Victoria Falls Must See – Once

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Victoria Falls from a helicopter. Totally worth it.

When I planned my trip to South Africa and Botswana, I figured if I was going to be this close to Victoria Falls, I was damn sure going to see it. I’d never been to country that started with a “Z” and I figured Zimbabwe was as good as the other one. There’s only one other one, and it’s Zambia, which I also took a couple of steps into on the bridge over Victoria Falls. It was seriously anticlimactic.

I was in Botswana in the Okavango Delta before going to Victoria Falls. Now there’s something I never thought I would write. From Kwara in the Okavango Delta, we flew to the border of Botswana to Kasane in a six-seater Cessna. That plane again. The flight was one hour but I didn’t get motion sickness this time.

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Our six seater Cessna from Kwara to Kasane in Botswana. The pilot looked to be about 20. I was so glad I had World Nomads travel insurance!

At Kasane we had to walk across the border. Our Zimbabwe connection from Bushtracks (coordinated through my tour company, Africa Travel Resource in the UK) met us and told us what to do inside the tiny customs office. At window 1, after politely but confidently asking the young man who cut line in front of us if he was indeed waiting in this line, to which he promptly apologized and stepped aside to wait his turn behind me, we got our single-entry visa for 30 USD, and then went to window 2 to get a “gate pass.” We gave the gate pass to our Zimbabwe connection, who gave it to some rather unofficial-looking men playing cards. Then we hopped in the van and were on our way through Zambezi National Park to Victoria Falls.

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Victoria Falls appears through the clearing fog
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Just the beginning of the kilometer-wide Victoria Falls

The town of Victoria Falls likely would not exist if David Livingstone hadn’t stumbled upon the Falls in 1866. Of course, local people already knew about it, but the western world did not. Actually, when you visit the Falls, stumbling is the last thing you would want to do. Watch your step at the falls! The town itself is not remarkable, boasting several gorgeous, very expensive hotels and more midrange ones, and lots of restaurants and shops. There were so many hawkers trying to sell us wooden statues on the Livingstone Way that I didn’t even want to walk around that much. They are VERY persistent.

We arrived at Ilala Lodge after about a 30 minute drive through Zambezi National Park. Ilala Lodge is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in. The room, the view, the outdoor space, the lobby, the bar, the pool all made me wish I had more than two nights here. The service here, the cool bartender, and the most awesomest amazing breakfast ever contribute to my 5 Star rating of Ilala Lodge! The awesome cheeseburger at the bar didn’t hurt either. But enough about the hotel for now. It was almost time for our sundowner cruise!

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Ilala Lodge has a gorgeous dining area and the breakfast is the best!
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The pool and bar area at Ilala Lodge

There are loads of boats departing from above the falls. The company that picked us up at the border is called Bushtracks, so we booked the cruise with them for about 55 USD each. Our boat was one of the smaller ones, but it had an engine that allowed us to get within 800 meters of the top of the falls. Most boats can’t get that close because they aren’t powerful enough to turn around and go against the current. The boat was big enough for about 16 people, served yummy snacks and drinks, and the guide showed us points of interest along the banks of the river. There were a lot of hippos and two crocodiles. And birds.

It was a good cruise, but overall, I have to say it was, well, anticlimactic. I’m not sure it was worth 55 USD, but there was one event I am so glad I didn’t miss. This one event was worth the 55 USD. There were loads of hippos in the water and the boats steer clear of them, for obvious reasons. But we stopped to look at one group of hippos, and one of them climbed out of the water about halfway, and I knew what was coming. He just let one rip and his tail went to work. It was loud and it was messy and it was hilarious! Juvenile? Maybe. But so worth it!

People have asked me if you can take a cruise at the bottom of the falls, like at Niagara Falls. My answer? Yes, if you want to die. Victoria Falls is much taller, wider, and much more powerful at the bottom of the giant gorge it drops into.

 

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Can’t see the gorge because of the mist – and the water spots.
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Behind me is the smaller falls, separated from the really wide ones by an island

That giant gorge and all that water is just what I came to see. We had a helicopter ride scheduled for 9:00AM the next day with Bushtracks, who really did a great job of organizing everything, informing us of our options, and NOT being aggressive in their sale of tours/activities. They postponed our ride until 11:00 because of cloudy skies and potential rain. We decided to visit the falls and have the driver pick us up there at the park. So John paid the 30 USD EACH for us to enter the park, after we got totally scammed into taking ponchos and umbrellas for 3 USD each. YOU DO NOT NEED PONCHOS OR UMBRELLAS! Just take a plastic bag for your camera and you’ll be fine. I also took my Marmot rain jacket.

