The Victoria Falls is a 100m-high waterfall in Southern Africa, which divides Zimbabwe from Zambia and is recognised as one of the natural wonders of the world.
Known locally as the ‘smoke that thunders’ due to the incredible noise that this torrent of raging, whipped up Zambezi River makes, it is estimated that 546 cubic metres of water plummets per minute in the rainy season. At around twice the height of Niagara Falls and vastly wider, Victoria Falls is recognised as the ‘biggest curtain of falling water in the world’. Consequently, it is an awe-inspiring sight, where the spray causes constant rainbows overhead. When the river’s flow is lower, the waterfall is divided into several streams: the Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and the Eastern Cataract.
Victoria Falls was formed some 200 million years ago, the result of volcanic activity on the ancient southerly landmass, Gondwanaland. The powerful Zambezi carved through soft matter that had accumulated in the cracked, hardened lava to create a series of waterfalls and deep gorges. Victoria Falls was brought to the attention of the wider world by Dr Livingstone in the 1860s, who named it after the then Queen.
The waterfall is situated within a two UNESCO World Heritage national parks: the Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe and its twin, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia. The town of Victoria Falls is located next to the park on the Zimbabwe side and offers accommodation, attractions and restaurants as befits a major tourist destination. Livingstone is the Zambian equivalent, a city which has undergone major changes in recent years, all of which have served to enhance visitors’ experiences.
What to do
There’s more to the falls than simply marvelling at them from the top of the cliff; walking a little further to Knife-edge Bridge will offer some stunning views of the Eastern Cataract and Main Falls but prepare to get soaked from the spray or pack a jacket. Lookout Tree and the Falls Bridge also present incredible vistas.
A walk down to the ‘Boiling Pot’ – the churning, ferocious pool at the bottom of the falls where the river turns to flow into the Bakota Gorge – is a must. This is the spot where any items that have been washed over the falls generally end up; in the past this has included rather more macabre remains. The Boiling Pot can be reached via a footpath on the Zambian side, with a steep climb back up.
Close to the cliff edge on the Livingstone Island side is a naturally-occurring feature known as the Devil’s Swimming Pool. Essentially it is a wall of rock which blocks the river’s flow when the water and current are at their lowest. This allows daring visitors to swim to the edge of the falls without too much risk of going over the side. This is a popular attraction but not for the faint-hearted.
Meanwhile those wishing to throw all caution to the wind might like to bungee jump from Rainbow Bridge.
Zambia or Zimbabwe: it remains a hotly contested debate among the people on both side of the river, understandably. It’s possible to view the falls from both countries and most people recommend doing so, but the main considerations to visitors are the views and the costs.
The best views are said to be from the Zimbabwe side, which assumes three-quarters of the falls and offers some 16 vantage points that can only be accessed from that side, however it is on the Zambian side that you will obtain an arguably better view of the Main Falls.
That said, for the best view at sunset, visitors need to see the waterfall from the east, on the Zambian side and the sunrise view is best from Zimbabwe.
To go between Zambia and Zimbabwe, you’ll need entry visas and re-entry visas for your return. That’s in addition to the park entry fees. The rules and prices change frequently, so it’s worth checking in advance.
The majority of visitors combine their trip to Victoria Falls with a Big Five safari.
Close to the Victoria falls you have 2 of the best wildlife reserves in Africa, Hwange in Zimbabwe and Chobe in Botswana. Both make perfect extensions to the trip to see the Falls.
You can choose from staying in wonderful safari lodges taking part in game drives and bush walks, horseback trails, boat tours or open vehicle safaris, just don’t forget the camera.
The national parks are home to the big 5 – Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard and Hwange has a Rhino population. Additionally giraffes, zebras, several types of antelope, baboons, Hippos and a fantastic array of birdlife are to be found.
The best time to visit is between July and September, at which time the water flow is at ‘medium strength’, allowing for great views and some incredible photo opportunities. The Zambezi is at its highest in May and June, which renders some of the vantage points a bit too wet to enjoy. While the river is at its lowest point from October to December, it is the ideal time for a quick dip in the ‘Devil’s Swimming Pool’. The heat from January to April can be uncomfortably intense, though this has no effect on the view.
It is suggested that you allow a couple of days‘ minimum for your stay in order to properly experience all that Victoria Falls has to offer, whether walking through the park, taking a Zambezi cruise, white water rafting, enjoying a scenic flight or simply exploring the nearby towns.
The Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most incredible natural wonders; seeing it will take your breath away and leave a lasting impression. If it’s not on your bucket list yet, it ought to be.