Harare (the heart beat of Zimbabwe)Reading Time: 9 minutes
My home, the city I was born, the first place I think of when I try to draw on my childhood memories. Harare, located in the Northeast of the country, is the capital city of Zimbabwe and with a vibrancy to match. I may be a bit biased but I generally always have a good time when I am in the city. It is indeed the city that never sleeps as its name suggests.
Tinkered with new unexpected spots for both day and night time entertainment to reflect change and adaptation to the times. During spring the streets are carpeted with beautiful purple flowers of the jacarandas and the sun kisses your skin to give it glow, in the summer though the kisses occasionally become too passionate that the downpour of rain that follows is met with appreciation. Zimbabwe is populated by myriads of friendly, generous and compassionate people who generally like to have a good time, and those in Harare are no exception.
When I am in town, I always love catching up with friends and family who always take me to both, old and new haunts to keep it interesting. As hard as it is to do this but based on my experience, I will try share six of my favorite ‘must visit’ places in Harare:
1.The City Center
This is where the heartbeat of Harare, the Central Business District. First Street is aligned with a combination of shops, fast food chains and some local businesses. You will also find bootleg copies of books, CDs or DVDs on the paths outside some shops-pick a particular book and the vendor may ask you to wait for about 5 African-minutes while he goes to get your copy. Along Samora Machel Avenue, you will find the Reserve Bank and a host of other banks, from which, you can withdraw cash from their secured ATMs or change foreign currency. (At the time of posting this, there is currently a cash shortage in the country so maybe taking some cash with you would be advisable for everyday needs and then try using your card as much as possible).
If you go out a bit you will find Eastgate Shopping Mall, which has a cinema, some food halls, various chill out spots and internet cafes. Opposite Eastgate is another shopping mall where one can pick up a few things-most shops here have imported goods from China, UK or America. Whenever I am in Zimbabwe, I always go into Bata to see what new stuff they have. Not sure if their shoes are good quality or if my purchases are significantly driven by nostalgia. Memories of times gone by when once every year or two I would go to the shop to buy a new pair of brown Toughees (shoes) which marked the beginning of the academic year or stompees (the most comfortable and firm bedroom slippers which you can wash properly with water that I have ever seen). The city center is buzzing during the week with people who work in the city making things tick over. You will find the restaurants buzzing at lunch and a few bars are inhabited with individuals grabbing after work drinks before heading home for the evening. Usually this is not where you go for a chilled hang out at the weekend. Most people go to the city center for work or other specific activities and leave.
2. Avondale Shopping Centre
I am not entirely sure whether I like Avondale Shopping Centre because it is cool in itself or because it brings back some wonderful teenage memories of going out with friends for pizza and the movies. In the past, there was a ‘Debonairs Pizza’ place serving half-meter pizzas and a’ Scoop Ice-Cream Parlour’ where people went on ‘first dates’. Avondale Shopping Centre has a variety of restaurants with lovely balcony seating to get a whisk of fresh air while reading a book, ideal for a spot of people watching and a very relaxed atmosphere for catching up with friends. There are also a couple of supermarkets (including Food Lovers Market), quirky home décor shops, craft shops, pharmacies, electrical shops and as if there was not enough for a day of shopping there is also a flea market where you can pick up a range of items from clothing, electricals and some amazing arts, crafts and jewellery. I always make it a point to visit, at the very least, the flea market just to check out the interesting art with its intricate designs. Without fail, I always manage to pick up something precious, such as jewellery or wall art, which I rarely get to keep as a friend admires and snaps it up. Again, there are a couple of banks here including a Barclays Bank and can therefore make necessary withdrawals or currency exchanges without the same hustle and bustle you may find in the city centre. Another cool benefit is that Avondale has free parking.
3.Sam Levy’s Village
Located in the Northern Suburbs of Harare, this is a hub in itself. If you are staying close to ‘The Village’ as it is well known-the majority of your needs can be met here (albeit, at a premium). The Village has just about everything you need both during the day and at night.
