SA Sunday: Victoria Falls
Fasten your seat belts. You’re in for a really long, picture-packed post. But I promise it’s totally worth it because I think I can safely say this is the coolest thing we’ve done since coming to Africa.
After spending a night in Gauteng, Fiance and I went to Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is a massive waterfall, I’m talking 355 feet high, twice as high as Niagara Falls, on the Zambezi River, which is the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. David Livingstone, the first European to see the falls, named them for Queen Victoria (as so many other things in Southern Africa are), but its indigenous name is Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders”. It really does thunder! Although Victoria Falls isn’t quite the tallest or longest waterfall in the world, it is the largest sheet of falling water.
Now that you have the background, here is a recap of our adventure!
We left Gauteng after a slight delay to our flight (heads up to others visiting the falls: our flights both to and from the falls on Air Zimbabwe were delayed) and landed in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in the late afternoon. We had to purchase visas at the airport before entering Zimbabwe. Another tip for other travelers: Zimbabwe is currently using the dollar as their national currency and you have to pay for your visa in cash. They do have an ATM at the airport. We got double entry visas, since we planned to visit Zambia, which were $45 each. Get a lot of cash out because it’s pretty much a cash only city. Most places will accept the dollar, rand (South Africa’s currency), and kwacha (Zambia’s currency). The ATM gave us our cash in hundred dollar bills, not twenties, and we had a LOT of trouble breaking them. If you can, stop by one of the banks in town to get small change (don’t forget to tip!).
Victoria Falls airport is a tiny little airport. We stepped out of the plane right onto the tarmac! Even better, there are only two international gates.
We booked our entire trip through KDR Travel and Tours, who were easy to work with. They arranged for a shuttle to pick us up from the airport and take us to our hotel. We stayed at the Rainbow Hotel on the Zimbabwe side of the falls. It was a gorgeous hotel and the perfect mid-range option for us. There are some pretty elaborate resorts in the area, but we were only staying two nights and didn’t spend much time at the hotel. Here’s a picture of our room:
After we got checked into our room, we went to the pool bar for a drink. Even though wine dominates Southern Africa, there is some pretty good beer, and Fiance fell in love with yet another lager: Zambezi Lager. He even got a t-shirt at the airport on our way out. Don’t worry, Oregon, they still don’t got nothin’ on you when it comes to brews.
We knew we wouldn’t have time to go to Victoria Falls National Park that evening, so we signed up for a dinner cruise on the Zambezi to do that night. After a few minutes of waiting for our shuttle to take us to the dock, we started to get worried. The shuttle was supposed to pick us up at 5:15 and the cruise was going to leave at 5:30- not a lot of wiggle room. We mentioned it to the activities coordinator at the hotel who immediately looked panicked and said he’d make some phone calls. About ten minutes later, a car finally showed up.
We got to the docks late to find that the cruise had left without us. I was immediately disappointed, thinking we’d have to get a refund and go back the hotel. But our driver and another guy at the dock walkie-talkied the boat and waved them back. This might sound like something that should have brought me some relief, or made me happy. And it kind of did. But in that moment I was just mortified because a dinner cruise packed full of people was forced to turn around and come back for little ol’ us, which took at least five minutes. This is an open boat, so every single person was quietly staring at Fiance and I as the boat re-docked. My face was the color of my hot pink dress the entire time.
Once we found our seats, which were of course in the middle of the boat, and I got a glass of wine, people lost interest in our late arrival and I was able to forget my humiliation (which I’m sure was so much worse in my mind). This is me calming down:
Fiance was only mildly embarrassed and was mostly just laughing at my distress. He’s kind like that.
We saw some hippos right away. We actually saw hippos every time we were near the Zambezi River during our trip.
We also saw elephants! Three different times. Unfortunately it was so dark during these sightings that it was really hard to grab a picture and this is the best I’ve got for you.
The sunset that evening was absolutely gorgeous. We came at the perfect time of year. It was sunny and mid-80s during our whole visit.
