For most visitors, the good news is that the visa process is fairly simple and doesn’t require much planning. There are three categories of nationalities which have different visa requirements. You can check what category you fall into by checking the official Zimbabwe visa website, www.evisa.gov.zw but here is a quick rundown:
- Category A: Citizens of SADC countries as well as Hong Kong and Singapore do not need a visa or pay a fee to enter Zimbabwe on holiday. When you show your passport upon arrival, you will be allowed to enter Zimbabwe.
- Category B: Citizens of the countries in this category need a visa upon arrival in Zimbabwe. This doesn’t require much planning: It is done when you land or cross the border into Zimbabwe. You will be given a form to complete upon arrival and you will need to pay the visa fee in cash (US Dollars or Bond Notes). Countries in this category include Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Ireland and USA. You can choose to apply for the visa at your local embassy before you go, but it is much easier to do it when you arrive in Zimbabwe.
- Fees: For most Cat B countries: Single Entry US$ 30; Double Entry US$ 45. Payable in cash.
Fee exceptions: Britain (UK) and Ireland: Single Entry US$ 55; Double Entry US$ 70.
Canada: Single Entry US$ 75 – Canadian Passport holders can ONLY get a Single entry Zimbabwe Visa at the port of Entry.
- Fees: For most Cat B countries: Single Entry US$ 30; Double Entry US$ 45. Payable in cash.
- Category C: Citizens of some countries, such as India and Mexico, need to apply for a visa in their home country before travelling. Contact the Zimbabwe High Commission in your country to do this, or apply online at www.evisa.gov.zw.
- Fees: Single Entry US$65 to US$100. Category C nationals can only get a single entry Zimbabwe visa.
Zimbabwe has a multi-currency regime which means that there are a number of officially-accepted currencies, in addition to the 2016-released Zimbabwe Bond Notes. The official currencies of Zimbabwe include US Dollars, South African Rands and Botswana Pula. The United States Dollar and Zimbabwe Bond Notes are the most widely used. Strange. Zimbabwe Dollar was withdrawn in 2009 due to severe hyperinflation. US Dollars are accepted in all shops and hotels in Zimbabwe. Pre-2001 USD notes are not accepted. It is always useful to have small denominations of notes such as $10-dollar bills, so try to avoid bringing $100-dollar bills with you. You can read more tips on using cash in Zimbabwe here – an important article due to Zimbabwe’s current scarcity of cash.
The smallest denomination of US Dollars in Zimbabwe is a $1 note, and Bond Coins/Notes are used for change.
Prices in shops, etc, are usually quoted in US Dollars and in bond notes.
Travellers’ Cheques are not accepted.
Try to pay for as much as possible in advance before you travel. For things that you can’t pay for in advance, take cash with you rather than withdrawing it in Zimbabwe. Keep it in a safe place and only carry as much as you need when you leave your accommodation. When budgeting for the amount of cash you will need to take with you to Zimbabwe, remember to include the the visa fee if you are paying this on arrival.
International debit cards are more widely received than credit cards although it may be difficult using any sort of international card at a swipe machine in Zimbabwe. Email the businesses in advance to check that they can accept your specified card.
Talk to your hotel or tour company about paying for most of your accommodation before you arrive, so that you don’t have to carry as much cash with you. If you plan to pay the remainder of your fee by card, check with them first about their credit card policy.
As of June 2016: It is increasingly difficult to withdraw cash from Automated Teller Machines using your Visa or MasterCard at banks or in shopping centres of the main cities.
English is an official main language of Zimbabwe. It is used in business, education and many areas of life. Most people are bilingual in both English and their local language, even in rural areas.
The two dominant local languages are Shona in the north and Ndebele in the south, but there are officially 16 languages spoken in Zimbabwe.
Malaria and sunstroke are the biggest health factors for tourists to consider.
Ebola is not currently a threat in Zimbabwe because the country is situated so far away from West Africa: around 9000 km or 6000 miles!
- Malaria is not present in Harare, but it is in many other areas of the country.
- Harare’s tap water has been safe to drink until recently, so it is now best to drink bottled water not tap water.
