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Victoria Falls, which lies on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, is Africa’s adventure capital. From bungy jumping to helicopter rides and everything in between, there is no shortage of adrenaline-pumping activities in and around (and above) Victoria Falls.
Its name in Lozi is Mosi-oa-tunya, which means The Smoke That Thunders. David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer who vanished in Africa, is believed to be the first European to view the falls. He named it after Queen Victoria. The UNESCO World Heritage list recognises both the Lozi and English names. Victoria Falls is made up of several gorges and chasms. The First Gorge is the one that the river falls into at the falls, and after that, the river enters a series of other gorges visible from various points.
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Visiting Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls has two sides: Livingstone, Zambia, and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. For many years, the Zimbabwean side was the place to stay, but during the political instability in Zimbabwe in the 2000s, people and tours operated from the Zambian side. In recent years, though, the Zimbabwean side has returned to full strength and Victoria Falls is the best place to stay.
Four of the five waterfalls, as well as 16 of the 19, falls viewing points, are located on the Zimbabwean side. It is also the only side where water flows year-round. In addition, most of the tour companies are based in Victoria Falls, but offer pick up and drop off on both sides of the river.
As I mentioned above, Victoria Falls is Africa’s adventure capital. There really is no shortage of adrenaline-pumping activities here. There are also more sedate excursions like safari game drives, flightseeing, and art gallery viewing. Here is my list of the best things to do in and around Victoria Falls.
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14 Fun things to do in Victoria Falls
A more docile adventure, but one that’s still epic, is to take a helicopter above the falls. This is one of the most beloved experiences at Victoria Falls because it offers a birds-eye view of the falls from both the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides.
Another exciting activity at Victoria Falls is rafting through the Bakota Gorge. Depending on water level and season, you could raft up to 24 Grade 3-5 rapids on the Zambezi River.
The Bakota Gorge Swing is similar to bungy jumping, yet imagine a massive swing that allows a freefall before arcing into a true swing above the beautiful gorge below. Become a human pendulum when you attach yourself to a harness 120m above the flowing Zambezi River and step off the platform for a thrilling 70m freefall into the gorge.
4. The Devil’s Pool
One of the most daredevil adventures at Victoria Falls is to sit in the bubbling Devil’s Pool, a natural pool at the very edge of the waterfall on Livingstone Island. Due to the dangers of being at the edge of the 103m deep chasm, access to the Devil’s Pool is restricted to low water level times, and only to 12 people at a time. They also limit access to 80 people per day. The Devil’s Pool is in Zambia, requiring those staying in Zimbabwe to cross over.
Not for the faint of heart at all, the 111m high Bungee at Victoria Falls Bridge offers jumpers a full 4 seconds of freefall over the falls. This Bungy jump is considered one of the top five in the world.
A micro-flight is one of the most thrilling sky adventures in and around Victoria Falls, for it takes you into the sky on an open-air propeller “plane.” There is only one company that operates these hang gliders, and it will be just you and the pilot soaring through the clouds, dipping into the spray from the waterfall and spotting wildlife from above.
Victoria Falls National Park, which extends from the Zambezi National Park along the bank of the river, protects the south and east banks of the river in Zimbabwe. It offers several viewpoints where you can get up close and personal with the waterfall spray. A private game reserve is within the park, where you can spot white rhino, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, and more.
8. Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park lies on the opposite side of the river from the Victoria Falls National Park, in Zambia. It is a very small park and can be seen in several hours. Like the neighbouring Victoria Falls National Park, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is home to elephants, antelopes, zebra, giraffe, and plenty of birdlife.
9. Zambezi National Park
Zambezi National Park was split off from Victoria Falls National Park in 1979 and extends 50 kilometres upriver from the falls themselves. It is divided into two sections, the Zambezi River Game Drive and the Chamabondo Game Drive, which are bisected by a lone road. This national park is well known for its birdlife, and it is also home to some of the larger African wildlife, including the eland, waterbuck, impala, kudu, and the majestic sable, Zimbabwe’s national animal.
A great day trip from Victoria Falls is an excursion into Botswana’s Chobe National Park. If you’ve got the time, an overnight trip will allow you to explore more of this park, take a sunset cruise, and see some of the wildlife, like elephants and giraffes.
A safari is a quintessential African experience (and there are tons of options in various countries). At the Chobe National Park, you could spot the Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo), incredible birdlife, giraffes, antelopes, and zebra. You can also opt for a boat trip and enjoy the animals in the water and at the banks of the river.
