Self-Driving - Tips and Practical Advice

Wild Zambezi

DRIVE ON THE LEFT
Driving in Zimbabwe and Zambia is on the left.  Give way to traffic coming from the right.  On roundabouts, vehicles on the circle have right of way.

FUEL
Diesel, petrol and motor oils are readily available for cash in US$ or SA Rands at borderposts and fuel outlets in all major towns in Zimbabwe (including Victoria Falls and Kariba).  Most fuel stations only accept card payments with local bank cards.  If self-driving to remote National Park areas, always carry enough fuel for the return journey. Most garages will fill metal containers, but not plastic ones.   Fuel for houseboat charters can be purchased from the harbours in Kariba, Binga and Mlibizi.

BORDERS
Bringing a car across a border involves bureaucracy such as Police Clearance, and charges for Third Party Insurance (US$30), Road Tax (US$10) and Carbon Tax (between US$10 and US$30 depending on the vehicle engine capacity).  A COMESA Yellow Card, obtainable via an Insurance Broker, can be used instead of paying Third Party Insurance.  There are additional charges at the Beitbridge Borderpost (see chart).

Foreign driving licences are acceptable for up to 90 days (or indefinite, if from the SADC region).

Help with Borderposts:  There is a useful Facebook page for information and help about crossing the border at Beitbridge: See: www.facebook.com/crossingbeitbridge.    For assistance at Kariba see: Tourism Assistance at Kariba borderpost

CAR HIRE
Be warned that car hire in Zimbabwe (particularly 4x4 hire) is extremely expensive in comparison to other countries. Fully-equipped and reliable 4x4s are not readily available in Zimbabwe, and can usually only be hired if you take a self-drive, guided 4x4 tour.  Many independent travellers prefer to hire fully-equipped 4x4 vehicles in South Africa, Botswana or Zambia (where they are more readily available for cheaper rates) and then drive into Zimbabwe.

ROAD NETWORK
Main Roads: There is a good network of main roads in the region, but they are not motorways (or even highways as such). Most are two-lane tarred roads which have deteriorated in places due to lack of maintenance. Do not drive too fast. Be careful of potholes and of animals (see below).

Main roads between cities or borders are often congested with long-haul trucks, lorries and buses. Many of them do not stick to speed limits and overtaking can be hazardous.  Be extremely cautious.

Exercise particular caution when travelling along main tarred roads through rural or wild areas.  Domestic animals (cows, goats etc) may wander freely into the road, and in wild areas (including even within towns like Victoria Falls or Kariba), wild animals including elephants and hippos, can unexpectedly cross the road in front of you. Avoid travelling at night if possible.

Gravel/dirt Roads:  Most dirt roads in rural areas or National Parks are passable during the dry winter months in a sturdy car, pick-up or 4x4, but can be corrugatedm and may sometimes have large potholes.

RAINY SEASON

During the rainy season months (Dec-April) roads can become very rutted and potholed, even in urban areas.  Extreme caution is required when travelling to remote areas on dirt roads.  A sturdy 4x4 is essential.  During heavy rains, some dirt roads can become impassable as they become very muddy.  River crossings can be flooded, and sometimes there can be dangerous wash-aways on bridges.  Carry a winch and/or a heavy-duty tow-rope and a large spade.  Try to avoid driving without an accompanying vehicle, in case you have a breakdown or are stranded by a flooded river.  

TOLLGATES
Zimbabwe's main roads have tollgates between major cities and towns.  The toll for ordinary cars, including 4x4s is currently $2 per transit. Minibuses and buses are charged more. Make sure you have some small change on hand for the tolls, otherwise there will be delay getting through while change is sought. Tolls on main access routes in Zimbabwe are aimed at assisting the authorities in improving the state of the roads in the country. 

TRAFFIC LIGHTS
When travelling in urban areas, be aware that traffic lights are not always working due to electricity cuts and lack of maintenance.  Approach all intersections with caution. If the lights appear to be non-functional, put on your emergency hazards and cross only when the road is clear.

PRESIDENTIAL MOTORCADE
Under Zimbabwean law, if the presidential motorcade approaches, (signalled by large motorcycles with flashing blue lights and wailing sirens) you must pull over and stop on the side of the road until the whole motorcade has passed. Do not attempt to avoid this.

POLICE ROADBLOCKS
Since the change of government in Zimbabwe in November 2017, there are considerably fewer police road blocks than previously.  This is good news for self-driving visitors.  However, it is not a reason to be non-compliant with the traffic laws of the country. 

If you are stopped, remain calm, always be polite, co-operate and follow instructions or requests. You may have your vehicle searched. Show your driver's licence if required. If you are in the wrong, accept it as being your fault and pay a fine.   Insist on an official receipt (i.e.Form Z69 (j) Admission of Guilt).

For information about the latest traffic offences and corresponding fines see:-
- Travel Advice for Motorists visiting Zimbabwe (Aug 2016)

Do not be tempted to get out of a Traffic Offence by buying your way out of the problem.  We do not need corruption in Zimbabwe, rather an enforcement of the Rule of Law. Keep your sense of humour - it often helps!

 

 

MORE INFORMATION:-
Self-Driving - Routes through the Zambezi Valley

- Travel advice for self-drivers:  tackling the remove "back route": Victoria Falls/Hwange to Kariba/Mana Pools (May 2017)

Travel advice for motorists visiting Zimbabwe (August 2016)

Advice for self-drivers in Southern Africa (Dec 2013)

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