Before I visited Zimbabwe, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, Zimbabwe typically graces world news headlines – not the glossy pages of travel magazines. Despite its reputation, Zimbabwe is one of the best places to discover a part of southern Africa that few tourists ever see.
Here are the six things that surprised me about Zimbabwe that make it a wonderful destination for travellers with a strong penchant for adventure.
1. Zimbabwe is the best place to admire one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World
Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. In a local language, it’s called Mosi-oa-Tunya which roughly translates into “the smoke that thunders.” Standing at over 100 metres tall and over 1,700 metres wide, Victoria Falls is one of the largest cascades in the world no matter how you measure it.
There are over twenty vantage points to view Victoria Falls in its namesake national park, and each viewing area shows you a unique perspective. Though Vitoria Falls pours from the Zambian border, visiting it from Zimbabwe is the only way you can see the falls in its entirety.
When you’re done admiring the spectacle, take a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River to see hippos, elephants, crocodiles, and more wildlife in their natural habitat. At one point during my sunset cruise, a large bull elephant charged at the boat and sounded an intimidating trumpet.
2. You’ll never get tired of wildlife watching
If you’re the type of traveller who gets more excited over seeing an endangered animal than seeing a celebrity, then Zimbabwe is the a place where you can act like a crazed fan without being judged. There are multiple wildlife parks, game drives, and conservation projects all throughout the country that service its many species of animals. As a bonus, Zimbabwe’s wildlife parks tend to be much less crowded than those in neighboring South Africa, Zambia, and Namibia.
According to the Save the Rhino Foundation, there are only around 20,000 white rhinos and 5,000 black rhinos alive today. In Matobo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rhino conservation park, travellers can track white rhinos on foot and learn about the strategies that Zimbabwean environmentalists are implementing to protect them. While I didn’t get to see a baby rhino in the wild (my ultimate dream), the guides taught us not only about how these rare rhinoceroses behave, but also about their repopulation programs.
Hwange National Park is the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe and hosts over 500 species of animals. If you love gargantuan mammals, you might get a chance to see the local herd of over 400 elephants roam through the park at once. One evening in Hwange, just after I finished dinner, hundreds of wild elephants walked to the watering hole near my hotel and stood just meters away from us. We saw elephants playing, running, drinking, and baby elephants frantically running from one group of family members to the next.
Hwange also hosts a painted dog conservation and research program, where you can volunteer as an educator or researcher. Painted dogs are endangered, with less than 7,000 left in the world. Hwange National Park is one of the only places where you can volunteer and watch packs of painted dogs work together to hunt for a meal.
Painted dogs hunting a kudu A kudu in Hwange National Park
3. Zimbabwe will make your heart race with its extreme sports activities
If you’re up for challenging some of your greatest fears, there are plenty of places to do so in Zimbabwe. You can bungy jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge, zipline across a crocodile-infested gorge, raft down the Zambezi River, or swing from the edge of a cliff. No adventure journey is complete without a little adrenalin boost.
Jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done.
In the stunning region of Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands near at the Mutarazi Falls National Park, you can conquer your fear of heights by ziplining and sky walking over Mutarazi Falls with Far and Wide.
4. Zimbabwean hotels are one with nature
Around the national parks of Zimbabwe, wild animals are treated like guests rather than pests. Wildlife is free to roam throughout the grounds, and you venture out at your own risk. Some hotels, like Hwange Safari Lodge, have stationed a watering hole in front of the property as a place for zebras, elephants, kudu, antelope, painted dogs, hyenas, and more to come and quench their thirst.
At Elephant Hills Hotel, you’ll be warned to keep your windows locked (or risk cheeky baboons breaking in to steal your coffee cream and sugar). At sunrise, you can walk around the property with a coffee in hand to watch warthogs, monkeys, antelope, and other animals wake from their slumber.
There are also a variety of safari camps, luxury hotels, boutique bed and breakfasts, and more. No matter the type of accommodation you choose, there’s a strong chance that you’ll sleeping just steps away from nature.
5. You’ll love experiencing ancient Zimbabwean culture and heritage
Despite decades of colonial rule, Zimbabwe has maintained a strong sense of culture and heritage through language, the arts, and architectural sites. You can get a sense of how the kingdom of Zimbabwe from the 11th century used to function by visiting Great Zimbabwe, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Made completely of stone, this ancient city once housed nearly 20,000 people and served as a royal palace. Today, you can tour Great Zimbabwe and wander through the stone corridors that are so narrow, they still prevent more than one or two people from entering and leaving the fortress at any given time.
You can also learn traditional Zimbabwean dances and shop for stunning Shona stone sculptures, textiles, and other art pieces. Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, making it one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world.
Want to sleep somewhere that feels as though you’ve stepped back in time? Check in to the Grand Medieval Palace. This luxury hotel is modeled after the architecture of Great Zimbabwe and looks as though it belongs in the 12th century.
6. Zimbabwean hospitality will make you feel welcome everywhere
After a long day out exploring, it’s nice to return to a comfortable home base. Zimbabweans have a way of making you feel welcome, safe, and cosy, no matter where you are. Even mid-range or budget restaurants and hotels are staffed with people who give five-star service. Zimbabweans tend to mind their manners, so most questions that you ask a stranger will be answered with politeness. Solo female travellers will likely feel safe exploring Zimbabwe thanks to the strong sense of community.
Extra tips for travelling around Zimbabwe
Bring extra cash: Zimbabwean currency is unstable, and most vendors prefer to be paid by card or in USD. ATM lines can be long and there are often limits on how much cash you can pull out per week (if the ATMs are stocked at all). You will need cash (USD preferred) when you arrive at the airport to pay for your tourist visa. Divide the cash among your belongings.
Remember that the wild animals are wild: Like many parts of Australia, there are places in Zimbabwe where you will be living among wildlife. Never swim in natural bodies of water and never intimidate or feed wild animals. Your local guide knows best when it comes to safety so if in doubt, ask before getting close to an animal.
Bring a pair of binoculars or a zoom camera lens: Your safari experience will be much better if you have a pair of binoculars to spot faraway game.
Order sadza, relish, and a mopani worm: Sadza and relish are two traditional foods you’ll be offered all around Zimbabwe. Sadza, or pap, is plain polenta that is commonly eaten as a staple in southern Africa. You can try it with a relish made from pumpkin leaves or seasoned vegetables. Try it and you just might like it — it’s filling, healthy, and delicious. If you’re feeling extra open-minded, order a mopani worm. Don’t let the name and look of the worm intimidate you — its texture is more like biltong than a squishy grub.
Avoid political protests, actions, and events: While Zimbabwe is generally safe for travellers, the country has been politically unstable during the past few decades. Robert Mugabe is no longer in power, but it’s best to stay away from political demonstrations. Do not post anything that could be interpreted as political on social media before you visit or while you are in Zimbabwe.
Hopefully, the next time you hear the word Zimbabwe, you’ll imagine a land of African animals, ancient ruins, ultraviolet jacaranda trees, and enough adventure activities to inspire you to visit. It is truly one of the most underrated destinations in the world and a place that has climbed to the top of my favourite journeys list.
Ready to adventure around Zimbabwe for yourself? Skyscanner Australia can help you find flights, car hire, and hotels for your stay.
About the author
Chantae Reden // Chantae Was Here
Chantae Reden is a journalist who writes about adventure, politics, extreme sports, and travel. She believes every stranger is a potential friend. You can find more adventure writing on her blog, Chantae Was Here or on The Salt Sirens, her ocean-sports website.