the smoke that thunders
Words frequently fail to capture the grandeur of Victoria Falls, but if you were to look for an apt description, you probably wouldn’t find better than its Kololo name ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’, which roughly translates to the smoke that thunders. Spanning nearly two kilometres and dropping about 108 metres, this UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site is the largest waterfall in the world—thanks to the sheer volume of water cascading over its crags every minute.
Situated almost halfway along the Zambezi River and straddling two countries, Victoria Falls and its surrounds offers travellers a range of exciting experiences that will thrill even the most hardened adrenaline junkie. From bungee jumping to white-water rafting, one’s chances of getting bored are close to zero.
While Victoria Falls is a fantastic destination all year round, different seasons offer vastly different experiences. During the rainy season (from December to March), the Zambezi’s water is at its highest and the Falls are at their most dramatic. The high water volume, however, also drapes the Falls in a cloud of spray—which makes sightseeing a little bit trickier, though no one seems to mind meandering around this misty realm. During the dry seasons (from April to October) when the water is lower, one can get a better view of its dramatic precipices.
Facts & Highlights
- While it’s not the world’s widest or highest waterfall, Victoria Falls is regarded as the world’s largest because of the amount of water rushing over its precipices
- Listed as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site
- Situated almost halfway along the Zambezi River, straddling Zimbabwe and Zambia
- A mecca for adrenaline junkies with activities ranging from white-water rafting to bungee jumping
- A great destination all year round, with different seasons offering vastly different experiences
Zambia or Zimbabwe?
You can walk to the falls from Zimbabwe, traveling along well-marked paths with a view that is best seen from this side because you can stand opposite the falls and view them head on. But, with a volatile political climate in Zimbabwe, some tourists are opting to visit the falls from 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 (Devil's Pool) right before the edge of the upper falls. As a town, Livingstone is an interesting place.
It's best to visit both sides, and there is a border post you can cross quite easily with a UniVisa that allows access to both countries. However, as with all border formalities, it's important to check in advance since rules can change from day to day. 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 Falls
- Flights over the Victoria Falls can 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 microlight 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. One of the best from the Zimbabwe side is Ilala Lodge’s Ra-Ikane, a lovely intimate cruising experience with excellent food. For less of s sunset cruise, more of a booze cruise, opt for the cheaper, larger boats.
- 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.
How to get to Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls Airport and Livingstone Airport both receive several daily flights from Johannesburg Airport. You can also fly directly to Livingstone on the Zambian side of the Falls from Johannesburg and from Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport. Of course the Rolls Royce of travel to the Victoria Falls is by Rovos Rail - a breathtakingly luxurious train journey through spectacular landscapes.