Victoria Falls is a town in the western portion of Zimbabwe, across the border from Livingstone, Zambia, and near Botswana. The town lies immediately next to the falls, and they are the major attraction, but this popular tourist destination offers both adventure seekers and sightseers plenty of opportunities for a longer stay.
No doubt about it, Mosi-oa-Tunya (meaning "The Smoke That Thunders") – but more commonly known as Victoria Falls – is one of the most amazing sights in the world. The Falls are twice as tall as Niagara Falls, and several times longer. Although not the highest, widest or greatest volume of water, they have the largest sheet of water for any fall in the world, and are a sight not to be missed.
HistoryIt took thousands of years of erosion for Victoria Falls to appear as and where it does now. Mosi-oa-Tunya, or "the smoke that thunders” only became known to the western world as Victoria Falls after David Livingstone first set eyes on this astonishing natural wonder in 1855, a heartbeat ago in geological time.
How the Falls Were FormedDuring the Jurassic Period (150-200 million years ago) volcanic activity resulted in thick basalt deposits covering large parts of Southern Africa. As the lava cooled and solidified, cracks appeared in the hard basalt crust, which were filled with softer clay and lime. About 2 million years ago the land between Zimbabwe and the Kalahari desert was lifted up by the same series of earth movements that caused the Great African Rift Valley to the north. This blocked the flow of what was then the upper Limpopo river which began to fill up a vast inland sea called Lake Makgadikgadi in the region of modern Botswana. This began to overflow in a new course over Zimbabwe's basalt plateau about 20,000 years ago. Erosion by the mighty Zambezi River cut through the softer materials in the hard basalt, forming the first of a series of waterfalls. Over the last 20,000 years, the Falls have receded 8 km upstream, as the Zambezi carved its way through seven linked gorges. This geological history can be seen in the dark basalt in the shear rocky walls of gorges below the Falls. It is guessed that the Devil's Cataract, which is the lowest point of Victoria Falls, will eventually become the start of the next gorge as the river continues to cut its way back upstream.
Essentially the river falls into a section of gorge along its northern side forming a waterfall a mile long. You view the falls head on from across the gorge on its south side.
Dr. David Livingstone, I presume?Scottish missionary David Livingstone first heard about Victoria Falls, known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, a full four years before he arrived there. The area was a sacred site for the Batoka and other local tribes. On 17 November 1855 Chief Sekeletu of the Makololo paddled Livingstone to an island in the Zambezi, known as Goat Island. Although the water was low at the time, it's little wonder that he felt a "tremor of fear" as he approached the wall of spray.
Gazing down into the churning chasm below must have been a heart-stopping experience (you can still make your way out to the island - now called Livingstone Island - from the Zambian Side during the dry season). Rumors abound that a Portuguese man beat him to it, but the evidence for this is scarce. The first official description of the Falls, as penned by Livingstone, was
Zambian side compared with Zimbabwean sideThe big question is which side to visit - Zambia or Zimbabwe? There are two things to consider, views of the falls and cost.
Two thirds of the actual Falls lies within Zambian territory, as does Livingstone Island, from where David Livingstone first famously set eyes on the Falls.
The water from Victoria Falls dives into a narrow gorge running parallel to the face of the falls, with the spray going high into the air, causing permanent rain, rainbows and the famous "smoke" which is visible from a distance. So, much of the time when you are viewing the falls you are actually facing them. The gorge where the water exits is the limit on how far you can walk from either side. There is no crossing there. This limits your visibility from the Zambian side, as you can only walk about a quarter of the distance of the face of the falls. Although the view and the waterflow is impressive, you simply can't get a perspective on the full width of the falls from the Zambian side.
The walk down to below the falls is closed on the Zimbabwean side. You can only walk down on the Zambian side. The footbridge on the Zambian side gives a unique experience, with a permanent torrential rain from the wet season through to August.
Travellers may have an assortment of visa charges involved in seeing both sides of the falls. The variables include your nationality, single or multiple entry, and whether you will stay longer than 24 hours.
