Victoria Falls ranks as one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. If you're planning a trip to Southern Africa you simply have to witness this mile-long curtain of falling water. As the explorer, David Livingstone remarked when he first saw them "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight".
Facts About the Falls
The falls are part of two national parks, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia and Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe.
The falls are just over 1 mile wide (1.7 km) and 355 feet (108 m) high. During the wet season over 500 million liters (19 million cubic feet) of water plummets over the edge into the Zambezi River. This incredible amount of water generates a huge amount of spray which shoots 1000 feet into the sky and can be seen 30 miles away, hence the name Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means smoke that thunders in the Kololo or Lozi language.
The unique geography of the falls means you can watch them face-on and get to enjoy the full force of the spray, noise and spectacular rainbows that are always present. The best time to view the Victoria Falls is during the rainy season from March to May, when they are at their most impressive.
Zambia or Zimbabwe?
You can walk to the falls from Zimbabwe, traveling along well-marked paths with a view that is best seen from this side because you can stand opposite the falls and view them head on.
But, with a volatile political climate in Zimbabwe, some tourists are opting to visit the falls from the Zambian side.
Visiting the falls from Zambia has some advantages, namely the tickets to enter the park are cheaper and accommodation in the town of Livingstone at least, is also traditionally less expensive.
But note the town is about 10km from the Falls, so you have to get a ride down. You can see the falls from above as well as below in Zambia, and the surrounding forested areas are more pristine. At certain times of the year, you can even swim in a natural pool right before the edge of the upper falls. As a town, Livingstone is an interesting place. It used to be the capital of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and its streets are still lined with Victorian-era colonial buildings.
It's best to visit both sides, and there is a border post you can cross quite easily with a UniVisa that allows easy access to both countries. However, as with all border formalities, it's important to check in advance since rules can change from day to day. Several hotels on either side offer packages which include a day pass to the other side as well as a night's stay.
If you are at the falls during the dry season (September to December) you must go to the Zimbabwean side to see the Falls properly, since the Zambian side can be totally dried up to a trickle.
Activities at the Victoria Falls
Obviously your main reason for visiting the area is to go and see the falls. If you're staying in Livingstone (Zambia) shared taxis and minibusses regularly run the route to the falls.
If you're staying in Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) just walk down to the park entrance from town. There are well-marked paths and many viewing points. You don't need a guide or tour; just enjoy the spectacle at your own leisure and bring a raincoat for the spray.
- Flights over the Victoria Falls can also be booked at various hotels and local travel agencies. Getting a birds eye view of the falls is certainly worth it if you have a bit of money to spare. The more adventurous can opt for a micro light flight.
- Some of the best views of the Victoria Falls are from Livingstone Island on the Zambian side. This small island is owned by Tongabezi. A real thrill is to swim in a natural rock pool on the edge of the Falls - Devil's Pool. You can only do this during the dry season. For more information, see "Devils' Pool - A Leap of Faith".
- Bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge is a highlight of many people's visit to the falls. Jumps usually run just under $100 and can be arranged from most hotels in both Zimbabwe and Zambia, or at any travel agency in town.
- A jet boat ride allows you to experience the Victoria Falls from below. The very fast (and scenic) ride takes you to the "boiling pot" at the foot of the falls, with some hair raising turns en route. Regal Tours and Safaris run the fastest boat.
- Rafting down the rapids of the Zambezi River is an incredible adventure. These are Grade 5 rapids, not a leisurely float down the river, so be prepared to get wet and work hard at staying upright. Trips usually include lunch at a beautiful spot along the river and end with a cold beer once you've clambered back up the gorge. Read more on white-water rafting on the Zambezi River.
- Sunset cruises are a popular pastime in this part of the world, and there's something extremely pleasant about enjoying a beverage while watching hippos cavort in the Zambezi under a spectacular sunset. Cruises can be organized through the various travel agencies around town in both Livingstone and Victoria Falls. My favorite from the Zimbabwe side is Ilala Lodge's Ra-Ikane, a lovely intimate cruising experience with excellent food. For less of s sunset cruise, more of a booze cruise, opt for the cheaper, larger boats.
- There's a surprising amount of wildlife to see just walking around the vicinity of the Victoria Falls on both sides. Baboons and warthogs are very common. Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Zambia) is small but packs a punch with white rhinos, buffaloes, elephants, and giraffe. Elephant safaris and a "walk with lions" are becoming popular activities. Both offer less adrenalin-loving folks a chance at a little adventure and many enjoy getting close to these great animals.
How to get to the Victoria Falls
If you're in Namibia, or South Africa there are some very good packages available that include flights and accommodations at Victoria Falls. Combining a safari in Botswana with a visit to the Victoria Falls is also an excellent option.
Getting to Livingstone (Zambia)
South African Airways has regular scheduled flights from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Livingstone.
Note: There's a departure tax of US $20.
- From South Africa: Starting in Johannesburg and Pretoria, trains run via the Messina-Beitbridge border crossing either via Bulawayo to Victoria Falls or to Harare.
- From Zambia: Trains from Lusaka take the Livingstone - Victoria Falls border crossing from where they continue to Bulawayo and terminate in Harare.
- From Zimbabwe: Cross the border at the town of Victoria Falls over the famous Victoria Falls Bridge, carry straight on this road for about 7 miles (11 kms).
- From Botswana: Cross the border at Kazungula by ferry, and continue east for about 37 miles (60 kms).
- From Lusaka: Livingstone is 290 miles (470 kms). Take the southbound Kafue Road out of Lusaka and just after the Kafue River Bridge, turn right towards Mazabuka. This road leads straight to Livingstone.
Getting to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe)
- Air Zimbabwe has regular flights to Victoria Falls from Harare. Air Namibia flies from Windhoek and South African Airways fly from Johannesburg.
- There's a classic steam train ride from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls. The wood paneled cars date back to the 1920's. The train is scheduled to depart daily but check in advance.
- Luxury trains departing from South Africa include a trip to the Victoria Falls: The Shongololo Express and Rovos Rail.
- Buses regularly travel between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo. From there you can catch a bus to Harare or even Johannesburg (South Africa).
- From Zambia: You can walk across the Victoria Falls Bridge.
- From Namibia: Intercape Bus Company offers twice weekly trips from Windhoek to the Victoria Falls on a luxury coach.
Where to Stay at the Victoria Falls
The most famous place to stay in Victoria Falls is the Victoria Falls Hotel on the Zimbabwean side. If you can't afford the hotel rates, it's worth going for lunch or a drink just to soak in the old colonial atmosphere.
Budget accommodation includes the following:
In Livingstone (Zambia)
- Jollyboys Backpackers Lodge is the ultimate independent budget travelers place to stay. Friendly and informal you can opt for dorms, campsite or double rooms. The premises have a pool and offer free trips to the falls and they'll even pick you up for free from the airport.
- Fawlty Towers offers both private rooms and dorm rooms at very good prices. They offer lots of good packages for activities in and around the Victoria Falls.
- Zambezi Waterfront Lodge offers a variety of accommodation in a very beautiful setting. The cheapest option here is a tented "adventure village".
In Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe)
- Shoestrings Lodge offers a good variety of rooms and is situated right near town so you're close to shops and bars.
Victoria Falls Recommended Tour Operators
For local activities
- Safari Par Excellence
- The Zambezi Safari and Travel Company
- Shear Water Adventure
- Regal Tours and Safaris
- Wild Horizons
For package tours