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ZIMBABWE TRAVEL INFORMATION

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Geography

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country situated in southern Africa. It is bordered by Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia. The Zambezi River flows along its northern border with Zambia, and the Limpopo River along the southern border with South Africa. Both flow east, through Mozambique, into the Indian Ocean.

Zimbabwe covers an area of some 390,580 square kilometres, consisting of a central highveld area, a raised granite shield known as the Zimbabwe Plateau, with an average elevation of just over 1,000m. In the north the plateau drops dramatically towards the Zambezi Valley, forming the Zambezi Escarpment. In the southwest a broad area of the country slopes down towards the Limpopo. From the western border with Botswanna, windblown sands from the Kalahari Desert extend into the country. To the east a range of rugged mountains, the Eastern Highlands, forms a natural border with Mozambique.

Climate

The country can be divided into three broad climatic regions. The central plateau, covering most of the country, is generally temperate, whilst low lying areas, such a the Zambezi Valley, are significantly warmer and drier with hot summers. The Eastern Highlands are cooler in climate with much higher year-round rainfall.

Summer rains dominate the seasons, usually lasting from November through to April, and bring relief after months of drought. Rainfall frequently occurs in brief but heavy afternoon downpours and dramatic thunderstorms. Daytime temperatures can range for 25°C to the high 30s, even 40s in low lying areas. Night-time temperatures drop to 15-20°C.

Winter, between May and August, brings slightly lower average daytime temperatures, with little if any rain. Night-time temperatures can drop below freezing, especially in the west of the country, something the traveller should remember! Before the onset of the rains, during September and October, hot dry daytime temperatures dominate.

It is advisable to travel with light-weight clothing, something warmer for the evenings (certainly a fleece during winter) and a light rain-coat for the rainy season, when torrential thunderstorms can be common.

People

Zimbabwe is made up predominantly of two tribal groups - approximately two-thirds of the estimated 10 million population are Shona, from the eastern half of the country, and remainder mostly are Ndebele, from the western half. Various other minority groups also occur in the country, for example the Tonga people of the Middle Zambezi Valley, and who are found on both sides of the river and also form a minority group in Zambia. Although a great deal of traditional customs are still followed, the main cities are modern and westernised.

Languages

Zimbabwe has three official languages; English, Shona and Ndebele. English is predominantly used in business and government. Shona is the most widely spoken native language, with Ndebele (Sindebele), spoken mainly in the west of the country. There are several other regional languages which may be encountered.

Religion

The majority of the population follow Christianity in one form or another. It is estimated that about 75 percent of Zimbabweans belong to mainstream Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Methodist Churches. Over the years a variety of indigenous churches and groups have also emerged from these mainstream denominations.

Currency

The Zimbabwe Dollar is no longer in circulation (withdrawn in 2009 after years of spiralling inflation). The official currency now the US Dollar, of which smaller denominations can often be in short supply, so try and bring smaller value notes rather than larger if you have a choice. Other currencies such as the South African Rand, Botswana Pula and Pound Sterling are also accepted, but often at slightly less favourable rates as everyone appears to prefer US Dollars (again smaller notes recommended).

There is a shortage of low denomination change, especially cash under a dollar, which is often given in Rand or Pula coinage (there are no US coins in circulation), and which again can be in short supply, so if you are travelling up from South Africa save your coins, they'll be useful! Note the main supermarkets usually give credit notes or sweets when the coins run out (your choice)!

In answer to the cash shortage, in December 2014 the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank (RBZ) introduced special 'bond coins' into the market. Their value is on par with United States cents but the are only for use within Zimbabwe. Coins to the value of 1c, 5c, 10c and 25c, while the 50c coin will apparently be introduced in March 2015.

Visa cards are accepted by some, but not all, establishments. Mastercard is generally not as widely accepted, although ATM machines generally accept both.

Banks

Zimbabwe has a flourishing banking sector, following recent economic stability and growth. Many offer bureau de change and ATM services. ATM (VISA and MasterCard) machines dispense US Dollars, with standard transaction charges.

Type of Government

Democratic Presidential Republic.

Head of State

President Robert Mugabe.

Main Political Parties

ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union and Patriotic Front) and MDC (Movement for Democratic Change, of which there are two factions).

National Newspapers

Chronicle, Tribune, Herald, Sunday Mail (State). Financial Gazette, Independent, Standard (Independent).

Urban Centers

Harare, in the central northeast, is the capital city and the major urban center of the country. Its population is estimated at 1,600,000. Bulawayo, in the central southwest, and 400 km south of Victoria Falls, is the country's second city, with a population estimated at around 800,000.

Time Zone

GMT +2

International Dialling Code

+263

Electricity

220 v - plugs are predominantly British-style square three-pin sockets, although South African round three-pin sockets are increasingly common, which usually means carrying at least one travel adaptor is recommended (especially if you mobile device is a two-pin type, as they don't fit into the round sockets!).

Weight & Measure

Metric system

Recommended Guide Book

Zimbabwe - The Bradt Travel Guide, by Paul Murray (2010).


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