- Wildlife: There aren’t any large wild animals in Harare, but there may be spiders, monkeys and (usually harmless) ‘creepy-crawlies’ around. The general rule is that if you stay away from them, they will stay away from you. If you have been bitten by something and are in pain, visit your nearest pharmacy or tell your lodge manager. If you are staying in a lodge or hotel, staff will be equipped to deal with emergencies. You’re more likely to meet a pet dog or cat in Harare than a wild animal.
- Contact numbers: Emergency telephone numbers in Harare are as follows: Central police station: (+263 4) 777 777 | Private MARS Ambulance: (+263 4) 771 221 | Private EMRAS Ambulance: (+263 4) 250 012. Your accommodation will also have emergency numbers to hand.
- If you are looking for a specific type of medical service in Harare (eg paediatrician or ENT specialist), see the Cimas Zimbabwe website (many of the providers there are not limited to Cimas medical aid).
- For accidents and emergencies, go to the Trauma Centre on Lanark Rd in Borrowdale.
Zimbabwe is one of the safest African countries, as long as you’re aware of your surroundings. The people of Zimbabwe have a reputation for being among the most easy-going and hospitable in Africa.
It’s usually sunny and warm! The best time to visit Zimbabwe is between April and September. Rain usually only falls between November and March, in the summer. The hottest months are September and October.
- October to April: (Summer) Daytime average: 26 C / 77 F. Night: 16 C / 61 F. Some rainy days and thunderstorms but mostly sunny and warm. October is the hottest month of the year.
- May to September: (winter) Daytime average: 23 C / 73 F. Night: 8 C / 46 F. Very little rain, warm days, cool nights.
- Zimbabwe is a year-round destination but some times are better than others if you have something specific to do in mind.
The number of airlines flying into Zimbabwe is increasing again, which means that you have a number of options.
Airlines with routes flying to Zimbabwe
Note that some airlines have partnerships with others, in order to facilitate these routes.
- Air France – Flies to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- British Airways (and its subsidiary ComAir) – Flies to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- Egypt Air – Flies to Harare and Victoria Falls
- Ethiopian Airways – Flies to Harare
- Emirates – Flies to Harare
- Fastjet – Flies to Harare and Victoria Falls
- FlyAfrica – Flies to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- Kenya Airways – Flies to Harare and Victoria Falls
- Kulula – Flies to Victoria Falls
- KLM – Flies to Harare
- South African Airways – Flies to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- Air Namibia – Flies to Harare, Victoria Falls
- Air Botswana – Flies to Harare
- LAM (Mozambique Airlines) – Flies to Harare
- South African Airlink – Flies to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- South African Express – Flies to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- TAAG (Angola Airlines) – Flies to Harare
- Zambezi Airlines – Flies to Harare
- 1time/Freshair (starting soon) – Flies to Harare and Victoria Falls
- Air Zimbabwe – Flies to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Kariba
Long-haul airfares are cheapest about 6 months in advance. Preference – search for prices using a website like Skyscanner, and then when you find the flights and prices you want, book directly with the airline or trusted booking site (rather than a potentially dodgy third party).
The major connection hubs when flying to Zimbabwe from out of Africa are Johannesburg, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Nairobi, Doha, Addis Ababa, and Amsterdam.
Below is some more guidance on flying via Johannesburg.
Flying via Johannesburg
You should ideally allow 3 to 5 hours’ transit time in Jo’burg, so that you’re not rushed during your connection. Johannesburg O.R. Tambo airport is large and clean compared with other African airports, with lots of shops and restaurants and views of the runway. It’s one of the best African airports. However, Its recommended to get your bags plastic shrink-wrapped at your departure airport, as an extra precaution. When you check in at your departure airport, you should also request that your bags are checked in all the way through to Zimbabwe. When in Johannesburg airport, follow the signs for ‘Inernational Transit’. The flight from Johannesburg to Harare takes 1.5 hours, so isn’t very onerous.
A note on flights via South Africa: If you are travelling from, or via, South Africa with children, ensure you are acquainted with the 2015 South African entry requirements which require your child’s birth certificate and other documents (here’s a link to official UK travel advice for SA).
Also: Check with your airline(s) to ask whether you’ll need to exit the transit area when you arrive in South Africa (ie collect luggage, be issued with an onward boarding pass and check in again). If the answer to this is yes, you’ll need to provide the correct documentation for your children.
