Destination: Victoria Falls

Apr 18th, 2013 Africa, Destinations

The untamed, exotic landscape of Africa calls both romantics and adventurers. Flowing savannas, shifting sands, great rivers, rolling hills and captivating baobab trees provide the incredible concentration of wildlife. Join us as we explore Zimbabwe, Victoria Falbackdrop for an ls and the unparalleled thrills of safaris.

TravelSmith thanks Global Sojourns for their invaluable help in preparing this Inside Track. Visit Global Sojourns when you’re ready to plan the travel adventure of a lifetime.

Victoria Falls & Livingstone – Take Flight over the Falls

Victoria Fall from the Air

One of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Victoria Falls spans the Zimbabwe (Zim) and Zambia (Zam) border, which is marked by the mighty Zambezi River. The remarkable gridiron Victoria Falls Bridge connects the two countries and provides stunning views of the falls. Pathways and overlooks provide nature lovers with up-close opportunities to admire the falls and the flora. Bungee jumping, a bridge swing, zip-lining and whitewater rafting keep adventurers busy. Bridge tours and sunset cruises are also available, but helicopter tours are the best way to see these magnificent waterfalls. Offering fantastic views from above, the 13-minute and 25-minute flights provide unequaled photo opportunities. On the Zambian side, you can also try microlighting—flying in a miniature aircraft. With room for only the pilot and one passenger, these small planes have an open cockpit that guarantees an unforgettable thrill. Choose a morning flight for the best weather.

Victoria Falls – A Lunar Pot of Gold

Victoria Falls Rainbow

In addition to its cascading water plumes, Victoria Falls provides further natural wonder with its dazzling rainbows. These colorful marvels stretch across the plumes and walking paths in a grand array of shapes and sizes (some even form a perfect circle). But these divine splendors don’t just glimmer by day. Those who visit during the three days surrounding the full moon from April to July are treated to moonbows—lunar rainbows caused by the moon glowing through the spray of the falls. Since Victoria Falls is one of the only places in the world to see moonbows, it’s worth the effort to time your trip around this phenomenon. The park stays open late during this three-day period. Take a flashlight and go with a guide who will take you through the rainforest to witness this amazing spectacle. Wear raingear to stay dry—check out our large selection of travel raincoats, and boots, umbrellas and ponchos.

Victoria Falls (Zim) & Livingstone (Zam) – Happy Hour in Africa

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

In southern Africa, it’s customary to have a drink at sunset, known locally as a “sundowner.” Watch the brilliant sun sink into the vast horizon with either a nice South African wine or a classic gin and tonic. Even if you aren’t staying at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge (on the Zimbabwe side of the falls), you can have a drink there. Set on a high plateau facing westward, this luxury lodge has unimpeded views of the bush. The Buffalo Bar features a game-viewing platform that overlooks a waterhole so you can watch native elephants, water buffalo and kudu have their own sundowners. You may just be enticed to stay for dinner at the lovely open-sided MaKuwa-Kuwa restaurant. The Royal Livingstone (on the Zambian side) is another great option for sundowners. Head out to the Sundeck to enjoy five-star views of the nearby falls.

Victoria Falls (Zim) – Colonial High Tea & Cocktails

Rinnpon Lea house & Gardens

The area’s colonial grand dame, the Victoria Falls Hotel evokes early 20th-century Africa in all its glory. Featuring magnificent views from the terrace, the hotel serves a variety of refreshments and libations. Tea is served between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. It’s open to the public and does not require reservations. Nibble on finger sandwiches, buttered scones and sweet delights from the amazing cake-stand tower while gazing at the railway bridge and mist of the falls. For a post-tea stroll, take the private hotel path to the entrance gate of the falls—just 10 minutes away. On the way back, why not have a cocktail at the hotel bar? Or come back again for a meal? The contemporary seven-course tasting menu at the Livingstone Room restaurant is a fantastic value in a grand setting that shouldn’t be missed.

Victoria Falls (Zim) – Experience the Bush without Venturing Far from Civilization

Zambezi

Most tented camps and lodges are located 20–30 minutes from the falls, farther along the Zambezi River on the Zambian side. If you don’t want to leave creature comforts too far behind, lodges offer more enclosed structures than the camps and come with amenities similar to resorts. Built in 2012 inside the nearby Zambezi National Park, the eco-friendly Zambezi Crescent – Victoria Falls River Lodge offers luxury tented chalets with sophisticated décor, tubs, indoor/outdoor showers, living areas and private decks overlooking the river. Guests have access to fine riverside dining, a swimming pool, a tree-house observation deck and kids’ activities, while onsite game drives and private bush walks provide adventure. Experience the romance of Africa on guided sunset river cruises that return at twilight. All this is just a 10-minute drive from town. If you’re concerned the proximity may interfere with a real wildlife experience, fear not. Since the lodge isn’t fenced, don’t be surprised to find elephants grazing right at your doorstep. Sit by a roaring fire at night and listen to the distant calls of hippos and hyenas.

