The Victoria Falls requires little introduction. It ranks up there with Cape Town's Table Mountain and Egypt's Pyramids as one of Africa's most famous tourism destinations. It's the world's greatest sheet of falling water, one of the Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yet its grandeur as an awesome natural phenomenon has all but been eclipsed by the publicity hype that has turned a once- tiny colonial railway-junction town into one of the Adrenalin-Adventure Capitals of the world.
We mustn't lose sight of the reason those old colonials named the place after their longest-living, best-loved monarch. This giant waterfall (nearly 2km wide and with an average depth of about 100m) is the Zambezi River's best known geographical and natural feature. Its spray can be seen rising into the air, to a height of nearly 500m at full volume, from a distance of 30 km away. The local Makololo name for this extraordinary and sacred place is far more apt: "Mosi-oa-Tunya" - The Smoke that Thunders.
The Smoke is shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the Zambezi River forming the border. The two countries are linked by a famous steel bridge, constructed in 1905 and arched across the 152m-wide gorge directly in the downstream spray of the waterfall.
In 1989, UNESCO recognised the worldwide significance of these Falls and the surrounding area by declaring it a World Heritage Site. The Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls World Heritage Site, covers some 6 860ha, is centred on the Falls, and is jointly managed by the two countries. UNESCO's World Heritage listing describes it as "a superlative natural phenomenon with exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance and an outstanding example of significant geological features and active land formation processes."
There is no question that the Victoria Falls is a scenic wonder. The magnificence of the mighty Zambezi tumbling into a black, rocky 100m-deep abyss below can be felt as a powerful force, and even a slight tremor in the ground, especially at peak flow (usually Dec - May). The spray that is thrown up out of this tumultous 'cauldron' creates magnificent rainbows and a very high level of moisture that gives rise to the extraordinary 'rainforest' of verdant vegetation which grows along the lip of the gorge opposite the waterfall. Visitors on the Zimbabwean side of the Falls are able to walk through the 'rainforest' along nearly two-thirds of this lip, enjoying by far the most rewarding view of the waterfall, a stone's-throw away across the yawning gap of the gorge.
But what is truly amazing about the Victoria Falls, is its geology, revealed clearly in satellite photographs (or an aerial view). The giant waterfall and its associated gorges are quite simply an example of massive gully erosion, not on the grand scale of the Grand Canyon, but on a pretty awesome scale nevertheless! Geologists have worked out that about 11 million years ago, the upper Zambezi River may have flowed southwards, finding its way to the sea via either the Limpopo or Orange Rivers in South Africa. Over geological time, a gradual upwarping of the earth's crust across the river's course resulted in its waters being captured with nowhere to go, forming a vast inland sea in Northern Botswana. The waters of this lake spread out eastwards towards an area of underlying basalt rock with fault-line cracks within it, and began to excavate soft sediments in the basalt cracks. Eventually they cut down far enough to find a way out and join up with other river systems, forming a new river course to the east - the modern-day Zambezi .
The Falls and its steep-sided black basalt gorges have been formed through the changing waterfall positions over the intervening millions of years. The gorges take a zigzag course of a distance of about 150 km along the Zambezi River below the falls. Seven previous waterfalls occupied the seven gorges below the present falls, and the erosive forces of the water still continue to sculpture the hard basalts today. Zimbabwe's Devil's Cataract is the starting point of a new cut-back which will form the next waterfall. A satellite or aerial view of the falls shows possible future waterfall positions along existing, as yet uneroded, cracks in the surrounding basalt.
Wild Zambezi - focusing on the wild and natural at Victoria Falls
Wild Zambezi does not pretend to provide comprehensive listings of all the accommodation and activity options available to visitors to Victoria Falls. We try to showcase a varied range of choices available while remaining faithful to our primary focus: to promote those tourism options and experiences which depend upon the wild and natural wonders of the Zambezi Valley and which are committed to sustaining their values into the future.
The town of Victoria Falls lies in Zimbabwe on the south bank of the Zambezi River close to the Falls. It is served by a newly-upgraded international airport with direct links to the outside world, and rail and road links to the rest of Zimbabwe and into Zambia.
The original settlement began in the early 1900s with the building of the Falls bridge. Today, it is a thriving tourism hub, providing a full range of accommodation choices, from five-star hotels to medium-range and affordable family establishments, bed and breakfasts, self-catering chalets, backpackers retreats and camping sites.
There's no shortage of things to do in Victoria Falls. It's not called an Adventure Destination for nothing! Viewing the waterfall itself is only one of a vast range of activities on offer to suit all tastes and ages (make sure you've got protective raingear if the waterlevels are high (December - May) , you can get drenched in the spray!). If you need an adrenalin surge, jump off the Falls bridge on the end of a bunjee rope, swing across the Batoka gorge on a giant cable, canoe the rapids above the Falls, or raft the turbulent white waters of the basalt Batoka Gorges. Alternatively, if you prefer something more sedentary, enjoy a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River above the Falls, or a morning game-drive in the nearby Zambezi National Park. You can also visit a nearby village and meet some of the local inhabitants, or enjoy shopping for crafts in the markets of the Falls Village.
Getting into the wild in Victoria Falls
With all the activities going on in and around the town of Victoria Falls, it is a surprise to some that people looking for a wild and natural African experience can actually find it here. The Victoria Falls area benefits from the rich wildlife resources of the Zambezi Valley much of which, in Zimbabwe, is protected under the National Parks Estate or on privately-run conservancies. A visit to the nearby Zambezi National Park can be extremely rewarding for game viewing and birdwatching and spectacular views of the Zambezi River above the Falls. The Park boasts good populations of buffalo, elephant, giraffe, zebra, warthog, baboon, various antelope and a host of smaller mammals, as well as the occasional elusive leopard or pride of lion. Most of the hotels offer game drives into the Park and you can also take a walking safari in the company of an experienced and knowledgeable professional safari guide. Don't forget to support the local community conservation initiatives (like the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VAPU) which help the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority to keep this area wild and wonderful for visitors to enjoy.
Linked stories & Blogs:-
Latest ZimParks Fees (Travel Advice)
Cruising Lake Kariba out of Victoria Falls - October 2016
How to escape to the wild in Victoria Falls - October 2015
Family-friendly Victoria Falls - September 2015
Victoria Falls Area - River Lodges & Camps along the Zambezi - September 2015
Victoria Falls - a unique ecosystem supports a unique flora October 2014
Wild Zambezi welcomes the UNWTO - Aug 2013
Victoria Falls Viewing Points explained in detail + map - July 2011
Victoria Falls tops the list of world's 10 greatest wonders - March 2014
Vic Falls listed in Lonely Planet top 10 travel regions for 2014! - Nov 2013