Border crossing visa arrangements have now changed, making travel between the Zimbabwe and Zambia side much easier with the introduction of the Uni Visa. This visa allows for multiple entries between the two countries for 30 days to selected nationalities for a set US$50 fee. More information can be found here. This project has been suspended and resumed several times so check before if now is available (last resumed 2016, July)
To cross the border from Zambia to see the falls on the Zimbabwe side you will need to pay at least US$30 for a Zimbabwe single entry visa (depending on nationality), and if you want to return the Zambian side you will need to pay an extra US$20 for a multiple entry Zambian visa. To cross the border from the Zimbabwean side to the Zambian side you will need to pay an at least US$20 for a single day Zambian visa, and at least an extra US$15 for a multiple entry Zimbabwean visa. Don't forget you will need to decide whether you are getting a single or multiple entry visa when you first apply for it. If you are flying from South Africa just to see the falls, consider if it is worthwhile arriving on the Zimbabwean side and leaving from the Zambian, as you will minimise your visa costs this way (but may pay more for airfares). Flying to the Zambian side usually costs less than flying into the Zimbabwe side.
Still, for less than US$100 you can do both sides and tick another African country off your list.
When to visit
The park is open year-round, but you will get a much different experience depending on the season in which you visit.
- In the rainy season (November to March), the water volume will be higher and the Falls will be more dramatic. You are guaranteed to get wet if you cross the bridge or walk along the trails winding near the Falls. On the other hand, it is precisely because the volume of water is so high that your viewing of the actual Falls will be obscured—by all the water!
- In the dry season, (April to October), the water volume will be lower, and by October Victoria Falls might just be a trickle. You will get a clearer view of the rocky ledge beneath the Falls, which is pretty spectacular, but the Falls might be somewhat underwhelming.
Victoria Falls AirportBritish Airways and South African Airways offer daily flights between Johannesburg () and Victoria Falls Airport. Air Zimbabwe also offers flights between Victoria Falls Airport and other destinations within Zimbabwe. Cheaper flights from South Africa are often available to neighbouring Livingstone. Kenya Airways have flights from Nairobi and Cape Town.
The classic way of reaching Victoria Falls is by the overnight train from Bulawayo, now back to running daily again. National Railway of Zimbabwe still uses lovely British 1950s coaches for this line. Sleeper class 1st class 2-4 beds tickets are Z$20 per person. Linen costs an extra Z$9. 2nd class 4-6 beds is $10 per person. An Economy class seat costs $8 per person. You can pay in USD as well but change will be given in Zimbabwean dollars, if they have any! There is no running water or toilet paper. There are electric lights and shaver sockets but not plug sockets. During the first few hours after departing Victoria Falls you may see some of wildlife. Departure from Victoria falls going to Bulawayo is at 7PM every day, arriving in Bulawayo the next morning around 10 to 11AM. The ticket office at Vic Falls is open M-F from 07:00-10:00 and 14:30-18:45, and Sa-Su 09:00-10:00 and 16:30-18:45. is on Mallet Dr, next to the Victoria Falls Hotel. It offers a left luggage service.
Trains from Zambia across the spectacular Zambezi Bridge have been suspended for a few years time now; however, catching a train to Livingstone and then continuing by taxi is a possibility.
By carThe roads within Zimbabwe are relatively good. The most direct way to Victoria Falls overland is from Bulawayo. There is a good road network from the South African border at Beit Bridge right through to the Falls.
It's possible to drive in through Livingstone. Crossing an international border with a vehicle, however, will incur extra costs like carbon tax and insurance. Very annoying is the time consuming and disorganised procedure of obtaining a 'temporary import permit' for the car at the Zambian border posts. Once at the Zimbabwe border post, the whole procedure is to be repeated, though it is a bit faster but also expensive.
Coming from Namibia or Botswana. the best road is from Kasane in Botswana using the Kazungula border post. Distance to Vic Falls is 70 km.
By busBuses operated by Intercape ply the route between Windhoek in Namibia to Livingstone in Zambia three times a week. Notice that the bus stops on the Zambian side: You have to cross the border to Zimbabwe by foot or pick a taxi after crossing the Livingstone border post. A bus journey from Windhoek takes just over 14 hours and costs from R460.
Buses operated by Intercape sometimes have a route between Bulawayo and Vic Falls.
Intercape has the largest intercity route network in Southern Africa.
There are two new buslines going from Vic falls to Harare via Bulawayo Extra city and Bravo tours.
Some of the hotels in Victoria Falls are not really in Vic Falls, but most of these have their own transfer services.
Cabs are plentiful, and should not cost more than $6 for a ride.
