Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe
For many years, Zimbabwe was the country that most tourists chose to base themselves in to visit Victoria Falls, but as a result of the country’s political strife and economic instability in the 2000s, most travellers starting choosing Livingstone on the Zambian side instead. Zimbabwe has become a lot more stable in recent years, and tourism is again on the rise on 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, as well as four out 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), and it’s only on the 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, which is situated a conveniently short walk from the falls themselves, has excellent tourist infrastructure, offering a wide range of lodging options, restaurants, bars, curio shops and markets and a smorgasbord 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 picturesque landscapes and herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and sable in a backdrop of picturesque riverine landscapes.
Highlights of the Region
Seeing Victoria Falls is undoubtedly the top highlight of any visit, but 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 rainy season when the falls are in full flow, then don’t miss doing a trip to see the falls at night to witness a lunar rainbow or a “moon bow” – the rare and very special 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 of all is white-water 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 along with shots of adrenaline: whizz across the Batoka Gorge at 100 kilometres an hour along a zip line suspended 120 metres above the Zambezi, or jump on the Flying Fox to slide across the gorge face-down on a cable high above the churning water far below. Gorge swinging is definitely 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 that is suitable for the whole family (with 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, with 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 of crocodile cage diving: same idea, except you’re in protected in a cage from 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 tiger fish, 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 to spot elephants, hippos and birds along the Zambezi River, 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 do visits to a local village and help out 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 (rhino are absent) as well as African wild dog, hippos, cheetah, crocodiles and giraffe, diverse birdlife with 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 50-kilometre-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 more about the animals and birdlife from a guide. For more of a wilderness immersion without the sound of a motor, you can also do 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 beautiful artisans and sculptors and you’ll find some special pieces here 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 out of materials such as soapstone, wire and quartz, ironwood carvings and souvenirs such as wooden walking sticks with an animal head carved on top, clothes and bags made out of local fabrics, and beautiful jewellery. 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 artefacts – some centuries old – from Zimbabwe’s different ethnic groups, the Jafuta Heritage Centre (which is inside Elephant’s Walk) is a must for anyone interested in the rich cultural heritage of the country.
Practical Advice About the Region
Built just a few years ago, Victoria Falls Airport is a short drive outside of 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 going up to 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 entrance of the Victoria Falls National Park. 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 6am or 6.30am (depending on summer and winter seasons) to 6pm, and from 7pm to 10pm at night. 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, then 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 that you are guaranteed to get completely soaked by mist and spray. You’ll definitely need to wear a plastic poncho and to cover your camera carefully in a waterproof bag or casing. Be careful taking photos, because waves of spray can hit you suddenly before you’ve had a chance to cover the camera up. Wearing comfortable non-slip shoes is important, because the paths are extremely 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 where you can 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 do visits to Victoria Falls and try out all of the activities on offer in the area, as the park is only a short drive away from town.
If you’re planning on visiting Zambia, make sure that 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 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 – which is perfect for doing a day trip to visit Chobe National Park.
What Sort of Traveller Should go to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe side)
Victoria Falls really does have something for everyone: solo travellers will discover friendly, welcoming local people and find plenty of opportunities to meet up with other travellers on group activities and in restaurants and bars, families will find a host of experiences suited for kids, such as the Victoria Falls Canopy Tour, romantic couples are well catered for in terms of intimate rooms and experiences for two (think exclusive suites, in-room couples’ spa treatments and private dinners on your terrace), while adventurers will find plenty to keep that adrenaline pumping, whether it’s bungee jumping or white-water rafting over huge rapids.