Where is Victoria Falls: Zimbabwe or Zambia?
As the mighty Zambezi River crashes over a basalt rock ledge and drops 354 feet or 108 metres down into a powerful whirlpool, it forms the largest sheet of falling water on the planet: the Victoria Falls. Traditionally known as Mosi-oa-Tunya (which, aptly, means ‘The Smoke that Thunders’), the falling water’s impressive roar can sometimes be heard from 25 miles or 40 kilometres away. On a wind-free day during high-water season, which runs from about February to July depending on the rain, a dazzling cloud of mist can float high above the Falls. This is truly a magnificent wonder of nature that every safari lover should experience at least once!
When choosing on which side of the Falls to stay, bear the following in mind:
- Iconic view of the main Falls
- Water flowing all year round
- Most hotels are within walking distance of the Falls
- Explore Victoria Falls Town and its markets for iconic soapstone sculptures
- A classic ‘tourist town’ with restaurants, bars and backpackers
- Exceptionally close-up waterfall viewing
- Swim in the Devil's Pool during low-water season
- Visit Livingstone Island when water levels permit
- Romantic riverside lodges and historic hotels with traditional high tea in the afternoon
- Go game viewing in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
- Livingstone is more of a ‘business town’ and home to the Livingstone Museum
The good news is, no matter which side you stay on, you can easily cross the border to explore the other or to undertake activities like white-water rafting, gorge swinging, bungee jumping, visiting Livingstone Island or having dinner on an old-fashioned train. Your Africa Safari Expert will make all the arrangements for the transfers and activities – just have your passport ready for the border crossing.
Is Victoria Falls the biggest waterfall in the world?
- Yes, with a combined width of 5 604ft / 1 708m and height of 354ft / 108m, it is the largest waterfall on Earth. The Angel Falls in Venezuela are higher but not wider.
- It’s 1.5 times wider than and double the height of Niagara Falls with, unlike Niagara, scenic national parks on either side.
When Scottish explorer, Dr David Livingstone first laid eyes on the Falls in 1855, little did he know that it would be confirmed as the world’s largest waterfall, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, and a World Heritage Site.
Little has changed since people discovered Mosi-oa-Tunya thousands of years ago – what you see now is the same astonishing view that awed Livingstone and everyone else lucky enough to see the Falls.
Quick facts about timing at Victoria Falls
- High-water season is from about February to July – expect the most spectacular views of the Falls and prepare to get a little wet.
- Low-water season is from about August to January – this is the best time for white-water rafting and swimming in Devil’s Pool.
- Peak safari season is from about June to October – a good time to combine a safari with a visit to Vic Falls. Bear in mind that the later you visit, the drier the Falls will be. The ‘sweet spot’ for a good safari and great views is generally about July and August, which is also a very popular time to visit. Reservations should be secured well in advance.
- During high-water season, more than 17 million cubic feet (481 386 cubic metres) of water fall over the edge every single minute – that’s almost 200 times more than an Olympic swimming pool or 12 000 pools in an hour!
Which side is the best at Victoria Falls: Zimbabwe or Zambia?
This depends entirely on your vacation wishes. Both sides offer magnificent views of the Falls, but it’s your accommodation preferences and choice of activities that might influence your decision.
If you want the best of both worlds, you can easily get across the border via Victoria Falls Bridge. All you’ll need is your passport and a double / multiple entry visa, which you can purchase at the border control (your guide or transfer agent generally expedites this for you). This means that if you’re staying on the Zambian side and want to view the Falls from the Zimbabwean side, you can do so comfortably on a day trip – and vice versa.
Which side has the best views?
Zim has the lion’s share of vantage points, as about three quarters of Vic Falls lie within the country. Take a stroll down Victoria Falls National Park’s footpaths, meandering through drizzling rainforest and out onto gorge-edge viewpoints where you’ll be greeted head-on by the glorious Main Falls – thundering down into the rocky chasm below, causing tremors in the ground beneath your feet.
