4 Things You Have to Do at Victoria Falls

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They call it Mosi-oa-Tunya – “the Smoke that Thunders.”

But you probably know it by its European name: Victoria Falls.

This massive waterfall on the Zambezi River in Southern Africa has been drawing tourists for more than a century. It's the largest curtain of falling water in the world at more than a mile wide and 350 feet tall, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. It's also unique in that two countries share it: it straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

You'll see the mist from the falls long before you see the water itself – which was probably true for David Livingstone, too, who “discovered” the waterfall in 1855. The Scottish missionary/explorer certainly wasn't the first *person* to set eyes upon the Smoke that Thunders, and in fact he may not have even been the first European! (Many suggest that Portuguese explorers saw it much earlier.)

But Livingstone is nevertheless credited with naming the waterfall Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria of Britain, and for putting it on the map – both literally and figuratively.

Livingstone is famous for describing the falls as such:

“Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

It's perhaps no wonder, then, that people put this place on their bucket lists.

Amanda at Victoria Falls

Things to do at Victoria Falls

The area surrounding Victoria Falls has now become a bit of an adventure sport mecca in Southern Africa. There are no shortage of adventurous activities, whether you're basing yourself in the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side, or in Livingstone on the Zambia side.

Things to do at Victoria Falls

If you, too, plan to visit the famous Victoria Falls, here are a handful of must-do things on both sides of the border:

1. Get up close to the falls

You'll find national parks on both sides of the falls – Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe, and Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia. While both parks offer the opportunity to get up close to the thundering water, the experience is quite different depending on which side of the border you're on.

The experience can also be quite different depending on the time of year you're visiting. When the Zambezi is at peak flow (April/May), five different sections of the falls are roaring. During the height of dry season, however, some of them dry up (usually around November). I visited in May/June, when the falls were truly thundering.

Victoria Falls in Zambia
“Smoke that Thunders” was very accurate during my visit

In Zimbabwe, there's a trail opposite a large stretch of the waterfall that extends for more than one kilometer. During peak flow, you can see four of the five different sections of falls on this side: The Devil's Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and Horseshoe Falls.

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe
Devil's Cataract

In Zambia, you can only see The Eastern Cataract. But here you can also cross the Knife-Edge Bridge, which leads to what feels like an island in the sky covered by rainforest. And the rainforest here exists entirely because of the spray from Victoria Falls.

Knife Edge Bridge at Victoria Falls
Headed towards the Knife-Edge Bridge

I can't really decide which side is “better,” since both are quite unique!

Warning: When going into the rainforest on either side of Victoria Falls, you WILL GET WET. Like, soaking wet. Bring a poncho and be sure to take care with your camera/phone. (Watch the video below to see what I mean!)

2. Fly above the smoke

Visiting Victoria Falls during peak flow can be fun (because when is splashing around in waterfall puddles NOT fun??), but you won't always get a clear view of the falls during this time because of all the roiling mist. To truly grasp the vastness of Victoria Falls, you really need to get up above it.

There are two options for flying above Victoria Falls: helicopter rides and microlights. Helicopters are always pretty cool, but in this case I firmly believe that the microlight is the way to go.

Microlight flight over Victoria Falls

If you've never seen a microlight before, it's basically a hang-glider with a small motor attached. You sit behind a pilot and there are no windows or screens or anything between you and the open air. It's absolutely exhilarating.

I did a 15-minute microlight flight over the falls with Batoka Sky and can highly recommend them.

Microlight flight over Victoria Falls

You can't possibly see Victoria Falls from a better angle.

3. Get your adrenaline pumping

Victoria Falls is also home to some seriously adventurous activities. For example, you can do a bungee jump over the Zambezi from the Victoria Falls Bridge (Zambia side), or do a gorge swing into one of the Zambezi gorges on the Zimbabwe side. There are also things like zip lines and canyon swings to be found, too.

Victoria Falls Bridge
Victoria Falls Bridge

The Vic Falls bungee is probably the most popular, but since I've been bungee jumping multiple times before, I opted for the gorge swing. It's operated by Wild Horizons at their Lookout Cafe, which is worth a visit for the views alone.

Batoka Gorge in Zimbabwe
View from the Lookout Cafe

The gorge swing is still hella scary, but it's notably cheaper than bungee jumping in Zambia. It was also featured a couple seasons ago on “The Amazing Race.”

