Great Zimbabwe, the towering ruins from which this country took its name, is a silent reminder of Zimbabwe's remarkable history. Once the centre of a huge empire based on trade with Africa's east coast, this land-locked country was originally home to the Khoisan people who left their rock art scattered across the country.
Migrating farmers from West Africa, ancestors of today's Shona tribe and the builders of Great Zimbabwe, arrived in the 9th century while 19th century upheavals in South Africa's Zulu kingdom saw the Ndebele people flee from Zululand and settle in western Zimbabwe. A British colonial takeover was next and the country spent most of the 20th century as Rhodesia; the subsequent liberation war was a protracted and bitter one, culminating in Zimbabwe's independence only in 1980.
Zimbabwe boasts good infrastructure, an educated population and abundant resources. Its wealth has been built on agriculture, especially tobacco, as well as mineral exports and tourism. The country has some of the world's biggest platinum and diamond mines.
Around 70% of Zimbabwe's 12 million people are Shona-speaking while some 20% are Ndebele speakers. English, the country's official language, is widely spoken and visitors to Zimbabwe are often struck by the friendliness and optimism of its people, despite recent hardships. The country is a profoundly religious one - nearly two thirds of the population attends church regularly - and some 85% consider themselves Christian.
Zimbabwe is a country where culture runs deep: it has produced internationally acclaimed artists, musicians and writers but it is for its sculptors that Zimbabwe is best known. Stylised birds and human figures carved from soapstone, serpentine and verdite are the most famous.
Despite a mountainous and thickly forested eastern border with Mozambique, most of Zimbabwe lies on Southern Africa's raised central plateau, a landscape of rolling savannah, farmland and vast open woodlands. A large chunk of the country lies in the lower, hotter and more humid southern lowveld but it is the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba that define northern Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls is set in its north-western corner.
Such a mix of habitats means high biodiversity and Zimbabwe has a long history of wildlife conservation. Its flagship reserve is Hwange National Park, home to the Big 5 and some of Africa's biggest concentrations of elephant while Mana Pools and Matusadona National Parks offer excellent game viewing destinations at the edge of the Zambezi.
Zimbabwe wildlife highlights include bird watching and game viewing along the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls; abundant predators and outstanding dry-season game viewing at Hwange; Zambezi canoe and walking safaris at Mana Pools; and game viewing and birding at Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve and Gonarezhou National Park in barely-visited southern Zimbabwe.
Africa Safari Expert