Places you must experience
Table Of Contents
- 1 Places you must experience
- 1.1 Travel Checklist for Zimbabwe
- 1.2 1. Harare
- 1.3 2. Kariba
- 1.4 4. Mount Nyangani
- 1.5 5. Vumba – Leopard Rock/ Botanical Garden
- 1.6 6. The Hot Springs
- 1.7 7. Birchenough Bridge
- 1.8 8. Gonarezhou National Park
- 1.9 9. Great Zimbabwe
- 1.10 10. Antelope Park
- 1.11 11. Bulawayo
- 1.12 12. Victoria Falls
Wherever in the world you may be, when Zimbabwe comes up; it is usually concerning the president Robert Mugabe in one way or another. It is undeniable that it is not the same country that it was pre-Independence. On one side of that spectrum is the fact that there is some form of equality between the races who reside in the country. It is no longer an apartheid sort of system that oppressed the natives. The notorious land reform programme is also another area of contention. We can agree that it should or could have been handled better. There is also the issue of safety that many media outlets will sprout. Those who have been to Zimbabwe will tell you that this is hardly an issue. As a matter of fact, you safer in Zimbabwe than you would be in South Africa. This is not the perspective that the media wants you to have. The current government is largely despised, both in and outside of Zimbabwe. For this and other reasons, the international media does not want tourists to travel to this beautiful country as it would directly benefit the government officials.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way. There are a few things that you should know and plan for when travelling to Zimbabwe. There are three main languages spoken in Zimbabwe; English, Shona and Ndebele. English is widely spoken.
Travel Checklist for Zimbabwe
- A power bank to be able to charge devices on the go.
- Emergency cash stash. (medical, food, travel and so on).
- Arrange car hire (Public transport is not very reliable).
- Sun cream (especially between August and November).
- Medical Aid (could be used as health insurance).
- Emergency contact (get contact details of a local individual even if they are a friend of a friend’s cousin, may come handy).
- Sort accommodation out in advance and print out all that you need to show.
- Camera (Zimbabwe is a beauty)
- Hand Sanitiser and wet wipes
- Facial Tissue
- Sun glasses
- Personal hygiene items (sanitary pads, toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel etc. especially if you have specific preferences).
- Hair products
- Insect repellents (mosquitoes mainly, dependent on what time of the year it is).
- Vaccinations (Check with your doctor months before travelling).
- Unlocked mobile phone (for local sim, to get internet access on the go).
Let’s get to the fun part. You’ve landed at the Harare International Airport and wondering how to make the most of your time and have the best experience possible. The car rental should be the first port of call. This should set you up for free movement across the country, which is essential. Make it a point to ask the rental company about fuel availability. There have been shortages in the past. At the time of writing, I am informed that it is not a problem at all. You will need a four-wheel drive if you want to see all the places that we will recommend. There are 4 regions in Zimbabwe, Manicaland (the Eastern Highlands), Mashonaland (The Capital state), Matabeleland (Southern part close to the South African border) and the Midlands. You should see something in each of these regions. When driving through Zimbabwe, as well as other developing countries your car will be approached by individuals selling all sort of things. My personal favourites are the guys who bring snacks. Look out for roast maize; which is a local delicacy, all sorts of fruits, maputi (popped maize, not your regular popcorn), local beverages and so on. There will also be some scoundrels in this crowd, be vigilant.
If you have yet to drive in Zimbabwe, I am sure you have heard or read about the rampant police roadblocks and their corrupt methods. There are a lot of videos online showing them trying to get money off travellers. The rule of thumb is to never pay a bribe. Always ask for a ticket or to be taken to the police station. They will spin you tales about how they are doing you a favour or how your vehicle can be impounded. This doesn’t affect you much as you have rented the vehicle (working smart, huh?). Once you stand your ground, they usually let you go. I have also found foreign accents to work like a charm in talking your way out of these situations.
I am not saying you should disrespect or be rude to any officers. Just ask to do everything by the book. You should be fine!
I would like to believe that you already know that Harare is the capital city of Zimbabwe. It is the hive of activity for the nation. Harare can be etymologically broken down into Ha-rare or Haa-Rare, which when translated into the most widely spoken native language, Shona means “He/She doesn’t sleep.”
Depending on where in the world you are coming from, you may not find all of it very interesting. If you are into cinema and theatre, you should look into catching something at the 7 Arts Theatre. The streets are packed with all sorts of shops, which are testament to an entrepreneurial spirit that engulfed the people at a time of great need. I found sweet little book shop close to Karigamombe Centre. You should wander in that direction and see if you can find it and other places. The city is not extremely large, so I’d advise you to park somewhere and just get lost in it. If you are still around into the night, you will want to go to the Book Café. You will get a taste of local music, poetry and such. They have an open mic sessions as well.
There is also the widely-famed Hustler’s Market at Moto Republic on weekends. The best part about Zimbabwe is probably how open and friendly the people are. Feel free to pull down a window and ask for direction. My personal approach was to take some hours off on a lovely day to just walk through the whole city. As big and daunting as it may seem at the start, it is something you can achieve in a day. There are many places across the city, where one can choose to stay. I have stayed and the Holiday Inn in Harare, and would highly recommend it. If you would like something local, try one of the lodges and Bed and Breakfast places. They are not very hard to find.
If you do go shopping, be sure to get yourself some local leather goods. You will find that they are cheaper than those you would buy in the developed world, yet of similar if not better quality. Get some sandals, belts, and shoes. I would encourage you to support small and local businesses, as opposed to the chain stores. There was a place known as “Kwa-Mereki” when I was there, it had such a great vibe and great cuisine, check it out if you can.
Distance from Harare: 359km
Approximate Driving time: 4h 48 minutes
You may pass through: Chinhoyi and Karoi
Kariba is a manmade lake, the largest in Zimbabwe. It is located on the Zambia/Zimbabwe along the legendary Zambezi river. The two nations use it as a source of electric power. The countries have power stations on their side of the water. There is also a dam that is located on the lake. If I am not mistaken, it happens to be the largest dam in world. Due to droughts in the region, the water levels have been reported as having been at an all-time low, just 2 metres above the level that is required to generate electricity. This is a major concern for both countries as they already experience power shortage. Well, you are a visitor so I shall not continue to bore you with that.
From tales of the great mythological Nyami Nyami snake who is said to have been resident or even God of the Zambezi river. Legend has it that the construction of the dam separated him from his lover. As a result, he was very upset, his fury caused floods and other such issues.
There are so many reason why I enjoyed lake Kariba, as why you will as well. Activities that you could indulge in include fishing, there are several fishing clubs and competitions at Kariba as well as further down the Zambezi.
Fishing at Kariba
When we went fishing on lake Kariba, we rented a house boat for the weekend. I cannot quite remember how much we paid, but it was lower than market rates. We hadn’t planned to stay the weekend, but the ladies loved it so we were persuaded to stay. As you can imagine, the boats are usually booked in advance. As it happened someone who had booked ours didn’t turn up. The owner had a boat to rent out, and we needed a boat. We negotiated terms and a fair price. The houseboat was an absolute peach. It had a jacuzzi, full bar, 3 meals a day and a great crew. The owner even threw in free fishing gear, which would have had to rent.
You can find all sort of fish in the lake, although it is famous for the tiger fish. Other species you can catch include, the Bream, the Electric Catfish, the Vundu, the Red Breasted Tilapia, the Chessa, the Nkupe and the Purple Labeo.
Please make sure you get yourself a fishing permit and license for the period that you intend to fish. You do not want to give the authorities any reason to get into your business.
The water causes this area to be a hive for the mosquitoes. Use the mosquito nets and repellents that you brought with you, even if you cannot see any mosquitoes.
Sailing at Kariba
Lake Kariba is 223 kilometres long and about 40 kilometres wide. If that is not a potent area for sailing and yachting, I don’t know what is. There are boats available to rent for these purposes. I have hardly ever been keen on sailing. Fortunately, the people I went onto lake Kariba with had all the skills and experience that we needed to navigate these waters. Unless there is a sailing event, the sailing boats are usually widely available. I’ll add a video in this section so you can get an idea of what it is like to sail this lake.
