Things to do in Zimbabwe

South Africa — By on April 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Dan Dowler

A couple of years ago Zimbabwe’s tourism industry was in dire straits. Dogged with reports of political violence, economic collapse and the bad press stemming from the dictatorial leadership of Robert Mugabe, potential overseas visitors were preferring instead to steer clear. But since the replacement of the Zimbabwean dollar with the American dollar and the introduction of a new coalition government, the situation has eased and tourists are gradually coming back. And well they might; Zimbabwe offers some of the most breath-taking natural phenomena in Southern Africa, as well as a rich history and a quintessentially African culture. Zimbabwe is definitely ready to be rediscovered!

Gawk at its natural wonders

No trip to Zimbabwe would be complete without a visit to the mighty Victoria Falls. Straddling the border with Zambia along the River Zambezi, this is the world’s largest waterfall and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. And it is quite something. You can actually stand in its wake just a few metres away and take an absolute soaking from the vast blankets of spray spewed up by the crashing torrent from the chasm below. As you stand there in utter awe and contemplate the raw energy of 550,000 million litres of water a minute being spilled before your eyes, your pocket will feel every bit compensated for the mere $20 entrance fee you paid to get up close to this beast, known with affection by locals as Mosi-oa-Tunya: The Smoke that Thunders.

Also well worth a visit is Mana Pools, regarded by many to offer one of the finest safari experiences in Southern Africa. Owing its name to the large lakes formed by the meandering lower Zambezi during each rainy season, its gradual recession during the dry months make it a haven for animals in search for water; it has the country’s largest concentration of hippo’s and crocs and during the dry season you’ll be unlucky not to encounter herds of elephants and buffalo by the water’s edge. Campsites are unfenced from the park, so you really are at one with the nature you will have gone to see. This isn’t for the lightest budgets- a four day walking safari and tent hire will set you back in excess of $1000- but being this close to some of Africa’s most impressive wildlife is a truly unforgettable experience.

Journey into Zimbabwe’s great past

Zimbabwe’s recent past has been chequered with political instability and economic turmoil, but, situated just over 150 miles directly south of Harare is a region which provides a glimpse into a distant society that was once one of the most important in the world. Between the years 1100 and 1450 the civilisation of Great Zimbabwe ruled a kingdom spanning most of modern Zimbabwe and some of Mozambique, controlling the ivory and gold trade from the interior to the southeastern coast of Africa. The ruins that still stand today are a fitting testament to this bygone era of prosperity. Once inside the section known as the Great Enclosure you’ll find yourself dwarfed by the surrounding 36 feet-high, 820 feet-long walls and as you stare out over the 1,784 acres that these ruins cover you’ll not fail to be impressed by this great architectural feat. Admission to Great Zimbabwe is free, although access is hindered by poorly maintained roads; if you want to get there your best bet is to book an organised tour from one of the cities.

Go eat worms!
Don’t pass up the opportunity to sample some of the indigenous food and drink in Zimbabwe, regardless of how unappetising it may sound. Open 6 a.m. ‘til 6 p.m. daily, the southern suburb of Mbare in Harare hosts a bustling market selling the odd local delicacy, including the not-so-savoury looking dried mopane worm, sold by the bagful. You can fry these or eat them raw, and although they are not renowned for their taste (you’ll be surprised to hear!), you’ll be kicking yourself if you miss out on this unique cultural experience. Locally grown produce can also be haggled for here.
The capital is also littered with western-style fast food restaurants, but if you want to be a little healthier (and more adventurous) with your dining it’s worth finding somewhere with a more eclectic menu, and there are plenty of affordable joints that fit the bill. One must-try is the Zimbabwean staple, known locally as sadza, a fluffy mixture of ground maize and water. With the consistency and appearance of mashed potato, this rather bland (if not filling) foodstuff is best enjoyed with meat and vegetables and is usually one of the cheaper options on the menu. And I would recommend that you wash it down with a bottled lager like the local favorite Castle. Much more satisfying than another regional concoction called Chibuku, which comes in a less-than-reassuring paper carton, and has what I imagine to be the taste of mashed up, fermented pickled onions!

Dan’s passion for travel has taken him from the scorching savannah of Zambia to the volcanic beauty of Iceland. When he’s not writing about his experiences he’s most likely got his nose in a book or using his guitar to make horrendous noises!

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