Victoria Falls is on the list of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders. If that isn’t reason enough to want to visit, of the twelve countries I traveled to last year, my favorite day was spent sitting on the edge of these falls. The short time I spent between the two countries that call Victoria Falls home surpassed my wildest dreams and I would recommend everyone to visit!
It is a perfect trip to make if you are going to be anywhere in the southern portion of Africa. If you’re traveling to South Africa, Victoria Falls is a quick 2-hour flight from Cape Town. It’s also just a three-hour flight from Nairobi, Kenya. Many itineraries combine visiting South Africa with a few days in Victoria Falls.
Where to stay, Zimbabwe or Zambia
Victoria Falls spans both borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Being shared between the two countries, and it’s stiff competition on which side to stay on. To help you visualize it, Zambia is along the Zambezi river leading up to the falls, and Zimbabwe spans the majority of the base of the falls.
Historically, Zimbabwe has been the more popular entryway. However, there has been some political unrest recently.
On the Zimbabwe side, you’ll stay in the town Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is a small town solely based on tourism. Almost all the hotels are within a mile or two of the falls (2km). Generally, it is more popular to dine here because of it’s cute open-air restaurants, cafes, and marketplace.
On the Zambia side, you’ll stay in Livingstone, a bigger and more substantial town, which has a larger local community. It’s about 6 miles or 10 km from the falls.
Accommodations can either be found spread out along the Zambezi riverfront or further from the falls in Livingstone town. The riverfront properties are super luxurious and remote.
Keep in mind; it’s not always a quick back and forth between the two countries. Since you’re crossing the border and going through passport control each way, it means filling out paperwork and at times waiting in line. There was almost no line heading into Zambia in the morning and then about a 20-minute wait leaving later in the day.
Important VISA tip!
The KAZA Univisa; a single visa that covers Zambia, Zimbabwe and day trips to Chobe National Park (in Botswana) is just 50 USD and available for purchase at the airport upon arrival!
We met other travelers that did not purchase the dual country visa and had to pay almost double to cross the border just for an excursion!
Most people fly into either Victoria Falls Airport or Livingstone Airport. And while it’s not as close, Kansane Airport in Botswana is also an option.
When booking flights, you can compare/contrast deals on Skyscanner (read here about all of my favorite travel tools) from your departing destination to see which airport has flights that work better with your schedule and budget.
It is not necessary to stay in the town you fly into as it’s easy to shuttle from either airport to either/or. So don’t feel obligated to remain in Zimbabwe just because you land at Victoria Falls airport or vice versa!
Your accommodations can set up a pickup from the airport for you. For example, our lodge Bayate in Victoria Falls offered a one-way pickup from Victoria Falls Airport for 12 USD, from Livingstone Airport for 27 USD, and even from Kasane Airport in Botswana for 50 USD.
Which brings me to a very important note…
I was surprised to find out in Victoria Falls they use US currency! So if you’re from the United States, you completely lucked out! Not only do you not have to exchange money but you don’t have to spend your time doing math trying to convert currencies!
What to do in Victoria Falls
Croc cage diving
Walk with lions
Devils Pool/Angels Pool
Guided falls tour
If you have any love for adrenaline and outdoor activities you will not get bored here. In fact, we didn’t have enough time to do everything we wanted.
If you haven’t heard of Devils Pool, keep reading. My favorite day of 2017 was this excursion!
Devils Pool is a pool of water that forms on the edge of a portion of the waterfall near Livingstone island. Only during certain times of the year when the water is low enough, you can take a tour and literally swim out to the edge of the waterfall.
The tour leaves from Livingstone Hotel in Zambia, but they will coordinate your transfers regardless of where you are staying. You do have to cross the border, so be prepared to get out and walk through passport control going to and from the excursion.
The Livingstone is a gorgeous luxury resort; it’s fun to check it out before/after your tour. The tour departs by small speedboat bringing you over to Livingstone Island. There are three options for the excursion; Breakfast, Lunch, or High Tea.
I read that the tours in the late afternoon serve alcohol and the mist/view of the falls can be better, however, even booking weeks in advance the late afternoon tours we already full so we just went with what was left and went on breakfast tour.
It’s advised to be a strong swimmer for this excursion, as you are swimming against the rivers current near the edge of the falls. Yes, you swim to the falls through the river.
Once you reach the small plot of land next to Devils Pool each person waits while taking turns to swim out to the edge. The guide sits next to you the entire time on the cusp of the falls, while the other guide standing above takes pictures on your camera/phone.
The guide who is taking photos carries all of the group’s cameras and phones on him while he WALKS THE EDGE of the waterfall somehow managing to keep everything dry! Prepare for a little bit of anxiety watching him within feet from the edge but as he called it
it’s just another day in the office.
Words can’t describe the brief moments while sitting on the edge; hearing the roar of water crashing, seeing double rainbows, viewing the falls so close up and from vantage points only possible here. It’s adrenaline pumping and extraordinary… I cannot tell you enough how amazing it is!
Once you make the swim back, you’re handed a towel to dry off and then get to enjoy a breakfast/ lunch/high tea (depending on your tour) in an open-air hut on Livingstone Island. The breakfast was eggs benedict with scones and fruit; it was so yummy and far fancier then I expected!
