A lion in Mana Pools National Park
A lion in Mana Pools National Park

Nikita Chawla gives you six reasons why it should be on your bucket list

If Orchard Street and Fifth Avenue are your regular haunts, then Zimbabwe will be an eye opening if not life changing experience for you! Nestled in the sweet spot between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers, Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in the heart of southern Africa with a plethora of things to offer.

There’s something about Zimbabwe that makes it stand out from its peers. For one, it’s not very touristy and offers a certain rustic exclusivity which is unparalleled by its neighbours.

With 16 official languages and a large tribal population, the country lives on mining, farming and agriculture. Their land area is about three times the size of England and boasts of a diverse topographical terrain right from the arid regions to lush green forests and waterfalls. Since the currency was abandoned in 2008 (due to high inflation) Zimbabwe uses the South African Rand and US Dollar to run its economy. The country is native to the 1000-year-old mbira (a sort of thumb piano) and the famous wood carvings that only they can do with such finesse.

And if you’re still not convinced, then read on for our top 6 reasons to visit this African jewel…

Gazelles, Hwangee National Park
Gazelles, Hwangee National Park

African safaris, bird watching and wildlife

Where can you find the Big 5, white rhinos, exotic birds, go game viewing and meet the tribals in one place? Here of course! This place will save you from the ‘me too’ experience that often comes tagged with Kruger National Park. Speaking of national parks, the country has not just one or two but over four national parks to its credit! If you are pressed for time and have to choose just one then visit the Hwange (Pronounced as Wang-ee) National Park to spot an unbelievable diversity of animal species.

If time is on your side then camp overnight at the Gonarezhou National Park located in the midlands and southeastern part of the country. There are many excursions, day and night safari packages and walking tours to choose from.

Affordable tourism

When it comes to being budget friendly Zimbabwe doesn’t disappoint. They don’t have their own currency but that’s not an issue! After their own inflation crisis they adopted the American dollar and the South African rand and their economy is back on track. At some places you can even pay in euros and pounds. This means less conversion. Zimbabwe is more affordable than some of its well marketed African cousins and offers a variety of accommodation options to choose from. For example, a single visa (called Univisa) has now started that covers both sides of the Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe) and includes day trips to Chobe National Park in Botswana. You also don’t need to produce the earlier mandatory Yellow Fever certificate any more.

The Smoke that Thunders – Victoria Falls

Rainbow over Victoria Falls
Rainbow over Victoria Falls

Not only the lion but in Zimbabwe there is a waterfall that has a roar of its own which can be heard from 40 kilometres afar! Touted as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls is also called Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means ‘the smoke that thunders’. The Falls are 1.7 km wide housing 75-odd native varieties of fish. The Boiling Pot and the Devils Pool are two major points on the Zambian side, which offer a lot of adrenaline pumping water sports (white water rafting being the most sought after) and related activities such as bungee jumping, bridge slide and the bridge swing. The raw beauty and remoteness of the surrounding forests is hard to beat.

Culture galore and rich heritage

You can carry back pottery, basket-wear, jewellery, and wooden carving chiselled to perfection made by locals and sold in flea markets as well as boutique shops in the city. However, with unbeatable pricing and genuine quality, the Elephant’s Walk Village is a top favourite for tourists and locals alike. One of the main commercial centres in Zimbabwe is Bulawayo which is a stone’s throw away from the lesser known Rhodes Matapos National Park and the Khami ruins. The former houses inconceivably large granite boulders making it a UNESCO World Heritage site while the latter gives insights into the culture of the area.

The Natural History Museum (also in Bulawayo) which spans over three floors showcases a wealth of national heritage including an impressive taxidermy display, a collection of black mambas and live snakes and cobras. If modern art is your thing, then visit the Shona Sculpture Gallery in Harare.

Hospitality and world class accommodation

Decades of violence post colonisation, civil strife and poor economy gives this region a bad rep. However, once you go there, you will realize that the people are warm, courteous and hospitable, to say the very least. Slowly after 2014 the country has revamped its attitude towards tourists. The accommodation matches international world class standards unless you choose to stay in a remote village area. However, power cuts are common and like India or Nepal, can go up to a few hours. The guides are friendly and usually locals who have trained in English.

Unbeatable terrain and topographical variety

The Mana Pools Park is one of the only national parks in the world that allows you to cover it on foot among the wild animals. It doesn’t get more up close and personal than this! No wonder it is a photographer’s paradise attracting tourists in droves. The Chinhoyi Caves and the Great Zimbabwean National Monument are two more points of interest. Nature lover or not, this should definitely not be missed by anyone! Visit the desert, Victoria Waterfalls, river cruise the Zambezi and trek around the great Zimbabwean ruins – all in a day’s work!

Pro tip: Carry sturdy footwear (preferably sneakers), a water bottle for everyday use and stick to no-frills gear.

What to eat: If you are a coffee lover then don’t miss out on the zillion varieties and local brews of the region!

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