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The Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe/Zambia)

Victoria Falls Facts; Zimbabwe or Zambia?; Activities

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Three people looking at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
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The Victoria Falls are one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. If you're planning a trip to Southern Africa you simply have to witness this mile-long curtain of falling water. As the explorer David Livingstone remarked when he first saw them "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight".

This article offers basic information about the Victoria Falls; Tips on seeing the falls from Zambia and Zimbabwe; Activities; How to get there; Where to stay; recommended tours and more.

Victoria Falls Facts

The Victoria Falls lie in between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. The falls are part of two national parks, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia and Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe.

The Victoria Falls are just over 1 mile wide (1.7 km) and 355 feet (108 m) high. During the wet season over 500 million liters (19 million cubic feet) of water plummets over the edge into the Zambezi River. This incredible amount of water generates a huge amount of spray which shoots 1000 feet into the sky and can be seen 30 miles away, hence the name Mosi-oa-Tunya (Smoke that thunders).

The unique geography of the falls means you can watch them face-on and get to enjoy the full force of the spray, noise and spectacular rainbows that are always present. The best time to view the Victoria Falls is during the rainy season from March to May, when they are at their most impressive.

Zambia or Zimbabwe?

Up until about 10 years ago Zimbabwe was by the far the most popular country to visit the Victoria Falls from. There are plenty of luxury hotels and the infrastructure is good. You can walk to the falls from town along well marked paths and the view is certainly the best from this side because you can stand opposite the falls and see them head on. But, the political situation in Zimbabwe has meant that tourists are opting to visit the falls from the Zambian side. In 2006, hotel occupancy on the Zimbabwean side hovered at around 30%, while the Zambian side was at near-capacity. As of 2011, Zimbabwe's lodges are filling up, running smoothly, the town is safe and you get much better value on accommodation than on the Zambian side.

Visiting the falls from Zambia has some advantages, namely the tickets to enter the park are cheaper and accommodation in the town of Livingstone at least, is also traditionally less expensive. But note the town is about 10km from the Falls, so you have to get a ride down. You can see the falls from above as well as below in Zambia, and the surrounding forested areas are more pristine. At certain times of the year, you can even swim in a natural pool right before the edge of the upper falls. As a town, Livingstone is an interesting place. It used to be the capital of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and its streets are still lined with Victorian-era colonial buildings.

I would recommend visiting from both sides, there is a border post you can cross quite easily and day passes are given out so you don't need to get a visa in advance. But as with all border formalities, check in advance since rules can change from day to day. The border is open from 8am to 6pm every day. Several hotels on either side offer packages which include a day pass to the other side as well as a night's stay.

If you are at the falls during the dry season (September to December) you must go to the Zimbabwean side to see the Falls properly, since the Zambian side can be totally dried up to a trickle.

Activities at the Victoria Falls

Viewing the falls
Obviously your main reason for visiting the area is to go and see the falls, and I would recommend going the minute you've checked your bags into a hotel. If you're staying in Livingstone (Zambia) shared taxis and minibuses regularly ply the route to the falls. If you're staying in Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) just walk down to the park entrance from town. There are well-marked paths and many viewing points. You don't need a guide or tour; just enjoy the spectacle at your own leisure and bring a raincoat for the spray.

Flights over the Victoria Falls can also be booked at various hotels and local travel agencies. Getting a birds eye view of the falls is certainly worth it if you have a bit of money to spare. The more adventurous can opt for a micro light flight.

Some of the best views of the Victoria Falls are from Livingstone Island on the Zambian side. This small island is owned by Tongabezi. A real thrill is to swim in a natural rock pool on the edge of the Falls - Devil's Pool. You can only do this during the dry season. For more information, see "Devils' Pool - A Leap of Faith".

Bungee Jumping
Bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge is a highlight of many people's visit to the falls. Jumps usually run just under $100 and can be arranged from most hotels in both Zimbabwe and Zambia, or at any travel agency in town. I jumped, you can read about here.

Jet Boating
A jet boat ride allows you to experience the Victoria Falls from below. The very fast (and scenic) ride takes you to the "boiling pot" at the foot of the falls, with some hair raising turns en route. Regal Tours and Safaris run the fastest boat.

White-water rafting
Rafting down the rapids of the Zambezi River is an incredible adventure. These are Grade 5 rapids, not a leisurely float down the river, so be prepared to get wet and work hard at staying upright. Trips usually include lunch at a beautiful spot along the river and end with a cold beer once you've clambered back up the gorge. More on white-water rafting on the Zambezi River...

Sundowner cruise
Sunset cruises are a popular pastime in this part of the world, and there's something extremely pleasant about enjoying a beverage while watching hippos cavort in the Zambezi under a spectacular sunset. Cruises can be organized through the various travel agencies around town in both Livingstone and Victoria Falls. My favorite from the Zimbabwe side is Ilala Lodge's Ra-Ikane. A lovely intimate cruising experience with excellent food. On the Zambia side I enjoyed the Lady Livingstone. For less of s sunset cruise, more of a booze cruise, opt for the cheaper, larger boats.

Wildlife viewing
There's a surprising amount of wildlife to see just walking around the vicinity of the Victoria Falls on both sides. Baboons and warthogs are very common. Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Zambia) is small but packs a punch with white rhinos, buffaloes, elephants and giraffe. Elephant safaris and a "walk with lions" are becoming popular activities. Both offer less adrenalin-loving folks a chance at a little adventure and many enjoy getting close to these great animals. Personally, I found it a little too set up and heavy on asking for donations at the end of the activity.

More extreme adventures ...
The Victoria Falls are an adventurers dream given the amount of activities available. You can Kayak, canoe, abseil, river board, swing through the gorge, and horse ride. See the recommended tour operators on page two and they'll be able to book whatever activity you'd like to do.

How to get to the Victoria Falls; Where to stay; Tours

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