Welcome to Victoria Falls! Known as Mosi – oa – Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders) to the locals, Vic Falls forms the natural border between Zambia & Zimbabwe. It is the largest waterfall in the world based on its impressive width of 1708 metres and height of 108 metres. While neither the tallest (Venezuela’s Angel Falls) or widest (Iguassu), it is the most voluminous and is twice the height and width of Niagara’s horseshoe falls.
Scottish explorer David Livingstone was the first European to see the falls and live to tell about it. He made his discovery from an island in the Zambezi (later named Livingstone Island) in 1855 and named it after his queen. The mighty Zambezi River feeds the falls which cascades into a series of gorges that provide the most intense white water rafting experience on the planet (the most intense rapids I’ve ever experienced – we had to get out and walk around the Class 6 rapids as they’re lethal). Adventure seekers have plenty of extreme options to view the falls. The Victoria Fall’s Bridge is an iconic launch point for bungee jumpers, micro gliders and canyon swingers.
A visit to the Devil’s Pool gives you the chance to literally immerse yourself in the Falls and take in the view from the top. The Pool only exposes itself during the dry season and visits must be booked in advance. The Pool is accessible only from Livingstone Island which is leased out by the Tongabezi Resort. This was a must do bucket list adventure for us! We took a boat from the Royal Livingstone Hotel to Livingstone Island. Once on the island, we walked as far as we could along a partially submerged rocky path until the Zambezi swallowed it up. At that point we waded into the river and then had to swim the final 20 metres against a powerful current to reach the pool.
There are roped buoys in place at the lip of the Falls to keep you from going over, but you still have to make the physically challenging swim to get there (there’s no shortcut…either fight through the current or you never get to get in the pool). Once you’re in, there are rocks you can hold onto while you gaze across the stunning rainbow infused chasm of the falls. You have the option of going right to the edge of the Falls and looking over. There are no buoys here to save you, but there is a barely submerged lip that creates the planet’s ultimate infinite pool. As long as you stay low and stay braced to the wall you’re ok.
The Guides are crazy awesome! You give them your camera and they walk along the lip of the falls and take pictures for you. We had one guide hold our feet while we dangled over the falls while the other guide snapped away with photos and video. After our “swim” we went back to Livingstone Island for a morning brekkie prepared by the wonderful staff.
If you’re not an extreme sports enthusiast, the Falls still has plenty to offer. You can get brilliant pictures from the Victoria Falls National Park that only requires a short 20-minute walk to the best vantage points (bring a water resistant camera because you will get wet). The Royal Livingstone Express train makes daily departures around Livingstone and is a great way to gain insight into the region’s colonial heritage. There is a vibrant market outside of the national park that sells handmade crafts from local Zambians. We picked up amazing souvenirs from talented artists that we will always cherish (a hand woven tapestry of a Zambia Rhino is our favorite).
Speaking of Rhinos, there is abundant wildlife near the Falls. The hippos and crocs that habitate the river usually stay upstream so they don’t risk sweeping over, but there are some exotic land rovers. We took a Rhino Walk at the nearby Mosi – oa – Tunya park. We were escorted by a guide and a ranger. The armed ranger carried an AK-47 rifle on the walk. We quickly discovered that in addition to the occasional arrest or shoot out with poachers, the noise from the rifle could save your life from a buffalo charge (Buffaloes are referred to as the “black death” due to their aggressiveness and propensity to charge without any warning). In the event of a buffalo attack, the ranger would shoot straight up in the air and hopefully scare the buffalo away (usually works with rhinos as well, but buffaloes are the most dangerous threat). There are only nine white Rhinos in all of Zambia and seven were at this park. We were extremely fortunate to spot five of these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. We got as close as 10 metres away to a group of three sisters and almost as near to a dominant male (they named him Louis) and an adolescent that was following him around. There was a severe drought at the time and we felt for the poor Rhinos whose favorite watering holes had dried up. It was a surreal experience that we will never forget – it really makes you appreciate nature and question how anyone could hunt or kill these amazing animals.
Getting to Victoria Falls was always a dream and we’re ecstatic we made the journey! Getting there from the states required a 16-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg and then another two-hour flight from Jo-burg to Livingstone, Zambia. (We had to choose between Zambia & Zimbabwe, but heard Zambia was safer and we have no regrets.) The wet season (Jan-July ) is the best time to see the falls at its mightiest. The dry season is your only chance to get in the falls by rafting or attempting the Devil’s Pool. It was the trip of a lifetime and hopefully one day we’ll be able to share it with our little girl.