Gorge swing in Zimbabwe
Dad doing a gorge swing!

(And if you're thinking of chickening out, let me point out that my 63-year-old dad did the gorge swing, too! That's a photo of him above!)

4. Have an adventure on the water

With the mighty Zambezi right at your doorstep, it's kind of obligatory to have a water-based adventure near Victoria Falls, too. White water rafting is especially popular here, and it can be super intense from what I've read.

The river was too high when I visited for rafting trips, so we went canoeing further down the Zambezi instead. What we assumed would be a relaxing float trip got really real really fast, though, when a hippo started chasing our line of canoes. Hippos are NO JOKE in Africa, and one look at our guide's terrified face as we paddled away made me realize just how deadly they can be.

Canoeing on the Zambezi River
Pre-hippo encounter

Thankfully, though, our canoe trip ended without any hippo chomping.

Bonus: Get into the falls

Lastly, if you're visiting Victoria Falls during the dry season, you might have the chance to go swimming IN the waterfall. Devil's Pool is a natural pool that forms at the top of Victoria Falls when the Zambezi is running low. You can jump into the pool and have nothing but a narrow rock lip of rock between you and the deadly tumbling water.

Zambezi River and Victoria Falls in Zambia

(This of course is very dangerous and is NOT for the faint of heart! Had I been there in dry season, though, I totally would have done it…)

Some things you SHOULD NOT DO near Victoria Falls include irresponsible wildlife encounters like walking with lions or riding elephants. These will be heavily advertised on both sides of the falls, and perhaps even recommended to you by your accommodation or tour guide. But please skip these. If you want to see wildlife in either Zambia or Zimbabwe, book a safari with a responsible company that allows you to see the animals in the wild.

Monkey at Victoria Falls

Essential info

Thinking of adding Victoria Falls to your travel list? Here's some of the essential info you'll need to know:

Visas

For most nationalities (including Americans, Australians, and Brits), you can obtain visas for Zambia and/or Zimbabwe at the border of each country. For a while there was a joint visa scheme called the Univisa that allowed easy crossing between the two countries, but this wasn't available when I was there in May/June 2016. Therefore it's important to know whether you need multiple-entry visas for each country, based on where you're staying and which activities you plan to do.

Where to stay

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

If you're staying on the Zimbabwe side, I can recommend the Bayete Guest Lodge. The lodge itself is comfortable, and the folks that run it are super sweet. You can also have dinner at the lodge every night, and I can tell you from experience that they whip up delicious home-cooked meals.

Bayete Guest Lodge in Victoria Falls
Bayete Guest Lodge

Or, if you really want to splurge, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is also on the Zimbabwe side of the border. This hotel is all luxury, and is somewhere I would love to stay in the future! (We did go for sunset drinks, where we watched a huge herd of elephants congregate around the lodge's watering hole – amazing!)

Livingstone, Zambia

On the Zambia side, you can check out the Zambezi Waterfront, which offers both fancy chalets along with camping facilities (this is where many overland companies stay). There's a nice bar/pool area right on the river, and the activity desk can help you book everything you could want to do.

Where to eat

I enjoyed Mama Africa in Victoria Falls town (Zimbabwe), as well as Cafe Zambezi in Livingstone (Zambia). A popular dining experience is the Boma dinner at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which includes a barbecue of African game meat, as well as singing, dancing, and drumming for entertainment.

Is Victoria Falls somewhere YOU would like to visit?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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31 Comments on “4 Things You Have to Do at Victoria Falls

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  1. Such an amazing adventure! Thank you for including the section about responsible wildlife tourism. That’s such an important piece that many tourists overlook when they travel. It’s great that you call it out with appropriate options as alternatives 🙂

      I didn’t actually do any wildlife tourism near Victoria Falls (because there were so many other awesome things to do!), but I saw the “walk with lions” and “elephant ride” signs everywhere, and it made me really sad. Thankfully no one in my tour group was even remotely interested in those activities – and I’m actually surprised that anyone is, considering the great safari experiences you can have nearby to see the animals in their natural habitats!

    For a long time Victoria Falls was our only bucket list item in Africa except for a safari. But now we have a long list which is just keep becoming longer so we have to do something about it sooner than later. 😀
    Love your pictures, Victoria Falls looks fascinating from every angle!

