The local Makololo people spoke of Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders. Indeed, the clouds of spray from this 360-foot-high, mile-wide curtain of water can be seen as far as 20 miles away. Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi river between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is one of the original Seven Natural Wonders of the World and the largest waterfall on the planet (based on width and height).
Yvette De Vries, an Africa travel specialist, shares her thoughts about visiting the area.
FarewellTravels: For starts, how do you recommend visiting Victoria Falls? Does it work easily as an add-on to a safari?
Yvette De Vries: Victoria Falls is a natural gateway to Botswana, Zimbabwe or Zambia. In fact, it works nicely as a first stop on an itinerary as you can fly directly to Johannesburg from New York, connect to a two-hour flight to Zambia or Zimbabwe and be in Victoria Falls by sundown.
FarewellTravels: What do you recommend seeing and doing in the area?
Yvette De Vries: First, visit the Falls themselves. You can easily spend half a day wandering about the paths, taking photos, and if the conditions aren't ideal, you want time for a second visit. Also plan to take a river cruise on the Zambezi. While there are several large touring boats, some lodges offer private sundowner cruises. These are especially nice as you will be out with a small group of fellow guests and you might find wildlife such as hippos, elephants and crocodiles on the banks of the river.
You can also go white-water rafting on the Zambezi, bungee jumping over the gorge (or just watch), and my personal favorite… a "Microlight" sightseeing flight over the Falls and the gorge. They are essentially "motorized gliders," so what’s especially enjoyable about them is that you’re in the open, fresh air, and they are quieter and fly lower over the Falls than helicopters. (Editor's note: The photo here of Yvette was taken from a wing-mounted camera.) I also found the Livingstone Museum surprisingly worthwhile. It provides a good insight into the formation of the Falls, and the history of the area. It also houses some of Dr. Livingstone’s original journals and letters.
FarewellTravels: How much time would you recommend for visiting the area?
Yvette De Vries: At the least, I’d say two nights, but preferably three. Of course, if you have more time, you’ll not regret it.
FarewellTravels: What about staying? Are there hotels overlooking the falls?
Yvette De Vries: None of the hotels directly overlook the falls, but there are several situated on the bank of the Zambezi River just a short distance away. The one I think offers the best of both worlds is Toka Leya on the Zambia side. It has beautiful safari-style tents connected by wooden walkways and, while it is only about 20 minutes away from town, it’s in more of a wilderness setting.
FarewellTravels: When is the best time of year to visit Victoria Falls?
Yvette De Vries: The Falls can be visited at any time of year, but the experience obviously varies quite a bit from one season to another. In the driest season when water levels are at their lowest (September and October), you will generally have better views from Zimbabwe than Zambia, but you are able to access Livingstone Island and for the more adventurous, swim in the Devil's Pool at the lip of the falls on the Zambian side. During the rainy season (April and May), the Falls can be so full, that the resulting mist makes visibility more difficult and white water rafting or a visit to Livingstone Island is out of the question. It’s not that one experience is necessarily better than the other, it is just important to arrive with the right expectations
FarewellTravels: Anything else for our readers?
Yvette De Vries: Plan to have drinks on the deck of the Royal Livingstone Hotel overlooking the Zambezi River - it’s the iconic spot to be at sunset, or go for high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel - one of the oldest hotels in Africa. And… because this is Africa’s own “Four Corners,” if you like to collect stamps in your passport, you can actually get four in one day—Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana, but you'll have to ask your tour consultant to arrange a special day trip to accomplish this.
Photo credits: Courtesy of African Portfolio