Zimbabwe Helpful Travel Information
Zimbabwe is a country in Southern Africa. It is landlocked and is surrounded by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the Southwest, Zambia to the Northwest, and Mozambique to the east and north.
The Zambezi river forms the natural boundary with Zambia and when in full flood (February-April) the massive Victoria Falls on the river forms the world’s largest curtain of falling water. The Victoria Falls are a major tourist attraction.
Once known as the Breadbasket of Africa, since 2000, Zimbabwe has undergone an economic collapse and the rule of law has gradually but largely broken down, although there have been a few signs of improvement since the theoretical formation of a unity Government in 2009 and the Zimbabwean economy has been on the rebound. GDP grew by more than 5% in the year 2010 and 2011, from a very low base. Growth is forecast to increase, buoyed by high mineral prices and the improving agriculture sector.
Cultural and Language Considerations
Zimbabwe’s official languages are English, Shona, Sindebele/Ndebele. There are also numerous but minor tribal dialects. Shona is the most widely spoken language, even in the capital Harare.
Clapping twice is an accepted “thank you”, especially when someone is handing you something (food, a purchase). If one hand is full you can clap the free hand on your chest. Unlike in Asia, taking items passed to you with both hands is considered impolite, as it is seen as being greedy. Men should clap so that fingertips and wrists meet, but women should ‘golf clap’ with hands crossing. This is a society with deep gender divisions.
When shaking hands or handing anything valuable to someone, it is polite to support the right forearm with the left hand (or vice versa), to signify the “weight” of the gift or honour. In practice this often means just touching the forearm, or even gesturing towards it.
When taking something from a local, it is strictly done with the right hand as it is seen as an insult if the left hand is used regardless of dexterousness. The same rule applies when passing something.
Be careful with your opinion, as speaking against the government is a crime.
Getting around – transport systems and fuel stations
Harare International Airport has a number of international flights, mainly to other African countries. Bulawayo also has an international airport, with flights from Johannesburg.
Zimbabwe is accessible by road from the countries that surround it. Contrary to past scenarios, the fuel situation has improved with prices now being quoted in US dollars. As fuel has to be imported from either Mozambique or South Africa, you can expect to pay more per litre than you would in most other Southern African countries.
It should also be noted that roads in Zimbabwe are now in a very dilapidated state, and due caution should be taken when driving, especially at night, and in particular, during the November to March rainy season. Potholes are a very common occurrence and a serious threat to any vehicle that hits one.
Regular deluxe bus services operate from Johannesburg to Harare. A number of buses also travel from Johannesburg to Bulawayo.
The more adventurous tourists could travel by train from Bulawayo to the Victoria Falls. The train also passes through Hwange National Park, one of the biggest national parks in Africa.
Minibus taxis are available for intra-city transport, and are relatively inexpensive by European standards. They provide a cheap, though a not necessarily safe way of seeing the true Zimbabwe.
Hitchhiking is also a viable option, but tourists need to take care with whom they accept lifts from; hijackings and robberies of hitchhikers, especially within Harare, have been on the increase in the last few years. Be sure to bring some money along, as drivers very often expect some sort of fee to be paid up front.
Currencies and ways to pay
Zimbabwe legalised the use of foreign currencies as legal tender, thus negating the need for the inflation-ravaged Zimbabwe Dollar, which has now been withdrawn from circulation.
The US dollar is now the de facto currency in Zimbabwe, but the South African rand and the euro are also widely accepted. Do not expect to be given change if the value is less than $1 as there are no coins in circulation, but in supermarkets, you may be given change in chewing gum or sweets.
The use of credit cards is still very limited, with only a few service providers accepting VISA or MasterCards in Zimbabwe. Also, ATM use can be very limited for non-citizens, so please do yourself a favour and come with plenty of cash on hand.
Lastly, make sure to tip as times are tough for locals, and they depend enormously on your generosity.
