“Why You Should Visit Bulawayo” was written by Mike-Alvin Usifo for the first edition of S.E.E. AFRICA in 2016.
Bulawayo means a win-win! Ask anyone for a place to go in Zimbabwe on a low budget without missing superb experience and those who know ‘the ground’ well enough will recommend this city.
Located some 2-hour drive from Harare, Bulawayo is the perfect getaway for anyone seeking to dive into Zimbabwe’s rich culture, history, experience it’s safari, dig into its cuisine, roll with its friendly people and relax in its hassle-free air.
Besides, the city is also seemingly the host of two World heritage sites—Khami Ruins and Matobo National Park, and visitors can simply get spoilt in its numerous and affordable hotels and lodges.
Second only to Harare in population and size, Bulawayo never plays second fiddle to any Zimbabwean city when it comes to tourism and taking care of tourists. It is one of Zimbabwe’s oldest cities and unarguably the country’s cultural headquarter. It is also one of the best-planned places in the country and people usually say that visitors can almost never get missing in the city.
You’ll easily identify Bulawayo with its broad streets/roads, purple-flowered jacaranda trees, Victorian architecture and art deco style buildings, but nothing brings it to mind better than its title as the city of kings (and queens). If you wish to use my help with having a royal weekend experience in Bulawayo, then here is my usual itinerary.
Day 1: Arrive in Bulawayo and Head to Matobo National Park
There is an airport in Bulawayo if you are coming in by air, and if you intend to use the road, driving into Bulawayo is equally safe and you don’t have to worry about heavy traffic. You should go straight to Matobo NP.
It is quite removed from town but you will have the time to be alone and get quality undisturbed time in nature’s ambience there. You’ll find a beautiful lodge at the park where you can stay and use free Wi-Fi. Trust me when I say their food is nice, but don’t forget to book a safari with them. They will organize a trip into the heart of this world heritage site for you and I bet you will be wowed when you eventually leave.
Day 2: Explore Matobo World Heritage site
Hope you remembered to book this trip yesterday? Today is the time to ride, get on the 4×4 with the tour team (if there is any—it’s fun going in group actually) and go on this ride for a chance to see the single-horned creature among the big five…i.e. the Rhino!
Matobo is home to many Rhinos but because of poaching, the population had reduced drastically. Luckily, a lot is being done to stem poaching and preserve this beast. The location of the animals is a top secret and visitors are usually warned to put off their GPS when snapping them—please heed this warning to help prevent poaching.
As you embark on this trip, you will notice different rock formations, especially the rocks settings that portray the image of different creatures—including humans. Feel free to tell the tour guide to slow down for you to take some shots. You should also visit some of the rock painting sites. It’s a trip of a lifetime and you definitely want to keep the memories—so snap all you can!
Complete the safari with a trip to the grave of Cecil John Rhodes on one of the hills. Rhodes called the view from the top of that hill ‘the view of the world’ and I bet you’ll only understand what he meant when you climb the hill. Cool and breath-taking is the humblest word one can use to describe it.
I hope you get there with enough memories in your camera because you will snap so many pictures—so many that your camera will plead for mercy! Return to the lodge to pack your stuff and check out if you haven’t done that already, because tonight you’ll sleep in town.
Day 3: Explore Bulawayo City—and Khami Ruin
I didn’t bother to recommend a lodge/hotel because you can almost find nice hotels and lodges everywhere in the city.
If you are visiting during valentine season, I recommend that you stop by at the train station for a romantic trip on the train. This holds only on special days like the Valentine’s Day. The train station is on the road to the Khami Ruin—a World Heritage Site. Anyway, if you miss the fun, don’t miss the pleasure of digging into other parts of Bulawayo starting at Khami Ruin.
The ruin is a perfect compensation for you if you have not been to the Great Zimbabwe at Masvingo. Unlike the Great Zimbabwe, Khami Ruin is not a freestanding wall. The site’s rich history will help you make sense of the ruins, so ensure that you go with a tour guide who know his onions, for you to relish every detail. The distance from town to Khami is about 35-minute drive.
Depending on when you go, you should find some wildlife there too, especially monkeys, baboons, hyena, etc., and of course birds! There is a picnic site at Khami where you can relax after exploring the ruin.
When you are done, return to Bulawayo city, freshen up and rest a bit. By late afternoon, drive around town to see so interesting places. There is the statue of a late former Zimbabwe Vice President—Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, at the intersection of 8th Avenue and old Main street (renamed Joshua Nkomo street). Feel free to take some shots of the imposing statue. You can end the day at a bar in town or just return to your hotel to rest.
Day 4: Visit the Natural History Museum and old township
The Natural History Museum in Bulawayo is like no one else. On display in the museum are statue of various animals—they look so real you’ll certainly wonder if the animals were captured and embalmed there. From the big animals to small one, from crawling insects to large birds; there are so many of them you just can resist the temptation to snap them. You will also see raw minerals, recreated mining scene and other historical artefacts. The snakes seemed to be the online live animals in the museum though.
From here, go to the township and tour the herbal market. The oldest township in Bulawayo is Makokoba.
Oh! I have almost given all the fun away. Enjoy the surprises that lie in the city as you tour its length and breadth. Finally, you can end the day at a club around Robert Mugabe Avenue and travel back home the next day.
Mike-Alvin Usifo worked with Afro Tourism. from 2015 to 2020. Images contributed by ‘Niyi David.