Africa's Most Iconic Natural Wonder: A Guide to Victoria Falls

image via Pius Mahimbi

Victoria Falls has been called one of the world's seven wonders, and it is widely considered the largest falls on earth in terms of overall water flow. The lush landscapes that surround the falls and the tumbling water itself create a once-in-a-lifetime visual experience that few other natural wonders can match. In the local Tonga language the falls are called Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means "Smoke that Thunders." The name comes from the misty spray that the water creates and the constant roar that is emitted by such a large volume of water falling down more than 350 feet.

When to Visit

When to visit: Victoria Falls, Zambia

image via Austin King

Timing is important when you visit the falls. During the day, it is possible to see rainbows caused by the mist. An even more exciting sight is the lunar rainbow ('moonbow') that can be seen only during a full moon. Go here to see when the moon is full in Southern Africa. Viewing areas are normally closed in the evenings, but are opened specifically for tour groups who come to see this rare phenomenon. Choosing the right season is also important. There is really no "wrong time" to visit, but the overall experience will be quite different depending on the season. During the Southern Hemisphere summer (December through March), rain falls often. The falls are really thunderous at this time. The volume of water can actually make it harder to see because of all the spray and mist. In the winter dry season, the falls are more visible, though not quite as thunderous. Depending on the annual rainfall, sometimes the falls will be no more than a trickle in October and November.

Why to choose the Zambian side of Victoria Falls

Why to choose the Zambian side of Victoria Falls: Victoria Falls, Zambia

image via Jeremy T. Hetzel

Victoria Falls can be visited from both Zimbabwe and Zambia. This is a popular attraction, so it can get crowded, especially on the Zimbabwe side. Zambia offers a more laid-back experience, with the option to take a day trip across the border to see what you are missing in Zimbabwe. The town of Livingstone, Zambia is filled with interesting museums, quality restaurants, and even a few happening nightlife venues.  The Livingstone Museum offers a glimpse into the history of the falls and Zambia as a whole, while visitors will find an almost unlimited menu of shopping options on the town's streets. The Fallspark shopping center offers upscale retail experience. Every hotel and resort near Livingstone has its own bar and lounge, and spots like Rhapsody (and upscale bar) and Chez n'Temba, a local-flavored nightclub, offer the chance to find some after-dark fun.

The Falls and beyond

The falls and beyond: Victoria Falls, Zambia

image via David Brossard

The Zambezi River flows over Victoria Falls, but the waters around the falls are also quite interesting. Upriver, whitewater rafting adventures are available, while you can also find adventure without getting wet by taking a cruise on the river's calmer sections on the African Queen Safari boat. Wildlife, including the famous hippos, can be viewed during these trips.  One of the most attractive attributes of the Zambian side of the falls is that tourists can get easy access to multiple national parks. Zambezi National Park is only a few miles from Livingstone, while the small game preserve at Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is also worth a few hours of your time.  Victoria Falls National Park, which is the park that surrounds the falls on the Zambian side, has additional trails that offer a chance to walk along the river above and below the falls.

Endless Adventure

Endless adventure: Victoria Falls, Zambia

image via Kristin Wall

Thanks to a towering bungee jump and white-water rafting options, Victoria Falls has become the center of Southern Africa's adventure sports scene. The bungee jump is located on a  bridge that towers far above the Zambezi. There is also a site called the Zambezi Swing. Thrill-seekers swing out over the gorge. There are also less-intense options here including a zip line tour and chances to rappel down the side of the gorge.  A slower experience can be found on the historic, steam powered Royal Livingstone Express train. Gourmet meals and drinks are served during the ride.

Where to stay near Victoria Falls

Where to stay near the falls: Victoria Falls, Zambia

image via Estate Weddings and Events

For people who want to have a truly memorable Vicotira Falls trip, the best place to stay is Tongabezi. This is a resort on the banks of the Zambezi within walking distance of the falls. Guests get to choose from a number of private residences, which feature space, privacy, extra luxuries, and unique African designs. Meals and drinks are included, and you can organize many different excursions through the resort, so there will be no need to rely on a third party or to figure out tickets, admission fees and timing of your visits. All of that is handled for you. Tongabezi also features lounge areas and a main dining room, as well as a special dining boat where each course is literally paddled out to you as you sit in a sampan in the middle of the Zambezi.

Your turn...

Have you been to Victoria Falls? Or have you always dreamed of going? Let us know about your experiences or plans in the comments section below.