Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe
For many years, Zimbabwe was the country most tourists chose to base themselves in to visit Victoria Falls. Still, as a result of the country’s political strife and economic instability in the 2000s, most travelers started choosing Livingstone on the Zambian side instead. Zimbabwe has become much more stable in recent years, and tourism is again on the rise in the country, with more and more people choosing to stay on the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls.
There’s good reason to visit the Zimbabwean side. The country is home to two-thirds of Victoria Falls, four of the five waterfalls (Horseshoe Falls, Rainbow Falls, the Main Falls, and the Devil’s Cataract), and almost all of the viewing points (16 out of 19). It’s the only side of the border the water flows year-round.
Exploring the falls from Zimbabwe certainly won’t disappoint, no matter what time of year you go – the panoramas from the top of the gorge are simply astounding.
The town of Victoria Falls, situated a conveniently short walk from the falls themselves, has excellent tourist infrastructure, offering a wide range of lodging options, restaurants, bars, curio shops, markets, and an array of activities and adventures.
Zambezi National Park is only a 10-minute drive from town and makes for a great safari experience (especially if you don’t have time to visit other Zimbabwean parks on your trip), with gorgeous landscapes and herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, and sable set against a backdrop of picturesque riverine landscapes.
Highlights of the Region
Seeing Victoria Falls is undoubtedly the top highlight of any visit. Still, there are more ways than one to take in the powerful display of cascading water. First up should be a viewing experience on foot. Pay the entrance fee to Victoria Falls National Park and take your time to walk the cliffside trails that offer 16 viewpoints of the falls from different angles.
Then it’s time for a bird’s eye perspective. Take a ride in a helicopter flying high above the falls for truly spectacular photos of “the smoke that thunders.” This is particularly dramatic during the high-water season of February to May, when the mist and spray are propelled high into the air.
If you’re lucky to be visiting Victoria Falls during a full moon after the rainy season when the falls are in full flow, then don’t miss taking a trip to witness a lunar rainbow or a “moonbow” – the rare and unique sight of a nighttime rainbow reflected in the water.
In and around the town of Victoria Falls, there are more outdoor adventures than you can shake a GoPro stick at. One of the most popular activities is whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River – a thrilling ride that draws adventurers from around the world.
Then there are the activities that get you some views and adrenaline shots. Fly across the Batoka Gorge at 100kph (62mph) along a zip line suspended 120m (394ft) above the Zambezi, or jump on the Flying Fox to slide face-down on a cable high above the churning water far below.
Gorge swinging is not for the faint of heart: become a human pendulum when you jump off the edge of the gorge to swing on a giant cable suspended across the two sides of the gorge.
A less extreme high-wire activity suitable for the whole family (no minimum age limit) is the Victoria Falls Canopy Tour, which takes you on nine different zip lines, trails, and bridges through the forest of Batoka Gorge. Expect spectacular views of the river and the chance to spot beautiful birds such as the Purple crested turaco.
You’ve heard of shark cage diving but probably not crocodile cage diving: same idea, except you’re protected in a cage in a pool of crocodiles. Get your closest experience with these powerful reptiles as you remain underwater with diving gear.
Challenge another toothy predator on fishing excursions on the Zambezi to catch the famous Tigerfish, which is regarded as the best freshwater fighting fish in the world.
For those less adventurously inclined, activities also come in the more sedate variety. Think guided bike tours of the town and surrounding area, relaxing river cruises in the golden light of the late afternoon, spotting elephants, hippos, and birds, a tram ride across the bridge to Zambia, and sunset trips on an old steam train across Victoria Falls Bridge with drinks and snacks.
You can also visit a local village and help with some daily chores to see what rural life is like for Zimbabweans.
Despite its small size, Zambezi National Park packs an impressive punch. It’s home to scenic landscapes of riverine forest, mopane woodland, four of the Big Five (rhinos are absent), African wild dogs, hippos, cheetahs, crocodiles, giraffes, and diverse birdlife.
Spot more than 400 species, including the highlights of Pel’s fishing owl, African finfoot, Goliath heron, and migratory African skimmers. Go on self-guided game drives to spot wildlife easily on the 50km (31mi) long network of roads that trace the Zambezi River – the northern boundary of the park – and take along a packed lunch to eat at one of the picturesque picnic sites along the river.
