One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls have been described as the greatest curtain of falling water on the planet.
This breathtaking spectacle occurs as the waters of the mighty Zambezi River plummet 108 metres in a single drop over a basalt cliff into the gorge below. Its height combines with its immense width of nearly two kilometres to make this Earth’s biggest waterfall. Its older name, Mosi-oa-Tunya – ‘the Smoke that Thunders’, is a vivid description of the sight and sound of the falls. The spray can be seen for kilometres around.
The awesome power of the falling torrent – a million litres per second at the height of the rainy season – has through the aeons carved out deep and dramatic gorges topped with misty rainforests. The zigzag series of gorges are a spectacle in themselves, with the waters abruptly channelled from a 1,7-km-wide precipice into the 110m-wide First Gorge. The Victoria Falls Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe spans the Second Gorge. Upstream of the falls, the broad Zambezi winds lazily over the plains.
Wildlife and birdlife is plentiful on both banks of the river, with Victoria Falls National Park and Zambezi National Park facing Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Zambezi National Park is home to the Big Five. A walk through Victoria Falls National Park’s rain forest delivers gobsmacking views and the novel experience of being rained upon from below as well as above, as the spray shoots upward from the chasm.
Opinion is divided as to the best time of year to see the falls, whether at the height of the rainy season, from November to May, when the falls are at their mightiest but their pluming spray causes a veiling mist, or between June and September when the mists have cleared and the river is still pumping. The Main Falls flow even in the dry season, from November to December.
There is no need to make the hard choice between the classic picture-postcard views from the Zimbabwean side of the falls or the wildness of the Zambian side. Visitors can either get a KAZA visa upon entry into Zimbabwe, valid for Zambia and Zimbabwe, or get a day pass to cross the Victoria Falls Bridge, an easy half-hour walk.
The small town of Victoria Falls is a friendly place filled with interesting crafts, ranging from colourful batiks and wood carvings to high-end pottery and jewellery, cheerful coffee shops and restaurants and a whole range of activities, from serene river cruises to breathtaking helicopter rides over the falls. Adrenaline junkies get their thrill bungee jumping off Victoria Falls Bridge, ziplining or microlighting across the canyon, or rafting the rapids below the falls.