24 Nov How to make the most of Victoria Falls
In 2019 approximately 1 million people from all over the world made a pilgrimage to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The majority of them seriously regret spending only 2 nights and will be making the journey again. They never realised how much more there is to do and see.
What is the main attraction?
The prime reason people flock to the vibrant town of Victoria Falls is to see for themselves one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The 1.7km long Victoria Falls ‘discovered’ by Dr. David Livingstone in 1855. Of course, the local Batonga people knew they were there long before Dr Livingstone’s arrival, they’re hard to miss!
The locals call the falls “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning “The smoke that thunders.” But, only after Livingstone’s arrival, were they studied in greater detail. That’s how today we know that they are approximately 108m high and that up to 500 million litres of water tumble over the falls per minute in the peak rainfall season1.
The falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, roughly twice the height of Niagara Falls in Canada and about 500m longer, they are considered the largest in the world taking all dimensions and water volume into account.
BUT… there is so much MORE to see and do on the doorstep of the falls.
The falls are the gateway to treasures largely undiscovered: gorgeous lodges with distinct and unique interactive safaris combining both river and reserve.
Victoria Falls & the Zambezi National Park offer a myriad of activities, from river cruises, traditional game drives, safari walks, steam train trips with high tea, to canoeing on the mighty Zambezi. Not to forget the extreme sports and adventures that attract both the young and young at heart.
The Zambezi National Park is a hidden gem only recently recognised and valued as a destination in its own right. This is where the astute traveller gains maximum value appreciating the wild beauty of this incredible area and the warm welcome of Zimbabwean hospitality. Zambezi National Park together with the Victoria Falls National Park covers 56 000 hectares of spectacular scenery on the banks of the vast Zambezi River.
Game drives and bush walks offer diverse wildlife sightings including elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, sable antelope, eland, waterbuck, hyenas, lions, leopards and even wild dogs. Baboons are also frequently seen, a fascinating, intelligent species with humanlike social interactions.
What makes it a safari on steroids for me though, is the magnificent river and the fact that you can utilise it. I am spoilt in terms of safari, having lived in the Kruger National Park for 30 years, but I get a special thrill every time I enter the Zambezi National Park and even more so when I cross the water by barge to the breath-taking Chundu Island. The freedom of getting out onto the water in a wildlife reserve is a rare privilege.
A few hours fishing from a boat, or canoeing down the river can be both exciting and sublimely peaceful. Then add an element of sparkle and romance to your safari by indulging in drinks and snacks on a sundowner cruise enveloped in the magical sunset reflected from the river below.
Birding is second to none. There is an abundance of birds, roughly 470 species, that you can see in the Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks area. This includes some rarities, such as African Skimmer, African Finfoot, Rock Pratincole, Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-Backed Night Heron and the endemic Schalow’s Turaco.
Yes, trees. Chundu Island, my home away from home, has taught me to love trees. The 1.4km island boasts huge riverine trees. Here you dine under the canopy of a massive Ana tree (Faidherbia albida). There are baobabs (aka upside down trees) growing on the island and… palm trees! It would take a lot to beat lying at the swimming pool above a squeaky clean white sand beach and shimmering river with the rustle of palm fronds whispering in the breeze.
The stunning lodges in the Zambezi National Park all offer the opportunity to experience local culture in amazing settings. Local delicacies are offered such as Nembwe bream, crocodile steaks, sadza (a ground maize dish similar to the US grits or South African Pap) and Mupunga Unedovi (a surprisingly delicious peanut butter rice dish). All of which can be washed down with a Zambezi Lager or the refreshing Mazoe, a sweet-tart orange drink manufactured locally. A variety of more cosmopolitan dishes and wines are also available.
A little pamper
Did I mention you can indulge in a massage too? Yes, you can have a massage at home, but not in the warmth of the African sun on the banks of a rippling river with birdsong in the background.
There is only one quadripoint in the world. A place where the borders of 4 countries meet. This is just 75km from Victoria Falls at Kazangula, and makes Victoria Falls the perfect base for exploring Africa. It is just a hop and a jump from Zimbabwe, to Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. Goway’s article by Melanie Tucker https://blog.goway.com/globetrotting/visiting-four-corners-africa/ provides an interesting insight into this special place and the opportunities it presents.
Where to stay?
I would recommend spending a night or two in town. Or, even better, just 7kms outside of town at Masuwe Lodge on the edge of the Chamabonda National Park, a cool, calm refuge you can escape to when the street buzz gets too much. From there you can visit the falls and even view them from above in a helicopter or micro light. You can choose to enjoy a boma dinner and drumming session in town or even a dinner cruise on the river. If extreme sports are your thing, you can test your metal then cool off in the lodge’s glitter stone pool in the heat of the day. There’s no need to hire a car, the lodge provides regular transfers to and from town.
Once you’ve viewed the falls and had some fun in town, I suggest you maximise your travels exploring the Zambezi National Park and the mighty Zambezi River. There are a number of newly built lodges in a variety of styles, from chic and modern to historically charming in the park. Read what Cedarberg Travel has to say about this Cinderella’s coming of age and the new developments here https://www.cedarberg-travel.com/introducing-zambezi-national-park/
I admit that I’m biased, but from the first time I set foot on the surreal haven of Chundu Island I was smitten. I’ve had the privilege of visiting many times in the course of my work and its enchantment captivates me every time. Whether I stay for a week or a month, I always leave with a sense of longing.
I would suggest spending at least 3 nights to participate in the many activities on offer and enjoy the leisurely pace of charmed island living.
So, how long SHOULD you plan to stay?
Imagine travelling all the way to Japan to see Mount Fuji. But failing to experience a Japanese tea ceremony, eat sushi or teppanyaki, checkout a Sumo wrestling match, take a slow ride in a rickshaw or a fast one on the bullet train.
The money spent on your flight wouldn’t be wasted, but it sure as heck wouldn’t have given you bang for your buck!
Times and perceptions are changing. People want to see more. Do more. Immerse themselves in local culture and experience what their host country has to offer. And, believe me, Zimbabwe has plenty.
You can’t do it all in one day – a 2 night stay.
The truth is, only you will be able to work out how long is right for you to stay at Victoria Falls. All I can tell you is a paltry 2 nights, only 1 full day and a quick tick off the bucket list is definitely not enough!
I suggest you plan everything you want to see, do and experience. Allocate a half day for each activity and make sure you build in time to relax, wind down and enjoy the natural beauty and local hospitality. Plan the end of your trip in a beautiful place where you have the option to participate in activities, but also the option to take it easy and absorb everything you’ve seen and done so that you leave feeling refreshed and relaxed and not tired out by too strenuous a schedule, you are after all on holiday.
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of travelling all that way for any less than 4 nights.