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29 November 2018

My Best Experiences of Victoria Falls

This blog was written by Antonina, an ex-safari specialist who was an invaluable member of our team for 5 years. Here, Antonina writes about her trip to Victoria Falls in which she gives her seven best experiences.

Arriving in August into the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls, my partner and I had a lovely short drive to our hotel. On the way, we could see how dry the landscape was – August is right in the middle of winter, and there are no rains for months to come.

Just on the edge of Victoria Falls town, we reached our first hotel, the lovely Ilala Lodge. Again, we were welcomed warmly, this time with a fresh towel and fresh lemonade, as it was relatively hot at about 30 degrees! Our room was on the second floor, overlooking an open lawn with several thorn bushes – and surprisingly we saw buffalos right outside, grazing away. In the distance, we could see the spray of the Falls themselves. Using our hotel as our base, my partner and I were then free to enjoy the amazing activities on offer:

7. Dinner at the Boma

Dinner on our first night was at the famous ‘BOMA’, which is a traditional local outdoor grilled buffet where people can have an unforgettable African experience infused with Zimbabwean cuisine. We were wrapped up in traditional cloths and led through by a group of dancers who were performing to traditional music. We were seated amongst many other people and introduced to how things worked (buffet style – all you can eat). There was an incredible variety of different meats that the chef could grill for you, and all sorts of salads and traditional Zimbabwean delicacies.

During dinner there was a lovely drum show that got people dancing and made the environment very fun and enjoyable.

victoria falls dinner boma yellow zebra safaris

This part was pretty special, because there were not only the usual overseas tourists but also a lot of local people, so when the dancing came we all danced together – I’d definitely recommend this for one evening during your stay. Just be sure to pre-book!

6. Breakfast river cruise on the Zambezi

With an early-morning pick-up arranged, we arrived by the riverbanks of the Zambezi when everything was still pleasantly warm and quiet, and with the boat in the distance with the sun rays bouncing off the water it seemed just magical at that time.

We were assigned a small table on one side of the boat (which was fairly open with a roof), to make for easier game viewing. As we set off, we were told of the possibilities to see various wildlife, and that we should keep an eye out! And so we did, spotting several pods of hippos, crocodiles getting ready for their sunbathing session, all sorts of birds, small monitor lizard, and more.

Amidst all of the wildlife, what really surprised me the most was just the pleasant fresh morning air and views all around us. I remember seeing a small remote island in the middle of the Zambezi, adorned with a tall palm tree that looked simply exquisite.

Midway through our cruise, we had a modest buffet made up of a delicious selection of hams, cheeses, breads, and fruits. It was just such a lovely experience all in all and we would highly recommend it as it’s one of the quieter times on the river, compared with the evening when the sunsets attract a lot of boats.

5. Rainforest and waterfall walk

Although I was a regular visitor to the Falls on the Zimbabwe side while growing up in Botswana, every time I go back I’m always mesmerised by the sight. And this time, I was particularly excited to see the expression on my partner’s face! 

We paid our $30 and we set out walking along a path through the bush. After about 5 minutes, we started to see people with umbrellas and rain jackets. We didn’t bother with that – it was a nice hot day, so I knew it would be quite refreshing to feel the spray. We got to the first viewpoint of the Falls, where we had to walk down steps to see and hear the largest volume of water falling from the waterfall to the bottom of the chasm. As this is a particularly large quantity of falling water, the viewing spot is always pretty wet! Thankfully we had our GoPro and ‘waterproof’ iPhones, which helped with getting some great shots. This spot has a great view of the gorge, and you can see how fast the water flows. If you follow this pathway, it continues on towards the statue of David Livingstone, the first European to marvel at Victoria Falls.

After viewing the Falls at this point, we headed back through the rainforest, guided by the loud sound of the falling water. The area here always has a rainforest because the constant water from the Falls (some months more than others) results in plenty of plant life all year round.

The rainforest trail has several viewpoints every few metres, to provide different vistas of the Falls. This walk is relatively easy to do as there are concrete paths and it’s flat for the most part. Along the path you get great views of David Livingstone Island (from where Livingstone first gazed at the Falls), and when the water level is low (from September onwards) you can enjoy a thrill-seeking swim in the naturally formed ledges known as Devil’s Pool and Angel’s Pool (I have done both!).

As you reach the end of the walking trail, you get to a fantastic panoramic view of the rest of the Falls that stretches farther into Zambia and also the amazing ‘Boiling Pot’ gorge.* The latter is great to hike down during the months of August till early December (lower water-level times).

