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Fantastic safaris, stunning scenery, a proudly African culture: Zimbabwe has all the stereotypical African attractions, plus a handful more. The Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi river along the Zambian coast, is a magnificent, extraordinarily powerful sight. The falls and surrounding river afford some great adventure activities, like white water rafting (might wanna avoid the falls though), parachuting, microlighting, and bungee jumping (the world's tallest bungee jump, that is). Great Zimbabwe, in southeastern Zimbabwe, was once a thriving medieval city: now, it is a historical marvel, indicating the height of African civilization.
Unfortunately, now is not an ideal time to visit Zimbabwe. Political tension and claims of corruption appear set to bubble over into widespread civil war. It's recommended to hold back for the time being and waiting till tensions subside.
By the Middle Ages, there was a Bantu civilization in the region, as evidenced by ruins at Great Zimbabwe and other smaller sites, whose main outstanding archaeological achievement is a unique dry stone architecture. Around the early 10th century, trade developed with Muslim merchants on the Indian Ocean coast, helping to develop the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in the 11th century. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe was the first in a series of sophisticated trade states developed in Zimbabwe by the time of the first European explorers from Portugal. From about 1250 until 1450, Mapungubwe was eclipsed by the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. In 1834, the Ndebele people arrived while fleeing from the Zulu leader Shaka, making the area their new empire, Matabeleland. In 1837–38, the Rozwi Empire along with other Shona states were conquered by the Ndebele, who arrived from south of the Limpopo and forced them to pay tribute and concentrate in northern Zimbabwe.
In the 1880s, the British arrived with Cecil Rhodes's British South Africa Company (BSAC). In 1898, the name Southern Rhodesia was adopted. In 1898 'Southern Rhodesia' became the official denotation for the region south of the Zambezi, which later became Zimbabwe. The region to the north was administered separately by the BSAC and later named Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony in October 1923, subsequent to a 1922 referendum. Rhodesians served on behalf of the United Kingdom during World War II, mainly in the East African Campaign against Axis forces in Italian East Africa.
In the elections of February 1980, Mugabe and his ZANU won a landslide victory. Elections in March 1990 resulted in another victory for Mugabe and his party, which won 117 of the 120 election seats. Election observers estimated voter turnout at only 54% and found the campaign neither free nor fair. The economical and political situation and the health of the people (life expectancy declined from around 60 to about 35 in the period since 1990) declined during the 1980s and 1990s. Just as one might not expect things to get worse, Mugabe began to redistribute land to blacks in 2000 with a compulsory land redistribution. In 2002, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations on charges of human rights abuses during the land redistribution and of election tampering. During 2008, problems in Zimbabwe reached crisis proportions in the areas of living standards, public health (with a major cholera outbreak in December) and various public considerations.
On 29 March 2008, Zimbabwe held a presidential election along with a parliamentary election. The three major candidates were Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai (MDC-T), and Simba Makoni, an independent. The results of this election were withheld for four weeks, following which it was generally acknowledged that the MDC had achieved a significant majority of seats. However, Mugabe retained control because Tsvangirai did not win by the margin required by Zimbabwean law. Hence, the election results that would otherwise put Mugabe out of power, failed the opposition.
In September 2008, a power-sharing agreement was reached between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, in which Mugabe remained president and Tsvangirai became prime minister. However, due to ministerial differences between their respective political parties, the agreement was not fully implemented until February 13, 2009, two days after the swearing in of Tsvangirai as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa, lying between latitudes 15° and 23°S, and longitudes 25° and 34°E. It is the 61st largest country in the world, with a total area of 390,580 km², of which 3,910 km² comprises lakes and reservoirs. It straddles an extensive high inland plateau that drops northwards to the Zambezi valley where the border with Zambia is and similarly drops southwards to the Limpopo valley and the border with South Africa. The country has borders with Botswana (813 kilometres), Mozambique (1,231 kilometres), South Africa (225 kilometres), Zambia (797 kilometres) and meets Namibia at its westernmost point. Most of the country is elevated in the central plateau (high veld) stretching from the southwest to the northwest at altitudes between 1,200 and 1,600 metres. The country's east is mountainous with Mount Nyangani as the highest point at 2,592 metres. About 20% of the country consists of the low veld under 900m. Victoria Falls, one of the world's biggest and most spectacular waterfalls, is located in the country's northwest as part of the Zambezi river. The country is mostly savanna, although the moist and mountainous east supports tropical evergreen and hardwood forests. Trees include teak and mahogany, knobthorn, msasa and baobab. Among the numerous flowers and shrubs are hibiscus, spider lily, leonotus, cassia, tree wisteria and dombeya.
