Because of the political situation in Zimbabwe, tourists are few and prices are competitive, but the main parks are still cared for and well worth visiting. Hwange is not to be missed, and Mana Pools offers great canoeing safaris on the Zambezi.
Zimbabwe, officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers.
It is bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozmbique, has 16 official languages with English the main language used in the education and judiciary systems and Shona and Ndebele being most common. The present territory was first demarcated by Cecil John Rhodes’ British South African Company during the 1890s.
Zimbabwe is the image you conjure up when dreaming of Africa, vast plains of game, bushveld, small hills, the “Big Five”, the impressive shores of Lake Kariba, the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls and offering tradition, culture and spirituality for an unforgettable experience.
Victoria Falls, known by the locals as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or “The Smoke That Thunders”, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1989 for being one of the most spectacular waterfalls on earth. While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest single sheet of falling water, based on its width of 1,708 metres and height of 108 metres.
The famous words of Dr Livingstone described the sight as “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight” immortalising the place for all visitors to come. Mists from the waterfalls can be seen over 20 kilometres away, the thundering roar can be heard long before the falls are visible.
The Victoria Falls National Park in this area is one of the twelve National Parks in Zimbabwe, largest of which is Hwange National Park. There are six animal sancturies.
The very accessible Hwange National Park has great diversity and is excellent for good overall game viewing. In the dry season large herds of elephants congregate from the surrounding bush at the water holes. Mana Pools National Park is an excellent off the beaten track destination and offers unrivalled wilderness to be explored by 4×4, on foot and by canoe.
The country has rich flora and diverse wildlife, such as rhinos, giraffes, zebras, kudus, elephants, hippos, baboons and more: plus many species of reptiles, insects, fish and over 600 species of birds.
The country is mostly savannah, although the moist and mountainous east supports tropical evergreen and hardwood forests. Trees include teak and mohogany, knobthorn, msasa and baobab. Among the numerous flowers and shrubs are hibiscus, spider lily, leonotus, cassia, tree wisteria and dombeya.
To add to all this natural heritage, there is the largest sub-Saharan archaeological structure, the “Great Zimbabwe” ruins in Masvingo, one of the most important archaeological sites in Africa, giving testimony to the lost civilisation of the Shona. A great city existed here from the 11th century on, with over 10.000 inhabitants. There has been controvosy over the architects but today, the most recent consensus appears to attribute the construction of Great Zimbabwe to the Shona people. Most important artefacts are the eight Zimbabwe Birds carved from soapstone. Others include soapstone figurines, pottery, elaborately worked ivory, bronze spearheads, copper ingots and crucibles, and gold beads, bracelets and pendants.
The Great Enclosure, a most formidable edifice, has walls 11 m high and extending 250 m seen as the largest sub-Saharan archaeological structure.
The Matobo Hills, an area of granite kopjes and wooded valleys commencing some 35 km south of Bulawayo, were formed over 2,000 million years ago with granite being forced to the surface and after erosion smoothed to become “whaleback dwalas”. Mzilikazi, founder of the Ndebele nation, gave the area its name, meaning ‘Bald Heads’.
Traditional arts in Zimbabwe include pottery, basketry, textiles, jewellery, carving and stools made out of a single piece of wood. Shona sculpture has become world famous in recent years, emerging in the 1940s, with carved figures of stylised birds and human figures. Other materials used are soapstone, serpentine and the rare stone verdite.