Zimbabwe…the ancient kingdom

By AB Gondwe

It all started with an ancient kingdom called Great Zimbabwe in the south-eastern hills. Today only its famous ruins are left. But out of the slumber of centuries arose a modern, dynamic young country, pulsating with action and home to some of the most spectacular attractions in Africa.

Most people will equate Zimbabwe with three things: the Victoria Falls, the Zimbabwe Ruins and Lake Kariba. While all three are captivating in their own right, that’s still only scratching the surface. Spend enough time to explore the country thoroughly and you will discover a richness of diverse natural scenery, wildlife, archaeological and heritage wonders, culture, dynamic cities, food, and friendly people that defy words.

Zimbabweans are proud and hospitable people who are revitalising their country after the troubled years under the rule of Robert Mugabe. But he has stepped aside now, and Zimbabweans want nothing more than for you to visit their stunning country. And you won’t be disappointed if you do.

Harare and Bulawayo

Unless entering the country by road, you will probably begin your visit in the capital Harare. The city is one of the more attractive capitals in Africa with its wide avenues, modern buildings and its hustle and bustle. It offers a wonderful variety of good hotels, excellent dining, South African wines, pulsating nightlife, interesting museums, craft markets and plenty of pubs. Each year in September this laid-back, friendly city undergoes a magical transformation as thousands of Jacaranda trees cover the city in a blaze of purple as they start blossoming.

From Harare you can travel to its second city, Bulawayo, by road or air. The city is even more laid-back than Harare, and with its colonial architecture and wide, tree-lined avenues it exudes a charm all of its own. Bulawayo was founded around 1840 as the kraal of Mzilikazi, the Ndebele king which gave it its other name, the City of Kings. While in the city be sure to visit one of its several beautiful parks. Bulawayo is also home to several museums, including the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, National Gallery Bulawayo and the Bulawayo Railway Museum, the latter stemming from the fact that the city is also the hub of the country’s rail network.

From these two cities the roads, railways and air routes spread to all corners of the country, taking the traveller across a landscape that dramatically changes character from region to region. It is an endless vista of Highveld, rolling green hills, impressive mountains, lakes, rivers, nature reserves, game parks, towns and villages.

Victoria Falls

Visit the splendour of the Victoria Falls, truly one of the most wonderful sights in the world. Here you can sip a gin and tonic on the edge of the river gorge as the misty spray of the falls engulf you. The river below the falls also offers some exhilarating white-water rafting opportunities, while there are plenty of hiking trails and wildlife in the area. The rainforest area of Victoria Falls is filled with many unique species of flora and fauna.

The David Livingstone statue can be found here next to the falls near the spectacular Devil’s Cataract viewpoint. On 16 November 1855, Livingstone (the first Western explorer to view the falls) wrote in his journal: “…scenes so lovely must have been gazed on by angels in their flight.” A bridge straddles the Zambezi River here between Zimbabwe and Zambia, providing excellent vantage points from which to admire the scenery.

Lake Kariba

You can also spend a leisurely cruise on a ferry on Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake, and watch the sun go down from the cocktail deck, with Nile crocodiles and hippopotami vying for your attention just meters away. The lake has numerous little islands and bays and a vast variety of wildlife in its shallows and along the shores.

Great Zimbabwe

In the south-eastern hills of the country you can travel back in time as you wander among the narrow stone-walled corridors of Great Zimbabwe, also known as the Zimbabwe Ruins. It lies just south of the town of Masvingo and Mutirikwi National Park with its beautiful lake. The ruins, an architectural marvel that puzzled historians and archaeologists for more than a century, was once home to the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Zimbabwe that flourished here.

The most widely accepted current theory is that the edifices and stonewalls were erected by the ancestral Shona who created several empires and states on the Zimbabwe plateau between the 12th and 16th centuries.

Parks & Wildlife

Not far from here and just south of Bulawayo is the Matobo National Park, a United Nations heritage site where granite spires, other unusual rock formations and views to the end of the world captivate visitors. It is said by the locals that ancestral spirits dwell here. And also here, on a granite hill lies the grave of the British colonial empire-builder, Cecil John Rhodes.

The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority manages one of the largest estates in the country, about 5 million hectares of land or 13% of Zimbabwe’s total land area. This vast piece of unspoilt natural real estate comprises 11 national parks, 11 recreational parks, 4 botanical gardens and reserves, 4 safari areas, and 3 sanctuaries. In these parks you can see not only Africa’s Big Five – buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino – but also antelopes, zebras, giraffes and just about every animal found in Southern Africa. It also has 685 bird species which includes 10 globally threatened species and two introduced species. There are also many private parks and reserves in the country with 5-star accommodation in most of them.

Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife sanctuary, Hwange National Park, is situated in the west on the border with Botswana and is home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations and many other species.

Eastern Highlands

In the east of the country are the beautiful, tranquil and mystical Eastern Highlands, a panorama of high, rugged mountains, green forests, rivers and waterfalls. The region, stretching along the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, is sparsely populated, with a cooler and wetter climate than other parts of Africa. There are many hiking routes, fishing spots and the 47,000-hectare Nyanga National Park which features Zimbabwe’s highest peak, as well as the beautiful Chimanimani National Park to be found here.

Culture & Heritage

The country also offers an abundance of cultural and heritage experiences. It hosts a number of festivals and international entertainment events annually, while adventure enthusiasts are spoilt for choice. Wake up to the sounds of thousands of birds, or a nearby hippopotamus snorting in the water. Dine in style in fine restaurants in modern cities. Spend the day watching the Big Five or the mist-covered Victoria Falls. Engage with the locals in a traditional village or market. Lose yourself in the mystical highlands. Whatever your fancy, it is guaranteed you will want to come back.

Useful Information

Languages – English (official); various indigenous languages.
Capital – Harare
Regions – 10 provinces: Bulawayo, Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Masvingo; Midlands, Matabeleland North, and Matabeleland South.
Climate – Varied by altitude, with a dry season, including a short cool season during the period May to September when the whole country has very little rain; and a rainy season with heavy rainfall from November to March.
Time Zone – UTC + 2
Currency – Zimbabwe dollar, although US dollar is commonly used.
Airlines – Emirates, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, British Airways.
Airports – Harare International Airport.
Entry Requirements – All visitors require a valid passport, but some countries are visa exempted.

Useful Contacts

Experience Zimbabwe – Tel: +44 (0)845 431 0224
Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority – Tel: +263 (0)4 706077/8;
Email: bookings@zimparks.org.zw; Website www.zimparks.org.
Zimbabwe Tourism / Visit Zimbabwe – Tel: Harare Office: Tel +263 (0)86 770 05948; Bulawayo Office: Tel +263 9 72333; Email info@ztazim.co.zw; Website www.zimbabwetourism.net.