Want to get really close to the cascades of water? Then head to the Zambia side of Vic Falls. Walk along the paved paths on the edge of the Falls and cross the heart-racing Knife-Edge Bridge during High Water Season – an exhilarating (and soaking!) walk along the edge of the precipice, about 100m / 328ft above the gorge.
During the low-water season, head down the footpath that leads to the Boiling Pot – a massive whirlpool at the base of the waterfall. Look up and marvel at the sheer magnitude of this natural wonder.
Is it safe to travel to Zimbabwe?
Although political changes put the country in the spotlight in 2017, Go2Africa’s safari partners in Zimbabwe – with whom we have long-established relationships – have assured us that it’s ‘business as usual’ in all the renowned national parks and important tourism destinations. The country depends on its parks for foreign exchange income and its citizens will not compromise this precious resource.
Zimbabwe is one of Southern Africa’s most satisfying big game safari destinations, delivering outstanding game viewing steered by some of the most respected guides in Africa.
When should I travel to Victoria Falls?
It might be the largest waterfall on earth and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, but it’s also the mild winters and hot summers that make Victoria Falls a popular year-round destination.
Our quick advice on when to visit Vic Falls:
- Best time to visit for best views: March to August.
- Best time to combine your Falls visit with a safari in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana or South Africa: July to September over peak safari season.
- Non-ideal time to visit only the Falls: October to November – Zambia side is usually completely dried up and it is very hot.
Like almost everything else in Africa, the spectacle at the Falls is entirely dependent on rainfall. When you choose to travel will have a massive impact on your experience at Vic Falls. It is a wonderful destination to visit year-round, but if there are specific sights and activities that you’d like to include in your Falls itinerary, keep these travel seasons in mind:
Rain may vary from year to year. Always ask your Africa Safari Expert about current and projected water levels for when you want to travel to avoid disappointment.
The rule of thumb is: any activity on the water is best when water levels are at their lowest, otherwise the current is too strong. Any activity on land or in the air is best when water levels are higher, so you can enjoy the most dramatic views.
Summer: November to March
- Average daytime temperature: 30°C / 86°F
Expect dramatic and short afternoon thunderstorms, hot and humid weather conditions, and spectacular sunsets. The Zambezi River is usually low during December, rising steadily as the rain water starts to arrive from the Angolan highlands. The rainy Green Season revitalises Southern Africa between December and April.
Winter: July to August
- Average daytime temperature: 25-28°C / 77-82°F
The moderate winter months in Southern Africa are sunny and dry, and a great time to combine your tour to Victoria Falls with a wildlife safari in the superb national parks of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana or South Africa.
TIP October is the hottest month of the year in Vic Falls (around 34°C / 93°F), and one of the very best months for safari. The animals don’t stray far from the little remaining water, but the Falls are at their very lowest and the Zambian side will the completely dry. Be sure to choose which is most important to you – game viewing or the Falls - if you’re travelling around this time.
Between February and July, the mighty Zambezi River is in full flood and the Falls are at its most thunderous – usually peaking between March and April. Dazzling clouds of mist can float 1 312ft (400m) above the Falls! Expect to get drenched by spray at most of the vantage points on the Zim and Zambia sides.
- The Zambezi River is fed by water that flows down from wetlands in northern Zambia on the border with the Angolan Highlands. As the early summer rains arrive in about November, so the current gains momentum and the water surges. This reaches a pinnacle between about February and May, when the Falls are at their heaviest.
- The height of the spray and width of the Falls will be at their maximum: both the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides will be at their fullest, and the noise can be deafening.
- If you choose to visit when the area is at its hottest and wettest, from about November to March, consult your doctor about adequate anti-malaria precautions.
- High-water levels mean the current is too fast for water-based activities like swimming in Devil’s Pool or rafting. This means that seeing the Falls in full flood is not the time to go if you want to partake in these activities.
