Zimbabwe’s capital city touts grand hotels, manicured parks and a pulsing nightlife. Harare is full of surprises, and stands apart from the rest of the country. As a hub for tourism, Harare is the base for trips to spectacular game parks and the famous Victoria Falls, but the city shouldn’t be overlooked as a destination itself.
Here are my 10 favourite things about living in Harare so far:
10) Braai and Beer
A braai is basically a meaty grill fest (it means barbeque in Afrikaans). It’s a social custom that brings together families and communities. Whether you are on the street outside the local pub, or just relaxing at home, braais happen everywhere. Couple grilled meat with $1 beer, and I’m sold. Harare quickly won me over with this tradition.
Zimbabwe has no shortage of talented artists. This is best exhibited at HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) which lasts for five days. After spending two nights there, I’m in awe of the skills showcased (painting, performance art, comedy, sculpture and music all make an appearance at HIFA). The festival also has an array of bars and packs in people from around Zim.
I have rarely been hassled walking around downtown Harare. The only real danger is traffic — during rush hour, crossing the street feels like playing Russian Roulette. Harare has an undeserving reputation of being dangerous. That said, I was robbed at HIFA on the closing night. But luckily, the thief took cash only ($6) and threw away everything else, including my credit cards and driver’s license. These items were later returned to me by a Zimbabwean who found them. It was a best-case scenario theft, and shows the willingness of people here to go out of their way to help tourists.
There is a lot to look at when it comes to media in Harare, for obvious reasons. But there is an active media environment with critical commentary. It’s also refreshing to see the popularity of physical newspapers and the number of different publications circulating in the city.
6) Cheap Tourism
Harare itself is an expensive city (accommodation and food will make a dent in your wallet), but tourism is cheap. A guided safari to see giraffes, impala, and zebras in a nearby game park costs $10. No doubt Victoria Falls will be more expensive, but in Harare, there is always something going on for the right price.
5) The Quill Club
This place earns its name as the hangout for local journalists. Sam and I met our friends here — local freelancers use this small but comfy bar to file stories daily. The Quill Club also hosts media events, and last week we went to a panel discussion led by female journalists. Plus, the bar boasts a wide range of whiskeys.
The access to wildelife in Zim is extreme. There are lions, giraffes and a host of other animals in game parks just outside of Harare. I’m excited to explore the large game parks (Hwange to the west and Nyanga to the east), but I have been shocked by the quality of game just outside the city. So far, the Lion and Cheetah Park, Chinhoyi Caves and Mukuvisi Woodlands were my favourite experiences. Also, an interesting fact: Zim is taking conservation seriously with a “shoot to kill” policy on poaching. Also, the country has the best-trained safari guides in Africa who undergo rigorous schooling.
Whether it’s listening to jazz at the Book Café, attending concerts at HIFA or frequenting an Irish bar called O’Hagen’s, Harare’s nightlife is awesome. Not to get repetitive, but $1 beers is the norm and Johnny Walker bottles are a steal. Getting home safely at night isn’t a problem.
Zimbabweans deserve a place on this list. Every introduction here starts with “Hello, how are you?” and I have been continuously impressed by the helpfulness of locals. Random strangers stop me on the street to ask if I feel safe here, and after a brief conversation, many of them recommend a local activity or offer a useful piece of advice. Not only are Zimbabweans just awesome, but they have interesting stories to share (especially when you talk about the period of hyperinflation in 2008-09 which made everyone an impoverished billionaire.) So far though, a National Parks guide called Lovemore told me the winning story. On a day trip to visit the Chinhoyi Caves, I was lucky enough to have him as a guide. He explained that in his past life as a guide for professional hunters (mainly foreigners), he wrestled a leopard that had attacked someone in his group. Yeah.
1) Zim family
Sam and I have been adopted by a Zim family. This has definitely been my favourite thing about Harare so far. We found our accommodation through AirBnB and had no idea it would lead us to such a generous, helpful and fun family. Every bad day has been turned into a wonderful one — all it takes is a brief conversation with our hosts Cornelius and Julie and their sons. We live in a cottage on their property, which feels like home now. We’ve enjoyed outings, countless conversations and our first braai with these amazing people.
There are many more adventures to come.