Zimbabwe is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Mozambique to the northeast, South Africa to the south and Botswana to the south-west. The central zone of hills gives rise to many rivers, which drain into the man-made Lake Kariba to the northwest, the marshes of Botswana to the west or into the Zambezi River to the northeast. The highveld landscape is dotted with kopjes (massive granite out-crops). Along the eastern border for some 220 miles is a high mountainous region of great scenic beauty, rising to 8504ft at Mount Inyangani, the country’s highest point. Zimbabwe offers some of the best wildlife parks in southern Africa, notably Hwange (south-west), Matopos (south) and Nyanga (northeast) national parks. These, together with the Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe, are the principal attractions for visitors.
There is evidence of settlements in Zimbabwe dating from as long ago as the second century AD, but these early inhabitants were supplanted around the 5th century by Bantu-speaking peoples. In southeastern Zimbabwe, in 1870, European explorers came upon an impressive ruined city, which they believed to be the biblical city of Ophir – the site of King Solomon’s mines. The immediate result was a frantic, and utterly unsuccessful, search for gold deposits in the surrounding region.
Archaeologists have more recently determined that the site was occupied as early as the 3rd century AD, but that its ruins date from the 12th to the 15th century. Known as Great Zimbabwe, it was during its heyday the capital of a Shona trading empire that collapsed for reasons that remain unknown.
By the middle of the 19th century, with European influence still slight, the region’s Shona states had been defeated by an invading Ndebele army from the south. Ndebele power didn’t last long, however. In 1890, the fortune-hunting Cecil Rhodes arrived at the head of a private army of settlers and commenced to conquer what he thought might be a rich gold-producing region. By 1897 the area had been completely subdued. In 1923 Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony, completely controlled by the white settlers. For much of the last half-century Zimbabwe’s history has been that of the long struggle to end white rule. Finally, in 1979, a new constitution that provided for democratic majority rule was established. The country has in recent years moved increasingly toward a more liberal economy, and the era of violent internal strife appears to have concluded.
In November 2017, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over following a military intervention aimed at preventing Mugabe elevating his wife to succeed him. Mnangagwa was inaugurated president days later, promising to hold presidential elections in 2018.
Black ethnic groups make up 98.5% of the population. The majority people, the Shona, comprise 50%. Included among the Shona are about 2 million descendants of migrant workers from Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. Also incorrectly included are the Shangaan found in Chimanimani and Chipinge Districts – they originated from South Africa in the 19th Century and were led by Soshangane. The Ndebele are approximately 10% of the population as some so-called Ndebeles have no relationship with the Ndebeles whatsoever. The Ndebele are descended from Zulu migrations in the 19th century. The balance comprises the Kalanga, Nambya, Tonga, Venda and Suthu.
Up to three million Zimbabweans have left the country over the last five years, mainly for South Africa. Other less populous Zimbabwean ethnic groups include white Zimbabweans, mostly of British origin (95%), but some are of Afrikaner, Portuguese and Dutch origin as well, who make up approximately 0.5% of the total population.
Because of the economic climate in Zimbabwe, many whites had to make a quick escape and therefore many businesses and properties are still in the hands of white Zimbabwean citizens living abroad. It is possible that any long term change in Zimbabwe’s economic and political situation may bring many white Zimbabweans home. Most white emigration has been to the UK, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Australia and New Zealand.
Before the economic and political crisis began in the late 1990s, there were 50,000 mixed race citizens as well as various Asian ethnic groups, mostly of Indian and Chinese origin. They have played an influential role in the economic sector. However, both the mixed-race and Asian ethnic groups have dwindled (now each less than 0.01% of the population) as most of these people have fled Zimbabwe along with most whites and three to four million black Zimbabweans.
Urban culture in Zimbabwe is greatly influenced by Western culture and education but in rural areas traditional values and crafts continue. Shaking hands is the customary form of greeting. European courtesies and codes of practice should be observed when visiting someone’s home. Return invitations are appreciated. Giving a token of appreciation is optional. Casual wear is suitable for daytime and men are only expected to wear suits and ties for business meetings. Smart restaurants or hotel bars require male guests to wear a jacket and tie. Smoking is common, although it is prohibited on public transport and in some public buildings.
The official languages are English and Chishona & Sindebele dialects.
According to Zimbabwe’s constitution, the president is head of state and ahead of government elected for a 6-year term by popular majority vote. Parliament consists of the House of Assembly and has up to a 5-year life span. The House of Assembly has 120 members elected by the common-roll electorate, eight governors, 10 chiefs, 12 presidential appointees, the Speaker and the Attorney General.
Zimbabwe is 7 hours ahead of the East Coast & 10 hours ahead of the West Coast.
Electricity in Zimbabwe is 220-230 AC voltage. Most outlets take a 13 amp fused square-pin plug but round pins are still in use so an adapter that can take both is useful.
Although located in the tropics, temperate conditions prevail all year, moderated by altitude and the inland position of the country. The hot and dry season is from September to October, and the rainy season from November to March.
Clothes to Wear:
Civilians are not permitted to wear camouflage clothing. Convertible slacks (with a zipper to turn slacks into shorts) and long-sleeved shirts are ideal, with other layers to shed as the day heats up. A hat with a brim is essential, plus sunscreen and sunglasses. Pale earth colors such as tan or olive are best for viewing wildlife and birds, but military camouflage clothes are illegal in many African countries. Comfortable walking shoes, such as topsiders or running/tennis shoes with socks are recommended over sandals; thorns are everywhere, and socks with your shoes deter mosquito bites. Include a lightweight raincoat or jacket, and a swimsuit (many camps have pools). You may want to take a light robe, plus rubber flip flops. If traveling in the winter months, the early mornings and late evenings can be quite cold. For this reason, it may be essential to bring a warm jacket and even a scarf or gloves.
