Since the decision was made to have the wedding in Zimbabwe, the task that’s more complicated than planning a wedding is that our friends and family willing to make the trip want to stay and see the country. So here are some suggestions. For the record – Eunice grew up in Kadoma with limited opportunities to travel around the country.
The Map above generally shows national parks in Zim. The Major cities of interest are also listed (Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Victoria Falls, Kariba, Mutare).
Assuming a 12-14 day stay in Zimbabwe and a starting point in Harare and using your own rental car, I would recommend the following:
Get an Econet simcard at the airport so you have a Zim number while there. They are compatible with GSM phones. If you have Verizon – will likely not work unless they are now GSM. Emergency number is 112 as with all GSM phones on this planet.
Day 1: Leave Harare and head for Kariba. This is a 6 hour journey. Stop over at Chinhoyi Caves on your way there. You will likely arrive late afternoon unless you leave before 6am. Stay at Lomagundi Lakeside Lodges for about $90 per lodge and sleeps upto 5 people. Kids under 11 don’t count. You will have to bring your own food or find a restaurant in the area. I suggest you find a supermarket.
Day 2: Hang around. See the falls. Do a tour of the little town with a local.
Day 3: Go onto the lake for either a sailing cruise or water safari. You can also rent a houseboat and overnight there if that rocks your boat (ha ha).
Day 4: Head back towards Harare enroute to Victoria Falls.
Day 5: You can now use this part of the Road Trip to go to Masvingo to see Great Zimbabwe. You will arrive late afternoon. You can stay at the National Parks Lodges for about $15 pp/night or at Great Zimbabwe hotel for $136 pp/night. You can pass by the Italian Chapel. Looks interesting.
Day 6: In the afternoon, leave Great Zimbabwe and head to Matopos Hills. Consider 2 nights in Matopos.
Day 7: In Matopos
Day 8: Leave early to great Zim. it will take about 6-7 hours to get there. You can stop in Bulawayo if you like to stretch your legs.
Day 9: Victoria Falls. yOU can stay at Drifters lodge for about $80 per room per night.
Day 10: Victoria Falls
Day 11: Victorial Falls
Day 12: Drive back to Harare (11-13 hours). On the way back you will Drive past Kadoma – Eunice’s hometown. depending on where we are – we can have lunch or you can stay over if needed.
Day 13: Give yourself a one day buffer for trip closeout.
Day 14: Harare and out.
Alternative: on day 4 you can drive to Kadoma/Bulawayo a do the tour the other way round, Vic Falls first and Great Zim last. You may not want to crowd the same places at the same time…
How to travel around in Zimbabwe
Please see this blog for additional information on driving in Zimbabwe. If we assume that Harare is a starting point, you can reach most of the places of interest by road. Since most of you are flying, you would need to rent a car. There are several rental car agencies at the airport e.g. AVIS but are costly since they add per km costs to the rental. Other are Rockshale, EuRopcar, For example, a 10 day rental costs ~$1300 before mileage. Other attractive rental options are Zimba Car Hire or Novelty cal rental for more affordable options. Try to get the biggest car you can afford. If you would like an alternative affordable rental after the wedding, that could be arranged separately. Let us know.The drivers tend to be polite on the main roads. At night, since the roads are not lit, you will see them turn on the left turn signal to help oncoming drivers define the edge of the car.
You can also travel around by bus. The areas easily serviced by buses are Harare – Bulawayo – Victoria Falls. There are luxury coaches such as Intercape Pathfinder that can take you From Harare to Victoria Falls for about $50 per person. Bus ride is about 13 hours. You can also take a “chicken bus” or semi luxury rides for about $26 for the same trip. To get from Harare to Masvingo, you can take the luxury liners traveling from Harare to Johannesburg via Beitbridge and ask to be dropped off in Masvingo. For traveling anywhere else in the country, you can go by chicken buses although I am hesitant to recommend. The buses are safe, cheap, frequent, no pre-booking but you will experience traveling like the locals. They generally don’t carry chickens in these buses any more.
You can fly From Harare to Victoria Falls, Kariba, Bulawayo and of course other destinations outside the country. Main airline is Air Zimbabwe. Most destinations by flight will be approximately 45 minutes to an hour. As you know, flying comes with the inconvenience of getting to and from the airports. You can do this by Taxis. Taxi rates are semi negotiable and if you don’t like the price of the first guy, move on to the second guy. Don’t be fooled by the distance shown on google maps, the highways are generally 2-lane so even if the road is good, you may drive behind a slow car at 40km/hr for a while.
Das geht überhaupt nicht. Don’t even think about it.
What do do.
Harare is the capital city of Zimbabwe. We are looking at getting a group rate for Meikles Hotel Hotel and Cresta Lodge. Cresta requires a car or taxi if you need to see the city. The Bus to the wedding site will pick up in both locations.
Top things to do in Harare.
Wild is Life is an animal sanctuary located outside Harare. You will need a car for this. It is a bit pricey at $95 pp but you get to touch the animals (baby giraffes and cheetahs…according to their websites)
National Heroes Acre. This is a 57 acre national monument commemorating the heroes that lost their lives during the liberation struggle.
Mbare Musika for the brave. This is a bustling bus terminus servicing buses coming in and out of Harare. You can pretty much go anywhere from here. I would say that its relatively safe but you may get robbed. There used to be a very large crafts warehouse selling section that I really liked for gifts etc. Right now, people are very desperate and you may get hassled to buy by multiple people and likely your pockets searched as well. If you are interested, we can arrange special tour guides.
