By: Kim Emmanuel
Zimbabwe has a rich selection of historic sites on offer for tourists visiting the country. Kim Emmanuel looks at what's on offer at five of Zimbabwe's must-visit sites.
1.Great Zimbabwe Ruins
For travellers with a keen interest in history, a trip to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins is the perfect daytime activity.
The tourist attraction is open Monday-Friday between 08h00 and 17h00. On Saturdays it is open until noon. Built between the 11th and 15th centuries, Great Zimbabwe was home to a cattle-herding people. Sarah Stevens-Harrup, Director at Robin Pope Safaris Zimbabwe, says its structures are the largest and second-oldest in sub-Saharan Africa.
Set aside a full day to explore the ruins and be sure to hire a local guide. Graham Simmonds, Wilderness Safaris Business Unit Manager (Zambezi), says many of the guides are from the local university and have studied the area in depth. “What could seem like a caved room made of rocks is actually a mechanism to send sound down into the valleys and acts like a loud speaker of the time,” says Simmonds, explaining the benefit of having a guide.
The site covers almost 1 800 acres, and includes some incredible architectural details in the staircases, interlocking walls, granite boulders and mortar-less walls, adds Lindi Mthethwa, Regional Sales and Marketing Manager for African Sun Hotels. The site also includes a small museum with houses, artefacts, displays of building techniques and a history of the site.
A tour of Matoba Hills is the ideal stopover for tourists in transit to Hwange and Victoria Falls.
Angie Karan, Co-Founder of Dare to Explore, recommends a visit to Matobo Hills to view the “spectacular formations” of granite. The area also has the largest collection of rock art in Zimbabwe, and was home of the San Bushmen 2 000 years ago. Visitors can explore the area on foot.
The Matobo area has great spiritual and cultural significance to the local people and there are many sites within Matobo National Park where important ceremonies still take place.
The park is also the site of the grave of Cecil John Rhodes at the summit of Malindidzimu – ‘hill of benevolent spirits'. A short walk from the parking lot leads the visitor to his grave, which is carved out of the solid granite hill and surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of boulders.
The park is 34 kilometres south of Bulawayo along the Kezi/Maphisa Road. The main road to Maleme is tarred while all other park roads are gravel and mostly in good condition. During the rainy season the road to Toghwana requires four-wheel-drive vehicles. Simmonds says that while the area can be explored in a single day he'd recommend spending at least a night to be able to appreciate the experience. The park is also home to one of the largest populations of Black eagles in the world, says Stevens-Harrup.
Victoria Falls abounds with history as well as being a World Heritage Site, says Laura Dacomb, Owner of Travel Wild Zimbabwe. “Archaeological evidence of human settlement alongside the Zambezi in this area is rich and much information can be found on European exploration and expansion with notable figures being David Livingstone and Cecil John Rhodes,” says Dacomb. Travel Wild Zimbabwe can also arrange historic bridge tours and talks on David Livingstone.
The Great Zimbabwe Ruins, Matoba Hills and Victoria Falls can easily be visited in one itinerary and lend themselves perfectly to being explored on a self-drive itinerary with a good road network between them all, adds Dacomb.
The Falls can also be experienced by way of water rafting, bungee jumping, and a dinner on the steam train.
The Victoria Falls Hotel, built by the railways administration in 1904, also forms part of the history of the area. In the early 1970s, the hotel was leased to the then Southern Sun hotel group, forerunner of today's African Sun Limited. A significant development in the late 1990s was the involvement in the hotel of another leading Zimbabwean hospitality operation, Meikles Africa Hotels. Today the property itself still belongs to the National Railways of Zimbabwe and there is a shared 50/50 partnership operation between African Sun and Meikles Hospitality. The hotel was originally intended as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway. The Victoria Falls Hotel was built and operated by the railways administration and in the early 1970s was leased to the then Southern Sun hotel group, forerunner of today's African Sun Limited. The hotel also offers guests to enjoy sunset cocktails aboard a steam train chugging across the bridge that is over 100 years old. Today the property belongs to the National Railways of Zimbabwe and Zambia with a shared partnership operation between African Sun Hotels and Meikles Hospitality.
Khami ruins is a world heritage site just west of Bulawayo. It is still intact with the remains of early settlers as it was the capital of the Torwa state in the 1500s. Karan says the area can be explored on foot along several different paths and visitors can walk around at their own pace. A small site museum provides useful background information on the site itself.
Khami is dominated by a series of terraced stone ruins, often highly decorated. The largest comprises three tiered platforms and was the home of the King and his family. Archaeological finds include 16th-century Rhineland stoneware, Ming porcelain pieces that date from the reign of Wan-Li (1573-1691), Portuguese imitations of 17th-century Chinese porcelain, and 17th-century Spanish silverware.
Another historic site is found on the shores of Kariba, says Simmonds, and is accessible from Musango Safari Camp. Local guide Steve Edwards can take guests on walks to see where dinosaur fossils have been discovered. “Dinosaurs roamed the Zambezi Valley some 200 million years ago. Further East in Chewore, dinosaur tracks are embedded in the hard ground and date back 160 million years,” adds Simmonds.