Here's some of the top things to do in Victoria Falls and why you must go!
10 May 2021
25 Oct 2022
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Some cool info on Victoria Falls
It is estimated that Victoria Falls has been flowing for about 200,000 years. The mighty waters of the Zambezi River eroding away the soft rock over millennia to create what is now one of the seven natural wonders of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place where over a million tourists and thrill-seekers flock every year.
Named by Dr David Livingstone after Queen Victoria in 1885 – it is the largest waterfall on Earth. It’s not the tallest or the widest but is considered the largest due to the vast curtain of water that falls over its 1.7km wide lip. At its peak, the volume of water coming over the falls is around 150 million gallons per minute. This amount of water is just incomprehensible…a good size bath holds 40 gallons, so 1 million gallons would equate to 25,000 baths… making the high-water mark of 150 million gallons equate to 3.75 million (the entire population of Liverpool and Manchester combined) bathtubs of water thundering over the falls every single minute. That’s a lot of water!
Water levels aside, the falls are impressive whichever way you look at them and you really do have to visit to grasp their enormity. At 1.7km wide and over 100 metres from the top down to the white froth that churns at the base. Again, put into context The Statue of Liberty which stands proud looking out from the great city of New York is 93 metres tall and would fit in the space where the water descends. Then take this height and stretch it the length of Oxford Street in London, running from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. Combine this immensity with the noise generated by the cascading water and the spray that is generated it is no wonder the indigenous people were originally afraid of what they called ‘The Smoke that Thunders’!
When and where to go
These days, Victoria Falls as a destination (whether you visit the Zambian or Zimbabwean side) is a magnet for tourism. Not only to those who come to see the falls but to also partake in a multitude of adventure and adrenalin filled activities. This is the adventure capital of Africa, if not the world and I have listed a few things to do that we recommend as well as when to visit and why.
There are two seasons: rainy and dry. The rainy season runs from the end of November through to early April, with the dry season running from late March through mid-November. There is not always agreement on when the best time to see the falls is depending on what you want to see.
Some say that the wet season is the best time to go to see the falls when they are at their peak with vast swathes of water flowing. It’s not in reality. The Falls become almost completely obscured by huge quantities of mist and water, you will also get absolutely drenched – most people wear plastic ponchos, trying as best they can to save their camera equipment and give up getting ‘the shot’ altogether.
If you head there in the height of the dry season, between August and October, it is also not an ideal time to visit, as you’ll likely see more rock than water and in extremely dry conditions the falls almost stop flowing altogether.
For most people, the best time to visit is in either June or July – the Falls will be healthy and visible.
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Zimbabwe or Zambia?
As a rough calculation Zimbabwe has access to view 75% of the falls to Zambia’s 25%. Both sides offer amazing views of the waterfall but if you travel in the dry season you could end up not seeing very much water at all from the Zambian side as currently the water tends to flow stronger on the Zimbabwe side during the dry spell.
The town of Livingstone on the Zambian side is about 8km’s from the falls themselves and although there are several hotels right by the lip, such as The Royal Livingstone, if you are not staying here it’s a taxi ride to get to the falls itself. By contrast on the Zimbabwean side, the town of Victoria Falls is a 5 minute walk to the bridge and a 3 minute walk to the entrance of the national park – have a look at The Victoria Falls Hotel.
The border between the two countries is the actual Victoria Falls Bridge, an idea conceived by Cecil Rhodes, unfortunately passing away before a few years before the bridge’s completion in 1905, meaning he never saw his idea in all its glory.
It’s pretty easy to get between Zambia and Zimbabwe if you get a KAZA UNIVISA which allows you to cross into both countries multiple times, as well as doing day trips into Chobe National Park in neighbouring Botswana. So it doesn’t matter too much which side you opt for as part of a safari holiday.
Recently, people have been a little wary of going to Zimbabwe due to the political unrest under Robert Mugabe and now Emmerson Mnangagwa, however Victoria Falls Town is almost a satellite of Zimbabwe and tends to get left alone as they need the tourist dollars. So much so, that during the COVID-19 pandemic the town was put at the head of the vaccination queue, after health workers, in order to inoculate the whole town in a bid to revive tourism. There are daily flights to both Victoria Falls and Livingstone from Johannesburg as well as various other international hubs such as Nairobi, Addis Ababa and the Middle East.
