Backpacking in Zimbabwe on a Gap Year

Countries  »  Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is a vibrant and adventurous country home to incredible wildlife, five UNESCO World Heritage sites and one of the greatest waterfalls in the world. Landlocked between Zambia, Botswana, and Mozambique, incredible art and culture is present in every corner of these vast African plains. Zimbabwe has struggled in the tourism industry thanks to its turbulent past, but since adopting the US dollar and gradually boosting its economy, Zimbabwe is potentially an up and coming travel destination.

Things to See and Do

The main attraction of Zimbabwe is Victoria Falls. Stretching along the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, the Victoria Falls are a mile wide, falling over 328ft into the Zambezi Gorge. Dubbed as one of the world’s greatest curtain of water, this astounding sight is at the top of every backpacker’s agenda. Those brave enough can actually swim above the falls, in the appropriately named ‘Devil’s Pool’ in the dry season, where the shallow edge stops any death-defying swimmers from going over the falls. If that’s not enough, adrenaline seekers can also take on white-water rafting down the Zambezi River, take a zip line through the incredible gorge and even go bungee jumping over the Victoria Falls Bridge. If you’re after a less trouser-staining experience then awe at the amazing world wonder from helicopter and explore the local town of Vic Falls.

The incredible landscapes of Zimbabwe don’t stop at the Zambia border. Inland, Zimbabwe offers some diverse national parks, each with a range of game, birds and aquatic species. Gonarezhou National Park, meaning ‘place of many elephants’, is the perfect location to spot a wild ellie. Whilst waiting to see any elephants you can keep distracted by the other wild animals such as, lions, leopards, cheetah, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and antelope, just to name a few. The best place to try and catch a glimpse is by one of the three rivers which run through the park. It’s not only the animals that this park is known for; it is also the home to the Chilojo Cliffs, huge red sandstone cliffs which overlook the Rundle River Valley. Travellers can go on a safari to get the most from this park as well as camping in lodges and walking through the plains in permitted areas.

Matobos National Park, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites is renowned for its exquisite rock formations, carefully balancing upon one another. This national park is home to brightly coloured lizards and a large rodent creature called a dassie.  In the Eastern Highlands there is even more excuse for adventure with tall mountains ranges, grasslands and woodland where you can spot the blue monkey, sykes monkey and chameleons.

Another place to add to the agenda is Lake Kariba, the world’s largest artificial lake which was created by a damn along the Zambezi River. Travellers can choose to stay on a house boat, look out for the local crocodiles and tiger fish, as well as water sports.

Devil's Pool, Victoria Falls

Historical Ruins

Africa has a lengthy history and no visit to this country would be complete without investigating the ancient relics left behind by fallen cities. The word ‘Zimbabwe’ actually means ‘house of stone’ which derives from the long-gone city of Great Zimbabwe which was built in the 15th century, although it’s possible that people have been living there since 400AD. The Ruins of Great Zimbabwe, another UNESCO World Heritage site, can be seen in the Masvingo Province. History buffs can walk through the walls of what was once the capital of The Kingdom of Zimbabwe and imagine what life was like here hundreds of years ago, or at the very least get some good photos. Near the city of Bulawayo, there are more glimpses into ancient Zimbabwe, known as the Khami Ruins. This town of uniquely stacked yellow stones have called this land home since the 14th century and is a great place to enjoy some peace and quiet whilst walking through the tall stone walls.  

Cities and Festivals

Zimbabwe isn’t all outback and safaris. The two main cities are Bulawayo, and the capital, Harare. Here are where backpackers can go shopping, view galleries, botanic gardens and explore the local restaurants, cafes and bars. If you plan your trip well enough, you’ll see how these cities come together during Zimbabwe’s annual festivals. April 18th marks Independence Day in Zimbabwe, and the biggest event is held at the National Sports Stadium in Harare where crowds gather to watch processions and celebrate their country. The much anticipated Harare International Arts Festival, held in late April, is popular amongst travellers and locals as street performances and venues open their doors to display a variety of talent, from theatre, dancing to circus acts.

If you’re visiting in June, the more active backpacker can view, or have a go at participating in the Mountain Bike Challenge, where competitors cycle from Victoria Falls on a three day trip to the Zambezi River Gorge. That’s one impressive way to see Zimbabwe.