The place where I found a natural wonder, elephants and my confidence.
Zimbabwe and Botswana are not at the top of everyone’s list when you are trying to decide where to go on vacation, but I am going to try to convince you otherwise in this post. I was on my trip to South Africa, well really it was work but let’s be real, I made lots of time for exploration and tourist activities. Being in South Africa was already a dream, yeah, I had traveled before but not on my own to a foreign country literally on the south side of the equator at the bottom of the world. For me that was a big deal but for many of my housemates from European countries, many of whom were younger than me had extensively traveled before and spoke of things they were going to do when they were done with their internships. Some were going to drive up Africa back to Europe, some were traveling to Nepal and others to many different places. One of my roommates in particular, spoke about traveling to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls. Of course, to that point I was familiar with the natural wonders, as any student produced by the American education system is, but I did not make any plans to travel outside of South Africa. To me just being there on my own was out of my comfort zone but I knew that I would be living with others when I arrived which lessened the anxiety of traveling alone. So, the idea of traveling to Zimbabwe on my own, and as a female was even more daunting. I had a long and very emotional year thus far at the time and I decided that what I needed to do was to step out of my box and explore the world. That is just what I did, I traveled to Zimbabwe for a weekend solo and saw Victoria Falls. I mean, when else was I going to be in Africa and just a short flight from this beauty?
Not only did seeing Victoria Falls spark my quest for checking off every Natural Wonder of the World but in such a short time I was able to push myself and develop skills that I was previously lacking. For me, this trip is an integral reminder of my realization of emotional maturity. In many ways I think back to this time as one that forced me to be okay with myself, by myself and secure enough to start conversations with strangers. Of course, this was after my anxiety had to be subdued about thirty times and there was a point that I was crying in my dormitory, writing on my phone about how I felt so alone. Without that breaking point I am not sure if I would have realized that I was ok, and everyone else was also there, on their own journey and most certainly not worried about me. Who knew that just three short days of being in a foreign place, isolated yet surrounded by people, and the desire to push myself would have such an impact on my future life.
My point is that no matter where you are, what you need or at what stage of life you are in you should never under estimate the value in all situations and how impactful they can be if you open yourself up to growth. I was able to learn so much about a few people that I had conversations with and I will always remember them and their lives they shared with me and how eager they were to also get to know who I was. In fact, one person said to me “You are so brave to travel alone as a woman, I would never have done that at your age”, she obviously didn’t see my private breakdown earlier. Nevertheless, this made me realize how I was perceived by others was not at all how I felt. Through all of this expedited personal development I also was touched deeply by all the wildlife I saw and the vast differences in environment in which I was in. In my state I am used to seeing cows alongside of the road and the occasional deer or bear. But traveling in Zimbabwe you had to stop for elephants and Jennies of giraffes crossing the road. How unique is that? The answer is very!
If you have made it this far then I thank you for reading, if you are here for the recommendations then here they are!
How to Spend 3 Days in Zimbabwe
I only had 4 days including travel days to spend in Zimbabwe. Therefore, I focused my attention on Victoria Falls, the town, to stay and use as my central base. My obvious main objective was to visit the beautiful wonder. During my time I also visited Botswana as it borders Victoria Falls area quite closely. Given this though if you are traveling from outside of Africa, I would combine this trip with many of the other countries in the near vicinity including Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana and of course, South Africa (see my travel diary for SA here!) This plan would take weeks and not just a few days! However, should you find yourself in a similar situation to me and want to make a quick cameo then here is most of all you need to know to spend 3 days in Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Things to Do
Obviously the one thing you MUST see is Victoria Falls, this is by volume the biggest waterfall in the world. It is quite grand when you see it and leaves you almost breathless. There are some things in this world that you are just not prepared for no matter how much you think about it and this is one of them. There is no way that you can imagine the power that you will feel next to these falls. The cost is $10 entry to the park when I checked April 2019.
The falls is in between the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, but the entry to the main park is on the Zimbabwe side. Then from the center of the town of Victoria Falls, you can either walk to the falls, take a cab or if you have a car, drive. It is not a far walk by any means and is safe, relatively. The cab ride cost me $10 to get there and I walked back, which took about 45 minutes.
For the trip to the falls I highly recommend bringing a poncho or to wear something that you don’t mind getting wet. The mist from the falls hitting the bottom is more like a drenching rain than a mist.
One thing to take into consideration is the wet versus dry seasons. I went during dry season and it was still magnificent but from October to the beginning of January the water levels are low so less comes over the falls. My photos reflect the dry season.
One place I wish I made it to was Devils Pool, a natural swimming pool on the Zambian side of the falls that goes right up to the ledge. If I ever find myself back in that area I will most certainly go there.
Near the walk to the falls there is a crossing bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe. You do not need a Visa or anything to cross it if you have the Visa already for either Zimbabwe and Zambia, they will just give you a bridge pass. At this bridge you can bungee jump if that is your sort of adrenaline. Either way it is also a site to see and is rather amusing seeing people jump for joy off of a platform.
The town of Victoria Falls is not the most glamorous town but is quaint and Zimbabwe in itself is struggling in many ways, they do not have their own currency, some places are unsafe, and the infrastructure is challenged to say the least. But what I found is that you can make do with what you are given and to just come prepared. Even though there is not much to do within the town itself, it is quite central for any activities you want to do.