Victoria Falls (Zim) & Livingstone (Zam) – Dine Out Instead of In

If you eat every meal at your hotel, you’ll miss out on some of the great local restaurants on both sides of the falls:

  • The Boma (Victoria Falls): This restaurant is definitely touristy, but it’s also a lot of fun. A grand buffet of African specialties like crocodile, kudu, zebra and deep-fried mopane worms (a staple in rural areas) accompanied by drumming and dancing make this a worthwhile experience.
  • In Da Belly (Victoria Falls): Named after a native tribe called the Ndebele, this casual locale is nothing fancy—in fact, it’s in a campsite—but it offers good food for the best value, right in the center of town. Under a thatched roof overlooking a pool, you can dine on warthog schnitzel, impala, crocodile, vegetarian fare or fish and chips. You can also enjoy an old-fashioned burger and a beer. Relax and enjoy the occasional drumming and dancing at dinner.
  • Zigzag Coffee House (Livingstone): As part of a B&B, Zigzag knows how to do breakfasts. They brew fresh espresso, cappuccino and good coffee—a local rarity—from real Zambian beans. They also prepare healthy lunches and dinners at reasonable prices. Drop in for a meal or a decent cup of joe on the way to/from Victoria Falls.

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Livingstone – Travel Back in Time

There’s more to Victoria Falls than just seeing waterfalls. Take a ride on the Royal Livingstone Express Dinner Train to relive the romantic yesteryear of rail travel. After a red-carpet welcome, the classic steam train departs the Livingstone station and journeys through Dambwa, a high-density neighborhood, where smiling children run alongside the tracks waving and shouting. Continuing through the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, the train offers occasional views of warthogs, elephants, baboons, impala, giraffes, water buffalo and rhinos. Stand on the veranda viewing deck in the observation car and sip on a sundowner, or relax in the comfort of a plush, air-conditioned lounge car. Later, you’ll enjoy a five-course meal on fine china. Gazing out on the African bush and the immense skies, you’ll know it doesn’t get much better than this.

Livingstone Island, Zambia – The Devil’s Armchair

Situated directly in the crest of colossal Victoria Falls, Livingstone Island is a landform marvel perched atop a 338-foot drop. You can visit this tiny island by motorboat when the Zambezi River water levels are safe (usually July to early March). Stand in shallow water inches from the falls’ edge or swim in Devil’s Pool, just a few feet from where the water gushes over the lip of the falls. Visitors can lean over the rim confidently, thanks to a natural rock wall that prevents them from being swept over the falls. To get there, use a reputable company with responsible guides (ask for suggestions at your hotel or lodge). Excursions to the island are limited to 60 people a day, 16 at a time. Guided tours come with breakfast, a picnic lunch or afternoon tea. Water levels dictate when it’s safe to swim in Devil’s Pool—usually from the end of August to December. In the winter months (June to August), wear warmer clothing for cold, windy conditions.

Hwange National Park – Camping on the African Plains

Hwange

Getting out into the bush to experience the wilds of Africa is one of the world’s finest travel experiences, but it doesn’t mean you have to rough it. Tented camps come with lounges, dining areas and private “tents” outfitted with stylish furnishings, beds, running water and toilets. Although perhaps less glamorous than others, Davison’s Camp shines as a no-nonsense classic. Located in a plum wildlife area in a secluded corner of Hwange National Park south of Victoria Falls, Davison’s treats its guests to a first-rate safari experience. Nine tents are nicely appointed and well spaced, while a warm and highly attentive staff caters to your every need. Gaze out from your porch on an oasis filled with elephants, baboons and zebras feeding at the waterhole, and experience a thrill when one of the animals wanders right up to your tent. Expert guides will lead you out into the grasslands on guided walks or in open 4×4 vehicles to track antelope, baboons, wild dogs, giraffes, wildebeests, cheetahs, lions and their cubs. In the evenings, retire with other guests to a fabulous dinner to recount your adventures by candlelight. Learn to identify southern constellations around the firepit and listen to the calls of the wild under the wide African sky.