TIP You can rent or buy a poncho or an umbrella at the Falls.
Best time for:
- Enjoying spectacular views
- Seeing the lunar rainbows of Vic Falls
The Falls’ lunar rainbows or ‘moonbows’ are rare atmospheric phenomena that occur when the bright glow of a perfect full moon reflects and refracts off the mist created by the waterfall. Niagara Falls also used to produce colourful lunar rainbows, but sadly the light pollution in the area has eliminated these beautiful occurrences.
The Zambezi’s water levels are low from August to January, and at its lowest from October until the rains start again.
- By mid-year, the current is slowing and the spray is not as high as the rains stop for winter.
- The water levels of the Falls visible on the Zambian side differ radically throughout the year – if you’re visiting at the end of the dry season in October, you’ll be left wondering what all the fuss is about as you gaze upon a mere trickle or even bare rock.
- Low-water season runs from about September or October to about January when levels drop over the dry winter. This overlaps with peak safari season, which runs from about August to October until spring rains arrive in about November.
Best time for:
- Excellent visibility of the Falls from Zim and Zambia sides – lower water levels mean less spray and mist. But during the end of the low-water season, you might be staring at bare rocks and a trickle of water over on the Zambian side.
- White-water rafting as the current is too strong for non-professionals at other times of the year.
- Zambezi River boat cruises – more animals come to drink as water dries up elsewhere
- A day-trip to Livingstone Island to swim in Devil’s Pool (again, the current is too powerful at other times of year).
The Devil's Pool
When can I swim in Devil’s Pool?
Devil’s Pool is probably the most extreme infinity pool in the world. This natural rock pool sits at the very edge of Victoria Falls, only accessible when water levels are at their lowest, from about August to December. Given that a slippery rock barrier and your guide are the only things stopping you from going over the Falls, taking a dip here can turn into quite an adrenalin-filled experience. Steady yourself on the precipice, peeping down the 328ft / 100m gorge of water thundering down to the misty abyss below.
How do I get to Devil’s Pool?
You’ll have to reserve a spot on the boat that leaves for Livingstone Island from the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia. It’s a short boat ride to the island – the location where David Livingstone first set eyes on the sublime waterfall and famously articulated his encounter as, ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels on their flight’. After a guided walk on Livingstone Island and enjoying the breath-taking views of the Falls, you’ll proceed to the edge of the Zambezi River where your guide will explain how to swim to Devil’s Pool safely.
The visit takes a half a day so bear this in mind when planning your itinerary, and lunch or high tea at the Royal Livingstone is all part of the fun.
TIP There is nothing infallible about sitting on the edge of one of the world’s highest waterfalls, so please listen to your expert guides who understand the water levels and currents. Also note that this is a popular activity so ask your Safari Expert to secure a booking for you.
Where to Stay
Which side has the best accommodation?
If you’re looking to stay within easy walking distance of the Falls, then Zim is a good option. There are lovely hotels and comfortable riverside lodges situated on the hills and the Zambezi’s riverbank, on the outskirts of Victoria Falls Town. Generally nestled in gorgeous lush gardens, these options offer you tranquillity and privacy.
We recommend the following accommodation on the Zimbabwean side:
Some of our favourite accommodation options on the Zambian side:
Top Experiences and Activities at Victoria Falls
The Falls plummet between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and both Victoria Falls Town in Zim and Livingstone in Zambia support well-organised tourist industries with plenty to see and do.
On the Zimbabwean side, you can:
- Interact with rehabilitated elephants at The Elephant Camp
- Meet Sylvester the orphaned cheetah
- Watch flocks of raptors being fed at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
- Enjoy a year-round view of the water
- Take a helicopter or microlight flip over the Falls
- Tour Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
On the Zambian side, you can:
- Bungee jump, swing off or tour the old bridge that spans the two countries
- Visit Livingstone Island for afternoon tea during low-water season
- Swim in the Devil’s Pool, a swirling eddy right on the edge of huge drop that is safe when water levels drop!
