Zimbabwe is safe for visitors. Believe it! We live here, and visit the remote wild areas of the Zambezi Valley and Kariba regularly! Zimbabwe needs your tourism dollars more than ever, and, if you organise your trip with a reputable tour operation, you can be assured that everything will be properly accounted for!
Normal precautions about visitor safety are advised, as in any other country in Africa, or indeed the World.
- Be careful with your money and valuables. Use a money belt or pouch rather than a sling bag. Do not leave valuables in a car, even if it is locked.
- Never lose sight of your Credit or Debit Card if making payments
- Avoid walking alone at night or in remote areas.
- Be wary if strangers approach you, however friendly they are.
- Seek advice from reputable (or known) sources of information only.
- Do not take photos of "strategic" facilities (airports, bridges etc) or "sensitive" places (presidential or diplomatic residences).
- Be polite and remain calm if stopped by police or at a road-block. If you have reason to believe that you are being unfairly treated, you can get help by using the following 24 HOUR National Complaints Line: +263 4 703631. You can also use the following numbers (please do not abuse these): Inspector Chigome of the Traffic Police Press and Public Relations Office. Tel: +263 4 799269 Ext 124 Mobile: +263 772 965030
Medical Services & Medical Rescue
There are surprisingly good medical facilities, doctors and emergency evacuation services in Zimbabwe, as long as you have proper medical insurance which covers private facilities and services.
There are also several efficient private Emergency Medical Rescue Services, which will assist with ambulance or air rescue even in remote areas of the country. For more information see:-
ACE Air & Ambulance
EMRAS (Emergency Medical Rescue Ambulance Service)
MARS (Medical Air Rescue Services)
Travellers are advised to take out a medical insurance policy that will cover medical emergencies and evacuation to hospital should critical care be required.
However, it is advisable to also check that you have sufficient cover for road or air ambulance emergency evacuation to the nearest hospital from very remote areas (e.g. in the Zambezi Valley), where insurance company guarantees are not easy to check via an erratic or non-existant telecommunications system.
In some cases, tour operators will either have this kind of insurance themselves, to cover their clients in the event of an emergency, or they can organise the correct paperwork for you.
Alternatively, you can do it yourself, by taking out a short-term Emergency Rescue Policy. Contact the emergency medical companies listed above.
Pre-hospital medical plans - a frequently forgotten issue - Sept 2009
Water and food
It is always advisable to drink only filtered, boiled or bottled water when travelling. (Read our Travel Blog about the "Throttle the Bottle" Campaign)
Wash all fruits and vegetables in clean water. This will avoid any potential for stomach bugs. Please note that tropical diseases such as cholera are NOT a threat for visitors. While not denying the impact of this serious disease on poor communities which lack infrastructure, hygiene, and clean water, visitors are very far removed from these threats. All hotels, restaurants, camps and lodges maintain the strictest hygiene codes. Ice and salads are perfectly safe and visitors have no reason to be worried. Self-caterers are simply advised to take sensible precautions about hygiene.
Victoria Falls, Kariba and other areas of the Zambezi valley, being at low altitude, do harbour malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes. However the threat of contracting malaria is only really bad between November and May during and just after the rainy season. Most people visit the Zambezi area during the dry winter months when there are fewer mosquitoes, and the threat is considerably reduced. But it is sensible to take precautions.
There is controversy over whether or not you should take anti-malarial prophylactic pills, and medical advice on the subject can be confusing. Our recommendation is:
a) Make sure that mosquitoes cannot bite you. Cover up with long-sleeves, trousers or skirts at sundown; use insect repellant spray or cream; burn mosquito coils at night and sleep under a net.
b) Take a course of whatever prophylactic is recommended by a doctor you trust. Note that some anti-malarials should be avoided by people who are allergic to sulphur, and others can have psychotic side-effects. But taking precautions with a minor risk is generally better than contracting malaria. It is important to complete the course fully, even if this means you are taking pills long after you have returned home after your holiday (malaria can take from one to several weeks to incubate).
b) Consider carrying a course of one of the newer malaria treatment drugs which includes Artemether. You will only need to use this if you develop symptoms of malaria. But it will give you peace of mind, and ensure quick treatment, should you be unfortunate enough to develop the symptoms which are: waves of fever, shivering, headaches, diarrhoea and aching joints - a bit like bad flu but more severe. Always seek the nearest medical advice before taking treatment.
HEAT AND SUN
It is almost always sunny and hot in the Zambezi Valley during the safari season. Even in the winter months (May - July) you need to take precautions against sunburn, and, in the hot months (August - March), it is vital to drink plenty of water to keep your hydration levels up. Sunstroke is not pleasant and could ruin your holiday.
Always wear a wide-brimmed hat (better than a cap) and use a high protection factor sunscreen and lip salve. If you have sensitive skin, it's advisable to wear a long-sleeved shirt in very lightweight cotton (although the heat in September/October may make this difficult). Carry a neutral-coloured lightweight cotton wrap for throwing over your shoulders and arms to keep the sun off, if need be. Wear a good pair of sunglasses.
Drink PLENTY of water - minimum 2 litres a day. It's also useful to carry some rehydration sachets or tablets in your personal medical aid kit. These are very helpful in hot, dry conditions and can make a big difference if the heat is making you feel lethargic.
It is dangerous and foolhardy to swim in Lake Kariba or the Zambezi River. Stick to swimming pools, swimming cages on houseboats, or the humble, but effective bush shower (a bucket of water hoisted in a tree!). The water-borne parasite bilharzia, prevelant in water sources in Africa can cause a debilitating illness (which is treatable). However it does not breed easily in the fast-flowing waters of the Zambezi. Crocodiles, however, are a serious threat. They are everywhere in Lake Kariba and the Zambezi River (even if you can't see them).
Snakes, bugs, spiders, scorpions, crickets, bees, flies and ants
Don't be paranoid about these. It is very unlikely that you will encounter a snake, let alone be bitten by one. If you come across one, simply freeze and then retreat slowly backwards to a safe distance. Insects and other beasties are a feature of the African bush. None will kill you. Some can bite. Give them a wide berth and carry antihistamine and antiseptic cream. A simple precaution is to check your bedding before you go to sleep and shake out your shoes and clothes in the morning before you dress!
WALKING IN THE WILD
Safety is paramount when walking in wild areas, especially in places like Mana Pools National Park, where visitors are allowed to get out of their vehicles and walk unaccompanied by a professional guide, at their own risk. Here are some useful guidelines to ensure that you are never in danger:-
Related article: Walking with wild sense