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Tremendous Victoria Falls spans ZAMBIA & ZIMBABWE

My first trip to Africa culminated with thunderous Victoria Falls — the world’s largest sheet of falling water — visited from March 3–6, 2024 in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Visitors should see the Falls viewpoints in BOTH countries’ national parks — easily strolled on paved paths in 1.5 to 3 miles, respectively. Highlights include Zambia’s thrilling Knife Point Island Bridge, Livingstone Island tour and vistas down the length of the gorge; and Zimbabwe’s stunning viewpoints for the Eastern Cataract, Main Falls, and Devil’s Cataract. Great wildlife-viewing abounds in this region. Upstream of the Falls, worthwhile Zambezi River dinner cruises depart from both Livingstone and Victoria Falls towns. Discover falls rainbow photography tips and when to go.

In Africa from February 4–March 7, 2024, we tackled two 6-day safaris, trekked two volcanos at 15,000 feet elevation, and explored Victoria Falls, as revealed in three articles: ■ TANZANIA ■ KENYA ■ VICTORIA FALLS (this article): ZAMBIA’s Mosi-oa-Tunya NP , ZIMBABWE’s Victoria Falls NP , Map, When to visit , Photography tips


Above: Devil’s Cataract plunges into Batoka Gorge during sunrise in Victoria Falls National Park, Zimbabwe (2024 March 5th at 6:30 am). Images in this article are favorites gleaned from Tom’s PhotoShelter portfolio for Victoria Falls. The images were shot on a 37-ounce Sony RX10 IV (Amazon) with versatile 25x zoom lens.

Overview

Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall, based on its combined width of 5,604 feet and height of 354 feet. Although it’s not the widest, nor highest, nor biggest-flow-rate falls, it has the world’s biggest curtain of falling water. Victoria Falls is twice the height of North America’s Niagara Falls and much wider. The Zambezi River plummets from a dry savanna plateau into Batoka Gorge, a lush, palm-packed ravine that forms a natural international border. Although three-fourths of Victoria Falls’ width lies within Zambia’s border, one must visit the viewpoints in BOTH Zimbabwe and Zambia to experience its entirety. From Zambia’s national park paths, I could see up to about 60% of the falls (all of Eastern Cataract and Rainbow Falls, most of Horseshoe Falls receding into the mist; but none of Main Falls or Devil’s Cataract). From Zimbabwe’s national park paths, I could see 75% of Victoria Falls, including four of the named cataract streams plus part of the Eastern Cataract. Although heavy mist can periodically obscure some views, the Falls is most spectacular from February to May, after the region’s summer rains. Other reasons can make the other seasons attractive.

Mosi-oa-Tunya is the poetic local Sotho word for “The Smoke That Thunders” — referring to the towering mist and roar. Around 1,000 years after the Sotho arrived, Victoria Falls was renamed in 1855 for Queen Victoria of Britain by the first outsider to see them, the great explorer Dr. David Livingstone — a Scottish Missionary, African explorer, and anti-slavery hero of Victorian England. The UNESCO World Heritage Site honoring Victoria Falls includes Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls National Park plus the riverine strip of Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park.

The Falls can only be seen from

  • footpaths within two National Parks in Zambia and Zimbabwe (with entrance fees)
  • above by helicopter or micro-light
  • below via jetboat (a narrow view)
  • Victoria Falls Bridge (a narrow view)
  • Livingstone Island and the Devil’s Pool — reached only from within Zambia, seasonally, via boat tours run by a single official tour company (giving partial views of the falls from above, thrillingly perched on the precarious edge)

Reminding me of sunny tropical communities near this latitude in Northern Australia, the resort towns of Livingstone and Victoria Falls appeared relatively clean and safe (with much less litter and poverty visible than seen in most cities and highways of Tanzania and Kenya). Outside of the rich enclaves is a different story. Since 2008, Zimbabwe has been suffering an economic crisis including hyperinflation, increased poverty levels, and political instability. None of those issues were overtly visible during our four-day visit, except heard through a taxi driver’s complaints and news reports. In Zambia and Zimbabwe, frequent droughts have been destabilizing the economy, especially in 2024. Nevertheless, the flow of Victoria Falls in early March looked spectacular, fed by runoff from distant highlands.

Republic of Zambia

Known as Northern Rhodesia from 1911 to 1964, Zambia became independent of the United Kingdom in 1964. It’s had a multi-party democratic system since 1990. The country is racially and ethnically diverse, with 73 distinct ethnic groups — Bemba 34%, Nyanja 18%, Tonga 17%, and more. 95% are Christian. English is the official language and lingua franca to help bind the speakers of the 20+ languages that can’t understand each other.