Trip idea - Classic Zambia Safari
From the mighty Victoria Falls to the floodplains of the Zambezi River and the iconic South Luangwa National Park, this trip covers all of the highlights of Zambia. The range of places you visit and experiences you enjoy make this the perfect introduction to this most captivating of safari destinations.
In 2013 a tourist fell into the gorge from Knife-Edge Bridge whilst attempting to take a photo of friends. At this point the gorge is 25 metres deep and a fall to rocks at the bottom would result in certain death, but as he fell, he managed to grab onto some shrubs and get a foothold. Clinging on for dear life, he was stranded for over an hour as helicopters searched the river below for his body. Eventually, he was found and rescued by the fire brigade and one of the bungee operators. He has since opened a pharmaceutical plant in the capital Lusaka. Although, the reality is not everyone is so lucky. On average, one person a year dies after falling into Victoria Falls.
Must do's in and around Victoria Falls
Some activities that you will have heard of and are worth doing!
1. See the Falls from the air
The ‘Flight of Angels’ is how Dr. Livingstone described this phenomenon when he first set eyes on it all those years ago, writing, “a sight so wonderful that angels must have gazed down on it in flight”. The modern version is a little different and involves a short flight over this natural wonder of the world. It can be done in a helicopter, microlight or plane and is the best way to see the Falls in their true glory, being able to fully consume their entirety. A sight that you will not get viewing from them ground level. Book in advance and due to changing weather conditions try and do it towards the start of your stay. Best times for photography are early morning or late afternoon.
2. Rafting the mighty Zambezi
Everyone always refers to the river as ‘The Mighty Zambezi’ and there is only one way to really understand this sheer force of nature and that is to raft it. Take it from me, this is a day you will not forget in a hurry and is the best rafting probably anywhere in the world. You spend the day wrestling with big water and trying to stay the right way up in what feels like a washing machine on constant spin. It is not for the faint hearted as it is not a simple float down the gorge as there are 19 rapids to negotiate and by the end you know and feel like you have gone 12 rounds with this heavyweight. And, if you want a really rough day on the water, go in the dry season when the water is low. You will have the ride of your life!
3. Sunset cruise
Another staple for a visit to this part of the world. Whether this is done as a boozy late afternoon cruise or a more respectable / upmarket game cruise, both are well worth it and a lot of fun to be had. For those of you going on the more sedate trip just remember to smile sweetly when you pass the (probably) younger generations doing the boozy cruise.
4. Devil's Pool and Livingstone Island
An awesome way of seeing an alternative angle of the falls from where Dr Livingstone himself originally saw them before taking the plunge into a pool perched right on the lip of the falls where you can literally lie on the edge, lean over and look down as the water cascades to the depths below. Not for the faint hearted but lots of fun. You can only do this from the Zambian side and at low water levels. You can also enjoy afternoon/tea or lunch on the island as part of the experience.
5. Bungee from the Victoria Falls Bridge
Another one for the adrenalin seeker. The bridge to the water is 104 metres and whilst it's not the biggest bungee in the world it can certainly claim to be one of the most spectacular. Cecil Rhodes would probably be turning in his grave at the very thought.
6. Fun is not a formality
The Boma at The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge or Afternoon Tea at The Victoria Falls Hotel – The Boma for a bit of a fun night out for dinner or a more formal afternoon affair at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Its all a bit cliched but a good laugh and you will leave with very full bellies.
And some activities you may not have heard of but are definitely worth a try.
7. Sip 'n paint
Small group artistic experiences in the bush – A unique way of capturing Victoria Falls in your own way with oil on canvas. Or, alternatively be taken into the bush where a suitable spot is chosen, easels are set up along with drinks and snacks and you can paint the African landscaper and wildlife under tuition of local resident artists. A great way to indulge in a passion and spend an afternoon.
