Harare: Meikles Hotel 29 Nov 2016 - 30 Nov 2016

Harare is a beautiful and well-designed city with open wide spaces and parks.

Being the commercial capital of Zimbabwe, it is teeming with businesses and bustling with people going about their daily work. It has one of the most amazing weather conditions globally with crisp and clear air and overall a pleasant temperature throughout the year. The temperature ranges from 4 degrees on winter nights to around 30 degrees on summer afternoons. You can see lots of greenery around and the most attractive sight is the jacaranda trees in full purple blooms during summer months of September and October. Though not much to be seen in the city, it is a good stop for international flights as it is connected to all important tourist places in the country through air, road and rail. There is a Central Business District (CBD) consisting of office blocks, a commercial district where shops are located, Avenues area which houses embassies, large houses, schools and private hospitals and the suburbs, also residential, once where the wealthy white residents used to stay. To the southwest of the CBD is Mbare the informal part of Harare where there are loads of local businesses, vegetable markets and busy bus stands.

Originally Salisbury, Harare became a city in the year 1935. It was deemed a good place to settle by the British South Africa Company and it quickly became modernised and industrialised under the colonist's rule. It saw a rapid development during the prosperous period of tobacco cultivation and office blocks sprung up in the city center in the city already having some fine houses built for the European settlers. It acquired the name Harare on the second anniversary of Independence after a local chief 'Harare' of the Neharawa tribe that were settlers before the colonisation.

Harare is known for its appreciation of the history and cultural heritage of the country. A lot of architecturally important buildings have been preserved in the city. Moreover, you can visit the National Gallery to look at some Shona soft carvings and some other traditional African artefacts along with European work from the 19th century. Shona sculpture is now famous over the world because of the efforts of one man, Frank McEwan who was the director of the gallery for a certain period of time in which he worked hard to bring the Shona culture into the spotlight. Harare Gardens is the oldest park in Harare and also the largest built on a land set for public use by Cecil Rhodes. It is a popular picnic spot with a memorial for the First World War casualties and also has a miniature model of Victoria Falls, the Zambezi Gorge and the railway bridge. This is where the Harare International Festival of Arts is held every year. Also seen in the Civic Center is the Museum of Human Science, which although not as elaborate as the Bulawayo Natural History Museum, has some interesting collection of stuffed wild animals, depiction of the landscapes in Zimbabwe, illustrations of the early life of the Shona and also of ancient cities like Great Zimbabwe.

Around 3 km north of the Central Business District (CBD), are the National Archives, a collection of Rhodesian and African documentation. They hold all records of the central and local government authorities and documentation dating from the past of individuals that have contributed to the history of Zimbabwe. Some date from the 16th century of the time of the first Portuguese conquest. Also present are Livingstone's diaries and paintings by Thomas Baines. Documented are not only the colonists but also the Shona and Ndebele peoples.

The National Herbarium and Botanical Gardens are situated at a distance of 4 km from the CBD. It's a 68 ha property home to 900 species of wild plants and 500,000 plant specimens. The main vegetation landscape of Zimbabwe is well-represented and there are also some non-indigenous plants that thrive in the Zimbabwe climate. The whole complex is attractive and well signposted.

A 275 ha preserved woodland area, the Mukuvisi woodlands, is located 5 km from the CBD. It has an open space for animal species like giraffe, impala, wildebeest, eland, zebra etc. Some birds have been also kept in an enclosure. It is at a good proximity to the city and can be visited as a day trip. There are guides available for extra charge if required. You can also do horse-riding if interested. A lot of school groups can be seen on trips learning about wildlife and the different bird species or for a shorter pony ride. There is a very interesting shop in the premises that has some curios, paintings and prints and new and second-hand books based on wildlife, nature, local history and local writers.

National Heroes Acre covers 57 acres on a hill around 7 km from CBD. The amphitheatre seats 500 people on the opposite hill. It was built as a memorial and burial ground for the heroes who fought in the Bush war. Parts of the monument also denote aspects of Great Zimbabwe and the visitor center has a gallery of interesting photographs. There's a great view of the city from the top of the monument.

8 km from the CBD is the Chapunga Sculpture Park that promotes Zimbabwe Shona stone sculpture all over the world. It's a 6 ha park with 80 pieces and 8 sections. It is an attractive park with shady trees and also a dam. Sculptures include human and animal figures and some abstract figures. You can also watch sculptors work under thatched shelters and buy their work either directly from them or the manager.

