Chapter 2: Natural History and Conservation
Chapter 3: Practical information
Chapter 6: Lake Kariba and the Zambezi Valley
Chapter 7: Victoria Falls
Chapter 8: Hwange
Chapter 9: Bulawayo
Chapter 11: The Eastern Highlands
Despite all the miserable news the media throws at us, as usual the wonderful people of Zimbabwe shine through. A few days ago I was leaving Kazungula border post on my way to Vic Falls when I encountered a security guard at the barrier who was a shining example of all that’s good about Zimbabwe. When I asked him how he was he replied “100%”. When I said that means it can get no better he agreed and said he loves his country, loves his job and loves his customers. He was so smiley, cheerful and chatty you could tell it was genuine and I found it extremely humbling. All I could do was congratulate and thank him for giving me the very finest welcome to his country that any visitor could expect. What a brilliant ambassador!
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 66 ZimParks has updated its fees this year and caused a little confusion in the process. One of the changes is that you no longer pay a ‘one-off’ entry fee that stays current for several days in the park – that fee has now become a daily fee and in an effort to make the increase more palatable it is now called a ‘conservation fee’. The full details are too extensive for this update but full information is given on their website www.zimparks.co.zw and remember the correct email address for reservations is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tour operators and agents
[Updated 18/11/14] p.86 I can’t understand how I managed this but one of our esteemed advertisers, Nyati Travel and Tours (page 152) was missed out of the list of tour operators. Please make a note of this excellent Harare based company, one of the oldest and most experienced in the country, which is of special interest to independent travellers. Their website is www.nyati-travel.com tel: +263 (0)4 495804.
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 87 Visa extensions. Here’s some important advice for folks who want to extend their stay in Zimbabwe. If you go to Immigration prior to the expiry date of your visa and ask, for example, for a 2 week visa extension, be aware that Immigration will count the 14 days from the date that you apply for the extension, not, as you may reasonably assume, from the expiry date of your current visa. So always specify the date you wish your visa to be extended to and be sure to check your new passport stamp to ensure that you have been given the days you require before you leave the Immigration office.
Getting there and away
[Updated 18/11/14] p.94 Beitbridge Border Entry. Beitbridge has always been a thorn in Zimbabwe’s tourism offering as it can give a particularly bad (and completely unrepresentative) first impression of the country. The system is confusing, there can be horrendous delays and the touts who offer to speed you through the process can be verbally aggressive and extortionately expensive. While nothing has been done to clean up the act there, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) is well aware of the problem and for the last few years has positioned a staff member at the border specifically to help visitors through the process. However, this official has often been difficult to locate especially if they are already assisting someone else.
All this has changed now with a significant enhancement to this system. Just email ZTA the day before and then on the day, phone before you cross and a representative will meet you at the bridge and see you through the whole system right up to the exit gate. All at no cost! But there are two slight provisos. Although the border post is open 24 hours, this service is currently only offered during normal office hours Mon – Fri and it is very important that you contact them in advance.
The Area Manager is Bertha Mutowembwa on +263 286 23640/1 office, or +263 772 344317 or +263 712 320428. Email: email@example.com
The Marketing Executive is Lindarose Ntuli on +263 772 409373 or the above office number. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
As I have stated several times in these updates, exiting Zim through Beitbidge is pretty simple, extremely quick and hassle free. You do not need assistance through the process. On the very rare occasions that touts approach you, a robust response will see them off. I use this exit regularly and I count myself unlucky if it takes more than 45 minutes to get me through both sides. If there is a delay it’s always on the South African side.
p. 119 Cash versus plastic. I’ve received some very useful feedback from a reader of edition 2 who has suggested I should place more emphasis on the need to carry sufficient cash and not assume that you can pay by card, or indeed guarantee to find a working ATM. In the so-called ‘first world’ many of us have been accustomed, even encouraged, to leave home without much cash safe in the knowledge that we can use plastic everywhere we go, or increasingly use our mobile technology.
Not so in Zimbabwe. If you’re driving you’ll be lucky to find a fuel retailer who accepts anything other than cash and perhaps more surprisingly, many good city hotels, restaurants, golf courses, etc, also only accept cash. The rule throughout the country is never expect to pay by card unless you have checked in advance.