The South African Department of Home Affairs have confirmed that no supporting documents will be required by people in direct transit through a South African International Airport.
Top tip: Many airlines fly into Johannesburg, so consider flying into Zimbabwe via South Africa. This is often cheaper and gives you a wider variety of options to choose from.
How to do it: Fly into South Africa’s Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport with an international airline such as Delta, Lufthansa, South African Airways, Emirates, Air France, Qatar, British Airways, etc. Then, get a connecting flight into Harare, Bulawayo or Victoria Falls with one of the following airlines:
- Air Zimbabwe – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and Kariba.
- British Airways (via its subsidiary ComAir) – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- Fastjet – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare and Victoria Falls
- FlyAfrica – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- Kenya Airways – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare
- Kulula – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare, Victoria Falls
- South African Airlink – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- South African Express – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls
- Zambezi Airlines – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare
- 1time/Freshair (starting soon) – Flies from Johannesburg to Harare and Victoria Falls
About Harare International Airport
Harare International Airport is clean, new and spacious. There are a few Western-style and African-themed shops and restaurants in the check-in area and at the departure gates. Although many tourists see Harare as a means of getting to Victoria Falls or one of the game camps, there are still loads of things to see in the capital, offering a glimpse of what life is like for an urban Zimbabwean.
If you need an airport transfer, or transport around the city where you’re staying, try arranging this with your hotel/lodge in advance. They would be more than happy to do so, and will know the most reliable companies to use.
Alternatively, you could book taxi services or a shuttle service in advance. If you don’t want to organise transport ahead of time, there are a host of taxis and shuttle buses waiting outside the airport which are safe to use – but you should agree the price up front and have the address of your hotel ready. Also, many Zimbabweans travel in minibuses called ETs (Emergency Taxis) – but these are best kept for locals and seasoned visitors. Lastly, you can make use of the VAYA Africa app, Zimbabwe’s version of Uber which has proved to be very reliable and safe.
About Victoria Falls Airport
A new Victoria Falls International Airport has been built, and the domestic terminal is also being refurbished. One option is to ask your tour company to start the paperwork in advance (if applicable).
Bulawayo Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport has recently been expanded and refurbished. It is large, clean and secure. Cafes and shops can be found at the gates and the check-in area.
There are taxis and shuttles waiting outside which are safe to use, but it’s best to agree a price upfront.
All-inclusive trips will usually organise all transport for you. You could choose to self-drive, fly, go by bus or shuttle service.
1-a) Bus, coach and shuttle services in Zimbabwe
Buses: Citylink and Pathfinder are private bus companies that travel to Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and the towns along those routes, usually on a reliable schedule.
Intercity shuttles: Consider hiring a shuttle company to transport you between cities in Zimbabwe. Here’s a list of reputable shuttles (with hyperlinks to their websites): GoDirect, Shumba Shuttle, Hilton Transfers, Elite Premier, Samaita, Wild Horizons (Victoria Falls and surrounds only) and Shuttle Direct (Harare only). Also, Black Rhino Safaris offer transfers and tours to Harare, Bulawayo, Matopos, Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe and other locations. Groups can contact Pesha Safaris ([email protected]), Hersov Tours (+ 263 773 923 500) or Shumba Shuttle. Day trips and tours to assorted cities are also on offer – see the individual Zimbabwe city travel guides for more info on these.
Informal transport: Many Zimbabweans travel in minibuses called ETs (Emergency Taxis) – these are best kept for locals and seasoned travellers because they are not well-used by tourists (and they drive very fast!).
1-b) Self-drive transport in Zimbabwe
Driving yourself around means you have more independence, more value for money, and it’s a more authentic experience. It’s also one of the best ways to explore the national parks, although a 4×4 is advised. You can hire a car or bring your own into the country. Guided driving tours are available if you’d like to travel in convoy with other cars.
See the full-blown post on Driving in Zimbabwe for a detailed information on this, including a list of car hire companies, road rules, links to guided driving tours and advice on bringing a car over the border.
2 – Air travel in Zimbabwe
There are a number of flights connecting Harare, Victoria Falls, Bulawayo, Hwange and other Zimbabwean locations. There are some budget options as well as more upmarket airlines, so air travel doesn’t have to break the bank.
