If this is to be your first visit to Africa, Zambia, and the Victoria Falls, you’re in for a huge surprise! Here are some secret places of Victoria Falls.
The Falls were first discovered by David Livingstone in 1855. He and the locals gave it various names including “the smoke that thunders”, or Mosia-au-Tunya in the local dialect.
Myths, legends and facts of the Victoria Falls
The Zambezi River flows through six different countries and at various parts can be considered the life and survival of the people who live close to it. In the early days, before the Victoria pioneers, legend has it that the river God, Nyami Nyami protected everyone that came close to or swan in the river. The river God is a sacred person to the local Tonga tribe and he lives upriver, close to the Kariba Dam wall.
As one of the largest rivers in East Africa one would think it would be a vital source of movement and transport, however, the intermittent rapids, gorges and waterfalls all make this impossible. The river floods annually with water levels rising sometimes up to 3 vertical meters! This creates a spectacular display of cascading water as it plunges down into the Batoka Gorge.
The Basalt plateau over which the Zambezi River flows has many cracks that are filled with Sandstone. This Sandstone is a type of rock that is easily eroded. Over many hundreds of thousands of years the Zambezi River has eroded the Sandstone cracks to form the Batoka Gorge.
The Victoria Falls create the largest curtain of water in the world! After the rainy season in parts North of Zambia and the Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River begins to swell and the floods arrive. This is usually from February to May every year depending on the rains. It has been said that in full flood there is over 3 million cubic liters of water rushing over the falls every second!!!
It is when the Falls are in full flood that the plume of spray rises several hundred meters into the air. Its a great sight to see from the air as you get the perspective of the Falls and the Batoka Gorge. On the ground in the National Park it’s not so great. Take an umbrella, rain jacket, poncho and nothing that you cant afford to get wet. It’s WET!
There is so much water cascading into the gorge that the force of the water going down creates an upward rush of air. This is incredible to see because there are water droplets that are rushing past your face going upwards! Water is supposed to flow downwards – not so here. The small islands all along the river offer some very secret places of Victoria Falls.
When Livingstone first arrived in the area he was much intrigued by the stories from the local tribes people of this incredible scene. His first experience was seeing the plume of mist from afar and as he neared the thunderous sound came to his ears. He was taken by a local tribesman in a mokoro to an island in the middle of the river, right at the edge of the Falls, and from here he first witnessed the incredible sight of the waterfalls.
He named the Falls after his Queen and while this name has remained for many years it is called Mosi-au-Tunya in the official heritage list.
The island is a local heritage site and can be visited from the Royal Livingstone Hotel via motor boat. Enjoy a lunch here or spend a few hours at sunset. While this activity is not cheap it is well worth it for the scenery, sound and enjoyment of a sunset from this perspective. A real secret place of the Victoria Falls!
After many eons of erosion, at low water levels, there are many pools and weirdly carved rocks to be seen. One of these is a wide, deep pool right at the edge of the falls. This is not an easy walk and can only be attempted between August and January depending on the water levels. You will need to be relatively fit, steady on your feet and realize that this is a dangerous activity. There have been both injuries and deaths of locals and tourists that visit the pool.
While it is good to be aware of the dangers it is also one of the secret places of Victoria Falls and was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life! When you jump in the force of the water through the pool forces you to the edge where you can peer 120 meters down into the Batoka Gorge. I did this more then 20 years ago, these days there are safety ropes and the guides are careful to ensure your safety.
When you enter the Falls National Park keep bearing to your left. Along the pathways you will see a small sight that says “Boiling Pot”. If you’re of reasonable fitness with strong knees this is a great walk to the bottom of the gorge. We have done it many times with guests and they absolutely loved it.
If you stay on the path and continue bearing to the left there is a beautiful path all the way to the border post. I walked this several times alone and found some stunning view points. Best of all? No one else to be seen.
