Harare looks beautiful in October with the jacaranda trees in bloom. Purple blossom against deep blue skies, floating down onto the dusty red earth.
It’s the end of the dry season. The rains will come in November but for now it’s hot and arid, the way I remember Zimbabwe since my year living here in 1992 was a year of drought.
It’s 21 years since l left Zimbabwe and everything has changed yet stayed the same. During that time Zimbabwe has gone from being known as the bread basket of Africa to being an economic basket-case. At the height of its troubles inflation spiraled out of control, a loaf of bread literally cost trillions of Zimbabwe dollars and food was scarce.
Now the Zimbabwean dollar has been discontinued and the US dollar is used everywhere. The Zimbabwe government has stabilized and, with a new coalition government in place, hopes are high for a brighter future. Adventure loving tourists and travelers who stayed away are for years are coming to visit again because Zimbabwe is one of the best places in Africa for wildlife, culture and natural beauty.
But with the worst of its problems of the past Zimbabwe still has a bad reputation that it doesn’t deserve. Even though I know and love Zimbabwe I was worried about coming here because of the bad press I read on the Internet before leaving.
Maybe you’ve heard bad things about Zimbabwe too so let’s bust a few myths about travel to Zimbabwe because I just got back from 10 days there and I felt safe and very welcome during my entire visit.
Big press agencies thrive on selling sensationalized stories but this is just a simple on the ground report from a solo woman traveler who visited Zimbabwe in October 2013. Don’t just take my word for it though. I fully recommend that you visit Zimbabwe and decide for yourself.
Just be warned – you might end up falling in love with Zimbabwe like I did.
Zimbabwe Travel Myth #1 – It’s not safe to walk around alone
A nurse walking to work across the field behind Rainbow Towers Hotel
I got up early every morning and out of my hotel room at 6am or 7am to walk the city streets. There’s a lot of rubbish around Harare and the pavements are in a state of disrepair but as long as you keep your eyes to the ground to avoid falling in a pothole it’s perfectly safe.
Zimbabweans are respectful people. Most don’t blink an eye at the sight of a lone European woman wandering the streets of Harare. A few call out “Hello Madam!” but no one bothered me and when I got lost and asked for directions everyone was super helpful.
Myth Busted. Definitely.
Zimbabwe Travel Myth #2 – Zimbabweans hate white people
One of many friendly, women I chatted with in Harare
Whoever started this myth has obviously never traveled around Zimbabwe. As mentioned above, despite my pallid complexion, I only met friendly, welcoming people who seem genuinely happy to see me during this visit to Zimbabwe.
I did get called “white legs” by a policeman but he was harmless enough, just wanting to talk and looking for a small bribe. I spoken to hundreds of people on the street in Harare and he was only person that asked me for money. Most were happy to chat and let me take their photo.
There are pockets of racism in every country. Australia is often called a racist country but it’s not a reputation which Zimbabwe deserves.
Myth Busted. For sure.
Zimbabwe Travel Myth #3 – ATM machines don’t work
Sorry, no photos of the ATM machines because that would be quite boring but here’s a beautiful jacaranda to brighten your day
They do and there are plenty of ATM machines in Harare city center, many with security guards outside to make sure your transactions are safe. If you wonder why that’s quite common in developing countries or anywhere where labor is more affordable and reliable than expensive security cameras.
Myth Busted. Truly.
Zimbabwe Travel Myth #4 – It’s not safe to travel at night
Fallen jacaranda flowers
I traveled by taxi or private car late at night twice. Rumors abound on the Internet about car-jackings but locals tell me they are very rare. I made sure all the car doors were locked just in case.
The general consensus is that Zimbabwe is a far far safer country than Kenya or South Africa. Even Kenyans and South Africans who I met in Zimbabwe agree on that.
Myth Busted. Absolutely.
Zimbabwe Travel Myth #5 – Avoid high density areas
The only thing that assaulted me on my city photo walks in Harare were the colors
I visited two high density areas, Kambuzuma where my former pupil Sunwell (read about Sunwell here) lives and Mbare which is the oldest township in Harare and home to the biggest market and bus station in Zimbabwe.
It’s confronting visiting these areas because of the poverty and being the only European means you get a lot of attention which can be intimidating if you’re not used to it but it is safe. As in busy places anywhere from London to Lusaka petty thieves are around so if you visit high density areas hide your valuables and money under your clothes where they can’t be seen.
I recommend you go with a local too and I found a great Mbare Tour company which I’ll write about another time.
Myth Busted. Really.
So what’s the true story about travel to Zimbabwe?
The people were friendly everywhere I went and I’ve got some amazing photos. I can’t wait to show you.
As well as spending time in Harare I took a charter flight to Mana Pools National Park for a walk on the wild-side in one of Africa’s last true wilderness areas. That was a different type of safari but equally memorable.
So that’s my true story about travel in Zimbabwe in 2013. Zimbabwe has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons since I last visited but it’s still one of my favorite destinations: the magical light, bright colors, rich heritage, diverse creativity and friendly people are still there.
Zimbabwe has always been one of my favorite travel destinations and it still is. The biggest problem Zimbabwe has is an image problem but don’t trust everything you read in the press or see on TV. Visit Zimbabwe for yourself to see what a safe, welcoming and beautiful place it is.
Have you got any travel safety tips?
I was a guest of Zimbabwe Tourism Authority during my stay in Zimbabwe. I can’t wait to share more stories and photos from Zimbabwe with you soon.
This is exercise #42 of the 52 Exercises Quest. The next episode will be a game walk in Mana Pools National Park.
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