“It had never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight” by David Livingstone
The Victoria Falls are undoubtedly an African great attraction and one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. With a length of almost 2 kilometres and a height of over 100 meters, this magnificent natural wonder of cascading water defines the border separating Zimbabwe and Zambia. In 1851, David Livingstone, a Scottish doctor, missionary and explorer, first heard about the great falls from the local population, but only in 1855, he decided to visit them. He spent the night on the island of Kalai, a few kilometres upstream of the falls, and the next morning he set off in a small canoe to get closer to the “smoke that thunder”.
He arrived at the largest island on the edge of the falls, now called Livingstone Island, and from there he had his first view of the falls. The view was so impressive that Livingston wrote in his diary “No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight“. Livingstone called the falls “Victoria” in honour of Queen Victoria of England, but the indigenous people Kalolo-Lozi already had their own name to refer to the falls: “Mosi-oa-Tunya“, that is, the Smoke that Thunders!
Once you reach Victoria Falls town, the town next to the falls, a strong roar and columns of spray can be spotted from miles away as, at the height of the rainy season, more than five hundred million cubic meters of water per minute plummet over the edge into the gorge below. We visited the Falls twice, the first time in July 2009 and the last time in June 2017 on our way to Botswana. We will visit them a third time soon!
- HOW TO VISIT THE VICTORIA FALLS
Victoria Falls stretch for 1.7 kilometres within Victoria Falls National Park (on the Zimbabwe side) and Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park (on the Zambian side), so to visit them in all their beauty, you will need to enter through two gates in two different countries. If you wonder which side is the most beautiful, we absolutely suggest visiting the falls from the Zimbabwe side and only visiting the Zambian side if you have time.
1. Zimbabwe side
The Falls Ticket Office is just a 10-minute walk from the small town of Victoria Falls. If you have a car, you will find a large parking lot right in front of the entrance gate. Once inside, there is the information centre and the map of the Park. The tour runs along a flat paved path that leads to 16 unobstructed viewpoints. The nr. 1 is the Statue of Livingston, while the last, nr. 16, is the Railway Bridge. One of the most spectacular viewpoints is the nr. 15, called Danger Point, which overlooks the gorge. Be very careful because there are no barriers in this viewpoint. Bring a raincoat or rent it near the entrance gate because the waterfalls’ continuous spray will completely soak you at the various viewpoints and along the path! The time to complete the tour is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
The entrance ticket costs 30 USD (cash or credit card), while the gate is open from 6 to 18.
2. Zambia side
The entrance gate on the Zambia side is next to the Victoria Falls Bridge. It take only 10 minutes on foot to reach it from the Zimbabwe entrance gate. Remember to bring the passport because you must cross the border. Once inside the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, you will have three main trails to hike. The first path, which is the main one, allows you to enjoy the eastern cataract from a very close position. Prepare to be completely soaked by the splashes and fumes of the waterfall (you can rent a raincoat directly at the entrance gate). The path is quite short, and the most exciting viewpoint is on the Knife-Edge Bridge, a small bridge that crosses a deep gorge and leads to the Zambia westernmost Falls viewpoints. The second path is a steep descent that leads into the Batoka gorge to the famous Boiling Pot, where the Zambezi rapids begin. The third trail leads upstream near the edge of the falls, where you can see the Zambezi River plunging into the gorge. The positive note of visiting the Zambia side is that you can enjoy a beautiful sunset over the falls. The gate is close to the viewpoint and allows you to leave the Park before closing.
The entrance ticket costs 20 USD, and the gate is open from 6 to 18
- BEST TIME TO GO
First of all, it must be said that the seasonal level of the Zambezi River changes the appearance of the Falls daily. Therefore, depending on the season in which you visit this wonderful place, you will have a different view.
The best time to visit the falls is definitely the dry season (June – November), especially the months of June (from mid-month), July and August when the Zambezi River level is perfect. Towards the end of the dry season (September – November), the Zambian side may be completely dry, showing only water streams and its imposing rocks. In this period it is better to focus the visit to the Zimbabwe side only. During the rainy season (January – April), where obviously the Zambezi River has the greatest water flow, the Falls may not be visible due to the incredible volumes of water sprays.
TIP: if you are looking for a good tour operator to visit the countries of the south part of Africa, we suggest Undhuvu Safari and Tours.
- HOW TO REACH THE VICTORIA FALLS
The Falls are located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, also very close to the Botswana border. Usually, the Falls are the starting/final point of the tours in these 3 countries. There are 2 international airports close to the Falls: Victoria Falls Airport (Zimbabwe side) and Livingstone Airport (Zambia side). Both airports are very small and mainly connected to South Africa. Once at the airport, you can take a taxi or pre-book a private transfer with Viator.com.
If you are in Chobe National Park in Botswana, you can have a daily trip to the Falls as the town of Victoria Falls is only 80 km from Kasane. Try to reach the Kazungula border post early in the morning as it is very small and really crowded with locals and tourists. We spent more than 1 hour to get our visa. If you head to Livingstone in Zambia from Kasane, the first part of the road is the same. At the Kazungula border post, instead of continuing on the A33, turn left and cross the river by taking the Kazungula ferry. Anyway, a new bridge has been built, and it is supposed to open soon.