Victoria FallsThe "smoke that thunders", one of the seven natural wonder of the world. Watch and listen to the roar of 1088m³/second of water plunge into a 100m gorge below. There are two viewing areas, one on the Zimbabwean side and one on the Zambian side. Both sides preserve the natural rainforest which is present because of the continuous spray from the falls. On the Zimbawean side, Victoria Falls National Park is US$30 for non-residents.
The Boiling PotWhere the water goes after the falls. It can be seen beneath the Bridge or can be reached via a steep footpath within the park on the Zambian side, it is about 150 metres (500 ft) across. Its surface is smooth at low water, but at high water it is marked by enormous, slow swirls and heavy boiling turbulence. Objects and humans that are swept over the falls, including the occasional hippopotamus or crocodile, are frequently found swirling about here or washed up at the north-east end of the Second Gorge. This is where the bodies of Mrs Moss and Mr Orchard, mutilated by crocodiles, were found in 1910 after two canoes were capsized by a hippo at Long Island above the falls.
Devil's PoolSwim right up to the edge at the top of the Falls in a safe natural pool. You can look over the edge, and the guidges will take plenty of photos of you. As of July 2019, US$105 including breakfast, US$170 including lunch, and US$145 including high tea. Does not include visa or transfer. Transfer is US$15 return per person, or you could arrange it yourself for less. You could even walk it, but it's a long walk.
- Zambezi River above the falls, which is beautiful and full of wildlife. Best seen on a cruise, especially at sunset. Prices as of July 2019: breakfast cruise US$65, birdwatching cruise US$55, lunch cruise US$65, sunset cruise US$40, dinner cruise US$75.
Victoria Falls BridgeBuilt in 1905 at the behest of Cecil Rhodes to carry the unfinished Cape to Cairo railway is an impressive steel arch which gives a glimpse of the falls from its centre. There are guided tours of the lower structure.
Bungee jumping and zip wires rides take place from the bridge and the surrounding gorge.
The Big TreeAn ancient baobab tree estimated to be 2000 years old situated just out of town. It is possibly the oldest and biggest baobab in Zimbabwe. Get a cab there as the bush is full of wild animals.
Prices for activities vary. As of July 2019 the company Wild Horizons appears to be the cheapest, but you will get cheaper prices by not going direct. Wild Horizons website
Victoria Falls is not cheap, especially if you want to do any activities.
Zimbabwe ATMs are not connected to the international network. You will not be able to withdraw money, so bring plenty of US dollars! It is impossible to obtain cash in Zimbabwe. In Zambia you can withdraw kwacha and change to US dollars.
You will need cash for things like accommodation, and visas. For activities, you can pay by credit card in US$. Some of the supermarkets also accept credit cards and will bill you in US$. Outside Victoria Falls, foreign credit cards are rarely accepted.
There is substantial opportunity to shop in Victoria Falls, and you can find a good deal. The curio markets are just behind the post office and has dozens of tourist shops from which you may select wood and stone carvings, jewelry, t-shirts, curios, books, postcards, artwork, etc. (For fun, see if you can find the shop with the pictures of US Senator Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, from their visit.)
Traders in the sculpture markets are prepared to barter trade: hats, your shoes, T-shirts, pens, batteries are in demand. But think twice before you reduce people to the level of beggars. Just negotiate what you think is a fair price.
Stanbic Bankaddress: 17-19 Phumula centre
Standard Chartered Bank
All of the hotels have restaurants, and it is common to sample a new one each night. One place not to miss for a sundowner: The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge offers a-la-carte dinner, and the Boma offers an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner with authentic African dancing (US$45 excluding drinks, July 2019). The Ilala Lodge has a nice a la carte restaurant (a bit overpriced for the portions served; and the In-da-Belly Restaurant located in the camp site is a nice place to have simple meal and hang out at the pool and meet overland travellers from around the world.
There are Pick N Pay and OK supermarkets in town. Pick n Pay accept credit cards. Drinks and take-away food, snacks, camping supplies, are available.
- The Boma
- Makuwa-Kuwa at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
- Palm Restaurant at Ilala Lodge
- Livingstone Room at the Victoria Falls Hotel
- Jungle Junction at the Victoria Falls Hotel
- Garden of Eat'n - Great pizzas, breakfast and meals at Shoestring Backpackers Lodge
- The restaurant at the Camp Site serves crocodile burgers and Warthog steak!
- Rainforest Cafe in the Victoria Falls National Park. Monkeys will try to snatch your food if you are not paying attention to it!
