Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is home to diverse wildlife, fascinating cultures and one of the most beautiful climates on Earth. Visit the stunning Victoria Falls and experience unparalleled adventure.
Zimbabwe is an amazing country with a beautiful climate, stunning scenery, an abundance of wildlife and interesting cultures. The people of Zimbabwe are friendly, and they truly take the time to make tourism special for their guests. Home to the gorgeous Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe is an unmissable stop on any tour of Southern Africa.

Victoria Falls is widely considered to be one of Africa's must-see destinations. It is spectacular! The scope and beauty of the falls is really unimaginable, but what truly makes this destination special is its adventure activities. Whether you're into whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, cliff swinging, or more sedate activities like sunset river cruises or elephant-back safaris, Victoria Falls will blow you away!

The best time of your to visit Zimbabwe depends on a few things: your budget and your taste for weather.

Due to its high elevation, Zimbabwe gets wonderful weather year-round. Zimbabwe gets a rainy season and  dry season, but the temperature in most of the country remains fairly constant year round, with mostly sunny days in the 20-30 degrees Celsius range (some lower lying areas, including Victoria Falls may see higher temperatures than this during the hot, rainy season).

If it's adventure you're looking for, you're better off visiting in the dry season, when the safari tracks are dry, the water levels of the Zambezi are low enough for rafting, and the animals congregate at permanent water sources.

If you're interested in photography, consider traveling in the wet season, when the bird watching is amazing, the foliage is vibrant, the flowers in bloom and the skies open up with impressive afternoon showers and thunderstorms on almost a daily basis.
Zimbabwe is home to the big five (rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard), hippos, zebra, an array of antelope species, African painted dog and hyena - the list could go on forever!

The greatest concentration of game can be found in the wildlife parks, such as Hwange (which shares a border with Botswana's Chobe National Park, and animals can roam freely between the two) which is only a short drive from Victoria Falls, making it easily accessible for safari-goers. Animals also roam the countryside outside of national parks, which can make driving on the roads particularly hazardous at dawn, dusk and at night.

Many of the rhinos in Zimbabwe have had their horns removed as a disincentive for poachers, which can make them shy and hard to spot. Elephants abound, as do many species of antelope, from the tiny impala to the majestic kudu. Predators are harder to spot, especially in the dry season, due to their natural camouflage and vested interest in staying hidden from prey.

Zimbabwe is a wonderful place to see a myriad of bird species, from bee-eaters to herons and fish eagles.
Zimbabwe's staple food is sadza. The uncooked form of sadza is called mealie-meal, and is a coarse corn-based flour, which is cooked in stages to form a paste similar in texture to polenta. It is served with a stew of vegetables and/or meat and 'rape', a vegetable similar to collard greens. Most Zimbabweans eat sadza at every meal. Rice and chicken are considered delicacies to many Zimbabweans, and are reserved for special occasions such as weddings.

Zimbabwe is not 'known' for its haute cuisine, but a decent meal can be found in many restaurants and hotels. In Victoria Falls, you will find several small restaurants and cafes that serve some wonderful dishes, but many serve only 'western' food, often with a Mediterranean or Italian flair. If you'd like to experience a traditional Zimbabwean meal, or even learn how one is prepared, let us know and we will get you in touch with some entrepreneurial locals who would be happy to share their knowledge, and their delicious meals for a modest fee!
According to a recent survey we did, many people, even seasoned travelers, are concerned about their safety when traveling in Africa. It's easy to group what one knows about Nigeria or South Sudan with what's happening in Sub-Saharan Africa. Or read about the political climate in a country like Zimbabwe, and have fears that result from that. Whatever the source of one's concern is, it is important to get clear and accurate information before deciding that a country like Zimbabwe 'just isn't worth the risk'.

One excellent way to get clear and up-to-date information is to look at your own country's travel advisory. This will provide excellent, up-to-date information about political climate, crime, disease and other important factors to consider when traveling. Be aware when you are reading this, however, that they tend to err on the side of caution when writing their advice.

We hope that as you read this and other sections of the Savanatrek website, that you will gain a full appreciation for what you can gain by visiting a country like Zimbabwe, and what the real risks actually are.

1. Road Safety. It is not safe to travel at night in Zimbabwe. This is due to the poor conditions of the roads, and the vehicles that travel them. (Imagine driving at 100km/hr down the highway, around a blind curve with an oncoming vehicle whose only lights on the front are indicators. Or turning that blind corner to see a lorry stopped dead in the middle of your lane with no lighting). If traveling by road, it is safest to hire a driver with your hire car; they will know the hazards, know the roads, know how to deal with checkpoints and will keep you much safer than you can keep yourself. And give you an opportunity to spend some time learning about the culture of Zimbabwe while you travel through the countryside.