There’s also the option of joining game drives on open-air safari vehicles, where you’ll learn about the animals and birdlife from a guide. For more of a wilderness immersion without the sound of a motor, you can also take walking safaris with a professional guide or explore the park on a horseback safari.
Shopping for art, curios, and sculptures is a highlight of a visit to Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe is known for its artisans and sculptors, and you’ll find some special pieces to take home.
The best place to browse is the Elephant’s Walk Shopping and Artist Village, which has different galleries and boutiques stocked with sculptures made of materials such as soapstone, wire and quartz, and ironwood. The village is famous for its carvings and souvenirs, such as wooden walking sticks with an animal head carved on top, clothes and bags made from local fabrics, and beautiful jewelry.
All the prices here are fixed, so there’s no haggling. Nearby there’s an outdoor curio market with crafts and artworks where the prices are up for negotiation.
A small museum packed with fascinating artifacts from Zimbabwe’s different ethnic groups, the Jafuta Heritage Center is a must for anyone interested in the country’s rich cultural heritage.
Practical Advice About the Region
Built just a few years ago, Victoria Falls Airport is a short drive outside town and has direct flights from Johannesburg and Harare. Another way of reaching Victoria Falls is by train – either the budget-friendly Mosi-Oa-Tunya, from Bulawayo or the very luxurious Rovos Rail from Pretoria in South Africa.
The town of Victoria Falls has an excellent range of lodging options, including campsites, backpackers with dorm rooms, and all-inclusive luxury lodges. Some hotels are within walking distance from Victoria Falls, and others have a free shuttle bus that takes you to the Victoria Falls National Park entrance.
The park entrance fee is US$30 (US$40 for a night entry), which gets you in once. If you return to the falls later in the day, you’ll need to pay again. The opening hours are from 6 AM or 6.30 AM (depending on summer and winter seasons) to 6 PM and from 7 PM to 10 PM.
Getting up early and watching the sun rise over the falls is truly magical – and you’ll have the paths almost to yourself.
You don’t need a guide to see the falls, as it’s very easy to do a self-guided tour with well-marked paths and signs, but if you want to learn more about the history of the falls and the local flora and fauna, hiring a guide or booking a guided tour from your hotel is a good idea.
Seeing Victoria Falls during and after the rainy season (from February to May), when the Zambezi River is in full flow, means you’re guaranteed to get completely soaked by mist and spray. You’ll need to wear a plastic poncho and carefully cover your camera in a waterproof bag or casing. Be careful taking photos because waves of mist can suddenly hit you before you’ve had a chance to protect your camera.
Wearing comfortable non-slip shoes is important because the paths are incredibly slippery when wet. Always stick to the demarcated footpaths and stay behind barriers. At viewpoints where there are no barriers, be sure to stay far away from the edge.
If you’re looking for a safari experience beyond just a game drive and the chance to fall asleep to a soundtrack of animal and bird noises, there are several options for lodging inside the Zambezi National Park, from self-catering lodges and campsites along the river to luxury lodges and camps with all-inclusive rates.
It’s easy to visit Victoria Falls and try out all of the activities in the area, as the park is only a short drive from town.
If you’re planning on visiting Zambia, ensure you get the new KAZA Uni-Visa on your arrival in Zimbabwe (it’s available at Victoria Falls International Airport, the Kazungula border, Harare International Airport, as well as the Victoria Falls border).
The visa costs US$50, which is cheaper than buying two separate visas for Zimbabwe and Zambia. It’s valid for 30 days and allows you to cross between Zimbabwe and Zambia as many times as you like. It also allows you to cross into Botswana for the day as long as you return to Zambia or Zimbabwe the same day – perfect for making a day trip to visit Chobe National Park.
What Sort of Traveler Should go to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe side)
Victoria Falls really does have something for everyone: solo travelers will discover friendly, welcoming local people and find plenty of opportunities to meet up with other travelers on group activities and in restaurants and bars. Families will find various experiences suited for kids, such as the Victoria Falls Canopy Tour.
Romantic couples are well catered to in terms of intimate rooms and experiences for two (think exclusive suites, in-room couples’ spa treatments, and private dinners on your terrace).
At the same time, adventurers will find plenty to keep the adrenaline pumping, whether bungee jumping or whitewater rafting over huge rapids.