Bulawayo, covering an area of about 1,707 square kilometres, is the second largest city in Zimbabwe, and the largest city in Matabeleland. The city was founded around 1840 as the kraal of Mzilikazi, the Ndebele king then rebuilt by the first white settlers. It earned city status in 1943. In the past, Bulawayo was the main industrial hub of Zimbabwe hence the nickname ‘kontuthu ziyathunqa’ meaning ‘smoke arising’ in reference to the steam and smoke that rose from the huge cooling towers of the coal-powered electricity generating plant situated in the city center.
The name Bulawayo comes from the Ndebele word ‘kobulawayo’ meaning ‘place where he is being killed’. It is believed that there was a civil war during the formation of the city.
Bulawayo is a good location to get to by air, bus or by car. Visitors can fly in from Johannesburg, Harare and once a week on Air Zimbabwe from Victoria Falls. When self-driving, the journey from Harare to Bulawayo by road is about 432 km and takes around five hours. The road from Harare goes past Norton, Chegutu, Kadoma, Kwekwe, Gweru and Shangaai. From Victoria Falls, via the A8, one takes around 4 hours 50 minutes driving on the 439.7 km road, passing Hwange, Lupane and Kenmaur. From Mutare, on the A3 and A5, one goes past Nyazura, Dorowa, Murambinda, Chivhu, Mvuma, Lalapansi, Gweru, Shangaani and Insiza. The journey is 561 km long, taking up to 6 hours 30 minutes. There is also another route on the A9 and A6 going through Nyanyadzi, Nyika Growth Point, Masvingo, Mashava, Zvishavane, Mbalabala, Mulungwane and Esigodini. One can also go through Harare though this is the longest route of 698 km, taking 8 hours 33 minutes.
There are also coaches that travel to Bulawayo from Victoria Falls, Harare, Mutare and other cities. Commuter omnibuses are also another convenient means to get to the city.
There are several taxis and car hire services found at the airport and both means are safe. Hotels and tour operators also usually provide transfers to and from the airport so one needs to check during bookings. One can go around the city centre on foot but when they need to go to areas like Khami Ruins, they need to rent a car or hire a taxi as the commuter omnibus option is usually best for locals who know their way around.
Bulawayo has a wide array of accommodation that meets every traveller’s needs, from exclusive hotels, lodges, cosy Air BnB homes as well as backpacking hostels. Among these is the Cresta Churchill, conveniently located close to many of Bulawayo’s cultural and historical sites including the Natural History Museum, the Railway Museum and the Khami Ruins which are at a comfortable driving distance of 32km. The hotels has chic yet comfortable rooms, a swimming pool, a cocktail bar, conference rooms for business travelers and the famed Inglenbrook Restaurant which offers continental and full English breakfasts, as well as a la carte menus.
Another hotel, close to Bulawayo city centre, is the tranquil Holiday Inn Bulawayo. The hotel, set among blooming gardens, offers an outdoor pool and squash, tennis and basketball courts for visitors who need to exercise. The Phumulani restaurant serves hearty breakfast buffets as well as themed buffet dinners with traditional delicacies like Mopane worms. The KoBulawayo Cocktail Bar offers a wide of beverages from the cold, refreshing ones to excellent late-night cocktails.
Grocery stores are found at most shopping centers around the city with shops like Bon Marche, Spar and Pick’n’Pay offering fresh produce.
Apart from the restaurants in the hotels, there are also restaurants serving amazing food around the city. For breakfast, one could pop into the Indaba Book Cafe at corner Josiah Tongogara Avenue and 9th Avenue where there is great food, refreshing juices and a very friendly staff. One could also opt for Deja Vu Restaurant and Coffee Shop Cafe on Townsend Road, serving well cooked and presented breakfast foods including the decadent strawberry cheesecake.
For lunch, there is Earth Cafe at River Estate, Rooster’s Pub and Grill on Hillside Road, offering good food and a great ambiance. The place if famed for its Rib Eye Steak and Pork Chops. Bean There Restaurant Bulawayo at the BAC Bowls Club is a good place to have dinner as is Canela on Yellowood Lane, Woodlands.
There are a number of several conventional shopping areas in and around the city and these can be found at Ascot, Bradfield and Zonkizizwe Shopping Centres as well as along Fort and Main Streets. For beautiful handicrafts, one can visit Fife Street the National Gallery’s Sabona Shop on Main Street, Mthwakazi Crafts at on Samuel Parirenyatwa Street, Induna Arts on Josiah Tongogara Street, Mzilikazi Art and Craft Centre on Taylor Avenue and more.
Bulawayo is a relaxed city but there are lots of things to see and do. Its major draw card though is the Matobo National Park popular for the Matobo granite hills and rock formations as well as sightings of wildlife. Here, visitors can barbeque, see Rhode’s grave as well as watch the sun set over the hills.
The National History Museum on Leopold Takawira Avenue is another great place to go to view the taxidermy African animals, especially the enormous elephant taxidermy, that serve to educate people on wildlife conservation. Other historical and cultural places worth visiting include the Railway Museum and the National Gallery, Bulawayo.
Visitors can also visit Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage off the Johannesburg Road, explore Khami Ruins, go to Centenary Park and view the amphitheatre, manicured lawns and the large fountain or visit the Hillside Dams Conservancy, among many.
Bulawayo usually enjoys good weather with pleasant average temperatures ranging from 20°C Celsius to 25°C during the period from April to August. In the months of November to February, there is a high chance of precipitation whilst March to October is the dry period. On average, the warmest month is October, the coolest month July, the wettest month December and the driest month August.
Best times to visit
One may want to avoid the wet months of December and January or the very hot months of September and October. If one decides to visit during the winter months, they ought to remember to pack warm clothing and if they do decide to come during the summer, they need to carry with them sun block, light clothing, wide brimmed hats and good pairs of glasses. The month of March is a great month for keen cyclists to visit as this is the period when the Matobo Heritage Mountain Bike Challenge is held. There is also the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair to look for at the end of April and the Intwasa Arts Festival in September.