A journey to Zimbabwe will take you through an attractive patchwork of landscapes, from highveld, balancing boulders and flaming msasa trees, to laidback towns, lush mountains and lifeblood rivers. Here you can spot the Big Five (leopard, lion, rhino, elephant and buffalo) in its national parks, discover World Heritage–listed archaeological sites and stand in awe of one of the natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls.
Throughout its past two decades of governmental mismanagement, political violence and economic disaster, Zimbabwe continued to welcome visitors with the same grace and politeness that they were famed for. And as a result those who did travel here usually left insisting that that the country was hands down one of the safest, friendliest and most spectacular countries on the continent.
In 2017 the post-Mugabe dawn that millions of Zimbabweans longed for finally arrived, and their excitement of what the future may hold is still palpable to all who visit.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Zimbabwe.
Here on the Zimbabwe side of the falls you're in for a real treat. Some two-thirds of Victoria Falls are located here, including the main falls themselves, which flow spectacularly year-round. The walk is along the top of the gorge, following a path with various viewing points that open up to extraordinary front-on panoramas of these world-famous waterfalls.
The mysterious ruined city of Great Zimbabwe dates back to the 11th to 15th centuries AD and remains the emblem and heart of the nation. The Unesco World Heritage–listed site provides evidence that ancient Africa reached a level of civilisation not suspected by earlier scholars. The site is divided into several major ruins with three main areas – Hill Complex, the Valley and the Great Enclosure.
Hidden in the southeast corner of the country is the stunning Gonarezhou National Park, ZImbabwe's second largest park (5000 sq km) and regarded by many as one of its best kept secrets. Sharing the border with Mozambique, the park is also virtually an extension of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. So, in late 2002, the relevant authorities in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique created the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a 35,000-sq-km park straddling all three countries (with no boundaries).
One of the 10 largest national parks in Africa, and the largest in Zimbabwe, at 14,651 sq km, Hwange National Park, pronounced ‘Wang-ee’, has a ridiculous amount of wildlife. Some 400 species of bird and 107 types of animal can be found in the park, including lions, giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs. But the elephant is what really defines Hwange, being home to one of the world's largest populations of around 40,000 tuskers.
Home to some of the most majestic granite scenery in the world, the Matobo National Park is one of the unsung highlights of Zimbabwe. This Unesco World Heritage Site is a stunning and otherworldly landscape of balancing rocks, kopjes – giant boulders unfeasibly teetering on top of one another. When you see it, it's easy to understand why Matobo is considered the spiritual home of Zimbabwe. The national park is separated into two sections – the recreational park and the game park.
This magnificent 2200-sq-km national park is a Unesco World Heritage–listed site and its magic stems from its remoteness and pervading sense of the wild and natural. This is one park in Zimbabwe where you’re guaranteed close encounters with plenty of hippos, crocs, zebras and elephants and are almost guaranteed to see lions and possibly wild dogs, leopards and cheetahs.
The grandiose obelisk of Heroes' Acre, overlooking the town, is straight out of Pyongyang, yet lies just 7km from Harare. Designed with the assistance of North Korea, it serves as a sombre memorial to the forces who died during the Second Chimurenga. There's a giant socialist-realism statue of the unknown soldier (actually three soldiers), flanked by bronze friezes depicting stirring war victories. Entrance is free, but there's an admission fee for the interesting museum dedicated to the resistance movement.
With its pristine wilderness, Chimanimani National Park is a hiker's paradise. Sharing a border with Mozambique, the park is still very wild and unspoiled, with picturesque landscapes, evergreen forest, cascading streams and waterholes. Its only downside are illegal gold panners who have added some unwanted trails. Most people begin their hikes at Mutekeswane Base Camp (15km from Chimanimani town), where you must sign in and pay park fees. Here the road ends and the park is then only accessible on foot.
Just 22km from Bulawayo, the Unesco World Heritage–listed Khami Ruins may not have the grandeur of Great Zimbabwe, but it's an impressive archaeological site nonetheless. The second largest stone monument built in Zimbabwe, Khami was developed between 1450 and 1650 as the capital of the Torwa dynasty, and abandoned in the 19th century with the arrival of Ndebele. It's spread over a 2km site in a peaceful natural setting overlooking the Khami Dam.