How surprised we were when we entered this country. As lush green mountains, dreamy red soil and endless savannahs fill our view, we immediately feel comfortable, relaxed and safe and that feeling never changed.
But… ugh it’s complicated…. Unfortunately there is so much more to this country than nice locals and attractive sceneries. This country, formerly known as Rhodesia, is going through rough times. They have been in a huge recession and the government appears to do nothing about it. Ever since the independence in 1980 this country is going down in every chart.
In 2008 the currency rate of the Zimbabwean Dollar was so low, hyper-inflation took place and the local currency was replaced by the US Dollar.
At this point the credibility of Zimbabwe is down to zero and because the country itself produces nearly nothing, every imported product must be paid in advance. Cash is almost impossible to get and already a 140 billion Dollars in banknotes have disappeared the last three years, into someones pockets so the locals say. Because of this the government has created a Zimbabwean Dollar Bond note, a currency only recognized in Zimbabwe. It’s worth ‘as much’ as a US Dollar but it’s useless outside the country.
Inhabitants are tied up firmly, they can’t receive from or transfer money to a foreign bank account and the ATM only gives you a maximum of a hundred Dollars a week, if you’re lucky…
For tourists it’s even more difficult to get cash, most of the ATM’s don’t work with foreign bankcards to protect the little amount of cash the do have left.
Everything has gotten more expensive in the last years in Zimbabwe while the salaries are still at the same level, so life is hard. Every governmental fee must be paid in cash, unrightfully given fees of policemen are no exception. The police has been given a target of tickets they must write each day, so if you are stopped they will find a reason to give you a fine for. This does not mean these policemen are corrupt, they are just doing what they’re told.
The government will go through elections in 2018 so hopefully there will be a new ministry. Unfortunately a lot of locals have lost all hope and expect things will only get worse in the next 3-5 years.
As long as Dollars are disappearing the credibility of this country will continue falling into this deep dark hopeless pit.
A normal life for everyone will start with a new government that cares about their citizens and their future. A government that is not afraid to accept advice from other countries. A president that knows what he’s doing and kicks out all that’s rotten.
I am aware that this does not sound appealing, but for tourists it ís an amazing country with breathtaking views, the people are the best and it’s surprisingly safe, so all it needs now is a little love from above…
Mutare and Vumba
As soon as we cross the Mozambican border we have to apply for a visa at the Zimbabwean border. We pay 30 US dollars per person cash and in about fifteen minutes we’ve been accepted, stamped and ready to go in… Zimbabwe here we come!
We’ve made reservations at Kwayedza lodge in Vumba, but first we need cash and a simcard so we take a taxi for two dollars p.p. to Mutare.
The bank we find has enormous waitinglines at the ATM, so we decide to look around for another one. Our bankcard doesn’t seem to work in any of them, but when William the owner of the Kwayedza lodge, picks us up he brings us to the EcoPay ATM, and it works. We can only get $ 100,- but at least it’s something…
As we arrive at the lodge we see this amazing cottage against the side of the mountain overlooking the mountains. It has a nice pool and a big deck overlooking the valley.
William tells us about the area. Hiking trails are not finished yet because of the landmines from the war. They whole area needs to be cleared first before they can create a safe route. But we can follow the road through the region, he says, enough to see.
On the patio of our cottage there is this huge dung beetle who keeps coming back and as it gets colder we decide to jump into our huge romantic poster bed. While the wilddogs haul in the distance we fall into a deep sleep.
In the morning we are again surprised by the scenic view from the patio.
With a fantastic fresh breakfast in our belly we do a short hike over the road along the border with Mozambique. A beautiful surrounding with all kinds of butterflies and birds in the middle of nowhere. This is where you find your peace, incredible.
After a two night stay we leave this amazing area with a more than relaxed feeling. What a great start this is…
Mutare to Harare
Now this was a tricky one. We wanted to go with a big bus instead of a mini bus, at first we couldn’t find any. Some companies stopped their service on this route but then we found one!
Smart Express took us to Harare in 4,5 hours. It’s a big bus with comfortable seats. It stopped at different places but we got on this bus at 8:00 in the morning at a stop on the A3 at the height of the Municipal Swimming Pool. We paid $ 7.00 per person, which is relatively cheap.
After our visit to Mutare and the Vumba mountains we were ready for a real city. But Harare was somewhat disappointing… this city doesn’t have an exciting center, great bars or restaurants. There is not a lot to do, so there it is, Harare is boring.
