Few natural wonders draws so heavily on the imagination and on myth as Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site! “The most wonderful sight I had seen in Africa,” Dr. Livingstone said.
Victoria Falls is the name the British explorer Livingstone gave the falls to honour his queen. But its local name is Mosi-o-tunya: The smoke, that thunders! Many things surprised me about the falls, but the lack of water was completely unexpected.
A NATURAL WONDER
One thing, that surprised me is the rainforest along the falls. Never heard of it before. But because of the constant mist in the air from the fall, a small area nearby is constantly wet. Even in the dry season, there is mist hanging in the air, which is delightfully refreshing in the otherwise very warm weather.
The rainforest is very small, but still has a lot of animals. You’ll find baboons and monkeys – especially around the toilets – and we also saw bushbucks. Look out for snakes, but don’t panic, since they are more afraid of you… Unfortunately, I didn’t see one, since i love snakes. They are so soft and strong.
Victoria Falls – or Mosi-o-tunya is the world longest waterfall measuring an impressive 1.6 km wide and 128 meters high. That’s twice the size of Niagara! It’s like the earth has a giant rip and this carved line marks the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
But surprise! Almost no water. But I guess, then you can really see the extend of the rip. I had heard and read so much about the smoke and that you can see the spray far away. But arriving in the city, we couldn’t see anything. Maybe we are just to far away or looking at the wrong angle?
No. There was no spray or thunder as we discovered.
November is a great time to visit Zimbabwe due to the weather and the safari, but it also has some downside as you can see from the images. At least if you want to visit the world famous fall. Because in November in the end of the dry season, it can be extremely dry.
I know, it’s almost sad. Yes, it was definitely dry season in November, and I was a little disappointed, since a large part of the fall was not really a waterfall, but more a canyon. Not at all what I imagined, when I planned the trip. Maybe it was unusually dry, but I hadn’t even considered the possibility.
On the other hand, trying to look on the bright side (as if). I heard several travellers’ accounts of it being almost impossible to see because of the spray, when the falls are filled with water. I can imagine it, since we could hardly could see the fall of Gullfoss in Iceland due to the massive amount of water, when we visited (as you can see here). So I guess, it’s always and never a good time.
No, you know what? I’d rather see to much water than none at a waterfall. Let’s leave the canyons to be canyons.
But we did find some water. It was mainly The Devil’s Cataract and the beginning of the falls, that had water, and I guess I have to settle with that… (swearing)
As in one of the images, you can see rainbows and sometimes, when it’s full moon: a lunar rainbow – a moonbow! I was actually visiting, while it was a full moon, but with so little water, I did NOT by the extra ticket for that.
The peak of Victoria Falls is around mid-April, but that might be too much water. Allegedly, in the wet season, the spray from Victoria Falls can rise 400 m above the falls and be seen from up to 48 km away.
Travellers looking for action can find a few activities by the falls. I’m not really that adventurous but this was the chance of a lifetime. River rafting, helicopter flyover, swim in Devil’s pool near the edge and even more tours since more and more tourists are visiting. Ask your hotel or look for the agencies in town.
The natural infinity pool (Devil’s Pool) people always are photographed in is on the Zambian side. I was not taking my 8 year old there…
I took a zipline across the river just below the falls. You can see in the image above the two wires going across. The platform is on the left. It was just me and another guy, and we were pretty nervous even though I have tried it before. But once, you take off it’s really not bad.
My son took a video, and its horrible. No GoPro here! Your relatives can panic from the Wild Horizons Lookout Café. There are many other activities near the falls, like bungee jump from the bridge – check your hostel or the offices in town. We also went on a Zambezi cruise, but that will be a different post.
DR. LIVINGSTONE, I PRESUME
You know what’s the connection between me and Livingstone? We both visited in November. November 17 1855 to be precise. Dr. David Livingstone was in 1855 transported in a canoe to the falls, where he “discovered” the roaring cascades and named them after Queen Victoria. But he doesn’t mention the lack of water!
He wrote: “On the left side of the island we have a good view of the mass of water… as it leaps quite clear of the rock, and forms a thick unbroken fleece all the way to the bottom. Its whiteness gave the idea of snow, a sight I had not seen for many a day.”
Near the falls, you’ll find a statue of him marking this event.
You can stay at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel built by the British in 1904. It was originally conceived as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway. It was the infamous Cecil Rhodes, who was involved. Rhodes was insistent, that the bridge should be built in a place, that the spray from the falls would fall on the passing trains, which is why the site was chosen just a little below the Boiling Pot – very close to the falls.
The best view is from Stanley’s Terrace. It’s extremely expensive, so we just had a drink. The hotel didn’t accept credit cards for our drinks (?), so we had to sit there counting our cents among the über-rich. And not watch the spray…
EAT & SLEEP IN VICTORIA FALLS
Victoria Falls is a small town, but due to the immense number of tourists (and surely even more now), there’s a lot more to choose form than in the rest of Zimbabwe.
In Victoria Falls, there are many places to stay and many more hotels than any where else in Zimbabwe. There are hotels and hostel in all ranges, and even if I could have afforded it, I was glad we didn’t stay at Victoria Falls Hotel. I was luxurious, but something was just off with the very British upper-class vibe and people in high heels in the middle of Africa.
Instead, we opted for a chalet at Victoria Falls Rest Camp & Lodges. It was very close to the falls, they helped me with the zip line and the pool and restaurant was great. The pool was also visited by Zimbabweans, which made it a little crowded. The biggest problem was that the hut was sooo warm, that I almost didn’t sleep, and had to get up and shower during the night.
A TRAVEL MOMENT I’LL NEVER FORGET
My son played with a local boy in the pool. His family was sitting at the table next to us drinking beer, and after a few exchanges of politeness, the father asked me: “Where are you from?”. “From Denmark,” I replied. “Did you own slaves?” he asked.
Now, I work with historical events, so I know we did. But I have to admit, I paused. I felt guilty and at the same time not. “Yes, I finally said.” But quickly added: “But not as many as the British and the Dutch.” He looked at me with a thoughtful and serious look.
In retrospect, I should just have said yes. Denmark was the 7th largest nations of slave traders.
HOW TO GET TO THE FALLS
If you’re visiting from Zimbabwe, you can take the bus from Harare to the Zimbabwean city of Vic Falls. It takes about 12 hours, but it’s very comfortable. It just the amount of time it takes to hear “Out of Africa” by Danish author Karen Blixen on audio book. We took the luxury bus Pathfinder, and it stopped very close to every hotel and hostel. (Update 2019: heard the Pathfinder buses have changed schedules and routes)
You can also visit the falls from the Zambian side. But we stayed in Zim. Me, my husband and our 8 year old son were visiting friends in the capital Harare, and we used it as an opportunity for a month long backpacking trip through Zimbabwe.
As a conclusion: don’t visit in the dry season. I mean how often do you pass by? But a memorable experience it was.
For more inspiration on Zimbabwean adventures head for destination Zimbabwe.
Have you seen the falls with water?