Zimbabwe is a country in Southern Africa. It is landlocked and is surrounded by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east and north.
The Zambezi river forms the natural boundary with Zambia and when in full flood (February-April) the massive Victoria Falls on the river forms the world's largest curtain of falling water. The Victoria Falls are a major tourist attraction.
Once known as the Breadbasket of Africa, since 2000 Zimbabwe has undergone an economic collapse and the rule of law has gradually but largely broken down under the rule of President Robert Mugabe.
Stone cities were built in many locations in present-day Zimbabwe. The most impressive structures and the best known of these, Great Zimbabwe, were built in the 15th century, but people had been living on the site from about 400 AD.
The population was overwhelmingly made up of Shona speakers until the 19th century when the Nguni tribe (in 1839-40) of the Ndebele settled in what is now Matabeleland, and then in 1890, the territory came under the control of the British South Africa Company under charter from the British Government.
The United Kingdom annexed Southern Rhodesia from the British South Africa Company in 1923, when the country got its own government and Prime Minister. A 1961 constitution was formulated that favoured whites in power. In 1965, the government unilaterally declared independence, but the UK did not recognize the act and demanded more complete voting rights for the black African majority. UN sanctions and a guerrilla struggle finally led to both free elections and independence (as Zimbabwe) in 1980.
Robert Mugabe was the first leader of Zimbabwe and still clings on to power since 1987. He initially pursued a policy of reconciliation towards the white population, but severity towards regions which had supported a competing guerilla group (ZAPU). From 2000, Mugabe has instituted a policy of extensive land redistribution and of "national service" camps, which are suspected of political indoctrination. In recent years, the economy has been destroyed, inflation has shot up to billions of percentage points, informal homes and businesses have been destroyed, and there are severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine, together with the disappearance of the professional class and the emergence of mass unemployment. Life has grown miserable and for Zimbabweans of all colours, and they have been leaving the country in large numbers. The prospects of change seem remote at present.
Tropical; moderated by altitude; rainy season (November to March). Although there are recurring droughts, floods and severe storms are rare.
Mostly high plateau with higher central plateau (high veld); mountains in east. Lowveld in south eastern corner.
Elevation extremes : lowest point: junction of the Runde and Save rivers 162 m highest point: Inyangani 2,592 m
CATEGORY A Countries whose nationals do not require visas:
Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Cayman, Congo (DRC), Cyprus, Fiji, Grenada, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Leeward Island, Lesotho, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, Samoa Western, Singapore, Solomon Island, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Vincent & The Grenadies, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Turk & Caicos Islands, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Zambia
CATEGORY B Countries whose nationals are granted visas at the port of entry on payment of the requisite visa fees:
Visa fees at the port of entry for Category B nationals are as follows: US$30 single-entry, US$45 double-entry, US$55 multiple entry - valid passport, itinerary, exit ticket, and cash payment are required
Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Brunei, Cook Islands, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana (Gratis), Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea (South), Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau Island, Palestine (State of), Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, South Africa (Gratis), Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, USA, Vatican, Virgin Islands
CATEGORY C Countries whose nationals are required to apply for and obtain visas prior to traveling:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazzaville, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada*, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Columbia, Comoros Islands, Congo (Brazzaville), Costa Rica, Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Djibouti Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, French Guiana, French Polynesia, French West Indies, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Gibraltar, Great Britain (UK), Guam, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Korea (DPRK), Krygyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Macau, Madagascar, Mali, Marshall Islands, Macedonia, Mauritania, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, New Caledonia, Nicaragua, Niue, Niger, Nigeria, Norfolk Islands, Northern Mariana Island, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Principe, Qatar, Reunion, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Samoa (America), San Marino, Sao Tome, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Tajikistan, Taiwan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Yugoslavia
Vistors still pay fees for a visa, which are, depending on your nationality, between $30 and $180 US. As of early April 2009, the visa fees were $30 and $75 US for US and Canadian citizens respectively.