Zimbabwe is divided into eight provinces and two cities with provincial status.
While Zimbabwe might not be the safest country to enjoy a safari, most parts of the country are safe enough and potential danger is mostly in the bigger cities of Harare and Bulawayo, where protests occur more often and can get worse than elsewhere. And the best national parks to be visited, are located far from the main cities and are probably as safe as counterparts in countries lik Zambia, South Africa and Botswana.
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Hwange National Park is located in the northwest of the country, between Victoria Falls and the border with Botswana, just west of the road between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo. It is the largest national park in Zimbabwe with an area of almost 15,000 square kilometers. It is a semi arid region with large plains of grass and savannah land where many species of mammal roam freely. Almost all of Zimbabwe's wildlife can be seen here and some species like the African wild dog are quite special, as it is one of the larger herds anywhere in Africa, along with the herds in Selous and Ruaha National Parks in Tanzania. Access to the park is easy and the Main Camp is close to the Main gate and can be reached partly by tarred road. There are two other camps as well, one of which is very remote and requires you to be fully epuiped with fuel and water in case something happens along the way.
The Mana Pools National Park is the counterpart of the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia and is best reached from Zambia as roads from Harare and Victoria Falls are not always in good shape and fuel shortages are common in Zimbabwe as well. The flood plains along the Zambezi River form series of lakes where wildlife finds water and food, mainly in the dry season when water else is scarce. It is one of the best parks in Africa to enjoy a walking safari and the only one where you can actually walk just by yourself, because of the almost flat landscape where you have very good views of spotting wildlife and thus are able to prevent and eye to eye contact with a lion within a too short distance. Although it is not as well developed as many other national parks it has large herds of hippos, elephants and buffalos and trips can be arranged both in Zambia as in Zimbabwe.
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At a height of over 100 metres and a width of about 1,700 metres, the Victoria Falls are the largest sheet of water falling in the world. Located within the boundaries of Mosi-oa-Tunya NP in Zambia and Victoria Falls NP in Zimbabwe, the falls are one of the most impressive landmarks of Africa and travellers from around the world are highly attracted by the opportunities near the falls. Hiking, wildlife viewing, bungeejumping, cruising, whit water rafting the Zambezi river and a helicopter ride to have a bird's eye view of the falls, all are very popular. As the falls are mainly located in Zambia, the best panoramic view is from Zimbabwe, viewing the falls head on. Even better would be the view from the air. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Zimbabwe has a warm and fairly dry climate, but still with a distict rainy season. Because of its elevation, large parts are not overly hot. Also, it is fairly south in Africa, thus having some colder winters.
The lower parts of the country have a rather dry climate with an unreliable rainfall of between 400 mm 600 mm. In the eastern highlands annual rainfall is as much as 1500 mm/ 2000 mm. Over most of the country annual rainfall is between 750 mm 1,000 mm. Most of the rain falls during the period November to March when it is summer in Zimbabwe. Winter is dry, warm and sunny in most of the country.
Except in the lower regions, temperatures are warm but rarely hot around the year. Bulawayo and Harare for example are between 1,200 and 1,500 metres above sea level. Here, summers are close to 30 °C during the day, around 15 °C or 16 °C at night. Winters (June - September) are above 20 °C during the day, dropping to a rather chilly 7 °C at night. Most rain falls between December and February, close to 200 mm a month in some places. June to September is almost completely dry.
The eastern lowlands along the border with Mozambique are warmer but equally wet. Temperatures average between 28 °C and 34 °C year round, but warmer from October to January, averaging over 35 °C in some parts, over 40 °C is possible somtimes. Also, nights are not that cold, slightly below 15 degrees during the cooler June to September period. The dry season seems to last longer, from April to October.
Air Zimbabwe is the national airline of the country and is based at Harare International Airport (HRE) near the capital Harare. International flights include those to and from Beijing, Blantyre, Dar es Salaam, Dubai, Guangzhou, Johannesburg, Lilongwe, London, Lubumbashi, Lusaka, Nairobi and Singapore. Several other airlines from neighbouring countries fly to and from Harare. Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) is located close to the famous waterfalls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe and might be of convenience for travellers. Destinations include Johannesburg, Windhoek and Maun (Botswana).
