Now, with this second trip, there’s even more to share to insure your best experience while traveling throughout Zimbabwe.
1) Zimbabwe’s quasi-official currency is the US dollar. Depending on your travels however, you might be given change in US Dollars, South African Rand, European Euros, Botswana Pula or British Pounds. To prevent having a potpourri of currencies, be prepared to pay with exact change.
2) If someone offers to sell you the Zimbabwe Dollar, be forewarned, it’s only use is for souvenirs. I bought this $50Billion note for US$1.00.
3) Akin to number 1 above, plan to leave home with at least US$100 in singles. Most small merchants, and certainly street vendors, cannot make change for most anything bigger than a US$5.00 bill. Often they have no change at all.
4) Many people say that you should always bargain with street vendors. In Zimbabwe, that only applies if you are making a substantial purchase (hundreds or more). You’ll find most handicrafts at roadside stands to be priced very reasonably (a dollar or two) and to try to undercut those prices is both a social and moral embarrassment. Those artisans see few customers and certainly need the money. (Exception to the above: In Victoria Falls, expect the typical tourist destination overpricing. Don’t be afraid to bargain here.)
5) Crossing borders to or from Zimbabwe? With the exception of Beitbridge, borders are not open 24 hours per day. Most open at 06:00 and close at either 18:00 or 22:00. Check ahead if you are a night driver.
6) Want a translation book? Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate on the African continent, according to Lizzie Murandu, marketing executive for Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. That means you’ll probably find many people in all parts of the country that speak very good English. If you do want to learn a few native words, Shona is the most used language, followed by Ndebele.
7) Leave the beach toys at home. Zimbabwe is landlocked on all sides, so there are no beaches to be found for swimming. While the entire northwest border is where you’ll find the Zambize River and Lake Kariba, you probably won’t go swimming there with the crocodiles and hippopotamus.
8) Coming from the US, unless you plan to stay more than six months, you don’t need to plan ahead for a visa. You can get one in less than a half hour at the airport or border station for US$30.
9) Water is now surprisingly good quality in Zimbabwe and quite safe to drink in the major cities. Same goes for water in their pools. Out in the bush or on safari, stick with bottled water unless told otherwise. To be safe everywhere, this simple water purifier will do the job.
10) Firearms may be brought into the country by simply declaring them at Customs.
11) Electrical service is almost exclusively 220-240v, either rectangular or round three pin style. Take both adapters if you have them as many hotels use just one or two of each. Also, 220v outlets usually have an on/off switch on the outlet plate. Be sure to turn that on after connecting, or electrical juice won’t start to flow.
12) Ready for a shower, and all you get is cold water? Look around for a “Hot Water” switch. Many places conserve energy by having you turn on the hot water heater before each use. Also, many faucets work opposite what we use in the United States. The left handle could be cold and the right handle could be hot.
13) High-speed Internet is a myth in most parts of Zimbabwe. In the capital city Harare, it is high-speed some of the time. Everywhere else, plan on a 1 megabit or 10 megabit connection at very best. Exception to the rule: Victoria Falls, being the biggest tourist destination in the country, has actually very robust Internet service at many hotels and lodges.
14) Bring backups for your electronic and photography gear. Finding a good camera shop in Zimbabwe is like looking for a missing fishing bobber in the middle of a 30-acre lake. When my new camera died on the first day of the trip, I could not find a Nikon dealer anywhere close to Harare. To have one shipped from NYC to Harare on three-day service would have cost $342.00, so take a spare if you have one.
15) Take binoculars. When you are on a game drive, the animals aren’t going to walk up to your safari vehicle. Sometimes they insist on staying in the bush and getting a good photograph will be all but impossible. At times like these, a pair of binoculars is invaluable. Even a small pair can be a big help. They are also ideal at safari lodges with distant watering holes.
Despite government sanctions and disagreements, travel to Zimbabwe is safe and highly enjoyable. The people truly are their biggest asset. Realize the infrastructure is not what it’s like at home and be prepared to “go with the flow.” You’ll be rewarded with wonderful memories and dozens of stories to tell upon your return.
More about Zimabawe:
Doug Bardwell, based in Cleveland, OH, writes about travel destinations, photography and tech topics across the country and around the world at DougBardwell.com. Feel free to drop him a line at email@example.com with suggestions for future stories. To get his stories delivered to your inbox, click the RSS feed or the "Subscribe" button above or follow him on Facebook , Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. To read Doug’s disclosure notice, click here. For travel ideas in Cleveland and around the world, check his Calendar of Events. To see his travel photo collection, see BardwellPhotography.com.