On a good day, you will be able to spot a crocodile or two in the water. They are very civil animals that won’t bother you while you are in a boat. Take some great snacks and drinks with you. Picnic in a boat, on the magnificent lake, with the backdrop of an African sunset is to die for. I’m not quite show what the law of the land is when it comes to fishing off sailing vessels. If you intend to do so, I’d advise you to make sure you check with the boat rental people in advance.
Once you have enjoyed Kariba, drive back and spend another day in Harare before continuing with our adventure. Let’s slum it this time. There is a charm and realness to the high-density suburbs of Harare. In all my travels, I always seek the authentic/non-touristy experience. That’s what travelling is about. Go to a local roast/barbecue/braai at Mereki. Ask a local to tell you where that is.
4. Mount Nyangani
Distance from Harare: 271.3km
Approximate Driving time: 3h 21 minutes
You may pass through: Marondera, Rusape and Juliasdale
You’ve seen the capital city, you’ve seen the serene water of lake Kariba, and the sunset. There is much more to be seen in Zimbabwe. Let’s head off to the Eastern Highlands. There is a lot to be seen on route to the destination, make some stops along the way. I’ll look to recommend some of these as we go. There is not much to be seen far as attractions in the towns that you will go through. Do take time to stop and chat with people, as well as buy from the vendors who will approach your car along the way. Once you are in the Eastern Highlands the drive will become an experience with spectacular views all around. This is a mountainous region.
If you are keen on a hike, there are unlimited spots on the road. However, your destination is probably the best hike you can have. On my trip to this region, I stayed at a self-contained cottage in Juliasdale. We had three bedrooms and a great terrain all around us. It was about 20-30 minutes’ drive from the mountain and a few more minutes away from other local attractions. Some of it was quite touristy, but there were more locals than foreign travellers, which preserves the authenticity of my trip.
Hiking INyangani Mountain
This is the highest peak in Zimbabwe, with an elevation of 2,592 metres. Legend has it that this mountain as sacred and guarded by spirits of the local ancestors. There are tales about how individuals who had disrespected the mountain by urinating, defecating and being foul mouthed have simply vanished while hiking. It goes on to say that the ones that have later been found say they simply became disoriented and couldn’t find their way back. A quick search on Google will show you these sort of stories from widely reputable local sources.
There are well established paths and etiquette. We made use of a guide when climbing. He told us of these tales and many others. You will love the locals’ company. For a casual ascend, allow a few hours. Once you reach the summit you will be able to see glorious aerial views of the surrounding terrain. There is a likelihood that you will encounter some wildlife as you hike. The most common of these are monkeys and baboons. I am yet to hear of anyone being harmed by these creatures. Worst case scenarios have been those of a baboon snatching some food from a hiker. That’s something to be weary of.
Other side activities in Nyanga
Once you have descended, there are a few other places that you should check out. All you’d need to do a drive towards the city to find places. We came across some fishing farms that had a range of activities that you can do with the family. There was trout fishing and other challenges. If you feel like spending more money, there is a very lovely hotel that I have been a couple of times. It’s called Troutbeck Inn. These guys will let you pick out a trout, that they will catch and grill for you. The rest of their menu is rather Western, which is normal as Zimbabwe is a former British colony. There are also some bee farms where you will be able to purchase fresh honey.
I think that is it for Nyanga, let’s move on to another area. If you come across any other gems on your travels, let us know so we can add them. Again, be on the lookout for signs on road sides for various offers and things for sale at farms that you drive by.
5. Vumba – Leopard Rock/ Botanical Garden
Distance from Inyanga: 134km
Approximate Driving time: 2h 28 minutes
You may pass through: Rhodes Inyanga national park, Mtarazi Falls National Park and Mutare
The Eastern Highland are largely a city escape. A drive in the country side, with great surroundings. The sort of place you would expect to find meditation retreats and such. I would encourage you to stop as much as you can to take in the views and experiences on offer. We took the chance to have a roadside picnic. Be wary of the presence of wildlife around you as drive or stop. The animals that you are likely to encounter in the Eastern Highlands include baboons, monkeys, leopards, warthogs and so on. The leopards and warthogs are the sort you would need to venture deep into the woods to encounter. They will certainly not be joining you on a roadside picnic.
