July 25, 2022
Visiting Victoria Falls
“Creeping with awe to the verge, I peered down into a large rent which had been made from bank to bank of the broad Zambezi, and saw that a stream of a thousand yards broad leaped down a hundred feet and then became suddenly compressed into a space of fifteen to twenty yards….the most wonderful sight I had witnessed in Africa.” Although David Livingstone wrote those words in 1855, with a description like that, it is not hard to see why the Victoria Falls is one of the most spectacular natural sites on the planet, and still continues to delight and capture the imagination of travellers.
The Victoria Falls is the result of thousands of years of erosion. The Zambezi River, flowing across a basalt plateau, in ancient times found cracks in the basalt that were filled with sandstone, and started wearing away the softer rock, eventually creating a series of magnificent and dramatic gorges. In fact, the Victoria Falls have been gradually receding for over 100,000 years! This process of erosion has been repeated over and over again, and the zigzagging gorges downstream of the current falls represent the formation and abandonment of seven previous waterfalls. Today the Zambezi crashes over a wide cliff, plunging down 108 metres into a powerful whirlpool, forming the greatest curtain of falling water on the planet, and transforming the placid river into a ferocious torrent. In the height of the rainy season more than five hundred million cubic metres of water a minute surge over the edge of the almost 2km wide falls and plummet into the gorge below… columns of spray can be seen from miles away, hence its local name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”.
What to Do
Aside from the lure of the Victoria Falls themselves, there are numerous activities to keep even the most ardent adventure seeker busy…
1. Jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge is one of the ultimate adrenaline activities. This is the highest commercial bridge jump in the world and in the most spectacular setting. I’ve never been brave enough to throw myself off the bridge, but my husband and sons have. I opted for the more sedate zip line, which starts on the Zambian side of the bridge and ends on the Zimbabwean side. Shearwater offers bungee, bridge swing and zip lining off the iconic bridge and even if you’re not brave enough to jump yourself, it is worth stopping to watch those who are, as they throw themselves into the abyss.
2. White Water Rafting on the Zambezi River, downstream of the Victoria Falls is one the most exciting, electrifying and adrenaline-fuelled experiences you are likely to encounter. No white water compares to the Zambezi. Shearwater are some of the original rafting pioneers in Victoria Falls, with a white water history that dates back to 1985, their guides are amongst the best in the business and know the rapids like the back of their hand.
3. Traditional Afternoon Tea at The Victoria Falls Hotel is served daily and is an institution and a reminder of the elegant era in which the hotel was born. Built by the British in 1904, and one of the oldest hotels in Africa, the Victoria Falls Hotel was originally built as accommodation for workers on the Cape to Cairo railway. Now a luxury hotel, if you can’t stay here then High Tea on the Stanley Terrace with its dramatic views down the gorges to the Falls and the famous bridge, is highly recommended.
4. Take a Sunset Cruise. A visit to Victoria Falls would not be complete without a river cruise, preferably at sunset, and The River Song is highly recommended. You’ll be collected from your hotel and taken to the river, where once boarding you’ll travel at a stately speed up the Zambezi River, above the falls, catching glimpses of wildlife as you go – bee-eaters, kingfishers, huge crocodiles and elephants, maybe even a nursery of baby hippos, all the while being plied with cold drinks and tasty snacks by your ever attentive waitress.
5. Immerse yourself in the world of an elephant by visiting Through the Eyes of an Elephant. If you have ever wondered how an elephant sees, hears, smells and feels the world, or what emotions and intellect we share with these incredible mammals, then this is the experience for you. Learn about the challenges faced by elephants in the wild, and discover some of the unique skills and behaviours that make them the amazing creatures they are. The expert elephant carers will both educate you and allow you to get up close and meet some of the elephants in the orphan herd.
Run by the charity, Zambezi Elephant Welfare and Conservation Trust (ZEWACT), aside from interactions and education, the programme is involved in elephant conflict mitigation, community engagement and various other conservation projects.
