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Zimbabwe is a very safe country for travelers. Zimbabweans by nature are very welcoming and friendly to foreigners, and the tough economic situation has not significantly affected the country’s safety for visitors.
Crime is generally not a big problem here, although random pickpocketing, smash and grabs, theft from vehicles, and scams do happen. Having been born and raised in Zimbabwe, as well as having worked in the Zimbabwean tourism industry for almost a decade, I can say that it’s very rare for foreign travelers to be victims of crime. Here are the main issues to be aware of.
I've heard of several people being scammed after making a booking through non-existent travel agencies. A check on Google or Facebook is not enough; always check the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority website, as all legit travel agencies and tour operators are listed there.
What I have observed is that corruption only surfaces when you have either incomplete papers or are traveling with an unroadworthy vehicle. The police are poorly paid and will be more than willing to accept a bribe to look the other way. If you have the correct paperwork and observe all the laws of the country, however, you shouldn’t encounter any demands for bribes.
Zimbabwe has a very heavy police presence, with several roadblocks on the highways and police officers patrolling on foot, bicycle, and motorcycle. Cases of police brutality are only related to politically sensitive issues and impact locals, never tourists. All police officers in Zimbabwe are trained to identify themselves before engaging you and carry plastic identity cards with their pictures and force number. Any request for payment for any service offered by the police is illegal.
Most roads in Zimbabwe are not maintained, and therefore speeding is not advised. I have lost several tires to potholes, especially during the rainy season when they become deeper, fill with water, and are more difficult to dodge.
Cases of vehicle theft are sporadic in Zimbabwe, but due to the multiple roadblocks, any vehicle thief would be quickly apprehended. Cases of smash and grab (where thieves break a window and grab valuables) have been reported in the main cities at night, especially at traffic lights, but these are not very common.
Petty crimes such as pickpocketing and mugging have been recorded but generally haven't involved travelers. This is because petty crimes like these often take place in crowded places in the ghettos or in downtowns, which aren't where tourists typically go, and because Zimbabweans hate thieves. Just a shout of "Mbavha/thief!!!" will trigger a swift chase to return any stolen goods to the rightful owner. I once lost a phone to a pickpocket in downtown Harare, but unfortunately realized it too late to raise the alarm.
Like most countries in Africa, walking at night in unlit areas or dark alleys is not advised, as most muggings happen at night. But this is only a concern in big cities and hardly the case in resort towns such as Victoria Falls and Kariba, where the only security risk for lone pedestrians is from wild animals.
National parks are generally safe for visitors for two main reasons: location and access control. Most parks are located far from villages and access is strictly monitored; every person (and vehicle) is registered upon entry and exit, hence tracking a criminal would be very easy. Also, most of the national parks, especially in the Eastern Highlands, are believed to be sacred by the locals, which dissuades any mischief.
The only criminals in national parks are poachers, who target creatures with valuable horns or tusks such as elephants and rhinos; unless one has ivory tusks, there is no threat to a traveler's safety from these criminals. But do be vigilant, as baboons have been known to snatch food and handbags, mainly from women and children. Once a baboon grabs something, recovery is often almost impossible.
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Zimbabwe is largely safe for travelers despite the political tension which has gripped the country for decades. We take at look at the situation and what you need to know before you go.
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