Health, Safety and Emergency Information
The US, Japan and Germany lifted their travel warnings to Zimbabwe in April 2009; an indication that the security risk for visitors is low. However, given the political and economic instability in the country, travellers to Zimbabwe should take care with their personal security and safety. Whilst many locals may be curious about you and your country, remember, most Zimbabweans are still very sensitive to foreigners’ opinions of their country and its politicians. Therefore, it is always a wise idea to avoid political discussions or discussions pertaining to opinions of political leaders.
In the current economic situation many medicines are in short supply or cannot be sourced, so you are strongly advised to take all medications with you. Medical attention will be very hard to get: many hospitals even in cities are completely closed or unable to offer substantial care. Some medical personnel may perform procedures for payment, in somewhat dangerous and under-equipped surrounds. Medical supplies are severely restricted. Your travel insurance is very likely to be invalid if you travel to Zimbabwe and medical evacuations impossible to arrange.
HIV/AIDS infection rate in Zimbabwe is the 6th highest in the world at around 15% or 1 in 7 infected. Thus you need to take the necessary precautions.
Malaria is prevalent, so unless you are going to stay entirely within Harare or Bulawayo, anti-malarials are advised. Bilharzia is also present in some lakes. Ask locally before swimming.
Snakes are common in the bush, and most bites are on the foot or lower leg. If walking, particularly in long grass, wear proper boots and either long, loose trousers or thick, concertinaed hiking socks. Shake out boots and shoes in the morning, in case you have a guest. These precautions also reduce the chance of scorpion sting.
Embassies and high commissions contacts (www.lonelyplanet.com):
Angola – Tel 04-790070, www.projectvisa.com
Australia – Tel 04-852471/870566, www.zimbabwe.embassy.gov.au
Belgium – Tel 04-700112/700943, www.diplomatie.be/harare
Botswana – Tel 04/794645/7/8, www.embassiesabroad.com/embassies-of/Botswana
Canada – Tel 04-252181/2/3/4/5, www.harare.gc.ca
France – Tel 04-703216, www.ambafrance-zw.org
Kenya – Tel 04-704820/833/937, email@example.com
Malawi – Tel 04-798584, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mozambique – Tel 04-253871
Namibia – Tel 04-885841
Norway – Tel 04-252426, www.norway.org.zw
Russia – Tel 04-701957/8, email@example.com
South Africa – Tel 04-753147/8/9, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sudan – Tel 04-700111, www.sudaniharare.org.zw
Switzerland, -Tel 04-703997/8
Tanzania – Tel 04-721870, email@example.com
UK – Tel 04-772990, www.britishembassy.gov.uk/zimb
US – Tel 04-250593/4, www.usembassy.state.gov/zimbabwe
Zambia – Tel 04-773777, firstname.lastname@example.org
Satellite and Mobile Networks
There are internet centres in main city centres and WiFi is pretty widely accessible in hostels, cafes in Harare and some Spar Supermarkets.
It is advisable to put your mobile phone on roaming when in Zimbabwe as buying a local SIM card is nearly impossible.
Border and Entry Requirements
Category A (countries/territories whose nationals do not require visas):
For a stay of up to 6 months: Hong Kong SAR
For a stay of up to 3 months: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Congo (DRC), Cyprus, Fiji, Grenada, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadies, Swaziland, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu and Zambia
Category B (countries whose nationals are granted visas at the port of entry on payment of the requisite visa fees):
Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana (Gratis), Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau Island, Palestine (State of), Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, South Africa (Gratis), South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican City and Virgin Islands
Category C (countries whose nationals are required to apply for and obtain visas prior to travelling):
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazzaville, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Cayman Islands, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros Islands, Congo (Brazzaville), Costa Rica, Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Djibouti Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, French Guiana, French Polynesia, French West Indies, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Gibraltar, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Macao SAR, Madagascar, Mali, Marshall Islands, Macedonia, Mauritania, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Montserrat, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, New Caledonia, Nicaragua, Niue, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Reunion, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Tajikistan, Taiwan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Turk and Caicos Islands, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Yugoslavia
You might be able to apply for a Zimbabwean visa at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Zimbabwean diplomatic post.
Tropical; moderated by altitude; rainy season (Nov-Mar). Although there are recurring droughts, floods and severe storms are rare.