6. Go on a Game Drive through the 56,000 hectare Zambezi National Park, home to elephant, lion, buffalo and leopard. Sable, antelope, eland, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck and impala are also found here in numbers, along with plenty of smaller game and over 400 bird species. Rukoko Safaris offer walking, driving and birding safaris in the national park, as well as fishing expeditions and even day trips into Chobe National Park, across the border in Botswana. Founded by two professional guides, Sam Mushandu and AB Mhlanga, with decades of experience between them, Rukoko Safaris are highly recommended.
7. Take a tour of the famous Bridge. For a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the famous Victoria Falls Bridge take a guided tour. Even though he never visited the falls and died before construction began, when Cecil Rhodes (instigator of the Cape to Cairo railway project) was presented with proposed plans of the Zambezi River crossing, he drew a line across the Boiling Pot (the point directly below the Falls) and declared that this was where he wanted a bridge. Rhodes envisaged the spray from the falls landing on the trains as they crossed the bridge, and for many years after its completion, trains used to stop for a few minutes in the centre of the bridge, so his dream could be realised.
On your bridge tour you’ll learn about the history of this remarkable structure, from design and prefabrication in England, to construction in Africa. You’ll have a chance to walk the catwalks below the bridge (an area normally closed to the public) and enjoy unique views of the Falls, the Zambezi River and the Batoka Gorge. You might even see someone bungee jump from the platform above you! It’s not a strenuous activity, but not advisable if you are nervous about heights.
Where To Stay.
With so many places to choose from it’s hard to know were to stay on a visit to Victoria Falls, here’s a few suggestions…
Only 500m from the boundary of the Zambezi National Park, Mbano Manor is a bespoke, all-suite boutique hotel. With 18 suites, all with generous living spaces, private courtyards, wide verandahs, plantation style, beamed, high ceilings and large shutter doors that open out to the leafy four-acre property. We stayed in the presidential Mutota Forest Villa, with an indulgent king-sized bed, private dining room and refreshment area, a vast outdoor terrace, as well as formal and informal lounge areas. Our bathroom was huge, almost the size of the rest of the suite combined – his and hers amenities, a clow foot bath, two indoor showers and a separate dressing room. The bathroom opened onto a private courtyard, complete with outdoor shower.
Mbano Manor is a hidden gem in the hustle and bustle of town. It’s hard to escape the endless helicopter sounds when staying in Victoria Falls, but Mbano Manor is a tranquil place and feel pleasantly removed from all the action that accompanies this tourist filled town. You can dine in your room or at the hotel restaurant, relax by the pool, enjoy spa treatments or a barbeque at your suite, or simply enjoy the peace and quite of the hotel’s gardens.
Heading out into the adjacent Zambezi National Park one afternoon, with Rukoko Safaris, we saw zebra and giraffe, numerous herds of elephants and four side stripped jackals lying in the dirt. The jackals leapt up and sped away, looking sheepishly over their shoulders, like a bunch of teenagers caught in the act of misbehaving. All this before stopping for sundowners along a secluded spot of river, with stunning views over the tiny islands, rocks and rapids.
Back at the hotel and heading back to our villa, after our game drive, a tumble of banded mongoose played outside our room. Seeing us approaching they tripped over one another in their haste to hide. As we sat by our private pool we saw elephant families, complete with babies, slipping in and out of the National Park located across the road, and watched a herd of perhaps 100 buffalo, big and small, sauntering down the road outside the gate.
The welcome and service at Mbano Manor is both professional and extremely friendly. We were welcomed with open arms and really made to feel right at home from the minute we arrived.
