"Mosi-O-Tunya" or "the Smoke that Thunders" Captivates the Imagination
Victoria Falls are shared by two countries: Zambia and Zimbabwe, and which has the best view is the subject of debate, though the locals claim that when the rains raise the water levels of the Zambezi river, both sides
of the Falls are equally stunning. However, during the dry season, the Zambia side is almost reduced to a trickle, while the Zimbabwe side remains fairly spectacular. Also, the Zimbabwean side offers the greatest number of cataracts!
It is possible to see both sides of Vic Falls by walking across the bridge into the Zambia side. Though to get the full effect, you must go well-beyond the Border post and pay $30 for a one-time entry visa, plus pay the park fee of US$20.
The Smoke that Thunders
The locals call Victoria Falls "Mosi-O-Tunya" or "the smoke that thunders." I can vouch to the fact that the mist from the waterfalls, which can rise up to 400 meters high (1,300 feet), looks like smoke from the distance. Victoria Falls are considered one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world, and the title is well-deserved!
When to Visit
The seasons are "wet or dry", and depending on what you wish to see and do, the season matters. The River's annual flood season is February to May with a peak in April. At this time, commercial whitewater rafting is not available, as the class V rapids become class VI and are too dangerous to maneuver. By the way, the Zambezi White Water Rafting is internationally acclaimed as being the wildest in the world!
During the flood season, the spray from the Falls typically rise to a height of over 400 meters, can obscure a vast portion of the Falls, limiting what you see. The advantage of visiting in the winter, or the dry season
(July, August and September) is that the temperatures are delicious, averaging in the low 70's during the day and dropping to the low 60's at night. The humidity is very low, and the bugs, well, there are hardly any bugs to be seen!!
In addition to the main attraction, seeing Vic Falls from various vantage points from within the national park, there are many outdoorsy, fun activities that can be undertaken, and the number of days spent here will dictate how much you can do.
We stayed only two nights and two full days, before continuing to Botswana, but we wished we could have stayed at least two more days, as there are so many choices.
We carefully selected our activities, and it is also advisable to ask your tour operator or contact a local outfitter to secure reservations, well ahead of arrival, especially during the high season.
The Victoria Falls National Park
Victoria Falls have been remarkably preserved in its natural state and protected from excessive commercialization. It is said they are still pretty much the same Victoria Falls that inspired David Livingstone in the 1860's. Victoria Falls and the beautiful area surrounding the Falls were declared a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
A prominent and important feature of the park, aside from the Falls, is the rainforest which grows in the spray of the Falls, including giant ferns, palms, liana vines, and a number of trees such as mahogany, which are not seen anywhere else in the region. A two-to three hour self-guided stroll through the rainforest and the various paths should give you an excellent perspective of the Falls through the various viewpoints.
The fee to access this beautiful National Park is $20 per person, for a day pass. A steep fee for one day, but know that your money is helping preserve this beautiful natural wonder, and of course, you are also supporting the Mugabe administration, ha, ha! But, don't let that deter you from visiting... it's a sight you'll never forget. The Park is open year round except for Christmas Day.
We toured the area facing the Falls the day of arrival, and toured on our own, as this section of the park is fenced in and well-guarded. It is safe to go on self-guided tours and follow the well-marked paths. There is no need spend money on a guided tour for this attraction.
The entrance to the Falls is less than ½ a kilometer from the Victoria Falls Hotel, where we stayed. A hotel guard escorted us to the Park gate and agreed on a time when he returned to collect us. A minimal tip of $1 per person was suggested by the hotel.
Sundowner Cruise - A highly recommended activity!
You will board a pontoon party boat which will take you down the Zambezi River on a beautiful journey, and experience the life on the river. Here you will see elephants playing in the water, hear the grunt of hippos as they cavort with each other, view splendid birds, and see a stealth croc or two quietly slip into the water looking for his next meal. Before leaving the small dock, we were entertained by a group of young men dressed in tribal outfits who sang with the most angelic voices. A beautiful send-off!