There are lots of Baboons in the area so do be wary of what you carry with you. Baboons are quick to intimidate us and will target women specifically. Yes, they can sex us. If you have been through the border posts of Zambia or Zimbabwe you will have seen them hanging around there and they are very relaxed and swagger around like they own the place. Don’t let this fool you, if you approach too closely they can become very aggressive.
Another secret place of Victoria Falls is the little known path to the right as you enter the Victoria Falls National Park. You do need to be aware of wildlife here. And not just Baboons but also Hippo and Elephant. You lose sight of the Falls for about 70 meters and then come to a railing where the view along the side of the Falls is excellent. In the distance is the small pedestrian bridge over to the island. Further away is the famous bridge which was completed in 1905. You can continue walking past the view points until you actually get to the banks of the Zambezi River.
Peer off to your left and you can see the edge of the Falls. Be very careful here. The rocks are wet and slippery and if you fall in you will be gone in seconds. You are that close to the edge! This is another great perspective of the Falls and one that few people bother to visit.
Head back towards the statue of David Livingstone. From here, walk down the steps and watch out for some stunning views through the trees’ and foliage. While you’re walking you will see that there is no barricade along the path. There are lots of steps and several smaller paths off to your right to viewpoints. If there isn’t too much spray these viewpoints are great for photographs.
Another of the secret places of Victoria Falls is the “island”.
In the photograph above you can see the small bridge. This you need to cross to get to this pinnacle of rock. If the Falls are in full flood this may not be possible. If it is then be prepared to get wet. And go slowly, it can be very slippery on that bridge. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife have in the past put down rubber mats on the bridge to make the footing safer. Unfortunately these were not fixed to the bridge so many are missing.
If you are susceptible to vertigo then don’t look down. It’s a perilous view but the views are also excellent along the bridge.
Once you have crossed this bridge there is a path on the right with fantastic views further along the face of the Falls. Take your time to explore this island. There is a little known and often overlooked path through the forest with great views of the Old Bridge. The foliage is stunning with lots of bird life and the tree’s all bear their names.
I always recommend guests to explore the national park at least twice. Once during the day and then a second time as the sun is setting. The different colors and light makes for unforgettable photographs and memories. If you are there during a full moon then its a good idea to get into the park for this as the “lunar rainbow” is something well worth seeing.
Another secret of Victoria Falls is walking. Whether you’re staying in Zambia or Zimbabwe, get on your feet and walk! Perhaps get a taxi close to the Falls if your hotel is not near the border but once you are close start walking. There are some incredible sights you will not see if you are not on foot. And, as always, be aware that you are in a National Park on both sides of the border, this means that Buffalo & Elephant are quite likely to be seen, especially on the Zimbabwe side.
At the entrance to the Falls National Park in Zambia there is a small curio market, this is worth seeing and while you may get pestered by the store owners to buy things you don’t always need money. Both countries are very poor so if you want to trade that jacket you haven’t used, those shoes that are old or a handbag, consider bargaining a trade with them. Zambians delight in haggling and this too will be an experience for you.
If you are staying at the Avani Hotel, you are allowed into the Falls National Park as many times as you like, free of charge. I have stayed at this hotel and can recommend it highly.
From the Zambia side get a taxi to the border and then walk across the famous bridge, views are fantastic and with your KAZA UniVisa going back and forth will no longer cost you any extra money. This walk is great fun as it’s a busy thoroughfare for the local people, tourists still bungee jump off it and the odd truck crosses as well. In the evenings there is a sunset train excursion from the Vic Falls train station and this too is a magical experience.
No matter which country you are in to the Victoria Falls I would highly recommend that you see this from both sides. I have been to this gem of Africa hundreds of times and I ALWAYS take the time out to go back and see it again – it’s that special every single time.
If it’s your first time to visit Zambia then read our Country Information for travel advice to Zambia.
For accommodation in this area have a look at Stanley Safari Lodge or Siankaba Island Lodge. Ilala Lodge in Zimbabwe is conveniently located very close to the entrance to the Falls National park in Zimbabwe.
For more information on this Natural Wonder of the World then read about it at Seven Natural Wonders.