There are a lot of fruit farms which you should visit to do some picking or just purchase some fruits for the road. There is nothing like fresh fruit! There is so much that you can and should see in this area. I have remembered three such places that I have personally visited.
According to Zim Parks, this tourist attraction was started as a personal garden by a mayor and his wife. FJ Taylor and his Mrs, sought to preserve indigenous trees in the area, while clearing raw bush. While at it they created, what would for years become their personal sanctuary. They later built a dam on the land, to add to the attraction. This beauty had to be shared, which led these two to open it up to their close family and friends. All visitors were blown away by what they saw and convinced the Taylors to open it up to the public.
The garden was opened to the public as Manchester Gardens, later renamed to Vumba Botanical Gardens. Tourists from across the globe visited before and after the second world war. After the passing of his wife, the former mayor became unable to maintain the garden. He sold it to the government.
You will have before you 159 hectares of flora and fauna. I am not one to be sentimental with flowers, but I do know beauty when I see it. I was lost in this garden for hours, as you should allow yourself to also be. Some of the plants you will see include the indigenous ferns, lilies, aloes, cycads, begonias and some that I had to look up. There is an exceptional footpath that will allow you to move freely and see it all. This is also a popular site for bird watchers.
If for some reason you choose to spend a night here, there is a lodge to stay at, a campsite, a caravan site, a swimming pool and so on. Travelling can be very physically taxing to anyone. I personally prefer to avoid the most luxurious of activities when I can. I’d rather spend time experiencing the travel area I am in. Heck, I can always go swimming in a pool, no matter where in the world I am. The goal should always be to make the most of the unique experiences that come with the place that you are visiting. If you miss some luxurious surroundings, your next destination
Leopard Rock is probably the most popular place in the Vumba area. It’s a piece of heaven for lovers of the country side terrain and golf. Leopard Rock Hotel is home to one of Zimbabwe’s best golf courses. I’m not much of a golfer, so my performance is not the most memorable part of my visit to Leopard Rock. I had a ball driving the golf carts though. The course is beautiful, and something tells me that we noticed some wildlife along the way. Don’t quote me on that one please. The inside of the hotel is beautiful. I cannot for the life of me remember what the layout of the lobby is like.
Take your time to play all 18 holes under the blazing African sun! If you do encounter something that you think we should take not of, let us know.
6. The Hot Springs
Now that you are done exploring Vumba, let’s check out another amazing place as we travel to another part of the city. I had never seen anything like this until I encountered these hot springs. Hot Springs are naturally occurring pools of hot water from the ground. These are expected to be very prevalent in volcanic regions. As far as I am aware, Vumba is not one of those. While travelling there I had a very different image from what the reality turned out to be. In my head, I pictured a very untamed open water reserve where the hot springs are. It turned out that there had been 3 swimming pools built to contain or direct the hot springs into. Essentially, you are going into a heated pool which doesn’t need to be heated.
What to look forward to at the hot springs
As I should have already mentioned, there are 3 swimming pools at the hot springs. There is a baby/training pool which I spent some time in. It has that jacuzzi feel to it, which I greatly appreciated once I had some fruit juice in my hand. There is a second pool with about a 1 metre deep end and a third with a three-metre-deep end (I refuse to be quoted on this). The middle pool tends to be the cooler of the three. I’d advise you to pick one based on the whether. The shop right next to the pool offers a wide range of catering services. We drove from Leopard Rock Hotel and had a picnic on the way so we didn’t eat. I don’t remember what they were serving. We did get a few drinks while there. I think they made some great milkshakes as well (another thing that I refuse to be quoted on). On the overall, the Hot Springs are a good place for a stop over after a long drive, but there is hardly much going on to warrant a drive on their own merit. My experience there was wonderful. I would certainly stop by in I am in the area, as you should do. Again, if there is anything new that I haven’t mentioned here, I would certainly love to hear about it. Give yourself a few hours to just relax here before you drive to our next proposed destination.
