Since Zimbabwe’s economic and political troubles started in the 2000s, Zambia has taken over as the most popular destination to visit Victoria Falls. The laidback town of Livingstone, which lies 11 kilometres from the falls, has an excellent set up for tourists, from lodging that suits every budget and great restaurants to tons of adventure and cultural activities.
Zimbabwe may have more viewing points of Victoria Falls than Zambia, but the latter country does offer the chance to get much closer to the spray: you can get just tantalisingly close to the Eastern Cataract and right into the thick of the spray and when you walk across the Knife-Edge Bridge. And then there’s swimming in the Devil’s Pool, a natural rock pool right on the edge of the waterfall – one of the planet’s greatest infinity pools – as well as the hike down to Boiling Pot at the bottom of the cascading falls, where you can swim under the spray.
In terms of wildlife, the Zambian side has Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, where the game viewing is easy due to its compact size. While spotting elephant and zebra against beautiful backdrops of the Zambezi River, the real highlight of the park is the re-introduced white rhino – the only ones in the whole country – which you can track on foot in a thrilling wildlife encounter.
Getting up close to the power of Victoria Falls is what a visit to Livingstone is all about. Inside the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park there are pathways alongside the gorge edge that give you incredible panoramas of the Eastern Cataract, one of five waterfalls of Victoria Falls. Get within a few feet of the waterfall and get soaked on the Knife-Edge Bridge before taking to the skies: you can either do a helicopter flip for heart-stopping aerial views of the falls, or for the more daring, hop on the back of a piloted microlight – essentially a paraglider with an engine – to soar like a bird above the mist. If you travel during the full moon, don’t miss seeing the lunar rainbow in the falls at night. On the night before, the night of and the night after the full moon each month, there’s a special entrance opening to see the lunar rainbow of Victoria Falls: refracted light from the moon displayed in the spray of the falls. The best time of year to see the lunar rainbow is when the waterfall spray is at its most powerful, from around February to May, and, while you can see it from either side of the border, the view from the Zambian side is better than in Zimbabwe. The most exciting view of the falls – and probably the most thrilling swim you’ll ever have is in Devil’s Pool. This natural rock pool, perched on the edge of the waterfall, is about as close as you can get to Victoria Falls. To reach it, you take a boat to Livingstone Island and then have to swim a short distance in the Zambezi before reaching the pool. It’s not as hair raising as it sounds – there is a natural ledge that stops you from going over the edge, but for safety you can only do the swim when the river is running low, from around late August to early January. Then there’s the view of the falls from below: hike down a steep trail for around 20 minutes to reach the Boiling Pot, a churning whirlpool, at the base of the waterfall (note that this hike can only be done in the low-water season of August to December). You can’t get much closer to Victoria Falls than actually swimming under the spray: paddle across the Boiling Pot to get showered by the world’s biggest sheet of cascading water.
Adventure activities are on the cards for most travellers to Livingstone, starting from the most daring: the 111-metre bungee-jump into Batoka Gorge off Victoria Falls Bridge, which connects Zimbabwe and Zambia. Regarded as one of the best bungee jumps in the world, you’ll be guaranteed spectacular views and a huge shot of adrenaline. Slightly less terrifying is the bridge swing: jump feet first – rather than dive upside down – into an 80-metre freefall and the Flying Fox, a jump across the chasm of the gorge on a cable slide. For the same spectacular views but without the adrenaline injection, a great alternative is to traverse the walkways under the bridge while strapped into a safety harness. Slide down the gorge without turning into a human pendulum when you go abseiling more than 50 metres down a rope. A wonderful way of spotting wildlife and birds and taking in the beautiful scenery of the area is on a horse ride along the Zambezi River. Head out for a few hours or an overnight ride through teak forests, where you’ll camp on the banks of the river. In terms of river activities, there’s the most extreme white-water rafting the Zambezi’s huge rapids on a heart-pumping adventure and jet boating – or the less strenuous – drifting on the Livingstone Float, canoeing safaris, and sipping cocktails on relaxing river cruises at sunset. Anglers should definitely sign up for a fishing excursion around islands upstream from the falls where the goal is the world’s most exciting freshwater fighting fish: the toothy tiger fish.