Mana Pools National Park – Explore by Foot or Canoe

Kariba

One of the least developed national parks in Southern Africa, Mana Pools at the far north of Zimbabwe is known for walking and canoe safaris. During Africa’s winter (June to August), it’s home to the highest concentration of game on the continent. Massive herds of buffalo and elephants come to find water at the end of the dry season (August to October) along the banks of the Zambezi. You’ll also spot impala, lions and hyenas, not to mention crocs and hippos. Take a four-day walking excursion with Garth Thompson, one of Africa’s best-known guides and stay in camps like Ruckomechi and Chikwenya. You can also paddle a canoe down the Zambezi River on the Mana Canoe Trail to get even closer to the herds. Glide past grunting hippos, grazing impalas and twittering birds. Break for lunch and a nap, or a guided walk. After a glorious sunset and dinner at your camp, retire to your tent in a very unique safari setting.

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Offered by a myriad of operators, canoe safaris last anywhere from 3–10 days and cover different stretches of the Zambezi River, from Kariba Dam downstream past Mana Pools to Kanyemba near the Mozambique border. These adventures range from basic camping to high-end tents with cots and mattresses.

Lake Kariba – Thatched Roof Living on a Big 5 Crossing

Those in search of life outside the tourist strongholds can head northeast from Victoria Falls along the Zambezi River to Lake Kariba. This massive manmade lake stretches 140 miles along the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, its dam providing hydroelectric power for both countries. Popular for sport fishing and houseboat rentals, it also borders Matusadona National Park, domain of the African Big Five: elephant, lion, leopard, water buffalo and the endangered black rhino. Hippos, warthogs and crocs also call the area home. Accessible only by motorboat, the small family-run Rhino Safari Camp is a remote gem edging the lake. Get away from it all in one of seven stilted thatched-roof huts. Without electricity, you can commune with nature in open-air showers and open-sided rooms lit only by kerosene lamps. The comfortable beds, hot showers, superb meals and sundowners are the only pieces of civilization you’ll need. Watch lions and elephants roam through camp and witness spectacular sunrises and sunsets from your elevated vantage point. During the day, explore the terrain on guided walks or game drives tracking rhinos and lions. You can also get on a boat and angle for the toothy Tiger Fish—Africa’s fierce predatory game fish.

Matobo National Park – A Spiritual Experience

In addition to providing refuge for a significant population of black eagles, leopards, white rhinos and endangered black rhinos, Matobo National Park in southern Zimbabwe also boasts southern Africa’s highest concentration of rock art. As a result, it received the distinction of a World Heritage Site in 2003. Some 700 sites contain over 20,000 rock paintings from the indigenous San (bushmen), dating back 13,000 years. Christened Matobo (meaning “bald heads”) by the Ndebele tribal king buried here in 1868, the park and its hills also showcase fantastic granite scenery and boulder outcrops in fascinating dome, spiral and building-block formations that seem to defy gravity.


victoria falls

Travel Tips: Victoria Falls

Given the scope, length and cost of a journey to Africa, it’s best to prepare as far in advance as possible so you get the experience you want. Read these tips to find out what to expect, how to plan, when to go and what to bring.

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TravelSmith thanks Global Sojourns for their invaluable help in preparing these Travel Tips. Visit Global Sojourns when you’re ready to plan the travel adventure of a lifetime.

What to Expect on Safari

Most safaris include overland transportation, domestic air transfers, lodging and food as part of the package. Lodging ranges from rustic campsites to luxury tented camps to first-class game lodges. Guided drives to spot wildlife are typically part of the experience. Add-ons such as night safaris and guided walks may also be included—if not, they’re usually available for an extra fee. Daily timelines are organized around the activities of the bush to maximize viewing success and safety. This isn’t a sleeping-in, relaxing vacation, but rather a great adventure that allows you to experience the remarkable wildlife of Africa in its natural habitat.

Planning a Safari

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices available for safaris. To help plan the trip that’s right for you, consider the following factors:

  • Expectations & interests: Rather than thinking of what country you want to see, think of what animals, landscape, culture and history you want to experience.
  • Budget: Safaris are more expensive than other types of vacations, but they’re worth it. Decide beforehand whether you want your experience to be on the moderate side or on the high end. In general, it costs more money to get away from the crowds and off the beaten path. For more information, read our tip on what defines safari luxury (see below).
  • Time of Year: When you go on safari helps determine where you go on safari. Weather, animal migration and water levels will affect what you see. For more information, read our tip on what season to travel (see below).
  • Trip Length: Knowing how much time you have gives you a framework for what to include.
  • Accommodation Style: Decide whether you want to stay in a lodge, hotel, guest house or tented camp.
  • Quality of Guides: Top-notch guides can make a good safari great. For example, Zimbabwe safari guides are considered the best in Africa, and are required to complete rigorous training before becoming licensed. The best way to find a great guide is to do your research, get recommendations and find a good agent/operator who knows the camps well.
  • Southern Africa or Eastern Africa: Distances are enormous, so don’t take on too much or you’ll spend more time traveling than seeing the wildlife.