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 119 ATMs When I researched and wrote this edition I was enthusiastic about the ATM situation not only regarding their increasing numbers but also the fast introduction of Mastercard facilities to complement VISA. Unfortunately I must now report that there are increasing reports of ATM unreliability plus a disturbing number of failures involving UK plastic. Vic Falls where I spend most of my time is absolutely fine and I recently had no problems drawing cash in Bulawayo, however, Harare, according to one reader, is apparently less reliable.
p. 124 Fuel availability. A couple of readers have written saying they experienced no problems at all and that I am being overly cautious regarding petrol and diesel availability. Just to say that I never set out without a 20 litre can in the back and try to top up well before my tank is empty. Trust me – I’ve learned the hard way – and recently!
Diesel: Self-drivers of the latest generation of diesel vehicles should be aware that ‘low sulphur’ fuel is an extremely rare commodity in Zimbabwe (and most surrounding countries other than South Africa) – I haven’t been to Harare recently but it’s certainly not available in Bulawayo or Victoria Falls. And I’m talking about 50ppm which itself is considered ‘dirty’ in many developed countries which now stipulate ultra-low sulphur diesel below 10ppm. So before you set out be sure to check your vehicle runs on ‘third world diesel’ and that its use doesn’t invalidate your warranty. Somewhat ironic, isn’t it, that these state-of-the-art 4x4 vehicles can’t be used in most of Africa, the best off-roading continent in the world?
[Updated 18/11/14] p.124 Road Tolls and Road Blocks. Earlier this year, ZIMRA announced a 100% increase in toll fees from $1 to $2 for small vehicles. I have also received valuable feedback from a reader regarding police at roadblocks demanding to see car radio licenses and issuing fines of $20 for non-production. This is only a requirement for Zimbabwe registered vehicles so I decided not to include it in the book on the assumption that few visitors would be driving such vehicles. However, if you are hiring a car in Zimbabwe, do ensure that the hirer has a valid license for your vehicle and gives you the appropriate documentation before you set off. Note that it should never be requested for foreign registered vehicles.
Regular self-drive visitors will find a slight change to the border formalities regarding the $10 Road Access Fee. It has hitherto been paid for alongside the Carbon Tax and 3rd Party insurance but this charge has now been split off from the ZIMRA (the tax people) charges and is paid separately to ZINARA (the roads authority people). At least there’s been no price hike and apparently it’s simply an admin change that makes this revenue more readily available to the people who administer the roads.
The Middle and Lower Zambezi
Mana Pools National Park
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 227 Rhino in Mana Pools. Sadly, my statement that there are black rhino in Mana Pools is now way off the mark. There aren’t any white ones either and haven’t been for many years. I must have been among the last of the fortunate people to have seen black rhino in this area and unwittingly slipped that statement in without realising how many years ago that sighting was.
p. 243 Vic Falls to/from Bulawayo and Harare: Pathfinder coaches that used to offer a daily schedule has now reduced its service to twice weekly, further limiting an already meagre supply of reliable coach operators.
[Updated 18/11/14] p.244 Traffic Warning Orientation. Drivers should note that the whole area around the top of the hill approaching town is a bustling informal drop-off point for the high density housing areas on both sides of the road. People, including small unaccompanied children, alight from cars, pick-ups and buses and attempt to cross the road with little or no caution. There are frequent serious accidents here, especially at night when you can be blinded by oncoming headlights. Unlit bicycles are a particular hazard. Please use extreme caution here and adhere to the speed limit of 60kmh (even though many others don’t).
p. 244 Car Parking Fees: Vic Falls is experiencing a noticeable growth of traffic in town and the municipality has just introduced fees for the most popular public parking areas – outside the OK supermarket and along Parkway Drive in particular. (TM supermarket is still free). There are no meters but you may well find a polite warden at your car when you return to it, asking you to pay money for parking. That said, everything’s remarkably relaxed here and the village is not exactly flooded with wardens – and I’ve yet to be asked to pay anything!
Where to stay
p. 247 If you’re looking for a no-frills place to stay that is clean, cheap and centrally located, try the N1 Hotel (tel: 013 45040; mobile: 0772 661420; email: email@example.com; www.n1hotel.co.zw). It’s been here under-utilised for several years, but has now undergone a refurbishment and at US$60 per room merits serious consideration. The ground and first floor offer a bright reception and breakfast area and 14 double, ensuite rooms with aircon, shower and TV (currently only offering four channels). There’s a communal balcony and two of the rooms are slightly larger costing US$75. Breakfast is $5 but they don’t serve other meals. Refurbishment of the remaining floors will eventually offer 32 rooms although there’s no completion date for these yet. You can’t miss the hotel which is on the left as you approach the craft market and Elephant Walk in Adam Stander Drive.
p. 250 Victoria Falls Clifftop Lodge is the sister lodge to Elephant’s Eye in Hwange but its inclusion in the book was a little premature – it’s not open yet. Keep checking their website though because the owner tells me it will be open during the 2014 season.
