The Spectacular Victoria Falls are located on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Being one of the three largest waterfalls in the world, the aborigines called it “Mosi-oa-Tunya”, meaning “The Smoke That Thunders”. That’s true – as the plane was descending the Victoria Falls Airport, I could already see the plume of mist coming out from the crack in the forest, and when I checked into the Victoria Falls Hotel, I could already hear the sound of thunder coming from outside the balcony.
The waterfall is neither the highest nor the widest in the world, yet the combined height and width make the scale only rivaled by South America’s Iguazu Falls.
Since Victoria Falls is located in Southern Africa, the waterfall is certainly not as accessible as the others like Niagara Falls. However, the towns nearby Victoria Falls are still pretty tourist-developed in an African way that makes our trip comfortable and fulfilling. We walked through the waterfall trails in both Zimbabwe and Zambia, took the microlight flight, and visited the Chobe National Park in Botswana. The experience was just jaw-dropping and unforgettable.
Something about… Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls was named after the British monarch, Queen Victoria, by the expeditor David Livingstone when he first saw this wondrous natural spectacle on earth. The splendor of the waterfall and its misty rainbows (and I saw it in a full circle!) are just overwhelming. The upstream of the Zambezi River is lush riverine vegetation with abundant game and prolific birdlife. As 40,000 cubic feet per second of water from the Zambezi River plummets down a cliff where Zimbabwe and Zambia meet, the foaming water squeezes its way through a narrow gorge, creating the whirlpool rapids.
Combining height, width, and volume, Victoria Falls are the three largest waterfalls in the world, together with Iguacu Falls in South America, and Niagara Falls in North America. Niagara Falls is significantly smaller than the other two (but in terms of volume it’s the largest); Iguacu Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall that is separated into 270 falls (and it’s the widest of them all). Victoria Falls is the highest, widest curtain of continually falling water – and the Main Fall of Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world.
The Zambezi River is the 4th largest river in Africa after the Nile, Congo, and Niger and it provides a large water source to Victoria Falls. During the peak period, the annual water consumption of the city of New York goes over Victoria Falls in just 3.5 days!
There are several falls in the curtain of water that plummet into the crack. Namely, Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls, Rainbow Falls, Armchair Falls, and Eastern Cataract. The majority of the falls are in Zambia, and most of the viewpoints are in Zimbabwe. While the Rainbow Falls in the middle is the part with the greatest height (107m).
How to get to Victoria Falls?
Flights to Victoria Falls, or Livingstone.
There are several airlines that operate international flights to Victoria Falls. There are two towns around the falls: Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia. Victoria Falls is closer to the falls (basically next to it) yet the airport is smaller in scale and it connects to only a few destinations. The most common destination would be Johannesburg, yet I found out that Kenya Airways opened a new route flying from Cape Town to Victoria Falls in May 2017, and I was the first group of passengers taking that route. 😊 It would be the best airport for arrivals.
Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) Destinations
- Botswana: Maun
- Ethiopia: Addis Ababa, Gaborone
- Kenya: Nairobi
- Namibia: Windhoek-Hosea Kutako
- South Africa: Cape Town, Johannesburg
- Zimbabwe: Bulawayo, Harare
Harry Mwanga Nkumbula Airport in Livingstone provides services in Zambia. It connects to fewer destinations but it connects to Nelspruit – which is where I headed to after my visit to the Falls and to continue my journey.
Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport (LVI) Destinations
- Ethiopia: Addis Ababa
- Kenya: Nairobi
- South Africa: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nelspruit
- Zambia: Lusaka
Both routes are operating in small planes and there were less than 10 passengers on the flight. However, they were still professional and I landed safely and punctually.
Do you need a visa to Victoria Falls?
Now, that have been a lot of questions about getting a visa across the border between the two countries of the Falls. Only 46 countries (mainly African and Caribbean countries, Pacific Islands, Hong Kong, and Singapore) enjoy visa-free entrance to Zimbabwe (and a few more to Zambia). In other words, many western countries will require a visa upon arrival. Since Victoria Falls is located on the border, it is likely that you may cross the borders a few times during the visit. The single-entry visa only allows visitors to cross the border once and it costs US$30.
