Source: Out There Travel, Autumn 2010
You’ve probably heard that now is a good time to visit Zimbabwe and take advantage of the excellent prices. But is that a good idea? Is price everything?
Let’s face it, it’s hard to get away from the fact that the political developments of the last few years have been, to say the very least, less than perfect. And there are people who believe that it would be morally questionable to holiday in a country where the government is guilty of significant human rights abuses – abuses that, unfortunately, are still continuing. BUT….
But there is another way of looking at it. Tourism has been one of the few industries to keep going and to employ a significant number of people.
So visiting Zimbabwe will almost certainly help to keep some people employed, and that translates to a number of families fed. And most reputable tourism companies have a significant community involvement. So the decision is yours, but if you do decide to visit, here’s the lowdown to help you choose where to go and what to do.
Vic Falls – adrenalin capital
This little adventure paradise has managed to keep its head above the rapids, so to speak, solely because of its heavy involvement in tourism. In fact, you can stay in Vic Falls and pretty much do the ostrich thing and remain blissfully unaware that there is a problem. Of course, this would include drinking copious amounts of Zambezi Lager and scaring yourself witless by leaping off bridges and involuntarily swallowing vast quantities of foaming, trashing Zambezi. There are loads of more mellow options too, but generally speaking Vic Falls is the place you go to stretch your horizons a bit and play.
Hwange – hanging in
There’s good news and there is bad news. The bad news is that the infrastructure generally has not been optimally maintained so, unless you opt for one of the luxury lodges, you may need to lower your expectations a bit in term of accommodation. And the wildlife has taken a bit of a hammering, but it’s not as quite as bad as you may have heard. The good news is that there are few tourists there, so you have miles and miles of uncrowded, game-filled wilderness practically to yourself. If you drive in from South Africa and camp, you may end up seeing almost no one else. Of course that’s not good for business, and the cycle of cause and effect goes round and round, but enjoy it while it lasts. And for a really great Hwange experience, nothing can beat a mobile horseback safari, but don’t even think about signing up for this one if you can’t ride. Hwange is conveniently close to Vic Falls, so you can do both in a relatively quick and organized trip, flying through Vic Falls.
Kariba – Dam fine
Kariba is looking a little worse for wear but you can still hire one of those huge houseboats and sail up and down watching game, visiting little island paradises, fishing, and checking out birds. If you’re in a largish group, this can be a very affordable and relaxing holiday. The boats usually come complete with skipper, cook and other staff, so will have to do nothing more taxing than take your own photographs, turn over to ensure an even suntan, occasionally pour your own drink, flip the pages of your book, and hold a rod in the water. Chances are good someone will bait it for you.
Mana Pools is one of the best places of all to hang out. It’s relatively in the middle of nowhere, so not much has happened. The typical Mana walking and paddling trips that we know and love continue in much the same way. Choose between a relatively low-key – and low-cost – version or a more luxury trip with all the bells and whistles and hot and cold running camp staff. Whichever you choose, the scenery and game is still world class.
Heading further out into Zim is a little edgy and somewhat beyond most people’s comfort zones, but it’s most definitely possible. In fact, even in the cities, things have improved a bit. It’s nowhere near perfect, but it is better.
I contracted some local Zim friends to get the word on the street, which is particularly useful if you are planning to drive up. Those awful fuel queues are a thing of the past, but the odd garage does run out of fuel for a while every so often. You can buy most basic necessities in the shops, but don’t expect much in the way of choice. As you are probably aware, the Zim dollar crashed and burned finally spiraling into a black hole at an unprecedented rate some time last year. So now the currency is US dollars, sterling and good old rands. In Bulawayo, pula are gratefully accepted, but I’m not sure about euros – they may be a bit too exotic. And, yes, if you venture to the other side of the looking glass beyond the tourism rabbit holes, you find that poverty and desperation really are the order of the day. But Zimbabweans are amazing people. They keep on smiling, they keep on making a plan, getting by and somehow surviving – most of them, anyway.