I am admittedly a bit of a waterfall geek. There is something about the free fall of water that literally takes my breath away. I always find myself trying to watch a single drop…and thinking about how far that drop has traveled. One drop of precious water, suddenly falling, falling, falling…SPLASH.
Be still my heart.
Last year I was enchanted with Iguazu Falls in Brazil…a stunning waterfall that at the time I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful. Oh but wait…there is. Bigger, badder and more beautiful…the wondrous Victoria Falls.
We came here just to see it. It’s a tall order, particularly with all the travel we have done, it’s hard to impress us anymore. But impressed we were. We could hear it long before we could see it…and then there it was. My first look…breathtaking.
Locals know it as Mosi oa-Tunya, meaning smoke and thunder. The name Victoria Falls was given by David Livingstone, the first European to lay eyes on it, in 1855. The falls straddle the border of Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) in South/Central Africa. The falls are generated from the Zambezi River, flowing some 2700 km (1700 miles) from the headwaters in North Zambia. The Zambezi is joined by several tributaries such as the Luena, Chifumage and the Chobe before reaching the falls where the vast amount of water plummets 100 metres (360 feet), creating the biggest curtain of water in the world. The river then flows on, eventually reaching the Indian Ocean. On this journey the Zambezi flows through six countries; Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola.
See. It. All.
The falls were formed over thousands of years as the basalt plateau eroded from the pounding water. Today the thing that makes the falls so magnificent is the width. Spanning 1700 meters (5604 feet – about mile and a quarter), you can view the spectacle from the Mosi oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambia side and the Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwe side. We did both. And a whole lot more.
We were told by many people that the view is better on the Zimbabwe side. I wouldn’t say better…but I would say there is more variety of viewing on the Zimbabwe side. It’s easy to see both sides in one day.
It’s also quit easy to see both sides without a guide. Unless you are looking for someone to provide you with wildlife, birdlife or geological details, a guide is not necessary.
We started our Victoria Falls day taking a taxi from our hotel in Livingstone, about ten minutes to the entrance of the Mosi oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambia side. It’s $20 per person to enter the National Park. Consider bringing a poncho or raincoat but make sure it’s not one of those cheap plastic throw-away kind – because those are not allowed. One small effort the park is making to eliminate plastic. If you don’t have a poncho there are plenty of vendors willing to “rent” you one and to sell you all kinds of other things as well.
Our visit in February had the falls running pretty high and that means the mist was high too. Low season is August to December and high water is March to June.
We purchased our tickets at the entrance and did an easy self guided tour on the Zambia side. We walked all the paths and stopped at all the viewpoints and marveled over and over again at the majesty of it. We also did a hike down to “Boiling Pot”, more difficult going down than going up, but worth the view of the “boiling” river just below the falls.
We had planned to go to the Zimbabwe side on a different day, but after thoroughly seeing the Zambia side it wasn’t even noon yet so we decided to walk across the border. There are lots of taxis and rickshaw drivers who want your money to take you across the bridge, but as walkers, we wanted to do the walk. From one park entrance to the next it’s about 2.3km (1.4 miles). First you exit Zambia and there is border control there. We had purchased the KAZA Visa before arriving in Zambia, a special visa that allows visitors to this region to easily cross the borders of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. After exiting Zambia we marveled at the hundreds of big rig trucks filled with copper waiting to be cleared to cross the border. As we walked we had to ignore all the men aggressively trying to sell us carved wooden figures, copper bracelets and drinks. Arne calls it running the gauntlet.
Eventually we arrived at the Victoria Falls Bridge which provides another beautiful view of the falls on the right hand side and down river on the left hand side. This bridge also is home to both a zipline and bungee jumping operation. No thanks.
On the opposite side of the bridge we had to clear Immigration to enter Zimbabwe. This included a medical check and having our temperature taken. Moving on to the entrance to the park the fee was $30 per person. Wow expensive. I was surprised that the two countries can’t come up with some way to do a combined ticket. Currently Zimbabwe has a worthless currency and they are using USD as their currency. But we used our credit card to buy tickets on both sides of the falls.
