The Ultimate Victoria Falls Guide
Including Zimbabwe and Zambia
Victoria Falls – why you HAVE to visit!
Victoria Falls is traditionally and aptly named ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ The Smoke that Thunders. It is formed by the magnificent Zambezi River pouring over a steep basalt rock ledge to create the largest and mightiest sheet of falling water in the world.
It is one of the seven wonders of the world – the powerful wall of water falls 108 metres or 354 feet down into nature’s cauldron of swirling water. The attendant roar of mother earth can be heard as much as 40km or 25 miles away from the Falls themselves. Depending on how close you are and which way the wind is blowing, you’ll experience a fine mist or a downright drench of this magical water. On a wind-free day, you can see a cloud of glittering mist high above the falls – an unforgettable sight. Not to mention the myriad of rainbows you can see both near and far from the falls. You can even experience the wonder of a lunar rainbow above the Falls when the moon is full and the night is clear. No wonder the local people, and people from all over the world consider this a mystical place!
Victoria Falls is so huge, it is part of both Zimbabwe and Zambia, with Zimbabwe getting the majority of the glory with about ¾ of the Falls. Both countries have incredible Victoria Falls experiences to offer, so we’ll unpack all of these. However, it is easy to cross from one country to the other, by simply walking over a bridge (and maybe stopping for an exhilarating bungee along the way!)
Beside experiencing the wonder of Victoria Falls, what else can you expect when visiting Victoria Falls?
Whether you base yourself on the Zimbabwe or the Zambia side of Victoria Falls, you can expect excellent Victoria Falls accommodation, spectacular Victoria Falls Views, and lots of exciting culture and adventure.
Victoria Falls has a rich and historical cultural heritage. You can enjoy this from the historic town of Livingston, where you can explore the fascinating facts of the early explorer’s experiences and discoveries. On the Zimbabwean side, from the town of Victoria Falls, there is no less of a cultural experience waiting for you, with the vibrant local culture in full display through art, craft and performance.
Zimbabweans and Zambians are amazingly artistic and resourceful, and especially in the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side, you can take a deep dip into this African artistry by visiting the colourful, friendly vendors and artists. You’ll have to make way in your bag for some curios, art and exquisite carvings to take or send home.
There are grand old hotels like the Victoria Falls Hotel and the Royal Livingston Hotel offer a peek into the colonial splendour of yesteryear, with rolling lawns, fine dining and high teas fit for royalty. In fact, the Victoria Falls Hotel played host to the Royal Family in 1947 and shut its doors to anyone else!
You simply could NOT ask for more opportunities for adventure than when visiting Victoria Falls.
- The Devil’s Pool is a natural infinity pool on the edge of the Falls, that you can swim in at certain times of the year.
- Bungee down the world’s largest waterfall
- Zipline the longest zipline in the world
- Go white water rafting (at certain times of the year)
- ‘Flight of Angels’ helicopter ride over the Falls
- A Gorge Swing – freefall 70m then swing 120m above the water
- Safari tours in one the nearby National Parks – Hwangwe National Park or Chobe National park
- Zambezi River Boat Cruises (sunsets are spectacular)
- A Vulture ‘Restaurant’
- Lion encounter experience
- Cultural village experiences
Overall, the experience of a lifetime, so make sure it is part of yours!
Victoria Falls Facts, Figures and History
The Victoria Falls is placed halfway along the Zambezi River on its journey between source and sea, a length of around 2700km. The massive and majestic falls run for 1,5km. The currents of the Zambezi have carved out 8 precipices to form the Falls, over 1 million years, and a 9th has started.
Scottish missionary and scientist Dr David Livingston was famously taken to the edge of the Falls by the Makalolo tribe in 1855, in a canoe. He was understandably overwhelmed by the sight of the majestic waters. The local Makalolo knew the waters and river well, and took him to an island near the lip of the Falls, which is now known as Livingston Island, where he journaled these immortal words:
“The whole scene was extremely beautiful; the banks and islands dotted over the river are adorned with sylvan vegetation of great variety of colour and form…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.”
While he was in love with Africa, he loyally named the Falls after his Queen, Victoria. Livingston was much-loved by the locals, but the hard living in Africa took its toll on him when he died of malaria at age 60. He was in Zambia at the time. While his body and journals where transported back to England and buried at Westminster Abbey, his heart was buried in Africa under an Mvula tree. It is a testament to his character that, while most names in Africa have been changed to reflect local heroes, the names connected with the explorer and philanthropist have remained – Livingston Town, Blantyre in Malawi and of course, Victoria Falls.