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 251 Little Harrods People trying to orientate themselves on the map along Reynard Rd should note that this whimsical and optimistically named general store has closed down and is replaced by a Seven-11 shop.
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 254 The Citimed health clinic has reopened under new ownership and a complete refurbishment which includes much needed upgrading and modernised equipment and facilities. It now refers to itself as a private hospital with the new name of The Health Bridge (THB). It’s still located on West Drive but has new contact details. Tel: 013 46634-5; mob: 0731 950927; e: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.thehealthbridge.org
What to see and do
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 259 Tram Rides Please note that these have been discontinued following a serious collision with a freight train.
Zambezi National Park
p. 267 Many, possibly most, visitors to Victoria Falls are unaware of this national park which is less than 10km from their hotel room. Those who do know it’s there are probably under the impression that because it’s so close to town, there can’t be much wildlife in it. How wrong they are! Although in the fairly recent past poaching was taking its toll, a combination of the very active local anti-poaching operation, (Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit) the presence of two new camps in the park, and last but by no means least, the arrival of a new, highly committed and enthusiastic National Parks Area Manager, has meant that there’s been a dramatic increase in the species count and the sheer amount of game being seen.
Elephant, buffalo and giraffe are abundant; zebra and wildebeest have recently been reintroduced and are doing well, and the last time I was there we saw a herd of 20+ sable as well as a group of eland. Predator sightings are also increasing and in recent visits I have seen lion, hyena, jackal and wild dog in the park but sadly so far, only the spoor of leopard, which though prolific here are rather elusive. Much of this game can be found in the newly opened up southern, Chamabonda section of the park which features a new viewing platform with a covered sleeping structure and a pumped waterhole. (These excellent new facilities have been provided with private cash and the hard work of a small group of Vic Falls residents.)
The park also has another major attraction – its northern border is the Zambezi River which offers alternately serene stretches then boiling shallow rapids making this, to my mind, without doubt the most beautiful park in Zimbabwe. You really should add it to your itinerary if you have the time.
Hwange National Park
Where to stay and eat
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 277 There are signs to two lodges on the road into Main Camp that may attract your interest even though they’re not in the book. The New Game Reserve Hotel is actually in Dete, a rather sad and unkempt railway village on the edge of the park. The hotel is definitely far from new and even though it looks as though it was once quite a nice place it has definitely seen better days. I strolled around the reception area for several minutes but no staff attended so I can offer no information.
The other much newer place, Gwango Lodge (situated in the renamed ‘Gwango Conservancy’ viz Kanondo Conservancy, home of the Presidential Elephant Herd) has attracted a good deal of wildlife and political controversy and a quick internet search on the conservancy should help you decide whether to stay here or not.
pp. 280–1 National Park Camps: I dropped into Robins Camp a couple of months ago and was delighted to find that the bar was open and stocked with a selection of cold beers and refreshing drinks. Not a big selection but most welcome on a roasting hot day. I then made a huge mistake and took the road direct from Robins to the Vic Falls/Bulawayo road. Without doubt this was the most uncomfortable, corrugated road I’ve ever driven. Avoid it at all costs unless you’re assured that it’s been recently graded.
Note that Main St has been renamed JM Nkomo St.
p. 294 Car hire: Avis is now the only major concern offering car hire.
p. 295 Still on this theme, parking legally on the street in Bulawayo is somewhat inconvenient – you’ll often see parking meters but these haven’t worked for years. Instead you should visit the town hall and purchase a parking permit for the zone(s) you wish to visit. However, locals don’t usually bother with this if they’re just dashing into the shops for a few minutes. Apparently the chances of a fine (only $5 and you’ll find a ticket on the windscreen) are very low so people take the risk, safe in the knowledge that an occasional fine is well worth avoiding the hassle of going the official route. This note is not to recommend that visitors break the law but simply to explain the correct procedure alongside what tends to happen in everyday life. The choice is yours.
Where to stay
p. 295/297 Bulawayo Club: ‘The Amalinda Collection’, who hitherto ran the public catering and accommodation here, has parted company with the Club, which has now reverted to being a ‘members only’ club.
p. 298 Garda Lodge has unfortunately closed.
