Harare, Zimbabwe. Southern Africa
Harare is the largest city and capital of Zimbabwe. It has an estimated population of 1,606,000, with 2,800,000 in its metropolitan area. Its area is about 370.9 sq miles (960.6 km2). Weather is mostly sunny averaging 61°F (16°C), with about 94% humidity.
Zimbabwe sits atop the country’s central plateau and as a result it well lit by the open sky by day and night. It’s a bustling city with a lot of green areas comprising numerous flowering trees lining the streets and wide thoroughfares. While beautiful and green the city is also in constant motion and one cannot spend too much time to stop and smell the roses, neither literally nor figuratively. Restaurants are busy, and the shops are numerous, full of items you would be tempted to spend your tourist cash on. Traffic like most African cities is a nightmare and only the brave…or foolish dare cross the street without the aid of a warden or streetlight.
There is a lot to see and do in Zimbabwe’s largest city no matter your inclination. For the nature lovers Harare is home to the 68ha National Botanic Garden which houses more than 900 species of wild trees and shrubs from all over the country. Within the Garden on its western end is the National Herbarium. With over 500, 000 plant specimens it is the largest herbarium in the Flora Zambesiaca region (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana.) You would have to go all the way to Pretoria to see the largest Herbarium in southern Africa.
Situated just about 5 kilometres north of the city, the Mukuvisi Woodlands offers 277 hectares of natural woodland all remarkably preserved and home to indigenous flora and fauna. Zebra, impala, giraffe, crocodile, tses
sche, bushbuck and wildebeest all roam the banks of the Mukuvisi stream. Granted there are not as many animals as there used to be due to various reasons but its proximity to the city offers value and presents an actual representation of the African savannah with easily accessible animals that can be seen from close range. It also offers a bookstore and restaurant. It should be noted the park could do with some improved maintenance, might be wise not to get too excited about a visit.
Hikers have access to the Kopje, a large granite hill in the south-west of the city. It offers great views all around. I think it’s fair to say that you won’t see many Africans on this trail. We don’t walk up hills just for the fun of it. Europeans you can have this one.
If shopping is your thing then be prepared for something really unique. Shopping in Africa is an active experience and Harare is no exception. 1st rule of African shopping have eyes in the back of your head. This is paramount. Due to the fact that the markets are typically open-air (The stalls do not share a common roof) with the stalls nestled side by side combining to form what could only be described as a bonafide maze one must be extremely careful negotiating the tight pathways which are usually cluttered with items for sale. In Africa the customer is not always right, if you break it, tip it, spill it, you’re damn right going to pay for it. I’m not going to elaborate on
your potential punishment if you choose not to. We’ll just leave that to your imagination.
The biggest market in Harare is the Mbare Market. It’s a pleasant assault on the senses if you know what you’re doing. Spices and textiles are the big earners with many shoppers and visit will most likely have you in agreement. But like I initially indicated shopping in Africa is an active experience that I think everyone should partake in. A few visits will leave you an able negotiator but to prepare you I’ll provide you with a few tips.
Rules of thumb in African shopping…trust me you’ll thank me for this.
- There is no market price!
- Shoot for at least half the quoted price
- Always be willing to walk away. And finally if you do make a purchase,
- Be content with the price you pay
The final piece of advice is very important. It will save you a lot of grief and possibly put a wry smile on your face. Reason being it’s very common to see person A pay $50 for an item but then see person B pay $15 for the exact same item just seconds later. Like I said there is no market price, only what a customer is willing and free to pay. It’s a wonderful experience and you’re either a winner or a loser and like casinos if you can come out not angry you’re a winner.
As far as lodging is concerned a number of decent options abound depending on the experience you’re looking for. Lodges are available for those who want more of an African feel. (The only way to get an actual African experience would be to lodge with an African friend or family. Be brave, be brave). The Bowood Lodge and Wild Geese Lodge are good bets for this. But if you’re more inclined to the typical hotel way of doing things I’ve heard good things about the Meikles Hotel.
As far as night life is concerned you won’t have to travel too far. Nobody parties like Africans do just as World Cup and Olympic organizers. One final bit of advice; look after your passports and if you can master the phrase “Zvakapresser!” (Times are tough) the locals will take to you which would make your stay much more enjoyable. Trust me.