Harare is Zimbabwe’s bustling capital city and it commercial core. Established in 1890, the metropolis was originally named Fort Salisbury then simply Salisbury, after the then British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. The current name, Harare, is derived from the Shona word ‘Haarare’ meaning ‘He who does not sleep’, and this is an apt name for a city that stays lively day and night.
Harare has very good road networks to all cities within the country and beyond. The journey from Bulawayo to Harare by road is about 432 km and takes around five hours. The road from Bulawayo goes past Shangani, Gweru, Kwekwe, Kadoma, Chegutu and Norton. The fastest route from Victoria Falls to Harare is 708 km long and takes 8 hours 40 minutes, going past Hwange, Gwayi River Farms, Lupane, Nkayi, Silobela, Kwekwe, Kadoma, Chegutu and Norton. From Mutare, one passes through Rusape, Macheke and Marondera and the journey is 266 km long, taking around 3 hours 20 minutes.
There are also luxury coaches that do transfers to and from Victoria Falls, Kariba, Bulawayo, Masvingo and Mutare for those who would want to venture further from Harare after landing in the capital or for those who would have landed in Victoria Falls and are keen on exploring the country by road.
Visitors can also directly fly into Robert Mugabe International Airport from Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Windhoek and Dar es Salaam.
Even though Harare has a public transport system of privately owned Commuter Omnibuses and government owned ZUPCO buses, the easiest and more convenient way for someone who is not familiar with the city to get around is by hiring a car from the numerous car hire companies including Impala, ordering a Vaya or Hwindi vehicle from an application downloadable on one’s phone or hiring a taxi. Hotels like the Meikles also have their own taxi service for their guests.
The city boasts of a number of luxurious hotels, bed and breakfast lodges, comfortable Air BnB accommodation and a few backpacking hostels that cater to every visitor’s needs. In the central business district, there is Crowne Plaza Monomotapa hotel, sitting just a stone throw away from the National Gallery of Zimbabwe with the Harare Gardens between the two. The towering concave building whose lights twinkle in the Harare night carries 243 rooms, the Monos Restaurant for fine diners, the Parkview Brasserie for buffet meals, the Gazebo Deli for teas, coffees, pastries and soft drinks and the Aquarium Bar with a wide selection of cocktails and a light meal menu.
At the corner of Jason Moyo Street and Third Street stands the luxurious Meikles Hotel with 312 rooms. The hotel also houses La Fontaine Grill Room, the quintessential model restaurant adjoining the Can-Can cocktail bar as well as the classy Pavilion Bistro on the first floor and the Tanganda Tea Lounge offering coffees, teas and a selection of fresh pastries.
Holiday Inn sits at the corner of the quiet Fifth Street and the busy Samora Machel Avenue with 201rooms and ample parking space that hold over a hundred cars. The hotel has Vumba Restaurant which offers guests a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner , Vumba Bar and the Poolside bar situated by the pool deck allowing guests to relax by the poolside sipping on either alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks.
There is also Cresta Oasis tucked away in Nelson Mandela street, popular among locals for its pub and serene environment, the Rainbow Towers hotel built in spacious grounds together with the Harare International Conference Centre, one of the main venues for big musical acts in the country, the New Ambassador Hotel, home of the Harare journalists’ Quill Club as well as Cresta Jameson with it Usual Place Bar where local artists like Victor Kunonga and Alexio Kawara usually provide live music.
For those who prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city, there is The Bronte Garden Hotel in the Avenues or the Cresta Lodge towards the east of the city.
Most lodges are situated in the plush suburbs, mainly as residential homes renovated into lodges. These include Simba Harare Guest Lodge, Harare Safari Lodge, Armadale and a lot more. The Air BnB site also helps visitors who would want to look up Air BnB accommodation.
Sadza or Isitshwala, a maize-meal-based pap eaten together with relish or sour milk is Zimbabwe’s staple dish and cities across the country, including Harare, have restaurants that offer it to their local and international clients. These restaurants include Kombahari Restaurant at Rainbow Towers Hotel which is exceptional with traditional African foods with Madora or Amacimbi (mopane worms) often featuring on their menu. If there is no traditional cuisine at your hotel, you could pop in at Gava’s, at Belgravia Sports Club where they offer buffet menus that comprise of white sadza with relish choices ranging from Huku yechibhoyi (free-range chicken) to Muriwo une dovi (collard greens in peanut butter) and if it is a Sunday, the meal can be enjoyed whilst enjoying live Afro-Jazz performances.
