Other waterfalls are higher (Angel Falls), wider (Iguazu Falls), and even more famous (Niagara), but Victoria Falls is the largest single curtain of cascading water on earth. The falls form part of the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe in south-central Africa and are their premier tourist attraction.
A whole set of adventure-laden activities – ranging from bungee-jumping and whitewater rafting to abseiling and “gorge swinging” -- have blossomed around the falls, the gorges below and the Zambezi River. A wide variety of accommodations, restaurants and shops have also sprung up on both sides of the falls and river, but the ultimate attraction remains the cascades themselves.
The Smoke That Thunders
The deafening roar of the waters and the towering mists that can be seen for miles away led to its traditional name Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders.” When Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone came upon the cascades in 1855, he named them after Queen Victoria of England, but “the smoke that thunders” still says it best.
The height of the rainy season (March-May) is the time to catch the falls at their most torrential, but the thickness and height of the spray can obscure the views of the falls themselves, and walking on the pathways near the falls can get wet and slippery. The dry season, which peaks in October and November, means the view of the falls from the Zambian side can be disappointing. But in dry season you can reach Livingstone Island below the falls (from Zambia only) and pathways will be less treacherous.
Though you can visit both sides of the falls, you’ll need to go through border formalities crossing from one country to another and pay visa fees (which may or may not be included on your tour). Which side you stay on will affect some aspects of your visit, even if you end up spending some time on both.
Zimbabwe vs. Zambia
Zimbabwe used to be the side to stay on, with its classic colonial-style Victoria Falls Hotel located a short distance from the falls (even if you don’t stay there, you can still drop in for a very British high tea), and better views of the falls in general. But Zimbabwe has had well publicized civil strife under the iron rule of Robert Mugabe, and Zambia has been the beneficiary; it’s attracting an increasing number of tourists, even though Zimbabwe’s town of Victoria Falls has stepped up its police presence and made the area safer.
Both countries offer a range of accommodations from deluxe to simple guest houses, though many on the Zambian side are in the town of Livingstone, several miles from the falls. Victoria Falls is a frequent add-on to wildlife safaris, whether in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Chobe National Park in Botswana (the nearest major game park) or those further afield. You can also take horseback safaris, elephant rides, or even commune with lions.
Whatever your choice of trips, Stride can help you find it – and turn your Victoria Falls fantasies into reality.