The sunset cruise is perhaps the most popular time of day to cruise possibly because the setting sun sets the landscape and river ablaze. The sunsets seen here are perhaps the most dramatic anywhere on earth, and honestly, such views are beyond description. The sunset tour is photographer's dream! I loved every minute of it.
Price: $35 per person. Includes transportation to/from hotel, finger foods, unlimited soft drinks, beer and selected wines. This is another activity which MUST be booked well in advance.
Victoria Falls Bridge
This little tour took about 2.5 hours, there and back; we went before going on to the helicopter ride. Our guide shared his knowledge of the area, his views on the Mugabe government, and his thoughts about the future of Zimbabwe. Learning from the locals is just as valuable as seeing an attraction.
Walking on the bridge is special, as this bridge is an engineering marvel. It was designed in England, was transported from Europe in pieces and was assembled on site. The bridge spans over the Zambezi River, and in 1906, it connected Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) to Zambia. It is here, on one side of the bridge where one can view or experience the thrill of bungee jumping. Bungee jumping is one of the most popular activities here at Vic Falls. Price of tour for two, includes soft drinks and water: $30
This is helicopter ride that takes your breath away in more ways than one, especially, if afraid of heights, like me! This flight gives you amazing views of the Falls, the upstream river, and the little islands dotting the river, and if you're lucky, you'll see wildlife. Depending on the route you pay for, and your pilot, you can view the various cataracts, sometimes a little too closely. It is advisable to take your tour after 12:00 pm... why? Our guide said that the mist rises very high during the early morning, but tends to settle by mid-day and the afternoon, giving passengers excellent views. Our flight was changed to 1:30 pm, and wow, he was so right, the views were awesome and the mist was not heavy. Price: 15 Minutes tour - US$115.00 per person
Dinner at the Boma
This was a fun way to spend the evening, and we enjoyed a traditional meal at The Boma - Place of Eating. The Boma is located inside the Gusu forest (a type of tree indigenous to this region), and the restaurant is made in a traditional way, with thatched roofs, long wood tables, and other genuine architecture, artifacts and décor.
The experience was wonderful, and not only did we enjoy a fantastic buffet meal, we experienced a unique cultural experience, with song and dance from local tribes. This is an activity that everyone should try to include in their itinerary to experience the tastes, sights, sounds and smells of Africa.
At the end of the evening, after the performers had finished their performances, etc., small African drums were passed out to all guests and we were taught various rhythms, and we made music. This was so much fun!!
Price: $32 per person (in advance) or $35 for a same day reservation.
Tour of Victoria Falls (the town)
A driver collected us at the lobby and drove us around Vic Falls to show us the area's highlights. We went to see the biggest tree in Zimbabwe, a Baobab tree believed to be well over two hundred years old. In fact, Livingston carved his name on the trunk of the tree. The tree is now fenced in, to keep people from carving the trunk some more, and also to keep the elephants from tearing up the bark.
From the big tree we were supposed to go to the Crocodile Farm, but honestly, how many of those can one see in a lifetime? We passed on this attraction in favor to being driven to the open market to peruse the souvenirs and have lunch in a more rustic setting. In any case, we found the souvenirs over-priced, but lunch was nice and inexpensive. Price: $30 for the two of us, includes soft drinks.
On the other side of the Falls, the national park contains abundant wildlife including sizable populations of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, and a variety of antelope, and people can drive their own cars or go on an organized tour. As we were continuing to Botswana to go on safari, we skipped this activity, otherwise, it is a must if you have not been on safari before.
There are several flights week to Victoria Falls from Johannesburg and from Windhoek, Namibia. Additionally Air Botswana flies into Kasane, Chobe, only a 90-minute road transfer. The flights are short (under 2 hours), and reasonably priced (less than $250).
Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side is an extremely affordable destination. Here, a wide range of hotels and hostels cater to every budget. Backpacker's facilities cost less than US$5 a night, and the most luxurious hotel costing upwards of $250 a night, but not more. So, every budget is well-represented.