Victoria Falls, a resort town which reached city status in 2020, is located in the province of Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe. Situated on the banks of the Zambezi River, the city is best known for the massive waterfall for which Victoria Falls is named.
The waterfall, called Mosi-oa-Tunya in the local Lozi language meaning the smoke that thunders, is one of the seven wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As a result of this spectacular, natural attraction, the City of Victoria Falls relies heavily on tourism and offers many activities around the falls.
Getting to Victoria Falls
Getting to Victoria Falls from the USA requires first flying into Johannesburg and then flying a local carrier from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls. Both Fastjet and Airlink make the nearly two-hour journey in an ERJ jet. The jets are small, so large carry-ons must be checked. In flight, they serve a box lunch with water. The airline service is friendly and tends to be on-time.
From the airport, use pre-arranged transportation provided by Wild Horizons to your hotel.
Where to Stay in Victoria Falls
Once in Victoria Falls, there are a variety of places to stay which range from quaint to big and fancy. We, a group of six, chose Bayete Guest Lodge which included breakfast for less than $200 a night. The rooms were comfortable, the small grounds with a pool were nice, and the service was friendly. It was also very quiet which was quite different from the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
We visited the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for a vulture viewing which is held daily (more on this to follow). The lodge also has a Boma-Dinner and Drum show. With its 75 rooms, it was much busier than the Bayete Guest Lodge and is a good option for many, especially if you want to see animals coming to the water hole.
Another even bigger and fancier hotel is the Victoria Falls Hotel conveniently located in town and near the falls. The 143 room, colonial-style hotel which has attracted royalty and the discerning traveler over the years, features beautifully manicured gardens and lily ponds. If you are not staying here, consider a visit for high tea.
Delight in High Tea at Victoria Falls Hotel
High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel is one of just many things to do in Victoria Falls. It is offered daily between 3-6 on the Stanley Terrace with views of the spray from the falls.
For $15 per person, the high tea includes a selection of teas or coffee and a 3-tier tray of goodies including cakes, finger sandwiches, and scones with whipped cream. Enjoy these tasty treats with the clink of china and the piano playing in the background.
It is best to make reservations, but there is room for walk-ins and no fancy dress is required.
Experience a Vulture Viewing and Feeding at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
For a less fancy afternoon than high tea, though an interesting one, experience the Vulture Culture at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. I was originally opposed to watching an unnatural vulture feeding until I learned these scavenger birds are endangered! Who knew?
Sadly, humans are to blame. Poachers who kill elephants for their tusks poison the carcass to kill the vultures too. Otherwise, the swarms of vultures circling notify rangers of the kill and the poachers’ location. Local tribes people also kill the vultures for traditional medicines.
The free Vulture Culture viewing and feeding experience happens at 1 pm every day in front of the hotel’s Buffalo Bar. Vultures fly to the area and patiently wait in the surrounding trees during the previous hour.
Guests go downstairs to a small, covered pavilion for a briefing on the plight of the vulture which is important to the ecology because it cleans carcasses which prevents diseases like rabies and TB from spreading from decaying animals.
After the short explanation, guests follow the vulture guide along a dirt path through the scrub to a viewing deck with tiered concrete benches covered by a thatched roof.
The guide scatters a cooler of unused animal parts like chicken feet and beef leftovers. Remarkably, the hooded and white backed vultures as well as storks wait to swoop in until the guide has scurried out of the way. I guess they are scavengers and don’t really interact with live things.
Thereafter, they squawk and fight over the food. Seeing a stork gobble up a frozen chunk of meat provides a different image than a cute bird carrying a human baby!
Anyway, the vulture feeding is a fun, quick experience. We squeezed it in after our morning safari drive and before our trip to Zambia for a microlight flight and an afternoon and evening at the Royal Livingstone. The staff at Bayete Lodge organized a $5 taxi ride for us, and we had the driver wait.
Search for the Rhinos Safari
As I just mentioned, we went on a morning safari drive in search of the black rhinos at the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve. Initially, we had planned to walk with the rhinos in Zambia, but our timing wasn’t working out well, so we decided on the safari drive in Zimbabwe.
Having been to Livingstone, Zambia with the teak forest terrain previously, I didn’t expect to see much since the critically endangered rhinos hide in the scrub. But I was pleasantly surprised, and the drive with Sukulu as our guide was a good introduction to our safari in Botswana which was to follow.