* Book with us, and we can organise transfers for you (go to your Trip Planner). We will find safe, efficient and comfortable travel for you at a cost you approve of.

2. Political Safety. People often have fears that they will be caught up in the political climate of the country that they visit, and with some places this is a real risk. In Zimbabwe, both the ruling party (ZANU-PF) and their main opposition (MDC) are committed to promoting tourism as a source of income for the country. This means that as a rule tourists are not dragged into the political scene. That said, it is still prudent to NEVER discuss politics with the people you meet, or even the people within your own travel party until you leave the borders of Zimbabwe behind you. Zimbabweans are often suspicious of anyone who is willing to discuss politics, and you are unlikely to get straight answers anyway. You'll find that, despite what you may read about in the news, for most Zimbabweans life carries on as normal, regardless of the political climate, and that mostly people just want to get on with the business of living.

3. Crime. Violent crime is not terribly common in Zimbabwe. As with any travel destination, it is important to be aware of petty theft and pick-pockets. There are certain areas of Zimbabwe, mostly in the bigger cities, that warrant extra caution, and your country's travel advisory is likely to say that these areas should be completely avoided. These include the high density suburbs, where poverty is at its highest, and people their most desperate. These are areas where we advise that you NOT travel alone, without a local guide. At Savanatrek, we know that if you are interested in meeting real people, average Zimbabweans, that sometimes it will mean going to places that are considered unsafe. If this is something that would interest you, we can organise opportunities for you to engage with different communities, at times and in ways that are much safer, and provide you with a local guide who can ensure you are aware of dangers and help ensure your safety.  

In addition, you should take precautions to protect yourself, like keeping photocopies of all important documents in a separate place, keeping passports and valuables locked away or in a money belt (only put extra cash in here. Don't put the money you plan to use during the course of your day) and avoid wearing flashy jewelry or carrying expensive cameras or phones in the open.

4. Disease/Illness. During malaria season (the wet season and for a few months after) it is particularly important for you to protect yourself. Visit your travel doctor before leaving home and get all necessary vaccines and medications before your trip. Be aware that HIV/AIDS rates are high in Zimbabwe, though the rates have dropped in recent years (UNaids estimates 14.7% of the adult population of Zimbabwe was affected in 2012). Don't travel without comprehensive medical insurance, including coverage for air evacuation, and bring all necessary prescriptions and regular medications with you. Drink only bottled or purified water (purified by boiling or other means, filtration is not sufficient). Avoid swimming in still or stagnant water (Bilharzia is a risk, as are crocodiles).

5. Wild Animals. Although a risk we often shrug off, the concentration of game that is likely to be seen can pose a real risk for people. It's not just the scary carnivores and venomous snakes that can hurt you in Africa! When on safari, it is important to follow your guide's recommendations at all times. Don't go on walking safaris unless your guide has a high-powered rifle (they are almost never needed, and a good guide will keep you safe without ever needing to take aim, however this remains an important safety protection). Driving at dusk and dawn make the roads particularly hazardous due to the concentration of game that is out and about (again we recommend hiring a driver!). African wildlife is dangerous, so be cautious, keep your distance and follow your guide's instructions!
With its tropical climate moderated by high altitude, the weather in Zimbabwe is pretty perfect. With average highs in the 20s (Celsius) year-round, it's pretty easy to enjoy your time, without ever getting too hot. The nights in the dry winter season can be cold, however, sometimes dropping as low as 2 degrees Celsius. Most of Zimbabwe consists of high plateau, highest in the Midlands, and with mountains to the East. Lower-lying areas see warmer weather.

The rainy season falls between November and March. During this time, you can expect warm, sunny days with spectacular afternoon rain and thunderstorms. Temperatures are at their warmest in the rainy season.

The dry season falls between May and September. You can expect little to no rainfall during this time, with pleasantly warm days and fairly frigid nights, particularly from late June to early August.
The people of Zimbabwe mostly belong to one of two major language groups, the Shona and the Ndebele, with English being the official language of Zimbabwe. The Ndebele live mainly in the West of Zimbabwe, in Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and many places between and around. The Shona people live mainly in the East and Midlands, including in Harare. This does not mean that you won't find Shona in Bulawayo and Ndebele in Harare!

