This guest post is written by Deborah Casalin who is from Port Elizabeth, South Africa and now lives in Belgium. She and her husband visited Zimbabwe for the first time in January. Deborah recounts how she planned her trip; and she shares her experiences as a first-time visitor to Victoria Falls and Harare.
A long-awaited Zimbabwe adventure: Part 1 – Making a plan
Like many South Africans, I haven’t actually seen all that much of our neighbouring countries. This surprises many people here in Europe, who are used to a more compact world linked up by low-cost flights and high-speed railways. Meanwhile, back home in South Africa, it seemed more surprising that I was going next door.
Here’s why and how I finally made a plan for this incredible trip:
I’d already seen more elephants, giraffes and crocodiles than I could count, and had been exposed to stories of hardship north of the border for years. So what made me want to go to Zimbabwe?
Wildlife – it never gets old. Photo courtesy of Tom Nijs.
Besides the remarkable friendliness of the Zimbabweans I’d met, it must have been those other stories they told – holidays at Lake Kariba, the beauty of the bush, and the legendary Victoria Falls – that made me file Zimbabwe away under “maybe one day”…
Since I’ve been bringing my husband back to South Africa on the annual trip home, we’ve tried to get serious about exploring the wider region. Some time ago, it seemed that Zimbabwe (or package deals to Victoria Falls, at least) had reappeared on the South African tourist industry’s radar. It was tempting, but I still wasn’t sure.
Wouldn’t it be dangerous? Unethical? Or just plain depressing? I really didn’t want to be that person living it up in a resort while people around were battling hyperinflation, shortages and worse. All of this passed through my mind – but admittedly, it was based on a mixture of speculation and possibly outdated news. Time to investigate (a.k.a. Google) further.
Why not, indeed? Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
How I got over myself
Online searches for variations on “victoria falls zambia vs zimbabwe” revealed divisions among the travellers of the Internet. But the existence of Team Zimbabwe seemed to be a good sign already. They also had some compelling arguments: better views of the Falls, a broader choice of accommodation, and generally cheaper flights from Johannesburg. Safety didn’t really come up as an issue (besides standard precautions), and no Zimbabwean seemed to be asking travellers not to come.
Around then, I found Great Zimbabwe Guide, which conveniently had direct, first-hand answers to my exact questions. This and further reading convinced me that staying away would not do anything for Zimbabwe’s people, wildlife or environment (on the contrary).
Then the final push – one of my dear friends unexpectedly announced that she was moving to Harare. So the deal was sealed, and it was time to plan a multi-leg trip to Zimbabwe!
How I made a plan
A tentative weekend trip had now mushroomed into a mad dash excursion from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls to Harare and back, in the space of a week, at the end of our trip to South Africa. In the end, it was actually completely feasible: I’d even go as far as saying that it’s probably never been easier to plan a short Zimbabwe getaway from (or via) South Africa.
With the help of Great Zimbabwe Guide, I checked out our transport options. Given the time constraints, these quickly narrowed down to flying. This initially looked prohibitively expensive, but in the end, we got a great deal on FlyAfrica.com.
For our two nights in Victoria Falls, we booked at Lorrie’s Bed & Breakfast – a wonderful option if you’re neither a backpacker nor a resort-goer, and want to be close to town. We reserved airport transfers with Shearwater, and decided to arrange further activities on the spot (more on all of this in Part 2).
The only other things we had to pick up in advance were malaria tablets (for Victoria Falls) and US Dollars. Passport-holders from most countries can get visas at the airport – good news for those of us sporting the Green Mamba!
The Green Mamba. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
How we got ourselves there
FlyAfrica.com was only a few months old at the time, but our experience went as smoothly as could be. The tickets were affordable, the flights were on time, the planes were modern and comfortable, and the crew was professional and friendly – what more could you want?
Like on many budget airlines elsewhere, be aware that check-in baggage attracts an extra fee. With some disciplined packing, carry-on luggage was more than fine for a few summer outfits.
Thus, one bright morning last January, we found ourselves waiting excitedly at O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg – ready to go north, with one modest piece of hand luggage each.
Travelling light. Photo courtesy of Deborah Casalin.
Read Part 2, where Deborah talks about her time in Victoria Falls. (Spoiler: She loved it, despite nearly having her lunch stolen by some monkeys.)