A brief history
Taking the name from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, a fortified stone city situated in the south of the country, President Robert Mugabe changed the country's name from Rhodesia when, in 1980, the country moved to black majority rule. The capital city, Harare, is one of the major tourist 'gateways' into Africa and tourism is of increasing importance to the economy which otherwise relies on farming and mining for export earnings. Having suffered greatly during the droughts of the early 1990's, Zimbabwe is still finding its way out of the economic doldrums with high unemployment and the question of land ownership still one of high emotional charge.
24 natural reserves
Zimbabwe has a total of 24 natural reserves, which are covering about 12% of the landmass of the country. A few small parks are privately owned, but most of the parks are managed and controlled by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. Most of the national parks are located in the western part of Zimbabwe, which is very dry part of the country, and along the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba in the north. Compared to Namibia and Botswana, the national parks are very accessible and also within the parks the infrastructure is very much developed. So, if you want to visit one of the parks with a ‘normal’ vehicle, then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ - the ‘smoke that thunders’ is the local name for Victoria Falls. This is one of Africa’s most enduring sights – one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site. Read more >>
Hwange National Park
Situated between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, this is Zimbabwe’s largest and most accessible National Park, covering 14,600 square kilometres. Read more >>
Mana Pools National Park is located in the northern part of Zimbabwe and covers about 2000 square kilometers. This is a semi-large natural reserve, located on the southern banks of the Zambezi River. Read more >>
Matopos National Park
Matopos National Park (430 km2) is a natural reserve located about 50km from Bulawayo. The landscape is dominated by the huge rocks and this makes it ideal for leopards in order to hunt. Read more >>
Matusadona National Park
Matusadona (1400 km2) is located on the southern banks of Lake Kariba. It’s not a very popular park among tourists and the nature is very dramatic. Read more >>
Zimbabwe’s second city (after Harare), population approx 1.5 million (2009). Known as the ‘City of Kings’ Bulawayo was founded circa 1840 by the Ndebele King Mzilikazi after the tribe broke away from Shaka’s Zulu nation and fled north. During the 1893 Matabele Wars, the then King Lobengula was forced to abandon his burning capital which was occupied by the colonialists of the British South Africa Company. Cecil John Rhodes ordered that a new settlement be built on the ruins of Lobengula’s Royal Town (today the site of State House). Due to its tepid climate and geographical location, Bulawayo has continued to be an important business centre.
‘Great Zimbabwe was once the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. Construction began here in the 11th century AD and continued to until the 14th century. The city spans an area of 722 Ha and at its peak could have housed more than 10,000 people. Great Zimbabwe acted as a royal palace for the Zimbabwean monarch and would have been used as the seat of political power. One of its most prominent features are the massive stone walls, some of which are over 5 metres high and constructed without the use of mortar.
Eventually, the city was abandoned and fell into ruin. It was first seen by Europeans in the early 16th century. Investigations on the site began in the 19th century, when the monument caused controversy amongst the archaeological world with political pressure placed upon archaeologists by the then white supremacist government of Rhodesia to deny it could ever have been built by native Zimbabweans. Great Zimbabwe has since been adopted as a national monument by the Zimbabwean government, with the modern state named after it. The word ‘Great’ distinguishes the site from the 200 other small ruins, also known as ‘zimbabwe’s’, spread across southern Africa. Great Zimbabwe is the largest of such sites.
Best time to visit Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe, like its neighbours Zambia and Botswana, has a very similar climate with the rainy season running from November through to mid April. The cooler winter months are drier. Especially July until October are excellent to spot a lot of wildlife in the national parks. Hwange National Park is the most popular and biggest wildlife park of Zimbabwe.
White water rafting on the Zambezi can be done best from August till December, when the waterlevel is low and the rapids fast! The flow of water over the Victoria Falls peaks in March, at the end of the rainy season. There is no doubt why it's local name is ‘Mosi oa Tunya’ or ‘The Smoke that Thunders’!