Zimbabwe uses the US dollar and South African Rands as its main currencies for transactions throughout the country, and all prices are quoted in US$.
Cash is the preferred method of transaction, although International Credit Cards are now accepted for some payments. International VISA, MasterCard and Maestro Credit Cards are accepted at most bank ATMs for the withdrawal of cash (US$500 is the daily limit). However, do not rely solely on ATM cash withdrawals. Electricity cuts are common and ATMs may not always be working. Some tourism outlets have Point of Sale machines that take the above international Credit or Debit Cards.
Small change can be a problem. Bring plenty of small denomination US$ or Rand notes, and some Rand coins. Although you may pay for your transaction in US$ notes, you may receive your change in Rand coins converted at roughly 10:1!
Food supplies in Zimbabwe are readily available. Supermarkets are plentiful in the main centres and are relatively well stocked, but, as many goods are imported, prices can be quite high.
Shop opening hours are generally: Weekdays: 8.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Saturdays: 8.30 a.m. - 12.30 p.m. Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays. Some supermarket chains have longer hours and remain open every day including Sundays.
Restaurants offer a wide variety of food choices. Be aware that in the evening people eat fairly early: between 6.30 p.m. and 8.45 p.m. If you arrive later, you may find the kitchen has closed.
Note that apart from in Victoria Falls (above) and Kariba town, there are no modern shopping facilities or restaurants in the middle Zambezi valley at all.
If you want to show your appreciation for good service, a modest tip is customary, and much appreciated. Some restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill, and some lodges or camps have a sensible tipping facility at the reception desk which is shared among all staff. Please do NOT tip if your service has been bad. It will be more helpful to the future of tourism if you politely inform the management.
You will find an abundance of up-market boutiques and more informal craft stalls selling curios, souvenirs, carvings and other artefacts to suit every pocket in and around Victoria Falls. Quality and prices vary. The trick is to find something unique and hand-crafted at a fair price, that will be a lasting reminder of your trip.
Vendors plying their wares at the side of the road or along pathways towards the Falls themselves can be a bit over-zealous. If you are not interested in their wares, be courteously firm and move swiftly on. Be aware that if you show interest, you may be swamped with a bewildering choice of even more products and more over-zealous salespeople. It is probably best to make purchases in the more formal atmosphere of one of the shopping "villages" in Victoria Falls town or the central craft market specially designed for such a purpose.
Be wary of informal currency-exchangers on the streets or of vendors selling large-denomination notes of the old Zimbabwe dollar currency as "curios". You may find that you become a victim of extortion or have paid over the odds for something worthless.
Kariba town has a more informal system of craft-sellers who display their wares along the main road and at various visitor spots including on top of the town's highest hill, The Heights:
and at the Dam Wall Observation Point.
In the Zambezi valley, crafts are more difficult to find unless your lodge or camp has some arrangement with a local community. In Binga, at the western end of Lake Kariba, there is a thriving co-operative crafts industry (ask locally).
Bargaining is standard. A high price will be demanded at first. Some negotiation is expected, but be fair. Many craftspeople are skilled and deserve a fair price for their handiwork. Remember, their cost of living in Zimbabwe is now comparable with the rest of the world.
Cold drinks are a must in the Zambezi Valley. If you are self-catering, ice for your coolbox can be bought in blocks from the larger garages and supermarkets and from most of the harbours in Kariba. Cuts in electricity supplies make ice availability a bit erratic in some smaller towns, so it is advisable to collect ice in Harare or Kariba at the start of your journey, if you are going straight through into the remote Zambezi Valley.
No fisherman can embark on a trip to Lake Kariba or the Zambezi River without a box full of fishing worms for those delectable bream! There are side-of-the-road worm sellers all along the main road between Harare and Karoi, en route to the Zambezi, the most enterprising being those selling "Anaconda Worms" just south of the town of Banket.
Prices are negotiable and bargaining is standard. Make sure you keep your precious worms regularly watered, fed with vegetable peelings and kept cool out of the hot sun. If you don't have a smart wooden bait-box, get the kids to make one out of a cardboard shoebox! It will be just as effective. Reinforce the bottom with a layer of corrugated cardboard from a supermarket box and punch some small breathe-holes in the lid. HAPPY FISHING!