Zimbabwe has a complex and tumultuous history. As early as the 13th and 14th centuries the land was populated by Shona descendants of the Bantu tribes, pastoralists who had migrated into the area from the north around the 10th century. We know that they were responsible for building Great Zimbabwe from the 11th to the 15th century, the most significant ancient African ruins south of Egypt, the intricacy and workmanship of which has stunned archaeologists. They had also established trade with the Phoenicians way back then!
From the 18th century there was a steady northward migration of the Ndebele (Matabele) people from South Africa, as well as aggressive colonization by Britain, and the Zimbabweans we know today are mainly descendants of these three groups, the Matabele, the Shona and the British colonists, the latter of who make up a small percentage of the current population. The official languages of Zimbabwe are English, Shona and Sindebele.
Urban Zimbabweans have largely adopted Western cultures and traditions, but in the rural areas the age-old Shona and Ndebele traditions continue. Music and art are very highly regarded and some of the world’s best stone sculptors live in Zimbabwe, producing world-class art-work that can be found in galleries and collections all over the world. These traditional Shona art forms often depict themes from folklore or animals, which are very popular with visitors.
The Matabele people are also famous for their artistic talent which is passed down from mother to daughter – the ladies do all the painting and decoration in this tribe – and their homes are a showcase of their talents. They also produce amazing beadwork and other crafts.
Music and dance feature prominently in most African tribes and this is also the case in Zimbabwe. The mbira and marimba are the traditional musical instruments of choice and create the unique rhythms and sounds of Zimbabwe.
Air Zimbabwe is the only airline offering direct flights into Harare, the capital, once a week from London and once a week from Kuala Lumpur. However, it is easy to reach Harare via Lusaka(Zambia) on Emirates, or Johannesburg (South Africa), from just about anywhere in the world. Most of the neighbouring African countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa all have regular scheduled flights to Harare.
Anyone visiting Zimbabwe needs to have a Passport that is valid for at least 6 months after your visit, with at least 3 empty pages. Most people will need a Visa, but this can be issued on arrival. It is advisable to visit the Zimbabwe Immigration website to check if you need to apply for a Visa in advance of your visit – this is necessary for visitors from certain countries.
If you would like to pop across the border from Zambia for a day to see the Victoria Falls from the more impressive Zimbabwean side, it is possible to get a Day-Visa at the border.
Zimbabwe has an extensive selection of accommodation in all categories from luxury to rustic. In the cities you will find many good hotels, guesthouses and self-catering choices. The Lodges and Camps in the National Parks and near the Victoria Falls will spoil you with anything from superb bare-foot luxury at the Elephant Eye Eco Lodge to Colonial splendour at the classic Victoria Falls hotel. For something really different you can go on a houseboat cruise on Lake Kariba.
The quickest and by far the most comfortable way to get around Zimbabwe is to make use of air transfers between major tourist places of interest. (Roads are not great, and fuel shortages mean than busses and taxis can be erratic). There are flights to all the main National Parks from Victoria Falls. Please note, these transfers will be by small 4-seater planes and you will need to restrict your luggage – check with your Tour Operator.
Before leaving home check that your Health Insurance covers international travel and buy travel insurance if necessary. It is also advisable to purchase travel insurance that covers emergency evacuation, in the unlikely event of accident or a serious medical emergency.
As a general rule Zimbabwe receives most rain from about December to March. To witness the Victoria Falls at their spectacular best you need to come after the rains, with March to September being the best time – bring some warm clothing as the nights can be chilly! Rafting on the Zambezi only operates from July to December when water levels are lower. In March and April land-based viewing of the Falls could be difficult due to huge volume of spray, but it is a great time for aerial viewing as the water volume is at its most impressive. The dry winter months from June to September are usually the best time for wildlife viewing.
Anyone travelling to Zimbabwe should check that they are up-to-date with all regular vaccinations: MMR(Measles-mumps-rubella), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio and your annual flu vaccine. Additionally it would be wise to consider being vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, typhoid, meningitis and rabies.
Yellow Fever is not considered a risk in Zimbabwe, but you will require a vaccination if you are coming from a Yellow-Fever-infected country. Malaria prevention is essential – speak to your doctor to decide which medication will suit you best. If applicable, protection against STIs, including HIV-AIDS is important.
Sadly, the Zimbabwean economy is still in a state of (recovering?) chaos and there is no official Zimbabwean currency at the moment. You can buy anything with US$, British Pounds or South African Rand, but do not expect to get any change in that currency! Your best bet is to bring plenty of low-denomination US$ notes. The larger cities all have plenty of ATM’s.
Most hotels and larger restaurants will accept credit cards – Visa is your best bet - but it is always advisable to check in advance.