Just a 90-minute flight away from the bustle of Joburg, it’s touchdown into an amazing climate, friendly people and a city that feels like a village and a metropolis.
Harare, derived from the Shona "a place that never sleeps", is more than a stopover en-route to the myriad of attractions Zimbabwe holds for travellers. The sights and sounds of the capital are like taking deep breaths; take it in and slowly breathe out. You’ll have a head rush when you realise all the things there are to see and do. And the best part - it is affordable for South Africans.
Get in early. Take the morning’s first flight into Harare for a full day of exploration.
Speed through immigration and either rent a car or grab one of the many taxis where reasonable fares can be negotiated upfront. Don’t pay more than $30 (R393) to get to the city centre. Make your way to a suburb called Avondale and enjoy breakfast at the Pariah State where, for about $5, a substantial breakfast starts off the day. The Chipinge region in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands grows some of the best tasting coffee; Pariah State serves it generously.
After breakfast, head to Heroes Acre for a look at the impressive monument built shortly after Zimbabwe’s independence. Here, national heroes and history are enshrined forever, showcasing the country’s rich heritage, but bring your walking shoes as there are quite a few stairs to climb if you want the bird's eye view.
For lunch, grab a bite at one of the many Zimbabwean convenience food stores. Chicken Inn, Pizza Inn or opt for South African franchises if you really must. Eat in the car and don’t waste too much time, because Harare in a few hours needs some applied efficiency.
Outside the city is the balancing rock. It is a quick visit and a great selfie opportunity with a rock formation precariously set. Created by erosion over millennia, the Chiremba balancing rocks were emblazoned on the old Zimbabwean currency.
Speaking of which, many vendors still sell old trillion and billion Zimbabwe dollar notes as souvenirs. It’s a great buy to frame or to pretend-pay for your groceries, with a soupçon of humour, back home, but don’t pay more than $2 for a couple of notes.
Before what will be one of the day’s highlights, make a turn at the botanical gardens for a stroll through Zimbabwean rain forest, African Savannah and examples of flora from across the globe.
Afterwards, pop past Africa Unity Square, the place where Harare was founded by Cecil John Rhodes in 1890. The paths around the piazza and fountain are laid out in a Union Jack formation and was originally named Cecil Square - it was given its current name after Zimbabwean independence.
The Wild Is Life sanctuary on the outskirts of Harare is likely one of the highlights of anyone’s day. Also the priciest, but well worth every penny as wildlife roam free and visitors are afforded a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see animals up close, and in a safe environment.
Arrive before 3.30pm and enjoy a guided tour of the sanctuary after which afternoon tea, champagne and canapés are served at sunset.
It’s cozy, it’s beautifully appointed and its gardens will inspire anyone with or without green fingers to go home and landscape.
Armadale Boutique Lodge (armadalelodge.com) is situated on a quiet side-street in the suburb of Borrowdale , off the busy Borrowdale Road arterial, in an old farmhouse dating back to 1904.
The rooms are spacious, yet intimate, amenities excellent and Zimbabwean hospitality is in residence here. There’s round the clock concierge and, as with most places, offers a special rate for South Africans, making it far more affordable. Zimbabwean pricing in the tourism sector is priced in three tiers - local, SADC and international rates - stimulating regional tourism and, in short, an innovative idea.
A visit to Harare is never complete without dinner, or lunch for that matter, at Gava’s. It’s a traditional cuisine eatery that could be compared to a South African Chesa’Nyama. Only, the menu is different and the flavours exquisite. Carnivores have a feast ahead of them as the freshly braaied steaks, chicken, goat or ribs are paired with some of the most delicious sides ever invented. Who would have thought that rice, mashed with peanuts, could taste so good?
If you choose chicken off any menu in Zimbabwe, make sure it’s a "roadrunner" (free range), it may be the best chicken you’ll ever have. Dr Trouble’s chilli sauce is a must and no meal is complete without a locally brewed Bohlinger’s beer.
Harare can never be fully explored in such a brief time, but its highlights are an absolute must-see.
Zimbabwe, and Harare, is so close to home but so different.
Getting to Harare:
Low cost airline FastJet flies several times daily between Johannesburg and Harare