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The Prospectors’ Pub Crawl - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

29th June 2012 Print

Tour the bars of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe in the style of an early 20th century prospector.

As unusual add-on experiences to safaris go, this one takes some beating...

Newly available through Expert Africa, the ‘Prospectors’ Pub Crawl’ comprises a walking (or, eventually, staggering) tour around the pubs and bars of Bulawayo – Zimbabwe’s second-biggest city. But this isn’t just a bland beer session in the name of alcoholic oblivion; far from it, in fact.

Instead, the guided, historical Pub Crawl will recreate the journey of 19th century prospectors as they returned to Bulawayo each day from the nearby gold mines. After handing over their findings for cash at the gold exchange, the prospectors then regularly embarked on a time-honoured route around town.

That tradition has come to light thanks to research by expert local guide Paul Hubbard, via letters and accounts he found written by young prospectors. In his own words:

“It’s extraordinary how many accounts of Bulawayo over a century ago pay tribute to the city’s exceptional hospitality,” says Paul. “In those almost halcyon days, beer was 6d (a sixpence) a glass and brandy 9d (nine pence) a tot, while it seemed as though every street corner hosted an establishment dedicated to providing all necessary refreshments. Much entertaining was done in liquid fashion, too. There is the story of a Bulawayo bachelor who, on the morning after, received a note from his friend reading ‘I think I left my hurricane lamp at your house last night – please send it back by bearer. PS: I am returning your birdcage...’”

Visitors can now re-trace the most typical pub-crawl route with Paul. Many of the bars mentioned still exist in one form or another, with plenty still in the form of pubs. That includes the Exchange Bar, the oldest licensed pub in Zimbabwe, and a hidey-hole that retains much of its early-20th-century charm and décor. It was once a regular haunt for postal service workers, and a pile of mail bags was kept beside the bar for thirsty ‘skivers’ to burrow into should their boss suddenly appear! And it includes the final stop: the hallowed and still-open Bulawayo Club, where the night's festivities reached a new level. From the Club it was a short walk – often assisted – to the police station, where many of the old timers spent a comfortable night. Visitors with Expert Africa will happily be accommodated at the Club, however!

The tour is flexible: partakers can frequent all the available pubs in the true prospector spirit, or, if less alcoholically-minded, just stop off at each site and concentrate firmly on the historical intake. Visitors can even simply experience a few pubs with Paul. Otherwise, tours can last up to a full day and cost £90 pp for two people, or £45 pp for groups with a minimum of four. They are typically undertaken on foot, in true prospector-style, but a minibus is on hand at all times if needed. No cameras are allowed.

Expert Africa’s Klipspringer Safari, which includes two nights at the Bulawayo Club along with time at Ivory Lodge in Hwange NP and Matobo Hills’ Camp Amalinda (where Paul Hubbard also guides), costs from £2,686 pp (two sharing) including flights (London), transfers, six nights’ full board, two nights’ B&B, safari activities and the Prospectors’ Pub Crawl tour.

Bulawayo is Zimbabwe’s second city, but arguably its first in terms of charisma and looks. As well as serving as a gateway to Zimbabwe’s world-class Matobo Hills and Hwange national parks, and the Victoria Falls, it’s rich in culture, history and atmosphere. As the verandas of slowly-fading colonial buildings look on, the city throbs with the classic hustle-and-bustle of urban Africa. Located in the centre of the city and still functioning as a working gentleman's club, the Bulawayo Club dates back to 1935 and boasts colonial architecture, an eccentric character and lots of original items of furniture.

To book, or to learn more about Zimbabwe safaris, visit