Blog WHS Visits

WHS #701: Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is an easy add-on to a Botswana trip because of its proximity to Kasane, the starting-point or endpoint of most safari tours through the country. From Kasane I was swiftly delivered in about an hour to Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe. I saw the smoke and heard the thunder already the day before I visited the Falls itself – at the Ilalla Lodge where I was staying there is a constant noise as if there was an airport nearby. But it is that huge waterfall making itself heard 24x7. 

My 'official' visit to the Falls started on the Zimbabwean side. I walked there in less than 10 minutes, that is how close they are to the town of Victoria Falls. Here you walk down a path with 19 vantage points. You hike for a bit, then you make a small detour to a lookout point and then you continue on the original path. Due to the large amount of water falling down and the spray that creates, it was especially hard to see anything in the central part of the Falls. The best photos can be taken from the side, at viewpoint #2 for example. At viewpoint #12, it gets really wet.

On the following day I did a 'breakfast cruise' on the Zambezi river. There has been little rain this year and the Zambezi - although still very wide - is not exactly a roaring river. We navigated to approximately 2 km from the Falls. The guide stated that even if the engine of the boat failed, we would not fall off the Falls: the last few hundred meters are so full of rocks that the river is no longer navigable.

We saw many hippos in the water and that naturally raises the question whether they ever fall over the edge. The answer is Yes ... they are not swimmers but walkers on the river bottom, and if the water is too high then it sometimes goes wrong. Last year, when the water was very high, even 5 elephants came tumbling down the Falls. Usually they can move from island to island through the water, but at that time they were captured by the current.

I got a third look at the falls when I crossed the border from Zimbabwe to Zambia. I decided to walk across it - first about 10 minutes to the Zimbabwean border post and then some 2km more to the border post on the other side. In the meantime you walk over the impressive Victoria Falls bridge, constructed in 1905 as a railway bridge. I found that the best view of the entire width of the falls was from the center of the bridge.

Finally, a day later, I also visited the Zambian side of the falls. It makes a somewhat less organized impression than the Zimbabwean side. There are various hiking trails that you can follow. You will also get wet here: the 40-meter-long Knife Edge Bridge was completely immersed in splashing water. I hiked the so-called Photography path which runs along the edge of the protected area, with views especially of the Victoria Falls bridge and the deep gorges. Somewhere there I found a family of bush hyraxes who were warming up in the morning sun. The path continues all the way beyond the border crossing (there is a fence in between, so you cannot leave the country like this).

The site sees half a million visitors a year, but it wasn’t busy at all when I went. I was there at 8 am at both sides – good for the Zambian side, somewhat later in the day (between 2 and 4 pm I was told) is better for the Zimbabwean side as you will look into the sun earlier. See more practical tips here for visiting. I also discovered a few more connections: there is a cenotaph at the Zambian side (remembering WWI) and Victoria Falls is part of the Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossoms programme.

Els - 9 June 2019

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