8. Cook up a traditional storm
Cook up your own traditional Potjie (pronounced ‘poy-key’) – Be helped by a professional chef to prep your own traditional stew in a Potjie Pot. As this is left to cook for 3 hours or so you head off down the Zambezi on a cruise or a paddle to work up an appetite. On your return you get stuck into a superb, tender stew of your own making. Delicious.
9. Gorge swinging
Similar to Bungee jumping this involves tying a rope around you in a harness and jumping off the bridge, only to swing when the rope picks up the slack. Zip Wiring is also an option.
10. Bridge Walk or slide
If you don’t fancy hurling yourself off the bridge but do have a head for heights then take a bridge tour which starts in the museum before moving on out to the bridge where you are strapped in and walk underneath the road and rail level on the original catwalks and see the detail of construction. The slide is open to all ages and is a short zipwire that floats you over the Zambezi near the bridge.
11. Fishing for tigers
Who said you wouldn’t see a tiger in Africa? Tiger Fish are renowned as the greatest fighting fish in the whole world. They can grow up to 15kgs and will make sure you get a proper work out using trolling and spinning lures. A must do for any keen angler.
12. Watch a local football match
This half-day tour gives you the opportunity to watch a local Zambian league football match, meet & greet players, see the village where the players live, visit a local market and get a real insight into Zambian life and culture. The passion for football in Zambia is huge and the commitment on the pitch from the players and from the local crowd makes this an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience.
13. Experience a lunar rainbow
This is best seen when the water is at its highest from the Zambian side and when there is a full moon. Almost unique to Victoria Falls, the lunar rainbow forms as light refracts due to the ever-present water particles from the spray of the falls in the air. As with most rainbows the colour is pretty feint but it is another gift from the falls that you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world, so it’s worth staying up a little later for.
There are endless activities to do in Victoria Falls for all ages and levels of thrill. We would suggest staying three nights as this gives you two full days to explore and enjoy everything on offer without feeling rushed or squeezing in too much.
An ideal three night stay for me would involve heading out on a cruise the day of arrival which gives you time to check in and relax at your hotel before taking in the upper Zambezi and having a few ice cold Mosi’s (local brew).
On the first full day I would have an early start and get down to the National Park to drink in the falls and then enjoy watching the football match, meeting the players and taking in the market and their village. After being dropped off I would take in an early evening flight of the Angels. On the second full day I would put myself through the Zambezi’s very own washing machine and raft down the 19 rapids.
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Where to stay
If you want to be by the Falls then The Royal Livingstone ticks all the boxes and they even have zebra grazing in the grounds. There is a gate at the bottom which will take you right to the Falls.
Further up river you will find Tongabezi an upmarket lodge with fabulous huge ‘houses’ which offer amazing views out onto the river and are open to the elements. There is also a sister property situated on its own island in the middle of the River – Sindabezi. This is a bit less luxurious but you do get your own island.
Waterberry is a firm favourite too with a magnificent lawn garden surrounding an inviting pool with good food and service.
The Victoria Falls Hotel is the Grand Dame of Vic Falls Town. Located just on the edge with magnificent views of the bridge and a 5 minute walk into town or the national park. It’s a hotel with a heavy colonial history and this is evident throughout and some can find a bit stuffy (jackets for dinner etc…) but it should be taken as it comes and enjoyed. The afternoon tea is definitely worth a whirl.
Ilala Lodge is another very good option, if you can find space as it is very popular. Stunning setting with a bar overlooking the pool, its small and so feels very private.
Batonka Guest Lodge and Pioneers both offer good upmarket guesthouse accommodation in the area at a very good price. If you are looking for something out of town then I would suggest either Gorges Lodge which has tremendous views out over the Batoka Gorge or The Zambezi Sands which offers an upmarket tented option on the river.
Overall, Victoria Falls is a great experience for honeymooners or family holidays that bookend a safari in either Zimbabwe, Zambia or Botswana nicely, and adds something different to the start or end of a trip. I have visited both sides numerous times and can honestly say that it’s difficult to pick a favourite as both offer different styles of accommodation, but both have access to almost the same activities. I am heading back there in August 2022 and taking my family to experience Mosi o Tunya!
If you'd like to explore Victoria Falls as part of a safari to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana or any other African destination - get in touch and let's create the perfect tailor-made safari for you.