Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa. The country’s geography consists of lush savannas in the middle and mountainous regions in the east with heights exceeding 8000 ft.
As it is an African country, it may be the safari experience you dreamt of since childhood. For a country that is renowned for poaching and deforestation, Zimbabwe still has almost untouched areas. Wild animals that you may encounter along the way vary from large herbivores to big predators. Also, safety precautions need to be taken when visiting national parks, so a guide is a must.
Famous landmarks in Zimbabwe are The Victoria Falls National Park that stretches from Zimbabwe to Zambia. The Zimbabwean side of the falls gives you the mirrored perspective of Daniel Livingstone, who discovered the falls in the 19th century.
When visiting Harare, the country’s capital, be sure to go The Kopje. This landmark is a great granite rock that is climbable and it will give you bird’s eye view of the whole capital.
Also, the Great Zimbabwean Ruins and Khami Ruins are to be visited. They both date back to the 15th century and both are named UNESCO World Heritage sites.
As Zimbabwean economy is crumbling down, robberies on Western people are frequent and on a daily basis. This is mainly because of the denomination of the Bond Note against the US dollar. As so, in a rough calculation, 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars are worth 40 cents in US currency.
With the Zimbabwean economy going down, tempers flare as more and more street fights and protests occur.
Below, some Zimbabwe travel tips will unfold to the get the proper safari experience out of this country.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Zimbabwe
Overall Risks in Zimbabwe: MEDIUM
In essence, Zimbabwe is a safe country to visit. But with the political, economic and social matters, this scores the country to a medium risk. Being mugged or robbed in Zimbabwe is pretty common, so keeping your valuables by your side is mandatory. Also, avoid walking with US dollars in your wallet and don’t carry all the money at once. Hotel rooms are quite unsafe, so better choose a luxury hotel when you need to rest. You will rest easy when you know that all your personal belongings are safe.
Transportation services and roads very poorly maintained. Almost all roads are scattered with potholes and the markings are barely visible, if not at all. Accidents occur on a daily basis as motorists exceed the speed limit often. Driving at night is nearly impossible as reflecting signs and lighting on the street is almost inexistent. Traffic fatalities have increased in 2017, according to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Public transportation is dominated by an army of minivans named “Kombi”. Kombis are Japanese second-hand minivans. These minivans are poorly maintained and drivers usually must have a special permit to drive these minivans, although most of them don’t. They get overcrowded most of the times, so the danger of an accident increases.
When you’re the driver, expect police roadblocks. These roadblocks are mainly routine checks, but they may get worse than that. Police may tell you that you have committed a traffic infraction and will ask you for money to drop the charges.
A taxi will be a solution that will make sure that you reach your destination. Grabbing any cab on the street may not be the safest solution. If you are booked in a hotel, speak with the reception to recommend a taxi company. Best taxi companies that operate in Harare are Shuttle Direct, Avondale Taxi, and G-Taxi.
As for air transportation, Zimbabwe hasn’t witnessed any accidents. The only airport that serves international flights is the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. The other airport for internal flights is Charles Prince Airport.
As for safaris, be aware of dangerous wildlife. When on a safari trip, stay close to your guide as he may be able to protect you from animals. Staying away from the river is not for the sake of any flood that may occur, but almost all rivers are crawling with saltwater crocodiles.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in Zimbabwe: HIGH
According to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the cases of theft and burglary have increased since 2014. Due to the economic and political pressures, the US embassy of Harare strongly suggests not to walk alone during nighttime.
If you’re planning to call Harare your home from now on, take some security measures. Building a 6.5 ft high wall with razor wire and an automated gate may seem like too much, but the embassy recommends this. Theft from homes has decreased since 2017 as the embassy homes began to be protected by various anti-theft systems. Also, theft from homes has decreased in the residential neighborhoods and well, as more security measures were implemented. But beware of the other neighborhoods that are not so heavily protected. Police usually do not patrol the non-interest areas. Also, a link with a private security company is strongly advised.
