(Last updated June 2017)
Don’t underestimate the sun
Sunstroke and heatstroke are common conditions for new, over-ambitious visitors to Africa. As Zimbabwe does not have a very humid climate, the temperature is much more tolerable than in other tropical countries, so it can be easy to forget how long you’ve been out in the direct sunlight. Avoid getting ill by staying well hydrated throughout the day (with water, not G&Ts!) and by sitting in the shade where possible.
Drink water from boreholes or bottles
Municipal tap water is treated and theoretically safe to drink, but due to the cash-strapped state of affairs I think it’s better to drink from borehole-sourced tap water or bottled water in Zimbabwe. Your accommodation will let you know whether their tap water comes from a municipal supply or borehole. Bottled water is widely available in supermarkets. If you’re going outside a city on safari as part of a tour, your lodge or tour company will provide drinking water for you. If you’re self-driving independently and staying in a government-run lodge, take lots of bottled drinking water with you in your car as there is unlikely to be drinking water in the state facilities.
Take precautions against malaria
Malaria is present in certain areas of Zimbabwe at certain times of the year, so visit your doctor or travel clinic to discuss prophylactics (prevention), ideally 2 months before you go. Tell the doctor/nurse that you are going to Zimbabwe – this is important because Zimbabwe has a species of mosquito (Plasmodium falciparum) that is resistant to certain antimalarial drugs such as chloroquine and pyrimethamine/sulfadoxine, so you will need to ensure you take the correct type of medication.
Antimalarial medication for Zimbabwe: Malarone (atovaquone-
Top tip: The branded Malarone is more expensive than other antimalarials – but the generic equivalent is available for around £1-£2 per tablet from big superstore pharmacies such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda in the UK. I would recommend you visit an in-store pharmacy around a month in advance of your trip to Zimbabwe to order the generic version of Malarone (atovaquone-
Some pharmacies in Zimbabwe’s main cities (Harare, Victoria Falls and Bulawayo) will have the generic version of Malarone for a reasonable price, but it’s more reliable to buy your antimalarials before your trip. You can read more about antimalarial medications on the NHS website.
One of the most important aspects of malaria prevention is remembering to take the full course of pills, so why not download an app such as Pill Monitor to remind you about the schedule, or just set up an alarm on your phone.
Malaria safety tips: Use a mosquito net when you sleep (this is usually provided by your accommodation) because mosquitoes predominantly bite between dawn and dusk. Apply DEET-based mosquito repellent (for adults) in the evenings, and wear long sleeves & trousers after sundown. You can read more malaria information on the NHS website. See my list of What to pack for a Zimbabwe holiday for info on good mosquito repellent brands (including products for kids).
Malaria transmission areas and seasons: Central regions of Zimbabwe such as Harare and Bulawayo have extremely low malaria transmission rates, as shown in the map below. This means that if you are only visiting Harare or Bulawayo, the likelihood of contracting malaria is very low. In Victoria Falls, Nyanga, Kariba, Gonarezhou and Mana Pools, malaria transmission rates are higher.
The malaria transmission season lasts for about 4 months each year. As shown in the image below, the normal Zimbabwe malaria transmission months are between December (purple) and April (green) each year. Most tourists to Zimbabwe visit between June and August. (Keep scrolling down to read more.)
Pack a small first-aid kit
Buy some basic medical items such as plasters, ibuprofen, paracetamol, Immodium, tweezers, after-sun cream, cream to relieve insect bites and stings, antiseptic cream, any eyecare essentials, etc, and pack these in your luggage. If you’re prone to hayfever, remember to bring antihistamines, too.
Make sure you have enough prescribed medication to last the duration of your holiday, as local pharmacies may not be able to provide certain drugs without prior arrangement.
Zimbabwe is not a yellow fever zone
Zimbabwe is not a yellow fever zone, as you can see from the WHO map below. This means you do not need a yellow fever vaccination to visit Zimbabwe.
However, if you are travelling into Zimbabwe from a country that does have yellow fever, you will need to display a vaccination certificate when you enter Zimbabwe.
Be aware of the ways in which HIV/AIDS are transmitted
Roughly 15% of people in Zimbabwe have HIV/AIDS. It is a serious problem for Zimbabweans but is not a specific threat for tourists. Do be aware of the ways in which HIV/AIDS is transmitted, and take precautionary measures as appropriate.
Info about hospitals in Zimbabwe
If you need medical assistance during your stay in Zimbabwe, state-run medical facilities are short-staffed and ill-equipped but there are reasonably good private pharmacies, clinics and hospitals in the cities. I’ve included information on local medical facilities in each city guide article, so please see the City Guide list for information on each place.
Safari lodges and hotels outside of the cities often have emergency medical facilities on site, and they also have the ability to airlift patients to regional top-quality medical facilities if required. Ensure you have travel insurance (below) so that you can make use of private medical assistance.
Buy travel insurance
It is highly advisable to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies. Carry copies of your medical insurance in your car and handbag. If anything happens that requires you to go to hospital in Harare or to be airlifted to Johannesburg, your medical insurance certificate will be required. There is an airlifting and ambulance service called MARS, so note down their numbers and keep them with your medical insurance certificate. (MARS Harare:-+263 4 771221, or 706034; MARS Victoria Falls: +263 13 44646 or +263 712 404 950.) The website Wild Zambezi has a more detailed page about MARS if you’d like to read more.
Check the vaccination requirements
If you haven’t been vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid, your travel doctor is likely to recommend that you get these before your trip to Zimbabwe. They are quick and almost painless, and you will be covered for 25 years.
Diseases like meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough), measles and polio are serious no matter where you are in the world, and vaccination is the best way of preventing them. Ensure you are up to date with immunisation schedules before you travel. In 2015, the WHO estimated that the immunisation coverage in Zimbabwe was lower than ideal, at 87%. Unvaccinated individuals may be more at risk in areas where less than 92% of the population is immunised, as this means there is lower herd immunity.
(Random aside, but here are some vaccine-related links: an infographic on the lack of a scientific link between vaccines and autism, an article by a doctor whose son has autism, the top 20 questions about vaccination, and an infographic on the difference vaccines make in developing countries.)
Websites for health information on Zimbabwe
Read the WHO health overview on Zimbabwe here and CDC travel guidance on Zimbabwe here. The IATA travel centre website supplies visa guidance and health information for Zimbabwe, tailored to your own nationality and travel details.