Since 2006, there is a thrice a week train between Francistown in Botswana and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. The train leaves Francistown on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays around 9:00am and arrives approximately 6 hours later in Bulawayo. In the other direction, the train leaves Bulawayo at 9:30am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, taking 5 and a half hours.
Roads lead into Zimbabwe from all neighbouring countries and most border crossings are open between 6:00am and 6:00pm. The crossings at Beitbridge (South Africa) and Victoria Falls (Zambia) are open longer. Note that driving on some routes may be difficult, especially after heavy rains and that petrol availability is very limited outside the bigger cities and Victoria Falls, so take some more petrol cans with you at all times.
Buses travel between Zimbabwe and all of its neighbouring countries. From Harare and Bulawayo there are connections to and from Johannesburg in South Africa. Buses to and from Bulawayo from Johannesburg travel further north to Lusaka. There are also buses between the capital Harare and the city of Blantyre in Malawi, travelling through the nortern tip of Mozambique (Tete), but a visa is not necessary when travelling all the way to Blantyre. From Bulawayo there are buses to Francistown in Botswana as well.
From Victoria Falls in the north, buses travel all the way to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. The stop on the way in Katima Mulilo in the eastern Caprivi of Namibia. Buses travel through Botswana, but you are not allowed to get out of the bus in Kasane in the northeast of Botswana. Instead, minibuses travel between Kasana and Victoria Falls, mostly organised by lodges and hostels.
Although Zimbabwe shares (parts of) the border with Zambia along rivers, there are no options of entering Zimbabwe directly by boat.
There are trains between Bulawayo, Chiredzi, Harare, Labatse, Mutare, Plumtree, Triangle and Victoria Falls run by the National Railways of Zimbabwe, but is not well maintained and service is poor.
Although it is possible to rent a car at airports and bigger hotels, and the main routes are actually of a decent quality, it is not recommended, mainly due to the petrol shortages which are common since years outside the main urban centers and Victoria Falls.
Traffic drives on the left and you need a national or international driver's licence writting in English.
The main bus connection are between Harare and Bulawayo (5-6 hours) and Bulawayo and Victoria Falls (4-5 hours). Several buses travel between Victoria Falls and Harare as well, some of them stopping in Bulawayo on their way. Blue Arrow Luxury Coaches provides bus services to major destinations like the route Harare-Bulawayo.
Ferries run on Lake Kariba from Kariba to Binga and Mlibizi.
Nationals of the following countries do not need a visa to enter Zimbabwe:
Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Fiji, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Swaziland, Sweden, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu and Zambia.
Nationals of the following countries are given a visa for a fee (except Ghana, for whom a visa is free) upon arrival:
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada Cook Islands, Denmark, Dominica Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Palau, Palestinia, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Seychelles, Spain, Switzerland, USA, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Vatican City and the US Virgin Islands.
The fee of a visa is US$30 (single entry), US$45 (double entry) or US$55 (multiple entry). British and Irish travellers can only get single entry visa (US$55) or double entry visa (US$70). Canadians can only get a single entry visa for a fee of US$75.
All other nationals need to apply for a visa before entering the country and can get a single entry visa for US$65 to US$100.
See also: Money Matters
Due to the hyperinflation of the Zimbabwe Dollar the currency has been unofficially changed to the US Dollar and the South African Rand. Note that rand prices will often be quoted as 10 times the US$ price for convenience, even though the real rate is closer to 7, so check the rate being used so that you don't overpay.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Zimbabwe. There are two exceptions though. You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering Zimbabwe overland. And you need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Zimbabwe) where that disease is widely prevalent.
Still, it's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Zimbabwe. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in parts of the country, mostly in the northern and (north)eastern parts and also mainly during the warmer and wetter months from November to May. Don't underestimate this tropical disease though and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Also note that Southern Africa and thus Zimbabwe as well has a high percentage of people with AIDS.
See also: Travel Safety
See also: International Telephone Calls
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Ask baluba a question about Zimbabwe
People seem to think that Zim is a very scary place. It is not. I can offer advice on much of the region, travelling, money, visas etc.
Ask luisracast a question about Zimbabwe
visit victoria falls in 2003
Ask threedogs a question about Zimbabwe
Have been twice to Zimbabwe including one month as research assistant in Hwange.
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