Hwange National Park is in west Zimbabwe. Its grasslands and mopane woods are home to large elephant herds, lions and African wild dogs. In the northwest, animals gather at Mandavu and Masuma dams, where there are concealed lookouts. Bumbusi National Monument includes 18th-century ruins and pre-colonial rock carvings.
The Victoria Falls National Park is within walking distance from the centre of town of Victoria Falls, but we decided to park up in the Park’s carpark. The entry fee was quite expensive so we hoped that we would not be disappointed by the falls.
Once you enter the park there is a trail that leads you to Victoria Falls. Our first view of the falls was breathtaking. The waters of the Zambezi River crash over a cliff into the gorge below. We were visiting in the dry season, so the flow was not very high, but it was nonetheless spectacular. An incredible amount of spray is thrown up by the water going over the falls, and on a sunny day like it was that day we got some amazing rainbows created in the mist – it was magical. The thing about Victoria Falls is not the drop, it is the width of the falls.
We followed a trail for over a kilometre along the line of the falls, with several viewpoints to capture those holiday snaps, before reaching the bridge that spans the gorge and connects Zimbabwe with Zambia.
About halfway along we stopped to watch people in the ‘Devil’s Pool” on the Zambian side of the pools. This is a smallish pool that sits right on the edge of falls, and I mean right on the edge. You must scramble over some slippery-looking rocks to get to the Devil’s pools, which look precarious, and we wondered what would happen if you fell! Once in the pool, it looked safe, but people get others to hold their legs whilst they crawl over the rocks on the edge of the falls to look over the precipice. As we watched there was one nutter, who stayed after his group left, climbed onto the pool’s rock edge and stood taking selfies. You read about many people dying taking selfie photos all around the world – this could easily have been more to add to that statistic.
The ‘Vulture Culture’ event takes place at 1pm every day at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
The Lodge is a little way outside of Vic Falls, but we arrived in plenty of time to get good seats. A large group of around 30 people gathered in an area below the main bar of the Lodge, where we were given a briefing about the types of vultures and other birds, such as maribou storks, that we would see during the ‘show’. Our host also explained that vultures are under threat of extinction mainly due to the farmers poisoning carcasses – which they do to get rid of other animals such as lions and hyenas but inadvertently kill the vultures. Vultures are nature’s clean-up team. They remove all the meat from carcasses, reducing the number of flies and parasites which carry diseases that impact people. After the briefing, we were taken to an open area below the Lodge where there were some seats. The vultures know they are going to be fed so they start to gather, circling above and roosting in the trees. The host of the event had carried two large coolers containing meat leftovers down to where we were. He proceeded to throw a large chunk of meat on the ground which started a feeding frenzy. Hundreds of vultures and other carrion birds descended into the fray and were grabbing bits of meat – there was of course a lot of squabbling and jockeying going on in the mele. After 20 minutes everything had been eaten and things started to calm down. Karen had started to feel ill – probably a combination of heat, not drinking enough water and the smell of rotting flesh – so we headed back up to the bar to get some water.
Planning your visit to Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls Town (Zimbabwe) and Livingstone Town (Zambia) both have international airports. These are serviced by several daily flights from various destinations, see the schedule below.
You can fly into either of these airports and catch a short road transfer (needs to be booked) across the border if your accommodation is booked in the other country.
Victoria Falls Airport (Zimbabwe) and Livingstone Airport (Zambia) are the closest to the Falls themselves. But, you can also fly into Kasane Airport (Botswana), and take an hour long road transfer into Victoria Falls town (this road transfer does involve a border crossing). This is an important initial decision.
Other Major Airports
Zimbabwe has two other international airports in Harare and Bulawayo. However, these are hundreds of kilometres away, and getting to Victoria Falls from there would require an additional expensive flight or a long and expensive road transfer.
Likewise, Zambia’s Lusaka Airport is also a roughly 10-hour road transfer or an additional flight from Livingstone Town. Flying to these airports, therefore, would not be ideal if you want to get to Victoria Falls or Livingstone.
To get to South Luangwa, you have to take a bus from the central Lusaka bus station.
In the past, you had to take a bus to the border town of Chipata and then transfer to another bus that would take you to Mfuwe, the park’s nearest village.