Accommodation in the city and around can be chosen as suitable to the needs and interests of the tourists. There are commercial hotels as well as lodges to cater to the discerning tourist. The restaurants are the best in the country and there are a lot of shopping places to choose from ranging from everyday needs to curio shops selling traditional craft ware.

Though it has undergone a period of high instability, Harare seems to have retained its shine and it shows signs of returning to its past glorious self and better. It has all that is required of a capital city and is slowly becoming a popular tourist stopover.

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Mana Pools National Park: The Wild Safaris, Mongwe 30 Nov 2016 - 3 Dec 2016

Mana Pools National Park is one of the surprisingly less-visited national parks in the country, considering the extravagant beauty of nature that you get to see here. It was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1984 by UNESCO and was the first one in Zimbabwe to get the designation.

It is a 2196 sq km area with lush floodplains, tall canopy of ebony and mahogany trees, beautiful view of the mountains of the Rift Valley escarpment with the mighty Zambezi river running along the northern boundary of the park. The area covers 10,000 sq km along with the Sapi and Chwore safari areas.

The vibrant greenery surrounds four ('Mana' means four in Shona) lakes- Main, Chine, Long and Chisambuk- left behind by the river's old path of flow, owing to which the wildlife here is extensive. On the opposite bank of the Zambezi is the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia, to which the wildlife here has no problems swimming across to. Hence there is no dearth of game and other wildlife here at any given time of the year. During rains the wildlife moves further into the bush where there are smaller seasonal water bodies and during the dry season comes back to the river.

Mana Pools is known for its walking and canoe safaris. The remoteness of the park has left is largely unspoilt and its fair inaccessibility has preserved its wilderness. The area is known for its large elephant and buffalo herds and game like kudu, impala, zebra and other antelope. There are predators like lion, leopard and it is one of the few places to see wild dog. There are scores of hippos and crocodiles in the water and large variety of beautiful birds including many fish eagles, water birds and red-necked falcon.

Visitors have different options of activities here. There are a few good camps that are simple and rustic and appeal to the truly adventurous traveler who wants the purest safari experience. Stays here can be combined with walking safaris, canoe safaris or both. There are also options to spend few days on a canoe trip; paddling away in a two-man canoe, experiencing wildlife at close quarters, walking with one of the best guides in Africa to get close to wildlife, spot birds and insects that cannot be seen from the canoe, then relaxing at the end of the day with a hot water bucket bath, a superb meal set on the shores of the lakes and sleeping under the stars in a tent that you have helped put up or has already been put up for you.

The Jun-Oct dry season is a good time to be on a safari as majority of the animals converge on the water bodies. The Nov-May season is a great time to see the beautiful bush, with a variety of wild flowers and baby animals. The foliage becomes dense and hence it is exciting to try and spot wildlife.

The park can be accessed, preferable by a 4WD, from the A1 on the Harare-Chirundu tarred road. The last fuel stop is at Marongora, 315 km northwest of Harare, also where the office of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management is located. You can get your permits here and then proceed towards the main camp at Nyamepi; your vehicle will be inspected and your permit signed by a warden. After registering at the office in Nyamepi, you have the option of staying at a campsite there or under any tree near the Zambezi. The wildlife here is pretty used to humans but nevertheless visitors should be cautious. It is essential to get cans and drinking water if driving. You can hire an armed ranger at the Nyamepi camp for your safaris. The area can also be accessed by light aircraft from Vic Falls.

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls Hotel 6 Dec 2016 - 8 Dec 2016

Understandably one of the wonders of the world, Victoria Falls is the principal tourist attraction in Zimbabwe.

The force of the mighty Zambezi River spilling into a gorge is one of the most enthralling sights in the world.

The local Makololo name for the falls is 'Mosi-ao-Tunya' which means the Smoke that Thunders. UNESCO recognised the significance of the falls and the surrounding area and gave it the World Heritage Site credential in 1989.

Victoria Falls town is where the tourist adventure starts. It lies on the south bank of the river close to the falls. It is served by a recently-upgraded international airport that has opened up the possibilities of direct linkages with the world. There are also rail and road connections from the town to the rest of the country.

During different eras the river has fallen into different chasms, which now look like a series of sharp zigzag gorges downstream from the falls. There are 7 recognised gorges, the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Songwe and the Batoka gorge across which the gorge swing activity takes place.

