Ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Victoria Falls is located on the Zambezi River on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. When explorer David Livingstone became the first European to set eyes upon the falls in 1855, he commented that "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight". Certainly, the planet's largest sheet of falling water is an impressive sight. Today, it remains one of the most popular destinations in Southern Africa, with visitors traveling from far and wide to admire the falls from viewpoints on both sides of the river.
Victoria Falls Facts & Statistics
At 5,604 feet/1,708 meters in width and 354 feet/108 meters in height, Victoria Falls is neither the world's widest or tallest waterfall. However, the combination of both measurements makes it the world's largest waterfall, with over 500 million liters of water plunging over the edge per minute during peak flood season. This astonishing volume generates a curtain of spray that can be seen from up to 30 miles/48 kilometers away, giving the falls its indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya or 'The Smoke That Thunders'.
Victoria Falls is part of two national parks: Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side and Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe. The falls' unique geography means that you can view them face-on and experience the full force of their thundering noise and power. The rainy season in Southern Africa lasts from late November to early April. If you want to see the falls at their most impressive, travel between February and early May when they are in peak flood. That being said, Victoria Falls is a rewarding destination all year round.
Which Side is Better, Zambia or Zimbabwe?
Because the falls can be viewed from Zambia and Zimbabwe, the first question most visitors ask is which is better? Inevitably, there are pros and cons to both.
Two-thirds of the falls are located in Zimbabwe. Head to Victoria Falls National Park to explore a series of well-marked pathways that wind their way through the rainforest to provide access to 16 different viewpoints. From here, enjoy classic, face-on views of the Main Falls, which are impressive even in the height of the dry season. The Zimbabwean side is renowned for its excellent game-viewing opportunities, while Victoria Falls town is closer to the falls than the Zambian gateway, Livingstone. Some visitors worry about security issues, thanks to Zimbabwe's turbulent political past. However, the Victoria Falls region is considered relatively safe.
Zambia offers fewer viewpoints, and if you travel during the driest months (October and November), the Zambian section of the falls may have dried up completely. However, many visitors prefer the slightly wilder, 'road-less-traveled' feel of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. The park is also half the price of its Zimbabwean counterpart at $15 per person. Most activities are available on both sides of the falls. The exception is Devil's Pool, a natural swimming pool on the edge of the falls that can only be accessed from Zambia's Livingstone Island. For adrenalin junkies, this is an experience not to be missed.
The Best of Both Worlds
Of course if you have the time, the best way to experience Victoria Falls is to view it from both countries. This is now easier than ever before thanks to the KAZA Uni-Visa, which allows visitors to travel in between Zambia and Zimbabwe as often as they like over a 30-day period. You can purchase the visa upon arrival at a number of ports of entry, including the Victoria Falls land border and airports in Livingstone, Victoria Falls, Lusaka and Harare. The visa also allows you to enter Botswana via the Kazungula border post, as long as you return to Zambia or Zimbabwe the same day.
Top Things to Do
Sign Up for a River Adventure
For a completely different perspective, view the falls from below on a Zambezi River trip. Options range from high-speed jet boat rides that take you to the Boiling Pot at the foot of the falls, to whitewater rafting trips through the high-octane rapids of the Batoka Gorge. If you'd rather enjoy the river's beautiful scenery at a more sedate pace, opt for a sunset cruise instead. These can be organized through your lodge or tour operator and usually include sundowners and light refreshments. Keep an eye out for hippos and exotic birdlife en route.
Go Swimming in Devil's Pool
A natural rock pool set into the lip of the falls, Devil's Pool takes extreme swimming to the next level. To get to the pool, you'll need to navigate a series of stepping stones from nearby Livingstone Island. Once you're in, you'll have front row seats to the awe-inspiring rush of water plunging over the precipice. The pool is only safe during the dry season, when water levels are low enough for a submerged wall to protect you from being swept off the edge. Devil's Pool tours are exclusively arranged through Tongabezi Lodge.
View the Falls From the Air
Sightseeing flights may be pricy, but they also offer an unforgettable way to appreciate the falls' sheer size and spectacular scenery. Companies like Wild Horizons offer helicopter tours, with different lengths and routes to choose from and specially curved windows that allow for the best views and photographs. If you're feeling particularly brave, you can always sign up for a microlight flight instead. Batoka Sky offers a combination Victoria Falls and game viewing flight that gives you the chance to spot the wildlife of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park from the air.
Bungee Jump off Victoria Falls Bridge
Just downstream of the falls themselves, the Victoria Falls Bridge spans the mighty Zambezi River and forms the land border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It's also the location of one of the world's most scenic bridge bungee jumps. The jump involves a 364-foot/111-meter drop and four seconds of exhilarating free fall. If you don't want to bungee jump, you can opt for a bridge swing or bridge slide instead; alternatively, the Big Air Package combines all three. Don't forget to bring your passport, as you'll need it to get onto the bridge.
Look for Wildlife in the National Parks
Although the falls are the star attraction, make sure to look out for charismatic African wildlife on your way to the viewpoints, whether you're exploring from the Zimbabwean or the Zambian side. Both national parks are home to baboons, warthogs, zebra, giraffe and various antelope; while elephants frequently cross the Zambezi at a spot just above the falls in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. For predator sightings, consider extending your trip with a visit to nearby Zambezi National Park, where lion and leopard are often spotted.
Where to Stay
Accommodation for visitors to Victoria Falls is found in Livingstone on the Zambian side or Victoria Falls town on the Zimbabwean side. There are options to suit all tastes and budgets, from colonial-era grande dame The Victoria Falls Hotel (expect 5-star facilities including an Edwardian swimming pool, a spa and a selection of gourmet restaurants) to cheerful backpackers' hostel Jollyboys. For mid-scale options in between these two equally well-loved extremes, take a look at Green Tree Lodge in Livingstone or Shearwater Explorers Village in Victoria Falls.