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Zimbabwe - Travel and visas
Nationals of 45 countries including the following do not require visas: Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of Congo, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Montserrat, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Singapore, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Island, Uganda, Zambia.
Nationals of 90 countries including the following may buy a visa on arrival (but check before you go as rules change): Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Spain, State of Palestine, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, UK, USA.
Nationals of 80 countries including Guyana require a visa to be obtained before travel. This can be obtained by visiting a Zimbabwe consulate or you can now do it online by visiting www.evisa.gov.zw. Note that you can only buy a single entry visa.
Zimbabwe and Zambia have now introduced a trial KAZA tourist Univisa costing US$50 which allows visitors to cross between the two countries as often as they like during the 30-day validity. It also allows day visits to Botswana via Kazungula but not overnight stays.
The main long-haul carriers all made the commercial decision to stop operating direct flights to Zimbabwe in 2007–08. The only exception was Air Zimbabwe, which operated a twice-weekly service from London Gatwick. However, in 2012 – after years of financial instability and industrial unrest – the airline ceased operating this long-haul route. In late 2015, there was only one major long-haul carrier, Emirates, operating from Europe via Dubai direct into Zimbabwe, Harare. KLM ceased its operation here in late 2014. So currently, virtually every overseas passenger flies to Johannesburg and can usually connect the same day to Harare, Victoria Falls or Bulawayo.
In early 2016 the greatly enlarged, new Victoria Falls airport terminal with lengthened runway opened its doors. This major enhancement allowed it to accept large capacity aircraft and it is hoped that it will become a potential competitor to Johannesburg as a major regional hub, although it is still early days as we wait to see which major international airlines commit to using it. In the meantime and after many years, Bulawayo airport’s refurbishment has been completed, making it a particularly pleasant airport to use.
South African Airways as well as its low-cost sister SA Express operate daily direct to Harare, Victoria Falls and Bulawayo with a flight time of around 2 hours. British Airways (Comair) flies daily direct to Harare and Victoria Falls, and to Bulawayo via Harare. Air Zimbabwe also operates daily flights to Harare and Bulawayo. Zimbabwe’s low cost airline, fastjet Zimbabwe, has entered the arena, offering daily services with modern aircraft and what looks to be a viable low-cost operational model that is already threatening the current operators.
Several luxury, air-conditioned coach services regularly ply the route between Johannesburg and Bulawayo and Harare, with a driving time of approximately 13 and 17 hours, respectively. Most operate mainly during daylight hours, but a couple are overnighters. Given the hazards and the standards of Africa’s roads, daylight services are preferable whenever possible.
When driving from South Africa, most people feel (usually wrongly) they are committed to entering at Musina/Beitbridge. Although the border is open 24 hours, allow a lot of time for formalities at this very busy border so that, once through, you still have at least an hour’s daylight to reach the first possible overnight accommodation on the way to Masvingo or Bulawayo. The Zimbabwe side of the border has an appalling record for confusing signage, horrendous queues and notorious ‘helpers’, ‘facilitation agents’ or more accurately unofficial touts, who ‘offer’ to speed you through the process at an exceptionally high price of several hundred dollars. Th e more you use these persistent rip-off artists, the more you encourage them. But if you don’t use them you can queue for hours. Th is situation has been allowed to continue for many years due to the rampant corruption at this border post which clearly goes right to the top. However, you can usually dramatically cut your delays here by arriving at the border before 09.00, preferably avoiding weekends. In order to alleviate the hassle of negotiating this place, ZTA has instigated a system whereby given prior notice of your arrival, they will meet you and escort you through the whole process
If you are heading from South Africa to Victoria Falls or Bulawayo, you can completely avoid the hassle at Beitbridge by crossing into Botswana at Groblers Bridge/Martins Drift and entering Zimbabwe at Plumtree, Pandamatenga or Kazungula. Plumtree, although busy, brings you in close to Bulawayo; Pandamatenga is convenient for the northern part of Hwange and Victoria Falls (4x4s only); and from Kazungula you have a pleasant 50-minute drive to Victoria Falls.
With the drastic reduction in Air Zimbabwe’s routes, they currently operate just one round trip internal route network covering Harare/Kariba/Victoria Falls. In late 2015 the African low-cost airline fastjet started operating Harare to Victoria Falls with no frills (ie: everything charged extra) services on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. A number of private, light-aircraft charter operators are now available to fill some of the gaps. However, these have been set up mainly to service the ‘high end’ remote camps and their fares are pitched accordingly – a far cry from the low-cost fares we have become accustomed to elsewhere.
Gonarezhou National Park © Paul Murray
Self-driving is really the only way for truly independent travellers to get around. It gives you the freedom to plan your own route, itinerary and accommodation, and eat wherever you like, and you can visit areas that few tourists have even heard of. Zimbabwe is an easy, friendly and pleasant country to drive in. Its network of tarred roads is in quite good condition, due largely to light traffic volumes during a decade of fuel shortages although potholes are emerging quite rapidly so caution is always advised. There was a spurt of road improvement in 2014 that resulted in the resurfacing and in some places widening of the road from Plumtree all the way across country to Mutare via Bulawayo and Harare.
Petrol and diesel have again become readily (though by no means universally) available although if you’re travelling long distances, filling stations can be very distant from each other so it’s wise to fill up when the opportunity arises.