Airlines and destinations in Harare – Affordable flight options:
- Air Zimbabwe has local flight connections between Harare, Victoria Falls, Johannesburg and Bulawayo. Air Zimbabwe is the cheapest flight option in Zimbabwe, but with this comes a risk that your flight may be delayed by an hour or so. In the grand scheme of things, even if your flight is slightly delayed, the journey will still be shorter than travelling via road. The airline is the mainstay of many Zimbabwean business travellers, primarily because of its affordability and long history. The service on the whole is good, and snacks are served onboard. Book via the phone, or in person link to their contact details once you arrive in the country, because their online booking system doesn’t contain an up-to-date list of destinations (last time I checked, anyway). Flights aren’t usually full, so you can book once you arrive in Zimbabwe, or through a local travel agent. Chances are that you’ll still get a seat if you book 3 days before your flight.
- Rainbow Airlines is a relatively new airline, and it currently has flight connections between Harare and Victoria Falls (and regionally, Johannesburg). You can see their flight schedule here. They occupy the middle ground between low-cost and charter airlines. Initial customer response to this airline has been positive.
- Fastjet is a low-cost airline that connects Harare, Victoria Falls, and other regional locations. A good budget alternative that is much quicker than using the bus.
- FlyAfrica is a low-cost airline that connects Harare, Victoria Falls, Bulawayo, and other destinations around southern Africa. This is a budget airline but it has mixed reviews in terms of reliability.
Flights to safari lodges and bespoke destinations:
If you want to fly directly to Mana Pools, Kariba, Chiredzi, Mutare, Hwange, or other small destinations around Zimbabwe and southern Africa, there are airlines which specialise in these destinations.
- Safari Logistics Service (Run by African Bush Camps) – Connections to Victoria Falls, Hwange, Bumi Hills/Matusadona, Kariba and Mana Pools.
- Executive Air – This well-established company offers connections to most destinations within Zimbabwe and southern Africa, especially safari camps. You can see their destinations here, which include the Zambezi Valley, Kariba, Victoria Falls, and Hwange.
- HAC – Connections to most destinations within Zimbabwe and southern Africa, especially safari camps.
- Wilderness Air (Run by Wilderness Safaris) – Connections to Harare, Kariba, Rukomechi, and Victoria Falls (and with locations outside Zimbabwe: Makololo and Kasane).
3 – Rail travel in Zimbabwe
Rail travel in Zimbabwe has a mixed reputation. The overnight train from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls has had some good reports recently. If you travel in First Class (which is still as cheap as chips), you will have much more space than a bus or plane, and the doors can be locked. Tickets can be purchased at the rail station. Advance booking isn’t really necessary as the trains aren’t usually fully occupied.
Additional transport options in Zimbabwe
Note that the route between Kariba and Victoria Falls have an additional transport option: A ferry service. This is a reliable service and the ferry can transport vehicles as well as regular passengers
Ask your hotel about affiliate transport companies
Find a hotel/guest house/safari camp that you like, and ask them about transport when you make your first enquiry. Many hotels have shuttle services to airports and other areas in Zimbabwe, and at the very least they will have specialist knowledge of how to get to their specific locations.
Get a packaged holiday
Many holiday packages will include all transport as part of the trip. Here are some tour companies within Zimbabwe who offer travel services between lodges and cities
- April to August are best because there’s very little rain. Harare’s sights are accessible year-round, though, so timing is not as important as elsewhere in the country.
- In mid-September through to October, Harare is enrobed in “purple snow” as thousands of vivid flowers bloom and fall from jacaranda trees that line the city’s streets. It is a spectacular sight, but remember that October is Zimbabwe’s hottest month of the year. The flamboyant trees produce glorious red flowers from the end of October, which can also be seen around Harare.
- Annual events: In the last week of April each year (except 2016), Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) is held, and the city becomes alive with energetic performers and spectators from all over the world – this is a great time to visit Harare. Also, the annual Miombo Magic festival usually occurs in the last weekend of May and is a gorgeous outdoor, family-friendly music festival: a fantastic opportunity to hear some local talent.
