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.
It 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 Formed
During 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
- "No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."
Zambian side compared with Zimbabwean side
The 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.
Victoria Falls is cash only. ATMs are available in Livingstone, Zambia, and in Victoria Falls town.
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.
- 1 Victoria Falls Airport (VFA IATA). British Airways and South African Airways offer daily flights between Johannesburg (JNB IATA) 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 US$12 per person. 2nd class 4-6 beds is $10 per person. Linen costs an extra $4. An Economy class seat costs $8 per person. The scenery is fantastic and during the first few hours after departing Victoria Falls you're guaranteed to see a lot of wildlife. Departure from Victoria falls going to Bulawayo is at 7PM every day, arriving in Bulawayo the next morning around 9 to 11AM. The ticket office at Vic Falls is open M-F from 8AM-7PM, and Sa Su 4-7PM. 2 Victoria Falls railway station is on Mallet Dr, opposite The Kingdom 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.
The 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.
Buses 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.
There are two new buslines going from Vic falls to Harare via Bulawayo Extra city and Bravo tours.
If you stay in the swanky hotels downtown, or even some of the budget accommodation options just outside the downtown area, walking is manageable. Most of places are no more than 3 km away from Victoria Falls.
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.
- Perhaps you have seen postcards, holiday snaps, or film footage of the seventh natural wonder of the world, Victoria Falls. But have you actually been fortunate enough to stand beside the ‘smoke that thunders’? Watching and listening as the roar of 546 m³ of water, minute by minute, plunge down into a 100 m deep gorge below. US$30 for non-residents. There are two viewing park areas , one on the Zimbabwe side and one on the Zambia side. Both sides preserve the natural rainforest which is present because of the continuous spray from the falls.
- The Boiling Pot; the place where all the water goes after its been over 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.
- Do not miss the Zambezi River above the falls, which is beautiful and full of wildlife . Best seen on a cruise, especially at sunset.
- The Victoria Falls Bridge built 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.
- Visit the grand Victoria Falls Hotel for high tea 3-6PM every day. For $30 you get tea, scones, and a magnificent view of the Falls. Feeds two people. This first-class hotel has survived the country's woes, though it has lost its shine. The public areas and corridors are a veritable museum of antique art, maps and photographs making it also a kind of museum.
- Whitewater rafting day trips sell for about $130 plus $10 National Park fees. The price includes a full day of shooting some of the best rapids in the world (including some Class V rapids!); lunch, eaten on the water and all the beer you can chug after the climb out.
- From wherever you stay you can easily arrange for a safari (prices vary), a sunset cruise (around $55), or a helicopter ride (for about $130 plus $8 National Park fee, well worth the price) over the falls.
- An antique steam locomotive shunts railway carriages on to the bridge at sunset to enable fine dining with a view of the falls. This can be viewed from the trackside if you don't want to pay the high price. The British Empire era railway station is also worth a look, it has one train a day in each direction.
- The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has its Buffalo Bar which is quite simply the best spot to enjoy sundowners in Victoria falls. It is on a hill looking west towards a waterhole in the bush about 200 m away. At sunset see elephants and buffalo come to drink along with a wide range of smaller mammals and birds. Possibly the world's largest flying bird the, marabou stork also frequents the hole. Around noon the hotel also feeds leftover meat to the vultures, and hyenas sometimes turn up. Be prepared for the African bush squirrels to suddenly appear under your table. The hotel has an hourly free shuttle bus to town.
- The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and The Kingdom Hotel both have a casino on site.
- For something different try an elephant ride ($130), or a lion walk ($130).
- The are bush walking safaris and a horse-back safari offered by a variety of tour operators in town.
- See The Big Tree, an 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.
- In town you can book a day trip to the nearby Chobe reserve in Botswana.
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 Bank, 17-19 Phumula centre. Has a Mastercard and Visa card ATM.
- Standard Charted Bank. Has a Mastercard and Visa card ATM.
The downtown area features a few coffee shops, sandwich shops, and fast food options. For a few US dollars, you can feed an entire family.
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 a buffet 'eat as much as you can' buffet dinner with authentic African dancing. 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 is a TM-Pick N Pay Supermarket, and a OK supermarket, in town. 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!
There is no food available within the park so bring it in yourself. Also, the monkeys at Victoria Falls will try to snatch your food if you are not paying attention to it.
- Victoria Falls Hotel. Lunch on the veranda is most pleasant--even classy--and the food is first world caliber with prices to match.
Victoria Falls is not known anymore for its tremendous nightlife. There are a few small bars near the downtown area, but they are not well-lit. It might be fun to stop in, but be careful.
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.
Price ranges quoted are in US dollars.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
|Mid-range||US$20 to US$200|
|Splurge||more than US$200|
There are many types of accommodation in Victoria Falls. You can certainly find what you are looking for. Some of the accommodation options are not really in Victoria Falls so be careful, if booking in advance.
Dorm beds from $15 a night. Camping from $8 pp per night.
- Victoria Falls Rest Camp., Park Way, ☎ . Camping and dorm beds. Camping $16 per person. Dorm bed $20.
- Victoria Falls Backpackers, 357 Gibson Road., ☎ . Camping and dorm beds. has a swimming pool and internet use. Camping $10 per person. Dorm bed $18.
- Shoestring Backpackers, 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. Camping $8 per person. Dorm bed $15.
- Adventure Lodge, stand 954 corner Pioneer road & Spencer Street, ☎ . Camping, swimming pool. Camping US$13 per person..
- 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: email@example.com
- 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 Falls. 20 min by foot from the falls, this simple but quiet inn offers rooms from $50.
- Lorries B and B. Most rooms are ensuite. Meals are affordable. Lovely pool and garden with a nice sports bar. from $50.
- 1 Azambezi River Lodge, 308 Parkway Dr, ☎ . A 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.
- 2 Ilala Lodge, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Quiet elegance with a beautiful colonial veranda for dining. A bit closer to town.
- 3 The Victoria Falls Hotel, 1, Mallett Dr, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Built 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.
- 4 Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Close 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 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.
Victoria Falls is located within 100 km of the four corners of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia and thus provides access to all of the countries, but the only point of any note within a reasonable distance to the park is Chobe National Park in Botswana. It is a common destination, and most hotels will be able to book journey on a day safari of one or two days.