Friday, January 27, 2017

Destination Update January 2017

It has been a while since we have sent out any newsletter, so we though we would post some important news online, so that anyone can reach it.

Since our last newsletter, perhaps the most highly anticipated and welcome development has been the permanent reinstatement of the KAZA Uni-Visa in mid-December 2016. From its inception, the uni-visa proved to be a very convenient option for our guests, and during the time of its review, it was greatly missed. In the second phase of the visa program, only Zambia and Zimbabwe will be participating, with more countries expected at a later stage (namely Namibia, Botswana and Angola). The visa will be issued in Zimbabwe and Zambia only, and will work in these two countries as well as for day trips to Botswana. We look forward to more African countries joining the uni-visa program in future.

After a few delays, upgrades at the new Victoria Falls Airport terminal reached completion late last year, and the official opening took place in November 2016. The anticipated upgrades included a new terminal building for international guests and a refurbishment of the domestic terminal building; a new 4 km long runway to accommodate the landing of larger aircraft that the airport is used to; a newly built control tower with more modern aviation equipment; a new hangar and fire station. We look forward to welcoming larger and more international airlines, as well as greater numbers of visitors to Victoria Falls and the surrounding area.

A new environmental development arose from the need to keep our local gentle giant from harmful waste materials in Victoria Falls. The Victoria Falls Elefence project was set up to raise funds and awareness for a fence to be put up around the town's dump site. The need became crucial after it was realised that elephants tend to roam around the dump site and feed on the harmful waste products such as plastic bags, etc. Sadly, quite a number of elephants have dies from consuming too much plastic. The EleFenst Concert was held in December 2016 to raise money for the fence to go up. Despite the heavy downpour during the event, the concert was well attended. We are glad to report that the fence has gone up, and although we feel good about this project, there are still some bumps that need to be ironed out. Get more information on the Elefence Facebook Page.

More recently, the Victoria Falls area, as with most parts of the country, has enjoyed increased albeit lat rainfall. The Zambezi River has had a sudden increase in water level due to localised rain. The rainfall has been unusually high, not just in Zimbabwe, but also in parts of Zambia and Botswana. As usual for this time of the year, over the next few months we also expect that the Zambezi's water levels will continue to rise from the flow from the northern catchment area, and increasing the volume of water coming down the Falls.

Main Falls - Victoria Falls (source Victoria Falls Photos)

At this time, some activities in Victoria Falls have been affected by the wet season with white-water rafting moving to High Water season and the Devil's Pool in Zambia being closed (the Angel Pool is presently the alternative experience). Also, sunset cruises have not been as bright, although a few fantastic photos have been taken of impressive storm clouds, or the sun's rays peeking through the clouds displaying gorgeous colours and rainbows in the sky.

Sunset over the Zambezi River - Victoria Falls. Credit: Tami Walker

Within Victoria Falls town, a new restaurant called The Three Monkeys was opened towards the end of the year. The popular American franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) opened a restaurant in December, located very near The Kingdom Hotel. KFC already have four other stores in Harare. A new budget accommodation option is the Shearwater Explorers Village near the Elephant's Walk shopping Mall, offering camping (with or without own tents) and chalets (bed and breakfast).

On the website, we have been concentrating on building great holidays for you and increased itineraries into Botswana. Our cross-border safari ideas are meant to inspire and give you ideas for a great African safari. The packaged ideas are grouped in different price ranges so there is something for everyone. Also on the website are great special offers in Victoria Falls, Hwange, Kariba and Chobe. Be sure to check them out plus a range of invaluable information for your holiday.

Perhaps the most concerning issue is the national cash shortages that we started to experience in the second half of 2016.The infamous bond note was introduced to help alleviate the shortage, and was set up to be equivalent to the US dollar (locally only that is). Working and loaded ATMs will distribute both dollars and bond notes and in very limited amounts. Trading is generally done this way too - consumers can pay using both the note and dollar.

However, for the visitors with outside Visa and Mastercards, very few ATMs will accept their credit cards. While the cash shortage is felt countrywide, local Zimbabweans have become accustomed to using swipe machines more than before, and where they are available, as well as mobile banking apps and online banking to pay for their bills. The truth is that places like Victoria Falls do have machines in most shops, hotels, lodges, restaurants and activity operator offices, but other tourist destinations like Kariba or the Eastern Highlands or other remote areas may not have as many machines if at all.

What we advise (as we have always done) is that tourists pay for their accommodation and activities in advance using online payment methods offered by their travel agents, lodges or activity operators, and carry a bit of cash for things like park fees, visas (if applicable), a bit of shopping, etc. and in small denominations.

The first low-cost carrier to Zimbabwe FlyAfrica ceased flights in Zimbabwe altogether after a scandal, and in came Fast-jet, a Tanzanian-based low-cost carrier offering flights to Harare and Victoria Falls. However, over time, the airline has changed its route and no longer offers direct flights from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, but flies to Harare where you can connect to Victoria Falls. It is not ideal, but you can always opt for other airlines for more convenience.

Because a lot of our guests visit both Zimbabwe and Botswana, and via South Africa, we advise you to read through the fairly new regulation passed by the government of Botswana concerning documents required from travelers under the age of 18 at any Botswana port of entry. You will find this important information here.

We look forward to welcoming new visitors to the region, and hope to see our returning visitors in the near future.

Look for more updates right here, and on our Facebook page.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017