Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Cape Town – The southern part of Africa is known for its large variety of wildlife, plant-life and mesmerising landscapes.
A cherry on top is that countries in southern Africa boast sites that simply cannot be matched anywhere in the world. From viewing the Big Five in their natural habitats and getting the best of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, to unique cultural experiences and our very own New 7 Wonder of Nature, Table Mountain.
SEE: #7WondersDay: Putting SA's natural heritage on the map
But one of the region’s most prized experiences can be found along the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia – the mighty and majestic Victoria Falls.
Also known by its indigenous Tonga name, Mosi-oa-Tunya – meaning "The Smoke That Thunders" – the Falls is a World Heritage Site and one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. It has received this prestigious accolade for being the largest waterfall in the world, by combining the height (108m) and width (1.7km) to create the largest single sheet of flowing water.
Viewing the waterfall in its full might is nothing short of a spectacular experience. It is both overwhelming and cathartic to witness the power of the Zambezi River as it flows with full force, plunging 108 metres into the gorge below.
The plunge of falls at Devil's Cataract. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
And if you think that viewing this awe-inspiring waterfall is as romantic as what you’ve seen in pictures and as smooth as simply taking a casual stroll through the National Park to absorb its grandeur, think again!
During the peak rainy season expect the mist of the falls to rise to heights that not only block visibility of the falls, but create a spray that’s anything between a drizzle to a downpour.
SEE: #AfriTravel: 'Virtual city' boost planned for Zim
The falls can be enjoyed from both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides, and while both countries offer unique and equally breathtaking viewing spots and additional activities, tour operators Wild Horizons advises that the Zimbabwe side offers views of the falls throughout the year, while the Zambia side dries up during the non-rainy seasons.
To get the best viewing experience it is important to know when to go and what essentials to carry along. Here’s what you need to know when embarking on your first Victoria Falls adventure:
Entry to Victoria Falls costs US$20 (about R236 at R11.84) for South Africans – you have to carry your passport as proof of nationality – and US$30 for other foreign visitors.
Tour guides vs. self-exploration
It is advisable to go on your first tour with a registered tour operator such as Wild Horizons, who will detail interesting information about the history of the falls, viewing spots and give you tips along the way on what else to explore in and around the area.
'The top of Devil's Cataract' at Victoria Falls. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
The walking tour, which is weather permitting, takes about two hours with stops at 16 viewing points.
The minimum age requirement for the walk is 2-years-old and you can have any fitness level to complete the walk.
Each stop offers a view that is spectacular in its own right and the walk to the next stop gets more challenging as you near the end of the Falls, closer to the bridge that connects Zimbabwe with Zambia, as the mist and sprays intensify, making visibility poor as you get drenched in water.
According to Wild Horizons, April is the best time of year to visit Victoria Falls.
The full force of the Victoria Falls. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Traveller24 tip --> Whether you are using your phone or a camera to take photos, ensure that your electronic devices are well protected from water. Place them in zip-lock bags or make a protective covering using plastic bags that will allow you to use your device while being exposed to the mist and sprays of the waterfall.
SEE: Victoria Falls, from the Zambian side
What to wear and pack
Visitors to the Falls must wear comfortable attire that provides sun protection – cool cotton clothing, hats, sunglasses, hiking/running shoes. Wild Horizons suggests wearing warm clothing in cooler months, during April to August.
Be sure to carry a raincoat – or risk paying US$3 to rent a raincoat – also pack a bottle of water, sunscreen and mosquito repellent as it is a malaria zone. For additional comfort carry an extra set of socks/shoes/sandals in a water-proof bag if you do not plan on heading back to your hotel to freshen up after the walk.
Traveller24 tip --> While raincoats can be rented for US$3 each, it’s best to carry your own as some of these raincoats may be damaged or possibly all rented out. Also, an umbrella will be useful at the beginning of the walk but will not stop you from getting drenched by viewing point 12 or 13! It’s also best to pack all your belongings into a waterproof bag.
It's advisable to wear a raincoat. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Make the most of your trip to Victoria Falls by partaking in one of the adrenaline-fuelled activities on offer… if you dare!
Visitors have the option to bungee-jump from the Victoria Falls bridge, test out the gorge swing or zipline, take on the rapids during less rainy months with white water rafting, extend your hike or find a yoga spot – but keep an eye out for warthogs that stray the area.
SEE: #AfriTravel: Fastjet welcomes move to Zimbabwe Open Skies
From Zambia’s side of the falls you can also take a dip in Devil’s Pool – a natural pool on the edge of the waterfall, where swimmers can peer over the edge!
Alternatively, take a less-stressful train ride across the Victoria Falls bridge to Zambia where you can either enjoy lunch at an eatery on the border, or add more stamps to your passport and cross the border for the day.
Bungee-jump from Victoria Falls bridge. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
So, while Victoria Falls’ viewing spots can get wet, slippery, humid and even invisible at times during the height of the rainy season, witnessing this spectacular feat of nature in all its glory and might is an experience of a lifetime, that’s well worth getting a little drenched for!
*Disclaimer: Traveller24 content producer, Kavitha Pillay, was hosted by Africa Albida Tourism, Take Note Reputation Management and fastjet on this border-crossing break.