Victoria Falls. Whether you’re into adrenalin sports, nature, food and culture, or lounging in a romantic setting, there are things to do to suit everyone here in the northwest corner of Zimbabwe. Discover the top 20 Victoria Falls activities – adrenalin, culture and wildlife.
The Victoria Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Zambezi River, which forms the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Falls formed over millions of years as water eroded volcanic basalt, using cracks in the rock and the abrasive power of sand sediments to create a series of waterfalls.
The Main Falls are the highest, widest sheet of continually falling water in the world – twice as high as Niagara Falls and about 500 metres wider. David Livingstone was the first white man to set eyes on the Falls in 1855 and Livingstone Island on the lip of the Falls is named after him. Although the Falls were known as Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) by the local Makololo people, Livingstone – with typical Victorian arrogance – renamed them after Queen Victoria.
The Victoria Falls are an amazing spectacle, something you need to see at least once in your lifetime. They’re accessible either from Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe or from Livingstone across the river in Zambia. Victoria Falls is a bustling little town with lots of accommodation, restaurants, markets and shops. It’s also the hub for loads of adventures and activities. Here’s what to do in Victoria Falls (in random order).
1. Walk along the cliff path to see the Falls
If it’s your first time at Victoria Falls, take a guided tour of the various Falls and the surrounding rain forest – home to bushbuck, warthog and birds like the trumpeter hornbill. Your guide will also tell you about the fascinating geological formation of the Falls.
2. Enjoy a Zambezi River cruise at sunset
3. Fly over the Falls in a helicopter
4. Go bungee jumping at Victoria Falls
5. Go swinging or ziplining
6. See the lunar rainbow or ‘moonbow’
During the wet months of March to May you can see the ghostly lunar rainbow at Victoria Falls. This is when there’s enough spray to create the Victoria Falls moonbow effect during full moon. Like a normal rainbow, a moonbow happens when water particles (spray) in the air refract light. The Falls open for three nights during full moon, including the day before and the day after. Your best chance of seeing a moonbow is in the first hour or two after the moon rises. For safety, this activity is available only as a tour with qualified guides.
7. Experience African food and culture
8. Enjoy dinner on the banks of the Zambezi
Have dinner under the stars on the banks of the Zambezi River at The Eatery at the Pure Africa Waterfront. First, gather around the fire pit to listen to the grunting of hippos and distant thundering of the Falls, and to meet fellow diners. Then enjoy a delicious three-course meal. Pure Africa also offers a number of other Victoria Falls activities like river cruises, riverside picnics and an interactive potjie cooking experience.
9. Go white-water rafting
10. Go canoeing above the Falls
If white-water rafting seems too scary, take to the Zambezi in a canoe above the Falls to feel the beauty and serenity of the river. Along the way, you can expect to see wildlife like elephant, hippo, croc and birds without having to worry about the roiling rapids below the Falls, though there are a few small rapids. Unlike white-water rafting (see point 9), canoeing is available all year round.
11. Enjoy high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel
12. Meet the locals on a township tour
A large percentage of Victoria Falls’ people live in the Chinotimba township, which is a good place to meet and greet the locals. Together with your guide, you’ll get insight into township life, visit a local tavern, market or church. During term-time, a visit to the local primary school to meet the children is a highlight, and they may even sing for you. Zimbabweans are some of the warmest, friendliest people in Africa but do try to respect those who live here; remember that this is their home and they’re not just a tourist attraction. Ask first before taking photographs.
13. Have lunch at the Lookout Café
14. Swim in Devil’s Pool
15. Join a bike tour
16.Go for a game drive in Zambezi National Park
17. Spend time at Siduli Hide
18. Paint with elephants
19. Take a day-trip to Chobe National Park
20. Visit Hwange National Park
Zimbabwe’s flagship game reserve, the Hwange National Park, is about 150km away from Victoria Falls so it makes a wonderful add-on to your Victoria Falls activities. Although it’s best known for its high density of elephants, there are more than 100 species of mammals, including lion, leopard, buffalo, cheetah, wild dog, zebra, wildebeest and antelope like eland, kudu and sable. Birders will love the almost 400 bird species, including the colourful carmine bee eater in summer.
Obviously, there are lots of other things to do in Victoria Falls, from horse riding and walking safaris to tiger fishing and shopping. Browse the websites of some of the operators – see below – to see all the activities they offer. (By the way, when you’re shopping note that deforestation and poaching of wood occurs for some vendors at the curio markets, with unsustainable take-out of African ebony, African teak, pod mahogany, mukwa/kiaat and leadwood. If environmental sustainability of these hardwoods is important to you, be careful what curios you buy.)
Activity operators and Victoria Falls packages
A number of operators offer activities in Victoria Falls. One of the major ones is Wild Horizons and I’m partial to this company because of its corporate social responsibility and ethical tourism underpinnings. If ethics, conservation and community outreach are important to you, it’s a good choice for your Victoria Falls activities. Another ethical operator is Pure Africa, which offers a range of river cruises and food experiences. Three other activity operators are Discover Victoria Falls, Shearwater Adventures and Visit Victoria Falls.
Here’s a tip about combo deals: some of the activities can work out pretty expensive if you pay for them individually. When you book, check with your operator about Victoria Falls packages that offer three to five activities at a discounted price.
Victoria Falls – and Zimbabwe in general – is an all-year-round destination and you’ll have fun whenever you choose to visit. But if you have your heart set on a specific Victoria Falls activity, read on because some of them are only available at certain times of year.
- January to April/May – during March and April, the Falls will thunder at full volume into the gorge below. You’ll get very wet on the cliff walk to see the Falls, so make sure you protect your camera/phone. March to May is a good time to see the lunar rainbow or ‘moonbow’ at night. These months aren’t the best time for wildlife viewing, while white-water rafting and swimming in Devil’s Pool are closed because water levels are too high. Note that it’s very hot and humid in January and February.
- June to August – this is peak season at Victoria Falls and perhaps a better time to get photos of the Falls when they’re not obliterated by spray. You can sometimes still see the lunar rainbow in June and July. Livingstone Island and the white-water rafting season are open from about mid-July (depending on water levels). These dry winter months are great for seeing wildlife around waterholes or at the river at Zambezi National Park, Chobe National Park or Hwange National Park. If you dislike crowds in peak season, May is an option or September if you’re keen to go white-water rafting.
- September to November/December – the Falls are at their lowest, especially in November and early December. This is high season for white-water rafting adventures, a chance to visit Livingstone Island in the middle of the Zambezi River and to swim in Devil’s Pool. These are the months when low water levels make this activity safe. Note that it’s very hot and humid from October to December.
- Victoria Falls Hotel – for a touch of early 20th century elegance; don’t miss high tea on the terrace with a great view of the spray and the bridge over the Falls
- Ilala Lodge – for the most romantic candlelight dinner in town, to see spray rising from the Falls, and to be just an eight-minute walk from the Falls
- Old Drift Lodge – inside the Zambezi National Park with tented suites overlooking the river and a superbly romantic outdoor bath
- Victoria Falls Safari Lodge – great sunsets and a waterhole that lures animals like elephant and buffalo; don’t miss the African food and drumming experience at The Boma restaurant
- Elephant Hills Resort – a huge hotel set on a hill overlooking the Zambezi River, with a chance to play golf where wildlife walks the course
- Shearwater’s Explorer’s Village – for budget stays, from camping to serviced dome tents and affordable rooms; there’s a constant buzz of helicopters overhead during the day but you’ll most likely be out enjoying all the activities anyway.
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