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|Introduction to Zimbabwe
With more than a passing resemblance to a National Geographic best-of issue, Zimbabwe is a beautiful and usually safe country to visit. It boasts the majestic Victoria Falls, magnificent wildlife preserves and the medieval ruins of Great Zimbabwe, as well as the bustling city of Harare.
Whether you're lying in a tent listening to hippos snuffle in the river nearby or shaking your booty at an all-night percussion jam, there's more than enough elbow room to raise a bucket of chibuku to your lips and toast this fascinating country.
It is advisable that you check government travel advice before you travel to Zimbabwe as the current socio-political situation is very tense. If you must visit, avoid political gatherings and demonstrations of any kind as they have been known to become violent, particularly in Harare's high-density suburbs. Travellers should take suitable precautions including minimising night-time and solo travel and avoiding ostentatious displays of wealth.
Full country name: Republic of Zimbabwe
Area: 390,580 sq km
Population: 13 million
Capital City: Harare
People: Shona (76%), Ndebele (18%), Tonga (2%), Shangaan (1%), Venda (1%), European, Asian
Language: English, Shona
Religion: 50% syncretic, 25% Christian, 24% indigenous beliefs, 1% Muslim and other
Government: parliamentary democracy
Head of State: President Robert Gabriel Mugabe
GDP: US$27 billion
GDP per capita: US$2,000
Major Industries: Mining, agriculture, clothing, tourism
Major Trading Partners: South Africa, UK, Argentina, US, Japan
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Visas: Most visitors require a 90-day holiday or 30-day business visa, both of which can be obtained on arrival. Check with your embassy before departure to see if you require a visa to enter Zimbabwe.
Health risks: schistosomiasis (bilharzia), cholera, malaria, rabies, yellow fever, HIV/AIDS (HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2 (Standard Time)
Dialling Code: 263
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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The most pleasant cultural events will be those you run across incidentally: a rural fair, a primary school theatre production, a traditional wedding or a town anniversary. You'll almost certainly be welcomed to share in local festivities.
There are also several fixed events. On 18 April, Independence Day festivities are celebrated around the country, and in late May, Africa Day commemorates past independence struggles. On 11 and 12 August, the Zimbabwean military forces are feted and heroes of the independence movement are honoured. There's also the enormous Zimbabwe Agricultural Society Show, held at the Harare showgrounds around the end of August, and the Houses of Stone Music Festival, a celebration of traditional Zimbabwean music that takes place in Harare on a different date each year.
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|Best time to Visit
The dry winter months (May to October) are the most comfortable for travelling, but you'll miss the green landscapes that characterise the hotter and wetter summer season (November to April). In winter, night-time temperatures can fall below freezing but the days are best for wildlife viewing because animals tend to concentrate close to water holes and are therefore easily observed. National parks are most crowded during South African school holidays, so to avoid the throngs, avoid mid-April to mid-May and mid-July to mid-September. There's a secondary rush around the Namibian school holidays in December and early January.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Zimbabwe Dollar
Zimbabwe has recently been in the grips of economic turmoil, with skyrocketing inflation. Although foreigners are made to pay considerably more for goods and services than locals, Zimbabwe is still not expensive for overseas visitors carrying stronger currencies. Inexpensive hostels are springing up around the country, national parks are still a good value and food is reasonably priced. Due to a shortage of foreign exchange, imported items are expensive, but consumer goods produced in Zimbabwe, although rarely of optimum quality, are quite affordable. It's possible to travel on less than US$15 a day if you stay in hostels or camping grounds and eat in cheap local establishments or self-cater. It's quite a financial leap to hotel accommodation: count on spending up to US$50 a day for a reasonable room with private facilities and a couple of restaurant meals. If you want to travel in high style, count on at least US$100 per day.
Banks are open Monday to Saturday (closed Wednesday and Saturday afternoons). All brands of Travellers' cheques are increasingly being declined. Major international currencies are accepted, but due to rampant counterfeiting, no-one in Zimbabwe is currently accepting US$100 notes, moreover, local currency is hard to obtain. Informal currency exchange is illegal and not worth the risks - you're almost certainly dealing with a scammer. Credit cards are accepted by establishments catering to tourists and business people. There are some Barclays Bank ATMs, compatible with Visa cards, but you shouldn't rely on plastic to get cash.
There's a 15% tax on hotel rooms, safaris and other tourist services. Zimbabwe's other hefty consumer taxes are almost invariably included in the price. Tips of around 10% are expected by taxi drivers and in tourist-class hotels and restaurants. Some establishments automatically add a 10% service charge to the bill, which replaces the gratuity.
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Harare, with a population of over 1.6 million, is the heart of the nation in nearly every respect. It has a distinctly European flavour, and it continues to be Zimbabwe's showpiece city and centre of commerce, with high-rise buildings, jostling traffic and all their attendant bustle.
Great Zimbabwe National Monument
This intriguing archaeological site is where the capital of a wealthy Shona society once stood before being abandoned in the 15th century. Today all that remains are old stone ruins and winding corridors. The ancient stone structures, also known as Great Zimbabwe Ruins or simply Great Zimbabwe, are the largest in Africa south of the Egyptian pyramids.
Great Zimbabwe, the greatest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa, provides evidence that ancient Africa reached a level of civilisation not suspected by early scholars. As a religious and secular capital, this city of 10,000 to 20,000 people dominated a realm that stretched across eastern Zimbabwe and into Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa between the 13th and 15th centuries.
The structure best identified with the site is the elliptical Great Enclosure. Nearly 100m (330ft) across and 255m (840ft) in circumference, it's the largest ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa. The mortarless walls rise 11m (36ft) and, are 5m (16ft) thick in places. The most accepted theory is that it was used as a royal compound.
The greatest source of speculation is the 10m (33ft) Conical Tower, a solid and apparently ceremonial structure that probably has phallic significance.
Hwange National Park
During the 19th century, the area now known as Hwange National Park served as a hunting reserve for the Ndebele kings. When Europeans arrived on the scene, they realised the area's richness in wildlife and set about overhunting it. Hwange was accorded national park status in 1929.
After opening for tourist business, settlers created artificial water holes fed by underground water and, by the 1970s, Hwange had one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. Animals you can expect to see include elephant, monkey, baboon, impala, lion, giraffe and zebra.
Matobo National Park
You need not be a woman who runs with the wolves to sense that the Matobo Hills are one of the world's power places. Dotted around the park are a wealth of ancient San paintings and old grain bins, where warriors once stored their provisions.
Some hidden niches still shelter clay ovens that were used as iron smelters to make spears used against the colonial hordes. Some peaks, such as Shumba, Shaba and Shumba Sham, are considered sacred and locals believe that even to point at them will bring misfortune.
World-famous Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe's contribution to the world's great attractions, and year in, year out, the sound of cameras clicking is deafening here. The falls measure a whopping 1.7km (1mi) wide and drop between 90m and 107m (300-350ft) into the Zambezi Gorge.
An average of 550,000 cubic metres of water plummet over the edge every minute, but during the flood stage from March to May, up to 5 million cubic metres per minute pass over the falls. Victoria Falls town was built on tourism and has now developed into an archetypal tourist trap.
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