MONEY: For both Zambia and Zimbabwe, bring small US$1, $5, and $10 bills for shuttles, taxi rides, tips to hotel staff, and souvenirs. Crisp new-looking US bills are well-trusted here. After arrival, don’t get the local Zambian currency, unless staying more than a week. Pay in US dollars using exact amounts (done as a group to preserve your small bills), to avoid getting local change, which Zambia legally requires to be given in the local Zambian Kwacha and Ngwee currency (where 100 Ngwee is equal to K 1), useless in other countries.

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Livingstone, Zambia

We flew from Nairobi to Livingstone Airport (LVI) and taxied to our hotel for check-in. Then we taxied to arrive in late afternoon just in time for amazing rainbows in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (entry US$20 cash or credit in 2024, pay again if reentering).

The charming town of Livingstone offers a variety of comforts from bargain to luxury. The value-priced Okavango Lodge in Livingstone furnished adequate air conditioning, good breakfast, and well-worn furnishings, albeit good enough. Around the corner was good food with slow service at Zest Bar & Restaurant Livingstone. On the next block we bought snacks and drinks at a big modern grocery, Shoprite Mosi o Tunya. The Livingstone Museum was rather dated but still helpfully revealed interesting aspects of Zambia’s natural and political history. 


From Boiling Pot Viewpoint on the Zambezi River, see the turbulent outflow from Victoria Falls in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Livingstone, Zambia. Victoria Falls Bridge crosses in the background. Although it’s only 0.6 miles round trip, hot afternoon air 90+ degrees F. and high humidity made the 300-foot climb out of the Boiling Pot trail a sweaty effort. Pole pole, take your time. The basalt plateau of Victoria Falls was formed during the Jurassic period, around 200 million years ago.


A semicircular rainbow shines in late afternoon over the Eastern Cataract of Victoria Falls and the must-see Knife Point Island & Bridge in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Livingstone, Zambia.


From Knife Point Island Bridge, see an intense semicircular rainbow in late afternoon over the Eastern Cataract of Victoria Falls.


Above: An easy path in Zambia led to this late-afternoon view of the top of Victoria Falls where the Zambezi River plunges into the Eastern Cataract, shown below:

We slept one night in Livingstone. After visiting the Livingstone Museum in the morning then having lunch, we taxied to Zambia’s border control (immediately east of Victoria Falls Bridge), got our passports stamped for exiting, reentered the same taxi, drove across the bridge to Zimbabwe’s border control, got our passports stamped for entry, then boarded a Zimbabwean taxi that was called by the first driver…

Republic of Zimbabwe

was formerly British Southern Rhodesia and since 1980 is an independent republic, albeit politically repressive and authoritarian. The country has 16 official languages, where 78% speak Shona, 20% Ndebele, and so forth. English is the lingua franca tying citizens together.

Just a 22-minute walk on sidewalks to the Falls, the Shearwater Explorers Village has luxurious rooms, responsive service, and excellent food! Wherever you stay, your hotel can easily arrange a dinner cruise, taxi, or airport shuttle.

6:00am entry perfectly caught sunrise at Devil’s Cataract (shown at the top of this article, in early March) at Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls National Park (US$50 per entry for international tourists).


From Zimbabwe’s easternmost viewpoint for Victoria Falls, see Armchair Falls and some of the Eastern Cataract extending into distant mist in Zambia. The cliff to the right is Zambia’s Gorilla Head ViewPoint.


A double rainbow arcs over the Falls around 8:30 am in early March at Zimbabwe’s easternmost viewpoint, in Victoria Falls National Park.


In this panorama at the western end of Batoka Gorge, Devil’s Cataract (left) is separated from the rest of Victoria Falls by Boaruka Island, also known as Cataract Island. Devil’s Cataract is the lowest of the five falls, with a drop of 197 feet.


A rainbow shines across Devil’s Cataract in Victoria Falls National Park (around 9:30 am in early March).


Departing from either country, see diverse wildlife from a sunset dinner cruise on the Zambezi River (mostly through Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park). Through our hotel, I requested the newly-refurbished Zambezi Breeze boat run from the Pure Africa Waterfront, on the outskirts of Victoria Falls town, in Zimbabwe.


Seeing a hippo is likely on your sunset dinner cruise on the Zambezi River.