Not only did we see three black rhinos of the eleven in the park, but also, we saw the mother and son up close as they headed to the river to drink.
It was going to be our only chance to see the rhino, as Botswana has moved their rhinos to a specific island to protect them from poachers which increased during COVID.
In addition to seeing the rhinos, we saw elephant, buffalo, eland, giraffe, zebra, kudu, impala, a variety of birds, and more. Though we didn’t see any cats, again, I was pleasantly surprised by the many other animal sightings, especially the elusive eland.
The only unfortunate part to the morning safari was the ride on the highway at 6am in an open-air safari vehicle. It was cold even with jackets and a supplied, blanket. And of course, the time spent on the highway limits the time with the animals.
Naturally it would have been better if we were staying in the park, but our main safari was saved for Botswana. And in all, we had an enjoyable experience. If you’ve never been on safari, and only have time for half a day while in Victoria Falls, this black rhino search is worth it.
Take a Side Trip to Zambia
As I mentioned above, we fit the vulture viewing in between our safari drive and our side trip to Zambia for our microlight flight and an evening at the Royal Livingstone. The drive from Victoria Falls to the to the Batoka Sky Aerodome in Zambia only takes about 30 minutes, but the border crossing also takes approximately 30 minutes, so allot an hour.
We used Wild Horizons as our tour operator in Zimbabwe and Zambia, and they scheduled all the tour pickup and drop off times perfectly. When we weren’t using them for a tour, we were using them for transportation to and from the international airports and for border crossings.
Fly Over Victoria Falls in a Microlight
When I visited Zambia a year ago still in the throngs of COVID, the microlight flight tour over Victoria Falls was not available. As a result, I had to take the helicopter ride. I took the 30-minute ride and flew around the falls four times and through the gorge. It was cool, but I really wanted to do the microlight. For more details on the helicopter ride, visit my blog: Things to Do in Livingstone, Zambia.
This year, however, I got my wish to try a microlight flight for the first time! Fortunately, three of my six friends also wanted to try it, so we spent 1.5 hours at the aerodome taking turns flying over Victoria Falls. A microlight is a hang glider wing attached above a two-seat trike with a propeller.
The 15-minute flight isn’t cheap, but the open-air experience is exhilarating and worth every penny! I was the first to go in our group. Due to the danger of dropping anything, you leave behind cameras, backpacks, and any other unattached items.
The staff videos you walking to the runway and helps you into the microlight with designated places for your hands and feet. They hook your seat belt and strap the helmet on you while the pilot tests the headset with you.
I was listening to the pilot while I thought they were preparing a shoulder strap, but there wasn’t one and suddenly we were off and running. Had I known how quick we were going to take off, I would have checked and tightened my seatbelt and helmet, but it was too late.
As a result, I was a little nervous at first because the wind pops the microlight up and down and if you turn your head a certain way, the helmet feels like it will blow off your head! I warned the others, so they could be more prepared and have a little more fun.
Once I got over my initial apprehension, I loved it! Victoria Falls with the rainbow is remarkable. The pilot, with over 20 years of experience, was a wealth of knowledge. We couldn’t talk that much because he was in constant communication with the helicopters, but in the short fifteen minutes I learned even more than I learned on the helicopter ride over Victoria Falls.
The most fascinating fact about the falls were the seven turns in the gorge. Each turn used to be the waterfall! The Zambezi River is currently starting a new turn and you can see it on a tour of Victoria Falls. I never knew that!
The pilot also pointed out different hotels, such as the Royal Livingstone (where we were headed next), the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Long Island, and other landmarks. In the springtime, Long Island is blanketed in pink and yellow lilies. What a sight that would be!
Upon our return to the aerodome, we spotted hippos and a giant crocodile. Others, going later in the afternoon, also saw elephants and buffalo too. Mike was the luckiest because the GoPro on the wing malfunctioned, so they gave him another flight for free if he would buy the footage.
Of course, we all bought the video. You can skip the pictures if you want because you can screen shot the video which is what they do. My only disappointment was that my second time around the falls was when I let go of the hand holds and a waved at the camera for a photo, and this section was edited from the supplied reel.
If you have an opportunity to fly in a microlight early in the morning, there are less hot air pockets, allowing for a smoother ride. Also, there are probably more animals out in the cooler weather. But overall, the microlight is an amazing experience!