7. Birchenough Bridge
Distance from HotSprings: 40.4km
Approximate Driving time: 29 minutes
You may pass through: some villages and beautiful terrain
There are few and far between marvels that are in similar locations. No matter where in the world you go. This bridge was designed by the same architect who was part of the team that designed the Zambezi bridge that we will encounter later in our journey. Ralph Freeman was also responsible for designing a bridge over Sydney Harbour in Australia. It was named after the engineer that was given the task of bringing Mr Freeman’s design into life, Henry Birchenough. Folktale from the locals is that Sir Birchenough had died in an accident while finishing off construction of the bridge. While writing this article, I couldn’t verify this claim. It does romanticise this glorious bridge.
When you arrive, there is usually a queue of cars passing by. On the two occasions that I have driven over this bridge, it was the same. The explanation of this was that there were maintenance works being carried out on the bridge, which meant that they had to manage the weight of vehicles that go over the bridge at any given time. To full enjoy your crossover, I’d recommend that you drive over and park your vehicle across. Once parked, stroll back to the opposite side of the bridge and back. It takes about 5-10 minutes to do the crossing. There will be a few locals casually crossing at the same time. Just take it in.
8. Gonarezhou National Park
Distance from Birchenough Bridge: 201-218km (depending on chosen route)
Approximate Driving time: 3h 17minutes
You may pass through: Save Valley Conservatory, Rupuwanga.
Gonarezhou’s etymology can be translated into Shona, to mean “Den of Elephants”, which is descriptive of the dense elephant population in the area. It spans from the south of Chimanimani into Mozambique. The national park was opened in 1975. It covers a land mass of 5053km2. That’s quite a chunk of land there! That’s about 15 times the size of the island of Malta.
One of the things that you need to decide before arriving would be how long you intend to stay. For a proper experience, I would recommend a minimum of a day, perhaps a whole weekend. There are camping facilities within the park near the Chilojo cliffs. Other visitors recommend bringing in your own drinking water, a knife or food, cooking utensils and such. They provide you with cutlery and pots. If you are not one for a fuss, you will be fine without bringing in your own.
I cannot tell you just how many animals you will encounter. The national park offers 4×4 tours of the park. You will be taken to specific places that can be tailored according to the animals you would like to see. From the name, there is no doubt that you will find the elephants to be the easiest to find. I cannot personally definitively tell you what animals are not in the national park. I will tell you what I saw and what I was told there is by the guides. If you have any information that I don’t have, do let us know.
Animals you’ll find in Gonarezhou National Park
- Lions (rumour has it…hahahaha. Didn’t actually see any)
- Water bucks
9. Great Zimbabwe
Distance from Gonarezhou: 154km
Approximate Driving time: 3 hours 13 minutes
You may pass through: Chiredzi, Triangle and so on.
If you have heard about Zimbabwe, you will likely have also have heard about Great Zimbabwe. Let me break down the etymology for you. The name Zimbabwe was derived from the name of this ancient civilisation. The actual name is “Dzimba-dze-Mabwe.” It is a descriptive term that translates to houses of stone. Our tour guide dropped some knowledge on us! The ancient civilisation was formed of various sects and sectors within the war. The royals would reside in the most inner court of the walls, while the commoners would reside in surrounding areas. In theory, this would preserve the lives of the royals in the event of an attack from foreign forces. The walls themselves are unbelievable! There is no denying how innovative the locals were. The European colonial forces were in disbelief when they came across Great Zimbabwe. It stands tall against the common notion that is often perpetuated that Africans are inferior. For such a civilisation to have existed in the 11th Century is mindblowing. Historians believe that upwards of 17 000 people would have resided in this enclosure. What I personally found confounding is that the walls are built without any mortar or cement. It’s just dry bricks laid one upon another. Off the top of my head, I cannot say that I have come across another place that is like this one. Our guide told us of a few other places in other parts of Zimbabwe and in Mozambique, that had similar structures, but in smaller sizes.