Entry & Exit Requirements:
A passport, visa, return ticket, and adequate funds are required to enter Zimbabwe. U.S. citizens traveling to Zimbabwe for tourism or transit can obtain a visa at the airports and border ports-of-entry, or in advance by contacting the Embassy of Zimbabwe at 1608 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20009. Tel: (202) 332-7100.
Americans entering Zimbabwe for tourism can expect to pay $30 for a single-entry, 30-day duration of stay visa upon entering the country. Extensions are possible, but normally require a personal visit to the Zimbabwe Immigration Office’s public window, located in the center of Harare.
UNIVISA (KAZA) – Zimbabwe & Zambia:
Join visa for entry to both Zimbabwe and Zambia now available for purchase on arrival to either Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe or Livingstone Airport in Zambia. Cost is $50 and valid for 30 days provided travelers remain within Zimbabwe and Zambia (day trips to Botswana through the Kazungula border are permitted, however, travelers who overnight in Botswana will need to purchase another UNIVISA or single entry visa when re-entering Zimbabwe).
Upon arrival in Zimbabwe, travelers should keep all travel documents readily available, as well as a list of residences or hotels where they will stay while in Zimbabwe. Travelers to Zimbabwe must carry some form of identification at all times.
Travelers transiting South Africa should ensure that their passports contain at least two completely blank (unstamped) visa pages each time entry is sought. These pages are in addition to the endorsement/amendment pages at the back of the passport. South African immigration authorities routinely turn away travelers who do not have enough blank visa pages in their passports.
U.S. citizens traveling in Zimbabwe are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
Embassy & High Commission Locations:
Embassy of the United States of America
172 Herbert Chitepo Avenue, Harare
Tel: (263-4) 250 593/4
Emergency after-hours: (263-4) 250-595
Fax: (263-4) 250-343
Canadian High Commission
45 Baines Avenue, Harare
Tel: (263-4) 252 1815
Fax: (263-4) 252 186
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/ infectious diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
You are also encouraged to consult with your own doctor and health network, some of which operate travel clinics as part of their services.
BANKING & CURRENCY EXCHANGE
The US dollar is now the official currency of Zimbabwe, things are no longer priced in Zimbabwe dollars as it does not exist. Although there are local bond notes in circulation these bond notes have a 1 to 1 value with the US Dollar. They can be used for any purchases in Zimbabwe but are worthless outside the country. If you are given a bond note as change make sure you spend it while in Botswana.
Banking hours: 0800-1500 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 0800-1300 Wednesday and 0800-1130 Saturday.
Zimbabwe has become a cash society, however most hotels accept MasterCard or Visa credit cards. ATM’s in the country are generally incompatible with international networks and are unreliable. Check cashing facilities are effectively nonexistent. Travelers should bring adequate cash for their planned visit. Visitors are required to declare the amount of currency that they are bringing into and out of the country. While there is no set legal limit on the amount of foreign currency that a person can carry into Zimbabwe, the maximum foreign currency that can be taken out of the country is U.S. $1,000. (More if documented on entry)
Telephone: Full International Direct Dialing is available. Country code: 263. Outgoing international code: 110.
Fax: Widely available.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food & Drink:
Zimbabwe is a cosmopolitan society and enjoys both local and international cuisine. Eating out is popular and comparatively cheap. A traditional dish is sadza (a stiff maize meal) eaten with meat and/or gravy and a relish. Table service is the norm in restaurants. Beer is the most widely drunk alcoholic beverage. Imported wines, spirits and liqueurs are available in hotels. Traditional maize beer, whawha, is made in large quantities on special occasions.
Rather limited outside the cities with the emphasis on eating and discos, but larger cities have nightclubs, cinemas and repertory theaters. The three main tourist areas have casinos.
A sales tax of 10-22% is added to all purchases, the higher rate being on luxury items, except those which are to be exported. Special purchases are copper, wooden and soapstone carvings, gameskin and leather products, pottery and basketwork.
Shopping hours: 8am-5pm Monday to Friday, and 8am-1pm Saturday.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
For tours that include light aircraft transfers and/or charter flights there is a maximum weight allowance of 33-44 lbs. per person. Soft-sided luggage is required and strict limitations are imposed. Preferably, travel light, if possible. If not, it is recommended to include a soft-sided bag inside your regular luggage to carry this allowable weight. For overland tours, space for luggage in safari vehicles is limited. Extra baggage will be stored wherever possible (additional charges may apply, please request information from your sales consultant).
All luggage checked in at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport must comply with the following requirements:
1. Bags must have at least one flat surface.
2. No long shoulder straps which can hamper movement on luggage belts.
3. If the soft bag has a shoulder strap, this needs to be taken off before checking in the luggage.
4. If the bag has more straps, like soft backpacks, they need to be wrapped in plastic.
Tipping is according to personal preference. The following guidelines are recommended but left to your discretion: Drivers/Guides on safari from US$10-$15 per person per day. Porters & Hotel staff from US$1-3 per person per service. Meals are 10-15% of your restaurant bill.
Generally, in the luxury safari camps, laundry service is included. Generally, you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
You will find incredible photographic opportunities on your safari. Please be courteous when taking pictures of the local people. In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.