Mose-oa-Tunya or “the smoke that thunders” is the original name that the Kalolo-Lozi people gave to Victoria Falls, due to the roaring noise of the water as it plunges to the ground and the billowing clouds of mist that rise up and soak everything and everyone in its vicinity. Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the world’s largest waterfall in the wet season. The sheer energy one feels in its presence is undeniable…easily comprehending why Victoria Falls is a thing of romance and myth and something we recommend to include on any Zambia Tour or Zimbabwe Tour.
Where is Victoria Falls located
Victoria Falls springs forth from the Zambezi River, cutting a path between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Lying on either side of the Falls are the towns of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia. Both towns can be called the tourism capitals of their countries, yet for all their similarities they are actually quite different. The town of Victoria Falls is actually more like a village surrounded by the bush. In the dry season, elephants wander into town in search of food and you can see warthogs on street corners. Lots of hotels abound, some – like the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel – hail back to a bygone era. Even if you don’t stay here, make time and a reservation for afternoon tea on the sumptuous grounds. It’s like taking a step back in time. Others are more modern and cater to a large array of tastes and purse strings. Locals mill about, many anxious to sell you their carved animals and textiles. This is the place to buy carvings and sculptures! Overhead is the constant humming of the helicopters offering overflights of the Falls. The center of Victoria Falls town is walking distance to the entrance to the rainforest, and while your best experience is exploring the park with a private guide, it is also easily navigated on your own. In contrast, Livingstone town is 8kms from the Falls on the Zambian side. While the famous Royal Livingstone Hotel is within walking distance (entrance fees are included with your stay, and you must enjoy sundowners on the river deck!), most hotels on the Zambian side are actually river lodges located anywhere from a 15-45 minute drive from the Falls. Livingstone is a bustling tourist town where you can visit the Livingstone Museum, depicting the history of the town and explorer and missionary David Livingstone who first came upon the Falls in 1855. In 1905 the Victoria Falls Railway Bridge was opened (nowadays you can bungee jump off of it!) and Livingstone boomed.
Victoria Falls is actually made up of 5 different waterfalls. On the Zimbabwe side, you have Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and Horseshow Falls. On the Zambian side is the Eastern Cataract. Arguably, the Zim side has the better view. From here you can see 70% of the Falls and the famed Victoria Falls Bridge from various incredible viewing points along the network of trails that take visitors through a misty and lush rainforest. During the low water months from the end of September to early December, there are sections of dry rock face but the main falls do continue to plunge over Main Falls and Devil’s Cataract. During this time, the Falls near Livingstone slow down to almost a trickle. Don’t expect to be disappointed, however, as the dry Eastern Cataract exposes a tremendous wall of jagged rock and in the chasm 110 meters below are a series of zigzagging gorges.
When to Visit Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls is a must see during and Zambia Safari Tour or Zimbabwe Safari Tour. It is also easily combined with Botswana and South Africa. In fact, if you are visiting Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Victoria Falls is the perfect stop in between! Inspiring simply by its sheer size, power and beauty at any time of year, there are specific months that are best to experience Victoria Falls (especially from a photography standpoint). Those rainbows you see in almost every photo of Victoria Falls? They are there all year round, though the most beautiful when the spray is at it’s heaviest. Below is a breakdown month by month:
January & February: This is the height of the rainy season and the Falls are transitioning from low flow to high flow
March: The water levels are high thanks to the rainy season, and the sheer force of the falls drives a mist plume into the air that can be seen from 30 kms away
April & May: The flow of the Falls peaks in mid April, and the mist plumes can reach well over 1000ft. The mist is so thick you cannot see the base of the Falls. This time of year, your best views are from the air.
June: This is a perfect time to visit. The volume of water in the Zambezi River becomes more steady and the view of the Falls changes completely
July and August: Best time to visit the Falls. Best photographic opportunities
September: The flow of water is transitioning from high to low and the Eastern Cataract becomes more exposed. It depends on water levels, but from now through the middle of January you can usually swim in Devil’s Pool (more on that below).
October and November: The Falls are at their lowest = least impressive. The Zambian side is completely dry.
December: The rainy season has begun and the Falls begin to rise again!
What to do in Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls is often referred to as the “Adventure Capital of Africa” and with good reason! From white water rafting to ziplining and bungee jumping, there is no shortage of adrenaline fueled activities. For those looking for less heart palpitating adventure, there are helicopter tours, rainforest hikes, sundowner cruises and rural village excursions. There’s even a romantic dinner option aboard the restored Royal Livingstone Express (Zambian side) or Bushtracks Express (Zimbabwean side) steam train!
Take a look at some of the available activities below available from the Victoria Falls side:
- “Insider” tour of Victoria Falls with a local resident
- Photographic safaris by boat
- Sundowner and dinner cruises on the Zambezi
- Cycling tours
- Art safaris (fun with the kids)
- Elephant encounters – walking with these rescued gentle giants
- Meal with a local family
- High Tea at Victoria Falls Hotel
- Tram and Historic Bridge Tour
- Shopping with a Purpose
- Pot & Spot – an immersive experience where guests prepare their onw Potjie dinner on the banks of the Zambezi with a chef, before departing on a game drive
- Wildlife conservation safari
- Morning, afternoon and evening game drives or walks in Zambezi National Park
- Morning, afternoon and evening game drives in Victoria Falls Private Reserve
- Canyoning in Batoka Gorge
- Adventure jetboat
- Check out this customized tour safari adventure including Victoria Falls
Activities available from the Livingstone side:
- Livingstone Island – depending on the time of year you can swim in either Devil’s Pool or Angel’s Pool
- Breakfast, lunch, high tea or dinner with the elephants at Elephant Café
- Microflight over Victoria Falls
- Rhino Walk in Mosi oa Tunya National Park
- Livingstone Museum
- Railway Museum
- Check out this customized tour for a luxury tour including Livingstone and Victoria Falls