People that used ATM’s are also under the radar of thieves. Since 2017, these attacks dropped, as more and more ATM’s and banks go out of business. The US embassy advised that you make your deposits at well-known banks in Zimbabwe. This is a measure against thieves that target people who withdraw money from ATM’s.
Police actually takes a while to apprehend the situation. Intervention is sluggish as police respond slowly to calls. Also, for US citizens that encounter problems with the police or different situations, they must call immediately the American Citizen Services.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Zimbabwe?
As mentioned before, due to the increasing rates of pickpocketing, theft, and burglary, it is recommended that you do not travel alone through Zimbabwe. We also advise you to not travel to remote areas, bad-reputed neighborhoods, or the city outskirts, mainly because the authorities do not bother patrolling such areas – if something happens, you may not benefit from their assistance or it will take them a long time to reach the scene.
In order to avoid pickpocketing and theft, we recommend you to avoid the display of valuables, such as smartphone, cash, jewelry, and such. If you carry a backpack or a bag, you should hold it in a manner that allows you to keep an eye on it at all times – in short, not on your back; it is better if you place such items in front or sideways of you so that pickpockets have a hard time reaching them.
When it comes to withdrawing money, we recommend you do so from withing the bank and avoid the use of ATMs or similar services, such as currency exchange offices.
Scam Risk in Zimbabwe: MEDIUM
While driving and getting in a police roadblock, prepare your nerves. As stated above, traffic police are very corrupt. When encountering a police roadblock, they tell you that you have violated a traffic law, although you are innocent. After they pretend to check your documents, they ask you for money to drop the charges.
Sculpture selling takes place, especially in the Victoria Falls region. Local merchants sell medium-sized wooden statues. Obviously, you can’t carry them, so they will recommend shipping to the US. This won’t happen, although you give all your shipping details and address.
Fake taxis are very common around Harare and Bulawayo. Although police have removed almost all illegal taxis in these cities, a small number of them are still at large. They don’t only do illegal business, but they are known to rob you at gunpoint when passing a remote region of town.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Zimbabwe?
In order to avoid getting scammed you have to learn and keep in mind some of the practices one needs to rely on when being approached by police officers – in countries with corrupt authorities, it is better if you do not hand over any of your documents until the officers have properly identified themselves. Moreover, in case of more serious situations, it is advised that you asked the police officers that approached you to take this matter to the police station.
However, keep in mind that one entire police station might be corrupt – in this case, there’s really nothing much you can do to avoid being scammed by corrupt police officers.
When it comes to taxis, it is recommended that you make sure that such a vehicle is licensed and registered – naturally, you’d want to check if they are metered as well. Moreover, you could try agree on a fare before the start of your ride – if the driver refuses to comply, just find another cab. It is also recommended that, instead of hailing down taxis, you try to contact a reputed taxi company.
Obviously, take care when buying items – it is advised that you purchase products that you can immediately take with you, in respect to the sculpture scam we mentioned above.
Kidnapping Risk in Zimbabwe: LOW
As Zimbabwe faces economic problems, you may think that kidnappings in exchange for money are pretty common. The kidnapping of Western people rarely occur and they usually end with release after two to three days.
During the political and economic unrest in 2014, a number of famous Zimbabwean people were kidnapped and murdered. They were against the government at that time, so kidnappings happen on a political status and not on tourists.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in Zimbabwe?
Kidnapping can be easily avoided by sticking to populated and reputed areas of the city, so to say – in this respect, you should avoid remote areas, bad neighborhoods, as well as the city outskirts. In short, stay within the areas that are recommended for tourists and try to limit the time you spend exploring your surroundings. Obviously, you should not be alone if traveling into one of the areas mentioned above.
Terrorism Risk in Zimbabwe: LOW
The Zimbabwean government is very strict regarding this matter. All main border crossings are heavily fortified and transit of other military and paramilitary forces is forbidden. However, some border crossings may be weaker and some terrorist forces may reside on the border, but they don’t advance further.
Intimidation towards westerners (US citizens) comes mainly from the local people, again, from the fact that the US dollar is much more valuable than the Bond note. These may spark some discomfort, but they are particularly non-violent.
- How to avoid terrorism in Zimbabwe?