Still we were there for two nights, so how did we spend our time? We just walked around town, to the park, drank some beer in the only cafe we could find, talked to locals and took all day to try to find an ATM that worked.
One whole day was more than enough, everything in town is expensive and while we are running out of cash, we’re running out of options.
We stayed at the N1 hotel in the center of Harare. A good but slightly boring hotel, with great free wifi. We paid $ 49.00 per night for a room with private bathroom, which is a cheap option for Harare.
The weekend we were here there was an annual international art festival called HIVA, it looked good and sounded great. The price was only $ 6.00 per person but we could not manage to make the payment with our creditcard, so we had to skip that event. Finally we found something to do…
We discovered the News Cafe with free wifi and great coffee and nearby ChopChop, a big restaurant and bar with a terrace and great food. Those were actually the only places worth while… we thought…
Because of the history of this country the local kitchen is not much more than Satza which is made from maize (white corn flour) and there was a lot of meat. In restaurants you’ll find mostly pizzas and burgers. The supermarkets do have a lot of nice vegetables, they just don’t know what to do with it…
The rural Zimbabwe
Through our friend Tim who has traveled through different countries in Africa last year, we meet Johan and Christine, a native Zimbabwean family and their two boys. They invite us to stay with them on their farm near Shamva in the rural area north of Harare.
Johan runs a farm with 11.000 pigs and as soon as we arrive we can smell them… luckily the wind is blowing in the other direction so it’s doesn’t smother us too much.
The family is very hospitable and take us in like family. They like having guests so they’ve planned all kinds of interesting activities nearby.
The day we arrive they take us to a charming resort where we can swim and do a small game drive. Of course we forgot to take our camera so all of the amazing animals we spot can only be saved in our head. The resort is amazing, it’s got a lot of ambiance, this place is still unknown to foreign visitors and even locals are sometimes surprised that they’ve never heard of this location before.
In the five days we stay with the family we get a really good idea of what living in Zimbabwe actually means. They show us around the area and the farm itself. We see the enormous sows and a lot of small piglets, some of them just a day old. So cute.
Johan tells us about the farm and his work. Although it’s difficult to see these pigs as hams, we do see that Johan breeds and feeds his pigs with love. We’ve never seen a piggery but we expected it to be much worse.
We pay a visit to a nearby primary and secondary school and the local medical clinic. The school will start tomorrow after the holidays so there are no children, but the head of the school gives us a tour anyway, in his torn trousers.
We also talk to one of the teachers who lives on the premises. She invites us into her home where she lives with her two daughters. Her daughters go to another school, because this one is not that good enough. Haha!
In the village and surrounding area there is one clinic, the building is old, it’s missing some windows and there is old materials inside. We meet the nurse who works and lives there and a mental coach. There is a lady who gave birth last week and she’s here for a check up. People here don’t work with computers or schedules, everything is written down and when you come in, just wait in line. There is a bench with people waiting to get help. Old people, mothers with children and some men. A volunteer helps the clinic with some of the documenting. She takes blood pressure and writes down what the complaints are, before the patient sees the nurse.
We arrive at Victoria Falls airport 20 kilometers from town. There is a couple who had already arranged a transfer so we can join in. Their accommodation is right next to ours so it is no extra trouble for the driver and no extra costs for us. Yay! The transfer usually is about $20,- so we start our stay in the expensive Vic Falls well!
Our hostel, Victoria Falls Backpackers is great, it’s got some cottages surrounding a pool and a garden with small paths. At night they light a fire for that real ambient vibe.
The town of Victoria Falls is quite touristy and the prices are too. There are a few great restaurants like the Three Monkeys and Mama Africa, also Clearwater cafe is good to visit. It’s got live music and great wifi!
In town warthogs, baboons and sometimes elephants just walk through the streets which is really weird… they advise you to take a taxi at night for this reason.
There is a lot to do here, all kinds of crazy activities like bungee jumping, wild water rafting and microlight flights. You can easily go bankrupt here, because for about $ 150,- per person you can get a 15 minute adrenaline rush in every form.
There is also the beautiful Hwange park close by, an huge National Park, the pride of Zimbabwe. Because it’s been such a wet season the bush there is very thick now, so we were warned we wouldn’t see any animals. That is why we’ve skipped this park, unfortunately.
Of course we did visit the Falls and they were truly breathtaking. The park entry fee was $ 30,- per person, we couldn’t understand why it had to be so expensive, but in the end it was worth it. They are magnificent!