Harare International Airport has a number of international flights, mainly to other African countries. When coming from Europe you can fly directly with Air Zimbabwe from London. Air Zimbabwe also operates to Dubai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Kuala Lumpur in Asia. However, a good option is to fly with South African Airways or Airlink http://www.saairlink.co.za/ via Johannesburg. SAA operates to quite a few European airports and has many flights to South Africa and other African destinations. When coming from South Africa you can also use the no-frills airline Kulula.com . KLM offer flights from Amsterdam via Nairobi which continue on to Lusaka from Harare.
British Airways have now stopped their non-stop flights between Harare and Heathrow.
Victoria Falls airport has daily services by South African Airways, South African Airlink http://www.saairlink.co.za and British Airways from and to Johannesburg. Air Namibia has flight to Victoria Falls from Windhoek/Nambia.
For domestic flights inside Zimbabwe, linking international flights to domestic tourism and business destinations, Solenta Aviation SOLENTA AVIATION has introduced domestic flights in Zimbabwe catering for the Charter and Scheduled market, linking all major tourist hubs and safari lodges along the Zambezi River, Lake Kariba, Victoria Falls and Hwange.
Zimbabwe is accessible by road from the countries that surround it. Contrary to past scenarios, the fuel situation has improved with prices now being quoted in US dollars. As fuel has to be imported from either Mozambique or South Africa, you can expect to pay more per litre than you would in most other Southern African countries.
It should also be noted that roads in Zimbabwe are now in a very dilapidated state, and due caution should be taken when driving, especially at night, and in particular, during the November to March rainy season. Potholes are a very common occurrence and a serious threat to any vehicle that hits one.
Regular deluxe bus services operate from Johannesburg to Harare. A number of buses also travel from Johannesburg to Bulawayo. Greyhound drives to both destinations. Tickets can be obtained directly from Greyhound or through the Computicket website.
The more adventurous tourists could travel by train from Bulawayo to the Victoria Falls (). The train also passes through Hwange National Park, one of the biggest national parks in Africa.
Between the cities, buses still run - but are bad even by African standards. The only exception is with buses from the RoadPort in Harare which run to Johannesburg, Lusaka, Lilongwe (not Blantyre) amongst other destinations.
Minibus taxis are available for intra-city transport, and are relatively inexpensive by European standards. They provide a cheap, though a not necessarily safe way of seeing the true Zimbabwe.
Hitch-hiking is also a viable option though tourists need to take care with whom they accept lifts from; hijackings and robberies of hitch-hikers, especially within Harare, have been on the increase in the last few years. Be sure to bring some money along, as drivers very often expect some sort of fee to be paid up front.
The languages spoken are English (official), Shona, Sindebele/Ndebele, and numerous but minor tribal dialects. Shona is the most widely spoken language, even in the capital Harare.
Since late January 2009 Zimbabwe has legalised the use of foreign currencies as legal tender, thus negating the need for the inflation ravaged Zimbabwe Dollar, which has now been withdrawn from circulation. The US dollar is now the de facto currency in Zimbabwe, although the South African rand and the Euro are also widely accepted.
The use of credit cards is still very limited, with only a few service providers accepting VISA or MasterCards cards in Zimbabwe. Also, ATM use can be very limited for non-citizens, so please do yourself a favor and come with plenty of cash on hand.
As for costs, non-imported things are very cheap (especially labour intensive things), however for a tourist drinking coke and eating pizza, prices are not that much lower than in South Africa. Petrol (gasoline) supplies are improving, so are food supplies in supermarkets.
Haggling for a better price is common, but keep in mind that most people are very poor so don't try to abuse their desperation.
For a sample of what Zimbabweans eat (in some form, nearly every day), ask for "sadza and stew." The stew part will be familiar, served over a large portion of sadza - a thick ground corn paste (vaguely like polenta and the consistency of thick mashed potatoes) that locals eat at virtually every meal. It's inexpensive, quite tasty and VERY filling.
If you want to really impress your African hosts, eat it how they do: take a golfball-sized portion of the sadza in one hand and kneed it into a ball, then use your thumb to push a small indentation into it and use that to scoop up a bit of stew before popping it into your mouth. Don't 'double dunk'.
For extra credit, clap your hands together twice gently when it (or anything else for that matter) is served to say "thank you." Believe it or not, they'll be very impressed!
