Zimbabwe was my first true off the beaten path feel along my route. Like I said in my previous post on South Africa, Cape Town was fairly touristic (and like a mini Europe).
It started similar to South Africa: very touristy. I spent 4 days in Victoria Falls.
Keep in mind that when I say a place is “touristy” that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I truly believe that most “touristy” places are touristy for a reason. There are plenty of times when I complain about large crowds or seeing more foreigners than locals, but that all comes with traveling to the world’s highlights. Just because I felt that Victoria Falls was “touristy” that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, there were just a lot of tourists.
Aside from the tourists, Victoria Falls is truly one of the most amazing sights I’ve seen in my life. For the time of year I was there, when water levels were higher, it’s impossible to see the entire waterfall from one single location (on the ground). The sheer size of it reminds you how small you truly are on this planet. Seeing the falls will be something I remember forever.
If you choose to visit the falls, be sure to visit both sides! While I was staying on the Zimbabwe side of the falls, the two sides (Zambia and Zimbabwe) are actually fairly different. On the Zimbabwe side, you can see an impressive 70% of the waterfall along the path in the national park. You get the best views of the falls from the Zimbabwe side.
However, on the Zambia side, you get the coolest hiking trails, but more limited views. There is a path that leads to the falls and to the Knife Bridge. The bridge connects the mainland to an island with a cool point called “danger point.” The bridge runs right through the mist of the falls, so prepared to get drenched – like you just jumped into the ocean with all your clothes on. If you’re not too keen on getting soaking wet, you can rent a poncho but I think going sans-protection is all part of the fun!
There is another hike on the Zambian side that goes down to the bottom of the gorge, to the boiling pot. The boiling pot is where the Zambezi river runs left from Victoria Falls and then makes a sharp right to continue down the river. There are two other small waterfalls at this point that propel the water in the opposite direction that the river is running, so it creates a cool effect that looks like this small, circular part of the river is stirring. There are loads of baboons along the way down so just be cautious to not carry any food. The path is quick and only takes about 15-20 minutes each way (of course with time to pause to carefully take photos of the baboons!).
For the rest of my time in Victoria Falls, I took part in some of the activities and day trips that the city has to offer. The city is known as one of the adrenaline capitals of the world, and it doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of thrill seeking options such as bungee jumping off the famous Victoria Falls bridge, zip lining, gorge swings, and what I chose: the Angel’s Pool (the sister pool of the more famous Devil’s Pool, which was closed for the season). Angel’s Pool is a natural swimming pool where you can swim right on the edge of the waterfall. Your stomach turns pretty frequently as you get into the rushing water. If you’re afraid of heights, not recommended!
My last activity was a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River – and I went with some friends I made from Belgium! This activity is definitely the best bang for your buck. At $40, you get about 3-4 hours of a cruise and an open bar while you get to view the wildlife on the Zambezi! The bartenders were so nice that they saw I kept ordering white wine that they gave me the bottle (which I shared with my Belgian friends) and then gave me another one when we finished (which I did not share).
Now for the more authentic feel of Zimbabwe: I spent 4 days in Harare, Zimbabwe, the capital, a city often skipped by tourists. It was cool to get a bit off the beaten path, and I had wonderful local airbnb hosts who showed me all of their favorite places in and around Harare.
My first activity in Harare was visiting Balancing Rocks. A very short drive from my airbnb, the balancing rocks is a small park where there are natural rock formations where massive boulders balance on top of one another. A quick visit, and if you bring a local with you, you’re likely to get the local prices!
I also visited the Domboshava Hill and Caves. This park is much larger, and a bit more out of the city than Balancing Rocks. The park is really cool because you get to see ancient rock paintings in the cave, and there is a beautiful hill that looks over a lot of Harare. There is another impressive balancing rock on this hill as well.
For my last full day, I went to Marondera, Zimbabwe, to see ruins from the Zimbabwe Empire. These ruins are a network that link to Great Zimbabwe, some of the most impressive ancient ruins in Southern Africa (although too far for me to visit for this trip to Harare). Marondera is about a 1-2 hour drive away from Harare and the ruins are situated on top of a beautiful hill. The ruins were thought to be a religious site of the old empire.
While in Harare, be sure to visit Kwamurongo for the best lunch and authentic Zimbabwean food ever! You eat with your hands and I would go there everyday if I had the ability to.
I really enjoyed my time in Harare, it had a much different feel than the previous three destinations in Africa. The sights are pretty spread out so it’s challenging to do them all without a car, luckily my hosts drove me around. The city is incredibly underrated as a tourist destination. However, 3 days was fast, if you want to see all that Harare and the surrounding areas has to offer, you probably need at least 7 or 8 days minimum.
One final thing: budget! Plan to be either very bored or very poor in Victoria Falls, everything is expensive. Western prices pretty much all around for all the activities I mentioned. I planned on going pretty overboard for the budget when it came to Victoria Falls, but if you coordinate your budget, you’ll have an amazing time doing the things Victoria Falls has to offer. For Harare, you can easily stick to a budget, as it’s less touristic and therefore less expensive! Also bring PLENTY of cash (Zim uses the US dollar) with you, as it is almost impossible to get cash out of ATMs in Zim, as the country is going through a cash crisis (hint: I got cash during my day in Zambia).