The name ‘Victoria’ was bestowed by Scottish explorer David Livingstone in 1855, to honour the monarch of the day. Describing his view of the Falls, Livingstone wrote that no one in England could imagine their beauty, that surely these were scenes familiar to angels in their flight. High praise indeed – and a bronze statue of Livingstone admiring the Falls, located on the Zambian shore, conveys the wonderment the explorer felt on observing this vast body of cascading water. It is a wonderment that is shared by all travellers to the Falls, accounting for the continuing popularity of Vic Falls as a tourist destination.
Victoria Falls is situated on the Zambezi River, at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and is also known as ‘The Smoke That Thunders’, from its indigenous name Mosi-oa-Tunya. Victoria Falls has great links to the rest of Africa, with direct flights into the parks of Zambia, a road or air transfer to the parks of Botswana and Zimbabwe, plus a direct flight to the Kruger area in South Africa, to Windhoek in Namibia and to Nairobi in Kenya. The main access is via Johannesburg, with daily flights into either Livingstone Airport on the Zambian side or Victoria Falls Airport on the Zimbabwean side.
Visitors to this area enjoy an excellent assortment of activities. The national parks of Victoria Falls and Mosi-oa Tunya contain plenty of wildlife to spot on game drives and walking safaris through the area. Vic Falls National Park boasts elephant, rhino, buffalo, hippopotamus, crocodile and a lot of antelope species, while Mosi-oaTunya National Park is home to zebra, giraffe, buffalo, warthog, as well as, again, many types of antelope. An exploration of the rainforest part of Vic Falls National Park is offered by the majority of lodges here. This is nourished by the spray from the Falls and features an abundance of palms, ferns, vines and trees specific to the area such as ebony and pod mahogany. It is a haven for keen botanists!
Bird watchers are also well served by the Falls, as the gorges provide ideal nesting territory for no fewer than 35 species of raptor (birds of prey) – among them, black eagle, augur buzzard, and Taita and peregrine falcon. And above the waterfall itself, wildfowl thrive, well fed by the plentiful fishlife. Both birdspotting and game fishing are popular activities.
Things to do in Victoria Falls
Elephant interactions and lion walks are also offered by lodges around Vic Falls, but the area is most famous for its status as the Adventure Capital of Africa. If you are after a massive rush of adrenaline, this is where you can get it! White water rafting here is the wildest in the world, with bungee jumping, canoeing, zipwiring and gorge swinging not too far behind. Seasoned daredevils will relish a swim in the aptly titled Devil’s Pool, the pool right at the top of the Falls – absolutely awesome!
Guests to Victoria Falls can enjoy river cruises, shopping expeditions to Victoria Falls town and excursions to the local villages to get to know the people for whom this region is home. And no visit to Vic Falls is complete without a trip to The Boma for authentic Zimbabwean cuisine and an afternoon spent sampling the famous High Tea at Stanley’s Terrace, Victoria Falls Hotel. For activity-based adventures, there are scenic helicopter and microflights available as well as white water rafting.
Zimbabwe or Zambia?
Which side of the Falls is better, is the age-old question – and in all honesty, they both have their pros and cons. The first thing to think about is ‘low water’ or ‘high water’. Low water is between August and January – this is when there is very little spray and you can really see the Falls’ formation. This is also when you are able to swim in Devil’s Pool, the thrilling experience of swimming in a rock pool right on the edge of the Falls, on the Livingstone side. During the very dry months, from mid-September to December, the Falls on the Zambian side dries up and this usually sways people to stay on the Zimbabwean side as it flows throughout the year. High water is between February and July, at its peak in March and April. This is one of the best times to see the Falls from the air, as the spray is thick with amazing rainbows!
Victoria Falls is a year-round destination, so deciding when to go usually comes down to the rest of the holiday you are planning or what you want to see when you are at the Falls. However, we are a fan of staying on the Zimbabwean side, but also visiting the Zambian side whilst there – especially if it is the right season for Devil’s Pool!
Where to stay
Both Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town have hotels within walking distance to the Falls. On the Livingstone side, you can choose from the value option of Zambezi Sun or the classic hotel The Royal Livingstone, which is large and colonial style. On the Vic Falls side is the grand old lady, classic Victoria Falls Hotel – and then for some value options you can look at Ilala Lodge and Kingdom Hotel, which are in walking distance too.
If you do not want to be in a hotel environment on the Zimbabwean side, your choices are a bit limited. However, The Elephant Camp has great elephant interaction, Victoria Falls River Lodge is a stunning premier lodge, and Zambezi Sands is about an hour from the Falls. Another option is Stanley & Livingstone Lodge, which is a bit of a mix between a hotel and a lodge, but it benefits from being on a 6,000-acre private game reserve that is home to the Big Five! The lodge sector is really where Zambia takes over – there are numerous lodges dotted along the Zambezi. A classic lodge and an office favourite is Waterberry Lodge – and their private River Farmhouse is particularly great for a group of four or more as you can book the house on a private basis. One of the iconic more premier lodges in Livingstone is Tongabezi, which is a mix of river cottages and their famous open-fronted houses.