      It’s certainly one of the most iconic spots in Africa – but you’re right that there’s so much more to see and do; Africa is a huge continent, after all! But glad to hear Vic Falls still makes the list. 🙂

    Wow you did so many cool things! I visited the Victoria Falls last summer and it really is an amazing experience. We stayed in Zimbabwe and decided to forfeit seeing the Zambian side to skip the extra yellow fever vaccine but your photos of the Knife-Edge bridge have tempted me, might have to go back one day and see it from a different angle! And the microlite looks amazing too, almost wish we’d chosen that over the helicopter although I’m not sure my nerves would’ve held out! xx

      I actually thought we’d only be seeing the Falls from Zimbabwe, but I did two separate tours in Africa and both ended at Vic Falls – but on opposite sides of the border! It was definitely cool to experience both. (And the Knife-Edge Bridge is pretty awesome!)

      I’d love to go back in dry season, though, when you can swim in Devil’s Pool! That’s still on my bucket list. 🙂

    Sounds like an amazing adventure. I think if I was to see the Victoria Falls in person, I’d probably be overcome with awe at how huge it is. And I’d love to say that I’d have the guts to do the bungee jump\gorge swing but geez that’s terrifying! Good on you and your dad for going for it 🙂

      It really is awe-inspiring, especially if you see it at high-flow! And flying above it really did take my breath away.

      As for my dad… he’s such a badass! Haha.

    Looks like you had a very memorable trip. That’s so amazing that your dad got to do all that stuff with you! I’m too much of a scardey cat to try most adventure travel. Although the Devil’s Pool sounds really fun.

      I think the Devil’s Pool would actually be the scariest out of everything! (Though, being chased by a hippo was also way scarier than one would expect.)

    A great journey with beautiful photos. What a lovely rainbow that is!

      It was even cooler to see the rainbows over the falls from above!

    There is no way I could pull myself to do a micro flight or a gorge swing! Ah!

      The microlight was one of my favorite things I did in Africa! But I guess not ideal if you’re afraid of flying or heights…

    As you know I’m itching to visit the area next year – the falls are a big reason why! I’m not sure I would hang around in Devil’s Pool, but flying over the falls would be an awesome experience! I heard about people’s cameras breaking because they took them to the falls, thanks to your video I see why! It’s good to know that a waterproof camera is a must 🙂

      Oh yes, a waterproof camera is a definitely must if you plan to take it into the rainforest during high-flow time of year! I used my GoPro for all the video and a few photos so I didn’t have to worry about my “real” camera getting ruined.

    Victoria Falls is really high on my go to list. There is so much to do!
    How did you decide which side to stay on?
    Did you prefer one side to the other?

      I actually did two separate tours in Africa, and it just so happened that I ended up staying on a different side of the falls with each one! I can’t say I really liked one better than the other. Though if you absolutely don’t want to pay for a visa to enter both countries, I would probably say stay on the Zambia side. You don’t get to see as much of the falls from there, but the rainforest is cool and the microlights leave from that side. And since my microlight flight was my favorite thing I did at Vic Falls, I would say that’s a must!

    Logistics for a solo traveler departing from the east coast in the US? I don’t mind joining a Small tour group. I just don’t like big tours staying at chain hotels.

      There are quite a few options in Africa. I did an overland tour from Cape Town to Vic Falls with Acacia Africa, but that involves camping and no hotels. 🙂 You could also look into a small-group tour company like Intrepid Travel – they are one of my favorites!

    Victoria Falls certainly doesn’t look like it’s for the faint of heart. Also, great advice about keeping your phone and camera safe from water.

      It sure was roaring when I was there – but I know it gets much tamer once the Zambezi gets a little lower. It was so fun splashing around in the rainforest, though!

    Um, no to all of the above, LOL! I actually think sitting in the pool at the top would be the least scary and sounds best. Amazing falls, though, I can only imagine the sound!

      It really does thunder! And even if you aren’t into the adventure sports, it’s still amazing to see up close!

    I LOVE that your dad did the swing! Good for him! I, too, would freakin’ jump at the chance to do that!

      I was so surprised that he did it, and moreso that he was so nonchalant about it!

    This looks amazing, and so gorgeous! I would really love to see Victoria Falls someday, although I doubt I’d ever get Andy in the microlight. Your video was pretty cool, nice rainbow at the end. And I’m so impressed your dad did that gorge swing!

      It definitely deserves to be a natural wonder of the world! But yeah, the microlight (and gorge swing, for that matter) isn’t for anyone who’s afraid of heights!

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