• Zimbabwe
    © Zdenek Maly / 123 RF
  • Zimbabwe
    © iStockphoto.com / 2630ben
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Zimbabwe

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
From unbelievable national parks, to raw history, Zimbabwe offers an experience like no other place. Despite being land-locked and having no beaches, there are plenty of places to relax in or to discover a whole new part of the world that is untouched by tourism.

Travel guide

The history

Zimbabwe's history is extremely raw, and after colonial rule, it is sometimes not the friendliest of places. Having only changed its name to Zimbabwe in 1980, previously being known as Rhodesia, the country has a fresh new identity and a lot has changed. Although there are still definite elements that make its culture exceptionally interesting that link back to the British rule, there are far older traditions and tribal history that you can see plenty of. Due to controversial political rule in Zimbabwe its tourism industry seriously suffered, but since the political developments of 2009 the country has been far more relaxed and visitors from all over the world have come flocking.

National Parks

Hwange, Zimbabwe's largest national park, boasts 15,000 square kilometres of glorious greenery and is home to more than 400 species of birds and more than one hundred species of mammal, including thousands of elephants who migrate there from Botswana every year. The second-largest reserve Gonarezhou (which means 'elephant's tusk' in the local Shona language) forms part of the huge Greater Limpopo ecosystem which allows the animals to move freely between Kruger national park in South Africa and Mozambique's Limpopo Park. Between the two reserves you are guaranteed to see a spectacular array of animals in their natural habitat. From galloping gazelles, zebras grazing through the fields, giraffes popping out from the tall trees, and rhinoceroses taking a refreshing break at the waterhole, you will be exceptionally close at all times. A big cat may even grace you with their presence on your camera roll if you're lucky! The most wonderful thing about Zimbabwe's National parks is they are never polluted by tourists or convoys of jeeps, as is sometimes possible at other African game reserves.

Falling in Love

Victoria Falls is not only one of the wonders of the world, but a source of great pride for the Zimbabweans as a World Heritage Site and the largest fall in the world. It is still as breathtakingly stunning to new visitors as it must have been to David Livingstone when he discovered it in the nineteenth century. The immense drop, flowing water and magical mist clouds can be compared to no other place in the world, an impressive sight that you will never forget. As well as the sheer beauty of the landmark, there are plenty of adrenaline inducing activities you can test out, like white water rafting and bungee jumping - depending on what kinds of memories you would like to make!

Ancient exploration

Aside from the obvious beauty and the spectacular landscapes, Zimbabwe is home to a magnificent architectural treasure known as the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was the royal capital of the country and was inhabited for one thousand years between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. You can spend all day roaming the ancient ruins letting your imagination run wild, or even climb to the top of the old towers and see how far you can see across the beautiful plains. Another ancient relic you can find yourself in awe of is the ancient art found in the Matobo Hills caves. The wall is embellished with paintings that date back more than 13, 000 years.

City breaks in Harare and Bulawayo

Two very different cities, but packed with wonderful things to do. Harare is the Zimbabwean capital city, home to two million people it is always buzzing with excitement and lively people bustling around the centre. There is a lot to see, from art galleries to ancient relics showcasing the culture and heritage of the country. Harare is usually a short stop for tourists, using it as a gateway to the nature. Bulawayo is the relaxed, slightly sleepy second city in Zimbabwe, with many interesting different areas. It has a charming, historical feel to it with lots of colonial architecture to admire, along with the conception of the country's railways. The unique setting of long, tree-lined avenues and more modern Art-deco buildings give the city a friendly vibe that you will love to soak up. There are lots of museums to check out, but the Natural history museum, National Art Museum and the Railway Museum are particularly recommended.

Our Editorial team's advice

It is important to give yourself enough time to fully explore such a diverse country, with sights to see ranging from the unforgettable animal kingdom to the gritty city centres packed with history and cultural experiences. As it is quite a long way to travel, you definitely do not want to leave with any regrets! It is a good idea to make sure you have done enough research before you head off on an African adventure. Although it is not one of the largest African countries, it is still quite sizeable and it is good to be organised with internal transport to ensure you get to where you want to go. Trains are very efficient and extremely cheap, but it is advisable to get an idea of everything before you leave.

As lovely as the game reserves are, if you want to know a lot about the country and see the human aspects, the cities are the best place to start in order to get a feel of the culture and get down and dirty with the natives bargaining for items at the market or learning about the history. There is not necessarily a good or a bad time to visit Zimbabwe seeing as the altitude and relief greatly affects both the amount of rainfall and the temperature. From November to March there is usually quite a lot of rain, but mainly if you are high up in the mountainous regions. The driest season follows from August to November. If you are going on safari or activities far out in the wilder part of the country it is definitely advisable to take lots of layers as the temperature really drops after sunset.

pros

  • +Lovely nature reserves with the largest elephant population in Africa.
  • +Magnificent landscape, including the Victoria Falls.
  • +Excellent road and hotel infrastructure.

cons

  • -Crime, constantly on the rise.
  • -Spiralling inflation.
  • -A less varied fauna than in neighbouring countries.

Food

The Zimbabwean national food is sadza, a cornmeal-based dietary staple that makes up many of their delicious dishes. It is like the rice to the Chinese, or pasta to the Italians as it can be eaten with many different combinations of ingredients to make filling meals on a perfectly textured base. Sadza is made from cornmeal or maize and can be eaten with relish, vegetables or meat stew. The most commonly eaten meats in Zimbabwe are beef, chicken, venison, and goat. Peanuts are very common to put into rich sauces, along with tomatoes and other locally grown vegetables.

Although the food is perhaps not the most exciting you could ever taste, the local delicacies are wonderfully prepared and aromatic, making them a very enjoyable change from Western foods. Zimbabwean people call their food ?soul food' because each meal is lightly spiced goodness with comforting tastes and light, warm textures.

Souvenirs

Ebony, mahogany or mukwa sculptures are common throughout the country. You can also easily find interesting works of art within the galleries in Bulawayo and Harare, though beware of poor quality woods covered in wax. You can also do some good business with precious stones such as emerald, malachite or serpentine which are either sculpted or made into jewellery. For those who like it, lace and basketery are available for a good cost/quality ratio. The most typical Zimbabwean souvenir is the famous batonka drum, made from sculpted wood and originating from the Binga region but easily found in Victoria Falls. Shops are usually open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, from Monday to Saturday (some shut at noon on Saturdays).

Zimbabwe : Discover our cities