After a decade of political disaster, Zimbabwe is emerging from its struggle as an incredible tourist destination once again. With its crowning jewel and natural wonder of the world, Victoria Falls, this landlocked country is a unique sight to see and has more gap year opportunities than you might expect.
With an airport opening up in Livingstone the tourism market is about to boom. If you choose to take a gap year in Zimbabwe now, you'll have the opportunity to observe incredible biodiversity (including the "Big 5"), archeological sites, and majestic landscapes. Adventure await in this land of emerging opportunity and cultural resilience.
Photo Credits: Sara&Joachim
Community Based Volunteering
There's a wide range of community volunteering available in Zimbabwe. These range from teaching English, working in nursery schools, global health, community development, and women’s empowerment.
With the general lack of development, there is a great need in the country at the moment. It’s always a great idea to capitalize on your skillset and use your travels to give back in a way that can really make a deep impact.
Zimbabwe is an adrenaline junkie’s paradise with opportunities to bungee jump, swim in the Devil’s Pool, see micro lighting, and go white water rafting.
Note that February through April are typically the best times to see the falls in their glory as the rainy season will have just past in surrounding countries where the mighty Zambezi river flows. It doesn’t always happen, but the falls can completely dry-up from November - December.
As one of Africa’s traditional wildlife capitals, Zimbabwe maintains many of the country’s national parks and rehabilitation facilities. As a volunteer, you can work at one of these rehab centers and care for infant or injured wildlife. This is a wonderful opportunity if you are interested in veterinary work, although you don’t have to have any qualifications to participate.
Alternatively, you can join a group of researchers and park rangers to study the wildlife populations in the field.
Planning Your Trip
Safety and Health
Zimbabwe still has a long way to go in order to recover from its massive economic depression. However, during your visit you will discover a country of people known for their friendliness, generosity, and incredible resilience.
Purchasing travel insurance before you go is essential, as clinics will require immediate payment for services. Most travelers also choose to drink bottled water as a safety precaution.
Zimbabwe is still considered relatively unstable by most governments, however there hasn’t been any documented violence against foreign travelers.
All tourist destinations such as Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba are considered very safe. Just like any unfamiliar country, it is advised to avoid traveling alone at night and to take taxi and private car hires in large cities.
Note that in Zimbabwe it is illegal to criticize the government and take pictures of political buildings. Additionally, homosexuality is illegal and citizens are not allowed to wear camouflaged clothing. Generally take caution around political events and discussions. Be aware of your surroundings; it wouldn’t hurt to read up on the political history of Zimbabwe before you go either.
Most travelers must pay a $50 visa entry fee. If you are staying less than six months you won’t have to go through any further formalities.
Be sure to speak to your personal physician or travel clinic at least six months before you travel to make sure that you have all the appropriate medications and vaccines for your stay.
As a traveler or volunteer, it is important to be aware of your impact. Especially in a recovering economy, individuals can be quick to make an extra buck off of their own natural resources.
One of the issues found in Zimbabwe involves predator breeding for tourism. Read up on lion walking and cub cuddling before you go and form an educated opinion on the game hunting industry. You will be more respected by your fellow travelers and feel confident that your time and money are spent making a positive impact.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Zimbabwe is generally affordable. Because of a massive currency inflation, the country now operates on the US Dollar. Be aware that the cost of adventure activities can be quite expensive in the Victoria Falls and Livingstone area. Although as a once in a lifetime opportunity – most of these offered are well worth the investment.
Be prepared to spend at least $100 on each activity and know that you will need to pay visa fees when entering any neighboring countries. Toiletries may also be expensive and hard to come by as most familiar brands are imported from South Africa - otherwise travel, food and living are very affordable.