- Take on the exciting rapids via seasonal white-water rafting
Whichever side you choose (why not both?), it’s virtually impossible not to have fun in Vic Falls. ‘Day pass visas’ are fairly easily arranged: if your personal Safari Expert has booked activities for you, the driver-guide taking you to your activity will deal with all the arrangements at the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Ensure that you understand any visa requirements or fees and have all your documentation in order.
Other than the truly mind-blowing experience of taking a guided tour of the Falls, the surrounding area boasts a plethora of fun activities for all types of travellers:
1. Day-trips to Hwange National Park or Chobe National Park
Full day-trips to Chobe, Botswana’s elephant kingdom, are available from Vic Falls Town and Livingstone. You will have to go through border control, so don’t forget your passport. Once again, your Africa Safari Expert can make all the arrangements. Hwange, Zimbabwe’s biggest national park, is about 65mi / 104km from Vic Falls and famous for its vast numbers of buffalo and elephant herds. If you’re staying on the Zimbabwean side, then this is a very good Big 5 safari option.
2. Zambezi River sunset boat cruise
A lovely way to relax and savour the awe-inspiring beauty of Africa’s fourth-longest river. Expect to see ellies crossing the river, classic hippo ‘yawning’ shots (actually a show of force to patrol their territory), a tremendous number of birds (African fish eagles, terns and more), vervet monkeys, baboons, water monitors and massive crocodiles.
3. Scenic helicopter flight over the Falls
Known as the ‘Flight of Angels’, this thrilling flip over the waterfall is a definite bucket-list activity. This experience breathes life into the famous David Livingstone quote, ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’.
4. Meet orphaned elephants and a cheetah
Spend time with elephants at the Wild Horizons Elephant Sanctuary and Orphanage, a safe-haven for orphaned and injured ellies since 1992. You can also meet Sylvester, an orphaned cheetah who also lives at the sanctuary.
5. Fine dining on the Royal Livingstone Express
Dress up and head out to the steam train that takes fine dining to a new level. Enjoy a candlelit evening of fine food and wine, hand-cut crystal and polished silverware, while you chug through local villages and into the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park.
6. High tea at Victoria Falls Hotel
The ‘Grand old Lady of the Falls’ is renowned for this activity. Head to Stanley’s Terrace for the famous afternoon teas and scrumptious snacks served daily. A delightful setting with superb views of Victoria Falls Bridge enjoyed by the British royal family during their visit in 1947. The entire hotel was reserved for them and they visited the Falls twice during their stay.
7. Shop at the outdoor market in Vic Falls Town
Get a taste of local life and a chance to shop at colourful markets in this bustling tourist centre. Hand-made jewellery and soapstone animals are among the favourite products on sale here.
8. Bungee jump from 364ft / 111m
There’s a good reason why Vic Falls is known as the ‘Adventure Capital of Africa’. Jump through the mist and into two different countries from one spot!
9. Micro-light flight over Vic Falls
Desire something a little more exhilarating than a helicopter? Take off on a tandem micro-light flight and soar above the Falls, enjoying uninhibited views of the gorges below.
10. White-water rafting
Known as the wildest white-water in the world, a rafting adventure on the Zambezi River is an adrenaline rush not to be missed. During low-water season, rafting is best between August and September. Rafting during high-water season usually runs from January to July, but the river will be closed if the levels are too high and dangerous. Although some stretches are classed at a high-octane Grade 5, there are long stretches of pleasant calm and you will always be with a knowledgeable and experienced guide.
11. The longest zipline in the world
Zip at a tremendous speed across a 1 394ft (425m) gorge – while suspended 393ft / 120m above the beautiful Zambezi.
12. Gorge swing
Imagine a giant swing, 393ft / 120m above the water. Now imagine free falling almost 230ft (70m) before you even start swinging.