A variety of domestic brews are made in Zimbabwe, mainly European-style lagers with a few milk stouts mixed in for good measure. If you're feeling very adventurous, you may want to try the unusual "beer" that most locals drink, a thick, milky beverage known as Chibuku - guaranteed to be unlike anything you've ever tasted outside of Africa. It is generally sold in a 2 litre plastic bottle called a 'skud' but is often decanted into a plastic bucket after a good shake. Beware, however: it's definitely an acquired taste!
Imported drinks and locally made franchises are available as well as local soft drinks. Mazoe, the local orange squash (or other fruit flavour), is generally available in most eateries. Bottled water is also available. Tap water, as a source of potable water, in general, should be avoided. If no other source of water is available for drinking, then it is best boiled prior to consumption.
There are various hotels and motels in the town. If you are on a safari tour there are chalets and camping sites in most of the safaris areas. Several hotels have international partnerships, such a Meikles Hotel, Crown Monomotapa Hotel, Holiday Inn in Harare and Bulawayo.
You also have access to lodges in the towns.
The US, Japan and Germany have lifted their travel warnings to Zimbabwe in April 2009; an indication that the security risk for visitors is low. However, given the political and economic instability in the country, travellers to Zimbabwe should take care with their personal security and safety. Whilst many locals may be curious about you and your country, remember, most Zimbabweans are still very sensitive to foreigners' opinions of their country and its politicians. Therefore, it is always a wise idea to avoid political discussions or discussions pertaining to opinions of political leaders.
It must be noted that under Robert Mugabe's government Zimbabwe is extremely dangerous for whites, with around 80 white owned farms under seige each week. On my visit i was called racial names numerous times by village men and on one occasion confronted and threatend.
Lastly, don't forget to tip! Times are tough for locals, and they depend enormously on your generosity.
In the current economic situation many medicines are in short supply or cannot be sourced, so you are strongly advised to take all medications with you. Medical attention will be very hard to get: many hospitals even in cities are completely closed or unable to offer substantial care. Some medical personnel may perform procedures for payment, in somewhat dangerous and underequipped surrounds. Medical supplies are severely restricted. Your travel insurance is very likely to be invalid if you travel to Zimbabwe and medical evacuations impossible to arrange.
HIV/AIDS infection rate in Zimbabwe is the 4th highest in the world at around 20% or 1 in 5 infected. Obviously you should never have unprotected sex. If you form a serious relationship, consider both getting an HIV test before taking things further.
There is at present a cholera outbreak throughout the country, including in Harare.
Malaria is prevalent, so unless you are going to stay entirely within Harare or Bulawayo, anti-malarials are advised. Drugs reduce the severity of the disease but don't prevent infection, so also consider precautions such as:
Bilharzia is present in some lakes. Ask locally before swimming.
Snakes are common in the bush, and most bites are on the foot or lower leg. If walking, particularly in long grass, wear proper boots and either long, loose trousers or thick, concertinaed hiking socks. Shake out boots and shoes in the morning, in case you have a guest. These precautions also reduce the chance of scorpion sting. If you do get bitten or stung, stay calm. Try to identify the exact culprit, but get to medical assistance as rapidly as you can without undue exertion. Many bites and stings are non-fatal even if not treated, but it is safer to seek treatment, which is very effective these days.
Clapping twice is an accepted "thank you", especially when someone is handing you something (food, a purchase). If one hand is full you can clap the free hand on your chest. Unlike in Asia, taking items passed to you with both hands is considered impolite, as it is seen as being greedy. Men should clap so that fingertips and wrists meet, whereas women should 'golf clap' with hands crossing. This is a society with deep gender divisions.
When shaking hands or handing anything valuable to someone, it is polite to support the right forearm with the left hand (or vice versa), to signify the "weight" of the gift or honour. In practice this often means just touching the forearm, or even gesturing towards it.
When taking something from a local, it is strictly done with the right hand as it is seen as an insult if the left hand is used regardless of dexterousness. The same rule applies when passing something.
Be careful with your opinion, speaking out against the government is a crime.