Share this page

Close

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE? TELL OTHERS

Holiday Finder

Close
  • Contact Us
  • Enquire Now

Search our Blog

Archives

Zimbabwe or Zambia? Choosing Sides at Victoria Falls

The first time I visited Victoria Falls I was eight years old. We put on raincoats in the bright Zimbabwean sunshine then wandered into an Enchanted Forest filled with a low rumble and fine drizzle. I’d been excited about seeing this big waterfall but had never imagined something so powerful it could surround me with sound and soak me with its rainbow-lit spray – it was magical!

I’ve been back several times since, and standing in front of the falls in full flood is just as thrilling now as it was 30 years ago. But while the falls themselves haven’t changed, the fortunes of the neighbouring countries have and with that a shift in emphasis from one side of the Zambezi River to the other. So whereas Zimbabwe used to be the only choice for a Victoria Falls holiday, on my most recent trip I opted for a small river’s-edge lodge in Zambia.

So which side is best, Zimbabwe or Zambia?

Here’s what you need to know to help you make the right choice: 

Which side of the falls? The Royal Livingstone
Hotels on both sides put you within easy walking distance of this iconic waterfall (pictured here: The Royal Livingstone).

The View: Main Falls vs Knife-Edge

About three quarters of Victoria Falls lies within Zimbabwe, and it has the lion’s share of viewpoints too. Visit Victoria Falls National Park and wander the well laid out footpaths through dripping rainforest and out onto a cliff face-on to the tumbling Main Falls, the ground below your feet trembling as the mighty Zambezi River plunges 93m into the rocky chasm below.

To get exceptionally close to the cascades of water, however, you need to visit the Zambian side of the falls. Feel your heart race during the drenching crossing of the Knife-Edge Bridge or, if there’s less water, take the steep footpath down to the Boiling Pot – a huge whirlpool at the base of the falls. You can also stand upstream and watch the river rush over the edge.

Whether you choose to stay in Zimbabwe or Zambia, the minor hassle of a border crossing is more than rewarded by a visit to both sides of the falls. 

Which side of the Falls? Guided walk
Zambia: the steps leading down to the Knife-Edge Bridge - be prepared to get soaked!

Time of Travel: Soaking Spray vs Devil’s Pool

When you choose to travel will have a huge impact on your Victoria Falls experience. Yes, you’ll get drenched by spray during the peak flow months of February to May, but visit the Zambian side of the falls in October or November (the end of the dry season) and you may find yourself staring at a wall of rock wondering what all the fuss is about.

If you do visit during the dry season you can still view the ever-flowing Main Falls in Zimbabwe, then hop across to Zambia to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool. Off limits during the rainy season, this rock pool is safe for swimming when the water flow is low as a natural ledge (and your guide) stops you from tumbling over the edge as you peep into the churning chasm below. 

Which side of the Falls? At full flood
Zimbabwe: the Main Falls still flowing during the dry season.
Which side of the Falls? Low Season
Zambia: not much to see during the dry season.
Which side of the Falls? Swimming in the Devil's Pool
Zambia: swim in the Devil's Pool when water levels are low ...
Which side of the falls? Livingstone Island
Zambia: or go on a trip to Livingstone Island.

Accommodation: Market Town vs Riverside Retreats

The Zimbabwe side of the river has a good choice of accommodation within easy walking distance of the falls. These hotels lie on the hills and riverbank on the outskirts of Victoria Falls Town which, while no longer the bustling tourist centre that it used to be, still gives you a taste of local life and the chance to shop colourful markets packed with wooden carvings and soapstone animals of all shapes and sizes.

Top places to stay in Zimbabwe include the colonial-style Victoria Falls Hotel, a “Grand Old Lady” a short stroll from the falls, or if you’d prefer the experience of staying in a luxurious tented safari camp then I’d recommend The Elephant Camp which is set in a private game concession.

For accommodation right at the water’s edge a bit away from the buzz of the falls, Zambia is your best bet. There are two hotels with private footpaths down to the Zambian side of the falls - including The Royal Livingstone with its neat lawns grazed by zebra - but the rest of the lodges lie further upstream, their romantic cottages opening up onto views of the great Zambezi River.

Fantastic picks here include tucked-away Tongabezi Lodge, its open-fronted thatched chalets letting you to lie in bed and gaze out at the water, or the luxurious tented suites at Toka Leya which have outdoor showers and large private decks right on the river. 

Which side of the Falls? The Victoria Falls Hotel
Zimbabwe: the Victoria Falls Hotel, a mere 10-minute stroll via a private footpath down to the falls.
Which side of the Falls? Toka Leya
Zambia: Tongabezi has romantic open-fronted cottages overlooking the Zambezi River.

Game Viewing: Adding on a Safari

If you want to include a few game drives on your Victoria Falls holiday, you can easily do that in Zambia’s Mosi-oa-TunyaNational Park. There are no big cats at Mosi, but you can expect to see herds of elephant, giraffe, buffalo and zebra, as well as pods of hippo and crocodiles basking on sunny riverbanks. There’s also the opportunity to track black rhino on foot – a thrilling experience!

However when all is said and done, the game viewing at Mosi-oa-Tunya can’t really compare to wildlife-packed Chobe, which is an easy daytrip from either the Zimbabwe or the Zambian side of the falls. Or you might want to continue from Victoria Falls to the Zambian parks of the South Luangwa and peaceful Lower Zambezi or maybe stay in Zimbabwe and visit Hwange or go on an adventurous river safari in Mana Pools.

Which side of the Falls? Game drives in Mosi Oa Tunya National Park
Zambia: game drive in Mosi-Oa-Tunya.
Which side of the falls? Chobe game viewing
Or take a trip to nearby Chobe (Botswana).

So in summary when deciding between the Zimbabwean and the Zambian sides of the falls, the main things you need to consider are: the time of year you plan on visiting, the style of accommodation you prefer, what else you want to do while you’re there.

Zimbabwe

  • Iconic view of the Main Falls
  • Water flowing all year round
  • Most hotels within walking distance of the falls
  • Explore the town and its markets
  • Other parks: Hwange and Mana Pools

 

Zambia

  • Exceptionally close-up waterfall viewing
  • Swim in the Devil's Pool (dry season)
  • Romantic riverside lodges
  • Go game viewing in Mosi-Oa-Tunya
  • Other parks: South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi
  • Read more about Things to Do in Zambia: Our Top 5 Picks

 

Written by Sandra Mallinson. Connect with her on Google+.

comments powered by Disqus