The National Gallery Of Zimbabwe is located in Harare with Branches in Bulawayo and Mutare. We both have never been there yet and so may pay this a visit while we are here.
Recommendations: Traveling around Harare to some of the sites mentioned requires a car. If you plan to stay without a car until after the wedding, you can take in easy in the city. Visit the National Gallery. take a taxi to Borrowdale village and have a meal there and perhaps some shopping. Walk around “Old Harare” where you can see a mini replica of Big Ben with the British colonial style architecture of the Parliamentary buildings. Do not take pictures of government buildings, government people. You can ask for permission to do so and they may not care especially for tourists. But don’t do it.
Kariba Dam is the third largest man-made lake in the world. There will be the most beautiful sunsets you will ever see. Sunsets in Zim are so beautiful they were featured on the 50 cent Zimbabwean coin – way back when we had our own currency. The Dam was designed by a French guy and built by Italians. If you look it up, there are posts that it may collapse. I’m not sure whether we blame the French or the Italians. In the meantime, Kariba area is a national park and you may see elephants walking around. if you are staying at one of my recommended lodges (Lomagundi Lakeside Lodge) you may see hippos wandering up to your front door.
Game viewing on and off the water, canoeing, sailing, crocodile farm, Kariba Town tour that includes an Italian Church and the Dam Overlook can all be done and arranged when you get there. You can walk on the Dam wall to Zambia if you wish. Remember to bring your passports with you since you are technically walking over to Zambia at some point in the middle of the damn wall.
Be sure to stop over at the Chinhoyi Caves. I think its whats called a “Grotto” in other parts of the world. They charge a little more for foreigners and also a little extra if you want to bring a camera. However, cellphones don’t get charged. This you can do in a drive-by. an hour is long enough. There is a network of caves that you can explore in addition to the main cave. They say they don’t know how deep it is. Shona people believe it is inhabited by water spirits (mermaids). It’s sacred – don’t touch the water or put your feet in it.
There is no easy way to get from Kariba to Vic Falls. If you are driving, you need to come back towards Harare and make your way to Bulawayo. The Road is not great but is tarred/pavement though there are places where you need to go slow. When you hit the Harare Bulawayo road, this was recently redone and you will drive smoothly for a while – depending on how far they got. Victoria Falls as you know is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. It’s not the tallest falls (that would be Angel Falls) or the biggest (that would be Niagara Falls) but its the most spectacular. The locals there called it Mosi oa Tunya (The smoke that thunders). It was discovered by some Brit and then named after some Queen. High water in the Great Zambezi River is in August, so you’re all in luck.Whatever you do, don’t pet the baboons. In the first picture below you can see the rail road crossing the gorge that Cecil John Rhodes dreamt would go from Cape to Cairo. There are several tour companies that offer the same packages in Vic Falls town. Consider staying at Drifters lodge. A bed and breakfast run by Bev. Give her our regards.
There are a lot of things to do in Victoria Falls from game viewing, bungee jumping, canoeing, white water rafting (not wild water rafting, but white water rafting meaning that you will likely be paddling in churning white water film in a river known for crocodiles). Just kidding about the crocodiles. I haven’t heard of rafters getting eaten. Anyway – its a must do. Rafting on the Great Zambezi is a must do on my list. We did the adventure series which included free falling off a cliff. when they day your life flashes in front of you, that does not happen. My brain just FROZE during that 8 second free fall from 111 meters above the water. OMG. For those that will also go to Hwange national Park, that’s far enough from Vic Falls (maybe 3 hours) that you may plan for at least an overnight stay in the park. There are some game reserves around Vic Falls.
Matopos (also Matobos)
Matobos is a National park just south of Bulawayo. Its worth a stay as it has the highest concentration of black and white rhinos. I found a Travel Blog that describes the Matopos experience. This could be a nice location to get to if you are thinking of breaking your trip to Victoria Falls. I doubt you will have the same rhino experience in Hwange or parks around Victoria falls. Had have both never been here but its on our list. here you can see the famous balancing rocks all over the park as well.
Masvingo and Great Zimbabwe
Great Zim was built in the 11th – 15th Century by the ancestors of the Shona people. Zimbabwe (the name) was derived from this fort and (according to my history teacher) was dzimba dzemabwe which mean houses of stone. We stayed at the park in rondavels for $15 pp per night. The rondavels are comfortable but you have a shared shower with hot water. You also have to bring your own food or you can eat at the hotel nearby (Great Zimbabwe Hotel). This destination could be done as a “drive through” but I would recommend staying a day (arrive afternoon, leave the next day).
There is also a small Shona Village you can see and on request, you can also see some shona dancers. Besides visiting the Hilltop monument which I recommend you do at sunset, you can see the great enclosure, the museum and a small Shona Village. In the vicinity off Masvingo is an Italian Chapel. This is interestingly described in the blog. I am interested to go myself. I didn’t know it existed.
On the eastern side of Zimbabwe the tail end of the rift valley separates Zimbabwe from Mozambique. (FYI John Kerry’s wife, the Heinz Ketchup queen is from ‘Mbique). We may end up there after the wedding although I’m not sure what to do there besides hiking, rafting, and seeing deep Zimbabwe locals. Stay posted. There’s not much on the internet either. I’ve been there before when I was at school and all I remember was that it was really beautiful.
There are many tour guides advertising in Zimbabwe. Most are really expensive – prohibitively so. But with some google-aide, you could find a suitable tour in Zim.