Spend the Afternoon and Evening at The Royal Livingstone
After our microlight flight, which was on the Zambia side, we visited the Royal Livingstone. Similar to the Victoria Falls Hotel, The Royal Livingstone provides lovely sunset views over the Zambezi River with mist from Victoria Falls in the distance.
We visited the resident giraffe and zebras as vervet monkeys played nearby before settling down for a cocktail on the deck at sunset. Thereafter, we enjoyed a spectacular dinner on the terrace at its Old Drift Restaurant while celebrating Dominique’s birthday!
I don’t repeat many things when I travel, but my dinner experience was so good here the previous year, that I wanted to share it with my friends. It did not disappoint, and the return border crossing at night was much quicker!
On a side note, except for Dom and Gary’s small snafu purchasing a single visa, the rest of us purchased a Kaza Visa at the airport in order to pass easily between the two countries. Dom and Gary just had to buy another Visa at the border for a little extra money, but it didn’t slow anything down.
Take a Tour of Victoria Falls Waterfall
Back in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, we couldn’t miss a tour of Victoria Falls National Park from the ground. We arrived by 8:30 am, and the park was already teeming with people, a far cry from last year’s visit on the Zambia side during 2021 COVID when we saw only two people. Fortunately, with all the viewpoints at Victoria Falls, you can still get some photos of the falls without people.
The falls tour begins at the information board by the gift shop where you learn about the Zambezi River and the history of the falls. A Scottish explorer, David Livingstone, named the falls after Queen Victoria though the local name remains Mosi-oa-Tunya.
While Victoria Falls is not the tallest or widest falls, in combination it is the largest due to the sheer volume of water which tumbles into the gorge.
August is shoulder season, so it is not at its highest or lowest when it slows a trickle on the Zimbabwe side. August is a good time to visit because you can see the falls and gorge. During high season, sometimes all that is visible is the spray!
After stopping at the information board, the tour goes to a few viewpoints before visiting the statue of Livingstone. Thereafter, the walk follows the sidewalk which meanders in the shade of the trees to many viewpoints.
One viewpoint overlooks Devil’s Pool on the Zambia side where guides will hold you over the side of the falls! It may only take place during certain times of the year, and we saw people doing it. Personally, I’m not sure I could trust a stranger that much! Not to mention there are too many water born illnesses in Africa for me to want to do that, especially when hippos poo in the brown river 24 hours a day! But I digress.
While going to Victoria Falls early in the morning avoids some of the crowds (it got more crowded as the morning progressed) as well as the afternoon heat, on the Zimbabwe side, you are photographing into the sun and rainbows are not present. As a result, I would visit the falls on the Zimbabwe side in the afternoon.
On the Zambia side, however, the morning is the perfect time to visit. And in fact, I liked the Zambia side a little better, though it was also my first visit to Victoria Falls. For more details, see my visit to the falls from the Zambia side.
Browse the Markets
After a visit to the falls, check out the markets for your souvenirs. The shop keepers are very polite. Many introduce themselves and ask that you look at their wares. The souvenirs include many hand-carved wood animals, hats, magnets and the like. I’m not a big shopper, but my friends all enjoyed it while I watched and listened to a group dancing and playing music.
Eat at The Lookout Cafe
After visiting the falls, make a lunch stop at The Lookout Café. It is operated by Wild Horizons. They will try to book you for a pre-purchased lunch with dessert, but you may also buy a la carte. That said, if you buy a la carte, make sure they have a reservation for you.
We ended up with out one, but they seated us anyway after I showed them the one page list of activities that we purchased through Wild Horizons. The food at The Lookout Café was typical lunch fare like burgers, curry, and the more exotic crocodile (which was tough).
The outdoor terrace is perched on top of the gorge and looks out on the Victoria Falls Bridge, zipline, and gorge swing.
You may sign up for the zipline, swing, bungee jumping, and bicycle riding at the café. The activities were not very busy, so I believe you may book on the spot (at least at the end of August), but we booked a bike ride in advance.
Go for a Bike Ride
We expected the bike ride to be excruciatingly hot at 2pm, but it was not bad, as we created our own breeze. That said, we didn’t ride for the entire 3-hour time. In fact, we probably barely got a 1.5-hour tour which would be my only gripe for getting our money’s worth.
The bikes and helmets were in good condition. They provided bottled water and offered us a locked place to store our bags, but we took them with us.
The ride takes you past the City of Victoria Falls where I would have liked to explore more and there is time, so ask them to stop. Thereafter, we stopped at a Baobab Tree across from another street market. The enormous tree is around 1,500 years old and 60 feet around.