The smartest thing you can do is find a safari specialist who will customize your trip so you have the best chance to see and do everything you’ve envisioned. For help planning your ideal safari, contact a specialist such as Global Sojourns, recognized by National Geographic Traveler magazine for its expertise in creating tours of a lifetime.

The Definition of Safari Luxury

While the term “luxury” in North American and European travel destinations is defined by extra amenities and plush surroundings, on safari, it means something a little different. Although better amenities usually accompany a luxury experience, the key components are:

  • Quality vehicles
  • Top-notch guides & well-trained staff
  • A window seat for everyone when viewing wildlife
  • A more private experience, off the beaten track, away from the crowds

Tented Bush Camps vs. Mobile Safaris

To feel closer to the wild, you can skip the lodge and try a different safari experience:

  • Permanent tented camps: Canvas structures set on fixed foundations with private bathrooms (toilet, sink and shower). Ranging from basic to luxury, amenities include beds, sheets, furnishings, verandas and meals. You’ll meet and mingle with other guests on outings and at mealtimes in a central lounge or dining area.
  • Mobile safaris: Structures designed to be picked up and moved to a new location for 2–3 days at a time. Your camping unit is transported in a custom truck while you walk, ride or canoe to the next site. These safaris range from basic, where you pitch your own tent, to luxury, where everything is done for you. For more information, read our tip on what defines safari luxury (see above).

How to Have a Successful Trip

Geography, weather and the way of the wild reign supreme in Africa. Here are few things you can do to get the most out of your trip:

  • Be flexible
  • Don’t get locked into a checklist
  • Take part in all safari add-ons (such as night safaris); they may cost extra, but when’s the next time you’ll have a chance to do them?

What Season to Travel

In the Victoria Falls region, there are two main seasons: dry (May to October) and wet/green (November to April). Below, we’ve listed the weather by month so you can plan your trip accordingly:

  • March & April: The falls are usually at their fullest this time of year, but you may have a hard time seeing them through the wall of mist from the towering plumes. Aerial access is your best bet for great views, since the burgeoning river may prevent safe rafting. Average temperatures: 57°F to 86°F (14°C to 30°C).
  • May to August: Cooler winter months have the least rainfall—and mosquitoes—with temperatures that hover between 43°F and 82°F (6°C and 28°C).
  • August to December: The Zambezi River is at an ideal level during this period of hot and sunny weather. Enjoy rafting and canoe trips, plus excellent wildlife sighting (inland areas are dry, so animals come to the river for water). Daytime temperatures range from 86°F (30°C) to upwards of 104°F (40°C).
    • September: Migrant birds begin to arrive.
    • October/November/early December: The falls are only a trickle at the end of the area’s driest season, but October offers brilliant sunsets.
  • December to March: The wettest time of the year, this period is marked by warm weather, sudden storms and torrential downpours followed by sunshine. Zambezi National Park may be closed during this time.

Passport / Visa Requirements

Your passport should be valid for six months beyond your return date and contain consecutive blank pages to accommodate multiple entry and exit stamps. Zimbabwe and Zambia both require visas, which you can purchase at the border entry (except multiple-entry visas to Zimbabwe). Carry small bills since credit/debit cards and checks are not accepted, and change may not be available. Visa requirements change constantly, so check in advance for updates.

  • Zimbabwe: $30 U.S. (single entry); $45 U.S. (double or multiple entry—to cross over to Zambia or Botswana). State your intentions clearly upon arrival so you receive the correct form to fill out.
  • Zambia: $20 U.S. (24-hour day tripper); $50 U.S. (single entry or 7-day transit); $80 U.S. (double or multiple entry)

Currency

On safari, very little money is exchanged since most meals, drinks and activities are included in the cost of your trip and are traditionally paid in advance. However, you will need cash for:

  • Entry requirements at border crossings
  • Market purchases & souvenirs
  • Restaurants, bars & cafés
  • Tips for guides, camp staff & trackers

The U.S. dollar is the official currency for Zimbabwe. In Zambia, the kwacha (ZMK) must be used, although visa fees at the border and tips can be paid in U.S. dollars. You can exchange money at most Zambian airports and banks. Check exchange rates frequently and take small-denomination bills ($1 U.S.) since change may not be readily available in either country.

