Tuesday, November 15, 2011

12 things to know about traveling in Zimbabwe

Travel to Zimbabwe confirms their marketing mantra, “WOW (a World of Wonders).”  From natural geological wonders, to fabulous wildlife, to the warmth of their people, you’ll be saying “WOW,” day after day. 

To get the most enjoyment from your trip, here’s a list of things an American needs to know when planning a trip to Zimbabwe.

#1 Zimbabweans have a culture of using the sun to tell time. That’s more figurative than literal, but it does mean that “Zim time” is a rather loose definition. “Meeting at 7:30am” definitely means meeting in the morning, but you might leave at 7:30 am, 8:00 am or perhaps, even 9:00 am.  Double check with your host, if the time referred to is Zim time or English time. 

#2 Dining is a leisurely process.  Don’t expect drinks to be brought first like in the USA. Drinks seem to be an afterthought in Zimbabwe.  You might want to grab a drink before sitting down if you are real thirsty. Otherwise, drinks could easily arrive 15 minutes after you are seated.

#3 Passports are needed when you check in most hotels. Have it handy and save yourself some time.

#4 Flashpackers, get ready for electrical outlet withdrawal. Unless you are staying at a 5 star hotel, be prepared for only one or two useable outlets in your room. Other than the low amperage shaver outlet in the bathroom, there are typically only one or two 220v outlets in each suite or cabin.

#5 Take a couple outlet adapters with the two round prongs for use in Africa. Most of today’s computers and cellphone adapters’ work with both 110v and 220v, but you’ll need that adapter to fit the outlets. Don’t spend the big bucks on a current convertor unless you really need it. Convertors aren’t meant to run for more than an hour or so at a time or you will burn it up. Also, do not plug a standard power strip in after the adapter. All sorts of flashy, sparky things happen - NOT GOOD.

#6 The Internet is a prized commodity in Zimbabwe. Most urban hotels have wired or wireless connections…sometimes. Don’t expect more than a 56MB connection. A 10MB connection is probably what you’ll get. Outside the major urban centers, you’ll probably lose access to it completely.  3G is available more widely if you were smart enough to pick up a local sim card and prepaid plan. $100US can get you the sim card and 100MB of data. (My AT&T data plan from the U.S. conversely will bill you $19.95 per single MB for data!  Ouch.)

#7 Driving in Zimbabwe might not be what you expect. Most of the main roads are wonderfully paved and the tendency to exceed the speed limit is inviting. Don’t. Despite the remoteness of the countryside, there are frequent roadside checks that stop all motorists to check documents and inquire about your travels. Most are a quick, friendly “hello” and you are on your way; but, a few are equipped with hand-held radar guns and you’ll get your first Zimbabwean citation if you have too much of lead foot. Slow down, watch the speed limit and enjoy the scenery. Also, rent from the majors like Hertz or Avis so you’ll have back-up service should you need it.

#8 Travel in Africa gets you closer to the animals than you would have ever expected. Walking through major urban vacation areas (like Victoria Falls) doesn’t mean you won’t come upon wildlife. While we were there, a warthog wandered through town like he was out running an errand. People left him alone and he wandered off without any problems. Elephants have also been known to come to town to see what’s happening. Don’t be shocked, nobody else is.

#9 On safari, you’ll get even closer to wildlife than you ever imagined as well. On a typical safari drive at Ivory Lodge, our guide drove our vehicle to within 30 or 40 feet of most animals we saw. In most protected animal preserves and national parks, the animals seem to tolerate the snap-happy tourists and just go about their business. At Antelope Park in Gweru, you can even get closer, actually walking with a pair of almost full-size lions. (Read the whole story about walking with the lions here.)

#10   Don’t even think about illegal hunting or poaching. The government is so strict about the protection of their elephant and rhino populations that they have a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy with illegal hunters and trappers.  

#11  Don’t worry about changing money when you get to the airport in Zimbabwe. They use the American dollar as official currency in the country, but getting change is a bit more problematic.  They don’t officially use our coins to make change. Instead, lots of retailers offer a receipt for change, (like a due-bill) that can be used on your next visit toward the price of your order. If you won’t be returning to that store again, you might as well add some gum or something to make it as close to an even dollar amount as possible.

#12  There are many languages, dialects and tongues spoken in Zimbabwe. Luckily for Americans, a great number of people speak or understand English. Signs often have the English names as well as the local name. If you can’t way find by yourself, don’t hesitate to stop and ask someone for directions. The locals are usually only too happy to help with directions or suggestions. 

With this short list of travel-tested suggestions, hopefully you’ll be ready to explore and enjoy all the WOW that is Zimbabwe.

For more information, check out http://www.zimbabwetourism.co.zw

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