The majestic beauty of Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders), has attracted people for thousands of years. Early inhabitants included those from the Middle and Late Stone Age, who made way for the Khoisan hunter-gatherers, who, in turn, were displaced by tribes including the Batoka, followed by the Europeans. The fact that this particular spot has lured people from all over the worldfor centuries is no surprise, as it is a wonder to the senses – the Zambezi River is more than 2km wide when it plunges over a large basalt plateau, and the water falls up to 108m, creating a mighty roar (hence its local name) and mists that can be spotted from more than 20km away.
Today the Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for having the largest curtain of falling water on the planet, and the town is well-known as being Southern Africa’s adventure and safari hub. Apart from the countless activities on offer and sites to be seen in and around the town itself, as a tourist you have easy access to a number of other African adventures in neighbouring countries.
The two main national parks in the area are the Zambezi National Park and the Victoria Falls National Park, together covering an area of 56 000 hectares, with the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park residing on the Zambian side. A wide variety of larger mammals can be found within the Zambezi National Park including the Big Five: elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and white rhinoceros. In addition, herds of sable antelope, eland, zebra, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck and impala can be viewed.
Locally, adventure-seekers are spoilt for choice. There are several tour operators in town that will advise you on the many activities on offer, which include: whitewater rafting on some of the best rapids in the world; canoeing on the river above the falls; bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge over the mighty Zambezi River – the second highest commercial bungee jump in the world; gorge swinging; abseiling into the gorge; and helicopter and microlight flights over the falls, to name some. For the thrill-seeker, and only during the dry season (September to December), a swim in the Devil’s Pool on the edge of the falls is sure to get your pulse racing.
For a more relaxed experience, you can explore the rainforest area surrounding the falls. Here you will find many species of flora and fauna amongst the fig, mahogany and date palm groves, and you can stop along the way to observe the falls from the many magnificent viewpoints. A sunset cruise on the Zambezi is also highly recommended for its game viewing and birdwatching opportunities, and for the spectacular sunsets, all of which can be observed comfortably with your sundowner of choice in hand. By day, explore the natural beauty of the area by embarking on Town Focus 13 Town Focus an elephant or horseback safari, where you can view game unobtrusively and up close in their natural habitat. By night, take a game drive to seek out the more elusive nocturnal animals.
A little further away, but still in Zimbabwe, is the Hwange National Park (about 220km away) and Mana Pools National Park (about 550km away). Hwange is the largest park in Zimbabwe and its elephant population is one of the largest in the world. Although quite a bit further away, Mana Pools is another World Heritage Site and worth a visit if you have the time. It is home to a wide range of large mammals and over 350 bird species, and it offers spectacular views over the Zambezi River, the floodplains and large inland pools.
Looking beyond the borders, the nearby Victoria Falls International Airport serves as an easy link to the main tourist centres in neighbouring countries for a host of other wildlife experiences. To the west, Botswana offers the ever-popular Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park – with one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve – the most remotely situated reserve in southern Africa. Further west is Namibia’s iconic Etosha National Park and the vast Namib Desert. To the north is the largely unexplored and unspoilt Kafue National Park and the famous Luangwa Valley, an extension of the Great East African Rift Valley and home to prolific wildlife and lush vegetation.
Why visit Victoria Falls?
It is the one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
It is a declared World Heritage Site, one of 120 in Africa.
It is a one-stop safari destination with many activities on offer in close proximity, including land-based, air-based and water-based exploration opportunities.
It is near an international airport and a short plane flight away from many of southern Africa’s best wildlife spots.
On first seeing the falls, explorer David Livingstone famously exclaimed that ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’ – a compelling enough reason to visit this natural phenomenon.
Although the park is open year-round, the month you choose to go depends on how you wish to experience the falls:
December to March (rainy season): The water volume is higher, and the falls are more dramatic. However, the high water volume means more spray, which can obscure your view of the falls themselves.
April to October (dry season): The water volume is lower and by October, the falls might just be a trickle. You will get a clearer view of the rocky ledge beneath the falls, though, which is quite a sight. If you want to white-water raft, the last half of the year is the best time to visit.
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