What is the best time to visit Botswana and Victoria Falls
Botswana and Victoria Falls are a popular combo, but when is the best time to visit both?
Botswana expert & guest writer
05 Dec 2022
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Botswana’s wildlife areas and Victoria Falls are a wonderful classic combination found in many of our itineraries. The big question is which time of year to visit to get the most out of this combination.
Victoria Falls can easily be added to any Botswana itinerary. This classic must-see sight makes a great start or end to your trip and is a quick flight or road transfer away from Kasane and a direct flight from Maun is now also available three times a week. The falls themselves can be seen from either Livingstone in Zambia or the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and we offer varied accommodation options in both locations along with the itineraries included below.
Get in touch with us to find out which one suits you best!
At what point in your trip should you visit the falls?
Choosing to start your trip at Victoria Falls allows you to acclimatize to a new time zone and culture before heading off on safaris with typically early hours and long days whilst ending your trip at the Falls allows for some rest and relaxation before heading home. The multitude of experiences on offer around the falls complements the safari experiences in Botswana whether adrenaline activities, further wildlife or safari experiences, historical and cultural tours or simply enjoying the opportunities to relax with a beautiful view.
That said, whilst visiting them at the start is a natural point to include them in your trip, they can also provide an adrenaline-fueled end highlight to any trip!
How do the seasons influence these areas?
Both Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta in Botswana are affected by seasonal rainfall.
The Victoria Falls experience is impacted by the seasonality of the Zambezi water levels and thus it is worth considering when planning your visit to the falls. The falls drop down into a gorge and can be viewed across the gorge from either Zimbabwe or Zambia. The water levels impact the different sides of the falls differently which is an argument in the ongoing debate about which side is best to view the falls from (more on this in a minute).
Water levels of the Zambezi peak in April at the end of the rainy season and are at their lowest in October and November. The Okavango floods have a delay due to the nature of the floods and start to flow into the Delta in April and depending on your location peak around July before receding by November when local rainfall offers them a small boost until the next flood cycle.
Many different destinations within Botswana have different seasons to consider but in general, the travel high season (May to September) is linked to the low rainfall drier months when there is less standing water available in the area and animals congregate around rivers and their flood plains resulting in more predictable wildlife sightings. Drier conditions from June onwards also mean less vegetation and more open environments which improves the odds of seeing the smaller and shyer creatures. The floods of the Okavango Delta are another factor that can impact your safari experience and these complicated dynamics are shared in our blog article: Understanding the Okavango Delta flood in Botswana
Which side of the falls is best?
The Zimbabwean side faces the dramatic Devil’s cataract (which carries most of the water over the falls), the main falls which flow year-round and Livingstone Island where the famous explorer first saw the falls. Walking to the furthest point (Danger point) gives you the option to view the boiling pot and eastern Rainbow falls. On the Zambian side, you face the Eastern Cataract which does not carry water year-round and can be a dramatic but disappointingly dry cliff face when the river water level is low (October and November). Crossing the Knife Edge bridge brings you to the most western point to see the Rainbow Falls and Livingstone Island beyond them. It is also possible to descend to the boiling pot from the Zambian side. Both sides offer the opportunity to enjoy the Zambezi river immediately upstream of the falls as part of the falls experience and the activities available on either side are similar and comparable. In a nutshell, when the water levels are higher you can see more of the fall drop from the Zambian side due to less spray and when the water levels are low the Zimbabwean side offers better views.
Where to stay
If you are staying on the Zimbabwe side, we love Victoria Falls Hotel, which overlooks the tremendous background of the waterfall with its rolling spray and roaring water. The hotel offers traditional, colonial luxury and has a swimming pool and tennis court too, as well as being able to organise a myriad of activities round the falls.
If you are staying in Livingston on the Zambia side of the falls, then Tongabezi gets our vote. An award-wining lodge which was the first lodge on the Zambia side of the falls and is set in a tranquil grove on a sweeping bend of the Zambezi River. Set 15km upstream from Victoria Falls, it is perfect for those looking for a more relaxed or romantic experience, slightly further away from the roar of the falls.
When should I travel if I want to see the Okavango floods and the falls in full flow?
If water is what you are after then visiting the upper Delta, the Chobe river and the falls in April will give you a water-filled experience in a green lush landscape at the tail end of our rainy season. The Zimbabwean side can be “too” wet at this time, and if you want to stay dry or get multiple photographs the Zambian side has less spray. By June the bush will have started to dry and the volume of water over the falls will have started to drop but remains a spectacular sight across the entire falls. In August Botswana's high season is in full swing with great wildlife sightings as the days warm up, at the falls the Zambian falls start to get drier and the Zimbabwean side is a wetter fuller fall experience.
What should I expect if I travel at the low water and hot time of year?
October brings heat to the region and the dropping of rivers across the area with a drier Okavango, Chobe and Zambezi but with that comes great visibility in the bush and amazing wildlife sightings. If you can handle the heat it is a rewarding time to visit and the Zimbabwean falls are still a sight to see. The Zambian side will be more rock than waterfall but the drier conditions offer the seasonally-limited experience of taking a swim in the Devil’s Pool on the edge of the falls off Livingstone Island which is accessed from Zambia. By early December the regional rains should have started and with that the lower season for wildlife viewing. The falls and the Okavango are beautiful and lush through the rains and if you are not time-limited a longer stay can be accessible due to off-season rates and pricing. The falls remain spectacular through the rainy season but grey skies can impact seeing rainbows arching over the falls.
Whenever you choose to visit the falls, there are a myrid as incredible activities you can enjoy from helicopter rides to canoe safaris to bungee jumping. Take a look at our top things to do at Vic Falls.
These destinations pair incredibly well together and a visit to the spectacular falls is an easy addition if in the area. There are highlights at any time of the year and opportunities to make the most of your stay regardless of the water levels during your visit.