The Victoria Falls is actually made up of 5 different Falls
The Devil’s Cataract
Eastern Cataract (the only one in Zambia)
Victoria Falls – The Zimbabwe Side
The town of Victoria Falls is built around tourism to the Victoria Falls. It’s perfect for those wanting to easily access the Falls on foot from their hotel, lodge, self-catering accommodation, backpackers or even camping. There many accommodation options to choose from in Victoria Falls, so you can really tailor your visit to your needs and budget. The grand hotels boast sweeping sculptures, royal treatment, gourmet dining and classic ‘High Tea’. Riverside lodges offer tranquillity and peace. Or choose to stay in a safari destination such as the luxury Elephant Camp. The prevalence of great adventure activities means a thriving youth and backpackers culture exists in Victoria Falls, with an eclectic mix of tourists from all over the world coming together to witness the wonder of the Falls.
The Zimbabwe side of the Falls is host to the archetypal view of the main Victoria Falls, a scene so breathtaking you can just never get tired of it. The water flows all year round on the Zimbabwe side, and we’ll go into some detail about the best time to visit Victoria Falls, depending on what type of experiences you would like to have.
The town itself is a charming mix of African culture and modern amenities for the traveller. There are streetside restaurants and coffee shops for you to wile away the time people watching. Even elephants have been known to visit the main town streets from time to time!
The street vendors and unique, quirky shops full of fascinating art, jewellery, clothing, gifts and soapstone sculptures are definitely worth at least a full day’s attention on their own. There are also all sorts of street performing artists and interesting stories and myths surrounding the Falls folklore to be heard.
Tips for dealing with market vending in Victoria Falls
Zimbabweans in general are polite, friendly, speak excellent English and love to spin a yarn! The Zimbabwean economy is unstable and difficult for those living there Vending to tourists is their way of supporting their families.
Vendors can be persistent, but if you are polite, friendly and clear about what you do or do not want, they will respect your space. If you do not want to buy anything, then avoid the Open Market and the stalls lining the entrance to the Falls.
When interacting with vendors at Victoria Falls:
- You may be asked for cash to take photographs.
- Zimbabweans prefer to be greeting and have a quick chat before launching into price discussions.
- Understanding their difficult circumstances, try to be as generous as you can when haggling over price, as a few dollars will mean a lot more to the vendor’s lifestyle than it might to yours.
- Vendors will often bargain to give you more items for a lower price. This is referred to as negotiating an ‘umbrella price’.
- Currencies accepted are USD, South African Rand, Euros and Pound Sterling. Local currency is not accepted and not used.
- Vendors are often happy to swop for items other than money, such as clothes, shoes and toiletries. When you are about to go home, why not donate some of these items to a trader or swop for a beautiful curio or gift to take home?
- The Zimbabwean artists are specifically creative, talented and artistic, and you will marvel at the beauty of their handiwork.
Activities on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls:
- White water rafting
- Gorge swing
- Bungee (the bungee is in the middle of the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia.)
- Flight of Angels helicopter flight above the Falls
- Sunset cruise along the Zambezi
- Explore Victoria Falls National Park
- Enjoy a lion encounter
- Visit the ‘Vulture Restaurant’ where vultures are fed daily
- Visit the Zambezi National Park
- Visit the grand hotels for excellent meals and high tea
Victoria Falls is also a great place to kick back, relax and experience ‘that holiday feeling’. Most accommodation options have swimming pools and rolling lawns, as well as top notch service and friendly staff. And the warm weather year-round makes for balmy conditions no matter what time you visit.
Victoria Falls – The Zambian Side
The Zambian side of Victoria Falls offers amazing opportunities to get up close and personal with the Falls via hiking routes. This gives you a great opportunity to see the Falls from different angles. There are paths along the edge of the Falls that offer an adrenaline-kicking walk at the edge of the precipice and across the aptly named ‘Knife Edge Bridge’.
One of the ultimate Victoria Falls experiences in Zambia is to swim in Devil’s Pool. Imagine the wide-eyed jealousy when your friends back home see you casually lounging in a natural rock pool at the very edge of the Falls, with a wall of water dropping 100m just below your ‘infinity pool’. This activity can only be undertaken when water levels are very low, usually between August and December.
Devil’s Pool is accessed from the Royal Livingston Hotel, where you can book a cruise ride to Livingstone Island, where the afore-mentioned Sir David first clapped eyes on the Falls. You will go with a guide, and it’s best you heed all safety tips – as the guide will understand the water levels and currents, and the rocks can be slippery. No-one wants to go tumbling over the edge of the Victoria Falls! However, this activity is very popular and completely safe if all safety precautions are heeded. The trip takes around half a day and is well worth it! A delicious lunch, high tea or a cocktail at The Royal Livingston afterwards is all part of a fantastic experience.
Another great Zambia Falls experience is to visit the Boiling Pot in the low water season – experience this giant whirlpool at the base of the waterfall, accessed by a footpath and offering majestic views looking up the Falls.