While a UniVisa (or Kaza Visa) gives permission to visitors to cross the Zimbabwe/Zambia border as frequently as they like within 30 days (As long as it’s within the two countries, also valid for having a day trip to Botswana). It costs US$50, and I would recommend doing so just in case you need to cross any border more than once – and then you realize that you need to apply for a visa again, and you forget to bring cash. It doesn’t take much time to obtain a visa at the airport, there are probably no queues (but prepare cash, even better, have the exact change for each person at the counter, it saves a lot of time speeding up the process).
Policies might change from time to time, so be prepared and check their website for the latest information.
Where to stay?
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe is a tourist destination and it is filled with hotels and resorts that suit different kinds of travelers. To enjoy a little bit of luxury, stay in the Victoria Falls Hotel. The hotel was originally a dormitory for railway construction workers in the early 1900s under British rule, so it still retained the British flavor after renovation and became a hotel. The hotel also has plenty of beautiful art displays and sitting areas to just hang out and relax. There are a few resorts and casinos in the area including the Kingdom Hotel, Ilala Lodge Hotel, Elephant Hills Resort, and Shearwater Explorers Village. Still, Victoria Falls Hotel is my favorite of the bunch.
In Zambia, the city center is a bit far away from the Falls, there are two resorts within walking distance from the falls: The AVANI Victoria Falls Resort and the Royal Livingstone Hotel. the AVANI Victoria Falls Resort, it’s relatively cheaper as compared with the Royal Livingstone Hotel but it has a very lively environment with wild animals running around in the yard… zebras, baboons, giraffes, and more!
What is the best time to go to Victoria Falls?
The seasonal rise and fall of the Zambezi River change the look of the Falls on a daily basis. The western side of the Falls is lower than the eastern side and therefore carries the most water all year round. The Falls are at High Water from March to June and Low Water from September to December, while the portion from Livingstone island onward dries up almost completely during Low Water.
Visitors could feel humbled by the power of the waterfall as they witness the tumbling water mass below them during High Water, however, the spray often obscures the waterfall making it a bit difficult to see and photograph. I felt like walking through a thunderstorm and basically, I couldn’t actually see the falls clearly in the middle, but at the same time, it was quite an overwhelming experience.
Visitors could have a better look at the falls and even get close during Low Water, like walking on the edge of the waterfall and feeling the height of the cliff at the Devil’s pool, or rafting in the gorges. So, each time of the year has its advantages and disadvantages.
What to do in Victoria Falls?
The exotic destination in Africa has a lot of things to see and do apart from walking along the observatory paths of the Victoria Falls in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. Take a Microlight flight or a helicopter ride, take a Zambezi River cruise, join a night safari game drive in the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve, go to Chobe in Botswana, dine underneath the stars along the river, rafting through the gorges, catch a drum and dance show, learn about Zimbabwean culture and eat Mopani worms… Trust me, I got pretty busy prioritizing and the only problem for me is there’s not enough time!
The Victoria Falls Walking Trail
There are walking trails on both sides of the Falls – 75% of the Falls is in Zimbabwe and its walking trail covers 16 unobstructed viewpoints along the cliff that allows you to not only see the Falls from a different angle, but also to feel the spray of tumbling water, and to hear the sound of thunder as you get close to the Falls during high water.
In Zambia, tourists could get up close and look right down the length of the falls at sunset and back to the gates before they closed. We walked through the Knife Edge Bridge and we succumbed to the powerful spray – yet we saw a full circle of the rainbow under the sun which is an incredible reward for walking this far! More, there are few walking trails that offer a view of the falls from different angles. The main trail leads up to the Danger point, through the Knife Edge Bridge along the cliff opposite side of the Eastern Cataract.
The Photo Graphic Trail is about 788m long and it leads to the Victoria Falls Bridge, and there is another short trail that connects to the upstream of the falls. During low water seasons the Eastern cataract on the Zambian side dries up almost completely visitors could explore the area by walking on the exposed rock surface; it is a unique experience to see the Falls from a different perspective.
I will share more about these activities, the history, and the hotels and dining experience in later posts, stay tuned!