When John bought the tickets, he asked if we could come back in the afternoon and enter again and he thought the guy behind the window said yes. He didn’t. Or maybe he just didn’t understand that we wanted to enter again later with the same ticket. We couldn’t. But we didn’t know that yet.

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Good picture of the gorge, which is surprisingly difficult to photograph
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No need for ponchos and umbrellas – just bring a rain jacket and a plastic bag for your camera

In we went, and we missed the first turnoff to the right and went straight ahead to the side of the smaller of the two falls. We got some okay photos, but I was feeling seriously underwhelmed. Then we looked at the map at the end of this path, and realized we missed the first turnoff. So we walked the short distance back and headed down the path that runs parallel to the Falls. Now we were cookin’ with gas!

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The smaller side of Victoria Falls is still impressive – taken in the morning

Wow! The sound of falling water just got louder and louder and it was there in front of us, in the mist. The skies hadn’t cleared yet, and at times it was foggy, but it was clear just how big and how powerful the falls are. Amazing. This path is about a kilometer long and has viewpoints along the way. You can stand right on the edge and look down into the gorge. It’s incredible.

Halfway down the path, we had to turn around to go meet our driver. When we exited, that’s when we found out we would have to pay again if we came back. Well, we hadn’t gone all way the way to the edge of the river yet, so of course we were coming back. But for now, it was time for the helicopter ride!

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You know he must be so tired of having THIS picture taken! Wonder how many selfies he’s in?
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Our sweet ride!

There were four of us in the chopper with the pilot, and I got the front seat! It had a glass floor in front! It was awesome! The skies cleared, and for twenty minutes we flew over the falls. I was amazed at what we could see on the ground, including four giraffes, and a bunch of zebras! When you fly over and see the water disappearing into that huge gorge, and the spray rising from it, it’s just incredible. Totally worth 162 USD!  I loved every minute of it.

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Victoria Falls and the bridge as seen from the helicopter
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The Zambezi River
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Our first glimpse of Victoria Falls from the helicopter – amazing

Afterwards we went to take pictures of Victoria Falls Hotel, which is stunning, had an espresso martini there, and then decided to go back to Victoria Falls. We skipped the poncho man, paid the fee again, and this time, we walked the entire length of the falls. With clear skies and sunshine now, there were rainbows everywhere. This is a daily occurrence. Absolutely stunning.

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Victoria Falls Hotel feels like going back in time
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The makers of the perfect espresso martini at Victoria Falls Hotel – highly recommend!
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Inside one of the many beautiful common areas at Victoria Falls Hotel

After we got our fill of the falls, we were starting to get hungry, and Shearwater Cafe on Livingstone Way was calling our name. We’d passed it before and it looked modern and cool, and it was packed. It was mid-afternoon when we showed up though, so there were lots of empty tables. We sat inside to avoid the hawkers. Much to our surprise, they had bunny chow on the menu! We didn’t find it in Cape Town, so we both ordered bunny chow!  It’s  an African curry served in half a loaf of the best, crustiest bread you’ve ever had. Man, it was so good! We were both in a food coma after that.

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Shearwater Cafe on Livingstone Way is a great place for beer and bunny chow!

Later on we walked across the bridge to Zambia to try to get a photo or two, but it was dark by the time we reached the middle of the bridge. We had to do the whole “gate pass” thing again, but no passport was necessary if you just wanted to go halfway across. The bungee jump is at the halfway point, but after seeing people do it earlier in the day, I lost my nerve and decided not to. Odd since I skydived before, but somehow flying headfirst towards raging waters did not appeal to me.

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Rainbows everywhere over Victoria Falls
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Victoria Falls as seen from the bridge at night

Our time in Victoria Falls was nearly at an end. I had no regrets and was so glad I came to see it. While I don’t feel a need to return, it is definitely worth seeing in your lifetime. Once.

The next morning, we headed to Victoria Falls International Airport for our flight to Johannesburg, and ultimately, our flights back to Kuwait and the US. What an incredible journey. My trip to South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe has to be in my Top 3 of all the incredible places I’ve been. This part of the world should definitely be in your bucket list.

 

 

Mary Lyons
I have had incredible travel opportunities since moving overseas eleven years ago. I created this blog to share my experiences, what I've learned, and my mistakes and frustrations, in hopes of entertaining readers and helping people to create and plan their own travel opportunities.

I would love to know your thoughts!

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