Politics in Zimbabwe continues to cause great distress and damage conjuring up an image of chaos and insecurity. Despite this, Zimbabwe is a safe country to visit, particularly if it is primarily an organized safari or tour. Zimbabwe’s political-economic situation is volatile, but rarely affects tourists. As with many third-world countries, theft and muggings are relatively common, but most incidents are in cities, Harare in particular and walking about the city alone and driving at night is not recommended. Overnight stays at a reputable hotel, or an organized visit to one of the attractions in or around the city should be fine.
If you’re on a packaged safari or tour group, encountering safety risks are minimal; tour operators make it their business to know the areas they travel to, so risk is kept to a minimum. Other visitors should try not to travel alone, always keep to small groups, never hitch hike or get a lift from a stranger when you are on your own. Try to keep up to date on current happenings by reading the local news.
Safety within Cities
The central areas of many larger cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Harare, Victoria Falls, Livingstone, Windhoek and Maputo have a criminal element that preys on unwary tourists!
- Do not walk alone in apparently deserted places especially at night; wherever possible walk with a group and be aware of pickpockets and bag snatchers.
- When taking a taxi without a meter, always get information about the trip price up front, before you get in.
- Do not wear jewellery, expensive watches or display money belts or carry a lot of camera equipment, especially in the major cities.
- Only carry the cash you need for that day and leave the rest in the safety deposit box at your hotel, including your passport and bank cards.
- Keep a photocopy of the first few pages of your passport, visas and air tickets, separately from the original documents.
- Reading a guidebook or looking at a map on a street often attracts unwanted attention and beware of thieves posing as police officers.
- Don’t be afraid to be firm with people who sell things on the street. An effective approach is not to look at their merchandise at all, say ‘no’ once or twice and ignore them after that.
- Without being paranoid, be sceptical of people approaching you out of a normal context especially if they have a sad story that plays on your emotions. These stories usually aren’t true and, in most cases, end in asking for money.
- Be very careful when drawing money from an ATM. Go elsewhere if suspect people hang around and don’t let anybody help you or talk with you at the ATM.
- Keep a handbag safely grasped under your arm and don’t put it down at any point especially when having a meal or a drink.
- When travelling by bus don’t put your bag under your seat as the person behind you can take valuables out of it and put it back without you noticing.
- When traveling with all your luggage and belongings keep your passport and bank cards on you; if your bags get lost or stolen, you’ll still have what’s most important.
- Always lock car doors and close windows when driving in towns and put luggage in the boot where it is not visible. If somebody wants to talk to you, open your window just enough to communicate, but not far enough to put their hand in.
- Do not offend or irritate police officers even if you are at the tenth road block between Harare and Bulawayo and always show respect. Police officers might try their luck getting a bribe and if so don’t get aggressive, but also don’t give in and stand your ground. A light attitude and a joke is a better way to see you through the inconvenience.
- Don’t take photos of government or military buildings in Zimbabwe.
Safety on the Roads
When driving in Africa there are a few simple rules.
- Drive carefully and slowly (speed kills), remember animals and humans can cross the road at any time, quite often just in front of you. Always wear seat belts.
- Try never to drive at night, as the risks increase exponentially, vehicles may have missing headlights
- Stay alert as roads may be poorly maintained with pot holes or corrugations.
- Keep the doors and windows locked while driving in the major cities as car-jacking does occur.
Safety on Safari
- Always listen to your guide and when visiting wildlife areas do not walk without your guide.
- Do not approach any wild animals; they are dangerous
- Do not swim in any rivers or lakes as most have crocodiles and hippo.
- Never feed any animals, however inquisitive or cute they may appear to be!