One can infer that smaller kingdoms could have flaked off from Great Zimbabwe, to be autonomous. Archaeologists were put through bureaucratic red tape as the colonial Rhodesian government sought to quash the fact that the natives had built this structure. There are rock paintings in and around the enclosures, that tell stories, well give hints of what would have been happening in this settlement. They were hunters and gathers. They resided at the helm of the stone age period, where they were starting to carve all sorts of weapons for hunting and defence. The structure itself shows how they had towers on which village lookouts would stand to spot approaching enemies from a distance. This would have likely been used to warn the royals to run back into their inner bunkers, while the rest prepared to fight. I was also made to understand that the bird that is used on the Zimbabwean flag was found at Great Zimbabwe.
A Portuguese captain visited Great Zimbabwe in the 16th Century, when it is thought to have still been thriving. He noted that the locals called the structures, “Symbaoe.’, which would have off course been ‘Zimbabwe’. Other artefacts to be recovered from here include 7 other Zimbabwe birds, pottery, soapstone figurines, bracelets, pendants, sheaths, iron and copper wire, bronze spearheads, ivory and iron gongs. One of the artefacts is currently housed in the British Museum in London.
You will certainly enjoy seeing this place. Take some time to wander with the tour guide and alone if permitted. Take it all in. Once done, there are a few lodges that you can stay in around the area. The front office provides you with brochures for some of these. If not, you can drive back into Masvingo and find a hotel there. You should be fine. The locals here are fantastic.
10. Antelope Park
Distance from Great Zimbabwe: 203km (Shortest route).
Approximate Driving time: 3 hours – 3.5hours dependent on route taken
You may pass through: Masvingo, Mvuma, Lalapansi, Shurugwi and Gweru
Antelope park is exceptional if I will say so myself. It is situated just outside the city of Gweru, in the heart of the midlands. I took some friends over while we were in the area. One of my friends did some volunteering with them a while back, which is one of the reasons they recommended this gem to us. Make no mistake, we are indebted to this beautiful being. I usually go into experiences with some expectations. This was the case when I went into antelope park. From the name, you would expect it to be an enclosure for antelopes and other such animals. This places houses lions and elephants. The wonderful part is you get to hang out with these bad boys. I am not one to casually put myself in harm’s way, so if I did it, you can be certain you will 99.9% be safe. We have it on good word that the guides are well trained in all the activities that they carry out, as well as prepared to handle situations that may rise when you put civilians in with lions. Walking lions and herding elephants made me feel like an absolute badass! I would do it again at the first sign of anything that resembles an invitation.
Of all the people that I have encountered who have had this experience, not one would complain about how great this is. I’d allow for a whole day at Antelope Park, as there are a range of activities that you can partake in. You should be able to spot wildebeests, impalas, antelopes, giraffes, elephant and lions as you explore this place. There is also an option to horseback ride into the wild. How legendary is that? Again, you will have the guides to escort and ensure your safety. Pricing for some activities is an area of contention, but it is no more than you would expect from a tourist resort.
There is accommodation on sight, which you could take or you could alternatively drive into Gweru for a night in a suburban lodge. It comes down to whether you would like to wake up to wildlife or embrace the local suburban life. If you choose the latter, I’d advise that you drive to a lodge in a suburb north of Gweru, called Athlone. It is fairly middle class by local standards. There are a few lodges in the area and further up the road towards Harare. You will find something suitable. If you would like to stay in a hotel, there are two that I would recommend; the Midlands Hotel in the centre of the city of Gweru and one that is off the main road towards Bulawayo; the name eludes me right now. I will update it when I remember or find it online.
For dinner, I will advise you to head into the city and find out what place is popping at the time. The key is to ensure that the place is tailored to the locals and not touristy. You know my take on that by now. On to the next one now.
