Tourist attractions in Zimbabwe are abundant – from amazing game parks to visit, magnificent ancient ruins to explore and breathtaking scenery to marvel at.
The southern African country also boasts a rich history stretching back centuries into the ancient past. Add to this its array of phenomenal natural wonders and incredible wildlife diversity, and you have one of the top places to explore in the world.
Tourist attractions in Zimbabwe
My first encounter with Zimbabwe began at Mosi-Oa-Tunya, the world’s largest waterfall, commonly known as “Victoria Falls.” Mosi-Oa-Tunya means “the smoke that thunders” and is the original name of the falls given by the Kololo people of north-western Zimbabwe.
Victoria Falls National Park
The Victoria Falls National Park houses the majestic waterfall along with protected lands rich in biodiversity. A wondrous spectacle to behold, the falls consist of cascading currents that drop hundreds of feet to the bottom of the Zambezi River. To witness the rushing curtain of water plummet into the river is nothing short of mystifying. There’s also a good chance of spotting elephants, hippos, giraffes and other wildlife here.
Because most of the falls are situated in Zambia, Zimbabwe offers better views. For a different perspective, visitors can fly over the falls in a helicopter tour known as the “Flight of the Angels.” The tour affords you an aerial glance of the waters gushing into the gigantic chasm below.
The best time to view the falls is during the rainy season which lasts from December to March. This is when the waterfalls have the highest water volume and the loud thundering roar that accompanies it. For a peek at the spectacular rocky ledge beneath the falls, venture out during the dry season.
Zambezi National Park
Located a few kilometers from Victoria Falls town, the Zambezi National Park has riverine sections that are particularly picturesque with abundant wildlife. Visitors can indulge in the beauty of the mighty Zambezi, one of the most scenic and powerful of Africa’s rivers, by going on a sunset cruise.
The river also offers adventure seekers some of the most exhilarating kayaking, river-boating and white-water rafting on earth.
Situated just below the falls is the Batoka Gorge which winds its way through miles of rocky cliffs and sparse mopani forests. Go hiking along the gorge and spot a variety of indigenous bird species, see baboons wandering along the paths and admire rare plants that make Batoka so scenic.
Still in Victoria Falls town, the Crocodile Ranch and Wildlife Sanctuary lets visitors get up-close with the massive crocodiles of the Zambezi in the safety of a guided tour. During the hatching season, you may get to hold baby crocodiles just days after emerging from their eggs.
Over 15% of the land area in Zimbabwe is protected in the form of national parks and reserves. Intrepid explorers, animal and bird lovers are guaranteed a great time viewing the biodiversity found in Zimbabwe’s national parks which are also ideal destinations for photographic safaris.
Hwange National Park
Situated between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest national park. Hwange National Park has the highest concentration of game than any other park in the country. It is also one of the most diverse of its kind in the world, with an astonishing array of wildlife species. Over 100 mammal and 400 bird species reside within the park’s unique ecosystem of forests and pristine bushveld that border the Kalahari Desert.
Zimbabwe is the world’s premier destination for viewing massive herds of elephants and black rhinos. And Hwange is regarded as one of Africa’s great elephant sanctuaries, with about 40,000 elephants calling the park home. Visitors are treated to sights of one of the largest elephant herds on earth, along with packs of wild dogs, lions, leopards and buffalos. Sadly, Hwange has experienced poaching in recent years, even as park authorities do what they can to prevent the menace.
Lake Kariba Recreational Park
(Image by Joachim Huber)
Home to diverse freshwater fish, crocodiles and hippos, Lake Kariba is the world’s largest artificial lake. Large numbers of tiger fish attract unique birds, which in turn attract the birdwatchers.
Canoeing and boat safaris are popular alternatives to the traditional game drives in Zimbabwe and are ideal for a tour of Kariba. Hire a boat to take in stellar sunsets from the lake’s edge or go on a multi-day canoeing safari cruise along the Zambezi River. Plan your safari between April and November to enjoy sailing past the Mana Pools flood plains which are notably picturesque at this time.
Mana Pools National Park
One of the most beautiful game parks in Zimbabwe, Mana Pools National Park occupies forest land along the banks of the Zambezi. Four of Africa’s “Big Five” are represented with lions, elephants, leopards and buffalo being spotted here, while birdlife along the river is prolific.
Zimbabwe has five main cities. These include Harare, its capital, and Bulawayo, the original capital and second largest city in the country.
(Image by Mike)
From Victoria Falls, I took the night train to Bulawayo. A city of contrasts, Bulawayo is a multicultural metropolis with a small-town atmosphere. The city is an ideal place to experience the rich history and culture of Zimbabwe.
Here visitors can enjoy a stroll along wide tree-lined boulevards dotted with springtime flowers, while taking in the prime attractions. The National Art Gallery features local crafts and the country’s most extensive collection of ethnographic artwork. The Railway Museum is also worth a peek for its old locomotives.