Immunization

In addition to routine vaccinations such as tetanus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid and rabies inoculations, along with malaria prevention for visitors to both Zimbabwe and Zambia. A yellow fever vaccine is also required for visitors to Zambia who are traveling to South Africa or have been in transit for more than 12 hours in a country with a risk of Yellow Fever transmission. Make sure you start the process for immunization a few months before you travel. Most vaccines take time to become effective, and some must be given over several days or weeks. Check the CDC website for further information and discuss specifics with your doctor.

See Both Sides of Victoria Falls

The falls can be viewed from the Zambian (Livingstone) and Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls) sides. Activities are mostly the same in both countries, but the views are different. No matter which side you stay on, plan time for a half-day or full-day trip to the other side.

  • Zambian side: Boasts a stellar footbridge over the gorge. You can walk down to the Boiling Pot to see the falls from below. It also offers microlighting—riding in miniature aircraft that fly over the falls. Livingstone is larger than the town of Victoria Falls, more spread out and is not within walking distance of the falls.
  • Zimbabwe side: Features footpaths that overlook two-thirds of the falls, so the views are fantastic. The town of Victoria Falls is in easy walking distance of the falls.

Go Local

To get a feel for local culture, venture out of your lodge. At the central Dambwa Market in Livingstone, you’ll find handmade crafts along with produce and exotic fruits like mahuluhulu (delicious grapefruit-sized fruit with sweet, succulent pulp) and mubuyu (a tangy cross between a grapefruit, vanilla and pear) from the baobab tree. For a wide range of local crafts, including basketry, stoneware, tribal masks, walking sticks, jewelry and animal carvings, visit the Mukuni Village Curios Craft Market, in a traditional village near Livingstone. If you want to get away from the crowds, check out the Mukuni Park Curio Market instead. A visit to the Wayi Wayi Art Studio & Gallery is also in order for beautiful jewelry and art crafted by noted artists Lawrence and Agnes Yombwe. At Wayi Wayi, you can sign up for an art class in advance to learn from locals.

Luggage

Traveling on safari means packing light for better mobility. Due to limited space, baggage weight and size restrictions are strictly enforced on regional commercial carriers and transfers between safari camps. Parameters change frequently and vary by flight, camp and country, but the following guidelines generally apply:

  • Soft bags only (wheels may or may not be accepted)
  • Maximum size: 32″L x 12″W (81 x 30 cm)
  • Maximum weight: 44 lbs. (20kg)
  • For light aircraft (4 to 12 passengers), carry-on bag weight may be combined with checked luggage and restricted to a total of 33 lbs. (15 kg)—no wheels allowed. Bag size limits may also change; check with your carrier for details.

Work with your safari operator or travel agent to make sure you know the rules in advance. Find the right luggage for your trip at TravelSmith.

Photography & Electronics

When packing for safari, be sure to bring your camera. Here’s a list of other equipment you will need:

  • Adapters for all electronic devices
  • Converters for all electronic devices
  • External memory for digital images (or camera film)
  • A wide-angle and/or telephoto lens for landscape and wildlife

When using cameras and other electronic devices in Africa, keep the following considerations in mind:

  • You may have to share electrical outlets with others
  • Electrical outlets may only be available in central locations, so prepare to wait
  • Electricity may not always work, so bring extra batteries
  • Photographing border guards is not advised and can be dangerous

What to Bring

Packing these essential items for your safari can make your trip much more enjoyable. Explore some of the options at TravelSmith:

En Route:

On Safari:

In Victoria Falls:

Clothing Advice

While summers (mid-August to April) are very hot in Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe, winters (May to mid-August) are generally mild. Here’s a list of here of the clothing you’ll need to stay comfortable:

Types of Safari

From luxury to rustic, there’s a safari that’s perfect for you. Below is a list of options to consider.

  • Balloon Ride
  • Birding
  • Boating/Canoe
  • Elephant-Back
  • Fishing
  • Fly-In
  • Game Drives
  • Horseback
  • Mobile & Overland
  • Motorcycle
  • Photographic
  • Primate-Oriented
  • Big 5-Focused
  • Self-Drive
  • Walking

No matter what kind of safari you choose, be sure to work with a reputable travel agent or safari expert like Global Sojourns www.globlsojourns.com to make sure you have the trip of a lifetime.

Ready to Go?

Don’t forget to consult our free packing guides and destination guides before you pack your bags.