Along with the Iguazu Falls at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay; and Angel Falls in Venezuela, the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi river at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia are ranked as some of the most spectacular falls in the world. Most travelers visiting the falls stick to the Zambian side, considering the political turmoil in Zimbabwe, but the best views of the falls are from the other side of the border in Zimbabwe.
So should you go to Zambia or Zimbabwe? Or both?
Airlines from South Africa and Zambia, along with other neighboring countries like Botswana, Namibia or even Kenya have regular flights to Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe and and Livingstone Airport in Zambia. Since it was December, which is the dry season for the region, the water pressure at the falls was not huge, which meant a lot of dry spots around the falls.
Also, since I was flying in from Johannesburg, either place made sense, but I had to keep two things for my decision making:
- The best views of the Victoria Falls during this time of the year (December) are from the Zimbabwean side at Victoria Falls (the town). Moreover, the falls are closer to the Zimbabwean town as compared to Livingstone, where they are farther.
- Being dry season, you can do one of the most adventurous experience of swimming in the falls to the edge of the drop! (details below)
This meant I was going to do both – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Livingstone, Zambia!
Arriving in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Arriving past noon at the Victoria Falls airport (VFA) from Johannesburg, it was an easy and painless immigration process. But it can take up to an hour for bags to arrive at the carousel, even with only our small flight from Jo’burg as the only one disembarking. They also have locals performing at the exit, perhaps entertainment welcome to the ‘guests.’
[Locals perform welcome dance outside Victoria Falls airport, Zimbabwe]
There are abundant taxis available outside the airport and a share ride to your hotel costs $10 (Zimbabwe uses USD as their official currency).
It was well in to post-2pm by the time I reached the hotel – Victoria Falls backpackers. The tiny town of Victoria Falls’ accommodation market is a mostly uber-luxury options like the Victoria Falls Hotel and but many selected budget options.
This budget accommodation cost me $40/night for a double room. Just a short 10-minute walk from the town center, this hostel has a huge courtyard with hammocks and picnic areas, the rooms had mosquito nets and great beds, although with en-suite, open door bathrooms!
[Central courtyard of Victoria Falls Backpackers hostel]
[Room of Victoria Falls Backpackers hostel]
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Most travelers that I came across did not visit as a part of any group tours, but solo travel. Although guides suggested that this was the peak tourist season (mainly because of accessibility to ‘Devils Pool’), I didn’t encounter a lot of people, making this an open space for everyone to explore. Compare this to Niagara or Iguazu Falls, there were more locals (Zambians or Zimbabweans) than tourists. After all, the lack of air connectivity and distance to Victoria Falls makes it hard to access.
After a pass through the entrance that costs $30, a short path leads you to the majesty of Victoria Falls. With 16 points of interest along the path leading to the border post of Zambia, you could probably finish the path around the Zimbabwe side in under an hour, but take your time to enjoy the experience of roaring falls, a gentle mist, rainbows, clifftops and the visual of high streams of water pouring over the edge of them.
[Entrance to the Victoria Falls park in Zimbabwe]
[First views of the falls]
[Viewpoint to Victoria Falls]
[Path leading to various view points in the Victoria Falls park, Zimbabwe]
[Rainbow falls, in December dry season]
[Rainbow falls in the dry season, with Victoria Falls in the back]
Prices across most restaurants in the town are similar to Los Angeles or perhaps London. And the food is fairly mediocre across all of the different restaurants, except perhaps at the finest hotels.
If you even step out of your hotel for a stroll, a series of men will offer to sell everything from souvenirs to marijuana to the old Zimbabwe currency, which is no longer used as tender due to the massive rates of inflation which forced Zimbabwe to use other currencies as official tender.
The next morning, I took one of the same shared taxis for a 20 minute ride to the border crossing in to Zambia. Most taxis will drop you off before the bridge crossing on Zambezi river because the border, technically, begins mid-way on the bridge. So you’d have to walk for about 20 minutes to reach the immigration post on Zambian side.
The line at the visa on arrival counters is long, crazy and time consuming. Although the room is air-conditioned, which helps beat the heat and humidity outside, it took about 30 minutes to get the visa stamped and heading out on the other side of the Zambezi river in to Livingstone, Zambia.
Finding a taxi in to the town that is about 10 km away is easy. Many taxis line up outside the immigration office, but negotiate the price before getting in to one. Usually costs $5 per taxi, payable in USD or ZMK (Zambian Kwacha).
I checked in to Livingstone Backpackers hostel in the town center (cost was $18 for a double room for one night), before heading out for lunch at one of many restaurants in this tiny town. The sole idea of visiting this side of Victoria Falls is to experience overlooking the falls at the “Devil’s Pool.” Not many companies organize this tour and booking in advance through your hotel is preferred. You will be given a certain time to visit the “pool” according to strict guidelines from the government.
During the dry months of the year from September to January, the Zambezi River drops quite substantially and it is possible to walk along the lip of the falls. This can only be done from the Zambian side.
It costs $55 for the tour and $30 as park entrance fees payable at the door. Our guide met us at the entrance of the park at 2pm and it took a rocky walk for about 30 minutes, and then a swim in the Zambezi to reach the pool. This is when we leap into the pool and get pushed to the edge by the force of the river, while being carefully and safely attended by the guides. The rock lip brought me to a halt as the raging waters of the Zambezi crash over the cliffs a few feet away.
[Walking to the Zambezi river]
[Crossing the Zambezi river to the Devil’s Pool]
[Sitting at the edge of Devil’s Pool]
[Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia]
[Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia]
The view from the edge is totally exhilarating as I felt the force of the Zambezi flowing past me and crashing down over the precipice; a hundred meter drop!
You can find guides who will take you on the Zambian side, at the entrance to the Falls. All you need is your costume and your camera.
After coming back in to the town, we went to the waterfront for a 2 hour Zambezi Sunset cruise, calling it a worthwhile and fantastic day!