Bulawayo often serves as a jump off point for history buffs off to see the Khami Ruins National Monument situated nearby. The ruins of Khami comprise the stone wall enclosures of an ancient civilization. The structures are made of complex and intricate stone-work whose study has much furthered the knowledge of Stone-Age civilizations.
To the south of Bulawayo is Matobo National Park notable for housing the spectacular Matopos Hill formations of giant granite boulders, and a wealth of ancient rock paintings. The rock art sites are the largest collection of their kind in southern Africa and are attributed to ancient cave dwellers who lived here approximately 2,000 years back. The artwork depicts the civilization and aspects of life during that era may be gleaned from it. Other attractions to visit in Bulawayo include the Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage and Nesbit Castle.
From Bulawayo, I took a minibus to Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. One of Africa’s most beautiful cities, Harare is characterized by wide avenues lined with Jacaranda trees, colorful parks and spacious gardens. A cosmopolitan and culturally vibrant place, the city also boasts a host of alluring tourist gems including an array of museums, art galleries and craft markets.
A visit to the National Art Gallery will reveal one of the finest displays of African art on the continent. Doon Estate is a great place to mingle with local authors and artisans, sample homemade confectionary with delicious coffee or tasty salads with refreshing lemonade. Chapungu Sculpture Park is also worth a peek, as is the Thetford Game Reserve.
Zimbabwe has several ancient sites and historical ruins that serve as significant reminders of the civilizations that have contributed to the shaping of the nation over the centuries, making it the colorful and enthralling place it is today.
A vacation in Zimbabwe would be incomplete without a tour of Great Zimbabwe. Africa’s largest complex of ruins south of the Egyptian Pyramids, Great Zimbabwe offers an impressive set of stone complexes.
Situated close to Masvingo Town, the expansive remains are what’s left of a once powerful city-state that flourished by trading in gold. Formed in the millennia before the Industrial Revolution, the dry-stone architectural site is believed to have been constructed between the 11th and 15th centuries.
The magnificent ruins are made entirely out of hewn stone held together without any mortar or other visible mechanism. Rock is assembled upon rock in a fascinating manner that has for centuries kept the entire structure upright seemingly through nothing but balance and the sheer force of gravity.
For decades, Zimbabweans were denied the truth about Great Zimbabwe, as the ancient city was proof that African culture, far from being inferior to that of the colonizer, was in fact comparable. Anxious to reinforce their imperial stranglehold on the country, the British colonialists concealed the facts about Great Zimbabwe. But today, Zimbabweans are at long last rediscovering their lost heritage.
Danangombe is a complex of ruins believed to date from the 17th or 18th century. The remains of an ancient civilization, the ruins showcase village life that existed immediately after the Khami civilization. The architecture involves the use of traditional stone walling combined with the more modern feature of mud-reinforced huts.
The Eastern Highlands
From Harare I hitch-hiked to Mutare, in the eastern region of the country. Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands offer an immaculate environment of stunning mountains and lush countryside that has long attracted travelers out to camp, rock climb, explore caves or swim in natural pools.
Nyanga National Park
(Image by Damien Farrel)
Nyanga National Park is an area of evergreen forest, grassland, waterfalls and cliffs with plenty of birdlife. Mount Nyangani – the highest mountain in Zimbabwe, is situated inside this park and offers incredible vistas across the country’s northern region.
Chimanimani National Park
Chimanimani National Park houses the Chimanimani Mountains, a staggeringly scenic mountain range that marks the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. One of the best places in the world for hiking, the foothills of the range are draped by the tropical Chirinda Rainforest.
The forest is home to a treasure of rare and fascinating plant species that cannot be found anywhere else on earth, including numerous tree species, wild orchids and cycads.
Other area attractions include the Bridal Veil Falls and the Mutarazi Falls, as well as Big Tree, the tallest indigenous tree in Zimbabwe which is estimated to be over 1,000 years old.
Although famous for their picturesque peaks and massive volcanic rock formations, the dramatic landscapes and ragged mountain ranges of the Eastern Highlands were once used as a corridor for transporting guerilla fighters into and out of the country during the Zimbabwe liberation struggle.
And like the freedom fighters, the Eastern Highlands would serve as my exit point from the country. I crossed the border into Mozambique with my iPod full of the liberation songs of Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo, and enough memories of Zimbabwe to last me a lifetime.
Various tour companies offer packages for vacation or safari to Zimbabwe, and can take you on a great adventure, showing you all the wildlife and historic sites Zimbabwe has to offer, as well as the majestic Mosi-Oa-Tunya. Below are some tour operators recommended by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority:
- Showman Tours & Leisure Services: showmantours.co.zw
- United Tourism Company: utc.co.zw
- Frontiers Adventures: firstname.lastname@example.org