Zimbabwe Travel Guide
Before you go: A number of nationalities can obtain their visa on arrival. The cost varies depending on nationality. If you are visiting Victoria Falls and wish to view the Falls from the Zambian side (which for me is the better side) it is cheaper to purchase a double-entry visa instead – and thankfully these can also be obtained upon arrival.
Accommodation: Accommodation throughout Zimbabwe is a generally good standard, but do remember that power outages are not uncommon. The cost of accommodation in Harare and other major cities is expensive when compared to the cost of living. Try an alternative like AirBnB or cheaper guest houses instead of hotels.
Food: Food is well priced within the country with international options available. Self-catering is another good choice and the cost of items within supermarkets is very reasonable. Try to eat at locally run places as they do provide better value than international alternatives, plus more of the money remains in the local economy – and given the state of the Zimbabwe economy, every dollar does count.
Transport: Though train is my favourite form of travel in Zimbabwe, I cannot recommend it due to safety. Whilst I was in the country, a train derailed on the Bulawayo to Harare route which prompted calls from both the railway union and train administrators for the railway to no longer carry passengers. Whilst travelling between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo the train tilted alarmingly on one corner and there were sections of track where rail staff stood by the tracks to carefully monitor the train to ensure it was able to safely continue.
Much better are the buses, with the Pathfinder brand considered to be amongst the best. Other buses can be taken but the quality of the vehicle even within the same company can vary greatly, so best just to arrive at a bus station and choose the newest looking bus.
Money: Due to a prolonged period of hyperinflation, which saw the issue of a 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollar note, the currency was abandoned in 2009 in favour of other currencies – most notably the US Dollar (for notes) and the South African Rand (for coins). Transactions are difficult to follow for one may receive a variety of coinage from different countries in the change. However, it helps to remember that 1 Rand equates to 10 US cents. ATMs are commonly found, with Barclays seeming the best for international card holders.
Safety: Zimbabwe is a very safe country, though the usual safety precautions still apply – do not walk alone in dark areas at night, and not overtly displaying valuables being just two of many precautions to follow. The people of Zimbabwe are friendly and welcoming, remarkable considering the terrible economic circumstances of the country in recent years.
The biggest danger in Zimbabwe is transport. The roads in Zimbabwe are in good condition, but some of the buses are not. Choose your bus carefully, and ask the advice of locals which companies are the safest and most reliable. I witnessed a suspiciously large number of police checkpoints which local people assert are police seeking bribes for inventing spurious traffic or vehicle issues. If driving on your own, you may need to deal with this.
Best avoid train travel in the country. On my journey from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo, I thought the line to be unsafe in parts as evidenced by the extremely slow speed and disconcerting tilt of the train. A passenger train derailed whilst I was in the country, injuring more than 30 people, and after the accident, both the railway union and railway administrators publicly stated that the rail network is not safe for carrying passengers.
If you are in Harare, do not loiter on the road in front of Presidential Palace. Signs outside the front of Palace state that the carriageway is closed during the evening. According to a local, what the sign does not say is that one should not stop, photograph, talk on mobile/cell phones or even break down on that road, for the security forces surrounding the palace can be particularly difficult. Taxi drivers even avoid the road by taking a longer route, so best to avoid the road if you can.
If you wish to visit Zimbabwe, it is important to read the following information: