After working and traveling in South Africa, I wanted to explore some more of this beautiful continent. So I decided to travel to Zimbabwe, at the very last minute and without any knowledge about the country, culture or anything else. This made for an adventurous and very interesting trip. I even ended up horse riding right by Victoria Falls, truly a once in a lifetime experience. In this post I’ll give you all the tips and information I wished I had when traveling to Zimbabwe for the first time (and solo).
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There are a few very important things to mention before moving on to the itinerary. Like I said, I traveled to Zimbabwe super last minute and without any preparation, which left me stranded, without cash or transport upon arrival. Even though I met some really cool people while trying to figure out what to do, I don’t recommend being stranded and lost at Harare airport (bit of a safety issue). Not a single ATM at the airport is functioning, and if you do find one anywhere near you, it doesn’t take international cards. So it’s advised to bring enough cash for your trip, and to get in touch with your accommodation to make sure you can pay by card there. I ended up calling the hostel (that I had not even booked yet), asked if they had a bed for me, take international card payments and if they do airport transfers. I got lucky and they said yes to everything! So there I went, still without cash, to my hostel. The next problem was obviously food, as the supermarket also doesn’t take international cards. The easiest and quickest thing to do is to go to Western Union to get some USD, you might have to wait in line for a while, but at least you’ll be able to go get dinner! Besides the rocky start, I absolutely loved my Zimbabwe adventure and in hindsight I actually learnt so much.
Visas can be arranged upon arrival and they are fairly easy to get. There are however some countries that require you to arrange your visa before arrival. Have a look here to find out if your country is category A (no visa required), B (visa upon arrival) or C (arrange beforehand). You can even get your visa online here. If you have enough time to visit Zambia as well (which I highly recommend!), you can get the Kaza Univisa which allows you to travel back and forth and costs 50USD. Normally the visa are 50USD for Zambia and another 30USD for Zimbabwe. The Kaza Univisa also allows you to enter into Botswana, as long as you return the same day – perfect for a day safari to Chobe!
I’ll give you an example of my itinerary for my first time in Zimbabwe. I started by flying into Harare from Johannesburg, and taking a taxi to a very nice hostel called It’s a Small World Lodge. I stayed at their Avondale location. I slept in the dorm but they have lots of different rooms and you can even stay in one of their caravans. They have all the anemities you can dream of and it’s the perfect place to get some remote work done before disappearing into the beautiful nature the country has to offer. They have WiFi, airport transfers, laundry service and the friendly staff is happy to help you plan and organize activities. They have a very really nice bar with a great atmosphere and lots of good beer. They also serve delicious meals here! Last but not least, they have an internship and volunteering programme through Child Future Africa, a great initiative and people are able to help whether they are traveling to Zimbabwe or not. Check out the program here. I thoroughly enjoyed staying in the capital, and felt very safe walking around by myself (during the day). The people in the city are incredibly friendly and I’ve had so many conversations with different strangers in Harare, I can’t wait to be back and explore more. From mid September to October, the Jacaranda trees drop their leaves, resulting in the purple snow, which is very beautiful.
I highly recommend flying to Victoria Falls, a friend of mine had traveled there already and she told me she had tears in her eyes when she saw the beauty and vastness of the falls for the first time. I thought she was exaggerating, but she really wasn’t. It’s still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen and am counting the days waiting to be back here. I walked to the entrance of the falls every day, but there are lots of taxis that will take you there for about 10USD. The entrance fee for the park is 30USD for international visitors and is single-entry. There is also an option to do the lunar tour at night, which is absolutely stunning, 40USD and definitely worth it. When you’re inside the park, there is a very clear path you can follow that takes you past all the incredible viewpoints.
It’s also possible to fly into Livingstone, and go from there. There isn’t any logic in flight prices, but sometimes either Livingstone or Vic falls is lots cheaper to fly into, so have a look while booking. It’s less than half an hour drive from Livingstone airport to Victoria Falls town. This also gives you the opportunity to see the mighty falls from the bridge between the Zimbabwean and Zambian border.
Another few options for traveling around are Citylink or Pathfinder buses, shuttles (these can be arranged by your hostel), renting a car and driving yourself and minibuses. Beware of the minibuses as they are mostly only used by locals and go crazy fast. I traveled with them in Harare but not for longer distances, and only if I didn’t have all my backpacks with me.
Something I very highly recommend (if you have the time) is to book a safari into Chobe national park in Botswana, as it’s absolutely stunning and not that far (about 4 hours from Livingstone). Lots of companies and accommodation in Victoria Falls organize these safaris, so if you ask a staff member they will be more than happy to help you out. I didn’t do this my first time, and ended up doing it a few years later.
In Victoria Falls I stayed at Victoria Falls Backpackers, but to be honest I only spent a few hours here as I was off to the falls at sunrise, horse riding and exploring the entire days until after midnight. And then doing it all over again the next day. It was a lovely place to stay though and highly recommend it.
When you’re in Victoria Falls, don’t forget to say hello to my friend Archie, he used to work as a drummer at restaurant The Boma! He’s a fantastic musician and now runs his own tour company called Archies Village Tours. His happy energy and kindness really made my days in Vic Falls unforgettable.
When I was staying in Victoria falls, I decided at the last minute to book a ride with Alison at Zambezi Horse Safaris. They offer several rides, from half day rides to multiple days. Beginners are also welcome on half day rides, but are not mixed with experienced riders so that everyone can enjoy the ride at their own pace. I have only done the half day ride, which was already stunning, and am looking forward to joining one of the overnight safaris in the future. I rode the amazing horse Banksy, and had a fantastic time. The guides are very knowledgeable and able to answer all your questions. They matched Banksy perfectly to my riding ability and I loved soaking up the scenery during the ride. Have a look here to find out more. They also do absolutely fantastic conservation work!
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