The first time I travelled to Zimbabwe I went with zero expectations. As a general rule this is a wonderful way to travel because you’re likely to be very pleasantly surprised by everything you encounter, but I specifically visited Zimbabwe with this mind set because of the often negative media portrayal of this country.
I was travelling there for work and while I knew that the picture painted of Zimbabwe by newspapers and online media was only one face of the mirror, it was an ugly face riddled by corruption, political strife and violence.
What I discovered there was the complete opposite.
1. Footsteps of great explorers
I remember stepping out of the plane at Bulawayo airport to a gust of warm air which smelled of rich earth and adventure. I was bustled into a small, run down airplane hangar which served as the arrivals hall, passport, immigration and customs office and also the baggage claim, while the new airport building was being built. This only added to the charm and ‘way back when’ feel of this land.
While many other safari destinations in Africa have modernised, Zimbabwe has managed to hold onto that old-fashioned colonial feel, and brings to life the explorations of the likes of David Livingstone and Cecil John Rhodes, making travellers to this region steeped in history, feel just as intrepid.
This notion is reinforced when visiting Victoria Falls town with its mix of colonial hotels and safari style lodges, and its 1954 Garret steam train which tourists can ride across the Victoria Falls Bridge over the mighty Zambezi River.
2. The Smoke that Thunders
I recall fondly the first time I clapped eyes on the falls themselves. Despite their World Wonder credit, it was never a bucket list item for me. Upon seeing the mighty Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘the smoke that thunders’) for the first time I questioned why this was. I remember standing there in absolute awe at the sheer volume of water tumbling violently over the edge of the steep cliff and crashing to the rocks far below, and the majesty of this sight.
I count myself lucky to have witnessed this true wonder in both the rainy and the dry season and both are spectacular for different reasons. There is never a bad time to visit.
3. Shiny Happy People
Great travel experiences are frequently marked by wonderful hosts, entertaining tour guides and friendly locals.
Zimbabweans are hands down the warmest and friendliest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and their convivial smiles are welcomingly infectious.
I spent time volunteering in both Victoria Falls and the Zimbabwe midlands and drew inspiration from the work ethic and commitment of the locals I worked alongside. I found Zimbabwe people are fiercely proud of their country and its history, and I was constantly captivated by their storytelling.
4. Wild, Wild Africa
Zimbabwe boasts no less than ten national parks including the well-known Hwange National Park which spans roughly 14 650 square kilometres of raw African bush. Although famous for its elephant populations, Hwange is home to over 100 species of mammals and nearly 400 bird species.
Another popular destination for both locals and tourists is Mana Pools National Park to the north which is only 2,196 square kilometres in extent but is part of the 10,500 square kilometre Parks and Wildlife Estate that runs from the Kariba Dam in the west to the Mozambique border in the east. “Mana” means “four” in the local Shona language and the park is named for its four large pools inland from the Zambezi River. These pools are the remnant ox-bow lakes that the Zambezi River carved out thousands of years ago as it changed its course northwards, and make for incredible wildlife viewing of hippos, crocodiles and various aquatic birds.
This article first appeared on Computicket Travel.