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Victoria Falls on a Tight Budget
If you think Victoria Falls is expensive, read on and discover how to experience this amazing destination without breaking the bank
27 April 2018
Victoria Falls is a melting pot of activity, and there is an a la carte menu of things to do, places to stay, and restaurants to savour that will suit different budgets. Here is what you need to know about the freebies, the luxuries and the must-sees for all travellers.
Before you have even touched down in Victoria Falls, the anticipation and excitement is almost tangible and airplanes soar over one of nature's greatest works. If you are flying in from Johannesburg or Harare, Fast Jet is the most reasonable, no fringes option. If there are two or more of you travelling then catch a taxi from the airport as this will be the cheapest option, if you are travelling alone or as a couple then it's best and easiest to arrange a transfer, which you can do through Victoria Falls Guide.
Of course a trip to the rainforest will undoubtedly be high on your agenda, and there are a few things to keep in mind to make the most out of the excursion. The entrance to the waterfall opens at 6am (in the summer, and 6:30am in winter), and if you are a keen photographer, this is prime time to go. There are less people roaming the pathways, and capturing the sunrise through the mist in the early morning is an almost ethereal, mystifying experience.
The Victoria Falls at sunrise
Intensely green and luscious vegetation envelopes the pathway, with intricate patterns made from rogue raindrops decorating the surface of the fanning leaves. It feels as though the very trees are buzzing from a chlorophyll overdose under the cool coat of mist that is forever churned from the waterfall. The rich diversity of vegetation is enough to capture your attention long before you have reached the source of the constant roar carried along the breeze. To make the most of the experience, give yourself more than the recommended two hours to view the falls. There is a restaurant in the rainforest but eating there can be pricey, especially if you have a large group, so I would suggest packing a picnic and lounging beneath one of the African ebonies instead.
Viewing the Victoria Falls is a unique experience. It is not a calm sheet of water flowing into a plunge pool that you can dip into as you stare up at a curtain of water. It is a furious, ragged tear in the earth's surface that rips a kilometre of ground apart. The white water gushing over the edge resembles a stampede of blinding white stallions, tumbling to the bottom that we never see, before splintering into trillions of pieces. You will think that nothing could top the first sighting. Until you reach the second viewpoint, and then every glimpse that follows.
I have always thought of this little town as somewhat of a chocolate box. The Zambezi River is the milk chocolate coating and the different ways to experience the river are the unique fillings. Some are more decadent than others, but they all delight and leave you feeling indulged.
The adrenaline activities would definitely be the chili chocolate in the box. Bungee jumping, skydiving and white water rafting aren't to everyone's taste, but they will give you a kick and are far from bland. If you are an adrenaline junkie it is worth booking one of these activities, because you will be hard pressed to find a more beautiful location to have these experiences. If you want to explore the gorge and see the bigger rapids, but find these activities slightly out of your budget and comfort zone, there are a few wonderful hiking trails that you may want to try. A guide can accompany you down the gorge to the riverside where you can enjoy a sundowner near the rushing river. The Boiling Pot hike is a firm favourite and it takes you within meters of the bottom of the waterfall. The volume of water teeters out towards the end when water levels are low, so you can get a mesmerising view of the black basalt rock that stretches towards the clouds, and watch as the rapids gradually building velocity and cutting through the gorge. The climb to the top is quite strenuous, but if you take it slowly it is possible for relatively unfit people to enjoy the hike. Every time I have done this hike, I feel like somewhat of a pioneer - the trail is off the grid and from your vantage point, you can watch the activity on the bridge and perch on the rock by the river, feeling slightly superior to have found this little gem. But most activities in Victoria Falls are like that- this natural wonder is magnificent from all angles.
Before the river rages down the gorge, it is a calm body of glistening water. The best way to enjoy the Zambezi in this form would be a river cruise. Standard cruises are one of the most popular activities, and if you are looking for a more opulent experience, there are a wide range of luxury cruises to choose from too. There are cruises to satisfy different budgets, schedules, and needs for exclusivity.
Cruise the Zambezi River
High tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel would be the fancy chocolate in the box that has its own little golden wrapper. For a reasonable price, you are treated to a three-tier tower of finger sandwiches, scones and cakes. The view from the hotel is exceptional and encompasses the bridge, the gorge, the river below and, during the rainy season, the tendrils of vapour that curl around the side of the gorge where the waterfall seethes.
One of the cheapest and most enjoyable ways to spend a day in Victoria Falls is on the back of a bicycle. The town is relatively small, so this is an efficient way to get around. Cycling over the bridge is a wonderfully unique way to view the gap between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and get a different perspective of the Victoria Falls. The bungee station is on the bridge so you can watch the thrill seekers soaring into the abyss and maybe even take the leap. There are a number of places you can hire a bicycle for a reasonable price. Taxis around town will charge between $3 and $6 so this is a great and fun way to save on expenses.
There are dozens of activities that allow you to get close to the wildlife such as Art with the Elephants, crocodile cage diving and lion walks. However, if you are on a strict budget, a cheaper way to see the wildlife is on a game drive through the National Park. There are day and night drives*, each respectively uncovering some of the most breath taking views of the Park. The National Park is a short 5-kilometer drive out of town and there are small chalets and campsites you can opt to stay in too. Some of the facilities leave much to be desired, but there is something special sleeping alongside the river, sharing a home with the Big Five. If camping is not your forte, there are other small, inexpensive guesthouses in town, and some more extravagant lodge and hotel options.
About a kilometre and a half out of town stands the biggest Baobab tree in Zimbabwe. There is no charge to see the tree, and it is a spectacular sight. When I was a little girl, my dad told me a story of the Baobab that floods my memory every time I it.
Bike tour passing the Big Tree
An African legend says that, centuries ago, the first baobab sprouted by the side of a river. The baobab would marvel of the beauty of the trees around it, admiring their green leaves and beautifully colourful flowers. One day, when the tree grew tall enough to see its reflection in the river, it became distraught by the sight. The baobab realized that its leaves were tiny, its flowers were dull, and it was fat and stout and covered in wrinkles. The tree confronted its creator and words (some very rude) were exchanged. But the baobabs whining fell on unsympathetic ears. Beauty manifests itself in different ways, and the baobab would have to accept this. Of course, the Baobab did not, and returned to its creator every day echoing its complaints. Eventually, the creator was so fed up with the Baobab's voice that it plucked the tree from the ground, flipped it over, and replanted it upside down. Since that day, the Baobab has been unable to see its reflection or make a complaint. It spent years silently repaying its debt by doing good deeds for people and animals. This is why we often see elephant chewing on water rich Baobab bark, and the Bushmen believe that if you soak pips from the tree in your drinking water, you will be protected from crocodiles. Another story says that when a divine deity made the Baobab it was so excited to be on earth that it wouldn't stop running around, so the deity eventually had to plant it upside down to stop it darting around.
These stories highlight the exceptional and riveting aura that washes through the entire town. Every tree, animal and person has a unique tale to tell. Whether you are staying in one of the luxurious five star hotels, or in the lively backpackers lodge, there are countless legends to hear, activities to do, and memories to make.
*Night drives are done on the Private Game reserve.
Since this article was published, the Boiling Pot Hike is no longer offered in Victoria Falls. Guided
bicycle tours are now available for a very reasonable price. Please
contact us for assistance in arranging your
Victoria Falls activities.