Before you tick Harare off your list of places to see in favour of arriving directly at your safari destination, it may be worth considering spending some time in Zimbabwe’s capital and largest city. Home to two million people, Harare is the seat of government, with a large airport that serves as the major gateway for all flights into and out of Zimbabwe. Here you’ll find a city filled with modern buildings alongside beautifully sculpted parks and gardens, with a solid respect for its heritage that sees many grand old buildings that have been lovingly restored to their former glory.
Harare is also the leading communications, financial and commercial centre for Zimbabwe and as such, the city is largely conducive to doing business. It also forms the country’s trade centre for products the likes of maize, cotton, tobacco and citrus. Moreover, Zimbabwe’s manufacturing industry is also predominantly based in Harare, with goods such as textiles, steel and chemicals all locally produced. Telecommunications, too, is a thriving industry and ICT, ISP and mobile are all strongly represented. Visitors to the city will find that there is a strong banking centre, with local, regional and international banks doing business in Harare.
The city was founded originally as a fort by the Pioneer Column – a group of volunteer settlers organised by Cecil John Rhodes in 1890. In the early days, Harare was initially known as Fort Salisbury, becoming simply Salisbury a few years later. Less than a century later and under the government of Ian Smith, Southern Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was originally known) was declared independent from the United Kingdom. In 1970, the country became known as the Republic of Rhodesia. However it was only in 1980 that the country was internationally recognised as the independent Republic of Zimbabwe. It was two years after this that Salisbury officially changed its name to Harare, taking the name from the Harare Kopje, a nearby village. Today, Harare has become not only Zimbabwe’s capital, but the commercial hub of the entire country.
Harare is the history enthusiast’s dream. The city’s National Archives is home to diaries, notebooks and reports of various origins that include works from some of the greatest names in the country’s history including world famous explorers and missionaries. In the same vein, the Queen Victoria Museum and National Library are also a must-visit.
Art lovers should not miss a visit to Harare’s National Gallery, which houses an interesting collection of valuable local art, whilst also hosting travelling international exhibitions. Also of great interest is the Chapungu Sculpture Park, an area of black serpentine rock that has inspired the creation of a number of stone carvings by some of the country’s most talented artists. Here too, visitors can experience temporary exhibitions from international artists.
If you’re looking for a taste of local culture, a trip to the Mbare Flea Market is where you’ll find it. This bright and vibrant market is a true African shopping experience and stall holders offer almost anything you can think from food and clothing to basketry and local arts and crafts as well as Shona curios, sculpture and wooden carvings.
Those who seek mementos of a slightly more valuable nature will be pleased to know that Harare is home to both the studio and gallery of silversmith and contemporary jewellery maker, Patrick Mavros, who boasts amongst his elite client list none other than Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, Bruce Springsteen and King Felipe VI of Spain.
Of course, you won’t get to experience more of a local flavour than at the Harare International Carnival, a relatively new event on the city’s calendar. The inaugural festival took place in 2013, and this year, in May. This week-long festival is a true celebration of local culture and is aimed at highlighting the heritage of the country and its diversity. The first annual event attracted over one million visitors and the festival is set to become one of Harare’s annual highlights.
Known for its beautiful gardens, parks and broad Jacaranda-lined avenues, a visit to Harare would not be complete without a trip to the National Botanical Garden. It houses over 900 species of wild trees and shrubs, with most of Zimbabwe’s indigenous plant life represented, as well as some species from South Africa.
Parks abound in the city, with the largest park being the Harare Gardens – a favourite spot for photographers. Greenwood Park is also worth a visit – here there is a focus on fundraising and community service.
The beautiful Mukuvisi Woodlands is a 277 hectare area of natural woodland, an ideal destination for picnics and bird watching. Situated on the banks of the Mukuvisi Stream, the woodlands provide a natural habitat for a number of wildlife species, including giraffe, zebra, impala, eland and wildebeest.
As any visitor to the city can tell you, Harare has much to offer any tourist and makes an ideal destination to begin (or complete) your trip to Zimbabwe. Book your accommodation in Harare with Cresta Hotels.