Victoria Falls is one of Africa’s superstars. Situated on the mighty Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, it has UNESCO World Heritage status and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. So where should you stay near Victoria Falls and what should you do while in the area? Find out in our expert guide to Victoria Falls.
Coming face-to-face with the smoke that thunders is an African bucket-list experience like no other. It was Scottish explorer David Livingstone who named the falls in honour of Queen Victoria, but in the local Kololo language it’s always been known as Mosi-oa-Tunya: ‘the smoke that thunders’. And it really does thunder. At 108 metres high and 1,708 wide, it’s the largest curtain of falling water in the world, with up to five-hundred-million cubic metres of water per minute crashing down into the gorge below. Its billowing clouds of mist can be spotted more than 10 miles away.
Victoria Falls: Zimbabwe or Zambia?
Victoria Falls can be seen from both Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Zambezi River is the national border between the countries and the jaw-dropping Victoria Falls Bridge – built in 1905 as part of Cecil Rhodes’ vision for a continuous railway line throughout Africa – spans the gorge to link the two.
Roughly three quarters of the falls lie in Zimbabwe and you’ll be able to capture full-length shots of the falls from this side. Here, well-paved nature trails wind in and out of Victoria Falls National Park – where the spray creates a rainforest ecosystem and warthogs and monkeys roam – to reveal 16 incredible viewpoints. Victoria Falls National Park is also one of the few places on Earth where it’s possible to see a lunar rainbow; when there’s a full moon, the park stays open late so that visitors can gaze upon the ‘moonbow’ in the evening light.
Zambia has a much smaller section of the falls, but it makes the most of it. Footpaths here reach right to the edge, with the aptly-named Knife Edge Bridge taking you over the gorge and incredibly close to the cascading waters. The national park as a whole is surprisingly unassuming and untouched by commercialisation, there are no persistent hawkers or exits through huge gift shops here.
When to visit Victoria Falls
The falls are an impressive sight year-round, although there are distinct wet and dry seasons. The dry season runs between May and November and offers a clear view of all sections of the falls. In May, the falls are in full flow and you’ll be able to hear the roar long before you see any water. June to September is the most popular time to visit, when water levels have started to drop and reduced spray ensures better visibility, making for excellent photo opportunities.
By October, it’s hot and humid and the waters can be reduced to a trickle, exposing the magnificent gorge; the Zambian side is almost completely dry now. December to April is the wet season, when a wall of water thunders down the cliffside. Visit at this time of year and you’re guaranteed to get drenched – you’ll need a poncho and a waterproof camera bag. By March, the falls are bursting and the sheer volume of spray can obscure the view but the rainbows created by the dense mist are breath-taking.
Where to stay at Victoria Falls
There are some excellent safari lodges and hotels located along the river on both sides of the falls. Ilala Lodge in Zimbabwe lies on the doorstep of the national park, just a 10-minute stroll from the falls – you can even see the spray from your private terrace or the pool deck. The chic hotel overlooks manicured gardens where warthogs graze and offers sunset cruises on traditional river boats.
If you’re looking for history, stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel, one of Africa’s most iconic hotels. Boasting views of the falls, the five-star heritage property was built by the British in 1904 to house workers building the Cape to Cairo railway. It’s now fully restored, so you can expect grand Edwardian architecture and landscaped gardens, a pool, spa and even an art gallery. Don’t miss high tea on Stanley Terrace, accompanied by views of Victoria Falls Bridge.
The Victoria Falls River Lodge offers a more remote escape, set in Zambezi National Park along one of the main game corridors, allowing you to spot elephants and hippos from your private deck. The Starbed Treehouses jut out over the Zambezi River and, as well as offering an indoor bedroom, feature four-poster starbeds where you can glimpse the spray from the falls and sleep beneath the stars.
Things to do at Victoria Falls
To get the most out of your visit to Victoria Falls, stay for three to four days. That will give you time to view the falls from different angles, relax and indulge in the many activities on offer, from boat rides to ziplining. Here are some of the top things to do at Victoria Falls:
Helicopter rides – get a bird’s eye view of Victoria Falls on a scenic helicopter ride; there’s no better way to fully appreciate the scale and beauty of this natural wonder. The short, 12-minute Flight of Angels takes you in a circuit over both side of the falls and upstream over the Zambezi River. Opt for a 25-minute Zambezi Spectacular and you’ll also view Batoka Gorge and the national park, where it’s possible to spot big game below.
Moonbow tours – Victoria Falls is one of the few places in the world where conditions allow you to see lunar rainbows. Guided moonbow tours are available during the full moon or when the moonlight is strong enough and are especially visible in high season when there’s more spray. Wander through the forest after dark with a national park ranger, spotting monkeys and warthogs, to a place where moonlight bounces off the spray, creating a silvery moonbow.
White water rafting and aerial flights – experience thrills, spills and heart-pounding adventures at Victoria Falls, known as the adventure capital of Africa. Ride a flying fox over the gorge for eagle-eye views, tackle the white-knuckle gorge swing or go white water rafting on the mighty Zambezi. The river has some of the best rapids in the world, including the famous washing machine, oblivion and boiling pot.
Ziplining – take a thrilling zipline tour through the forest canopy overlooking Victoria Falls, reaching speeds of up to 120km an hour. Ride solo or tandem, taking in stunning aerial views of the falls as you fly through the air on a series of nine zip wires and a cable bridge walkway.
Sunset boat cruises – relax with a stunning sunset boat cruise along the Zambezi. Sail in a traditional Ra-Ikanes boat, modelled on the one Livingstone used in the 1850s, to watch the golden light rebound off the falls. Along the way, enjoy canapés and sip a G&T while you look for hippos and crocodiles.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Louise, who's travelled extensively in Botswana. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - the rangers who'll ensure you'll spot the best wildlife in Chobe, the village chiefs who'll give you an insight into local life and the helicopter pilots who can land you on an island in the Delta never visited by humans before.
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