Is Zimbabwe Safe? An Honest Opinion of Traveling Zimbabwe

We debated about traveling to Zimbabwe on our overland trip through Africa. We had heard rumors of fuel shortages, cash restrictions, power cutoffs, and harsh police roadblocks. However, this is Africa, and we decided that crossing into Zimbabwe was right on our route and could not be missed.

We had received word of hour-long queues at the ATMs and bankgoers only being able to withdraw $60 at a time. So, before we crossed the Vic Falls Border, we stopped in Livingstone, Zambia, and made sure we had more than enough cash to get us around Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s currency has completely collapsed, so they have turned toward the US Dollar as their reserve currency.

Is Zimbabwe safe To travel?

sundowners in hwange

After our fun time at the Kazungula Ferry, we entered Zimbabwe expecting another laborious border crossing. However, the border crossing into Vic Falls was smooth sailing. The Zimbabweans were friendly and accommodating, and not one person hassled us. The friendly attitude continued. Everywhere we went, we were met with smiles, people were warm, and we felt safe.

Lake Kariba

While traveling in Zimbabwe, we talked with many locals, and beneath the smiles, there was something much more. Zimbabwe was once a prosperous country. Before the millennia, it was considered one of the most stable in Africa and was dubbed “the bread basket of Africa.”

However, their late president, Mugabe, decided to nationalize everything. He took away the farms from the white Zimbabweans and gave out that land to anyone and everyone. These new “farmers” didn’t know what they were doing, and soon enough, Zimbabwe was importing everything from apples to maize. This and a slew of other things led the economy to collapse.

Natasha Having Sundowners In Mana Pools

Fast-forward 20 years, and Zimbabwe tourism is the worst it’s been in years. Foreigners hear “Zimbabwe” on the news, and everyone thinks about instability and danger. We, too, hear mixed things, but we are not going to let that stop us from forming our own opinions.

While we never once felt in danger in Zimbabwe, some aspects will make holidaygoers think twice about traveling to Zimbabwe. Here are some of the main issues I’ve gathered from an outsider’s perspective and how we worked our way around them to enjoy our time in the stunning country.

Traveling in Zimbabwe: The Issues

Cash Shortages

Bond Notes Billboard

There is a shortage of USD in the country. Zimbabwe went through a period of extreme hyperinflation. I read on a sign at Vic Falls that at one time if you had enough gold shillings to make up $1 you would be richer than Bill Gates (US$1 was equivalent to Z$2,621,984,228).

Zimbabwe has switched to the US Dollar since there is no stable currency. Due to cash shortages, they have begun printing their own “bond” notes. The notes have been pegged 1:1 with the US Dollar, but on their first day on the market, they dropped 30% due to uncertainty with the reserve bank and an early release from a corrupt printer.

The other main currency we saw in Zim was $1 bills. Except these dollar bills were the worst we have ever seen. There used to be a crisp photo of George Washington on those dollars, but now they look like they are held together by dirt, tape, and hope. It’s all Zimbabweans can get their hands on, and it is sad.

I always tried to pay with exact cash, and I refused to take the bond notes or the wannabe dollars back since they would be useless outside of Zim. We avoided the cash uncertainties and brought in our USD from Zambia and Botswana.

Fuel Shortages

Filling up in Kariba
Filling up in Kariba

We filled up our gas tanks right before we entered Zim. Thank God we did because petrol prices soared once we crossed the border. We were able to get gas in Vic Falls for the grand total of $1.39 per Liter—the highest we’ve paid anywhere in Africa and double what it costs in the States right now.

We had seventeen hours of driving ahead of us on our way to Musango Island Camp and around Lake Kariba. We took the beautiful back roads to avoid police roadblocks. This was a little shorter on time, but it was all dirt roads. We were expecting to top up in a small town called Binga. When we got to town, the gas stations only had diesel and were out of petrol “until who knows when.”

Beautiful Zimbabwe

Thankfully, we had enough to make it to our destination, but we didn’t know how we were going to continue. Once we were at Musango we had to have someone bring us their extra petrol over on a boat so we could leave. That fuel top up cost us a whopping $120 for 60 Liters. My jaw almost dropped – how on earth can people afford this fuel?

I suppose we were spoiled with the cheap fuel prices in the rest of Southern Africa, and I can’t lie and say I didn’t want to run away from the country after paying those fuel prices. Our last top-up was in Kariba, where the petrol cost us $1.30 per liter again – cash only. We only got back into Zambia, where the fuel prices are slightly lower. (Zim and Zam – you’re killing us!)

Now, we are foreigners and struggle to pay the fuel prices. How on earth are the Zimbabweans able to purchase fuel? With a 96% unemployment rate, we have to assume that they are not.

The Unemployment Rate

Victoria Falls Town

Yes, you read that right. The unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is 96%. Tourism has been down, so even many lodges and guide jobs have gone down the toilet. Despite the high unemployment rate, the people are still friendly, kind, and hopeful. I will never forget that, given their hardship, the vast majority of the population can still smile and carry on. It makes concepts like depression in the Western world a hard pill to swallow.

