Together with the Niagara Falls in North America and the Iguazu Falls in South America, Victoria Falls in Africa is one of the three greatest waterfalls in the world. Each of these waterfalls has its own character, for sure, yet they have one thing in common: all three waterfalls are located on the border of two countries. While I have only visited Victoria Falls and Niagara Falls (I am planning to visit the Iguazu Falls someday, for sure!), Check out Something about… Victoria Falls for more about Victoria Falls, what to see and do, how to get there, and info on the KAZA visa, which could be useful for many tourists traveling between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Being the most photographed natural spectacle in both countries, tourists constantly asked: Which side of Victoria Falls is better: Zambia or Zimbabwe?
To get started, it’s important to understand a little bit more about the geography of Victoria Falls.
The Falls is part of the Zambezi River (which also served as the border of the two countries), and as the river flows through lush riverine vegetation, over 40,000 cubic feet per second of water cascade down into the depth below, and then squeeze its way through a narrow and twisting gorge, creating the whirlpool rapids.
The two countries are connected by the Victoria Falls Bridge, which straddles the cliffs and offers an excellent view of the Falls. In other words, the Falls exist between a very narrow gorge where the curtain of water is not exactly wide open to the viewer’s eye. If you ask me, I would recommend travelers to visit both countries and make the most of the Victoria Falls experience (it’s obvious and it’s awesome to add one more country to your own travel map). However, if you only have time and resources to go to one, I hope the following information would inform you to make a wise decision.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls, the city is named after the falls because it’s so close to the waterfalls, literally, less than 1 kilometer away. The population of Victoria Falls has grown significantly in the last decade and it has now over 30,000 inhabitants. The city’s settlement began in 1901, when it was mainly developed for the use of hydroelectric power and a railway, connecting Southern and Northern Rhodesia (Rhodesia was an unrecognized state of an English colony before the establishment of Zimbabwe). Today, it is a principal tourism center of the Falls with tourism infrastructure, facilities, hotels, and recreation for tourists. We took our flight directly from Cape Town to Victoria Falls and stayed at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Not far from the hotels there are a number of cafes, restaurants, and souvenir stores (I will talk a little bit more about these places below). Since the city is now heavily relying on tourism, expect everything to be quite “touristy”.
Victoria Falls Hotel
Hotels or hostels in Victoria Falls are generally cheaper and a few of them take only 5 minutes to the falls on foot. We stayed at the Victoria Falls Hotel and I recommend this hotel to anyone. Not only the colonial style, historic buildings were stunning, but also the view of the Victoria Falls Bridge and plume of mist from my hotel suite’s window was hard to forget.
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.
Personally, I enjoy having breakfast on the terrace with some English tea, pastry, and warm sunlight. 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.
There are a lot of things to do during your stay at the hotel. Have a drink at the hotel’s lounge at night with music, or enjoy a buffet dinner with a traditional dance performance at the outdoor lounge; There is a great store in the hotel that sells artistic sculptures – I was actually looking for some of these arts for my home, while the art pieces in the hotel is a little pricey, they were displayed like I was walking through an outdoor art museum.
The hotel is in a beautiful English colonial style – from its building to the decoration:
The hotel’s terrace is a great place to enjoy breakfast and dinner; the hotel suite offers some nice toiletries, including aromatic mosquito repellent:
The hotel (including the falls-facing rooms) has a great view of both sunrise and sunset with the falls, and the courtyard is filled with artistic sculpture!
Enjoy the hotel’s buffet dinner with a traditional dance performance!
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.
If you have the time it is worth visiting the Falls in the early morning, late afternoon and at the full moon to take advantage of the different positions of the sun and the moon.
Remember to water-proof yourself. a.k.a. water-proof bags for your phone, camera, wallet – don’t bother to use an umbrella. A raincoat might help a little bit, but you will definitely get wet anyway. Photos couldn’t do justice to capturing the thrill that I felt in the spray, it’s definitely an impression for a lifetime.