If you are looking for an exhilarating experience, zip ling above the Zambesi river is an experience you will not forget.
12. Take A Walk With A Lion
For a truly incredible and unique experience, visit with Lion Encounter – a conservation program dedicated to the protection and growth of the African lion species. They work to introduce the offspring of captive-bred lions into the wild. By volunteering or walking with a lion, you are actively contributing to the pre-release training of these majestic creatures. Lion Encounter operates on both sides of the falls, at Masuwe estate in Zimbabwe, and in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia.
13. Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel
High tea is always a wonderful experience, and at the luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel, that is no exception. From the terrace, you can view the thundering falls whilst sipping tea from fragile bone china. Their classic tea is served with towering platters of warm scones, fresh jam, cucumber sandwiches, delicious pastries, and exquisite chocolate. Tea is served from 3-6 pm.
If you can’t make teatime, head for the terrace in the late afternoon and enjoy a crisp glass of sparkling wine or a cool, refreshing gin and tonic.
14. Drink at The 3 Monkeys Pub
One of the most beloved restaurants in town is the casual 3 Monkeys. It opened in 2016 under the direction of South African chef Greg Paymans, and has quickly become the town’s hub for great burgers, sandwiches, and cocktails. They are open late and are a great place to go after an adventurous day exploring around the falls.
Where to Stay in Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls Hotel is the ultimate in five-star luxury in town. Built in 1904 for workers on the Cape to Cairo railway, and still in fact owned by the National Railway, the hotel today is without a doubt the Grande Dame of Victoria Falls, offering spectacular views of the falls from the property. As a member of Leading Hotels of the World and one of the oldest hotels in Africa, the Victoria Falls Hotel’s luxurious rooms and attention to detail are key reasons to stay here.
Steps from the Victoria Falls rainforest and down the road from the Victoria Falls Hotel is the family-friendly Kingdom Hotel resort. It is centrally located in town and offers a comfortable, quality, and affordable place to stay while visiting. Guests at the Kingdom Hotel can enjoy three swimming pools, four bars and a selection of restaurants, a salon and spa, and laundry facilities. Guests can also book last-minute tours through the on-site activity centre.
Best Time to Visit Victoria Falls
While you could visit Victoria Falls year-round, and score some great hotel rates during the low season, truly the best time to be there is from April to September. October is one of the hottest and driest months here; in really dry years the river can dry up, but the wildlife viewing is often exceptional.
The rainy season begins in November. From December to February, the national parks might close due to a lack of good wildlife viewing, but the bird viewing is usually great. The falls begin to get stronger with each passing summer rainstorm, and at times you may find that the Devil’s Pool is closed due to the heavy rainfall. May to August are peak months; expect lodging costs to be higher and tours to be fuller. Plan ahead if you are travelling at this time.
Tips for Visiting Victoria Falls
Planning a trip to Victoria Falls takes advance preparation, as a visa and passport are required for citizens of most countries for both Zimbabwe and Zambia. You should check with the Zimbabwean and Zambian immigration websites to see if your country requires a visa prior to travel, or if you can get a visa on arrival.
There are two airports, one in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe. It would be good to decide where you are staying, and base your flights on that, as crossing the border can get expensive.
Once there, you’ll find plenty of taxis to get you from the airport to your hotel or from the hotel to the falls. However, if you are staying in Zambia and wish to go to Zimbabwe or vice versa, you must switch cars at the border. A private transfer, on the other hand, can stay with you the entire time and will typically be close to the same as a taxi.
When it comes to money, you can rely on US dollars in both Zimbabwe and Zambia, despite Zambia’s currency being the kwacha. Be sure to take plenty of cash with you, because the entry to the national parks must be paid in cash, and because some of the restaurants won’t take a credit card. Prices in Victoria Falls will be higher than you expect. They’re closer to western prices than African prices.
Power outlets in Zimbabwe and Zambia are either the same as in the UK or round three-prong plug. If you live in the US, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, you will need a power adapter. You may also need a converter if your appliances are not 220v.
Visiting Victoria Falls is a once in a lifetime experience. There are so many exciting things to do and plenty of incredible scenery and wildlife to see. With several beautiful hotels and a number of tour operators that operate eco-adventure tours, plus some wonderful national parks and safari operators in the surrounding area, there is something for everyone at The Smoke That Thunders.