One of the next activities I did was a half day excursion to a wildlife refuge where they have rescue elephants and other wild animals within the reserve. I went on an elephant safari at this refuge as well as had some time with the elephants. After hearing some terror stories from other wildlife refuges, especially with elephants I wanted to make sure that the places I go had as happy as can be animals and they were not harmed in any way. So, I did my research and found an organization that takes you on an elephant safari, with saddles that are not harmful (they are not the wide platforms as in Thailand) to the elephants, they have caretakers that are with them every day and are never taken from their families. Of course, there are unethical places that utilize tourists to exploit the animals so make sure to do your research before you decide on where to go. I booked mine through Shearwater Adventures.
*One thing to consider when going on a Safari is to address how much of the bush is grown. This is important because more green and bush results in more hiding places for animals, like the elusive big cats, which I am sure you want to see.
Chobezi River Safari & Chobe National Park
Next, I took a day trip to Botswana. Zimbabwe not only borders Zambia but also borders Botswana, close to the Chobe National Park. The borders are separated by the Chobezi River. Through Shearwater I also booked a river safari cruise and regular safari within the Chobe National Park. This is by far one of the best experiences I have ever had! The river safari goes down the Chobezi on a pontoon boat. During this I saw hippos, crocodiles, many birds, gazelles, water bison, and so many animals from the comfort of the boat. As we passed by one small island in the middle of the river I watched as a crocodile was stalking a gazelle from the water and when it came down to the water the crocodile attacked but the gazelle was too fast! I did not particularly want to watch a gruesome Natgeo scene but nevertheless it was pretty amazing to see it in action.
After the river cruise we had a buffet lunch at a resort near the park. From there we went on a safari in the national park. This is great because unlike game reserves the animals are purely wild, they do not interfere with them, their interactions and operate on a leave no trace policy.
I think that the Chobe National Park should be considered the elephant capital, I saw so many elephants there, babies, older ones, playing in the river, you will not be disappointed. In addition to elephants you will see many giraffes, “pumbas”, and other animals to enjoy in their natural habitat. I highly recommend this experience!
Near my backpackers there was a road in which you could just walk, it was quite a long walk and is dangerous, as wild animals can just attack you, BUT, if you are ok with that then do it. I do not recall the exact name or if there even was one but I do know that it starts around a grand Baobab Tree, which you can just ask for that, go there and start walking! This was a great way to spend the afternoon after the morning elephant safari. I do recommend taking a local or someone familiar with the wildlife if you can, especially if the bush is thick because you truly do not know what is going to charge at you. At the very least pair up and do not walk it alone.
Where to Stay
I stayed at Shoestrings Backpackers. I found this to be bare bones when I arrived, but it had great reviews for the liveliness. Here you can rent a dorm, private room, has shared bathrooms and a kitchen. There is a pool, but it was also sketchy. If you are young and on a budget, I would stay here but I wouldn’t recommend for those who require the finer things in life. The one plus about this backpackers was a very good, gourmet almost café. If I go back now, I would stay at a resort such as the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. There are a few other little hotels within Victoria Falls but my main checklist when I was there was cheap, proximity because I was on foot and available food.
Day 1: Arrive AM to Zambia (you can arrange travel to your hostel, hotel, etc through travel agency or through the hotel)
Spend Afternoon with lunch and go to Victoria Falls
Day 2: Early Morning Elephant Safari (usually comes with breakfast)
Afternoon: walk around town, Baobab tree, etc.
Day 3: Botswana trip (full day)
Day 4: Travel Day
Things to Know
- Currency is a hot mess; the ATMs give you American Dollars. The reliance on CC use within some places is possible but it is possible that MC and/or Visa will be down. Coins are not American but Zimbabwean
- I love currency and bought some, I know weird to buy money, but the Bank of Zimbabwe used to have currency, for million dollar marks, etc. Try to get some real ones if you like this sort of thing!
- The town is pretty silent during holidays and weekends, so plan accordingly.
- WiFi is a luxury.
- You cannot get a SIM card for cell phone unless you are a resident.
- Do not drink the tap water, you can use this water bottle here.
- Bring Malarial prophylaxis, wear bug spray.
- Monitor travel advisories but Victoria Falls in particular is pretty chill.
- It is hot and humid and I am from Florida so coming from me that is saying a lot.
- Visas for US Citizens is $30 on arrival for a single entry through Zimbabwe. If you fly through Zambia you can buy a transit Visa for $50 or a single entry for $30. Find more info at the site here. There is possible a new combined visa to see both sides of the falls which you can find more information here. This was not available when I visited so I cannot speak to it.
- If you fly into Zambia- Livingston Airport is very close to Victoria Falls.
- You need a travel adaptor for power I like this one.
- There are many other things to do in the surrounding areas but I found that my itinerary fit my needs best, I did not have time explore Zambian side but would recommend doing so!
That is all I have for now, for Zimbabwe. While it was a short trip for me it served its purpose. I hope one day I will be back, with a loved one to share the beauty that is the wildlife and Victoria Falls. I would love to do what I recommended and spend a few weeks in the surrounding countries particularly during wet season for the falls and during whale migration for Mozambique. In just a few days you can be immersed in so much wildlife that you will be amazed and forever feel connected to the beautiful countries that you visit. They often say that you cannot appreciate what you cannot see and feel with your own senses. While I do think we all appreciate the value of conservation but this enhanced when you see these creatures in their natural habitat it becomes personal to advocate for their existence. It is increasingly evident that when you travel and are present that a little piece of your heart is always connected to that place. This is most true for my time in Africa. I hope that you also find this joy and experience this part of the world even more so than I did.
P.S. If you have any comments or advice for those wanting to go to Zimbabwe, Zambia or Botswana share them below! I love to hear about other experiences and perhaps add something new to my list. The next travel post will be for the Western United States, including Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Arizona.