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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 06 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Richard Holmes

Long before David Livingstone named them for his Queen, the locals living on either side of the Zambezi River called the Victoria Falls ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’; ‘the smoke that thunders’. And rightly so, for visiting in late summer – with the Falls in full spate – is a deafening, soaking and humbling experience. Stretching for almost a mile across the Zambezi River, the falls plummet more than 100m into the Bakota Gorge – twice the height of Niagara Falls.

While the Falls are downright impressive,  it’s the area’s array of activities – from Big Five game drives and white-water rafting, to helicopter flips and bungee jumping – that has turned the area encompassing Livingstone (Zambia) and Victoria Falls town (Zimbabwe) into Africa’s adventure playground.

Orientation

The Zambezi River – and the Victoria Falls – forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the two towns of Livingstone (Zambia) and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), enjoying equally good access to the Falls.

The iconic railway bridge links the two sides, making it fairly easy – visa-issues aside – to hop between the two

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

White-water rafting on the Zambezi River

Zimbabwe

Take courage in both hands and raft the world-class white-water rapids of the mighty, crocodile-infested Zambezi River, funneling through the Batoka Gorge at Victoria Falls. And remember to look out for the crocs!

Best for ages: 15+ | £100 | 5-10 hours

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Victoria Falls Waterfall

Zimbabwe

This 108-metre-high waterfall on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, it’s impossible not to be awed and humbled by Mosi-Oa-Tunya, the ‘smoke that thunders’.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free

Swim in the Devil’s Pool

Livingstone, Southern Province, Zambia

This small island in the centre of the flow offers a mind-blowing picnic spot – right on the edge of the 103m-high Falls. A lucky (crazy) few can sign up for a dip in the small lagoon sitting right on the lip.

Best for ages: 12+ | £115 | 2 hours

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

The famous afternoon tea stand with sweet treats
Experience

Afternoon tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Town, Matabeleland North, Central African Republic (CAR)

Dating back to 1904, The Victoria Falls Hotel occupies a dramatic promontory above the Batoka Gorge. It’s a view best enjoyed over the decadent platters served for afternoon tea, a much-loved tradition.

Best for ages: 14+ | £15 | 1-2 hours

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Traditional African wooden masks
Experience

Dambwa Market

Livingstone, Southern Province, Zambia

Enjoy a taste of local living at the Dambwa market in Livingstone. This is where locals come to shop, and you’ll find everything from fresh produce to wooden carvings. Guided tours are available if you’re unsure about exploring on your own.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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The outside of the David Livingstone Museum
Experience

David Livingstone Museum

Livingstone, Southern Province, Zambia

There’s not much to recommend the town of Livingstone, but Zambia’s largest and oldest museum is certainly worth a visit for its collection of original David Livingstone artefacts, including tools, journals and maps.

Best for ages: 18+ | £5

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Fishing for tiger fish

Central African Republic (CAR)

Cast a line for the prized tiger fish, one of the world’s finest fighting fish, in arguably the best place in the world to fish for them.

Best for ages: 8+ | £85 | 5+ hours

Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Victoria Falls Town, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Modern safari-themed lodge offering easy access to the falls, and plenty of peace and quiet.

Official star rating:

Ilala Lodge Hotel

Victoria Falls Town, Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe

Cosy boutique hotel with an authentic African feel, right on the doorstep of the Victoria Falls.

Official star rating:

Victoria Falls River Lodge

Zambezi National Park, Matabeleland North, Central African Republic (CAR)

A contemporary, luxury lodge in an enviable location on the banks of the Zambezi River, a short way upstream from the Victoria Falls.

Official star rating:

Sussi & Chuma

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park , Southern Province, Zambia

Stylish luxury safari lodge offering in a pristine wilderness setting on the Zambezi, with a villa for families and uber-romantic treehouse suites. 20 minutes from Victoria Falls.

Official star rating:

When to go

When the summer floods arrive from February to May, the Falls are turned into a maelstrom of water. They’re at their most dramatic in April, but at this time parts of the Zambezi are closed to rafting and canoeing. Water sports are best from August to January, but remember that in these mild, dry days of winter and early summer the Zambian side of the Falls is little more than a trickle.

Although hot and humid, the summer months (December to February) are best for birding, and towering thunderstorms add drama to your holiday snaps.

Getting there and away

Both Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town are served by direct flights from Johannesburg, the regional hub, which has direct flights to Europe, Asia and North America. Before departure, ask your hotel or tour operator to arrange a transfer from the airport to your accommodation.

Getting around

Both Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town are compact and easy to explore on foot, with the latter a short walk from the Falls, while Livingstone is a short drive from riverfront hotels and the Falls.

Activities usually include transfers from your hotel, but if not it’s best to ask your hotel to arrange a reputable taxi.

If you plan to visit both sides of the Falls, buy a Kaza UniVisa (US$50) on arrival – it’s cheaper and easier than buying single entry visas each time you cross the border.

Where to stay

If money’s no object, opt for a hotel with easy access and views of the Falls. Remember, though, that the Zambian side dries out in late winter. The town of Victoria Falls is convenient and within walking distance of the Falls, but across the river there’s little point staying in the centre of slightly-scruffy Livingstone.

Upstream, riverfront lodges are removed from the Falls but offer luxury lodgings with incredible Zambezi views, while a handful of bush lodges in the area allow you to combine a Big Five safari stay with time near the river.

Where to eat or drink

With a lack of good local restaurants you’ll probably eat most meals in your hotel, where local produce is given an international – if somewhat anonymous –face. And while chefs will conjure up something for vegetarians, carnivores will be happiest here: Africans love to barbecue, and you’ll find plenty of grilled beef and game on offer. With the Zambezi River on tap, river fish, notably tilapia, also feature prominently.

Where to shop

Whether you’re in Zimbabwe or Zambia you’ll find the locals friendly and welcoming, but unsurprisingly, tourists are often seen as potential customers rather than new friends. Shopkeepers and traders will haggle hard for your dollars, but keep it cordial and you’ll have no trouble.

Although local communities are generally patriarchal, in the tourist areas female tourists shouldn’t be unduly hassled.

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