The Shona people mostly speak one of four main dialects: Kalanga, Zezuru, Manyika and Ndau. These dialects have a common vocabulary, and similar intonation and grammatical features. The Ndebele people speak Sindebele, a 'click' language related to Xhosa and Zulu. All Zimbabwean students are required to study both English and either Shona or Ndebele at school.

Shona people are proud, resourceful and enterprising. In response to the total economic collapse in 2008, many people with the means sought opportunities in neighbouring countries or overseas. Many of the people who remained had hard struggles ahead of them. A strong sense of community, and duty to family, pulled many of these people through the financial crisis. It is not uncommon to see people salvaging and selling whatever they can in order to feed their families and pull ahead in this world.

People in Zimbabwe tend to put a great importance on wealth and the appearance of wealth. There are a high proportion of luxury vehicles on the road, and people both respect others who appear wealthy, and expect respect for their displays of wealth. Respect is very important in Zimbabwean culture.

An interaction with a Zimbabwean can go well or go poorly, based on whether they feel respected by you or not. Respect can be shown by using a calm demeanour, using titles and honorifics where appropriate, showing genuine interest in a person and their culture, and using courteous language. Being overly direct or abrupt is often seen as disrespectful in Zimbabwe, and can close doors that would otherwise be wide open to you.

Showing respect by showing interest in others, asking about their day or their family or their culture, will facilitate a positive experience in Zimbabwe. People are more likely to be open with you, and amny will go out of their way to help you to have a positive experience. And you'll walk away with the added bonus of some interesting conversations and some eye-opening interactions
A Brief History of Zimbabwe

The earliest inhabitants of Zimbabwe are believed to have been the San people (often referred to as 'Bushmen'). The San people were largely displaced to less fertile lands (they now mainly inhabit the Kalahari desert) or were assimilated into the new cultures that came with the Great Bantu Migration.

1200-1600s - trade with Mozambique made the Shona kingdom one of Africa's wealthiest and most powerful nations. Great Zimbabwe was built (the ruins from which Zimbabwe takes its name). Sometime in the 15th Century, the Shona moved away from Great Zimbabwe (in Midlands) to their main settlement in Harare, in Mashonaland.

1880s - The Ndebele people moved into the south-western areas of Zimbabwe, under the leadership of Mzlikazi. Mzlikazi was succeeded by Lobengula. Lobengula was the second and last Ndebele King.

1888 - Lobengula was tricked by Cecil John Rhodes into signing away rights to the land, opening it up to mining prospectors and other colonists. Rhodes formed the British South Africa Company and settlers moved into the area from South Africa in search of gold and wealth.

1896 - the first Chimurenga (war of liberation) was fought, with the Shona and Ndebele peoples joining forces against a common enemy. Rhodes prevailed, and it was more than 60 years before any uprising was again attempted. Under the government of Rhodesia, the Shona and Ndebele people alike were displaced from their homes, denied access to education, denied the right to vote or hold political office and were fully segregated from white society, in a mirror of the Apartheid reign in South Africa.

Mid 1960s - the second Chimurenga was fought.

1965-1979 - Great Britain demanded that the government of Rhodesia guarantee racial equality and plan for majority rule, under threat of sanctions. The Rhodesian government issued the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Guerilla war followed, and continued until 1979.

1980 - Zimbabwe's first multi-party general elections were held, with Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Unity (ZANU) succeeding to secure the leadership. While black Zimbabweans had gained some political control, white Zimbabweans continued to hold economic strength, and most of the farmlands.

1999 & Early 2000s - ZANU-PF moved to create better economic equality between white and black Zimbabweans, with an acceleration of the land re-distribution policy that had been in place since the early 1980s.

1999 - the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was formed as an opposition to ZANU-PF. In 2005, the MDC split into two factions: one led by Morgan Tsvangirai, the other by Arthur Mutambara.

2007-2008 - The economy of Zimbabwe completely collapsed. Many Zimbabweans left the country at this time.

2008 - the two factions of MDC won a combined majority of votes at the general elections, and a power-sharing deal with ZANU-PF was facilitated by the South African Development Community (SADC), leaving Robert Mugabe in power as president, and giving Morgan Tsvangirai the position of Prime Minister.

Current Political Climate

Life in Zimbabwe has improved since the famine that accompanied the economic collapse in 2007-8. The people of Zimbabwe do not discuss politics openly, as a rule, and are largely content to continue living life under whichever leader holds power. The Shona people are naturally peaceful, and very resourceful and enterprising, and it is common to see people doing whatever work they can find to feed their families.

The MDC remains the main opposition to ZANU-PF, but it seems unlikely that there will be any change in leadership before the death of Robert Mugabe (he is now in his 90s).