There are grocery stores including Bon Marche, TM, Spar and Food Lover’s Market, specialist shops for different things including hiking, cameras, swimming and for the girls who need their fix of make up there a couple of department stores here that will be able to sort that out for you. There is also a branch of my favourite shop ‘Bata’. After a day of shopping, you may be famished and voila, there is ample choice for places to eat with a variety of sit in and take away restaurants offering different cuisines including Japanese Sushi, Italian, American and Thai. There is a cinema on site, and for those with kids there is a kiddie play area in St Elmo’s (near the cinema). You can lose yourself going around The Village and at the weekends there is also a market that pops up with a variety of stalls, some similar to those found at Avondale Market. In the evenings, The Village opens up to a different crowd wanting to drink or dance the night away-the bars open up and there is a background hum of music from different establishments. What happens at The Village stays at the Village, if the grounds could speak-they would tell stories. There is also good, free parking with security onsite.
This is a place that I admit, I only started to fully appreciate as I got older. It is in one of the high-density areas of Harare. Historically, this is where black people used to live before independence and was known as Harare township. This part of town is not very developed and quite impoverished. Mbare has a variety of markets including an organised food market (Mbare Musika) where you will find a range of interesting traditional foods including madora (mopane worms), ishwa (roasted flying ants), mhashu (roasted grasshoppers), mufushwa (a range of dried green vegetables), ipwa (sugar cane), different milled grasses, nuts and maize and all at quite decent prices. Over 50% of vegetables in Harare are sourced from here as suppliers from as far as South Africa send produce for sale. It is truly, a traditional food lover’s dream market. It also has another market known as ‘Magaba’ where you can buy a range of building material or metal-work.
On the other side, you will find a clothes market (Mupedzanhamo) which directly translates to mean ‘Finish Strife’ which clothing for as low as a dollar.
Mbare has creatives aplenty, which can be seen through some of the crafts the children play with including wire cars and bicycles or metal houses, the street art that you see on buildings as well as the amount of musical talent that is brewing from the neighbourhood. One of the more current Zimbabwean music crazes is Zim dancehall which has some roots in this area.
As Mbare is also home (Rufaro Stadium) to one of the biggest football teams in Zimbabwe, Dynamos DeMbare, you may be able to watch a live game here if you are in town during a fixture.
I would highly recommend going to Mbare either with a reputable tour company or with someone you know and trust who knows their way around as you may come across some pick pockets happy to take advantage of a situation.
In Zimbabwe, we do not have BBQs but we have Braais. I think the main difference I have identified between the two are the key ingredients. A braai-on the most part it is a low maintenance affair with the key ingredient being the meat, there is sadza made on the side and a simple ‘salad’ of tomato and onions. Whereas a BBQ generally has more fuss with multiple salads, salsas, pasta and rolls. Each one definitely has its respective audience. Mereki is home to the no fuss braai, definitely not for the pretentious. There was a real buzz about the place with music blaring from individuals’ cars. The concept for Mereki works in this way….you go to a butchery, you pick your meat, you take it to a fire where someone will cook it for you and then bring it to your car. You can also ask them to bring you some sadza and salad together with the meat. There are no seats and no individual plates or cutlery so you huddle up with your party behind your bonnet, wash your hands (feel free to whip out the anti-bacterial liquid) and get on with the matter at hand. Admittedly, when I first went there I was confused, so many people had talked about Mereki but this was not what I expected. However, with the help of the great company I had, I had a quick mental adjustment to my environment, and got with the program. The meat is actually divine even more so when you consider the conditions it is made- back to basics! With the music blaring, people enjoying good food and drink as well as good conversations it is not hard to see why this place gets so busy on most weekends. As a warning though Mereki does not have the best sanitation facilities, it mostly is an open space therefore try to go before you head there (if you get my drift). There are also other similar places such as pahuku, zindoga, kwafatso and junction 24 where you can go and enjoy a good braai without putting the work in yourself.
For those in a rush and can’t get to Hwange but would still like to get a bit of wildlife in their trip to Harare then a trip to Mukuvisi woodlands is a must.
Mukuvisi provides one of the few large green spaces open to the public in Harare. This runs on the most part as an educational conservation game park with wild animals including giraffes, kudus, impalas and zebras.
The few times I have been there I have gone on the horse back safari which is a very gentle and laid back horse ride in the middle of lovely woodland. The horses are well trained and move at a slow and steady pace so don’t worry if you are not a particularly good rider.
If you do not want to go round, the woodland there is also birdwatching activities available. Overall, it provides a good day out in the open air that you could even forget that you are in the capital. I always find this quite nice when I have a free moment just to get in touch with nature, sometimes even with a book just to sit, overlooking the vast expanse and temporarily escape into the wilderness.
If you have ever been to Harare, what are your top recommendations of places to visit?