Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), is a landlocked country nestled between the mighty Zambezi River flowing along its northwest border and the Limpopo River along the southern border. At its western tip, the borders of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia meet at Kazungula.
The country’s low-lying regions such as Hwange and Gonarezhou National Parks are warm all year with hot summers, while the Eastern Highlands are much cooler with a higher year-round rainfall. Most of Zimbabwe’s rain falls in brief afternoon deluges during thunderstorms in the summer months (October to April), bringing a brief relief from the humidity. Winters (May to September) are virtually rain-free with warm sunny days and cool, clear nights.
Since Zimbabwe’s Land Reform programme that started in 2000, tourism dramatically declined by a shocking 75% that year and remained slow for the following three years. It was only in 2004 when it started to pick up again. Visitors from all over the world have recently started to re-discover Zimbabwe as a travel destination and the country has much to offer for especially the intrepid traveller and wildlife enthusiast.
The country boasts several major tourist attractions, with the biggest draw being the spectacular Victoria Falls located in the north-west of Zimbabwe and shared by Zambia. Many travellers choose to stay in Livingstone to view the Falls from the Zambia side, then organise a guided day trip across the border to Zimbabwe to experience the Falls from the Zim side too. This can easily be arranged.
The Eastern Highlands are a series of mountainous areas near the border with Mozambique. Zimbabwe’s highest peak, Mount Nyangani at 2,593 m (8,507 ft) is located here as well as the Bvumba Mountains, a key tourist destination known for its lush natural forests, stunning views and rare bird species, and Nyanga National Park, rich in archaeological sites with remnants of Iron-Age villages and a big draw for especially birders and hikers.
Southeast of Masvingo City lies the magnificent Great Zimbabwe, a UNESCO World heritage Site and the largest, best-preserved ancient stone-walled city ever built in sub-Saharan Africa. This ancient site comprises of various complexes such the Hill and Valley Complexes, The Great Enclosure and the Zimbabwe bird soapstone carvings.
The Matobo Hills comprises and area of granite kopjes and wooded valleys commencing some 35 km (22 mi) south of Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe. The Hills were formed over 2,000 million years with granite being forced to the surface, then being eroded to produce smooth ‘’whaleback dwalas’’ and broken kopjes, strewn with boulders and interspersed with thickets of vegetation. Mzilikazi, founder of the Ndebele nation, gave the area its name, meaning ‘Bald Heads’. They have become famous and a tourist attraction due to their ancient shapes and local wildlife. Cecil John Rhodes and other early pioneers like Leander Starr Jameson are buried in these hills at a site named World’s View.
Balancing Rocks are geological formations all over Zimbabwe. The rocks are perfectly balanced without other supports. They are created when ancient granite intrusions are exposed to weathering, as softer rocks surrounding them erode away. They are often remarked on and have been depicted on both the paper money of the Zimbabwean dollar and the paper money of the Rhodesian dollar. These formations are a feature of south and east tropical Africa from northern South Africa northwards to Sudan. The most notable formations in Zimbabwe are located in the Matobo National Park in Matabeleland.
The Mana Pools National Park in the far north of Zimbabwe is a cluster of islands, sandbanks, channels and lake lets that are fed by occasional floodwater. They attract vast numbers of aquatic birds and are rich in fish. Large numbers of game frequent the area, especially elephant, buffalo, hippo, rhino, crocodile, various antelope, lion, leopard and wild dog. The game reserve is open from May to October.
Hwange is one of Africa’s top national parks when it comes to size (more or less the size of Belgium) and game variety. Not only does it boast the highest diversity of mammals of any national park in the world, but also one of the largest elephant herds on earth (numbering somewhere between 20 000 to 75 000 in the peak dry season) between Hwange and neighbouring Chobe in Botswana. Birding enthusiasts will be delighted to hear of the large variety of birds that occur in the park including over 50 types of raptors. Though the dry winter months (August to November) offer the best wildlife viewing, Hwange is a great destination to visit at any time and spectacular wildlife scenery can be seen year-round. Wildlife viewing facilities are mostly concentrated in the northern sector including Main Camp located to the east and the main entrance to the Park, Sinamatella (a former cattle ranch), Robins Camp (close to the western boundary) and Nantwich Camp (a remote camp consisting of three lodges). Guided game drives can be booked at these camps and all surrounding accommodations.
Gonarezhou or ‘’place of elephants’’ is Zimbabwe’s second largest park featuring river floodplains scattered among lagoons and riverine forest. Three major rivers, the Savu, Runde and Mwenesi run through the Park. Elephants along with other game have suffered from widespread hunting and poaching in the earlier 20th century, and later during the civil war. A lot of effort has been put into restoring the Park’s populations especially of elephant and rhino. Gonarezhou is also part of the Great Limpopo Transfortier conservation area allowing game to migrate over much larger areas. Birders will want to spend several days in the Park. A private vehicle is the only way to explore Gonarezhou unless you are on an organised tour.
Lake Kariba lies along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. In terms of volume, it is the largest man-made lake in the world, reaching over 220 km (137 mi) in length and, at its widest point, 40 km (25 mi). Gazing over Lake Kariba often feels like looking out to sea. Kariba’s top attractions revolve around its wildlife and unique scenery. In particular, tiger fishing is a major draw, and many lodges and houseboats offer dedicated tiger fishing trips and/or guides. Birding and game viewing are also popular activities.
Close to Kariba is Matusadona National Park. Located on the Zimbabwe side to the west of Kariba Town, it is home to the Big Five including rhino, buffalo, elephant, lion and leopard. But, the best way to experience Kariba is to stay on a houseboat while cruising into stunning lake panoramas of blue and green against the sunset of a true African sky.
Some Zimbabwe activities in that can be arranged include:
- Zambezi River Cruises
- Helicopter Flights over the Vic Falls
- River Boarding & River Rafting
- Gorge Swinging
- Horseback Safaris
- Mana Pools Walking Safaris with an experienced guide
- Local Village Tours
- Great Zimbabwe Guided Tour
- Vic Falls Rainforest Walk & Tour
- Harare City Tour
- Lake Kariba House Boat
- Lake Kariba Tiger Fishing
- Canoeing Mana Pools/Lake Kariba