Victoria Falls is a natural wonder that appears on almost everyone’s bucket list and is considered as one of the highlights when visiting the African continent. During our three week trip through Africa, we decided to find out if this miracle of nature would indeed live up to our ever growing expectations. We’d been excited about seeing this big waterfall but had never imagined something so powerful it could surround us with sound and soak us with its rainbow-lit spray – it was magical!
It’s not the widest or the tallest falls in the world, but it’s without a doubt the most impressive. It spans about a mile, the entire width of the Zambezi River, and drops a distance about twice the height of Niagara Falls into a narrow gorge in one seemingly continuous sheet, forcing mist to rise high into the sky.
So we put on our raincoats in the bright Zimbabwean sunshine and wandered into a lush forest filled with a low rumble and fine drizzle. Ready to explore Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders”!
Zimbabwe vs. Zambia
Victoria Falls straddles the border between Zimbabwe (to the west) and Zambia (to the east). You can visit the Falls from both countries, there are national park entrances on both sides of the falls, accessible from the towns of either Livingstone (Zambia) or Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe).
Both sides can easily be visited in a single day. You need a multiple-country visa in order to cross the border ($55 multiple entry visa, $45 double entry visa and $40 single entry visa in 2015), which you can obtain at the border-crossing office in either Livingstone or Victoria Falls. Whether you choose to stay in Zimbabwe or Zambia, the minor hassle of a border crossing is more than rewarded by a visit to both sides of the falls. There aren’t any multiple day or multiple entry passes. Each time you wish to enter the park, you pay an entry fee.
If you’re really short on time though, the ever returning question arises: which side is best, Zimbabwe or Zambia? In our opinion… if you want to see the falls, go to Zimbabwe – if you want to experience the falls, go to Zambia.
About three quarters of Victoria Falls lies within Zimbabwe, and tends to offer the more picturesque views because the viewpoints are farther, offering perspective. Well laid out footpaths make it easy to visit the park and wander through the dripping rainforest. When the forest breaks open and you get your first views of the tumbling Main Fall, your heart will skip a beat – amazing!
To get exceptionally close to the falls, you need to visit the Zambian side. A lower trail leads you to the base of the falls, where you get up close with the swirling water beneath. The upper trail gives you the opportunity to watch the river rush over the edge.
Time of Travel
The time of year you choose to travel will have a huge impact on your Victoria Falls experience. During the peak flow months of February to May, you will be able to see a beautiful cascade of water and you’ll probably get drenched by spray. We visited the falls in June and sometimes the spray was so thick, we could not get a clear view of the falls. If you go in the height of the dry season, say, in November, the water volume is at a low point and the falls can feel a little underwhelming.
However, visiting during dry season can have its benefits. You can still view the ever-flowing Main Falls (though less impressive) in Zimbabwe, then hop across to Zambia to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool, which are only accessible during dry-season. This rock pool is safe for swimming during dry season when the waterflow is low and you can’t tumble over the edge.
Both Victoria Falls and Livingstone are perfect hubs for extending your stay around the Zambezi river. One of the side trips we recommend is a helicopter or micro-flight over the falls. It’s a splurge, but well worth it! Victoria Falls crashes down into a narrow gorge and doesn’t offer a picture perfect panorama view like Iguaçu Falls. Therefore, a bird perspective adds another dimension, especially during the peak flow months when a large part of the falls is difficult to see due to spraying mist.
A relaxing way to spend your evening is to explore the river that creates the falls – the Zambezi River. Many companies offer sunset river cruises above the falls each evening. You’ll also likely get the chance to see some hippos in the wild hanging out in the water.
For the more adventurous, there are whitewater rafting tours available below the falls. The intensity of the river changes by the season.
Between the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls Bridge connects the two nations and offers a scenic way to cross the Zambezi River. It is also the place to be to bungee jump!
So in summary when deciding between the Zimbabwean and the Zambian sides of Victoria Falls, the main things you need to consider are: the time of year you plan on visiting and your budget.
- Iconic view of the Main Falls
- Water flowing all year round
- Entrance fee: $30 for international travellers (2015)
- Exceptionally close-up waterfall viewing
- Swim in the Devil’s Pool during dry season
- Entrance fee: $20 for international travellers (2015)
Have you seen the Victoria Falls? What side did yiu enjoy the most?
We love to hear about your experiences the comments!