WITH established self-drive destinations in Botswana and Namibia rapidly approaching capacity and frankly overcrowded, many see Zimbabwe as the final frontier for self-drive safaris. Zimbabwe’s diverse geography and open wilderness presents a tantalising gap on the self-drive map just crying out to be explored.
Wild destinations such as Mana Pools and Chitake Springs, experiences like the Kariba Ferry voyage, as well as sights such as the Victoria Falls are uniquely Zimbabwean and unspoiled by the cookie-cutter of mass tourism. In addition, people who visit the country always come back amazed at the friendly people they met along the way.
The problem is that Zimbabwe remains under-explored, mainly because it is not an easy destination to navigate without sound knowledge of the ever-evolving
conditions on the ground. Zimbabwe seems to lurch from one financial crisis to another, yet somehow, life goes on there. Everyday, each resident wakes up and
does their best to overcome the latest problem facing them. Then the situation evolves further, and Zimbos wake up the next day and make another plan.
According to my ancestors, it has been this way for decades, so solving these evolving problems is really nothing new for a local.
If you want to travel in Zimbabwe on your own, you have to be willing to put some serious time and effort into uncovering, understanding and overcoming the
unique challenges involved. Currently, these issues chiefly involve currency, fuel and catering.
The challenge in trying to outline these problems and their solutions at any point in time is that, by, the time you read this, both will most likely be out of date. Chat rooms and Facebook pages are filled with the opinions of people who visited last Zimbabwe a year or three months ago, these are often outdated. For
this reason, it is probably best to establish contact with a competent local on the ground for the latest updates and solutions.
Here are some of the more common questions we are asked about self-drive in Zimbabwe at the moment:
Is it safe to travel to Zimbabwe?
Safety is the elephant in the room. The short answer is: Zimbabwe simply does not have the same violent crime problem that some of her more-visited neighbours do. Sure, there is petty theft, but hijackings and gun violence are very rare. Zimbabwe’s intentional homicide rate is roughly in line with the global average, at about one sixth of South Africa’s and one third of Botswana and Namibia’s, according to current United Nations figures.
What about police roadblocks?
The police were a nuisance a few years back, when they were trying to raise fine revenue at roadblocks by enforcing ridiculous regulations. Under the new dispensation, they are back to directing traffic and giving public transport drivers a hard time about their un-roadworthy vehicles and reckless driving. Truth is, the average cop’s heart was never really in it when they were ordered to extort motorists in the past, the average Zimbo is much more happy solving problems than causing them.
Are the locals friendly?
Zimbabweans are always an unexpected highlight of our client’s trips to first-timers. Zimbabwean culture is very relationship-oriented and places a lot of
emphasis on greetings and exchanging pleasantries before getting down to any business. Relax, you are on holiday, you will soon find yourself laughing along
with strangers in the most unlikely of scenarios. Despite (or maybe, because of) the economic challenges, the fabric of Zimbabwe society remains intact and
most people have respect for each other and common human decency.
What about inflation?
Zimbabwe’s economic challenges are complex and ever-evolving and will keep economists busy for decades to come. While inflation is very high in Zimbabwe, what
is often overlooked in news headlines is that these price movements are in local currency terms. Expressed in hard currency terms, inflation is much less of an
issue as prices converted to Zimdollars from United States dollars in accordance to interbank rates for tourists are much more stable.
What currency should I bring to Zimbabwe?
The Zimdollar is now the only legal tender for transactions within Zimbabwe from June 24, 2019, however, you may pre-pay many of your expenses from your home
country prior to your arrival.
If you plan ahead correctly, your Zimdollar expenses will thus be limited to food and fuel. If you pay these with a foreign Visa/Mastercard, you will
effectively only be changing your home currency into local currency, as and when required. Inflation will be less of a problem for you due to the exchange rate
and the fact that you will not be holding Zimdollars, but rather changing them as you need them.
Cash in Zimdollars is not yet freely available from ATM’s. However, it remains legal to hold US dollar cash and until this changes, you may want to bring some
US$ cash to change as and when required for smaller purchases.
What is the fuel situation in Zimbabwe currently?
You may have seen news headlines screaming some ridiculous-looking Zimbabwe fuel prices in recent times, along with pictures of long fuel queues. Just ask
yourself one question: If these fuel price reports were totally accurate, surely, few Zimbabweans could afford to buy fuel … so why the fuel queues? As usual,
things are more nuanced than initially meets the eye or there wouldn’t be such traffic jams in Harare at rush-hour.
Great Zimbabwe Guide