Victoria Falls HotelYou can have lunch on Stanley's Terrace overlooking the bridge. Afternoon tea is served from 3-6PM for US$15 each. They say "minimum two people" but don't enforce it. Stanley's Bar is by the terrace. Credit cards accepted.
The River Brewing Co serves their own beer.
Alternatively, all the hotels feature huge, well-stocked bars. However, the prices will be higher, and you might not feel that you are in Africa anymore.
BudgetDorm beds from $15 a night. Camping from $8 pp per night.
phone: +27 21-6836444address: Park WayCamping and dorm beds.
phone: +263 13-42209address: 357 Gibson Road.Camping and dorm beds. Small swimming pool. Wifi US$3 per day. Intermittent electricity. 30 minutes walk from town.
phone: +263 13-40167address: 12 West drive.Camping and dorm beds. It has a somewhat slimy swimming pool and a self-catering kitchen. It also has a café and a licensed bar. It looks very unclean and run down, and they may choose to blast music at full volume outside the plywood door of your dorm until midnight.
phone: +263 1344520address: stand 954 corner Pioneer road & Spencer StreetCamping, swimming pool.
Shearwater Explorers VillageCamping, serviced dome tents, chalets. Swimming pool.
- Amadeus Garden owner managed lodging B&B style two kilometers from the Victoria Falls. www.amadeusgarden.com Eleven en-suite rooms, pool and cool garden to relax. Rates per person sharing around $65–70 per night incl breakfast. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Teak Lodge located within the residential area of Vic Falls less than three kilometers to the Victoria Falls. Prices at $30–50/person per night, coupled with impeccable service and completely furnished in teak wood.
- The Sprayview Hotel motel like accommodation is only 2 km from the Falls used to be about US$100/night.
- The Kingdom Hotel Victoria Falls. This resort is constructed in Disney-esque jungle style. Four-star themed resort, swimming pool, close to falls, from US$150/pp. Family rooms available.
Drifter Inn Victoria Falls20 min by foot from the falls, this simple but quiet inn offers rooms from $50.
Lorries B and BMost rooms are ensuite. Meals are affordable. Lovely pool and garden with a nice sports bar.
phone: +1-888-790-5264address: 308 Parkway DrA full-featured resort a few kilometers away from the central town. Located right next to the Zambezi river, it's also a departure point for river cruises. Shuttle service available to the falls.
phone: +27 21-683-6576Quiet elegance with a beautiful colonial veranda for dining. A bit closer to town.
phone: +263 13 447519address: 1, Mallett DrBuilt in 1904, this is one of the most romantic hotels in Africa with a faded grand old feeling to it. The Queen Mother herself stayed here when she visited. Views from the manicured lawns out to the railway bridge with the mist from the falls in the distance is surreal.
phone: +263 13 43211-20Close to the falls, it offers safari-themed elegance, a great casino and an excellent, reasonably-priced, buffet dinner.
- Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge sits on a riverside fringe of the mighty Zambezi River where Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia converge. Located 80 km west of Victoria Falls, access is by transfer from Victoria Falls, Livingstone or Kasane. Imbabala offers not only the chance to unwind but also some of the most amazing game viewing and bird watching in the region, in the seclusion of a private National Parks concession. The 12,000 ha concession has 14 km of private Zambezi river frontage and borders the Chobe Forest Reserve, which is renowned for its massive Elephant population. Herds of up to 1500 elephants have been seen on the floodplains below the Lodge.
You can get a haircut at the Victoria Falls Hotel salon, but it's not good. US$25, cash only. For other hair salons, turn off the main road by the Shearwater Cafe.
You can expect to be met by tourist police on your arrival in Victoria Falls. They are plentiful around the town and the falls and can be trusted. You can identify them by their yellow vests. Zimbabwe is very keen to keep tourists safe following a period of instability which saw visitors at risk, and tourists on the Zimbabwean side drop dramatically. Sometimes it feels there are more tourist police than tourists.
If you are staying at one of the resorts, it is likely that the guards at the resorts will keep an eye on you on the paths to the falls until you are within site of the tourist police.
Touts are aggressive and desperate and best avoided. They keep a distance from the tourist police and guards. The markets are safe, and the traders there are very polite and keen for your trade.
The path along the side of the river to the Victoria Falls hotel from the falls is not safe to walk after dark.