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Despite a decade of bad news, Zimbabwe still has a generous sampling of the Africa that many people hope to see - exotic scenery, interesting cultures and game parks full of animals.
And one of the great things about the country is the fact that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to experience urban African life too - Zimbabwe’s cities and towns are often on an overlander’s itinerary as destinations to restock and refuel - literally and metaphorically.
Scenery, wildlife, adrenalin adventures and dance-until-dawn parties: Zimbabwe’s biggest trump card lies on the Zambezi River close to Botswana - the name refers to both thundering waterfall itself and the bustling town that has grown up around it.
The bridge across the gorge was built as part of Cecil John Rhodes’s ambitious, but never realised, Cape to Cairo railway in 1902. Though its name is Victorian, the town boasts some fine examples of Edwardian architecture, including the elegant Victoria Falls Hotel and the Victoria Falls Station, where the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls train arrives.
Today there are campsites and backpackers to accommodate budget travellers and a variety of hotels and safari lodges. The town has a village atmosphere centred around the commercial district, which is dotted with souvenir shops, tour operators, restaurants and an African-style curio market.
Located on the high grasslands well away from the steamy Zambezi, Zimbabwe’s capital city may be a bit worn at the edges these days but it’s always been one of Africa’s safest cities with a thriving nightlife and welcoming atmosphere.
Harare derives its name from the Shona word ‘haarari’, translated as ‘one who does not sleep’. This is mighty questionable, since Harare must be one of the sleepiest capital cities in Africa!
Overlanders driving north to Victoria Falls will pass through Zimbabwe’s second biggest city as it lies on the main north-south axis. The city has seen better days, but it is the jumping-off point for Matobo National Park and not far from Hwange.
The tree-lined streets and suburban lawns belie the fact that the dusty Kalahari is just over the border in Botswana. Although it has more than 600 000 residents, it doesn’t feel that large and retains an old-fashioned small town charm. Indeed, with its somewhat dated atmosphere, Bulawayo feels like an English provincial town of about 50 years ago.
Damming the Zambezi in the 1950s led to the creation of a colossal lake which now reverberates to the sound of honking hippos and fish eagles. A fisherman’s paradise, Lake Kariba is both an excellent recreational and wildlife destination
Stunning sunsets are a distinctive feature of Lake Kariba, as are the bleached skeletal trunks and bare branches of dead trees that were drowned in the dam all those years ago. They make excellent perches for fish eagles, cormorants and other water birds.