Tourists have two options when visiting Victoria Falls, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World: Zimbabwe or Zambia. The Falls straddle the border between the two countries, and the famous border is marked but the photogenic Victoria Falls Bridge!
Zimbabwe has historically been the tourist favorite, offering the best views of the Falls and the closest accommodations. In recent years, however, political turmoil and crazy-inflated currency have lead many tourists to visit the Falls from Zambia, rather than Zimbabwe. Dan and I decided to visit both sides and started our tour in Zimbabwe, and I much preferred to Zambia!
Old and new Zimbabwe ads! I just love travel ads!
The good news is that Zimbabwe is steadily returning as a tourist destination. The politics largely avoided Victoria Falls in an effort to keep tourist dollars flowing into the country, and Dan and I really saw no sign of it on our trip. The people were very friendly and we felt totally safe. The only lingering effect of the past troubles is Zimbabwe’s lack of currency. As of April 2015, Zimbabwe uses the US dollar.
Once in Zimbabwe, we proceeded right to our hotel – the famous Victoria Falls Hotel. The Victoria Falls Hotel is an old, historic hotel with a lot of class and history! It was quite expensive, but extremely nice and was within walking distance of the Falls, although most hotels in Victoria Falls are within walking distance… And it has warthogs on the lawn. PUMBA!!
After checking in, we took the path from our hotel to Victoria Falls. We got into the Falls easy enough for about $30 USD a person. Expensive, but I guess that is the going rate for a Wonder of the World! We did not have to show our passports to enter, but we did need to state our nationality.
In visiting the Falls from the Zimbabwe side, you take a foot path down to the Falls and then another path across to view the Falls in all their glory. The park is actually across the gorge from the Falls at equal height to the Falls, so you can really see the Falls! There are several view points along the path that offer great photo opportunities. When you enter, you receive a map that points out all of the view points by number. Follow the numbers to make sure that you do not miss anything. The views at either end are dramatically different! At the far end of the Falls, you can walk out on rocks very, very close to the edge of the gorge…definitely NOT for the height-sensitive! You can also see Livingstone Island and people in the Devil’s Pool (a natural pool on the edge of the Falls) from the park. They seemed so crazy…and then we decided to do it ourselves…still crazy. In addition to the Falls, there is a statute of Dr. Livingstone, who was the first European to discover the Falls, a small, outdoor restaurant and a decent gift shop.
We visited in April, which is the beginning of the wet season, and they are not kidding. We could barely see the Falls due to the massive water coming off them. It seemed like we were in a rain storm, which was actually pretty cool! Locals “rent” full length raincoats for $3. We rented, and they were totally worth it. Seriously, if you go in the wet season, ensure that you protect anything that cannot get wet, such as a camera or your passport. While it was wet, the power of Falls was really cool and certainly a sight to see!!
In either season, if you want a different view of the Falls, take a helicopter tour! While expensive, these tours offer amazing views of the Falls!! For a cheaper alternative, snag a widow seat on the flight from Johannesburg. That also offers excellent views!
Another cool aspect is the wildlife in the park! We saw springbok, baboons, and monkeys. It was really cool, and kind of terrifying how close they got! They come right up to you and will take grocery bags from you (they know they contain food).
On our first night, we ate at the Victoria Falls Hotel’s Dining Room, which is rumored to be one of the best restaurants in Zimbabwe. We were expecting sticker shock, since everything in Victoria Falls is expensive, but it was super reasonable. The 8 course tasting meal was $45 and the wine pairing was $30. This was an amazing dinner with excellent service. They also served the cheese plate of my dreams! The best deal in Victoria Falls!
On our second day in Zimbabwe, we returned to the Falls to take some more pictures and, on our way back to the hotel, stopped by the Lookout Cafe overlooking the Botoka Gorge, the gorge just beyond the falls. The view from here is stunning!! Contrary to the name, they do not serve food, only drinks! Crazy activities, such as crazy tall zip lining is available from the cafe. We stopped for a beer and the view.
In the evening, we took a Zambezi River Sunset Cruise! The Zambezi is the river running between Zambia and Zimbabwe that eventually turns into the Falls. A number of companies offer these tours in Zimbabwe (seemed like less offered it in Zambia) and you can book the day of. Basically, the tours start around 4 with hotel pick up and then you board the boat around 5 to sail down the river. Most all of the tours have an open bars, including Zambezis (the local beer) on the Zambezi!
Dan with hippos in the background!
The smoke looking cloud is actually water coming off the Falls!
More than the open bar, the boats go around and try to spot wildlife on the shores of the Zambezi. We saw hippos, three different groups of elephants, crocodiles and vultures. It was so cool to see these animals in the wild. It was even more special because we had not yet done our safari!
After our cruise, we were picked up by our pre-booked transfer and went back over to Zambia. Note – the border closes around 10:00 p.m. Make sure you confirm the border’s closing time to avoid getting stuck!
To sum up my experience, I really enjoyed Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe! I found the people to be nice, helpful and English-speaking. The town was very safe and there were always other tourists and police officers around. While it was very safe, watch out for nagging salesman! The will follow you relentlessly to try to sell you a figurine of the Big Five, a wooden bowl or something like that. While annoying, most all of these people left us alone when we gave a firm NO. Many of them also asked us to trade for our shoes or t-shirts…so if you have some extra lying around, take it and trade it for souvenirs. It seemed like many of the people could really use what we would consider old shoes and clothes. We will definitely do that when we return!
Steal Our Trip:
Victoria Falls Hotel – Its really easy to make reservations through Leading Hotels of the World
Victoria Falls Transfer – We went though Wild Horizons, which is a respected travel company in the area. If you want to do this, book ahead as it does take some coordination. If you plan to cross yourself, it looked do-able but to be somewhat of a hassle.
Americans need a Visa to enter Zimbabwe. It can be bought at the border. Instead of a single Visa, we purchased a Kaza VISA upon arrival in the Livingstone Airport in Zambia, which allows unlimited access between Zimbabwe and Zambia for 30 days for $50 USD and limited entry into Botswana for day trips (if you are doing Victoria Falls, read my post on the Kaza VISA!).