On top of the price of the tour, it’s important to tip the guides!
For those that aren’t thrill seekers, another option is visiting Livingstone Island and hiking out to see the falls, minus the swim to Devils Pool.
Devils Pool is not year round?
It is important to note that it’s only an option from around late August to early January. Angels Pool is a good backup option, but it is only an option from approximately mid-July to late August and early January through till mid-February. All dates are estimated, as it is all dependent on the level of the river, so it’s best to check online to keep updated.
The same way Devils Pool depends on the levels of the river, so does whitewater rafting. There’s an option for low water or high water depending on the season.
Flight of the Angels
If your budget allows it, don’t miss the helicopter tour! Seeing the falls from above is unlike any other view. During the “Flight of the Angels” tour, you view the entirety of the falls in all its glory, the Zambezi river, the bridge, and even some double rainbows all within 15 minutes.
I thought 15 minutes didn’t sound like enough time, but it was plenty. You get to circle both ways around the falls, so there’s no bad seat in the helicopter, everyone gets their chance to see it from their side.
So what if you’re not into adventurous activities?
Seeing the waterfalls is still incredible! Even if you only want to walk the span of the falls through the national park, or do a sunset dinner cruise on the Zambezi river. There are also day trips to do safari drives in nearby Chobe National Park. There are options for all types of travelers.
Victoria Falls National Park
Accessible from both Zimbabwe and Zambia, in Victoria Falls National Park you can walk the entire span of the falls! If you’re limited on time, the Zimbabwe side covers more mileage of the falls, and since you’re a little further away it allows for better viewing. The Zambia side is closer to the falls, so be prepared to get soaking wet!
If you time it right, while walking in the national park, you can actually see people in Devils Pool! I would suggest doing Devils Pool before going to the park, seeing it from this side you realize how crazy swimming out to the edge really is! At the same time, I loved being able to see from an outsiders perspective/the other side what I had just done the day before.
Pack a raincoat or buy a poncho from one of the vendors at the entrance gate because you will get wet! Also, wear shoes that won’t slip on wet ground.
Book Your Accommodations First
Once we booked our hotel, they sent us a list of all the activities and pricing; from that moment on they acted as our concierge and set everything up for us! I’d recommend going through your hotel to coordinate everything, as they have already established ties with all the reputable companies and will set up transportation to and from each activity.
It’s quite refreshing to be in a place that for once doesn’t have Uber yet and hasn’t completely switched to everything being online. It feels a little bit like stepping back in time.
My suggestions to STAY:
Budget-friendly: Bayate Guest Lodge
An adorable little lodge, gated off in a residential area of Victoria Falls. With a year-round outdoor pool, restaurant, and bar on site. Decorated with traditional African artifacts, it’s small and private, giving off a family run vibe. We loved staying here!
Colonial Luxury: Victoria Falls Hotel
This hotel exudes British colonial charm, it was built in 1904 and was the first hotel in Victoria Falls. While it’s got the old charm, they’ve updated it to accommodate the modern traveler. Staying here you will feel like your venturing back into a different era, like stepping into Out of Africa. An excellent option, different than the majority of African style lodges and safari clubs.
Set right on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia, take one look at the pictures, and you too will fall for “tree house” on the river with insane views from every room. The accommodations are either river cottages or open-planned stone and thatch houses, all including a “loo with a view”! I would have stayed here in a heartbeat, but it comes with a hefty price tag.
Luxury: Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel
Located within a national park on the Zambezi river and one of the few hotels in Zambia that is walking distance to Victoria Falls. This property is glamorous, to say the least. From high tea to the cigar lounge, it’s sophistication at its finest. The outdoor area facing the river features a large pool with sun chairs, a restaurant, and patio. This also happens to be the take-off point for tours to Livingstone Island and Devils Pool.
What do you do at night?
So obviously Victoria Falls is not a nightlife destination by any means, but the town does have some great options for dining and a bar or two!
Live Music Cafe: Shearwater
The Shearwater Cafe must not be missed when visiting Victoria Falls; we dined here both of our nights in town! I was expecting something a little more traditional, so I was shocked when we were dropped off at this ultra chic cafe right in the heart of the town. The menu offers everything from pizzas, salads, tempura prawns, crayfish, a crocodile wrap, and one of my all-time favorites – butter chicken!
It’s a popular place at night; with every table on the patio filling up, so reservations can come in handy. They have live entertainment brought to you by the Black Mamba Man, nicknamed The Bulawayo Bob Dylan. I loved his music so much; I ended up purchasing his entire album on iTunes. He also covers other songs and is super entertaining. (Check him out here)
Shoestrings for a night out!
There’s not a long list of places to go out for a drink, so I’ll just mention the one we kept hearing about, Shoestrings. This is the place to go especially on a Friday or Saturday night. It’s both local and tourist favorite.
The best view: The LookOut Cafe
Another cool spot not to miss is The Lookout Cafe. Perfect for lunch or early dinner (anytime it’s still light out really). If you want a restaurant with a view, this is your best option. The open-air cafe sits right on the gorge with incredible views of the river. It’s adjunct to the Wild Horizons high wire activities, so you can dine here after you zip line, or a have a drink to give you courage beforehand!