After spending an entire day checking out Victoria Falls from both sides of the border, and from the air, I’m almost lost for words at how amazing the site is and I can only imagine what it’s like during the rainy season when the falls are at their peak flow rate.
Walking across the bridge into Zambia
We were advised to head out early and to see the falls from the Zambian side first for two reasons. Firstly, since the sun will be behind you at this time, and also since during the dry season the Zimbabwean side of the falls is more powerful than the Zambian side during dry season. So, to make the most of the day and beat the crowds, we left camp at 0630 after an early breakfast.
Our camp was very close to the border so we were there in around 15 minutes and, due to the lack of crowds at that time of the morning, it took less than 30 minutes to complete the immigration formalities on both sides of the border. We didn’t quite make it to the Zambian side in time for sunrise but we were one of the first people into the park just before 0730.
The Zambian side of Victoria Falls
At this time of year there isn’t much water on the Zambian side so you don’t need to spend much time there. However, going in the dry season does give you a chance to appreciate the canyon a bit more since it can be very difficult to see during the rainy season. Although like most attractions you can spend as much or as little time here depending on your preference and walking speed.
I spent around 2 hours exploring the Zambian side of the falls, taking in most of the view points and trails that are available. The vest view was from the final view point, right at the border where the gorge starts, although to get there you had to walk across a narrow bridge which I wasn’t a fan of. But the views were great, including lots of rainbows created by the spray, and you could see that the Zimbabwean side of the falls was still really powerful.
There is one view point that I decided not to check out as it involves walking down some steps to the floor of the gorge. It would have given some impressive views but it was already so hot even at 9am and so I didn’t fancy having to walk back up the stairs again to get out of the gorge.
By the time I had finished looking around the Zambian side of the falls I had lost the rest of the group so I decided to make my way back to the Zimbabwean side on my own. This involved having to get past a gauntlet of souvenir sellers who wouldn’t take no for an answer and were very pushy, unfortunately, but after a small delay I was back at the border.
Crossing back into Zimbabwe
Crossing back into Zimbabwe was rather awkward. The Zambian side of the border was just as quick as this morning, but there were huge queues on the Zimbabwean side. Luckily, due to the number of tourists who cross the border, there are different counters for people who need visas (or already have visas) and another counter for locals who don’t need a visa but who do need to be processed differently. There was no queue for the counter that I had to go to, which saved me a lot of time, although it caused some confrontation with the people who were waiting in line who started accusing the staff at the border of taking me to the front of the line just because I was a foreigner. This, naturally, was not the case but it was a very awkward situation.
The more powerful side of Victoria Falls
The Zimbabwean side of the falls was a lot busier than the Zambian side. Presumably this is because at this time of the year it’s the most powerful side of the falls. This is understandable, but it did mean that it was rather loud and that you often had to compete with people to get the best views at each view point.
I started at the far end of the falls and worked my way back towards the middle, which is where I got to on the Zambian side. The views were incredible and the falls got more and more powerful at every view point until we reached the main falls where I got absolutely drenched by all of the spray and where it was so loud you could barely hear anything. I can only imagine what it must be like in the middle of the rainy season – I imagine that the entire falls would be worse than this!
The power of the main falls meant that it was difficult to take photos or video but I was able to get a few shots before having to leave to prevent the camera getting too wet. I wasn’t so lucky, however, as by the time I left the view point for the main falls my clothes and my hair were so wet it looked like I had just gone for a swim. Although, to be honest, this was welcome relief from the heat which was starting to get a bit unbearable.
I spent a little over 2 hours on the Zimbabwean side checking out the falls. I could have spent way longer, just looking in awe at the power of them, but I was due to be picked up for my helicopter flight at 230pm and I wanted to leave enough time to head back into town, grab some food, and change my clothes.
When we were given the brief tour of town yesterday we were told that the best place to get coffee at Victoria Falls was at the Shearwater Cafe. This was just down the road from our camp and so I stopped here for a couple of iced lattes to get some caffeine in me and to cool down out of the sun, before grabbing a takeaway pizza and heading back to my room to relax before my helicopter flight.
Victoria Falls from the air
At $175 for only 12 minutes in the air the helicopter flight was probably out of my budget for the trip, but I decided to treat myself. My thinking was that while I will probably visit Victoria Falls again, since I want to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana and most trips there start or end here, you only visit somewhere for the first time once and I didn’t want to go home and regret not doing the flight.
The price included transfers from our camp to the heliport, which was owned by the Zambezi Helicopter Company. There are several operators offering flights in town but this one has the better safety record and so is the one that is recommended by not only Intrepid but also the other overland companies.
The helicopter can fit up to 5 people but, due to the size of various groups who were there at the time, our flight only had me and one other person from our group. Before each flight you are weighed so that they can ensure that the helicopter is balanced, and I was asked to sit in the back on my own. While it would have been amazing to sit in the front, being in the back on my own meant that I was able to take way more photos and videos than I would otherwise have done.
The flight lasts 12 minutes from take off until landing and you probably spend 7-8 minutes over the falls doing various circuits so that you can see them from all angles. The views were incredible, as you can see below.
Since we were having such a great time on our flight the 12 minutes went by so fast and before we knew it we were making our approach back to the helipad.
Like at any tourist attraction they will try to sell you photos and videos of your experience. I tried to resist the temptation to buy them, as I had already gone way over budget on this trip, but I really liked the photos so decided to buy a CD with them on before taking the shuttle back to camp.
My final evening in Zimbabwe
Today is the changeover day and was the last day for the trip that I was on, although I had booked an extra night at the finishing point, and it was the first day for the people who were joining the trip to travel through Botswana and Namibia down to Cape Town. The people joining the trip seemed nice and I hope that the dynamic of the group stays the same all the way down to Cape Town.
Even though I had technically left the trip by this point I went to the welcome meeting for the next leg of the trip where Mambo went through everything that they would be doing over the coming weeks. By the end of the meeting I was incredibly jealous since Namibia is the first country that I visited in sub-Saharan Africa – exactly 20 years ago – and I am longing to return there one day. It was at this point that it hit me that I am leaving tomorrow and it made me really sad, although I’ve had a great time. It has been an amazing couple of weeks and I’m so glad that I came on this trip. We had some great experiences, the people in the group were amazing, and I have nothing but lovely things to say about the Intrepid crew who made us feel welcome from day 1 and who helped us to create memories that will last a lifetime.
After the welcome meeting we all went out for dinner in town, and settled on the Three Monkeys Restaurant which had come very highly recommended. It was huge and full of tourists, which meant that the prices were higher than we were used to paying over the past couple of weeks, but the food was delicious. Being the pizza lover that I am I had another pizza even though I had one for lunch. Yes, yes, I know! It was very nice, though!
I have booked a transfer to the airport at 0730 tomorrow morning, ready for my journey home to the UK. Luckily it’s not too early and I should have a chance to say goodbye to everybody before I leave.