The Palm River Hotel
Situated along the banks of the Zambezi River, 4km upstream of the Victoria Falls, among towering indigenous trees, The Palm River Hotel has been inspired architecturally by the traditional East-Coast Australian Queenslander style, with the use of timber and corrugated iron, and taking into consideration tropical climatic conditions. A team of Zimbabwean architects and interior designers have taken these principles and, adopting them to local conditions, have created a hotel that is stylish, modern and functional, yet still with a timeless aesthete, and is perfectly suited to the local environment.
The hotel’s uninterrupted river frontage is beautiful, with stunning garden views sweeping down to the Zambezi River. You can stroll along the river bank, watch the water flowing past from the pool and dining areas, and on a clear, quiet day you can hear the thunder of the water pouring over the Falls and see the spray from your room. From our third floor room we were eye level with birds, and watched trumpeter hornbills and shrikes and bulbuls flitting through the trees. A pair of monkeys came to ‘inspect’ us one afternoon, clambering onto our verandah and pressing their faces against the glass doors to see if we were home. Keeping very still we watched while they performed various acrobatic moves on the verandah railings, before a slight movement on my part had them scampering for cover.
After afternoon tea by the river, we were collected from the hotel and taken a short way upstream for a sunset cruise on The River Song. We would later pass the hotel on the water and could see just how well it blended into the environment, and how well the large property was so well hidden amongst the trees.
There’s a shuttle service available into town and to the Falls themselves, so you are never too far from the action, and a dedicated activities desk ensures you can plan your holiday just the way you want it.
Victoria Falls Safari Club
Located just 4kms from Victoria Falls is the Victoria Falls Safari Club, situated within the spacious grounds of the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate. Built on a plateau that overlooks the Zambezi National Park and with uninterrupted views of the bush and spectacular sunsets, Victoria Falls Safari Club was the perfect place to end our recent Victoria Falls visit.
With 16 luxury Club Rooms and 4 Club Suites, the Safari Club also has a central guest area, with a restaurant and bar, as well as a lounge and a viewing deck, all overlooking a wildlife rich waterhole and the game corridor to the Zambezi River. The focus here is on exclusivity, with butler-style concierge service, fine dining, great views and open plan rooms that face the bushveld and sliding glass doors that open onto a private balcony with uninterrupted views and beautiful sunsets. There’ a two-tiered swimming pool, with a 15m lap pool and sundeck, and a fitness centre should you desire.
The Safari Club has its own Club Lounge, and offers complimentary afternoon tea and pastries, sundowners and canapés and nibbles throughout the day. Dining at the Safari Club is fantastic, combining fine dining with views over the waterhole, so your dinner is almost guaranteed to be accompanied by elephant sightings and if you are lucky, like we were, hyena and leopard too. Other nearby dining options include the MaKuwa-Kuwa restaurant at the Safari Lodge, and the Boma – Dinner and Drum Show.
The Victoria Falls Safari Club is an ideal place to stay, away from the hustle and bustle, yet still be close to the falls (there’s a complimentary shuttle service to the Falls and town). The focus of the lodge is definitely on wildlife, with animals roaming through the grounds and visible from the rooms. The Siduli Hide, beside the waterhole, offers the incredible opportunity to watch wildlife at very close quarters. And don’t miss the opportunity to witness the daily feeding at the ‘vulture restaurant’, where guests can see right up close to these fascinating birds.
A Few Parting Words Of Advice
Peak Water is March to May, after the rainy season has ended. The spray can be so dense that is quite literally rains down on you, so bring a raincoat and be prepared to get drenched. Medium to high water flow is January-February and June-August, this is one of the best times of year to view the Victoria Falls. Low water season is September to December and is a good time to photograph the Falls with much of the cliff face exposed, the spray is less, as are the visitor numbers.
Tourists from over 65 countries can obtain a KAZA UniVisa which is valid for 30 days and allows you to cross between Zambia and Zimbabwe, so you can visit both sides of the Falls. The UniVisa also allows for day-trips to Botswana for sites including Chobe National Park, provided you return to Zambia or Zimbabwe on the same day.
Written by Sarah Kingdom