Nestled in Southern Africa, one can find, what some may call, the world’s largest waterfall. It should be noted that it is neither the tallest nor the widest waterfall in the world. The average volume of water that flows over the falls over a year is not the most in the world either, but for some reason the title has stuck. “So,” you might ask, “why the heck should I hop on a plane, or several, (depending on where you’re coming from) if I’m not seeing ‘THE BEST’ waterfall in the world?” The simple answer is that Victoria Falls is gorgeous. The extended answer includes a multitude of unique ways to interact with the waterfall, the cultural beliefs surrounding it, and the abundant wildlife that survives because of the river, and simply because there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world.
The Zambezi River flows through six African countries, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, the two countries Victoria Falls is in. I highly recommend visiting both countries, as they offer different experiences. I stayed in Livingstone, Zambia, at the Royal Livingstone, but walked over to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe for an afternoon.
Where to Stay?
I stayed at the Royal Livingstone by Anantara, which is located within the Zambian Victoria Falls National Park. Because we stayed inside the park, we had free access to it, but we had to pay when visiting the Zimbabwean Victoria Falls National Park. I’d recommend staying in Zambia because I found that the majority of the activities that I wanted to do were there.
At the Royal Livingstone wildlife, such as zebras, giraffes, baboons, and monkeys, roamed the hotel grounds with impunity, grazing on the perfectly manicured lawns and drinking from the beautiful water fountains. At night you can enjoy tapas and cocktails just above the river, while listening to hippos devour their evening meal. On the five minute boat ride to the hotel, we saw crocodiles basking on shore, as well as a hippo and her baby, and about five different species of birds. (At this point in the trip I was eager to see big animals, so my interest in birds was minimal. That did change though, as I started to realize the beauty in a lot of African birds.) Even if they weren’t so close to Victoria Falls, I’d recommend staying at The Royal Livingstone simply for the experience.
When to Visit Victoria Falls?
When visiting Victoria Falls the time of year that you visit will DRASTICALLY change what you can see and do. Rainy season runs from around December through July, with the most impressive views of the falls from February to May. Dry season falls from August through November, and during this season the part of the falls that you can see in Zambia may be entirely dry. However, given the water volume during rainy season, several activities are not offered, simply because they would be too dangerous.
Personally, I really wanted to swim in the Devil’s Pool, and that requires visiting during dry season. Also safaris in surrounding countries will have more abundant wildlife viewings during the dry season, so if you’re extending your trip elsewhere, you will have to choose between the most majestic season for waterfall viewing and having more animal viewings.
There is no one answer for the best time to visit Victoria Falls, so I recommend deciding on which activities you’d like to do first, and planning your trip around that.
It is worth noting, at the time of writing, a severe drought is affecting Southern Africa. I would hold back on booking a trip for 2020, until seeing if any rain will fall. Rainy season will likely still have a decent amount of water flow, but dry season will be VERY dry if rains don’t fall in December and January.
What to Do at Victoria Falls?
The most paramount thing to do is to go enjoy the falls. Both Zambia and Zimbabwe offer their own Victoria Falls National Parks. I found that Zambia’s park had a lot more information, but you could hardly see the falls in dry season. Zimbabwe had way more look out points, and it felt like a much bigger park. You can get very close to the river on one side, and even during dry season the mist is intense.
If you do find yourself trekking from one park to the other, it takes about 45 minutes to walk there. However, it took us much longer because there were lines at the immigration buildings. Our hotel front desk attendant recommend that my mother and I walk over no earlier than 10AM and no later than 3PM. We obeyed, yet I didn’t feel like it was dangerous, but a lot of other tourists were traveling with a guide. We ran into long lines at immigration, and you’re supposed to stop both when leaving and when entering each country. I spoke to others who just skipped the exit stamps though, and they had no problems.
Atop the falls, there is Livingstone Island. Zambia claims it, and it is host to one of the more extreme activities at Victoria Falls. After a short tour of the island, when the water levels are low, you can swim in the Devil’s Pool. This puts you right on the edge of the waterfall. When the water levels are too heavy to safely visit Devil’s Pool, the Angel’s Armchair is offered as an alternative. When the water levels are too high neither are available. Breakfast was included on our trip, and I had read that visiting in the morning is best if you want rainbows in your photos.
Other Extreme Activities
You can also bungie jump, bridge swing, or zipline into the canyon, off the bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe, you can whitewater raft, and go repelling into the gorge. You can take a Microlight flight, although I did not see anyone partake while I was there, but helicopters regularly fly above the falls. I spent about two and a half days exploring Victoria Falls, and while I felt satisfied with the trip, if I go again I will definitely fly over the falls, and more interestingly for me, the winding and steep gorge.
Are there other activities in Livingstone or Victoria Falls?
Absolutely there are! I personally went on an old fashioned dinner train, where I learned about David Livingstone and had some incredible food. I also visited Mosi O Tunya National Park, where I went on a walking safari to find Southern White Rhinoceroses, while they are near threatened, they should not be confused with Northern White Rhinos, who officially went instinct in 2018. Mosi O Tunya means “the smoke that thunders,” and it is the native name of Victoria Falls. Within the park boundaries there aren’t any large cats, so walking is very safe.
There are river cruises down the Zambezi, as well as a handful of museums in Livingstone. At some point on your trip, I highly recommend hiring a local to be your tour guide. It is very interesting to learn about the mythological beliefs, including healing powers, the tribes had in regard to Victoria Falls.
Finally, the last tip is to always have your camera ready. If you visit during rainy season you’ll have to have your camera well protected from the mist, but I regret not having my camera out and ready to go the second I left the airport. I missed some great animal shots.
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