Apart from African Cuisine, Harare also offers European, Chinese, Thai, Mexican and more and the restaurants offering these include Alo Alo by Arundel Village, Chef Zandi at Alliance Francaise Zimbabwe, Queen of Hearts, Jam Tree, Chop Chop Bar and Restaurant, Food Nest at Longcheng, Pappa’s Pizza in Lytton and more.
There are several conventional shopping centres in and around the central business district of Harare depending on where one is staying as well as what one needs.
Longcheng Plaza Mall is ideal for any type of retail therapy or if one needs to pick something they forgot to pack, with its ample parking space and security. The Chinese Mall, sitting in the wetlands of Belvedere, houses chic boutiques, a grocery store, Chicken Slice Fast Food outlet, restaurants, a pharmacy, dentist’s services, children’s wear shops, gift shops, print shops, bars, banks, betting shops, a massage parlour, hair salons, an amusement park and a casino under construction.
The picturesque Arundel Village with its quant buildings offers a pleasant and secure shopping experience, boasting of over 80 retail outlets including a pharmacy, banks, a cafe, a dental shop, a dressmaker’s and tailor’s services, sports shops, an art shop, a Spa, a coffee shop, a cosmetics shop, a florist’s and more.
Sam Levy’s Village, located in the northern suburb of Borrowdale, with architecture almost similar to that of Arundel village, is popular with those seeking out high quality products and services. The establishment houses a dental surgery, book shops, cafes, nail parlours, beauty shops, a gym and a health club, a movie house, a night club, a massage spa, an optician, a lingerie shop and more for locals and visitors.
Westgate Shopping Mall is in the West of the city, spacious and a breath of fresh air from the central business district. Here there is a grocery store, boutiques, clothes shops and more. The establishment was at one time home to go-karting services and a movie house.
One can also do their shopping in the central business district if they can stand the congestion as there are great places like Joina City, East Gate Mall and there are also grocery shops like Meikles Pick’n’Pay, OK Zimbabwe and Spar Zimbabwe as well as gift shops and boutiques dotted around.
For unique, handmade crafts, one can visit the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s Artlife Gallery and Gift Shop which offers a wide range of art products including sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, paintings, artefacts, textiles and books. Chapungu Gallery near Doon Estate also has Shona sculpture pieces for sale.
Mbare Musika, located east in one of Harare’s oldest suburbs of Mbare, is at the pulse of the city. The market offers fresh produce of fruits and vegetables at low prices and a good place to make a bargain as well as craft and customized objects. As the bustling area is rife with pickpockets, it is wise to leave excess money and gadgets back at the hotel or the lodgings you would be staying at or in the car.
Many visitors treat Harare as one of those places they fly into in order get somewhere else they deem more tourist-worthy. However, there are a lot of things to do and see in and around Harare to make it a tourist-worthy place. The National Gallery, serene and spacious, is a good place to go to view amazing Zimbabwean art on exhibition, buy an art piece or grab a bite from the Sanctuary Cafe and Wine Bar. To experience a touch of the wild, there is Mukuvisi Woodlands in the eastern suburb of Hillside, home to various game species including the zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, eland, tortoise, duiker, crocodile and more. The place also has an aviary with a wide range of bird species. Another place for birdlovers to go is KuimbaShiri Bird Park by Lake Chivero. There is also Domboshawa with its amazing sunsets, stunning rock formations and caves with san rock paintings as well Bushman Rock Safaris with wine tasting opportunities and horse riding services. Flower lovers can take a ride to Ewanrigg Botanical Garden where there is a wide range of both indigenous and exotic flora.
Directions to all these places are easily available on line or from hotels where visitors will be staying.
Harare receives lots of sunshine during the warm months hence the moniker ‘Sunshine City. These months, which run from October to April have daytime average temperatures of 26 °C and 16 °C for the nights. During this season, there are usually rainy days and thunderstorms but mostly sunny and warm. The hottest month of the year is October. The winter months in Harare are from May to September: with daytime average temperatures of 23 °C and 8 °C for the nights. There is very little rain in this season where July is the coldest month.
Best times to visit
There really is no wrong time to visit Harare but just that some times of the year are better than others for engaging in certain activities. April to August is the best time to visit as there are less possibilities of rain, making going out easier.
October to November is a great time to bear the spectacular sight of Jacaranda and Flamboyant trees changing the colour palette of the city when their flowers fall and fill the city’s wide streets.
It is also great to visit Harare during annual events like the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) which is usually held in the last week of April, filling the city with an infectious energetic vibe.