How to make the most of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton

Victoria Falls has topped the bucket list of many a traveller ever since intrepid David Livingstone shared their existence with the wider world in the late 19th century. Today, the falls are central to the busy resort town and remain Zimbabwe's most popular tourist destination.

How to make the most of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe © Catherine Falconer - Dreamstime
How to make the most of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe © Catherine Falconer - Dreamstime

While there's more to see than just the falls, they are, of course, the main attraction, and there are plenty of ways for you to experience one of the 'Seven Natural Wonders of the World'. Here, we look at the multitude of activities you can do in and around Victoria Falls to ensure you squeeze the most out of your stay.

Get soaked in the Victoria Falls National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Victoria Falls National Park is the starting point for any visit, giving an immersive introduction to the mighty falls in all their glory. The path winds its way via numerous viewpoints that overlook individual waterfalls, such as the Boiling Pot and the Devil's Cataract, and past a statue of the main man himself, David Livingstone.

What you see will depend on the time of year you go: during the dry season, there is less water charging over the top, so visibility is better. However, in the wet season you benefit from seeing "the Smoke that Thunders" up close in all its awesome power.

Whenever you go, just think wet-attire, as you (and your camera) will likely get soaked. Raincoats can be hired from the visitors' centre.

Tackle the Victoria Falls Bridge Tour

For a view with a difference, hop into a harness to take the Victoria Falls Bridge Tour. Carabiner clips at the ready as you follow a walkway beneath the bridge from Zambia to Zimbabwe across the great Batoka Gorge. Guided every step of the way, you'll pick up interesting facts about how the bridge was constructed and see many a rainbow emerging from the mist.

Tip: don't forget your passport!

Although high at around 128 metres up, it's adrenalin-lite, suitable for families (aged 10) and even those without a fantastic head for heights. Don't miss the cheeky cross-border vervet monkeys, which swing playfully in the trees at either side.

The Victoria Falls Bridge

Completed in 1905, the iconic Victoria Falls Bridge was conceived by the controversial Cecil John Rhodes; it was part of his dream to see a railway running all the way from Cape Town to Cairo with the Victoria Falls Bridge spanning the otherwise impassable gap.

Sadly, Rhodes - and his vision of a continental railway - died before the bridge was completed. The bridge survived, however, and remains the only railway crossing between Zambia and Zimbabwe today.

Architecturally, the bridge is as fascinating as it is elegant. A shining example of Victorian perseverance and engineering, it centres around the arch, which provides both strength and flexibility.

Each part, from the girders to the bolts, was produced in the north of England and transported to the gorge. The architect, one George Hobson, overcame countless challenges, from location and rust to load-bearing, to create a steel masterpiece that has stood the test of time.

The impressive Victoria Falls Bridge, Zimbabwe © Demerzel21 - Fotolia.com
The impressive Victoria Falls Bridge, Zimbabwe © Demerzel21 - Fotolia.com

Bungee from the Victoria Falls Bridge

Why go over when you can go under? If the bridge tour doesn't set your heart racing, then a bungee jump from the bridge's mid-way platform will do the trick.

Not for the faint-hearted, you'll step forward with the sound of the falls behind and the fast flowing Zambezi below, before leaping 111 metres down into what is one of the most spectacular gorges in the world. Bonus points for anyone who manages to swing all the way through the arch and back before being winched up.

Zipline across the gorge

Somewhat underselling itself as "mildly adventurous", the zipline across the Batoka Gorge is another wonderful way to experience the landscape. Known as the Bridge Slide, it offers a thrilling ride that whizzes you 300 metres over the swirling emerald waters between the two countries.

As it's suitable for those aged six and up, perhaps "mildly adventurous" is just the right way of describing it. Either way, it's certainly memorable.

Wet and wild watersports

If you prefer sports of the watery variety, there are loads of ways you can get into the great Zambezi River - whether you mean to or not.

Firstly, there's rafting, with different routes used throughout the year owing to the river's fluctuating water levels. You can book expert-led trips to ensure you get the most out of rafting not to mention a safe and enjoyable ride. For something a little more sedate, try your hand at a chilled canoeing trip instead.

See Victoria Falls from above © Janet Hughes - Flickr Creative Commons
See Victoria Falls from above © Janet Hughes - Flickr Creative Commons

Hop in a helicopter

No trip to Victoria Falls is complete without a helicopter ride over the cascading water. Forget living flash, it's all about perspective, and you simply can't appreciate the scale or form of the falls from the ground.

Take Zambezi Helicopters' Flight of Angels, which whisks you high over the national park, Victoria Falls Bridge, and the renowned Victoria Falls Hotel. The pilot steers a considered path in figures of eight to ensure everyone gets a good look and plenty of photo opps.

