Known in the local tongue as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ (‘the smoke that thunders’), the Victoria Falls have captured people’s imagination for millennia. Scaling a height of 108 m (354 ft) and with a width of 1,708 m (5,604 ft), they form the world’s largest curtain of falling water, with a noise to match the loudest roll of thunder.
Mist rising from this rift in the Earth is visible for up to 48 km (30 miles) and has helped a rainforest to thrive on the adjacent cliff side. Here you can follow trails to take in close-up views of the falls. Helicopter or microlight flights give you a fresh perspective of the site’s scale, while, most daringly, you can swim out to the very edge of the falls.
Zambia specialist Anna
Whenever I visit the Victoria Falls, I’m overwhelmed by the noise and excitement of it all. I most enjoy viewing the falls by microlight, but the thundering roar of the water from up close always stays with me.
Things to see and do at the Victoria Falls
Explore the Victoria Falls on foot
While there are many ways to appreciate the Victoria Falls, we always recommend seeing them up close to truly appreciate their size and deafening roar. You can head out on foot, self-led or with a guide, who will tell you more about the falls and their history.
Paths wind along the edge of the rainforest adjacent to the falls where, through dripping trees and rising spray, you’re rewarded with views of the plunging water just a stone’s throw away. Visit at full moon and you may be lucky enough to see a lunar rainbow within the spray.
Crossing Knife-edge Bridge also provides excellent views of the main falls and the Boiling Pot, a permanent whirlpool where two streams meet. Look out for trumpeter hornbills darting across the water and raptors such as falcons and black eagles circling in the sky.
Take a helicopter or microlight flight over the falls
Upon first setting eyes on the falls (and as the first European to see them), Dr David Livingstone remarked: ‘… scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’. You can experience the falls from above on a 15 or 30 minute helicopter or microlight flight, beginning by flying over the Upper Zambezi to the edge of the falls. Here, you swoop over the cascading water and the Batoka Gorge, taking in views of this huge crevasse as it fills with cloud-like mist.
Venturing lower than a conventional aircraft, the flight allows you to take in the full extent of the falls’ size from both directions while enjoying close-up views of the water as it thunders over the rock face.
Relax on a sunset cruise along the Zambezi River
At the day’s end, you can take a peaceful cruise along the Zambezi River at sunset. The river snakes its way towards Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park as you sip drinks aboard a small cruise boat.
The on-board guides give brief talks about the river and its wildlife and help point out any animals that you pass — look out for hippo wallowing in the water, elephant quenching their thirst and crocodiles basking along the river banks, as well as a variety of birdlife flitting between the trees. As the sun sets, the sky changes from pale blue to burnt orange and red, casting a pink tinge over the river as the surrounding trees become silhouettes.
Visit Livingstone Island and Devil’s Pool
If visiting between September and January (when water levels are lower), you could take a boat trip out to Livingstone Island, where Livingstone is believed to have first glimpsed the falls in 1855.
After a picnic lunch, your guide tells you about the falls’ history, from the ancient beliefs and rituals of the people who lived here thousands of years ago to their discovery by Livingstone and present-day UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
You then swim across a small channel of water to Devil’s Pool. Like a natural infinity pool, it’s situated on the very edge of the falls, with just a rocky outcrop separating you from a sheer drop. From this vantage, you can peer right down to the bottom, watching the water hit the rocks below.
Dine on the Royal Livingstone Express
Departing from Livingstone, the Royal Livingstone Express is a traditional 1920s steam train that has been tastefully restored to its former glory.
The train runs along part of Cecil Rhodes’ ‘Cape to Cairo’ railway, passing the Victoria Falls and crossing the Victoria Falls Bridge. Here, the train pauses for half an hour while passengers disembark to take photographs of the sunset over the falls. The train also has an observation car with a bar and outdoor viewing deck.
After sunset, the train stops at Palm Grove siding and, at the sound of the dinner bell, you sit down to a five-course dinner prepared on board. The menu may include salmon fishcakes, mushroom risotto, slow roast shoulder of lamb and lemon tart.
Enjoy a day’s safari in Chobe National Park
Botswana’s Chobe National Park is around an hour and a half’s drive away from the falls, so a day’s safari is within easy reach. The park has one of the largest elephant concentrations in Africa, with an estimated 50,000 elephant roaming its lush floodplains, grasslands and woodlands.
Safaris begin with a cruise along the Chobe River, where you may have views of hippo, crocodiles and birdlife such as carmine bee-eaters, spoonbills and ibises. After lunch, you join a guided game drive, looking out for herds of elephant as well as giraffe, Cape buffalo, wildebeest, lion and hyena.
Closer to the falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park offers game drives to see giraffe, zebra, eland, buffalo and impala, as well as vervet monkeys and baboons.
Go white water rafting below the falls
When water levels are low, you can brave an adrenaline-filled white water rafting ride along the rapids at the bottom of the falls, navigating the turbulent water of the Boiling Pot. A brief training session is provided before you set off to prepare you for the twists and turns of the category four and five rapids you’ll negotiate as you soar along the frothing water.
You get to experience around ten different rapids, many with evocative names such as ‘Overland Truck Eater’ and ‘Oblivion’. The guides are very experienced in riding these waters, but we’d advise this definitely isn’t an activity for anyone who doesn’t feel confident in water or wants to stay dry.
Explore the history of Livingstone
A town with a fascinating history, Livingstone is helped in part by its proximity to the falls and the Zambezi River. Established as a major colonial European settlement in 1905, it was made the capital of Northern Rhodesia (a former colonial African ‘state’) in 1911.
Affluent Edwardian buildings still line the streets, as well as historic landmarks such as the High Court (built in 1910) and the Old Government House, which held the main government office and governor’s home between 1907 and 1935.
Exploring Livingstone with a guide provides insight into its past, as well as its development into a popular base for those visiting the falls. We also recommend a visit to Livingstone Museum, which holds collections related to the area’s archaeology, culture, history and wildlife.
Best time to visit the Victoria Falls
The Zambezi River’s water levels vary throughout the year, depending on when rains fall further north. The amount of water can significantly alter your experience when visiting the Victoria Falls.
Water levels are at their highest between late January and April, when you can experience the full power of the falls. The huge amount of spray makes it difficult to take photographs and prevents you from seeing the full width of the falls (unless viewing them from above), and wearing a waterproof is essential.
Between May and early September, there’s a steady flow of water, and the falls can be seen from one side to the other. It’s the best time to go for getting good photographs and enjoying views of the falls without getting too wet.
From late September to December you can expect low water levels at the falls, especially from the Zambia side. Much of the rock face is exposed, and you can see right down the gorge. In parts, the falls are reduced to small rivulets or are even non-existent.
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