As we all know, places of prayer and official buildings are usually targeted by terrorists – however, keep in mind that over-crowded places, such as malls, shopping centers, and such, are also targeted. When inside such areas, we recommend you to be extremely cautious and pay attention to your surroundings. If you notice anything suspicious, it is better to flee the area and report what you have seen to the authorities.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in Zimbabwe: MEDIUM
According to some women that traveled alone in Zimbabwe and some blogs they own, there might be some risks when going alone.
Usually, Zimbabwean people are kind and generous, but there are also some folks that don’t know how to behave. As stated by a female blogger and solo traveler, you may encounter catcalling and trading goods for sex. She said that avoiding eye contact and not saying nothing is the best way to deal with them.
Also, avoid local bars and pubs and if you wish to drink something in a peaceful state of mind, choose a rather bigger restaurant with highly trained staff.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Zimbabwe?
As mentioned above, if approached or catcalled by strangers/ tourists, it is better if you just ignore what’s happening and move on – in short, don’t give them a reason to keep on harassing you. Also, if you plan to travel outside the city, it is recommended that you do not do so alone – rely on a tour guide, other tourists, or on a protection service, depending on the areas you wish to visit.
Naturally, you’d want to dress appropriately, in order to draw as little attention to you as possible – in this respect, avoid wearing jewelry or displaying any valuable items.
Rape Risk in Zimbabwe: LOW
According to the US Government and the US embassy, rapes are almost absent in Zimbabwe. That does not mean they don’t happen. Targeted victims are usually of political concern and raped are mixed with brutality and beating. No recorded rapes of foreigners have been documented since 2004.
- How to avoid getting raped in Zimbabwe?
In order to avoid getting raped in Zimbabwe, you just have to respect all of the safety travel tips we have mentioned so far – avoid walking alone on the street, especially in the evening or during the night, limit the time you spend in remote areas or bad-reputed regions of the city and such. If anyone harasses or approaches you, it is recommended that you ignore them and keep walking.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in Zimbabwe: LOW
As stated by people that traveled with children, it’s quite safe to travel. For security measures, some natural parks have restricted access by age. Some documentation needs to be done to ensure that you have access to all natural parks with your children.
Also when embarking in a safari trip, keep a close eye to any predators and seek advice from your guide at all times. Also, ensure some precautions when it comes to insects. Mosquitos and tsetse flies are common throughout the area so mosquito repellent is a must have in your travel kit.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
Besides the usual, namely keeping an eye on your children at all times, it is recommended that you come with a properly prepared first-aid or travel kit – medicine, bug repellents, and such are a must, especially when traveling to Zimbabwe. As mentioned before, when embarking in a safari trip, you have to be even more careful when it comes to your children – make sure that they stay close to you at all times; instruct them as to what they are allowed to do and such in order to ensure their safety.
Natural Disaster Risks in Zimbabwe: MEDIUM
According to the GFDRR (Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery), Zimbabwe listed as a medium risk for natural disasters. As the country is located in southern Africa, it is vulnerable to droughts, floods, and hurricanes.
After a heat wave, the most likely scenario after this is heavy rainfalls and floods. In 2016-2017, the Zimbabwean government declared a state of emergency after floods killed almost 400 people and left homeless more than 2000.
Best time to travel to Zimbabwe is in the dry season when storms are scarce.
Transportation Risks in Zimbabwe: MEDIUM to HIGH
According to recent reports, fuel is now dual priced at certain petrol stations in Zimbabwe – a lower price may be available when purchasing fuel is the payment is made with an international payment card.
When it comes to local travel, keep in mind that the country has plenty of game reserves and safari lodges – therefore, there have been quite some incidents in which animals have attacked tourists/ visitors. This is because the safety standards of the safari lodges/ game reserves vary throughout the country – you should check such facilities before entering them, in order to make sure that they are safe enough for you to stay there.
If traveling to Zimbabwe between November and April, pay attention to the local weather reports – this is the time of the rainy season and, because it comes with flash flooding as well, some roads may be rendered impassable.