The ride may be short - around 12 to 13 minutes - and a bit of an extravagance but it's well worth it to really get an idea of how abruptly the river suddenly drops and zigzags its way through the gorge below. So go on, treat yourself - you're on holiday.

Head out on safari

Thought it was all chasing waterfalls? Think again. The Zambezi National Park is a vast wilderness stretching away from Victoria Falls, where you'll find everything from elephants, leopards and zebras, to buffalo, lions, impala, ever-present waterbuck and so much more. It's also excellent for twitchers with more than 400 species of bird.

Impala near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe © Aftab Uzzaman - Flickr Creative Commons
Impala near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe © Aftab Uzzaman - Flickr Creative Commons

A game drive in the park is the best way to see what you can spot for yourself. Go early to hopefully spy some of the park's star residents and add a whole new dimension to your stay.

Tip: if you're spending more than a few days in Victoria Falls, you might want to consider getting a KAZA visa, which - for $50 - lets you cross between Zambia and Zimbabwe hassle-free for up to 30 days.

Relax on a sunset cruise

What better way to unwind after all that adventuring than with a laid back sunset cruise on the magnificent Zambezi River? Enjoy a lazy cruise while keeping a lookout for colourful birds, crocodiles and telltale hippo ears bobbing into view.

Take a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe © Kirsten Henton
Take a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe © Kirsten Henton

A number of operators run sunset cruises, most with a free bar policy, so you can count on that ice cold Zambezi lager once you've cast off. Try Shearwater Cruises, whose sunset jaunts typically last for up to two hours and ease you nicely into evening.

Choose the right hotel

Victoria Falls maintained a strong and steady influx of tourists, even during the darkest days of Mugabe's rule. As such, there's quite an eclectic selection of accommodation to suit all budgets.

A' Zambezi River Lodge, located right on the water's edge, less than four miles from the centre of town, is a good mid-level option with clean, modern rooms, a small swimming pool, free shuttle bus, and loads of facilities on hand. Warthogs can be seen grazing on the manicured grass and so-called 'Sebastian' the hippo makes a sporadic appearance from the depths of the Zambezi from time-to-time.

The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is a stylish affair perched on the edge of bushland. Kick back on your balcony as elephants come to drink at the nearby watering hole. Rooms vary in size but all are sensitvely decorated with natural tones and accessories. The open air lounge with handy binoculars and the two-tiered swimming pool are real highlights.

Afternoon tea with passing warthog and bridge view, Victoria Falls Hotel - photo courtesy of Victoria Falls Hotel
Afternoon tea with passing warthog and bridge view, Victoria Falls Hotel - photo courtesy of Victoria Falls Hotel

For a taste of empire and a stay in what has to be one of the most romantic settings going, you can't beat the historic Victoria Falls Hotel. Established in 1904 to meet the needs of those building the bridge, the hotel essentially founded the town and remains at its heart. Spend time admiring the fine collection of prints that adorn the walls, recline in the luxe sofas, and sip a G&T on the terrace overlooking the Victoria Falls Bridge all lit up at night.

When to go to Victoria Falls

This is a tricky one because you can really visit Victoria Falls all year round. Many people opt for the dry season from April to October, which is also the peak season, when the water level is lower (guaranteeing unobstructed views of the falls and the chance to do more water-based activities) and the bush is sparse (ensuring you see more big game on safari).

That said, if you go during - or even at the tail end of - the wet season from November to March, things will be a little quieter, the land is vibrantly green, and the smoke really does thunder as the river charges over the edge of the falls at full pelt.

Weatherwise, Victoria Falls enjoys loads of sunshine and high temperatures from January to December, although May to August is undoubtedly the best time to go - just take an extra layer or two for evenings, when the temperature drops owing to clear skies at night and the near 3,000ft elevation.

More about the weather in Victoria Falls >>

Are you planning a trip to Victoria Falls? RwandAir, the flag carrier for the central African nation of Rwanda, offers great value fares on its brand new A330 aircraft from London Gatwick to Kigali, Rwanda followed by a short hop on to Harare, Zimbabwe.

Alternatively, BA flies to Victoria Falls International Airport (VFA) via Johannesburg, while the likes of Explore! and G Adventures offer guided tours that include stops in this enchanting part of west Zimbabwe.

Weather2Travel.com experienced Victoria Falls and its many activities in Zimbabwe as a guest of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority in March 2018. All views expressed are those of the writer.

Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Posted on Friday 13th April 2018 in: Adventure Africa Excursions Nature

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