Emily Bamber looks at Victoria Falls from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides
Locals call it ‘the smoke that thunders’.
Missionary and explorer David Livingstone said it was ‘the most wonderful sight in Africa’.
Victoria Falls is a curtain of water more than a mile wide where the Zambezi River plunges 105 metres into gorges below. Its deafening roar can be heard 18 miles away and the spray generated rises high into the air, often creating mist and beautiful rainbows.
A few nights here on the way to or from a safari camp can prove a welcome contrast to the dust of the bush, and few will turn down the chance to see one of the Natural Wonders of the World.
“Victoria Falls is one of the most iconic sights in Africa,” says African Pride reservations manager Carole McFadden.
“The views from both sides are absolutely incredible.”
The falls straddle Zambia and Zimbabwe, and airports on each side make it easy to build a visit into a wider tour of the region. And with a new international hub opening in Zimbabwe in September, and talk of direct flights from Europe, it’s about to get even easier.
It may look like one body of water, but the falls is made up of five waterfalls. Four of these are in Zimbabwe – the Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and Horseshoe Falls – and one, the Eastern Cataract, in Zambia.
Like a beauty queen, the falls has no ‘bad side’. However, from the Zimbabwean side of the river visitors get a year-round full frontal, whereas from Zambia the view is side-on. It’s also best to visit the latter side when the river is at its highest in April and May, and to avoid it during the dry season, September and October.
From both sides, the easiest and best way to view the falls is on foot. Clear paths through the rainforest lead to viewing points along the water’s edge, with the noise and spray getting louder and more intense the closer you get.
The whole area is like an outdoor playground, with increasingly adventurous ways to experience the falls from every angle. For a bird’s-eye view from either side, suggest a short helicopter ride, especially for guests staying in Zambia who might not otherwise get a full picture of the falls.
From Zambia, book a microlight flight; from Zimbabwe, suggest zip-lining or a gorge swing over the churning waters below.
Thrill-seekers wishing to meet the Zambezi eyeball to eyeball can take a gut-flipping plunge off Victoria Falls Bridge on a bungee wire, an exhilarating white-water rafting trip through the rapids or even cage-dive with crocodiles.
Less-energetic guests may prefer a paddle in a canoe through the upper waters or a two-hour sunset cruise – especially popular if romance is on the agenda.
Low water on the Zambian side may limit watersports during the dry season, but it opens up other opportunities, says Somak Holidays chief executive Ash Sofat.
“When the water is low, you can take the path down to Boiling Point, a large whirlpool at the base of the falls,” he said. “It’s also possible to take a dip in Devil’s Pool and peep over the edge into the chasm below.”
If the spray gets too much, suggest clients head to one of the surrounding national parks – in Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls National Park or the Zambezi National Park; in Zambia, the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. There they can ride elephants, take a big five safari drive or fish for bream, all with the sound of the falls in the distance.
Where to stay
Ilala Lodge Hotel: This affordable hotel has just 34 rooms, all in colonial style. There are two restaurants and beautiful gardens, and it’s a short walk to the falls or the town centre. It also borders the Victoria Falls National Park, so don’t be surprised if clients see impala grazing on the lawn.
Victoria Falls Hotel: This large, gracious property was the first hotel in the area, and combines colonial-era charm with modern facilities. It’s set in manicured gardens and there is a clear view of the bridge a short walk away. The hotel has 161 rooms and suites, three restaurants and a large pool.
Elephant Camp: Honeymooners looking for privacy and luxury will enjoy this 12-tent camp overlooking the Batoka Gorges, six miles from the falls. Each tent has a private deck and plunge pool, indoor and outdoor showers, and a bath with a view. Elephant Camp West opens this year for families or groups of up to eight.
Zambezi Sun: This lively, informal hotel is a great budget base at the heart of the action. The 200 rooms have air conditioning and balconies, many overlooking the falls. The multiple restaurants, pool and kids’ club make it a popular choice for families, and the activities desk can organise everything from abseiling to safaris.
Royal Livingstone: This colonial-style hotel oozes Victorian elegance and is ideal for more affluent families or couples. The 173 rooms and suites are spread along the riverbanks and have air conditioning and balconies. Suggest afternoon tea in the lounge surrounded by old maps, or sundowners on the river view terrace.
Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma: Set on a bend in the river seven miles upstream from the falls, this luxury property lies within the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Accommodation is in 12 Sussi tree houses reached by wooden walkways, or two Chuma Houses, suitable for families, with two bedrooms and private plunge pools.
Image credit: Wilderness Safaris
Wilderness Safaris’ Toka Leya: This is another low-volume property (just 12 luxury tents) on the banks of the river in Mosi oa-Tunya National Park. Each has a curtained four-poster bed with crisp linen, a decking area with comfortable chairs and breathtaking river views.
Visitors to Victoria Falls don’t have to travel far to find world-class big five safaris – Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and Chobe National Park in Botswana are all within easy driving distance.
International airports on both sides of the falls have daily flights to Johannesburg, where clients can connect with the rest of southern and central Africa.
From the newly expanded Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International airport (formerly Livingstone airport; Zambian side) they can also fly direct to Kruger National Park and the East African cities of Addis Ababa and Nairobi.
From Victoria Falls airport (Zimbabwean side) there are flights to Windhoek in Namibia and Maun in Botswana, and the network could expand considerably when the new international airport opens in September. A 4,000-metre runway will be capable of handling larger, wide-bodied jets, including the Airbus A380.
2by2 Holidays managing director Claire Farley says: “Direct flights from Europe would mean Victoria Falls could potentially replace Johannesburg as the hub for flights into Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi.”
Victoria Falls and South Africa: 2By2Holidays has a 10-night Cape Town, Kruger and Victoria Falls holiday, with four nights in Cape Town, two nights in Kruger, a night on the Panorama Route and three nights at Victoria Falls (either side). Prices start from £2,495 including accommodation, flights and transfers.
Victoria Falls and rest of Zimbabwe: Somak Holidays has an eight night Zimbabwe Focus holiday, with two nights at Victoria Falls, three nights at Hwange National Park and three nights at Matusadona National Park. Prices start from £3,570 including accommodation, flights and transfers.
Victoria Falls and Botswana: African Pride has an eight-night holiday combining four nights at Victoria Falls in Zambia and four nights in Chobe National Park in Botswana. Prices start from £2,745 including accommodation, flights and transfers.
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