Once known by local people as Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘the Smoke that Thunders’, Victoria Falls were brought to the attention of the world in 1855 by Dr David Livingstone, who later famously commented: ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’. The Falls are 1,688m wide and average just over 100m in height. Up to 750 million litres of water cascade over the lip every minute, making this one of the world’s greatest waterfalls.
The Falls never seem the same twice, so try to visit several times, under different light conditions – including by moonlight, when the waters seem to blend into one smooth mass that appears frozen over the rocks.
The flow, and hence the spray, is greatest just after the end of the rainy season – around March or April, depending upon the rains. It then decreases gradually until about December, when the rains in western Zambia will start to replenish the river. During low water, a light raincoat (available for rent on site) is very useful for wandering between the viewpoints on the Zimbabwean side, though it’s not necessary in Zambia. However, in high water a raincoat is largely ineffective as the spray blows all around and soaks you in seconds.
Activities around the Falls
• Aside from the lure of Victoria Falls themselves, there are numerous activities in the Livingstone area. Many visitors see little of the Zambian town itself, dividing their time between the Falls, about 20 minutes’ drive to the south, the adrenalin activities below the Falls, and the gentler stretches of the Zambezi River upstream, bordered by the tiny Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. But Livingstone boasts a diverse range of restaurants and a good craft market, while the town’s museum is worth more than a passing glance, especially for those with an interest in the travels of Dr David Livingstone.
• Adrenalin junkies are lured by the likes of bungee-jumping and white-water rafting, while more leisurely but no-less-thrilling are scenic flights by light aircraft, helicopter or even microlight over Victoria Falls itself.
• Upstream of the Falls, boat trips and canoe excursions offer the opportunity to get close to the wildlife that frequents both sides of the river. Elephant are regularly spotted on the riverbanks and the islands in the centre of the river, and you may well see white rhino here, too, while aerial entertainment comes from all manner of birds, among them swallows, kingfishers and African skimmers.
• Back on land, there are also walks and drives into the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, home to giraffe, zebra, buffalo and most of Zambia’s antelope species, as well as elephant and white rhino.
• For a special occasion, how about a champagne breakfast or afternoon tea on Livingstone Island (which is literally just above the Falls)? Or perhaps a ride back in time on a restored steam train, complete with a five-course dinner?