victoria falls self-drive safari

10 Tips for Self-Driving in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is an exceptional destination for a self-driving road trip. From the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls to the rich wildlife in Hwange, Zim offers visitors a wealth of natural wonders. Self-driving in Zimbabwe allows you the freedom to explore at your own pace and tailor your journey to suit yourself. So if you love a hands-on and independent travel experience, Zimbabwe is the ideal destination for your next adventure!

#1 – The Basics

Before embarking on your self-driving tour, ensure that you do your homework and get good relevant guidance. Ensure you have all the necessary documents, including a valid driving licence, vehicle registration, International Driving Permit and insurance papers.

Familiarise yourself with Zimbabwe’s road rules, such as driving on the left-hand side of the road, obeying speed limits, and avoiding the use of mobile phones while driving. Knowing basic driving etiquette, like giving way to emergency vehicles and not overtaking in dangerous areas, is also essential. Follow the four-way stop rule, especially at intersections where all four legs of the road have stop signs.

Mana Pools - situated near the bank of Zambezi river. Mana - means four, for four pools (waterholes) which provides water for the game during dry season as well.

Above: Mana Pools – situated near the bank of Zambezi river.

Wearing seatbelts is mandatory in Zimbabwe, and all vehicles must always have a serviceable and certified fire extinguisher on board. If you want to hire a vehicle in Zim you have to be at least 21 years of age and have held your driver’s licence for at least a year. There are toll roads in Zimbabwe, so you need to plan for that.

#2 – Planning Your Route

As we’ve said, Zimbabwe is ideal for the self-drive explorer! However, it’s crucial to plan your route carefully. Consider factors like road conditions, local security, weather patterns, and, very importantly, your budget. Don’t be shy to look at cost-saving options – they can make a difference!

You need to identify specific destinations, what you want to do there, what accommodations are available, and how long you want to stay. If you have specific places and attractions that you want to see, you need to plan your itinerary around that.

Here is a brief list of some of Zimbabwe’s attractions you might want to consider:

  • Victoria Falls, is one of the seven great natural wonders of the world, and the delightful town of Victoria itself. There are many activities on offer.
  • Hwange National Park is Zim’s largest national park, and home to the renowned ‘Big Five’. Accommodation ranges from basic campsites to luxurious tented camps and lodges.
  • Matobo Hills National Park with the famous Matopos Hills.
  • Harare, ‘the city that never sleeps’ for a taste city life, live music and local crafts.
  • Lake Kariba, famous for stunning sunsets, delightful houseboats, tiger fishing and many attractions and activities.
  • Matusadona National Park, one of Zimbabwe’s pristine and hidden gems.
  • Mana Pools National Park on the Zambezi River and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The mighty mountains of the Eastern Highlands. The Hondi Valley and Chimanimani are perfect for hikers and rock climbers.

#3 – Choosing the Right Vehicle

By African standards, Zim’s roads are in good condition, so a self-drive is a very viable option. You can tackle your trip with a 2-wheel-drive vehicle, but it’s not recommended. Some national parks, like Hwange, allow self-driving without a 4×4.

However, a 4×4 vehicle is advisable, especially if you plan to explore remote areas. Using a 4×4 enhances your mobility and capability to access more difficult terrains.

MSEP Nissan Single Cab Petrol Equipped 4x4 - 1

Above: MSEP Nissan Single Cab Petrol Equipped 4×4, Hire Now!

In wildlife reserves like Mana Pools and Hwange National Park, a 4×4 with a higher ground clearance is best. Safety also enters into it – having a reliable 4×4 can contribute to a safer, more secure and more comfortable self-drive experience.

#4 – Vehicle Preparation

If you’re going to use your own vehicle, the next step is ensuring it’s properly prepared. Make sure that it’s been recently serviced. Make sure the brakes, battery, engine, and the tyres are in tip-top condition. It’s always a good idea to travel with a few essential spares like an extra fan belt, fuses, and an extra spare wheel.

Also, make sure that your emergency first-aid kit is fully stocked. Having a first-aid manual on hand is also a good idea. It’s also important that you travel with plenty of water, non-perishable foodstuffs, an emergency blanket, a flashlight and extra batteries.

Make sure that you have all your personal and prescription medications with you in sufficient quantities to last the whole trip.

#5 – Some Self-Driving Common Sense, Fuel and Fuel Stations

Bear in mind that a third-world country like Zim does not necessarily have the working infrastructure that ‘first-worlders’ are used to! However, Zimabawe is considered safe to visit and your trip should be without incident if you follow travel advice and stick to the rules and regulations.

Petty crime like theft and pickpocketing do exist, however, so practise common sense. Keep your car doors locked, your windows rolled up and don’t leave valuables in full view in your car. Potholes are common, and traffic lights don’t always work.

Also remember that malaria is prevalent in Zimbabwe, so take malaria prophylactics with you. Avoid taking photos of official buildings and don’t criticise the government in public. Same-sex couples should be discreet when making hotel bookings or going out in public together. Same-sex marriages are banned in the country.

Cars, animals and pedestrians generally share the same roads, so you have to be alert at all times. These days roadblocks are less frequent than they used to be, but it’s essential that all your regular documents are in order and that you have them with you at all times when driving.