With its name derived from the ancient Greek for “river horse,” the hippopotamus is a large semiaquatic mammal native to sub-Saharan Africa, inhabiting rivers, lakes, and mangrove swamps. It’s is the third largest land mammal, after after elephants and rhinoceroses. Despite their physical resemblance to pigs and other terrestrial even-toed ungulates, the closest living relatives of the hippopotamids are cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises, etc.), from which they diverged in evolution about 55 million years ago. Hippos have barrel-shaped torsos, wide-opening mouths with large canine tusks, nearly hairless bodies, pillar-like legs, and large size — 3,300-pound average adult bulls and 2,900-pound cows. A hippo can match the speed of a human on land, but only for short distances. They are much more dangerous in water. Territorial bulls each preside over a stretch of water and a group of five to thirty cows and calves. Mating and birth both occur in the water. During the day, hippos remain cool by staying in water or mud, emerging at dusk to graze on grasses. While hippos rest near each other in the water, grazing is a solitary activity and hippos typically do not display territorial behavior on land. Hippos are among the world’s most dangerous animals due unpredictable aggression. They are threatened by habitat loss and poaching for their meat and ivory (canine teeth).

Map

From Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, we flew to Zambia’s Livingstone Airport (LVI / Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport), spent one pleasant night in Livingstone, taxied into Zimbabwe for two nights in Victoria Falls town, then flew out of Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) to South Africa’s Cape Town, then onwards to Atlanta and San Francisco. For most tourists, visas are easiest obtained upon arrival for Zambia and Zimbabwe.

By using two airports — arriving at LVI and exiting 3 days later at VFA — we efficiently crossed the border just one way, via taxi across Victoria Falls Bridge, which separates the two countries’ customs stations (1 mile apart). Crossing the border more than once can take slightly more time and money — for double- or multiple-entry visas (which should be decided in advance). Upon arrival in either country, show passport, proof of onward flights and lodging address. Below, Google Maps shows our route:

When to visit Victoria Falls

  • Victoria Falls is most spectacular February–May (peaking in March–April), after the region’s summer rains. Even during the 2024 drought, the sight was amazing in early March. In the past during highest flow season, mists could totally obscure the thunderous falls.
  • After May, the Zambezi waters recede during dry winter season. As water volume decreases, visibility increases due to less spray, while the drama decreases.
  • In October–November, the falls often dry up on the Zambia side, yet may generate enough mist for some rainbows on the Zimbabwe side. Although the upstream green season starts in late November, rainwater fallen in the Angolan Highlands requires time to navigate a series of massive gorges before reaching the falls.
  • June–February: Zambezi River offers some of the world’s best whitewater rafting. Note that rafting may close due to dangerously high waters in March, April, and May. December often has the best whitewater levels for rafting.
  • In December when the river is lowest, the falls are least dramatic and still mostly dry on the Zambian side. With summer rains starting, fuller and greener vegetation hides wildlife, except birding is excellent, with full colorful plumage and many migratory species present.
  • January is mid-summer in Victoria Falls — hot (average daytime max 31°C/88°F) with afternoon thundershowers, the wettest month of the year — typically with rising river levels sufficient to raise mist.

Photography tips for Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe & Zambia

  • In the areas of heaviest spray from the roaring falls, expect a soaking mist to be blasted up, down, and all around. Luckily, clothes can dry quickly once out of the mist. But non-waterproof cameras can be destroyed.
  • Use a waterproof smartphone or protect your larger camera in a plastic bag.
  • I found a poncho most useful for photography. A raincoat is useful but a bit too hot during daytime in the steamy tropics. An umbrella (available to rent at entrances) is useful if you have a patient assistant holding it while you take pictures.
  • For a larger camera, bring a plastic bag and lens cap for protection when not shooting. Keep an absorbent cloth in a waterproof bag available to wipe the lens and camera. You can cut a lens-sized hole in a plastic bag, attach with rubber band to the lens, and use the flip-out LCD for shooting at arms’ length. Use a camera bag, double-bagged.
  • Sunset photos are best taken from Zambia looking into the sun down the full length of the Falls, near the exit gate, enabling you to stay as late as possible and then dash out. Sunset shots in Zimbabwe have to be taken from Danger Point, furthest from the exit gate, 25+ minutes walk, but gates strictly close at 6:00pm.
  • Sunrise photos: From October–February, sunrise is before the gates open to Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls National Park. At any time of year, arrive a few minutes before opening time (6:00am in March 2024), pay to enter (cash is quickest; bring US $50 per adult), then walk quickly to where the sun lines up as desired. In spring and fall, go west (left) to the Devil’s Cataract area viewpoints looking down the length of the gorge to capture the sunrise or low-angle sun shining through the mist. In early March at 6:30 am, I captured the sunrise shot shown at the top of this article. However, in summer, go straight to the gorge and turn right to find viewpoints observing the sun rising above Main Falls.
  • Rainbow spotting: In mornings or afternoons (usually excluding 11:00 am–1:00 pm), put your back to the sun to look for rainbows in the sunlit mist. Rainbows shine best here during sunny afternoons between 2:00-5pm when you look east into brightly sunlit mist. During mid mornings from 8:00-10:30 am, rainbows can appear in sunlit spray to the west. Imagine a line drawn from the sun through your head to your head’s shadow on the ground. Look up at a 42° angle from that line to draw a cone or circle in the sunlit mist, to anticipate a rainbow’s position.