Police Roadblocks

Can we make it across? Travel in Zimbabwe

We heard stories of “fines” for not having lights in glovebox…yea. It is natural when police officers are uncertain that they will be paid and then they turn towards bribery. This is Africa. When I asked around about the police roadblocks the general consensus I got was that the police actually hassle the locals, not the foreigners. Guess they don’t want to ruin what little tourism they have right now.

We drove only on back roads and managed to see only one police roadblock in Zimbabwe. Not only did we avoid the roadblocks, but we quite possibly had the 20 best hours of driving in Africa. We got a glimpse into the rural African village life that so few tourists see. The greatest pleasure in Zim came from the adventure that ensued.

We decided to take precautions for everywhere in Africa and equipped our vehicle with a fire extinguisher, two triangles, a reflective vest, and even a couple cans of coca-cola. Thankfully, like in Mozambique, we had no issues with this. We were stopped once at a police roadblock when we were leaving the country. The policeman was very polite. He asked us if we were having a nice holiday and he checked Cameron’s license before waving us onward.

Final Thoughts on Safety and Traveling in Zimbabwe

Somalisa Camp

Most people travel to Zimbabwe on their vacation in Africa—but only to Victoria Falls. While I enjoyed Victoria Falls and found it to be one of the most beautiful sights in the world, it didn’t ever really feel like Zimbabwe. If you are only visiting Vic Falls, it’s unlikely that you will see the mess that Zimbabwe is going through, as it’s a top tourist destination in Africa.

I am so happy that we could drive around the country to see more of the rural village life and delve deeper into life there. We visited Zimbabwe just after the rains had arrived, and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the green rolling hills were. I was blown away before we even got to Lake Kariba – the largest man-made lake in the world. Now, Lake Kariba truly was divine, and it had great wildlife. I can see why Zimbabwe once dominated the African tourism sector as the locals were kind, the wildlife was grand, and the landscapes were stifling.

Lake KAriba: travel in Zimbabwe

If it weren’t for the insanely high fuel prices and unpredictable shortages it would have been very hard for us to ever leave Zim. I know one day we will return for I really feel we didn’t get to see the full flavor of the country. I hope that when that day comes the old Zimbabwe is back and times are well again.

More Travel Info

Mana Pools Woodland
  • Americans traveling to Zimbabwe need a 30-day visa that costs $40 USD and is payable in cash at the border. Americans have the cheapest visas, while Canadians and Brits have the worst, at $75 and $55, respectively. More info on visas is here. 
  • If you are self-driving in Zimbabwe, expect to pay a road tax fee ($30), third-party insurance ($30), and a road access fee ($10). No bribery was experienced. If you are driving throughout Africa, try to get COMESA in Livingstone.
  • If you’re not much of a driver but still want to see Zimbabwe, check out some of these tours
  • Fuel should be available at any border town and major city. We paid by credit card at Vic Falls, but it was cash only in Kariba.
  • Having enough USD before you enter is sure to make life easier. If coming from Livingstone, there is a Barclays Bank in town that is able to change cash for you. If coming into Kariba, we found an ATM in Siavonga on Lake Kariba (Zambian side). The ATMs in Zambia dispense Kwacha, so you will have to change that into USD before you enter. I would be hesitant to run out of USD anywhere in Zimbabwe besides Vic Falls, Harare, and Bulawayo.
  • The three main languages in Zim are English, Shona, and Ndebele. You will be able to get by fine with English in Zimbabwe.
  • We found the town of Vic Falls to be extremely expensive. From the produce to the coffee, and even the entrance fee into the Falls ($30) may be some of the highest prices we’ve seen in Africa.
  • The local meal is sadza and is a combination of maize, relish, and meat and it is delicious!

Plan Your Trip to Africa

  • Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans. 
  • Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
  • Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
  • Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
  • Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
  • Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
  • Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
  • Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
  • Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
  • Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling to Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.
About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

7 thoughts on “Is Zimbabwe Safe? An Honest Opinion of Traveling Zimbabwe”

  1. You are way safer in Zimbabwe than in the US or South Africa. The unemployment rate of 96% is a grandstanding figure plucked from the propaganda pages. No country can survive such an unemployment rate. You ought to apply some logic before brandishing such outrageous stats. We are a peace loving genuinely hospitable people who respect and love foreigners. Our political problems have not got the better of us. The many horrendous stories we read about usually happen in the media.

    There is a spirited effort to discredit our great country and drive away investors and tourists. I have lived in Zimbabwe for 46 years and my testimony is from first hand experience of life in the rural, ghetto and affluent areas.

  2. I believe we’re in agreement about safety. At no point in our travels around Africa have we ever felt in danger. Certainly, need to keep one eye open in South Africa, but the rest of Southern Africa is a wonderful place. We’re not sure about the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe, but one thing for certain is that the country and its people deserve better.

  3. Amused to see the delusional comment above stating you’re safer in Zimbabwe than the US. That’s patently false, absurd even. Shame to see such a beautiful nation mismanaged by the native population.

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