Intrepid Traveller’s Guide to Zimbabwe

Granted Zimbabwe doesn’t often feature on top destinations list, but as the country gets ready to celebrate 34 years of independence on Friday, it is worth looking at all this little landlocked African country has on offer for the intrepid traveler.

From the luminescent smiles of the locals countrywide to the breathtaking creations of Mother Nature, from the enchanting wildlife in the African wilderness to the beautiful belles of Bulawayo that never pass by without a smile for the intrepid traveller, this much overlooked and underrated gem of southern Africa is full of promise, potential and plenty of pleasurable moments and wonderful people.

Wonders begin at the gateway into Zimbabwe – Harare International Airport – a pristine, light and spacious modern structure which apparently throws off the intrepid explorer. “Are we connecting here for Harare?” many have been heard asking.

The Sunshine City

Harare got its name from the Shona chieftain Neharawa. It is also said the name derived from the European corruption of ‘Haarari’ meaning "he does not sleep" - the epithet of the chief whose citadel was located in the city’s highest part known today as the Kopje. It is on the summit of Kopje, the city’s highest vantage point, you discover how apt the name is as you are granted unrestricted vistas across the Harare skyline.

harare zimbabwe

Make sure to make Hotel Meikles, Zimbabwe’s premier hotel your home in Harare. Meikles has won the prestigious Association of Zimbabwean Travel Agents (AZTA) award for Best City Hotel in Zimbabwe for an astonishing 15 consecutive years.

meikles harare

Harare is a truly beautiful capital and as far as capitals go, it seems safe. Even in the oldest township, Mbare, the worst of your worries is likely to be how to haggle a good price for the wooden ornaments and marble sculptures on offer.

As a city once referred to “Paris of Africa” and still hearkens back to its former glory with wide open spaces, lush greenery and pristine city-centre streets, Harare disappoints only on the dining options. While the city has a number of eateries, be warned: you may be hard-pushed to find one open after 9pm.


Eastern Highlands

The lush green mountainous region of Eastern Highlands, comprising the Vumba, Chimanimani and Nyanga, is not only a trekker’s but also lovers’ paradise. Rumour has it that a British couple on the brink of divorce went on holiday in Zimbabwe and it was here they fell back in love. We cannot guarantee you will fall in love with a significant other, but as you spend a peaceful afternoon at the Inn on Rupurara, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with the beauty of the landscape.

inn on rupurara eastern highlands zimbabwe

Built in Cape Country style, with extensive use of local stone and wood, Inn on Rupurara boasts 18 freestanding lodges almost hidden on the hillside. The real attraction perhaps, for those who are either too loved up to venture beyond the inn or too lazy to take on longer wildlife trails, is the private estate stocked with a variety of plains game which you can observe on safari-style drives or - for the more adventurous - on horseback.

Intrepid Traveller’s Guide


In Search of the Great Zimbabwe

For history buff, a visit to the Zimbabwe midlands, in particular the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, is a must. Modern Zimbabwe takes her name from the ancient Kingdom of Zimbabwe, derived from ‘Dzimba-dza-mabwe’, translated from the Karanga dialect of Shona as “large houses of stone.” The kingdom existed from approximately 1100 to 1400 AD during the country’s Late Iron Age and Great Zimbabwe is the ruins of the city which was once the capital of this almighty empire.

great zimbabwe view

You are bound to be enchanted by the mere fact that you’re walking on the once hallowed ground of kings and queens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, and home to the mysterious soapstone bird monolith which lends its figure to Zimbabwe’s national flag, symbolising strength, freedom and the spiritual ties to ancestors.

great zimbabwe bird monolith

The Lodge at the Ancient City is the ideal choice of accommodation for those visiting the ruins of Great Zimbabwe. Built upon a ridge overlooking the ruins, the architecture and décor of the lodge echoes the grandeur of Great Zimbabwe and offers lodgings fit for a king, and four family chalets and 14 twin/double chalets offer princely accommodation. But the real surprise comes early morning as you waken to Mother’s Nature’s wake up call – a dawn chorus of raucous crickets.

Lodge at the Ancient City Zimbabwe


On the Bushmen Trail


Matopo Hills Zimbabwe

Yet another site equally saturated in history and heritage has to be the Matobo Hills, an area of granite kopjes and wooded valleys, once home to the San (Bushmen) who left a rich heritage in hundreds of rock paintings and the site of Cecil John Rhodes's grave at the summit of the `Hill of Benevolent Spirits' named ‘World’s View’ by Rhodes for its breathtaking vistas of the Matopos.

Cecil Rhodes Matopo Hills

Matopos is yet another site where the country’s colonial past is juxtaposed with its African heritage as a short drive and a quick hike up the hills will take you to Nswatugi cave, site of the world’s oldest grafitti - Bushmen rock paintings. Dating back to tens of thousands of years ago and featuring some of the most accurate depictions of giraffes and other wildlife, these paintings are works of art.

bushmen Matopo Hills



The Smoke that Thunders

How can we write of the many wonders of Zimbabwe and not mention the most breathtaking wonder of all and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World? Victoria Falls, indigenously named “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning “smoke that thunders”…

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

You will see the smoke long before you reach the town named after its world-famous wonder – not surprising considering at over 1.7 kilometres wide and 355 feet high, with 500 million litres of water plummeting over the edge into the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls generates a huge amount of spray shooting 1000 feet into the sky and can be seen 30 miles away, hence the name Mosi-oa-Tunya.

Victoria Falls

Zimbabwe Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls has the power and grandeur to make you believe in the creative force of a higher power. Walking down the meandering lanes of a lush rainforest, down the edge of the gorge, taking in the ferocity, the thunder, the beauty of the water falling at full steam ahead, your senses come alive with unprecedented zest for life.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Victoria Falls and the surrounding area offer a wide of accommodation but one that instantly stands out is Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. The 72-room Africa Aldiba Tourism flagship property, with its very own waterhole on site, has been named “Zimbabwe’s Best Safari Lodge” by the Association of Zimbabwe Travel Agents (AZTA) for 15 consecutive years.

Zimbabwe Zambezi river cruise

While in Victoria Falls, if you want to take in more of the natural wonders and wildlife Zimbabwe has on offer, also take a sunset cruise over the river Zambazi.

elephant river Zambezi


Walk on the Wild Side

Also worth a visit, especially for animal lovers, is Gweru, Zimbabwe’s fifth largest city near the centre of the country and home to the Antelope Park.

antelope park gweru zimbabwe

Set in over 3000 acres of open savannah grassland, Antelope Park is a stunning and unique game reserve which offers a wide variety of accommodation, from thatched, en-suite river lodges to large, East African-style en suite river tents that provide that ‘touch of Africa’, overlooking an inlet of the lake. But it is behind the confines of your four walls you’ll find the real delights of Antelope Park.

gweru zimbabwe antelope park

Where else in the world can you take a stroll in the African bush with a free-roaming lion by your side, swim with the elephants, or get the chance to be only one of those ten lucky people in every million people to see a lion kill by taking part in a night encounter?

zimbabwe walk with lions


Images of Meikles Hotel, Inn on Rupurapa and Victoria Falls Safari Lodge courtesy of the properties

All other images and text by Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo