfall when they hit the raised ground of the Eastern Highlands. The east of the country remains the wettest in the hot humid summer from late October to March while the western regions are a bit drier with less prolonged rainfall. Travelling in the low summer season might be hotter and wetter but is totally possible, especially with a high clearance vehicle, and it means you’ll have many sites to yourself, enjoy a lusher, greener environment and get the best rates at those camps that do stay open year-round. It’s also the time for top bird-watching, the arrival of baby animals, spectacular thunderstorms and colourful orange and red sunsets, especially over Lake Kariba and the Zambezi River.

Fascinating Culture

Zimbabwe is simply teeming with history and heritage. The unique rock art in the spiritual ambience of Matobo Hills, an area of teetering boulders, granite kopjes and wooded valleys, is where some of the most well preserved rock paintings in Africa are located. They are said to date back at least 13,000 years. Check out the ruins of Khami and Great Zimbabwe, built by the Bantu civilization of the Shona people from the 11th century. The long artisanal history of the Shona has developed from architectural to artistic and is showcased in the stunning Chapungu Sculpture Park on the outskirts of the capital Harare.

 

Unique Wildlife Experiences

More remote and pristine than safaris elsewhere, Zimbabwe has excellent opportunities for game viewing in small, personal and exclusive camps with professional guides dedicated to lifelong training and conservation. Hwange National Park is the big draw, just 2 to 3 hours from Victoria Falls. It’s a vast 15,000sq km of protected land with good populations of buffalo, elephant, lion, cheetah and leopard. It also has some of the most diverse birds in the world, with nearly 700 species being recorded, and especially prevalent in the low season from November. Matobo has significant populations of white and black rhino, and it is possible to take a guide to track these on foot. Lesser known, more remote parks offer amazingly diverse landscapes of flood plains, grasslands, hidden valleys and lush vegetation. Hardly adventurers visiting Matusadona National Park, the Eastern Highlands, Chizarira and Gonarezhou National Parks will be richly rewarded, but do check as many camps, particularly around Mana Pools close during the wettest part of the year.


Major Airport

Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport - HRE, Victoria Falls Airport - VFA

Low Season Months

Jan
26°C
170mm
7hrs
Feb
25°C
140mm
8hrs
Mar
25°C
75mm
8hrs
Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
27°C
20mm
12hrs
Nov
27°C
64mm
10hrs
Dec
26°C
163mm
8hrs

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Top Experiences

Getting Wet at Vic Falls

Twice the size of Niagara, this magnificent fall on the Zambian border, very popular in December, is at its best in March with a good cascade but before there’s too much spray. Adrenaline junkies can indulge in bungees, abseiling, gorge swinging and white water rafting on the Mighty Zambezi River.

Lake Kariba Houseboat

The damning of the Zambezi created an immense inland sea, 270km long, sparking the dramatic rescue of animals from the rising waters. Stay on a houseboat to explore the wildlife-laden shores or angle for tigerfish. Petrified forests add mystery to some of the country’s most beautiful scenery.

The Place of the Elephants

Gonarezhou National Park, a true wilderness tucked away in in Zimbabwe’s remote south-east corner. It’s a spectacular region with towering cliffs, meandering rivers and a unique ecosystem that houses 400 bird species, abundant wildlife and the 11,000 elephants which give the park its name.

Insider Tips

  • Previously named Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes, founder of the former British colony, Zimbabwe gained independence from UK on 18 April 1980, a holiday celebrated as National Day. 2 years later the capital’s name was changed from Salisbury to Harare in honour of the Shona Harare people.
  • Don’t get finicky about brand names. Zimbabweans call all toothpaste “Colgate,” every soft drink “Coke,” every washing powder “Surf” and every floor polish “Cobra.” No one is complaining, not so long ago, supermarkets struggled with empty shelves and none of these products were available.
  • The national flower of Zimbabwe is the Flame Lily or Gloriosa, a stunningly beautiful tropical flower also found in Australia and Asia. The red and yellow symbol of purity blooms during the rainy season and the plant is used for its medicinal properties but toxic if swallowed.

Good To Know

  • Most people over pack, so keep it simple. The dress code is conservative so don’t bring short skirts and heels. On safari light neutrals are best. White gets dirty quickly and bright colours distract the wildlife. Layers are good, and strong boots, and don’t forget your waterproofs for low season travel.
  • Outside of the cities, there is little light pollution so the Southern Hemisphere night skies remain magically clear with beautiful constellations, the Milky Way and planets visible after sunset. Download an app to help you identify all you are seeing or just be amazed with the naked eye.
  • Nyanga National Park in the Eastern Highlands, Hwange and the Zambezi Valley are fabulous birding hotspots in the low season with hundreds of species recorded, including colourful rare migratory feathered creatures, Livingstone's turaco, yellow-billed hornbill, and black-headed oriole.

Food & Drink

Sadza

££

Widely consumed throughout the country, Sadza is a national dish, being to Zimbabweans, something like pasta is to Italians. It's made by gradually cooking cornmeal or maize until it turns into a thick porridge. It’s served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, alongside meat, stew or sauce.

The Boma, Victoria Falls

£££

An amazing spread is served in a vibrant and energetic atmosphere. Traditional performers entertain while you tuck into a four-course meal including a big braai barbecue with all kinds of meats. Try warthog steak or dried mopane worms or go vegetarian. Drumming and dancing ends the evening.

The Victoria Falls Hotel

££££

Take afternoon tea or sip a gin and tonic on the veranda of this iconic grande dame of Southern Africa. Built by the British in 1904 as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway, the serene colonial property allows dramatic views of the falls, the towering gorges and river below.

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