Thankfully now there are buses that go directly to Mfuwe.
There is however a luxury train service that travels directly to Victoria Falls from South Africa which is the Luxury Rovos Rail. This is not a regular shuttle service but rather a holiday in itself. Johannesburg to Victoria falls takes 3 days and I must say is an absolutely wonderful trip.
Travelling to Victoria Falls by road is also an option. Fuel is usually available, however, some garages do run out so always make sure you have enough to get to the next fuel point. The price does fluctuate as with fuel prices around the world. Don’t forget to take cash with you as most may not accept credit or debit cards.
Fuel is available from several garages in the Victoria Falls town centre.
In South Africa and Botswana fuel stations accept all major credit and debit cards.
Zimbabwe has some strict requirements for vehicles entering the country, please read about these here Zimbabwe Vehicle Regulations.
The major roads in Zimbabwe are still in good condition and are perfectly acceptable to drive on. Traffic around the major centres like Harare and Bulawayo is nowadays quite congested.
Best time to visit Victoria Falls
The high-water season is between March-May, just after the rainy season; when the falls have had time to fill up between November- February. The falls are now at their fullest and the volume of flowing water is outstanding. If you want to see the falls at their most dramatic, now is the time!
The days are hot and evenings warm. We are out of the extreme heat of September- December, but it’s not quite winter yet (more on a Victoria Falls winter to come.) The spray from the Falls is heavier and more extreme than you could ever imagine. During your rainforest walk, you will get totally soaked.
Now, we aren’t talking a small shower. The spray is more powerful than a high-pressure shower! There is no escaping these, but they make your rainforest experience totally unforgettable. Better yet, who else can say, “I have stood right in the spray of Victoria Falls?”
During this season, it is not uncommon for a short sharp thunderstorm to clear the heat momentarily, which creates an eye-catching sky!
The low-season falls between August/September to December and it is an awesome season!
The rain is a memory of the past and water levels are returning to their lowest, right before the rainy season is due to commence again (in Mid-November).
It is the perfect opportunity to view the falls, with less of the heavy downfall of water and if you are keen to check out the geological features of the physical falls, now is your time. There is still plenty of water, gushing from the Falls, but not at the same kind of level as during the high season. If you venture over into Zambia and check out the Falls from there, you will see hardly any, if any, water falling!
You will experience a much lighter spray of water during your rainforest walk, and the site is much less crowded.
Where to stay Victoria Falls
1. LUXURY – MBANO MANOR HOTEL
Mbano Manor Hotel is an intimate luxury boutique hotel in Victoria Falls. Nestled in an enclosed ancient teak forest, the hotel comprises of 18 luxury suites & one presidential Mutota Forest villa. The tranquil setting offers a uniquely perfect blend of rich cultural history and world-class hospitality at the majestic Victoria Falls.
Proudly founded, built & managed by a dynamic African woman, we are a family-owned & independent luxury boutique hotel at Victoria Falls.
Mbano is the new destination of choice for discerning travellers seeking an authentic & exclusive luxury experience at Victoria Falls.
2. MID-RANGE – AMADEUS GARDEN GUEST HOUSE
During our visits to Victoria Falls, we stopped at the Amadeus Gardens Guest House, which worked perfectly for us. The staff were excellent and the rooms were comfortable. It is a kilometre or so to walk to the centre of town, and at night you should not walk the streets as you might run into an elephant or cape buffalo.
Amadeus has 12 twin en-suite guest bedrooms of which 8 can be converted to doubles. All beds have firm therapeutic mattresses.
Each room has a shower, the family room has both a shower and a bath.
All rooms have air conditioners, ceiling fans, glazing on the windows, an electronic safe, 220-volt plugs and solar-powered geysers.
3. BUDGET – VICTORIA FALLS BACKPACKERS
The accommodation is scattered across a luscious garden of which our swimming pool and fireplace form the centre piece providing a delightful setting for interacting with other travellers or simply relaxing.
Double rooms, En-suite, Dorms, Tent camping and Self Drive camping are available, only a short walk from town, (2.5 km), and taxis and airport pick-ups can be arranged. All activities booked include transport to and from the lodge or the town.