Zimbabwe is “Open for Tourism” part 2

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The bridge at the Victoria Falls

Natasha continues her visit to Zimbabwe. On this – her final leg – she starts at the Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls National Park

The falls, named after Queen Victoria, but originally called ‘the smoke that thunders’ are breathtaking and definitely something everyone should have on their bucket list. The UNESCO World Heritage site is made up of five waterfalls – Rainbow, Eastern and Devil’s Cataract, Main, and Horseshoe, with Livingstone Island located in the middle of the Zambezi River, touching the lip of the falls – the largest sheet of falling water in the world. The bridge over the falls joins Zimbabwe with Zambia, and is a border between the two countries. Technically when going across, which I was allowed to do, meant that I was in Zambia. The bridge is, however, managed by both countries, and the base for a host of adrenalin sports. Having listened to a presentation given by a gentleman impersonating the original engineer, George Imbault, I saw people walking on the steel walkway beneath the road where I was standing, bungee jumping off the bridge, something I found frightening even to watch, and zip lining onto the bridge. Water rafting is also possible although I didn’t see anyone doing it.

the memorial to David Livingstone

Helicopter rides, called the Flight of Angels, the name taken from a phrase by David Livingstone when he first documented the falls, are also possible. Although I decided to forgo this, some of my travelling companions enjoyed the 13-minute experience. Their flight took them in a figure of eight over the Falls so they could see into the chasms, and the consensus was that it was worth every penny of the $150 each one paid.

The falls straddle between Zambia and Zimbabwe but the latter prides itself in having the best views. Much bigger and more impressive than I had imagined, it’s no wonder that they are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Seeing the torrents of water cascading down the cliffs is awe-inspiring and because of the warm weather, it was 28º when I was there, I frequently saw rainbows. The area around the falls is a rain forest, and wearing waterproofs which can be hired on entry is a must. Even so, I was drenched. The tour takes between one and a half to two hours depending of how much a visitor wants to see as they stretch over two kilometers. I got so wet that I was happy before the end to go back to the hotel to change into dry clothes.  The town of Victoria Falls, surrounded by 56,000 hectares of unfenced national park, has lots of shops selling handmade craft items. It wasn’t unusual to see wildlife such as warthogs and monkeys. Fortunately, the larger animals keep away from any noise.

a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river

A sunset cruise on the Zambezi River is another must-do experience. However with the Falls in one direction and Zambia in the other, the boat doesn’t go very far. We did, however, see the outline of a crocodile snoozing on the banks of the river, and a hippoptomus raising its body a fraction out of the water. Getting on and off, we were entertained by musicians and dancers in traditional clothes, something that happened on several occasions including when we arrived at the airport. 

Important to Know

The people are friendly but very laid back. Keeping to time constraints is not considered  important, and can be frustrating so having a relaxed frame of mind is essential.

Driving between destinations can take several hours with often no one around as a lot of the country is bush land, and out of the main towns there are very few cars on the road. However, I was assured that their local AA is on call if I broke down. Road checks are common so don’t be worried if stopped by the police, as happened to me on several occasions.

rock art

Occasionally I came across people selling local produce. Beware when buying honey as a colleague bought some but sadly the container was too flimsy and burst. If passing fields of maize, look out for the locals who will be there selling barbecued corn-on-cob, and monkey nuts grown locally.

Food in the hotels and safari lodges have a strong British influence, mixed with Zimbabwean specialties. Buffets are quite common. Oxtail stew was on the menu on several occasions, and custard often comes with dessert. Peanuts are used to flavour food particularly in wild greens and sadza. Finely ground dry maize that has been solidified by being mixed with boiling water, rolled into a ball, and eaten with your fingers. Less appealing was Mopan, worms that have been boiled, and then roasted so they are black and crunchy.

One of the country’s major problems is a shortage of cash. The country’s currency is bond notes but everyone uses American dollars. It is essential to take money in small amounts as tipping is expected everywhere. Away from the hotels/lodges, I had a problem using a credit card, as Internet access can be sporadic.

It is essential to check the inoculations required. Particularly in Victoria Falls malaria is a risk. Mosquito protection is a must, as is high factor sun cream. The heat is wet rather than dry so take lots of clothes to change more often then you might think.

white rhinos are brownish rather than white

Natasha flew RwandAir to Harare with a stop en-route at Brussels, and a change of planes at Kigali in Rwanda. RwandAir currently flies from Gatwick Airport three times a week Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday into Harare, Zimbabwe’s Capital. Although there is a Zimbabwean national airline, Air Zimbabwe, it has no licence to fly into EU airspace and with British Airways not flying to Harare there are no direct flights.

A visa is required, purchased at point of entry, and costs £40.00 payable in cash. A Kaza Visa, costing $50, is also available which permits entry to both Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The non-stop Gatwick Express runs up to four times an hour, and takes 30 minutes from London Victoria with free Wi-Fi on board. If you book on-line you can save 10%. It is also possible to take Southern railways between Victoria and Gatwick although this takes longer as the train stops at numerous stations on the way but the fare is cheaper.

For more about Zimbabwe, click here or go to www.zimbabwetourism.net

The first part of this feature appeared on the 6th of May and can be found by clicking here

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