To finish off the greatest year I’ve ever had, I’ve got one final massive adventure up my sleeve. For the last two months of the year, I'll be exploring nine countries across southern Africa, my first time on the continent and one vastly different to anything I’ve ever encountered before.
I flew from Salzburg all the way down to Cape Town via Istanbul with a friend of mine from my city, preparing ourselves for a three-week journey through six countries, after which I would continue solo for another month on the continent. Our trip began with a week based in Cape Town, a gem of a city situated right on the southern tip of Africa. We landed on a beautiful Saturday morning, picked up our rental car and spent the rest of the day getting acquainted with the city and exploring many of its highlights.
After our exceptional week spent in Cape Town, at the southern tip of South Africa, and one of my now-favourite cities in the world, we dropped off our rental car at before spending the night sleeping on benches in Cape Town airport. From there, we took an early morning flight in a tiny airplane up to Windhoek in Namibia where we picked up our rental 4x4 truck with a roof tent and headed into the city, anticipation at an all time high for the adventure we were about to undertake.
We spent six days roadtripping across Namibia, witnessing extraordinary places, deep in the desert and thousands of years old. From Namibia, we turned eastward and completed our first African land border crossing into Botswana where we visited two exceptional game reserves - the revered Okavango Delta, a wet river delta teeming with life, before entering Chobe National Park.
From Botswana we continued east across the continent, making the long drive from Chobe National Park towards Victoria Falls, a famous spot in northern Zimbabwe and right on the border with Zambia. This post mostly talks about Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side as that was where we stayed; I walked across the land border into Zambia and spent a few hours exploring Victoria Falls on the Zambia side but then walked back that same afternoon.
Crossing the Border from Botswana into Zimbabwe
We left Chobe National Park in Botswana and drove due east straight across the country and towards the Zimbabwe border at Kazungula, just beyond the town of Kasane. The 250km was easy and on wonderful paved roads, a massive change after three days spent on terrible roads in the national parks of Botswana. In fact, I think it was partially due to the relief of being back on safe roads and the fact that my body had been on high-adrenaline fight or flight mode for so many days that within an hour of getting back onto the paved roads, I got quite severly ill. During the border crossing from Botswana to Zimbabwe as we were filling out our paperwork for our visa I temporarily lost my vision with the entire world going completely purple. I spent the next four days quite sick and weak which we reckon was entirely stress-based; it was too soon for malaria and COVID-19 tests came back negative.
Sickness aside, a fair warning that the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe was the most corrupt we encountered on the trip. It was similar to the border crossing into Botswana from Namibia in that we had to go through the exit rituals first and get our departure stamps from Botswana but as we tried to enter into Zimbabwe they made us pay double the fare at customs and only receipted us for the legitimate original fare; so we're assuming they just pocketed the rest. Thankfully we were in a position to pay the additional fee - it wasn't worth risking not being allowed to enter - and we finally entered Zimbabwe and headed towards the city of Victoria Falls, home to the world-famous waterfalls of the same name.
A WORD ON SAFETY IN ZIMBABWE
I'm no safety expert and I'm being honest when I'm saying that a trip to Africa requires a lot more safety-awareness than you might typically expect of say, Europe. It's just how it is. If you take sensible precautions when traveling around, you should be fine.
If you must travel with valuables e.g. camera, laptop, always carry them with you. Leave nothing in your car unattended anywhere, and even when driving, ensure all your belongings are hidden out of sight - smash and grabs are common at red lights.
Never travel at night - stay in a safe, fenced, locked accommodation (campsite, AirBnb, etc.) with security and CCTV before sunrise and after sunset. The roads are poor and filled with potholes and likely to have wild animal crossings, both of which you can't see at night, and the roads are very rarely lit. Gangs also populate the streets after dark look for unsuspecting victims.
Ensure you have all your travel vaccinations up to date, including yellow fever (it's not required, but they may ask for it at the border). Carry ibuprofen, throat lozenges, allergy medication, diarrhea medication and any other pills you may find useful. Malaria is a risk in Zimbabwe; I strongly suggest taking daily malaria tablets - you start a day before your trip begins and finish a week after your trip ends.
TIPS FOR ZIMBABWE
According to Wikipedia, there are a whopping sixteen official languages in Zimbabwe: Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Khoisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sign Language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa. Shona is the main language spoken (70%) followed by Ndebele (20%) however English is the language used by government, business and in education and is the first language of most white Zimbabweans and the second language of most black Zimbabweans, so it is widely understood.
The weather can get extremely hot in the summer months but prepare for all sorts of weather. We had some intense rainstorms as well. Bring cool, thin clothing and plenty of layers to accommodate for the changing temperatures.
For a long time, the currency was the Zimbabwean dollar but now they use the USD. Differently to most other African countries we visited, many places in Zimbabwe (including all the gas stations) do not accept card and are cash only. You must have plenty of US cash on you to pay for food, gas, entry tickets and road tolls.
All of southern Africa drives on the left side (opposite to Europe, same as the UK) including Zimbabwe. We had to pay loads of tolls driving the main highway through Zimbabwe after we left Victoria Falls and headed south to the South African border and, unsurprisingly, the roads were horrible and completely filled with potholes. Drive with care and give yourself plenty of time to get around.
Where to Stay in Victoria Falls
Given how sick I was feeling during our time in Zimbabwe, we forewent camping and booked ourselves for two nights into a darling little AirBnb in the heart of Victoria Falls to recover and have a warm and safe place to sleep. This was an exceptionally good decision in hindsight given the stories we heard about wild animals wandering the streets of town...!
Where to Eat in Victoria Falls
As we weren't camping, Victoria Falls was one of the few places we splurged and went out for meals during our roadtrip. Both of the places we went came strongly recommended from our AirBnb host: the Lookout Cafe for brunch with breathtaking views over the gorge of Victoria Falls and Three Monkeys for yummy, filling dinners surrounding an old converted tram cart!
How to Visit Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls can be visited from both Zimbabwe and Zambia. We recommend basing yourself in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and doing your exploring from there. You can then walk across the land border over the bridge into Zambia for a few hours to explore the falls from the other side.
Victoria Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared between these two countries. The falls are basically a gigantic sheet of water that stretches nearly 1.7km across the countries on both sides o the Zambezi River. The official site has all the up to date entrance information. We had to pay $30 USD on the Zimbabwe side to enter, and I paid another $20 USD on the Zambia side.
The site is massive; you'll need at least 3-4 hours to properly walk through the entire expansive space. We didn't really know what to expect, but essentially you go on a long sign-posted walk along the 1.7km falls with lots of viewpoints indicated along the way. When you leave the Zimbabwe side, you go back out into the city and then walk along the main road to cross the bridge into Zambia where you pay again to enter the Victoria Falls space there.
Below you can see my Strava tracked walk all around the Zimbabwe side, across the border (the snaking line in grey) and then the walk around the Zambian side. I walked over 11km between both countries.
Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe
I found overall that Victoria Falls is more impressive from the Zimbabwe side. There is more to see and further to walk, with better viewpoints. But having said that, I would definitely recommend to visit both sides and get the full experience!