To see a primary rainbow from a viewpoint on level ground, the sun must be less than 42° above the horizon — when your shadow is longer than your height (morning or afternoon). Looking down into a deep canyon’s mist can increase that viewing angle and move visibility closer to noon. For more than an hour before and after noon at the latitude of Victoria Falls, the horizon or ground normally blocks a primary rainbow’s visibility in the distance, unless you get higher, as in a helicopter, or are looking down into a deep canyon. In fact, at any time of day, you can observe a full circular rainbow in a cloud of water droplets created by a garden hose sprayer while viewing from on a ladder in direct sunlight. From a helicopter in Kauai in sunlit rain showers, I’ve seen full circular rainbows, though lacked the necessary 16 to 18mm super wide lens to capture them in one shot. The high helicopter routes allowed above Victoria Falls will most likely see only partial rainbow arcs in the falls mist. Primary rainbows occur when direct sunlight refracts into suspended water droplets, bounces (reflects) twice, then refracts back out to your eyes, making a 138° turn (42° less than 180°). Secondary (double) rainbows bounce three times inside the drops, are dimmer, and appear at a 51° angle to the sun-to-head line — encircling outside of the primary rainbow. Calculate the sun’s position in any season anywhere (or Moon etc.) at Photoephemeris.com.

3 thoughts on “Tremendous Victoria Falls spans ZAMBIA & ZIMBABWE”

  1. It good to here from both you guys.Otherwise,the concern by the Zambian is very true.Lets not allow individuals to market our product.Minister of Tourism in Zambia should take it up.Can anyone advertise on behalf of Zambia…NO! Any less with permission from relevant authorities.Zambia for Zambians.

  2. As much as we appreciate the marketing part of the Victoria falls, some information is not correct and that is why we need only Zambian guides to guide on the Zambian side to give clients correct information, just like they do in Zimbabwe but we lack enforcement. For instance the 75% should be the other way round. This looks trivial but has an impact on the client’s decision making on where to go. The falls must be properly explained on how it sits between the 2 countries and we cannot trust Zimbabwe to do that for us. If this client was not guided it’s sad that she is misleading the world and gone back with her ignorance.Good for Zimbabwe though. Zambia needs to enforce the guiding in Zambia by Zambians and its sad that the tourism leadership and other authorities are not seeing the damage and Loss of revenue with the current state of affairs. Please note that we cannot also relay on multi national companies which have vested interest in both countries. Their interest is in the site and not it’s location but it’s location is of interest to the clients.So multi national companies lose nothing either way hence their marketing won’t talk about those specifications especially in the source markets. They do not market countries but regions. Finally, bloggers market and sell for who sponsors them. This is what Zambia needs to learn. Some of us have demanded for it over and over and thank God ZATEX is back this year because Tourism shows and Fam trips are the Apex of tourism marketing. So let us host bloggers too. Lastly, we need to change the name of this show for a Zambian local name.and also change the motto. Let us be original, Zambian and African.

    1. Livingstone Island is Zambia hence you can not visit or access the devil’s pool from Zimbabwe.
    2. The sailing off of the boat are on the river banks of both Livingstone town and Victoria falls towns not villages.
    3. You can see the 70 percent of the falls gorge stretch from the eastern cataract from the Zambian side and only about 30 percent from the devil’s cataract.

    The Victoria falls is 1.7 Km from the eastern cataract in Zambia to the devil’s cataract in Zimbabwe. 1.3 Km is in Zambia, however, Zimbabwe are so fortunate to have a protruding a piece of land that offers it the view of the Zambian falls.
    Finally, the Zambezi river bed is deeper on the Zimbabwean side which is the border line and therefore the reason why that section has more water rather called the main falls.
    Zambia offers many several view points back and forth including the knife edge bridge and below from the boiling point.

    1. Based on your feedback and my own observations about Victoria Falls, I clarified this article as follows:
      – “Although three-fourths of Victoria Falls’ width lies within Zambia’s border, one must visit the viewpoints in BOTH Zimbabwe and Zambia to experience its entirety. From Zambia’s national park paths, I could see up to about 60% of the falls. From Zimbabwe’s national park paths, I could see about 75% of the falls… Upstream of the Falls, worthwhile Zambezi River dinner cruises depart from both Livingstone and Victoria Falls towns.”
      – Livingstone Island and the Devil’s Pool are reached only from within Zambia, seasonally, via boat tours…

      I enjoyed how easily the Falls parks were visited without a guide, for our group of four extended-family members. As an independent blogger and photographer, I’m not sponsored, other than some modest income from licensing my photography, plus Amazon Affiliate sales (an amount equal to which I give to environmental causes). – Tom D.

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