Things to Do in Victoria Falls
The enormous Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is a popular stop for many people visiting South Africa. It’s not something you can do in a quick day trip from Johannesburg, but it’s certainly possible to see Victoria Falls on a brief side-trip from Johannesburg - which is what most people do.
Victoria Falls is often called the “world’s largest waterfall,” but that name can be deceptive. It’s not the widest nor the tallest waterfall in the world, but when you combine its width and height it creates the largest sheet of falling water. The falls were named to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1989. The name locals had given to the waterfall before explorer David Livingstone arrived in 1855 and named them after the Queen of England was Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.” This is a reference to the fact that the volume of water crashing over the falls creates such a constant mist that it’s always raining in a mist-like way.
More than 6,000 acres along the Zambezi River make up this lush rainforest reserve, which boasts some of the best views of Victoria Falls. From the shores of this protected land it’s easy to see at least four of the five sections that make up this natural wonder—the Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls and the Eastern Cataract.
Take the short walk to Cataract Point in the far west to experience a profile view of the falls looking east. Then wander to Danger Point, where you can descend the 73 steps into the gorge separating Zimbabwe from Zambia. This may be the closest visitors can get to the Devil’s Cataract, the lowest of the five falls, but it’s not such a great spot for catching scenic views, since the bigger picture tends to get lost in the mist.
Cecil Rhodes, a businessman from England, wanted engineers to build a bridge across the Zambezi where “trains, as they pass [could] catch the spray of the falls.” And while he may have died before this dream was realized, the Victoria Falls Bridge was crossed by regular train traffic for more than 50 years. Today, this 650-foot long bridge, which stands 420 feet above the Zambezi River, is a destination for history buffs and extreme sports enthusiasts alike. Guided tours focusing on construction and history are a popular activity for those visiting Victoria Falls. Those in search of serious adventure can use the bridge for bungee jumping, gorge swinging and ziplining.
Friendly staff, spacious rooms and informative guides are just part of what makes a stay at the Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve in Victoria Falls a memorable experience. Whether it’s lounging by one of the resort’s pools or wandering the grounds on a guided walking safari, there’s plenty to do and see at this popular stop that’s stationed right inside a wildlife sanctuary.
Guests can enjoy breakfast overlooking the park’s landscape, where zebra and elephants graze on vast open plains, or embark on a game drive in hopes of spotting Africa’s Big 5 aboard one of the open-top safari vehicles. The reserve’s close proximity to Victoria Falls means easy access to other popular activities, like whitewater rafting and bungee jumping over Victoria Falls—making it a perfect one-stop spot for visitors looking to experience all the diversity and adventure this destination has to offer.
Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest and most historic game reserve. Just two hours drive from Victoria Falls, this park (about the size of Belgium) is home to more than 100 species of mammals and some 400 different types of birds, making it one of the most diverse game parks in the world. Packs of painted wild hunting dogs, buffalo, lions and leopards call Hwange home, as well as one of the largest elephant herds on earth. Accommodations within Hwange range from exclusive lodges to tented camps and visitors can choose to explore the park on guided game drives, walking tours or even horseback safaris.
Bulawayo is Zimbabwe’s second-largest city and the nation's original capital. Its quiet streets don't have quite the same draw as Victoria Falls, but this once-industrial city is still worth a visit—particularly for those who want to experience Zimbabwe’s rich history and culture. The area's National Art Gallery houses a wide-range of local crafts such as baskets and clay sculptures, while its extensive collection of ethnographic artwork, like masks and headdresses once used in religious ceremonies, is one of the largest in the country. The slightly more dated Natural History Museum opened in 1964 and offers a detailed look at Zimbabwe’s pre- and post-colonial history, local culture and traditional customs. Visitors to Bulawayo can also enjoy the cool shade of towering trees in Centenary Park and Central Park, or take a refreshing dip in the city’s only public pool.
The Batoka Gorge, located just below the powerful Victoria Falls, winds through 75 miles (120 km) of rocky cliffs and sparse mopane forests between Zambia and Zimbabwe. And while hiking along this gorge that reaches heights of 400 feet in some areas ranks high on things to do, it’s the thrilling one-day whitewater rafting adventures that draw travelers to Batoka Gorge. Rapids with nicknames like “The Ugly Sister” and “Oblivion” put adrenaline junkies face-to-face with their fears and have travelers emerging from the waters with epic stories of survival. In addition to embarking on wild rides and challenging hikes, visitors to Batoka Gorge can spot a variety of species of indigenous birds, witness baboons wandering along beaten pathways and get up close to some of the rare plants that help to make Batoka Gorge so scenic.
The Zambezi River may be the most fierce body of water in Zimbabwe, but not too far across the border into Botswana, the Chobe River proves one of the most scenic. This national park, founded in 1968, includes floodplains, forest, swamps and rivers. Visitors here can embark on a river safari, where large floater boats move quietly among tall grasses, or hire a traditional macoro and paddle up close to hippos and crocodiles. Chobe is home to the largest concentration of elephants in the world. Families can be seen sipping water along the river’s edge, and at times, herds numbering more than 100 make Serondella Road, the main pass of the park, impossible to cross. Chobe is also home to over 460 species of birds, making it an ideal destination for avian enthusiasts.