Harare has accommodation for a variety of needs. There are luxurious hotels, rustic “city safari” lodges, boutique guest houses, homely B&Bs, and a small number of no-frills backpacking hostels.
- Harare is an exciting place to shop for unique, handmade crafts ranging from homeware to toys.
- Visit Doon Estate, Avondale Flea Market, Upmarket, Queen of Hearts, Kiki’s, Chisi Walk and Mbare Market for craft and bespoke items. Have a search for these places on Facebook for directions.
- Shona sculptures are a key part of Zimbabwe’s artisan scene and are sold in shops around the city – try Chapungu Gallery near Doon Estate first.
- See the “Craft and cake” itinerary in the Harare itinerary page for a suggested tour of Harare’s best craft shops, as well as a Google map of some key retail locations.
- Conventional shopping centres in Harare include Sam Levy’s Village, Westgate, Eastgate, Arundel Village and Avondale Shopping Centre, where you will be able to find pharmacies, supermarkets, clothing stores and more (all are listed on Google Maps).
Supermarket chains include Spar, TM, Town & City; all of which are usually well-stocked and clean.
- Due to Zimbabwe’s economic situation, goods like biscuits, toiletries, nappies and processed foods now need to be imported from South Africa, which makes them more costly.
- Fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are usually abundant.
- As of October 2018, there have been reports of some shortages of bread, cooking oil, etc. Unless self-driving or self-catering, this shouldn’t be a problem for tourists.
- Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu: A witty and humorous tale set in modern-day Harare.
- The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah: Many Harare landmarks and suburbs are described in this highly acclaimed novel about an albino woman accused of murdering her father.
- An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah: A collection of satirical and insightful short stories, many of them set in Harare. Winner of the Guardian First Book Award.
- Note that Zimbabwe sockets are mainly square 3-pins (type G), but check with your accommodation first.
- Sun screen when its summer
Zimbabwe is 2 hours ahead of GMT. It’s in the CAT (Central African Time) zone; same as South Africa. This means that depending on the time of year, it’s 1-2 hours ahead of London and 6-7 hours ahead of New York.
Many hotels and guesthouses in Victoria Falls, Harare and Bulawayo will have internet of some form. If you have a laptop, many coffee shops have WiFi, although you may need to buy prepaid top-up cards from the venue to do so. Note that Zimbabwe sockets are mainly square 3-pins (type G), but check with your accommodation first.
If you’re going outside of the cities into the countryside, the likelihood is that there won’t be internet. Zimbabwean websites usually end in the domain extension ‘co.zw’, but some use ‘com’.
The international dialling code for Zimbabwe is +263. This is the number people from outside the country need to dial to phone Zimbabwe. They will also drop the first ‘0’ of the telephone number.
You can buy a SIM card in Zimbabwe and use a cell phone if necessary – but the phone needs to be unlocked. You can buy a cheap basic unlocked phone , if your phone is locked to your country. Most of Zimbabwe has cell signal, except in remote areas of the National Parks.
Yes, people usually tip about 10%. At hotels and safari lodges, tips after included meals are usually not required, but if you feel the service has been particularly good, an extra tip would be appropriate.
At the end of a stay in a hotel or lodge, you may wish to tip the guides or other members of staff if you feel they have done a good job.
- Safety: As with any busy city, some areas are more risky than others. The city centre is slightly more dicey, as there are some pick-pockets in the area. Wherever you are, don’t leave valuables in plain sight, and keep a good hold of handbags/briefcases at all times. Unless you’ve pre-arranged your transport with a reliable operator or know exactly where you’re going, don’t drive at night.
- Don’t walk around at night for the same reason – it’s easy to get lost and become a target.
- As always, don’t walk around with too much cash and don’t make a show of expensive goods. Stealing is highly disapproved of by Zimbabweans, but don’t tempt people by flaunting your comparative wealth!
- Avoid actions that could be seen as being politically motivated, such as taking photos of police, army personnel, government buildings, etc. If a cavalcade of police cars and motorbikes approach, this probably means the president is travelling in the convoy. Pull off the road completely and wait for the vehicles to pass.
- Using cash: Ensure you have cash as you might not be able to withdraw cash or use certain international bank cards in Zimbabwe.