In terms of road travel, you have to respect and comply any police signals, toll-gates, roadblocks, and such – this also implies that you have to comply with any order given to you by the authorities. Also, if the President’s motorcade goes past, you should immediately stop driving – not stopping soon enough or stopping in the wrong place is considered somewhat an offense and you risk being assaulted by the security forces.
The roads of Zimbabwe are in a poor condition, with many deep potholes on them – because of this and of the fact that traffic lights are usually off, traffic accidents are quite common in this country. In short, you can find almost any type of thing or being on the road, as the latter are poorly lit, badly marked, and most of the vehicles are unlit as well.
It is recommended that you do not travel during the night, always wear seat belts, have a first-aid kit in the car, and keep its doors locked.
In case of long distance journeys, keep in mind that the availability of fuel is limited – you should plan every single trip ahead and make sure that you are properly prepared for any type of scenario.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Zimbabwe: MEDIUM
Even though there are no official reports related to the use of spiked drinks in the night-clubs, pubs, and bars of Zimbabwe, there are a couple of articles that tell of such incidents. Naturally, mainly women’s drinks were spiked so that the aggressors would either take advantage of or rob them. Given the low rape rate of Zimbabwe, it is likely that most drink-spiking incidents result in the robbery of the victims.
In this respect, it is recommended that you keep an eye on your drink at all times – obviously, when ordering something, you should be able to see it being prepared in front of you. Do not leave drinks unattended and, if you do so, it is better to either leave them there or throw them down the sink.
Other than that, there are no reports that tell of violent assaults taking place within such facilities – naturally, this depends on your location of choice. You should consider visiting only the night-clubs, pubs, and bars that are located in the center of the city or within reputed hotels and such. Keep away from the bars/ pubs that you find in remote or bad-reputed areas.
Health Risks in Zimbabwe: HIGH
Hospitals usually access your health insurance easily. However, some hospitals require advance payments to be made. If you are taking prescription medications, bring with you a good amount of them as Zimbabwe may not have the equivalent.
Also, bringing your health insurance and vaccination proof for yellow fever may save you from some unwanted complications. With a few weeks prior to your leave to Zimbabwe, a vaccine against the yellow fever is mandatory. As vaccines as currently limited in the US, you’ll need to schedule an appointment to get the vaccine.
If you have taken anti-malaria pills, be sure to take them even after you’ve returned home until you finish all prescription medication. This way, you will make sure that you won’t get sick.
Also, stay away from animals that have an unusual behavior. An anti-rabies is also on the to-do list.
If you are not feeling well after your trip, address to your doctor immediately and inform him where you have been. Places that you have visited and animals that you’ve come into contact with are also to be mentioned.
Vaccines you should do before visiting Zimbabwe according to CDC.
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Malaria (prescription drugs before and after the visit)
- Typhoid fever
- Yellow fever (vaccines are currently limited in the US)
Most Dangerous Areas in Zimbabwe
- Most Neighborhoods in Zim – Epworth, Mufakose, Mbare, Avenues, Saint Mary’s, most parts of Dzivaresekwa
- Route to Harare International Airport
- Masvingo-Beitbridge Road
Concluding Remarks: Is Zimbabwe Safe to Visit?
Zimbabwe is a safe place to visit, also and haven for safari enthusiasts. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security has cataloged Zimbabwe as being medium, although some subjects are on high concerns.
Health issues are common as the medical system is quite inefficient. However, a medical insurance is mandatory and must cover Zimbabwe as well.
Political and economic unrest is more than common in Zimbabwe so demonstrations may be encountered in the bigger cities. Best is to stay away from crowded places not only for the above-mentioned reason. Pickpocketing and theft happen quite often and the targeted people are US citizens. The Zimbabwean dollar is highly denominated against the US dollar, so burglary and robberies are happening often.
Natural hazards are also of concern, stating the fact that in 2017, a massive flood whipped out entire neighborhoods and left hundreds homeless.
As a travel tip for souvenir lovers, be aware of scams. Most street merchants sell low-value items for big amounts of money. Taxis are not to be trusted unless they are a recommendation from your local hotel.