We got back to the dock after dark, and luckily there was a shuttle to take us back to the hotel (I was definitely worried). Fiance was thrilled to have nine sports channels at his disposal in our room, so we watched some TV and went to bed before a seriously big day the next day.
We got up bright and early to start our adventure across the border. After breakfast at the hotel, we asked the activities coordinator about getting a taxi to the border, and this turned out to be a bit more of an ordeal than we expected, but we made it. On the Zimbabwe side, they stamped our passports to indicate an exit, then we started the 15 minute walk to the Zambia border. Part of that walk included crossing the Victoria Falls Bridge where we had an incredible view of the falls.
People were kayaking in the water below! I am way too anxious of a person to kayak and white water raft. I really wish I wasn’t. There were also people bungee jumping off this bridge! Again, no thank you.
After the bridge we passed by Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. The sign should give you some idea of the wildlife in the area.
We finally got to the border post on the Zambia side, where we had our temperature taken as a check for ebola and bought our single-entry visas (fellow travelers: $20 each, pay in cash). There were baboons all over the border post! This particular one had a baby on her back:
We’re used to seeing baboons in South Africa. They lose their appeal and cuteness pretty quickly once you realize how badly they want your food and that you have to guard your bag or they’ll totally snatch it. They didn’t harass us too much, though.
From here, we found a cab to take us to the Royal Livingstone Hotel, where we were meeting a group to do the scariest thing I’ve ever done: swim in Devil’s Pool. Oh, just you wait and see.
This is perhaps the most famous hotel in Victoria Falls. When we’re real grownups and have all the money we could ever want to travel the world (which WILL happen if I wish it into being hard enough…), we’ll bring our kids back and stay in this hotel.
There were zebras grazing in the lawn like it was no big deal. So of course we snuck up on them and got some pictures.
Around the time we were supposed to get picked up to be taken to Livingstone Island, where we’d swim to Devil’s Pool from, we went over to the dock where we met two other Americans from California who we’d be doing the swim with. One of them was as nervous as I was about the whole thing which oddly made me feel braver. In the meantime, we enjoyed the view of the river and watched a group of hippos in the water a few hundred feet away.
The boat came to pick us up and the guide split us into two groups of six. We were with the other two Americans, a woman from Colombia, and a man from Spain. We took a small boat over to the island, about a five minute boat ride. A boat on which we of course took some selfies.
We could see the spray of the falls from the boat, which didn’t exactly ease my growing fears about the swim I was about to take.
Then we got to the island, which is named for David Livingstone. He saw Victoria Falls for the first time from the island. There’s a plaque at that viewpoint, where we got to stop and take pictures of the falls. The falls are breathtakingly beautiful and the rainbows made the impact even greater.
From here, we moved on to a spot where we ditched all our stuff, crossing our fingers that a baboon wouldn’t come by and snag our bags which had our passports. We got to give one camera per couple to another guide, who was brave enough to dance around the falls and take our pictures. Then it was time for the swim. Honestly, I was more nervous about the swim from Livingstone Island to Devil’s Pool then actually swimming at the edge of the falls. The current was really strong, and although I’m a fine swimmer, it’s only something I’ve ever done recreationally. Our guide was awesome, though, and told us exactly how to swim to fight the current and kept us all safe. A lot of it was shallow enough to walk.
And then… we went in to Devil’s Pool. Devil’s Pool is a pool of water literally at the edge of the falls. It’s created when the water is at a certain level, usually between September and December, and a rock formation creates a barrier at the edge. The current is still incredibly strong, and you have to be really careful, but it’s totally doable. I say that now, sitting safely in front of my computer in Cape Town, of course.
Here we are with our guide:
And me gazing in awe and terror straight down 350 feet at the cascading water around me:
And Fiance looking the happiest he’s ever been, striking a Superman pose:
Look closely at the upper righthand corner of this photo. See the people? That’s us in Devil’s Pool.
Here’s a video of our adventure to really give you the full effect!
Fiance actually signed us up for this activity without consulting me first. Instead, he signed us up, showed me a video, told me to “think about it”, and when I finally decided we should do it, he said, “Good, I signed us up last week.” Rude.