Distance from Gweru: 158km
Approximate Driving time: 1 hour 41 minutes
You may pass through: Somabhula and Shangani
Bulawayo is Zimbabwe’s largest city by population as well as development. It is often referred to as the city of kings. This is the city where the legendary war leaders, Lobengula and Mzilikazi. History has it that Lobengula defected from Shaka Zulu’s homeland and settled in Bulawayo. The etymology of Bulawayo can be broken down to “Bulawa” which means “To be killed”. “BULAWAYO” loosely translates to “Where they get killed.” I can only speculate that this was a statement by Lobengula to say that he was putting his foot down, against pursuit from Shaka’s army as well as natives in the land that he settled in.
Legend has it that Lobengula’s army would venture into Mashonaland on raids as had been practice for Shaka’s army. The Shona were not prepared to fight off these insurgence, so they lost goods and women. The Ndebele, Lobengula’s people got away with the most beautiful women from the places they raided. This is said to be the reason you will find the prettiest women in Bulawayo. This is not to say there are no lovely ladies in Harare. It just says there are more concentrated in Bulawayo.
Legend goes on to say that the Shona would later retaliate by cooking a poisoned pot which they would leave during raids. The Ndebele soldiers who consumed it would subsequently die. Enough of the tales. Of all the cities across the world, that I have been in, there is hardly one that has the same vibe as Bulawayo. The people are just hyped!! The atmosphere is electric, especially if you are to find yourself out in one of their night spots later. I saw some amazing dancing out here, as well as clubs in which everyone seemed to be an amazing dancer, well except for me and my cronies of course. The music is quite similar to some that I encountered during my travel in South Africa. There is a brand of House Music which is adored in this region.
If you are in a touristy mood, visit the Bulawayo museum. You will see artefacts and tributes to Mzilikazi, Lobengula and so on. A bit of history never hurt. Above all, just walk around. Wander into the open-air market down town, try local cuisine. Bulawayo is relatively safe, but like any other city you need to be attentive. The police are very helpful, especially to the tourists. If you have any complaints, don’t hesitate to approach one of them. Once you’ve enjoyed the city of Kings, and queens, we may venture out.
12. Victoria Falls
Distance from Bulawayo: 440km.
Approximate Driving time: 5 hours.
You may pass through: Hwange and Lupane.
I guess this is the grand finale! I’ve yet to meet anyone who has heard of Zimbabwe but not of the Victioria Falls. If there is one city in the country that is built for tourists, this is it. You will not run out of touristy things to do in Victoria Falls. As you drive to this destination, you will see a lot of road side stalls on the road side. Indulge, there are all sorts of artefacts and sculpture on sale along the way. You should probably know that it can be quite expensive to buy these. If the people know that you are a tourist, they may take liberties. You may simply be charged more than the regular price. Shop around, see things and haggle. That’s part of the fun.
Victoria Falls Rainforest
The area close to the falls is a rainforest. This means that it is an evergreen area because of the constant rainfall that graces the area. My only visit to the Victoria Falls remains memorable because of a snake that we encountered on the path. There was a black snake with a frog in its mouth. I was walking slightly in front of my mates, when I noticed the snake, slithering in our direction. I stopped everyone to make sure we didn’t startle it. It subsequently turned and disappeared into the bush. The guide was very impressed with me, and reminded the rest of the group that the snakes had been here long before humans. As such we should treat them kindly. The Victoria Falls are a great view from the Zimbabwean side, and perhaps more of an experience from the Zambian side where you can swim in the water, just above the falls. It looks like an incredible experience, but equally dangerous. If you can experience both, do it. The walk in the rainforest is great. You will be able to see elephants on the other side of the gorge. There are also zebras and giraffes to be seen. You will find a lot of picturesque spots along the way.
There is still a massive statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the start of the path into the rain forest. It is believed that he “discovered” the Victoria Falls. What’s bizarre about these discovery, as is similar for the discovery of America is that these places already had names when they are said to have been discovered. I guess whoever is the first to write about a place in English is the discoverer. The natives called this place Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means the Smoke that thunders. This is of course descriptive of the falls and how they look from a distance.
Once you have seen the rainforest, you should wander off to the local crocodile farms. Don’t know how I would feel about these on an ethical point of view. I was very young when I went there, and I loved them. I got to hold a baby crocodile in my hand, which is amazing. Considering that these animals can grow up to a few metres long and hundreds of pounds at full size, to be able to carry it is such a great feeling. They could easily be mistaken for overgrown lizards or ghekkos when they are young. This illusion is soon shuttered as they start to grow toward full size.