Remarkably, I bought a big five carving. We had already seen the elephant, cape buffalo, and rhino, so I thought it might be a good luck charm for spotting leopards and lions in Botswana. It was!
Anyway, we continued onto the riverside and crossed the border with our bikes to the bridge. This time, the border agents only needed to see us rather than stamp all of our paperwork.
Check Out the Bridge
I’m glad we took the bike ride simply for getting to the bridge. Neither of the Victoria Falls tours I went on took us to the bridge, and I wanted to see it for a variety of reasons.
First, the bungee jumping goes off this bridge. I jumped in New Zealand, and it was a blast. I considered doing it again, but then noticed the thousand stairs you had to walk up to get out of the gorge. I’m not 29 anymore, and that climb at 3pm was going to be too hot!
Second, the bridge itself has a good story. It was constructed in England in 1905 and shipped in two pieces to connect Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively) over the Zambezi’s second gorge.
According to the story, the pieces expanded in the heat and didn’t fit together when installed. Eventually, on a cold day, they snapped into place! Seems a little far-fetched, but I’ve heard the story a few times now!
The bridge is the only rail link between the two countries and one of only three road links that connect Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is so old, that the trains can only pass at walking pace, and trucks are limited in weight and may only cross one at a time. As a result, many wait on the side of the road for three days!
All of us except Tina crossed over to the Zambia side while on the bridge. Due to paperwork requirements for work, she could not. So, taking pics with the “You Are Now Entering Zambia” sign with Tina on one side and the rest of us on the other made it more fun!
On the Zambia side of the bridge there is a small, free museum as well as a café. Our tour didn’t take us there, but I suppose we could have asked. If fact, we probably should have asked to stop in several places. And that might be why they allot 3 hours…for other activities!
I’m certain they would have obliged because my only experience in Africa is that the guides want you to be happy! We just didn’t know exactly what the ride entailed. All that really mattered is that we had a good time, which we did. And I’m glad we saved our money on the formal bridge tour offered by Wild Horizons.
In the end, we spotted a waterbuck! And somehow, throughout the tour we managed not to collide despite no warning for “stopping” on a regular basis.
Explore Victoria Falls
While we failed to ask our bicycle guides to stop, we managed to ask our shuttle guide to stop. Again, they are very obliging for a small tip. Our driver had another group to pick up, but he waited for ten minutes while we shopped in Victoria Falls.
We found a great women’s coop with really cute things called Wakka. Definitely support them! It would have been better if we had thirty minutes to an hour to browse, but we accomplished our goal to pick up a few trinkets and see the small town.
Relax on a Sunset Cruise
A stay in Victoria Falls would not be complete without a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. There are different sized boats and types of cruises. We went with Zambezi Wilderness Safaris. The boat came with a captain and crewman and had room for about ten people.
The captain steered the boat around Long Island while pointing out birds including one of my favorites the malachite kingfisher, crocodiles, hippos and bushbucks as the crewman served us appetizers and drinks.
While there was not a ton of wildlife, this was a great way to begin our stay in Zimbabwe which means houses of stone. We got to our hotel by around 2pm after long international flights and were on a boat by 4pm.
Current Situation in Victoria Falls
It was a way to get out and enjoy something in Africa while being completely exhausted. And believe it or not, as long as your overseas flight is timely, the likelihood of your Africa flights being reliable is high. On all of our flights, international down to the bush, the only flights that were delayed were operated by United out of Newark!
I’m really glad we spent a few days in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to experience the town. With the country experiencing hyper inflation and their currency worthless, the people were extremely friendly and happy to accept some dollars. Since my friend Gary collects currency, he was able to help several people out by buying their useless money.
The Zimbabweans are so willing to work for money that bicyclists fill up their baskets with oranges and ride to Zambia to earn a different currency. Unfortunately, the elephants have figured out this is an easy way to get fruit and some cyclists have been killed. We saw a group of cyclists huddled on the side of the street waiting for the elephants to pass!
Seeing as how Zambia and Zimbabwe were once part of Rhodesia, it is interesting to compare the prosperity and pitfalls of these countries from differenct government policies and resources.
Given our enjoyable time in Victoria Falls, I hope the people of Zimbabwe will somehow find relief. Since they are heavily reliant on tourism, be sure to visit Victoria Falls. ETB