Africa’s most famous waterfall and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World is on many a traveller’s bucket list, for good reason. Victoria Falls, the planet’s biggest sheet of falling water, is 1.7 kilometres wide and 100 metres high, and the mist that it creates can be seen more than 50 kilometres away.
Known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders), Victoria Falls will quite literally takes your breath away – and soaks your clothes at the same time.
Zambia or Zimbabwe?
Victoria Falls spans two countries – Zambia and Zimbabwe – and you can access the falls from either country, each of which has a tourist-friendly town right next to the falls.
For a long time, Zimbabwe was the preferred country to visit the falls from, but due to political and economic instability in the country in the 2000s, the tourism industry moved to Zambia. Zimbabwe has since stabilised and tourism is recovering, so now tourists are staying in both Zambia and Zimbabwe, although Zambia still gets more visitors.
Zimbabwe has the more expansive and picturesque views of the falls, with 16 of the 19 viewing points and much longer viewing path, but on the Zambian side you can get much closer to the falls, as the path runs right along the edge of the gorge, and you can walk on the ominously named Knife-edge Bridge, which takes you close to the water.
Victoria Falls (the town on the Zimbabwean side) offers flights to several African cities, plenty of hotel options in a range of budgets, as well as shops, restaurants and other tourist services. Most hotels are within walking distance of the falls, and you’re guaranteed to see water flowing all year round.
Livingstone, on the Zambian side, is larger than Victoria Falls. It’s not a walkable distance to the falls though – the town is 10 km away (although there are two accommodation options within walking distance of the falls). It also has an international airport, and there is a good range of places to stay, although restaurant options are better in Victoria Falls town.
Opinions are divided on which is the best side to see the falls from, so the thing to do if you want the ultimate Victoria Falls experience is to see the falls from both the Zimbabwean and the Zambian sides.
To do this, you need to obtain a KAZA visa, which costs $50 and lasts 30 days. This visa allows you to enter both Zambia and Zimbabwe, and you can get it at the airports in Livingstone and Victoria Falls, or at the border between the two countries at Victoria Falls, at the Kazangula border between Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, or at the airports in Lusaka (Zambia) and Harare (Zimbabwe). Then all you do is walk across the bridge from one country to another, and you’ll be able to see both sides of the falls in a few hours.
How to see Victoria Falls
You don’t need a guide to see the falls – it’s very easy to walk on the signposted paths. On the Zimbabwean side you pay $30 as an entrance fee, and on the Zambian side it’s $20.
If you go during the rainy season, you will get absolutely drenched. Buy a plastic poncho before you start your walk to see the falls, and make sure that your camera is covered in a waterproof bag. Be very careful taking photos, as you can think you’re in a dry spot until a sudden breeze brings a sheet of water over you like heavy rain and destroys your camera (I speak from personal experience, from a visit to the falls on the Zimbawean side during rainy season).
Wear comfortable shoes, as the paths are slippery when wet. The best shoes to wear are sturdy hiking sandals. If you wear trainers or hiking shoes, your feet will be wet!
When to visit Victoria Falls
You should decide what you would like from your Victoria Falls experience before you pick the time of year you visit the falls. If you go to Victoria Falls when the Zambezi River is at its highest between February and May, the mist can obscure the falls, especially on the Zimbabwean side.
July to September is the most popular time to see Victoria Falls, as the river is transitioning between its fullest state to a low flow, so the falls are impressive but not concealed by spray and mist.
During the dry season (October to December) the river runs much lower, and the falls on the Zambian side dry up almost completely. But, on the plus side, you will be able to swim in the famous Devil’s Pool, a natural pool in the river on the edge of the falls with a ledge that makes swimming safe – only if the river is low enough.
What to do once you’ve seen the falls on foot
On both the Zambian and the Zimbawean sides of the falls, there are tons of adrenaline-inducing activities to choose from to fill your days – the area is not called Africa’s adrenaline capital for nothing! If you’ve got the cash to splurge, then a helicopter or a microlight flight over the falls is unforgettable. From the air you’ll really be able to see just how impressive the falls are. Then there’s bungee jumping, gorge swinging, white water rafting, abseiling, horseback and elephant back safaris, walking with lions and crocodile cage diving.
There’s lots to do if you’re after more sedate activities: take your pick from drinking sundowner cocktails on a boat cruise on the Zambezi River, leisurely canoeing, game drives and bush walks in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side, and watching the sunset at Victoria Falls from a 1953 steam train which runs between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
It’s easy to organise any of these activities: book them online before your trip, or ask your accommodation to book them for you.