13. Visit Livingstone Islands and Devil’s Pool
Travel to an island right on the lip of the chasm where David Livingstone first gazed at the beauty and magnitude of Mosi-oa-Tunya. And take a dip in the most extreme plunge pool in the world.
14. Visit a vulture ‘restaurant’
Raptors like vultures are among the most important birds in Africa – by eating carrion, they prevent the spread of the devastating anthrax disease. At Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, you can witness hundreds of birds flying in to feast on the fresh meat put out for them.
15. Walk under the famous railway bridge
The bridge that connects Zimbabwe and Zambia is a stunning feat of Victorian engineering and is used daily by all sorts of traffic. For something different, get harnessed up and walk under the bridge, high above Batoka Gorge.
Can I combine a safari with Victoria Falls?
Absolutely! In fact, we’d recommend combining your visit with a wildlife safari, as Vic Falls is so close to many outstanding Big 5 destinations and is a travel hub for the region.
Great safari parks to combine with your visit to Victoria Falls include:
- Hwange and Mana Pools in Zimbabwe
- Kafue and Lower Zambezi in Zambia
- Chobe National Park in Botswana
- Kruger National Park in South Africa (there is a very convenient direct flight)
There are daily flights from South Africa’s international airports to Livingstone Airport (LVI) in Zambia and Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) in Zim. A road transfer from VFA to Vic Falls Town will take you about 20 minutes. The transfer from LVI to your accommodation can be between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on which lodge or hotel you’re staying at.
Dealing with Street Vendors and Market Sellers
Zimbabweans are born story-tellers and Victoria Falls Town has numerous young men who will ask you to buy their wooden, metal or stone artefacts. If you find the experience overwhelming or frustrating, here are some things to consider:
- Zimbabwe’s economy is very fragile and unemployment is still very high. These men have no other way of making a living to support themselves and their families and so turn to vending rather than to crime.
- If you are sure you have no intention of buying anything, don’t visit the Open Market or stop at the stalls outside the entrance to the Falls. Remember, you may be asked for cash in return for photographing someone and his wares (always ask permission before photographing people up-close).
- Be polite – these men already live in difficult circumstances and being treated rudely or abruptly is another small humiliation for them.
- But be firm – explain honestly that you have no intention of buying more or tell them exactly what you’re looking for if it is something specific.
- Africans appreciate people who say ‘hello’ before asking questions or demanding a price. It is best to say, ‘Hello, how are you?’, listen to the answer before getting into the business of negotiating a price. Simply saying, ‘How much?’ is considered impolite.
- Be fair: is it worth haggling over USD5 or USD10 which means a lot to someone living in Zimbabwe? The traders know what you’ve paid for your holiday and that your camera may be worth more than they make in several months. Be generous and gracious rather than parsimonious when discussing prices
- An ‘umbrella price’ is the cost of buying several items: the more you buy, the lower the cost per item will be.
- At the Open Market, start at the back of the row as these traders have the least footfall and make the least sales. They will be hugely welcoming and appreciative.
- Be wary of buying non-sustainable timber or hardwoods – deforestation and habitat destruction are realities in Africa. Every felled woodland tree is one less place for a leopard to find shelter.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep like promising to return later, buy a significant amount or find someone a job.
- Enjoy the experience: despite their tough circumstances, most Zimbabweans are friendly and know that they rely on tourists for their livelihoods. The vendors may be persistent but if you keep walking they’ll very soon cut their losses and quietly move on.
- US dollars are universally accepted but South African rands, euros and pounds sterling are also welcome. Zimbabwean dollars are worthless and not accepted anywhere so don’t bother to buy any of the local currency.
- Street traders are happy to swap items of value – like razor blades, clean clothes, pens, shoes and toiletries – for their wares. If you’re flying directly home, consider getting a bag of items together, even if it’s just to donate to a trader. This also frees up space in your baggage for all those gifts!