I am really, really glad we did this, though. I felt excited and good about it after I decided we should, then we showed a video of it to our moms who panicked, and I started to question whether or not it was worth it. Our guide was fantastic and took really good care of us. As long as you’re smart and follow the guide’s directions, you will be totally safe. I have never, ever experienced anything as thrilling or awe-inspiring as swimming in Devil’s Pool. You are never going to get a view of the falls like that (really, literally) anywhere else and there’s something about swimming in the same water that is incredibly cool. Not to mention that a good adrenaline rush is always fun!
We swam back, which was a little harder since our muscles were tired from fighting the current on the way over and we were starting to lose some of that adrenaline, then dried off and got dressed. After that, they served us a delicious breakfast on the island with a view of the falls while we ate. I loved getting to calm down and relive the experience with other people in our group right on the island.
On our boat ride back to the hotel, we spotted some elephants on the bank! Elephants and rhinos have been by far my favorite animal sightings since we’ve been here. They’re such majestic creatures and I’m wowed by them every time.
We decided to have a drink on the deck at the Royal Livingstone Hotel and enjoy the view before heading back to Zimbabwe.
The Royal Livingstone Hotel had all these adorable little white monkeys running around and one decided to pay us a visit!
It was a little jumpy though and panicked every time it realized we were looking at it.
It did hold still long enough for one good photo, though.
We got a taxi back to the border post where we had to get a stamp in our passports that said we were exiting Zambia. This taxi driver drove us back to the other border post, which was great since we were a little tired from the morning adventure and had a lot more to do that day.
At the Zimbabwe side, we had to wait in a much longer line to get back into the country. It was a little chaotic, but eventually we go our passports stamped for our second entry into Zimbabwe. Make sure you get vaccinated for yellow fever and get malaria pills before visiting these countries. You’ll need to present your “yellow book,” a small book with records of your vaccinations, when entering Zimbabwe.
I had to get the ultimate tourist photo with this sign on our walk from the border to Victoria Falls National Park:
Then we went to the park. This park offers incredible views of the falls from the Zimbabwe side. So here is a series of photos that speak for themselves:
After gawking at the beauty that is Victoria Falls for a long, long time, we made our way back to the beginning where there’s a statue of David Livingstone.
After several hours in the park, we grabbed a slushy on our way out and found a taxi to take us back to the hotel. The taxi driver asked what we were doing for dinner that evening, and we told him we’d planned to just eat at our hotel’s restaurant. He said, “No! You have to go to Boma” and passed us a brochure. It looked like quite the restaurant, so we said yes. He made our reservations for us and came back to pick us up from our hotel at 7:00 p.m.
We had so much fun! It was definitely a very touristy experience, which we don’t typically go for, but we embraced it for what it was. They dressed us in wraps when we got there, then had us dance with them for a few minutes before getting our faces painted.
Then we were sat down for dinner, where we were served their traditional sorghum beer, Umqombothi. It had a really strong flavor that I actually kind of liked, but I ended up going for wine for the rest of the meal, and Fiance got another Zambezi. We were served appetizers that we ordered, but from there it was buffet style. We had veggies, bread, steak, warthog, peanut butter rice, maize meal, fish, pumpkin soup, and plenty of other dishes. It was delicious! After dessert, they taught the entire restaurant different songs on drums. We had a great experience and I recommend it to other people visiting Victoria Falls.
We got to the airport where we found out our flight had been delayed an hour and a half. We had a connecting flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, but luckily I had insisted on a big window between flights because I am the most paranoid traveler ever (FIANCE LOOK! My travel paranoia really does pay off!). We made our second flight with a just enough time to spare.
This was a seriously incredible vacation, only second to our trip to Vegas, where Fiance proposed! I highly recommend this trip to anyone that can do it. There is nothing like Victoria Falls and it’s a great way to see two African countries in one trip. Not to mention, there are countless activities like safaris you can do while in the area.
Thank you for reading what might be my longest post yet!