Notice: Don’t forget to verify if you are entitled to a Visa exemption, a Visa on arrival or if you need to apply in person at the Zimbabwe/Zambia Embassy/Consulate in your country.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN VICTORIA FALLS
Although Victoria Falls is a small city, it attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year and obviously offers a great accommodation choice to suit all budgets. There are campsites equipped to camp with your own tent, cheap hotels and even exclusive lodges. We slept at Victoria Falls Rest Camp. At the reception, a small travel agency offers and organizes all trips and activities in this area. Click here to see all Victoria Falls accommodation with booking.com.
Most of the restaurants are located along the main road (we had dinner at the Mama Africa restaurant). If you want to try a different experience, dine at the Boma restaurant which will delight you with its excellent barbecues and entertain with tribal dances. Click here to see restaurants and customer reviews with Tripadvisor.
You will find a couple of excellent accommodations right near the Park entrance gate (the Royal Livingstone Hotel and the Avani Resort) and a good choice of accommodations in the town of Livingstone. Click here to see Livingstone’s accommodations.
- ACTIVITIES AND TOURS IN VICTORIA FALLS
In addition to visiting the waterfalls along the trails, there are dozens of other activities/tours, which can be done by staying in this beautiful area for more days. Some activities are only seasonal because they run when the water level of the Zambezi River is low. You will find several tour operators in the city, at some hotels, or you can book your activities through the web platforms Viator.com and GetYourguide.com where local operators advertise their tours.
Let’s go to find out the most interesting activities
1. Helicopter Flight
We did this amazing experience twice, and we can tell it’s a must-do. Seeing the Falls from the sky is breathtaking, you’ll fly left and right-hand circuits over the Victoria Falls in both directions having the best viewing, photographic and filming opportunities. A trip up the Zambezi River and back over the Zambezi National Park will complete your ride. The helicopter companies offer different flight options with different prices and duration. We flew with Bonisar paying 150 USD for a 15-minute flight. Alternatively, all the accommodations can arrange the flight, but you can easily book through Viator.com or GetYourGuide.com
2. Zambezi sunset (and dinner) cruise
Cruising down the Zambezi River on a sunset cruise in the late afternoon, it’s another must-do experience. It’s possible to spot black-faced vervet monkeys swinging through the trees, big hippos wallowed in the shallow pools, elephants came down to the banks to drink, Nile crocodiles resting in the shallow and obviously a beautiful sunset. The sunset cruise costs about 70 USD.
3. Bungee Jumping (Bridge swing and Zipline) and Rafting
If you are brave and you’d like to live 4 seconds of free-fall and 111 meters of pure adrenaline with a spectacular backdrop of the majestic Victoria Falls, go straight to the famous Victoria Falls Bridge, on the road towards Zambia, where you’ll find a booth to book the bungee jumping. If you prefer a softer approach instead of taking a leap into the void, you can try the Zipline (can be done in tandem) or the Bridge Swing. Bungee Jumping’s cost is around USD 200, the Zipline around USD 60, while the Bridge Swing around USD 200. Remember to bring your passport.
Another adrenaline-pumping adventure is the rafting experience on the Zambezi River through 23 kilometres of breathtaking landscapes. Before booking, always inquire about the ride’s level of difficulty (rapid class IV and V). It costs about 170 USD. The cost of a half-day trip is about 120 USD.
4. Boling Pot hike
The path leading to the Boiling Pot (where the Zambezi rapids begin) inside the Batoka Gorge is about 2 km long and starts near the entrance to the Victoria Falls on the Zambian side. The route is a steep descent that passes through the rainforest until it reaches the Zambezi River near the Victoria Falls Bridge.
5. Swimming under the Falls
The experience of swimming under the falls is run by some tour operators that will lead you in front of Falls bottom where, in addition to the amazing view, it is possible to swim in some natural rock pools. Once into the Batoka Gorge, you’ll take a raft to approach the Falls. The activity is seasonal and runs from August to January depending on the water level. The duration is approximately 3 hours while the cost is about 100 USD.
6. Devil’s pool and Livingstone Island
The Devil’s Pool is a natural “infinity” pool created by the Zambezi low water level right (August – November) on the Falls’ edge. Before reaching the pool, you will need to swim a short distance in the Zambezi River. The devil’s Pool is really very touristy, and you can stay inside it for a few minutes. A guide will always follow you. To relax inside the natural pool, you will have to join the Livingstone Island tour, the island where the Scottish explorer arrived when he discovered the falls. The tour includes a boat ride across the Zambezi, a walk on the island, and, for those who want, a swim in the Devil’s Pool. It cost about 100 USD.
7. Day trip to Chobe National Park
Enjoy a day trip to Botswana’s third largest conservation area to see its large concentrations of games. Chobe National Park is well known for its elephants, currently estimated at around 120.000. The Park also boasts lions, cheetahs, hippos, hyena, crocodile, buffaloes, giraffes, warthogs, otters, zebras, antelope, jackals and many bird species.