Zimbabwe travel guide
After a difficult decade or so, stability is returning to Zimbabwe and pioneering tourists are gradually trickling back to the country. They are richly rewarded for their endeavours: with its abundance of natural wonders, welcoming locals, fascinating heritage and good climate, Zimbabwe is one of the most remarkable countries in Africa.
The jewel in its glistening crown is Victoria Falls. Straddling the border between Zimbabwe and neighbouring Zambia, this waterfall is officially the largest on the planet and hearing the roar of all that cascading water makes for an unforgettable experience.
As well as awe-inspiring natural spectacles, Zimbabwe offers some of the best wildlife in southern Africa. From the forested mountains of the Eastern Highlands to the sun-washed grasslands of Hwange National Park, the country is teeming with flora and fauna, including the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo and lion).
Roughly 11% of Zimbabwe’s land has been set aside for parks and wildlife estates, but it can do big cities too. The two most populous are Harare and Bulawayo, which serve up an impressive selection of cultural attractions, hip bars and fine dining restaurants. Between these two urban hubs lie the astonishing late Iron Age stone ruins at Great Zimbabwe, which shoot down theories that sub-Saharan Africa had no great civilizations.
It’s not all smooth sailing, though. Whilst Zimbabwe’s fragile economy is slowly improving, there is still widespread poverty and the government lacks the resources to deal with the ravages of the HIV pandemic, which affects an estimated one in four people here. Corruption is rife too, and roadblocks manned by officials looking for any excuse to fleece you can hinder cross-country travel.
But for the most part Zimbabwe remains a peaceful place full of peaceful people, who desperately need tourism to help build a better future for this incredible corner of Africa.
390,757 sq km (150,872 sq miles).
15,966,810 (UN estimate 2016).
36.4 per sq km.
President Robert Mugabe since 1987.
President Robert Mugabe since 1987.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. South African-style plugs (three round pins) and British-style plugs (three square pins) are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There is a moderate level of crime. People travelling alone may be more vulnerable. Mugging, pick pocketing and jewellery theft are common in city centres, especially after dark. Street lighting can be poor. Remain vigilant at Harare International Airport and when leaving banks and cash points. Don’t carry large amounts of cash.
There have been occasional armed robberies targeting foreign residents. Make sure your accommodation is secure at all times.
There have been thefts and smash-and-grab robberies from vehicles, including at the main intersections along the route to Harare International Airport and on the Masvingo-Beitbridge road. You should be particularly vigilant when using these routes. Keep vehicle doors locked and windows closed. Be careful at night and at filling stations. Don’t leave your vehicle unattended in unguarded areas in towns.
Carry your Zimbabwean residents’ ID or a photocopy of your passport. If you lose your British passport, you will need to get a police report and contact the British Embassy in Harare for a replacement travel document.
Zimbabwe has many safari lodges and game reserves. Safety standards vary and you should check whether operators are trained and licensed. There have been a number of incidents in which animals have attacked visitors, resulting in injuries and, in some cases, death. Some activities, such as walking or canoe safaris, could pose risks to personal safety. You should treat wild animals with caution and respect and keep a safe distance from them at all times.
Flash flooding during the rainy season (November to February) can make some roads impassable.
There are frequent power cuts that affect the whole country, sometimes for days at a time, as well as occasional fuel and water shortages. The Zimbabwean mobile phone network and land lines are unreliable.
Since 2000 most of Zimbabwe’s commercial farms have been occupied or taken over by members of the National War Veterans’ Association and others. Farm invasions continue, often accompanied by violence and looting of property. Take care when visiting farming areas that you are not familiar with.
The diamond mining area in Marange is a restricted area. If you are stopped and told that you may not access a particular area, you should turn back.
You can drive in Zimbabwe using a full UK driving licence. If you are resident in Zimbabwe you may wish to get a Zimbabwean licence to minimise the potential for problems at road blocks.
You must obey police signals, stop at roadblocks and toll-gates and produce identification if asked to do so. It’s an offence to continue driving when the President’s motorcade goes past, no matter which side of the road you’re on. If you see the motorcade, pull off the road or onto the side of the road if this isn’t possible. There have been a number of incidents where people have been assaulted by the security forces for stopping in the wrong place or for not stopping soon enough.
Traffic accidents are a common cause of death and injury in Zimbabwe. There are often deep potholes in the roads. Traffic lights are often out of action. You should avoid driving outside the main towns at night. Vehicles and roads are often poorly lit and roads badly marked. Abandoned unlit heavy goods vehicles, cyclists without lights, pedestrians and stray livestock are particular hazards. Emergency services may provide very limited help in the event of an accident and ambulances are often delayed.
Travel carefully on inter-city roads, always wear seatbelts, lock car doors and carry a comprehensive medical kit. Be careful about stopping at lay-bys, particularly in the Beitbridge area, as there have been incidents of cars being robbed and occupants attacked.
Plan carefully before setting out on long distance journeys and either carry extra fuel or top up your tank whenever possible. Seek up-to-date local advice about any places that you plan to visit.
Public transport and services are unreliable. Buses, especially the smaller commuter omnibuses or “combis” are often overcrowded, inadequately maintained, uninsured and recklessly driven. You should avoid them if possible.
The rail system is underdeveloped and very poorly maintained. Level crossings are poorly marked, resulting in numerous accidents.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation last audited Zimbabwe’s Civil Aviation Authority in 2010. The report found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Zimbabwe was close to the global average.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
We can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
Zimbabwe’s airports suffer electricity cuts. Harare International Airport relies on a generator during cuts. This has an impact on the airport’s ability to light the runway and provide air traffic control facilities. This can result in considerable delays, especially at night.
You should avoid political activity, or activities which could be construed as such, including political discussions in public places, or criticism of the President. You should avoid all demonstrations and rallies. In the past the authorities have used force to suppress demonstrations. It is an offence to make derogatory or insulting comments about the President or to carry material considered to be offensive to the President’s office.
European Union Restrictive Measures (sanctions) remain in place against Zimbabwe’s President, the First Lady and the company Zimbabwe Defence Industries. This remains a highly charged political issue.