*I have to mention that there are no barriers around the edges of this panoramic viewpoint. Due to all the water, the path and rocks surrounding the edges can be slightly slippery, so just make sure you don’t get too close to the edge!

4. Bungee jumping

Where to go bungee jumping?

You need to get to the middle of the bridge that stands between Zambia and Zimbabwe. This is a 15-minute walk, passing through the borders into no-man’s land. It’s where you can purchase your ticket, but please remember that the ticket needs to be returned when you get back.

Do you get nervous beforehand?

My partner wanted to do the bungee jump, so he was slotted in for 2pm. When we arrived, I could tell by the way he talked and looked that he was nervous – understandable, as he was about to freefall about 111 metres.

bungee jump victoria falls august yellow zebra safaris

If I'm not participating, where is the best place to view the jump?

While he was given a short brief and getting all geared up, I quickly ran back to the start of the bridge. There was a spot near here from where I could film him jumping, with a wonderful view of the side bridge. However, everything happened so fast that I missed that second when he jumped off and all I could hear was this scream!

My heart skipped a beat as I saw him fall and disappear, but after a few minutes a member of the bungee jump company went down to pull him back up to the bottom of the bridge. Once he was loose from the equipment, he could walk back to land.

3. Sunset cruise in Zimbabwe

antonina sunset cruise victoria falls zambezi yellow zebra safari

The sunset cruise departed from the Zimbabwe side of the Zambezi at 5pm, and we had a superb viewing area on the top deck. During our cruise, we were served cold drinks and canapés, which made the whole experience a lot more exciting. As we drifted along the river, we came across hippos and a few crocs farther out. And as it got closer to sunset, more and more cruises started drifting alongside us. Some had larger groups of people, making the experience slightly noisier than the morning cruise we’d enjoyed that day. 

Nevertheless, as the sun started to set, we could see elephants on the mainland on the Zimbabwe side, as well as giraffes.

Then, the moment we were all looking forward to, everyone took out their cameras and fell silent as the sun slowly descended. It was absolutely breathtaking, especially as the sun set behind a few African palm trees in the distance and the Zambezi river looked completely golden in colour.

2. Visiting the Zambia side

Crossing the bridge and passing the borders for both Zimbabwe and Zambia was a rather simple procedure. Our driver took care of everything, and we didn’t even have to leave the vehicle or wait too long. It was a nice 40-minute drive through Livingstone town up to Chundukwa River Lodge, a lovely small peaceful property that offers a wide variety of in-house activities to make your stay there a lot more fun and exciting. 

Here my partner and I took part in another sunset boat ride, which surprisingly was very different from the one we’d done closer to Victoria Falls Town. Due to the small size of the property, we were ushered onto a modest motorboat with just one other guest of the lodge. It was the same concept, complete with sunset drinks, but there was no sound of helicopters or microlights flying over or twenty other cruise boats nearby. It was definitely a lot more tranquil as a boating experience.

Antonina Tongabezi zambia victoria falls yellow zebra safaris

1. Angel’s Pool

For the time of year we arrived, the water levels were still relatively high for swimming at Devil’s Pool, so we were taken to Angel’s Pool instead. Both pools are accessible from David Livingstone Island, which is approached via a boat transfer from Royal Livingstone Hotel. It was such an enchanting ride to the Falls, because all the sprays became a lot clearer and we could see a huge rainbow in the mist of the spray. 

Once we got onto the island, we walked to an area that was nicely set up for breakfast with two seating zones. First, we pre-ordered our breakfast, and then we were given a brief on safety and what to expect. We then started walking towards the edge of the Falls. Here our guide requested that each couple or guest stand at a certain point, then he asked for our phones and took pictures of us with the Falls and the beautiful rainbow behind. After that, he walked us to another section of the edge, where we saw a small pool of water where people were sitting – and there it was, Angel’s Pool. It looked small and cute, but dangerous. Not much water was flowing down (at least not a very strong current) so, couple by couple, we were asked to sit near to the edge, with caution. This was the most amazing experience and I would love to do it again! The morning breakfast served afterwards was super-delicious and fresh. Then we made our way back to the mainland and headed to the airport for our journey home.

Our first flight, from Livingstone to Kruger Mpumalanga, was rather fast, but the most amazing thing was that our seating on the right side of the plane gave us the opportunity to see the Falls from the air – and also the river gorge that runs farther away from the Falls.

Antonina’s Victoria Falls was full of memorable moments! If you’d like to visit this world-famous destination, please get in touch with a member of the YZ team.

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