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The name Victoria Falls refers to both the body of water and the nearby town in Zimbabwe, Africa. The town is where you can enter the Victoria Falls National Park. Here you can watch as the upper Zambezi River plunges 354 feet down to the middle level.
The falls can also be seen on the Zambian side of the river from Livingstone. This town was named after Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone. He discovered the falls in 1855 and gave them the name of his queen.
Victoria Falls Hotel
Built by the British in 1904, the Edwardian-style hotel was originally intended to accommodate workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway. Since then, it has become one of the world’s most celebrated five-star hotels. It has played host to visiting statesmen, royalty, celebrities and a myriad of tourists.
The resident and freely roaming warthogs and baboons keep guests amused. The latter misses no opportunity to steal food. So, if you stay here, be sure to close the windows when you leave your room.
Situated in acres of private garden, the hotel overlooks the Victoria Falls Bridge. Spray from the falls can often be seen in the distance.
Watch for Buffalo Along the Trails to the Falls
There is a pathway down to the falls from the grand hotel and the adjacent Kingdom Hotel. Local youths offer to escort you in return for a tip. They claim it is to protect you from the buffalo that lurk in the bush alongside the path.
It was difficult to see how these pint-sized self-appointed guardians could protect you from anything. However, we indulged one of them on our first trip down to the falls. He led us on an unnecessary dog-leg detour, pausing theatrically and whispering “shhh” at intervals until we reached the bottom.
The few grazing buffalo that we passed appeared oblivious to our presence. It seemed to me we could have avoided them altogether had we stuck to the main path.
On the return journey later that day we declined an escort. We took the direct route and made it back to the hotel unscathed. Flippancy aside, the Cape buffalo is potentially a dangerous animal and should not be approached.
Best Time to View the Largest Falls in the World?
Victoria Falls are neither the highest nor the widest falls in the world. Although they are twice the height of Niagara Falls. But, as every major attraction must have a superlative, they have been declared the “largest” falls in the world based on their combined width and height.
Whatever their size they are a magnificent sight to behold. We were there in May/June when the falls are thundering at their strongest. However, there was a lot of spray making it difficult to see them in all their splendour.
There is a trade-off between seeing the falls at their fullest or during the less impressive dry season when the view isn’t obscured by spray. Peak flow is in May but the spray is so intense you sometimes can hardly see the falls. You will also get drenched in the attempt.
In November the water volume is at its lowest so visibility is excellent, but you may find the falls disappointing. Taking all factors into consideration, February/March and July/August provide a happy medium.
The border between Zimbabwe and Zambia is halfway across the Victoria Falls Bridge. You can walk all the way across into Zambia or stop on the bridge to admire the view of the falls and surrounding area. You must tell the border control officers what you plan to do so that they can mark your passport accordingly.
Day Trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana
While in Zimbabwe we took a day trip to Botswana and visited the famous Chobe National Park at Kasane. Just 55 miles from Victoria Falls, the border is at Africa’s “four corners” where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe all meet.
Chobe is one of the best places in Africa to see elephants, particularly in the water. Some herds contain hundreds of elephants and the total number in the park is estimated at 120,000.
The park also offers amazing lion and leopard sightings. Meanwhile, the Chobe River has an abundance of hippos and crocodiles and an almost inconceivable wealth of birdlife.
This includes several particularly rare species that are highly sought after by top wildlife photographers. From a boat on the river, we could see across the Caprivi Strip into neighbouring Namibia.
Devil’s Pool Adventure
While this story focuses mainly on Zimbabwe, I should mention a Victoria Falls activity that can be undertaken only on the Zambian side. In addition, it can only be done in the dry season (mid-August to mid-January).
A tour will take you on a boat to Livingstone Island. From there, you enter and recline in Devil’s Pool. This is a rock pool in the shallows right on the edge of the falls.
The theory is that the rock lip will prevent you from being swept over the edge. Conducted by a local operator with due care and attention to safety, this activity is nonetheless strictly for thrill-seekers.
The Town of Victoria Falls
Back in Zimbabwe, the town of Victoria Falls is a pleasant community with several interesting shops and restaurants. The town is a 10-minute walk from the Victoria Falls Hotel.
On the way, we were accosted frequently by street vendors selling trinkets and handicrafts. When this became tiresome, I found it helpful to remember how poor the country is.
When the 37-year iron rule of Robert Mugabe ended in 2017, the people of Zimbabwe were promised job creation, a thriving economy, human rights reforms and a democratic political system.
Unfortunately, progress has been painfully slow and little has changed. Zimbabwe is now in the grip of an economic crisis characterized by high inflation, food insecurity and rampant unemployment. The pandemic has only made things worse.
I approached the ATM at a local bank intending to top-up my funds. However, I was told by the guard outside that the machine hadn’t dispensed any cash for over a year.
When I asked him where I might be able to get some money, he advised me to cross the border into Zambia. I decided to stretch my funds and make them last.
Activities in Victoria Falls After Dark
But none of this should detract from what is a naturally beautiful country with warm, welcoming people. There are two special dinner options to consider while you are at Victoria Falls. One is a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, where you can enjoy a gourmet dinner above the Victoria Falls. The other is a cultural show at a nearby restaurant. We did both.
The dinner cruise departs from the Zambezi River cruise terminal and heads downstream towards Victoria Falls, giving guests a glimpse of the spray. It then cruises upstream to catch the sun before it sinks into the Zambezi River. Before the sunset, we saw hippos, crocodiles and elephants in the river as well as an abundance of birdlife.
The other option is dinner at the fabulous Boma Dinner and Drum Show where you can eat a variety of delicious game meat. In addition, if you are game enough (pun intended), you can try the Mopani worm.
The latter was a bridge too far for me, but the barbecued meat was excellent. The restaurant is a 10-minute drive from town. A local taxi driver took us there and waited while we dined before returning us to our hotel. The cost is all-inclusive if booked by your hotel.
On the way back the unmistakable shape of a huge elephant loomed out of the darkness at the side of the road. A common enough sight in the wild during the daytime, but especially thrilling at night and so close to a town.
As 19th century English explorer and naturalist William Burchell said: “Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.”
Book This Trip
Check out all the information about the falls and the town at Victoria Falls Tourism – Exploring Victoria Falls and its surroundings and see reviews at Tripadvisor. And it goes without saying, check the latest COVID entry requirements.
Make the most of your trip to Zimbabwe by booking unique activities at Victoria Falls, skip-the-line tickets, expert-led tours and more through GetYourGuide. Find more information and book you’re activity dates in advance here.
Author Bio: A dual citizen of Australia and Britain, Barry Barford is an established travel writer who has visited more than 60 countries on six continents. His articles appear in print and digital publications and he contributes to a US travel blog.