There is an array of activities that can be done below and above the falls and on the Zambezi. Whitewater rafting, river boarding, bungee jumping, abseiling and .... are the adrenaline-pumping activities that can be done here. For more relaxing activities, sunset cruises and canoeing can be done on the Upper Zambezi for the rich wildlife in the area or elephant rides, walking safaris and horseback trails can be booked in the surrounding national parks and smaller wilderness areas.

A part of the Upper Zambezi forms the Zambezi National Park, which together with the Victoria Falls National Park, the spray-drenched rainforest, covers an area of 56,000 ha.

The Zambezi National Park is stunningly wild and the tourist will surely quench his thirst for the most extravagant of visits to see large mammals, smaller mammals, almost 400 species of birds, beautiful forests of mahogany, figs and date palm trees and extraordinary views of the roaring falls from the Victoria Falls National Park.

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Highlights

Wild Horizons Tour of the Falls Zimbabwe VintageAirRally Zambezi River Cruise Victoria Falls Pilot Club Dinner Victoria Falls Vintage Air Show Wild Horizons Helicopter Flight (13 min) Puma Energy Gala Dinner

Matobo National Park: Amalinda Lodge 8 Dec 2016 - 11 Dec 2016

34 km south of Bulawayo is the extraordinary Matobo Hills National Park that is situated in the 80 km long Matobo Hills. Formerly known as the Rhodes Matopos National Park, this 424 sq km national park is one of the more accessible and interesting areas in Zimbabwe.

The dramatic landscape of this park is made of huge piles of granite boulders with reddish hues balancing on top of each other at improbable angles. The 200-milliom years old Matobo Hills has range of domes, spires and balancing rocks resultant of years of erosion of a solid granite plateau.

The park was founded in 1953 but got the UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003 for having one of the largest concentrations of rock art in Southern Africa. These 3000 fine rock paintings are the legacy of the San (Bushmen) hunter-gatherers who lived here about 2000 years ago.

There are beautiful paintings of giraffe, eland, kudu and rhinos in the caves. The identification of a rhinoceros outline at the White Rhino Shelter gave the impetus to reintroducing the species to the park in the 1960s. There is a large population of white and black rhino in the park along with zebra, wildebeest, kudu, giraffe, sable, klipspringer, hyena, cheetah, hippo, leopard, common duiker, crocodiles, waterbuck, baboons and vervet monkeys.

Matobo was named by the Ndebele King Mzilikazi after the 'bald' rocks (amaTobom means 'bald heads' in Ndebele). He was buried in the hills just a short distance to from the park. The local people consider the site sacred and still use them for their traditional ceremonies. The summit of Malindizimu in the hills is also the place of burial of the imperialist Cecil John Rhodes who referred to it as 'World's View'. Also buried here are his right hand man and leader of the Jameson Raid Leander Starr Jameson and first Prime Minister of Rhodesia Charles Coghlan.

There is no public transport to the park but it is easy to drive to the park and around. From Bulawayo, the drive out of the city is via the Robert Mugabe Avenue.

There are private camps just outside the border of the park for accommodation and National Park chalets. The National Park is divided into different areas including the Lake Matopos, Recreational Park Area, Sandy Spruit and the Whovi Wilderness Area where the rhinos are. These areas of wilderness are truly spectacular with high biodiversity; there are over 200 species of trees, fairly rich bird-life especially black eagles, multi-coloured lizards, snakes and game. The caves housing the rock paintings are easily accessible and each has a unique setting in the granite wilderness.

Matobo Hills National Park is a safe walking terrain. With beautiful scenery around, it offers excellent hiking opportunities. Short walks include the Lakeside walk, Maleme Dam from Fish Eagle lodge, Mount Pomongwe from Maleme Camp, Maleme camp to Pomongwe cave while longer walks can be climbing mount Shumbashawa near Gordon Park, climbing Nyahwe mountain and hiking from Toghwana Dam to Inanke Cave. Most of the trails pass along the caves with rock paintings. A guide can accompany you from the Maleme Camp if required.

Other than hikes, visitors can also try their luck at tracking rhinos on a guided walking tour with an armed scout. With an ever-increasing population of black and white rhinos , you can more often than not spot them easily. Also a 4 WD can be taken to spot more wildlife at a leisurely pace.

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