You can take part in their feeding or just viewing depending on what you are into, and what time of the day it is. Crocodiles are not fed daily, they eat and then digest for a few days. During that period they sustain themselves with snack, the fly that they catch in the trap they set with their mouths. There are also a range of caged animals to see, similar to what you would find in zoos in other parts of the world. I later tried out a local delicacy “crocodile’s tail” which was surprisingly quite tasty. There are a lot of other things that you can also do in Victoria Falls including white water rafting in the Zambezi, jus underneath the waterfalls. I was advised that this is a very safe sport to take part in, although some parts of the Zambezi are crocodile infested, that there was the deal breaker. You will not find me playing football in a jungle, that has “some” lions. No matter how safe you tell me it is.
Most of the famous visitors who come to Victoria Fall take part in this activity. The most recent one is Will Smith, who filmed himself doing the jump. If I am able to locate the footage, you will find it attached or linked below. This is probably one of the safest activities that you can carry out. It is done safely hundreds of time every week. I have yet to come across any reports of accidents or injuries. You are safely strapped into a harness that makes sure that you are not splattered into the water. It takes a few minutes to carry out, but is the experience of a life time. I loved every minute of it, as so will you. I witness some people in tears as they were about to take the jump, and then the same persons jubilantly standing back at the top once done. The bridge that is used the one that connects Zimbabwe to Zambia by land, across the Zambezi and the gorge below.
I won’t bother recommending places to stay in Victoria Falls, but I will say that this place is built for tourist, so you will always find a place to stay, unless there is a major event happening when you go there. Shop around in advance, and book ahead if you can. It may save you unnecessary hustle on arrival.
13. Detour: Hwange National Park
Distance from Victoria Falls: 117km
Approximate Driving time: 1hour and 30 minutes
You may pass through: Matetsi
While you are in this region, it would be absolutely tragic if you were to leave without experiencing the Hwange National Park. It is the largest of its kind in the region. I first came across this park in discussions and articles about poaching. Poachers in this region have been notorious for hunting and killing rhinos and elephants for their tusks. There is a huge black market for these items, which continues to fuel these poachers to hunt these endangered animals. This is the sort of phenomenon that has led to the near extermination of the white rhinoceros.
The park was established in 1930 and covers a landmass of nearly 15000km2. I don’t know how to put that into perspective, but that is a lot of land. In recent times, animal rights groups and other enthusiasts have been raising awareness and fund to assist in the preservation of wildlife in this park and other similar ones. In reality this means more people on ground to fend off the poachers, endangered species are also micro-chipped to allow authorities to track their movement. While there is still more to be done, a lot has been done to improve what was previously a hopeless situation. Enough of this, most tourist don’t want to read about this crap. My apologies to those nutters.
This is an opportunity for you to go into safari. Hwange National Park has a wide range of animals to be seen. My only advice when going on a safari is to stay in the vehicle, do not be a hero please. I’ve read and heard so many tales of people being mauled by lions when they venture out of the vehicle. Remember, you are going into their habitats, the lease you can do is avoid seemingly threatening behaviour. These animals are dangerous, they are not your friends no matter how fluffy and cute they may seem. Leave them alone. Take pictures from a distance, and leave it at that. No funny business. They safari guides will be armed and prepared to execute animals that threaten you, but they should not have to kill an animal that you have provoked.
Animals you will see at Hwange National Park:
- Cheetahs and so on.
I will most certainly have left some out, forgive me. For accommodation, I have heard amazing things about the Gwango Elephant lodge, and the owners; Danny and Elisabeth. If you know them, commend them on the amazing job that they are doing. Go and stay with them!
There are so many other places that you could visit in Zimbabwe, including the Chinhoyi Caves and so on. However, if you have seen the ones I have recommended, you can certainly say you have earned your place among those that can say they have seen Zimbabwe. Tell your friends how wonderful a place it is, perhaps we may run into one another the next time I visit.