MDE Nissan Double Cab 4x4 Equipped2

Above: Nissan Double Cab 4×4 Equipped Boot Space

And you’ll need to be very patient when crossing borders in and out of Zim! There are still frequent shortages of petrol, water and electricity, especially in more remote areas, so make sure to take supplies of water and petrol with you.

Fuel availability in Zimbabwe can be sporadic, especially in remote areas, so make a point of always filling your tank when you can. Carry extra fuel in approved containers (metal, not plastic), and keep cash on hand many fuel stations don’t accept card payments. Make sure that you check where on your route the petrol stations are located.

#6 – Road Conditions

Zimbabwe has a mix of tarred and dirt roads. Road conditions in Zimbabwe vary, but in general they require caution as we’ve already indicated. Most major roads are in fair but deteriorating condition, and they often lack passing lanes, shoulders, and proper lighting and road markings, so traffic accidents are common.

Driving outside main towns at night isn’t advisable at all, and driving at night is to be avoided if at all possible. Rainy conditions will reduce visibility even further and make the roads slippery.

Useful real-time traffic updates are available for Zimbabwe and it’s important to stay informed about road conditions at all times. Road signs are standard, and often not present, especially in remote areas. A reliable GPS system is important, and you’ll need to back that up with up-to-date detailed paper maps as well.

#7 – Wildlife and Livestock

Zimbabwe is home to a wide variety of incredible wildlife which is amazing to see, but animals carry significant dangers.

Two female kudus crossing the dirt road in Hwange National Park,Zimbabwe

Above: Two female kudus seen during a game drive in the national park.

You’ll often find wild and domestic animals on the road. Cattle, sheep, horses, and antelopes like kudu pose a significant risk to drivers. Here are some general pointers to keep in mind:

  • Always keep a safe distance from any animal.
  • Don’t attempt to feed or touch them.
  • Be cautious of livestock on rural roads.
  • Many animals are more active during dusk and dawn, so avoid driving during these periods if you can.
  • Wild animals are just that – wild. This makes them dangerous and unpreditable.
  • Never approach wild animals and stay in your vehicle at all times.
  • Don’t risk your life for that ‘perfect pic’ – it’s really not worth it.
  • Sensible behaviour regarding wild animals includes:
  • Use common sense!
  • Be alert at all times.
  • Don’t go for a walk in wild areas unless you’re in the company of an experienced, armed guide.
  • Avoid any close encounters with wild animals.
  • Always respect any animal’s space. Never put them in a ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ situation. The outcome could be dire.
  • Animals always have right of way.
  • Stay quiet, calm and respectful near animals.
  • Never crowd animals – stay at a safe distance preferably downwind from them.
  • If you’re camping, make sure all your food is securely locked away
  • And finally, don’t go for a nighttime stroll in wild areas. That’s when the predators hunt …

#8 – Security

Zimbabwe is generally considered a safe country, but you need to take sensible precautions during your trip. Here are a few fairly self-evident points to bear in mind:

  • Always be extra vigilant when you’re driving at night.
  • In fact, avoid night driving completely if you can, particularly in remote or isolated areas.
  • Don’t go for a walk at night – it’s a bad idea!
  • Never leave valuables, jewellery or belongings lying in your car in full view.
  • Be extra vigilant when leaving a bank or ATM, and never ‘flash your cash’.
  • Always ensure that your car doors are locked and your windows closed.
  • Only park in well-lit areas if possible.
  • Avoid night driving.
  • Only ever go on a walking, rafting or canoeing safari with an accredited guide, and then follow their instructions religiously.
  • Never visit Zim at election time when civil unrest and/or political violence are more likely to occur.

#9 – Emergency Situations

When embarking on a self-drive adventure in Zimbabwe, preparation for emergency situations is crucial.

Here’s how to ensure your safety:

  • Do thorough research and planning beforehand to familiarise yourself with your route, the road conditions, and potential hazards. Get information from reliable local sources.
  • Ensure your vehicle is in excellent condition, and that you’re carrying essential spare parts, tools and equipment.
  • Make sure you have reliable means of communication like a satellite phone or radio to call for help in emergencies. Make sure you have an up-to-date GPS system and maps, backed up with paper and offline navigation maps.
  • Carry emergency supplies like petrol, water, non-perishable food, first-aid kit, your medications, and emergency blankets.
  • Take out comprehensive travel insurance that’ll cover you for medical emergencies, vehicle breakdowns, and related costs.
  • Stay clued-up about the weather so you’re prepared for changing weather conditions.
  • Take regular breaks from driving to avoid getting driver fatigue.
  • In the case of accidents, contact the local authorities immediately. Getting a local SIM card is a very good idea.
  • In medical emergencies, head to the nearest hospital or clinic.

#10 – Understand Local Customs and Etiquette

Zimbabwe is known for the friendliness and warmth of its people, and being respectful to the local people and officials goes a long way in ensuring you have a smooth journey. Learn a few basic phrases in the local language, and try to learn about the customs related to greeting people properly and politely.

Politeness is highly valued in Zimbabwe. If you understand local customs, taboos, beliefs and cultural practices, you are less likely to give offence unintentionally. Some knowledge about local laws, customs and regulations could also help you avoid legal complications.

Your self-driving adventure in Zimbabwe is an incredible experience just waiting to unfold! With the right planning and preparation, it will be a deeply rewarding way to explore this beautiful country. If you’re looking for a reliable 4×4 rental, Drive South Africa can assist you with affordable 4×4 rental in Zimbabwe.

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