New places to stay in town:
p. 298 Hornung Park Lodge 79 Burnside Rd, Burnside, Hillside Rd becomes Burnside Rd out of town; tel: 09 241994, 246868; email: email@example.com; www.hornung-park-lodge.com. This long established upmarket lodge in the Burnside area 7km from city centre is, in my opinion, probably the nicest in town. The Swiss/Austrian owners have very successfully concentrated on the business market and have hitherto only offered bed and breakfast. They are now branching out into the leisure market and are proud to offer dinner (US$25) prepared by one of Bulawayo’s finest chefs. Please note though that this is not a public restaurant; it’s simply to provide an evening meal for resident guests so they no longer have to venture into town to eat.
Their five ‘rooms’ are in fact self-contained, luxury, double-bedded, thatched chalets complete with a large lounge with DSTV, WiFi, log fire and a fully equipped self-catering kitchen. The main building has a lovely, homely lounge and bar with a big log fire for winter and it’s all set in beautiful gardens with a crystal-clear pool and tennis court. Importantly for Bulawayo they have their own borehole and a large generator. US$120 sgl, US$140 dbl occupancy.
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 299 Burke’s Paradise Backpackers 11 Inverleith Dr, Burnside; tel:09 246481; www.burkes-paradise.com. This long established, out-of-town budget place has twins, doubles and dorms as well as camping set amongst gardens and bush. Popular with overlanders. $
I was recently able to visit Burkes Paradise and am very happy to recommend this budget accommodation set in the leafy suburbs of Burnside, about 15 minutes taxi drive south of the city centre. The place gets excellent reviews and all relevant information is found on their website www.burkes-paradise.com From the airport it’s about 40 minutes and $35.
While talking to the very personable owner, Adam Burke, he recommended two companies that offer reliable local services at a significantly lower cost than some of their competitors. Zimbabwe Car Hire: 0783 496 253 firstname.lastname@example.org www.zimbabwecarhire.com and This & That Safaris: 0776 531 258 email@example.com. The Matopos is a large geographical area and much of it can be viewed without actually entering the National Park. This way, TATS can keep the costs down. Also check their combo trips that include Khami and Matopos.
p. 299 Berkeley Place J Tongogara St/6th Ave; tel: 09 66775, 0772 245578; email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is another well-established town centre choice for budget visitors. $
p. 299 Jacana Lodge 21A Clark Rd, Suburbs; tel: 0779 507505. Close to the Natural History Museum; it was included in edition 1 but was closed during my edition 2 research visit. It has now reopened upgraded and refurbished. Six comfortable chalets, some offering self catering. $
Where to eat and drink
p. 300 The Golden Spur is no longer operating.
p. 300 Friar Tuck’s restaurant has now closed but we now have a good Indian restaurant in its place: The Spice Rack (tel: 0778 454767, 0782 448608) is open for dinner Monday to Saturday and lunch Tuesday to Saturday. Very pleasant interior despite slightly unappealing exterior.
p. 300 An Italian restaurant (tel: 231246; email: email@example.com; closed Mon), very popular with locals and visitors, has opened in Ascot Shopping Centre, off Leopold Takiwira Av.
p. 301 Please note that this office is at the corner of Herbert Chitepo St and 10th with the main entrance opposite the TM supermarket.
[Updated 18/11/14] p. 307 Two people who followed my directions got rather lost in a local township. My mistake arose from two different but similarly named roads which at one point, where they cross the railway line, are literally only a few yards apart from each other – one is named Khami Rd and the other, Old Khami Rd. So the correct road to take out of Bulawayo is 13th Ave not 11th as stated in the book. 13th then becomes Khami Rd. Thanks to Adam Burke of Burkes Paradise Backpackers (www.burkes-paradise.com) in Bulawayo; as well as Monika Korn of www.thesafarisource.com for pointing this out. Double thanks to Mon for charitably believing she’d simply made a navigating error!
Where to stay
[Updated 18/11/1] p. 311 I have also been advised by a reader that The Farmhouse no longer offers camping but Big Cave Camp (page 310) does now.
p. 353 Tony's Coffee Shoppe is closed on Tuesdays.
pp. 354–5 La Rochelle Hotel: It is sad to learn that this historic and charming hotel at Penhalonga has now closed. It was always off the beaten track and its last manager, Simon Herring was a wonderful host and did his very best against the odds to keep the place alive and true to its fascinating roots. A great shame and a loss to Zimbabwe’s tourism industry.