Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

390,757 sq km (150,872 sq miles).

Population

13.2 million (2013).

Population density

33.7 per sq km.

Capital

Harare.

Government

Republic. Gained independence from the UK in 1980.

Head of state

President Robert Mugabe since 1987.

Head of government

President Robert Mugabe since 1987.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. South African-style round three-pin and British-style square three-pin plugs are used.

Zimbabwe boasts some amazing natural sites. The Victoria Falls are without a doubt one of the world's grandest natural spectacles and every viewpoint reveals something new. Running from northeast to southwest down the centre of the country, and connecting its two largest cities, is the Highveld, a chain of low mountains and Zimbabwe's most populous area.

Zimbabwe also offers some of the best wildlife parks in southern Africa. From the forested mountains of the Eastern highlands to the sun-washed grasslands of Hwange National Park, from the hot Mopani Forest to the shores of Lake Kariba, more than 11% of Zimbabwe's land - 44,688 sq km (17,254 sq miles) - has been set aside as parks and wildlife estates. There are also several botanical gardens, sanctuaries and more than a dozen national safari areas for hunting (an activity that helps to finance the conservation programme and is strictly controlled).

Modern Zimbabwe is not in a good state. In spite of the economy slowly improving, there is still widespread famine and the government lacks the resources to deal with the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which affects an estimated one quarter of the population. However, a historic power-sharing deal signed in 2008 between President Mugabe and the opposition party leader Morgan Tsvangirai has pledged to improve the lives of Zimbabweans.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 04 March 2015

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.


Crime

There is a moderate level of crime, including occasional armed robberies targeting foreign residents. Make sure your accommodation is secure at all times. Mugging, pick pocketing and jewellery theft are common in city centres, especially after dark. Be particularly careful at Harare airport, and when leaving banks and cash points. Don’t carry large amounts of cash. Avoid travelling around alone.

Carry your Zimbabwean Resident ID or a photocopy of your passport. If you lose your passport, you will need to get a police report and contact the British embassy in Harare for a replacement travel document.

There have been thefts and smash-and-grab robberies from vehicles, especially at main intersections along the route to Harare Airport and on the Masvingo-Beitbridge road. You should be particularly vigilant when using these routes. Keep vehicle doors locked and windows closed. Be particularly careful at night and at filling stations. Don’t leave your vehicle unattended in unguarded areas in towns.

Local travel

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, deaths. 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. 

Rural areas

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. 

Road travel

You can drive in Zimbabwe using a full UK driving licence. If you are resident in Zimbabwe you should get a Zimbabwean license 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. Travel carefully on inter-city roads, always wear seatbelts, lock car doors, carry a comprehensive medical kit and avoid travelling after dark. Think carefully before setting out on long distance journeys, and either carry extra fuel or keep your tank topped up as much as possible. Seek up-to-date local advice about any places that you plan to visit.

Traffic accidents are a common cause of death and injury. There are often deep potholes in the roads. Traffic lights are often out of action. Avoid driving outside the main towns at night, as vehicles 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 only limited help in the event of an accident and ambulances are often delayed. Be careful about stopping at lay-bys, particularly in the Beitbridge area, as there have been incidents of cars being robbed and occupants attacked.

It is an offence to continue driving when the President’s motorcade goes past, no matter which side of the road you are on. If you see the motorcade, pull off the road or onto the side of the road if this is not 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.

Public transport

Public transport and services are unreliable. Buses are often overcrowded, inadequately maintained, uninsured and recklessly driven. You should avoid them if possible.

Rail travel

The rail system is underdeveloped and very poorly maintained. Level crossings are poorly marked, resulting in numerous accidents.

Air travel

In 2010 an audit of Zimbabwe’s Civil Aviation Authority by the International Civil Aviation Organisation found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Zimbabwe was around 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 from a lack of electricity. Harare International Airport relies on a generator during power 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.

Political situation

Zimbabwe held elections on 31 July 2013 and President Mugabe was inaugurated as President on 22 August 2013. You should avoid associating with any activity that could be construed as political. You should avoid all demonstrations and rallies. In the past the authorities have used force to suppress demonstrations.

You should avoid political activity, or activities which could be construed as such, including political discussions in public places, or criticism of the President. It is an offence to make derogatory or insulting comments about President Mugabe or to carry material considered to be offensive to the President’s office. An open hand is the political symbol of the opposition, MDC-Tsvangirai, and a friendly wave may therefore be misinterpreted.

Active European Union measures remain in place against 2 individuals and 1 entity. The issue remains highly charged politically and retaliation against British and European companies can’t be ruled out.

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