In seventeen days we travelled from Plumtree via Bulawayo to Harare. From Harare to Mana Pools and back to Lake Chilvero. Then to Masvingo and the Great Zimbabwe Monument and back to Matopos National Park and the Khami Ruins. We finished by travelling North to Victoria Falls via Main Camp and Sinamatella in Hwange National Park.
The first thing we noticed was that the border crossing is still a bit of madness but all payments ( for road tax, 3rd party, carbon tax and what not ) are now combined: one payment, one receipt for all = no more running and queuing at different tellers.
The second thing we noticed was the first police roadblock about 5 km from the border. We didn’t know that in total we were going to see some 60 of those roadblocks ( say 1 every 35 km on main roads and 1 every 80 km on secondary roads ). All were friendly: or they waived us through, or they stopped us as they were curious about our extended game-viewer, or they were just wanting a chat and ask about Botswana. There were only 3 exceptions to this rule: one was the “famous” roadblock just North of Gweru where there is a well-known policeman with a huge chip on his shoulder fining everybody “white”, after a long search he came up with a 10 U$ fine for a crack in the window. I told him this was caused between Bulawayo and Gweru and that Gweru didn’t have a place where they sold windows but was cut off with: “why don’t you just shut up and pay the 10 bucks”, something I wisely did. At the other 2 roadblocks they just saw from far that we were from Botswana and pulled us over to check it all out: trailer lights, T-stickers on front and back of trailer, reflector tape front and back on vehicle, temporary import permit, the works. As long as you stay friendly, all you loose is time. This brings me to our average speed: due to these roadblocks, toll gates ( on every main road there is a 1 U$ toll to pay ) and the many lorries travelling up and down to Zambia, you can count on a 80 km per hour average speed on main roads and 100 km per hour on the secondary tarred roads ( no big lorries and less roadblocks on those ).
The roads are good in general but have been repaired so often that you “tremble” all the way over thousands of filled-in potholes, only now and then is there a real nasty pothole.
Harare and Bulawayo have developed their own new traffic rules: whenever traffic lights don’t work ( roughly every second one ) it is priority of the biggest, fastest or most daring, just take your chance, I was lucky to drive a big vehicle.
Most indication signs have lost a lot of paint and many place name indicators are missing, we had to ask on several occasions if we were on the good road ( still old fashioned: I still don’t use a navigation system ).
Fuel is everywhere available ( diesel will be 1.38 U$ a litre on average ) , only unleaded petrol is sometimes out of stock.
In the supermarkets we were amazed that there was more on offer than in Botswana, although at a price, the moment you buy something more luxury than mielies – sugar – cooking oil – rice etc, dig into your wallet ! I estimate that we paid roughly 50% more for food in Zimbabwe than we would have paid for the same in Botswana.
Hotel accommodation: count on about 150 U$ for a room on average, except in the bigger centres where this is more like 200. Restaurants are expensive, the top was Churchill Hotel in Bulawayo where it was 18 U$ for a starter, 25 U$ main course and 15 to 20 U$ for a dessert. Also, you don’t really want to drink wine with your meal: the quality and availability is poor but not the price ( in most big supermarkets you can buy good wine at not too expensive prices ).
Most amazing was that we expected to find a country in shambles but no: most things work, all is clean, in the national parks you can eat of the floor in the ablutions, they provide you with toilet paper, firewood, heat up the donkey-boiler and are most helpful and friendly. A huge difference with Botswana where only one ablution block will be open so the staff only has to clean one, where there is no toilet paper, where the toilet seats are missing, mirrors broken, rubbish bins full and were very often the sewage is spilling over.
After 17 days of enjoying service we crossed the border back into Botswana and : naked electric wires hanging in the toilet, no toilet seat nor paper, urinal out of order and the officials not afraid of begging : “nice tool, can I have your Leatherman” – “I need a six-pack of beer” – “don’t you have 10 Pula for me I’m hungry” – etc, in Zimbabwe where the people really are poor, no-one asked for something !!!
Zimbabwe is still not a cheap destination but the more tourists visit again, the better it will get, the parks for instance are much cheaper than in Botswana where you pay 10 times more for camping fees and often more for park fees ( especially as park fees in Botswana are to go up in the very near future ): we paid 20 U$ camping fee per night for 4 people in Mana Pools, one of the top destinations, in Botswana this would have cost us 200 U$ per night for the same.
The wildlife has suffered a lot in Zimbabwe which is evident wherever you go in the parks: plenty of baboons, crocodiles and hippos but impalas – kudus – gnoes – buffalo are scarce, even elephants you have to look for. We saw some lions and heard several at night but with their normal food being poached for 12 years I’m sure they struggle. Most of the rhinos are still around and poachers seem to stay away.
Positive is that few tourists are around so you have most of the sightings for yourself and campsites are full of space, we had the Great Zimbabwe and the Khami Ruins all for ourselves, nobody else around, amazing.
Result is that I think the time has come to start offering trips into Zimbabwe again as the country is stunningly beautiful and has a lot of variation: wildlife, monuments, museums, mountains, lakes, rivers, history,… and this is the time to go before it will be “rediscovered” by the tourism industry.
If you look on our website you’ll find a trip proposal for Zimbabwe for next year: we offer 6 departure dates but if you are 4 or more people willing to go we can organise trips on other dates or with other itineraries, just let us know.
Yours in travelling !