Q Is Zimbabwe back on the tourist map? Where do you recommend visiting?
Emma Gregg, Travel writer, editor and photojournalist: People who know Zimbabwe well feel passionately about it. Back in the 1990s, it was one of Africa’s best-loved destinations, respected for its magnificent natural features and highly trained safari guides.
Almost two decades on from the unrest and hyperinflation which toppled it from darling to disaster, Zimbabwe’s recovery remains a work in progress. But the town of Victoria Falls has bounced back thanks to its timeless appeal. It has excellent accommodation (including the Victoria Falls Hotel, one of Africa’s most characterful, historic hotels) and easy access to fun activities such as white-water rafting and microlighting.
Independent travel is no longer the sole preserve of the fearless. The US dollar is the official currency and Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, making transactions straightforward. Take the classic road trip from Harare to the Eastern Highlands, Great Zimbabwe, the Matobo Hills and Bulawayo and you’ll see evidence of years of underinvestment: some hotels are a little forlorn and police checkpoints and potholes make the going slow (earlier this year, community activists planted banana trees in potholes in protest). But the rewards are huge: glorious scenery, an authentic atmosphere and genuinely welcoming locals.
Will Bolsover, Natural World Safaris: There’s a lot in Zimbabwe to attract tourism. The entire northern border is bound by the mighty Zambezi River. Upstream from Victoria Falls guests may board pontoon boat trips punctuated by the calls of fish eagles and herds of elephants that come to the water’s edge to drink.
Mana Pools National Park and the neighbouring Sapi Concession form one of Zimbabwe’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The lakes, floodplains and riverbanks here attract some of Africa’s largest wildlife, making this one of the continent’s most renowned game-viewing regions.
My favourite place to visit is the Gonarezhou National Park, known as the ‘place of many elephants’. Chilo Lodge is perfectly situated to explore this stunning park. Set in a remote location on cliffs overlooking the Save River, hippos and crocodiles live together in wary harmony.
The Matobo Hills National Park remains a largely undiscovered gem in Zimbabwe. San Bushmen lived there around 2,000 years ago and you can visit sacred caves to view ancient cave paintings.
Published in the November 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)