Updated: Nov 1, 2022
The Kalolo-Lozi people, who lived in this part of what became Zimbabwe, had a name for the fall of the Zambezi River first seen by David Livingston in 1855. They called the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates in English to “The Smoke that Thunders”. The name comes from the clouds of mist that rise over the falls. You can see the mist before you can see the falls, and you can feel in your chest the roar of the tons of water crashing onto the rocks below as you walk to viewing points on the Zimbabwe side of the falls. When the wind shifts and the mist blows in your direction, you will get wet. How wet depends on the wind and the amount of water flowing in the falls. We didn’t get soaked, but we did get wet enough to notice it! We were there during their dry season, so the flows were lower than at the peak of their rainy season.
Victoria Falls is just outside of the town of Victoria Falls, and the falls are within walking distance of the town center. Of course, the weather in this part of Zimbabwe can be very hot, so don’t walk unless you must. The tour of the falls itself is a walking tour, about 2.5 miles. The path is very flat and there are some very wet forest canopies, so the walk isn’t always in the sun, but bring your hat and sunscreen anyway.
The entrance to the falls is through the Victoria Falls National Park entrance gate, and the entrance costs $30.00. One of the nice things about visiting Zimbabwe is that the dollar is the local currency, so there is no need to change money from US dollars. The entrance to the park has a restaurant and a gift shop. Our tour operator paid our park entry fee and provided us maps of the walking path. I do not know if the maps must be purchased, but if you are not on a tour, you should assume you will need to buy a map, and it is useful in knowing what you are seeing.
We walked the path clockwise which took us first to the David Livingston statue. Livingston was the first European to see the falls, and his statue is well maintained. The map of the Victoria Falls footpath has sixteen marked viewpoints for observing the falls. The path curves around the first cataract (first falls) and then past the Devil’s Cataract. These two falls are the shortest of the series of falls that make up Victoria Falls; however, they carry the most water and throw up an impressive mist cloud. We got very wet on this part of the walk.
After passing the Devils Cataract you walk past Cataract Island which separates the first two falls from the Main Falls. The Main Falls are a very wide set of falls reaching from Cataract Island to Livingston Island. Livingston Island is where David Livingston first saw the falls and where he spent five months recovering from malaria.
After Livingston Island are Horseshoe Falls and Rainbow Falls, which are the tallest falls. We were there at the end of the dry season, so Horseshoe Falls was dry, and Rainbow Falls had reduced flow. The walking path viewing spots along the falls provided great views and spots for taking amazing pictures of the Zambezi as it falls into the Victoria Falls Gorge.
An interesting sidenote about Victoria Falls is that the river isn’t falling over a cliff, it is falling into a gorge over 305 feet deep. This means that when you see the falls from the Zimbabwe side of the river, you are at the same height as the other side of the river, and to see bottom of the falls, you are looking down into a gorge. The falls have carved this gorge for 100,000 years and it runs away from the falls in a series of zig zags for miles.
The town of Victoria Falls is a resort town, so you can find the services that you would expect in any resort town. Our group was running low on cash for tips, and some of our group just wanted to have a bit more money available for small purchases. One of the things that surprised me was that all the small vendors we purchased souvenirs from took credit cards, and we were able to put tips on credit cards at the hotels. But, since many of us wanted some additional cash, our tour operator took us to a local bank so we could use the ATM. We then went to the tour operator’s office and were able to convert some of our larger bills to smaller denominations. This was surprising and very convenient.
The town of Victoria Falls has many nice hotels. We ate dinner one night at the Victoria falls Safari Lodge on a terrace overlooking a watering hole. During the meal, a small herd of elephants came to water, which was a nice exotic way to enjoy a meal.
Another must do - We took a helicopter tour over the falls, which provided the best views available of this incredible natural wonder. The name of the company that offers the helicopter tour is Flight of Angels. They were very professional, gave thorough safety demonstrations and flight overviews so everyone on the chopper knew
they could expect an unobstructed view of the falls for one-of-a-kind photos. A video of your helicopter experience is available for purchase after your flight, and we bought it. It was nice that the video was offered without any hard sell; Flight of Angels was a delight to do business with on this excursion.
One evening we took a Zambezi River Cruise. The barge like boat was two decks and we sat upstairs for the first part to watch the sunset and wildlife along the banks. The trip goes up close to the upper side of Victoria Falls. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner paired with South African Wine while we watched elephants, hippos, and other wildlife frequent the rivers edge.