Once we were in the park we realized it was much bigger and the views offered are really lovely. We had shed our ponchos because they made me sweat so much I was getting wet anyway, so we just let the mist cover us. The temperature was warm so it felt good. An interesting fact about the Victoria Falls Rainforest is that it is the only place on earth that it rains 24 hours a day.
There seemed to be more visitors on this side, but overall we enjoyed a very sparsely populated park. Comparing to our visit to Iguazu the week of New Years 2019 where we could barely move because of the crowds, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of tourists.
As we walked we encountered a film-crew from ABC News doing a live shot for Good Morning America. We learned later that the story is a combined nature series with National Geographic.
The Zimbabwe side offers some pretty amazing up close and personal moments with the falls – nothing like feeling like you are on the edge of the abyss. The massive flow of water made my fantasy of following one drop of water pretty difficult….but I tried. But later we got even closer to the edge, actually a little too close for me.
Just. Plain. Crazy.
Before arriving we had booked a tour through Victoria Falls Guides to do what it called the Angels Swim. OMG. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. First of all let me say that there are two separate pools that visitors can “swim” in on the very edge of the falls. Devil’s Pool is only safe during the dry season and requires a walk/swim across the river holding on to rope. Say what? Angel’s Pool is accessed via Livingstone Island, a small island in the middle of the river on the Zambia side. It is only available for swimming during medium water flow because when the water is at its highest level, Livingstone Island disappears underwater.
So we signed up to do the Angel’s Pool swim. I knew the pool was close to the edge of the falls because I had seen photos but holy cow. We were right on the ledge. This activity is not for someone faint of heart, afraid of heights, afraid of water, or sane. Seriously this was crazy. At first I told my husband I didn’t think I could do it when I saw how close we were getting…. but of course I ended up doing it. Absolutely heart stopping. I don’t think you could ever get a permit to operate something like this back home in the USA. Too many lawyers.
But now I can add it to the list of crazy, fun exhilarating travel stories…one for the record books. Worth the $230 price for two people.
And by the way, the water was surprisingly warm.
Most visitors come here on full-tours but we rarely do group tours and had no problem enjoying the area on our own. We made all our own arrangements. We stayed at Ngoma Zanga Lodge, a lovely oasis in Livingstone with a full restaurant. From Ngoma Zanga we were able to easily take a taxi ($6) to the falls.
Much. More. Fun.
In addition to swimming at the edge of the falls the region offers a wide variety of other activities for both the thrill-seeker and the more subdued. There is bungee jumping, ziplining, ultralight and helicopter rides. You can also go to a crocodile park, have a candlelight dinner on the edge of the falls, walk with rhinos or have breakfast with elephants. There are jet boat rides, canoe trips and whitewater rafting.
We didn’t do any of those, but we did choose to do the following;
Chobe National Park – Using Victoria Falls Guides, we booked a full day tour in Chobe National Park in Botswana. Door to door service provided us an amazing opportunity to cross the border to Botswana, spend the entire day in Chobe on a morning river cruise and an afternoon land safari drive with lunch in between. We saw amazing animals including hippopotamus, crocodile, water buffalo, antelope, giraffe and hundreds and hundreds of elephants. This full day was worth the $340 price for two people. I would certainly do it again.
Sunset Boat Cruise – Our hotel booked an evening sunset cruise for us on our final night in Zambia. The boat could probably hold 100 people but there was only about 30 people on board so it was not crowded. Live African music, snacks and open bar was included in the $150 price for two people. The cruise also included a naturalist guide who pointed out hippopotamus, giraffes and so many birds along the shore. And of course we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
Seeing Victoria Falls checks another item from my never ending bucket list. It was worth the effort to get here. I continue to love this continent chock-full of surprises – the never ending wonders of Africa. I know there are still a lot of people who fear traveling in Africa. We found these tourist areas of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana all safe, welcoming, and beautiful. And though the days are long gone where animals roam freely and abundantly, conservation efforts and National Parks offer the most astonishing opportunities for visitors. The natural beauty, lovely people, and incredible history (we all came from here) makes Africa one of the most fascinating places in the world. Our three months enjoying the African continent continues…watch for more adventures coming to a blog near you.
I’m so glad we came.
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