What else to do in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe?
There is so much to do there, and most of them are outdoor and thrilling activities! Zambezi and Chamabando game drive, Bungee jumping, helicopter flights, elephant rides, rainforest guided tours, and rafting… the possibilities are endless! While the activities I just mentioned could be done in either of the two countries, Zimbabwe does have a better game viewing experience, and the sunset cruise in Zambia is simply breathtaking. Obviously, you don’t have to do them all, feel free to talk to a hotel or travel agency staff to make a decision. As for me, I visited Chobe in Botswana and enjoyed a relaxing time, and explored the town.
Dinner under the stars: Located in an elephant camp, where you could get intimate with the fascinating elephants in the afternoon. Dinner under the stars is when you can have dinner on the deck in the camp under the stars. Apart from Boma Restaurants, this is another great choice for dinner in the city.
Chobe Day Trip: If you like wild animals and game viewing, go on a day trip to Chobe in Botswana! This is not exactly a full safari experience in Chobe as the entire National Park covers 11,700 square kilometers in Northern Botswana. The day trip took us to the town of Kasane, an important pitstop that serves as the northern entrance to the park. It is a special safari because visitors get to explore the Serondela area (or Chobe riverfront). Bordering four African countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia, the area has a variety of wildlife including elephants, crocodiles, and hippos; The best part was that I could see hippopotamus submerging in the water, and a herd of elephants socializing by the river bank and crossing the Chobe river!
The tour groups are usually split into two, with one boat ride in the morning and one jeep safari in the afternoon and vice versa.
The Boma Restaurant: Enjoy a barbecue buffet dinner with bongo drum shows (and each of us has our own bongo drum, too!), Amakwezi dancing, Mopani worms, and warthog fillet tasting, while dressing in an authentic Zimbabwean robe, hair braided or face-painted.
The Boma restaurant is a very popular experience in town. It’s a “tourist attraction” but it allows us to dive into the Zimbabwean culture. Once we entered the restaurant we were dressed in an authentic Zimbabwean robe, and the restaurant has a bold and wide variety of food choices. There are some booths in the restaurant to get your hair braided or face-painted; a must-try to get a “certificate” for tasting a Mopani worm, a local traditional food. It sounded gross, but actually, it doesn’t taste bad at all. In fact, it was like eating potato chips.
The highlight of the night is the Amakwezi performance when all guests are given a traditional drum to participate.
My favorite viewpoint
Wild Horizons Lookout Café: There are a few places to have a great view of the falls outside the walking trails. The Wild Horizon Lookout Café is by the cliff between the hotel and the walking trail, I enjoyed my lunch sitting by the gorge under the warming sun and soothing breeze.
So, why Zimbabwe?
All in all, Victoria Falls is basically right by the waterfalls, making access to the falls very easy. This site takes a larger portion of the falls thus it has more viewpoints along the trails including the main falls.
Pricing is generally cheaper in Zimbabwe and it has good facilities for tourists in a cluster. As for the view, the Zimbabwean side is mainly on the top of the cliff where you will get to see the waterfalls from above.
While some tourists may be concerned about Zimbabwe’s political turmoil, while Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe is a developed tourist destination and generally safe; Zambia, on the other hand, is more stable and established itself firmly as an option for tourists to experience the astonishing power of the Victoria Falls.
AVANI Victoria Falls Resort
Livingstone is named after the expeditor, David Livingstone, who discovered this wondrous natural spectacle on earth. It is a sprawling industrial town with 5 times the population of Victoria Falls, and it has a wide choice of restaurants, supermarkets, and shopping malls. The disadvantage is that all these are 10 km away from the falls, and you will have to travel back and forth to the falls unless you are staying in the two hotels located on the side of the falls: The AVANI Victoria Falls Resort and the Royal Livingstone Hotel.