The Zambian side also offers white water rafting during specific times of the year (low water season again) and the bungee is smack in the middle between Zimbabwe and Zambia, so it’s hard to lay claim as to which country this belongs to!
The town of Livingstone is relaxed and friendly, situated about 11km away from the Victoria Falls. It boasts lovely hotels, backpackers, restaurants and coffee shops. There are gorgeous stretches of the Zambezi to explore, as well as sunset cruises and a chance to explore the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. The rich and fascinating history and stories of the town can be soaked up by visiting museums and talking to the locals.
Want the best of both worlds? It’s easy to cross the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The best bit about the Victoria Falls is that you are not restricted to staying on the Zimbabwe or the Zambian side and can take a stroll across the bridge between them and be in another country. You will need your passport and a multiple entry visa, that your travel operator can arrange for you, or you can simply purchase at the border when you walk through. It’s that simple. A highly recommended day trip either way!
When is it best to visit Victoria Falls?
When travelling to Victoria Falls, the time of year that you visit is importantand depends on which types of adventures and experiences you want the most from your Victoria Falls holiday. The year-round climate at the Falls is warm and pleasant, and winters are enjoyable and mild. Summer temperatures in the daytime average around 30°C or 86°F, and Summer runs from November to March. The Winter months of July to August average a balmy 25-28°C to 77-82°F. Summer is the rainfall season, and Winter is the dry season.
The important factor to consider is rainfall. Any activity that involves being on the water, such as whitewater rafting or swimming in Devil’s Pool can only be done when the water is low, or the currents are high and it is dangerous, or simply inaccessible. The high water season is best for thundering, dramatic views, such as going on the ‘Flight of Angels’ helicopter trip or seeing the magical haze high above the Falls in full flood.
Victoria Falls High Water Season
February – July
The Falls are at their most thunderous and almost deafening, you will be rewarded with drenches of spray, rainbows, lunar rainbows and the full force of the mighty Zambezi in flood and the Falls at their most majestic. In these months, you will not be able to raft or swim in Devil’s Pool. However, the awe-inspiring views will make up for it. And you will not be disappointed by a bare rock face on the Zambian side. As this is a hot and wet season, it is advisable to seek advice from your Doctor about anti-malaria medication.
Victoria Falls Low Water Season
From August to January, the Zambezi slows its pace somewhat. This means less spray, so great visibility of the Falls themselves. This is the perfect opportunity to combine your trip to Victoria Falls with an exciting Zimbabwe, Zambia or Botswana safari experience, as the sparse vegetation means excellent animal viewing. Animals also tend to stay close to watering holes during the dry season, upping your chances of seeing more wildlife than you can imagine. This is the time for water adventures such as rafting, Devil’s Pool and Zambezi River Cruises with lots of wildlife on display at the water’s edge.
The water levels on the Zambian side of the Falls can differ drastically at different times of the year. In October, the Zambian side of the Falls can dwindle to barely anything, so would be a disappointing time to visit the Zambian side. However, October is also the hottest month of the year, and excellent for safari experiences in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Rainfall in the area can also differ from year to year, so its best to consult your travel advisor and check on current rainfall statistics before booking your trip.
Travelling to Victoria Falls
On the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls, the closest airport in Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) which is 20kms away from the actual town. You can easily organise a taxi or car hire from the airport into the town.
The airport is small, so international travellers will probably have a connecting flight in South Africa, either in Johannesburg, Durban or cape Town, or possibly a neighbouring African airport such as Nairobi in Kenya.
To get to Livingstone, you will fly into Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport (LVI) which is 15 minutes car journey from the city centre and well serviced with taxis and car hire. The primary airlines that fly into this airport are British Airways, South African Airways and Kenya Airways.
Flights to Victoria Falls can be booked for excellent prices. If you wanted to consider driving to the Falls, from South Africa, for example Johannesburg, it is a long journey (about 14 ½ hours driving alone) with stops at various borders, depending on your route. While this can be an adventure, it is not recommended for first-time travellers to Africa. Border posts can entail long, tedious waits or a quick sail-through, it is entirely the luck of the draw as to what will be happening at the border on a given day.
In Summary – Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe and Zambia
As one of the seven wonders of the world, and the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is a holiday destination that everyone should put on their list. The sheer majesty and beauty of this natural phenomenon, the adventure activities on offer, the safari experiences, the Victoria Falls accommodation, packages and specials on offer and the unique qualities make this an experience you truly cannot get anywhere else in the world.
Whether you choose to stay in Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side or Livingstone on the Zambian side, you can easily cross over to the other country on foot to enjoy what each has to offer. The guarantee that you have when visiting Victoria Falls is that it will be unforgettable, and unlike anything else you will experience. Enjoy every moment!