Travel Guide | Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe offers travellers many different means of safari travel and game viewing: open vehicles are permitted, as are night game drives; walking safaris and boat safaris are available, the latter including motor launch, canoe, kayak, and even houseboat. The Zambezi also offers some of the finest whitewater rafting in the world.

The Republic of Zimbabwe is located in Southern Africa and has a population of 11.2 million people. Zimbabwe borders Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia, and has a total land area of 386,670 sq km. Zimbabwe is comprised of 8 provinces and2 cities (Harare and Bulawayo) with provincial status, and gained independence from the UK on 18 April 1980. Zimbabwe is in the low income group of countries, with a 1995 GNP per capita of US$540.

Places of Interest

Zambezi and Victoria Falls National Park:

Victoria Falls, like Mount Kilimanjaro, is an emblem of the entire African continent. Spanning 1700 metres (5577.4 feet) and dropping 128 metres ( 420 feet) into the Zambezi Gorge, the falls create a roar--and a cloud of mist--so great that they are visible from 40 km (24.8 miles). David Livingstone was the first European to visit the falls, in 1855, and he named them in honor of his queen.

The best time to visit Victoria Falls is between September and November. During March and April, when the water volume is at its peak, the falls create so much mist that they are difficult to see, and from May to September the mist adds to the season's high humidity. There are all sorts of activities offered at Victoria Falls, including bungee jumping, small plane flights over the falls, and raft trips to the Boiling Pot at their base. In addition to such thrill ride activities, Victoria Falls is also the center for some of the best safari and adventure opportunities in Africa.

Above Victoria Falls, outstanding canoe and kayaking safaris are available, offering one of the most exciting and memorable ways to experience both the Zambezi and the abundant game of Zambezi National Park. Below Victoria Falls, the Zambezi becomes a whitewater rafting paradise. The rafting trips that run through the river gorges are internationally known as the most exciting, and least dangerous, to be found anywhere.

Lake Kariba:

Further east, and further downstream from Victoria Falls, is located this enormous almost5200 square km man-made lake. Formed in 1958 by the damming of the Zambezi at Kariba, the lake is now an attraction in its own right. Its scattered islands, clear, deep waters, and adjoining game reserve complement each other admirably.

The reserve, Matusadona National Park, was begun as a refuge for animals saved from the rising waters of the lake itself. Today, its abundant game gathers along the lake shore, particularly in the dry months, where it is easily viewed from the water. Zimbabwe's fine small houseboat lodges are located here, and the Lake also serves as the starting point for canoe safaris to Mana Pools National Park.

Mana Pools National Park:

The next major attraction along the shores of the Zambezi is Mana Pools, a region in which the Zambezi slows and spreads out into a multitude of small ponds and pools. During the dry season, the Mana Pools attract a scarcely believable abundance of wildlife, including Lion, Leopard, Zebra, and Hippo in addition to an unusually wide variety of Antelope species.

Canoe safaris to and through the Mana Pools can be an absolutely stupendous experiences. Another attraction of this park is that walking safaris are the only other means of touring allowed in certain sections, ensuring not only quiet but also many fewer signs of other visitors.

Gonarezhou National Park:

Most of the border with Mozambique is consumed by this massive park, which contains over 2,000 square miles of open wilderness. Gonarezhou is Zimbabwe's second largest park, and it was only recently opened to international tourists. Gonarezhou means refuge for Elephants, and they are among the main attraction at the park. It was here that one of the largest Elephants ever recorded was shot and killed by the famous poacher Cecil Bernard in the 1920's.

His name was Dhlulamithi, taller than the trees, and one of his tusks weighed 110 kilograms (242.5 pounds). Unsurprisingly, Elephants here have been hunted so much that they are not particularly fond of human beings, and they should be viewed with extreme caution. Other game, however, such as King Cheetah and Nyala and Suni Antelope are less wary equally abundant, especially near the Runde River.

Hwange National Park:

Hwange, which is located south of Victoria Falls and along the Botswana border, covers more than 5600 square miles (14,500 sq. km.) of highveld and semidesert. It enjoys one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the country, and is the particularly renowned for its great numbers of Elephant. Like Kruger National Park in South Africa, Hwange is connected to several private reserves that offer less restricted and far more pleasurable game viewing--including both walks and night drives.

Matobo National Park:

The landscape of this small southern park is somewhat unnerving. All throughout the park, on hundreds of small hills, are precariously balanced free from stacks of granite boulders. Cecil Rhodes was buried on one such hill, located just a few kilometres from the park entrance and offering a panoramic view out over the plain.

With so many fine perches, it is unsurprising that Matobo has the greatest concentration of Black Eagle in the world. Other bird species abound as well, as do many different species of game animals. Matobo also attracts visitors to its thousands of rock paintings, many of which are amazingly well-preserved.

Zimbabwe, like Botswana, is a landlocked country at the base of the African continent. Its neighbours are Mozambique (to the east), South Africa and Botswana (to the south and west), and Zambia (to the north). Zimbabwe lies on a high plateau, and its terrain consists primarily of grasslands bordered on the east by mountains.

The northeastern border of the country is marked by the mighty Zambezi River, along which is located the incomparable spectacle of Victoria Falls and the magnificent expanse of Lake Kariba. The Zambezi has become one of the world's best water adventure travel destinations, offering outstanding whitewater rafting in the Zambezi Gorges below the falls as well as excellent canoeing and kayaking above them.

Geography and Climate:

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country lying entirely between the tropics. The country is largely plateau, giving rise to many rivers which feed into 2 of Africa's greatest river systems: the Zambezi in the north-west and the Limpopo in the south-east. The Zambezi plain extends from man-made Lake Kariba, down to the Victoria Falls, Africa's biggest waterfall. Landscape of the plateau is bushveld, dotted with koppies (rocky outcrops). The scenic Eastern Highlands is the mountainous region.

Summer days are hot and generally sunny in the morning with possible afternoon thunderstorms. Daytime temperatures can rise to 30C (86F) and night temperatures drop to around 14C (57F) to 16C (61F). The temperatures given are those for the main centres but it is considerably warmer all year round in the low-lying areas such as Kariba,Victoria Falls, and the Zambezi Valley.

The rainy season runs from November to March, although the Eastern Highlands are damp for most of the year. Winter days are dry, sunny and cool to warm while evening temperatures drop sharply. Daytime temperatures generally reach 20C (68F) and can drop to as low as 5C (41F) at night.

History & People

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 had in recent years moved increasingly toward a more liberal economy, and the era of violent internal strife until recently seemed to have concluded.

However, it appears that the country is again on the verge of civil war following government clamp downs on the press, intimidation of the judiciary, flagrant violation of human rights and summary executions of members of the opposition party - all in an attempt for that government to cling to power. Even in the face of express public opinion.