1. The People
Every tourism nation claims its people are the friendliest on earth, but… Zimbabweans rank right up there at the top of the list. We have the highest literacy rate in Africa (98%) something to brag about; winner of the all-time population smile rate (100%), I made that up but it can’t be far from the truth; a brilliant sense of humour and appreciation of the ridiculous; huge singing and dancing talent – I challenge you to find a tone deaf, left footed Zimbabwean; and linguistic skills second to none – most citizens are bi lingual if not trilingual. Zimbabweans love a good chat, really enjoy learning about other nations and will happily share their culture and history. They are enterprising, entrepreneurial and artistic – some of their carvings, embroideries, sculptures, paintings and wirework are breathtaking, all are superbly original.
2. The Wildlife
Zimbabwe is home to the world renowned Presidential Elephants and the late, much lamented Cecil the Lion and his multiplicity of offspring. But there is so much more to see than a flourishing approachable herd and a dead imperialist’s cubs. Here are just three of the many parks in the country:
• Hwange National Park, the size of Belgium, is home to four of the Big Five and the widest diversity of antelope species anywhere in Zimbabwe. The park is easily accessible on a good road and never fails to delight at any time of the year.
• Mana Pools National Park offers all the above (a few less antelope), but what spectacular scenery- the mighty Zambezi river flows against a backdrop of photogenic blue mountains and offers pods of chortling hippos and cruising crocodiles as an added bonus.
• Gonarezhou National Park is a Lowveld gem with magnificent cliffs, rugged terrain and pristine wilderness. As part of the Transfrontier peace park it is linked to Kruger in South Africa and Limpopo in Mozambique with free movement of animals between the three.
3. The Victoria Falls
Nowhere else can claim the world’s largest waterfall. Victoria Falls is right here in Zimbabwe. It is sometimes said that size doesn’t count but the sight of the massive body of water foaming and churning into the gorge below, the sound of the chest pounding power as it drops, and a surrounding rainforest unchanged for millennia, make a visit to this colossus of a waterfall an emotional life affirming moment for most tourists. There are adrenalin highs to be had too – swinging across the gorge, bungy jumping from the bridge, whitewater rafting, canoeing the rapids, riding elephants and walking with lions. Choose from a wide range of hostelries and restaurants, from high-end, high-tea and silver service to budget backpackers. Victoria Falls is a bucket list destination.
4. The Matopos
Rhinos! Yes, there’s a good chance you’ll see them here with touring companies offering the best imaginable experience. And leopards, reputedly the largest population in the world live in the Matopos, but they are a secretive and solitary species and to see one is sheer magic. And what’s more, you’ll see them in the most improbable of sceneries. Granite domes and castle kopjes cram the landscape in stylish collections like a sculpture gallery of the gods. The hills are redolent of history both ancient and modern. First the bushmen arrived, dotting the caves and overhanging surfaces with their mystic art, then the Ndebele grazed and cropped the valleys , finally the imperialists marched in bringing a complex mixture of subjugation and enlightenment and then buried their dead in the Matopos in hewn rock and carved mausoleums. All nationalities have left their mark and the hills bear witness to their folly and heroism, their artistry and diligence, their culture and traditions.
5. A sprinkling of the rest
• Bulawayo is a city untouched by modernism. When Queen Elizabeth visited for the second time in 1991 she claimed that not a thing had changed since her last visit in 1947! This means a collection of some of the best colonial and art deco buildings anywhere. Visit the art gallery or simply stroll along vibrant Fife St where the street art outside the City Hall is captivating.
• Harare is a bustling African city full of fabulous galleries tucked away in suburban gardens, and cosmopolitan cafes and restaurants to entice any taste
• Lake Kariba – stay on an island or jump on a house boat and cruise the remote shores in search of every species of wildlife you ever wanted to see. Watch as sunsets blaze across one of Africa’s largest lakes, elephants drink on the shoreline and the lure of the tiger fish becomes inescapable.
• Great Zimbabwe offers the largest and most significant ruins in Africa south of the pyramids. Mystical walls and conical towers bear witness to a lost trading civilisation where gold was king. Khami, another ruined city shines with intricate chevroned walls and stories of gold hoards and despotic mambos.
• Chimanimani and the Eastern Highlands offer a rugged landscape of rifted quartz mountains, the highest being 2,436m just over the border in Mozambique. With picturesque waterfalls and tropical rainforest Chimanimani is one of Zimbabwe’s finest mountain wilderness areas and a very popular hiking destination.
(PHOTO CREDITS: Various online sites)