A memorable and romantic experience not to be missed is the five-course dinner onboard a 1920s steam train, which traces a slow journey along the Zambezi River through Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park at sunset. You’ll have the chance to spot wildlife while sipping on wine before the train stops for the dinner and then turns back to Livingstone. If you’re after spectacular views, then there’s another steam train journey you can do, from Livingstone to the Victoria Falls Bridge where the panoramas of the dramatic gorge are beyond photogenic.
Split into two sections, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is made up of Victoria Falls and the wildlife area, which is only three kilometres from Livingstone. While small and lacking in big predators, the park offers a great introduction to Zambia’s wildlife, including elephant, buffalo, Burchell’s zebra, wildebeest and giraffe and beautiful birds such as Livingstone’s turaco and Livingstone’s flycatcher. Because of the park’s compact size, wildlife viewing is particularly easy: book a guided game drive through your hotel, or take your own car to self-drive around the park in just a few hours. The star attractions of Mosi-oa-Tunya are the re-introduced (and well-protected) white rhinos, which you can track on foot – a very special way to see these endangered creatures up close.
To learn about Zambian history, culture and rural life, visit the Mukuni Village, which was established in the 13th century and is now home to around 7000 Leya people. Take a guided tour of the working village to meet the villagers in their huts, taste some traditional food and beer, see craftspeople at work and shop for carvings and souvenirs in the market.
While the town of Livingstone is a short drive away from Victoria Falls, there are two hotels that are within walking distance of the falls. Some hotels offer a free shuttle service to the falls, or you can hire a private taxi to get you there. You don’t need to hire a guide to take you on a tour of the falls. The entrance fee to the park to see the falls is US$20, and the opening hours are from 6am to 6pm. If you want soft light, visit the falls at sunrise or sunset. If you’re visiting the falls during the high-water season from February to May, then you will get very wet: bring waterproof gear or buy a poncho at the entrance gate, and be sure to cover up any electronics. Always stick to the paths and stay behind barriers, and wear non-slip shoes with a good grip for walking on slippery paths. At some places on the paths there are no barriers – be extremely careful about going too close to the edge on slippery rocks. Don’t feed the baboons or monkeys!
During the high-water season (February to May), when the Zambezi River is at its fullest, the mist and spray can obscure views on the Zimbabwean side of the falls, making Zambia a better choice for views. However, after the dry winter season, in around October or November, the falls dry up on the Zambian side. If you’re visiting Victoria Falls at this time of year, it’s a good idea to consider staying on the Zimbabwean side.
If you’re travelling with children, be sure to check the minimum age requirement before you book any activities. For example, children need to be at least 12 years old to track white rhino, 15 for white-water rafting and 14 for bungee-jumping and bridge swinging.
On the edge of town, Harry Mwaanga International Airport Flights has flights from Lusaka, Johannesburg and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, which serves Kruger National Park in South Africa – a very convenient route if you’re combining a safari in South Africa with a visit to Victoria Falls.
If you stay in Zambia, it definitely makes sense to visit the Zimbabwean side of the falls to get the more panoramic views. The best way to do this is to obtain a KAZA Uni-Visa for US$50 on arrival in Zambia from one of the following places: the Victoria Falls border, Harry Mwaanga International Airport in Livingstone, Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka and the Kazungula border. The visa has a validity of 30 days and allows you unlimited crossings between Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as day trips into Botswana, which is ideal if you’d like to visit Chobe National Park on a day trip and return back to Livingstone that evening.
With a remarkable array of activities on offer on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, every kind of traveller will find experiences that are just up their street. Adventurers will be in their element with bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, gorge swinging and abseiling, while nature lovers can get their fix on gorge hikes, game drives in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, horseback rides and canoe safaris. Couples will find lots of relaxing experiences, from spa treatments and sunset river cruises at luxury hotels and lodges which are geared up for honeymooners and romantic breaks, with special packages and extra touches such as private dining experiences in special locations. Solo travellers will have plenty of chances to meet other travellers in bars, restaurants and on group activities, but will also find peace and quiet on hikes and horse rides through the bush. Families are well catered for: many hotels and lodges have the option of booking family rooms, as well as offer kids’ activity programmes and children’s menus. The activities in and around Livingstone are suitable for all ages, from toddlers to teenagers.