I stayed at 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! It has a Hard Rock Café Resort sort of vibe and both resorts offer free access to the walking trails. You may go to Livingstone’s Adventure website for more information about the Falls.
The Victoria Falls Walking Trail
As I mentioned the two hotels offer free access to the walking trail of the falls, via their own entrance gate. Although the walking trails in Zambia are comparatively shorter to the Zimbabwean side, 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. We were super lucky to have seen a full circle of the rainbow right under the bridge and I have never seen anything like this in my entire life! In fact, all rainbows are in a full circle but the bottom part is usually blocked by the horizon – that’s why most of the rainbow we saw was only an arc. Don’t forget to look down the bridge when you are here!
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 – as the explorer, David Livingstone saw it for the first time. However, beware that this part of falls may dry up or be significantly weaker in dry seasons from October to November.
What else to do in Zambia?
The Zambia side offers also a list of outdoor and thrilling activities like the Zambezi and Chamabando game drive, Zambezi sunset cruises, and more, there are few activities that tourists could only do in Zambia – and some of them could only be done this side.
Micro Light flight: It was a unique and thrilling activity, and to be honest, I will do it again in a heartbeat. It was scary that my safety jacket zipper was broken and my jacket flew open when the plane took off… but other than the small drama that I had, the view of the Falls from above was truly out of this world.
As Jeff O’Connell, Matt Bean and Jazz Kuschke mentioned in the Men’s Health magazine, it’s one of the 15 must-see sights. “Scars take on a different appearance when viewed from afar, whether it’s a spectacular Batoka Gorge (the blanket name for all the gorges through which the Zambezi River drains) or the pain of love lost. You’ll start to see not what’s missing, but what’s been gained”.
Since Victoria Falls is kind of hidden in the cracks of the canyon and I would say it looks the best from the sky. It was the time that I truly had an overview of what the fall looks like – and no lack of see rainbows sweeping across the falls while we were in the air!
The flight also took us to have a round trip up the river to the jungle where we soared right above elephants, buffalos, and more hippos in the river. It was like I was sitting on a drone – only cameras were prohibited for the flight (due to safety reasons).
Devil’s Pool and Livingstone Island Tour: The Devil’s Pool is a highlight activity and it’s only available in Zambia (while hotels in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe also offer the Devil’s Pools tour; be specific that you are actually going to the Devil’s Pool because it is physically located in Zambia). It is an exhilarating and memorable experience as the pool is the world’s ultimate infinity pool – participants will be swimming to the edge of the thunderous falls, sitting in a hole, and looking down from the edge of the cliff!
While most people would want to visit the falls when the falls are tumbling to their fullest to experience the power. The Devil’s Pool experience is actually available when the water level is low; It depends on the weather so the tour is not opened all year round. The best chance to join this tour is probably the driest season – the aforesaid months between October and November.
My favorite viewpoint
Boiling pot: While I didn’t mention it in the last paragraph, there is one more walking path on the Zambian side and it is one of my favorite viewpoints of the Falls. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to walk up (or down) but totally worth doing so.
The boiling pot is the spot where the water swirls right underneath the Victoria Falls Bridge due to the resistance of rock to the astonishing power of water from the falls, thus creating a backflow of water like boiling water in a hot pot. This spot demonstrates the constant resistance of nature force and it is also a famous spot for rafting (again, during low water). You would always see a rainbow straddling the cliff and it makes a great picture of the cliffs and the bridge.
So, why Zambia?
All in all, Livingstone is a bigger city with supermarkets and more restaurants. However, the city center is farther away from the falls and I recommend staying at a hotel along the river. While it may take up a smaller section of the falls, The Zambian side certainly offers a great variety of seeing the falls from different perspectives, including from above the sky, on the river, or at the bottom of the cliffs at the Boiling Pot.
There are also more unique activities in Zambia that I recommend, like the Devil’s Pool, and microlight flight.