At the entrance we paid with creditcard, so we didn’t have to spend the little cash we had left.
Right behind the OK supermarket there was an ATM that finally worked, after 1,5 weeks we actually got cash from an ATM… and they were US Dollars too, so we don’t have to worry about changing them into another currency when we leave the country. The Bond notes aren’t worth anything outside of Zimbabwe for they are not recognized by foreign countries.
We immediately noticed that Zimbabwean people are easy to talk to, of course the fact that this used to be an English colony helps. The second language is Shona, which seems to be a mixture of English, South African and an African language. You can recognise some words, but most of it is abracadabra.
Walking through a town, lots of people will ask how you are and hope to hear how lovely their country is. We felt very welcome as they are happy with every tourist they see.
There are big differences between people from the city and the rural areas, where people are so much more conservative. There is discrimination and life in general is hard. Without cash, you can pay with your mobile phone, but the locals in the countryside have now idea about this new technology. There isn’t even electricity in most houses, or huts…
The white population has decreased to only 1% of about 12.500.000 inhabitants. Ever since white farmers where denied access of their own land and bullied out of the country these (sometimes six generations) inhabitants started loosing faith in the government and left to neighboring countries.
The white people that did stay can only watch their abandoned farms slowly turn into ruins while they have to build up a new life without ever being able to own land.
We were in Zimbabwe from may 3th until may 14th, it’s autumn and low season. There were barely any tourists except for Victoria Falls, where it’s high season all year long. Luckily even there the amount of tourists was acceptable. The Falls were amazing, loads of water flushing through the gorge… never seen anything like it!
In other periods like November there a lot less water in the Zambezi so the falls won’t be as impressive, on the other hand, there should be less fog and rain around the falls so that could be a plus.
The temperatures during the day were between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. We haven’t had any rain, it was fantastic weather actually. At night it could get quite chilly, 7-10 degrees. In the past few weeks it has been raining a lot, we’ve heard, so everything was green and fertile. We’ve noticed there were a lot of flies everywhere but not a lot of other insects.
The train is less comfortable but cheap, the tracks are quite bad so get ready for a milkshake ride.
Mini buses, you know them, 20+ people and a lot of baggage in a small van. The coaches are a better way to travel, they’re quicker, but also a little more expensive. Where you pay about $ 5.00 for a mini bus, triple that for a luxurious bustrip. You will have a whole seat to yourself with this last option.
When we entered Zimbabwe at the Mutare border we took a taxi to town, short trip, about ten minutes for $ 2.00 per person. Don’t pay anything more no matter what they say. Just tell them you’ve done this trip before 😉
You can also pay here with US dollars, they have the same rate.
In total we’ve spend:
- Transportation and gasoline: € 215.55
- Accommodations: € 296.55
- Eating and drinking: € 278.90
- Entrance fee: € 56.00 (Vic Falls park entrance)
- Other: € 66.65 (Visa and internet)
That brings us to a daily budget of: € 83.05 for two persons including everything except international flights.
We’ve stayed at the farm as a guest for five nights, we’ve contributed in the groceries and the stay was free. We found Zimbabwe incredibly expensive and if it wasn’t for the guest stay, we would probably have exceeded our original budget with about € 10.00 a day.
In these 11 days we have stayed in a lodge in the mountains a city center hotels and a hostel, we’ve had a private room with private facilities everywhere.
We have eaten very simple restaurant meals and cooked ourselves in our hostel. Except for the entrance of Victoria Falls we didn’t pay for any activities.
In Zimbabwe everything is expensive, it is ridiculous. The country is in a huge financial crisis. There is almost no cash money, ATMs are empty and some only give you $ 50.00 if you’re lucky. We’ve only found three banks in which our bankcard or creditcard worked, EcoPay, FBC and NMB. Fortunately we could use our bankcard in almost any store or restaurant so we didn’t need a lot of cash. But in the (mini) bus or taxi you can’t do without.
Some examples of products and prices in euro:
- 4 small sandwiches in supermarket: € 1.50
- Pizza in lunchroom: € 12.00
- Coffee in a lunchroom: € 3.00
- Bottle of wine in a restaurant: € 14.00
- Beer in a cafe: € 2.00
- Bottle of beer (340 ml) supermarket: € 1.00
- Meat in restaurant (300 gr steak): € 12.00
- Dinner in restaurant: € 12.00 – € 18.00
- Liter gasoline: € 1.25
- Simcard with 70 Mb data: € 10.00