Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the impressive volume of water that spills endlessly over this waterfall on a continuous basis. But before you see it in person, I have some tips that will make your visit more enjoyable.
1. Pick a Side
Victoria Falls sits on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. So it’s located both in Livingstone, Zambia and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Technically, you can view the falls from both countries in a day, but chances are you’ll have to choose a side.
If you’re on a group tour, this will be decided for you. But if you have to choose a side, which one is better?
The Zambia Side
The entry fee to the park is slightly cheaper on the Zambian side, but the fee difference is minimal ($10-15 US).
The Devil’s Pool, a spectacular rock pool formed naturally right on the edge of Victoria Falls, just happens to be on the Zambia side. You can even swim in it – if you’re brave enough!
Livingstone Island, where David Livingstone famously saw the Falls for the first time in 1855, is on the Zambian side.
There aren’t many hotels close to the entrance of Victoria Falls on this side, though. and the town of Livingstone is about 10km from the falls, which adds a bit of travel time and associated transportation costs.
If you visit the falls during the dry season (September to December), you might have some trouble getting the full effect – or any – on the Zambian side. Often, the water flow can dry up to almost nothing, leaving just a bare rock wall for viewing. And with Victoria Falls being the largest sheet of falling water in the world, you probably want to actually see it in its full glory. (A volume of between 20,000 and 700,000 cubic metres of water per minute falls down the 100-metre vertical drop!)
And, keep in mind that even if you go during the rainy season, you can only see about 25% of the falls from the Zambian side.
The Zimbabwe Side
On the other hand, the Zimbabwe side has its own merits. From here, you can view 75% of Victoria Falls, including the main falls. And the network of paths allow you picturesque views from several angles.
The town of Victoria Falls is less than 2km from the falls, making the trip there shorter and a bit cheaper. You could even walk there from town!
The Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe never completely dry up, even during the dry season.
This is what it looked like when we visited during the dry season:
Still pretty impressive, I would say. Although I would love to see it during the wet season to compare the amount of water flowing down.
This section is known as the Devil’s Cataract. The name comes from an adjacent island in the river where local tribes used to hold sacrificial ceremonies. When the missionaries came, they called these acts “devilish” – hence its name:
2. Get Your Paperwork in Order
To visit Zambia, you can either obtain a visa at their airport, or you can apply online for an e-Visa. The visa is good for three months. You can also apply for a Day Tripper visa if you plan on visiting Zambia for less than 24 hours. The Day Tripper can only apply at Victoria Falls and Kazungula Border Controls.
To visit Zimbabwe you need a visa, but this is easily obtained at the airport upon arrival. You can also apply for an e-Visa online before you travel. The e-Visa is valid for three months after the date of issue.
For both Zambia and Zimbabwe
If you want to go beyond Victoria Falls and spend more time seeing both Zimbabwe and Zambia, you might want to look into getting the KAZA Univisa. This visa is for the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, an area covering five southern African countries – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The KAZA Univisa costs USD 50 and allows tourists to obtain one visa to visit both Zambia and Zimbabwe multiple times.
The visa is valid up to 30 days as long as the holder remains within Zambia and Zimbabwe. On the Zimbabwe side, it’s available at Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls airports and at the land borders at Victoria Falls (Zambian border) and Kazungula (Botswana border). On the Zambia side, it’s available at the Kenneth Kaunda and Harry Mwanga Nkumbula international airports.
3. Be Prepared to Get Wet
Victoria Falls has earned a few different names over the years. Although David Livingstone named it after Queen Victoria in 1855, it’s also called Mosi-oa-Tunya in the local indigenous language, which translates to “The Smoke That Thunders”. Another name for the falls is Seongo or Chongwe, which means “The Place of the Rainbow”. This is in reference to the constant spray of water that creates a rainbow effect.
Even during the dry season, you’re probably going to at least feel some spray from Victoria Falls. This is hardly the worst thing in the world, and on a hot day it’s actually quite refreshing. But you might want to protect your camera or phone with a plastic baggie or waterproof casing, just to be on the safe side.
If you really hate getting wet, or even damp, (moist, even), consider a poncho or light raincoat. Vendors sell ponchos on site, so you don’t need to worry about bringing your own. Don’t bother with an umbrella – the spray comes at you from all directions, not so much from above (unless it’s actually raining).
4. Beware of the Baboons
Victoria Falls National Park itself is full of the typical wildlife you would expect too see in Zimbabwe – lions, elephants, antelope, Cape buffalo, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, hippos – the list goes on. But you probably won’t see these on your walk around Victoria Falls. The animals you’re more likely to see, are baboons.
As as climbed this large tree trunk to get a photo, a family of baboons walked by underneath. We stayed up here until they were at a safe distance.
But then the family (or troop) of baboons decided to plant themselves right on the walking trail.
Baboons can be nasty creatures. They can become aggressive if they feel threatened, or if you have something they want, like food. They also have long, sharp canine teeth, definitely capable of breaking skin, and possibly even bones. In fact, our tour guide told us that baboons have such sharp teeth and powerful jaws, that they can bite into a man’s skull. I don’t know if that’s true, but do you really want to find out?
While we were walking along the trail, we encountered this family of baboons. And the closest one decided it didn’t like us getting too close.
So it stood up and started to approach us. We decided not to push our luck, so we backed away slowly and took a different path.
So what should you do if you encounter a baboon while visiting Victoria Falls?
- Don’t bring food with you and never feed them (or any wildlife)
- Give them space. If they do approach you, don’t make eye contact, and back away slowly
- Don’t turn your back on them and don’t run
- Stay calm but don’t smile or show your teeth, as they take this as a sign of aggression
- Don’t walk through a troop of baboons – either walk around them or wait for them to leave
5. Explore Your Wild Side
If you like a little adventure on holiday, Victoria Falls is a great location for it. There are a ton of activities to indulge in here. You can bungee jump off the Victoria Falls bridge, take a scenic flight, go on a safari, take in a sunset cruise, or go white water rafting, just to name a few activities.
While Mark chose to go white water rafting, I decided to go on a walk with lions. While the experience was incredible, I would think twice about doing it now, for the reasons I outlined in my last post. But there are plenty of optional excursions no matter what your adventure level may be.