Travel guide to visiting Victoria Falls

The smoke that thunders


Livingstone, Zambia; ‎Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

GPS: -17.922711391198, 25.858900231742

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Originally called Mosi-oa Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) by the Kololo local tribe, Victoria Falls owes its contemporary name to the explorer David Livingstone. This Scottish scientific and missionary was the first European to discover this place in 1855, during an expedition that saw him cross the African continent from east to west. Dazzled by the spectacle in front of him, Livingstone named the falls after the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen Victoria.

Victoria Falls is a major transboundary site based in Southern Africa on the Zambezi River. This winding river flows through a series of spectacular natural gorges carved by the force of water over millions of years. A steel bridge nearly 200 metres long was built in 1905 to span the falls. It serves as a border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe in a breathtaking setting. Victoria Falls are considered one of the most beautiful in the world. They are unique in that they constantly emit spray, clouds of mist and a series of rainbows caused by the spraying phenomenon. This continuous humidification is also at the origin of the remarkable ecosystem of the nearby rainforest. A true masterpiece of nature, Victoria Falls is spread over two separate national parks: Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side (66 km²) and Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwean side (23 km²). Several hiking trails on both sides of the border allow you to combine the discovery of the falls with the exploration of its wildlife and plant resources.

Depending on the time of year, this curtain of waterfalls can reach an impressive width of almost 2 kilometres and a maximum height of over 110 metres (February to May). The mist caused by the contact of the Victoria Falls with the Zambezi River can be seen from more than 20 kilometres away. The thundering sound of the powerful waterfalls can be heard within a 30 kilometres radius. In addition to being a major wildlife reservoir, the natural environment of the waterfalls also has a historical dimension as it is believed to have been home to the first humans on Earth over 2 million years ago.

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  • The impressive sound of the waterfalls; the permanent spectacle of rainbows and clouds of foam
  • The Zambian rainforest and its exceptional river ecosystem (breeding area for rare species)
  • The Devil’s Pool, an original swimming spot at the top of the Zambian Falls (a magical but dangerous place, accessible only during the dry season); Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls and The Eastern Cataract
  • The series of steep gorges, including the Batoka Gorge, with its whitewater suitable for canoeing, kayaking and rafting on the Zambian side; the formation of river islands
  • Viewing platforms and suspension bridges (Knife Edge Bridge and Victoria Falls Bridge)
  • An important Southern African wildlife reserve (hippos, crocodiles, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, elephants, buffaloes, antelopes, baboons, warthogs, falcons, birds, fishes…); a rich and varied flora (ferns, palms, mahogany trees, fig trees, ebony trees, mopane trees, teak trees, miombo woodlands…)
  • Thrill-seeking activities (helicopter flight, seaplane and microlight flight, bungee jumping, abseiling…) in Zimbabwe; the traditional village of Mukuni in Zambia
  • The well-marked trails and the many viewpoints on the Zimbabwean side (some of the best views of the falls)
  • The Big Tree of Zimbabwe, a baobab tree with a circumference of over 22 metres
  • During the rainy season, the flow of Victoria Falls can reach up to 500 million litres of water per minute. The falls are twice the height and width of Niagara Falls in North America.
  • Victoria Falls marks the natural boundary between the upper and middle reaches of the Zambezi River. The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa (2,700 kilometres) after the Nile (6,895 kilometres), the Congo (4,700 kilometres) and the Niger (4,184 kilometres). It flows through Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and ends its course in the Indian Ocean.
  • The Devil’s Pool, perched atop a 108-metre-high waterfall on the Zambian side, is the highest natural infinity pool in the world.
  • Victoria Falls would to be the home of a terrifying and mythological bird called the impundulu (or lightning bird). According to local beliefs held by Zulu, Pondo and Xhosa tribes in Southern Africa, this vampiric creature feeds on the blood of its victims. The impundulu is said to be a large bird of prey with the power to cause lightning and thunder to lay its eggs. It is associated with witchcraft, is said to be immortal and can take several forms to attack its prey. For example, it is said to have the art of transforming itself into a young woman whose charm would send young men into the depths of Victoria Falls. Only fire would be able to destroy it.
  • At the end of 2019, Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River stream bed experienced very low water volumes during the dry season. The region has experienced a historic drought, one of the worst on record in Southern Africa in the last 40 years. This unprecedented drying of Victoria Falls may be a consequence of climate change. In addition to the impact on tourism, it is hurting farmers and local people who depend on this source of energy. Hydroelectric power stations on the Zambezi River near the Kariba Dam supply Zimbabwe and Zambia with electricity. 200 elephants are also reported to have died due to the severe lack of water in the region. However, the return of the rainy season has resulted in a significant increase in water levels and flow in Victoria Falls in the first quarter of 2020, although power generation remains limited.
  • A hippopotamus can weigh up to 4 tonnes and is a distant cousin of the whale. It is hairless and only comes out of the water at night to feed. The hippopotamus reigns supreme in its environment as it has no predators as an adult, although it does have to cohabit with crocodiles. Despite its calm and lethargic appearance, it is a lively and fast animal that can reach 30 to 40 km/h on land. In the water, the hippo can stay in the water for up to 6 minutes. On hot days, it is able to secrete its own oil to protect itself from the sun (hence its pink skin). The hippopotamus is capable of attacking humans if it feels threatened (every year, it causes the death of 400 to 500 people, mainly in Africa).
  • Take advantage of your stay here to see this site from both sides of the border (different points of interest).
  • A rain coat is essential to fully appreciate the many misty views of Victoria Falls.
  • It is advisable to swim in the Devil’s Pool between August and January, when the water level is low and the current is weak to avoid falling overboard.

Where to eat

  • The Lookout Café
    (beautiful view)
  • The Cassia Restaurant
    (wonderful setting)
  • Victoria Falls Hotel
    (chic and mythical establishment)

Where to go

  • Shockwave Adventures
    (guaranteed thrills)
  • Prime Art Gallery
    (showcase of Zimbabwean art)
  • Zambesi Horse Trails
    (original horse ride)

Where to stay

  • The N1 Hotel Victoria Falls
    (economical and peaceful)
  • Thorntree River Lodge
    (with great hospitality)
  • Victoria Falls River Lodge
    (luxury address)