Known as the Mosi Oa Tunya, or “smoke that thunders” in the local language, The Victoria Falls are one of the most incredible waterfalls to be seen. Explore our insider’s guide to The Victoria Falls a natural world wonder and one of the greatest attractions in Africa.
While it is possible to visit the falls from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean side. This guide focuses on the Zimbabwean experience.
Located on the fourth largest river in Africa, the Zambezi River, The Victoria falls is also the defining border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is appropriately named, which you will discover when the thundering roar surrounds you as the Zambezi River spills and cascades an abundance of white water over the lip of the falls.
Strolling along paths walked for over a century to view this marvel of nature, you may see trumpeter hornbills, shooting out to fly across the water. Vervet monkeys and baboons couple with insects and birds create a buzz of noise in the air as rainbows form across the spray under the shining sun.
When to Travel
As with any great river there is an ideal time to visit all dependent on your interests although the peak flow spills over the falls February through to May when the river water volume is at its greatest, thanks to the annual summer rains.
Victoria Falls is however a fantastic year-round destination thanks to its mild winters, hot summers, and enviable location straddling Zambia and Zimbabwe. I am sure it will come as no surprise that it is a favourite destination of ours and one that we could happily visit again and again.
Running from October to April, the summer months see daytime temperatures rise up to and on occasion over 30°C. Evening and overnight night the temperature does drop to around a warm 14°C. The occasional dramatic thunderstorms may see lightning create a gorgeous tapestry in the sky during your afternoons, while the summer rains wash through the area between November and March.
The warm summer months are generally hotter making this the time of year where you can get your tan on poolside. Safari enthusiasts can enjoy some of the best game drives sighting the big five with ease while for avid amateur photographer, the short afternoon thunderstorms often make way for magnificent sunsets.
The days are mild and largely sunny and dry in winter which runs from May to September/October. Daytime temperatures peak around 20°C, although the evening and overnight temperature can fall to as low as 5ºC so ensure you have appropriate clothes to keep the chill at bay on those early morning or late afternoon game drives.
Characterised by long sunny days with cool or cold nights where warm clothes are required winter offers a different experience. Almost all land-based Victoria Falls activities are available and the dry winters often result in sparse vegetation which makes game viewing a treat in the Victoria Falls area. Wildlife begins to congregate along the river and around waterholes and large herds of elephant and buffalo are often spotted along the water’s edge jostling for a drink. The weather is often warm enough for lion walks, and this is the best time of year for a day trip to Chobe.
Water Levels Explained
‘High Water‘ on the river and at the falls occurs between February and July and peaks between March and April. It is during this period; the Zambezi river can rise up to one metre producing a 5 metre increase in the level of the water forced through the gorge. The spray thrown up is dense and often thick with rainbows. Anyone nearby is likely to be drenched, so be sure to take an umbrella and wear a raincoat. It’s a wondrous sight when viewed from the air.
‘Low Water’ on the river runs between August and January and is at its lowest peak between November and early December. Perhaps considered the best time to fully appreciate the geological and nautral formations of the Victoria Falls, this is when there is usually very little spray. As the rainfall is lower the water level of the river and in the gorge drops providing some of the most ideal conditions for white river rafting. The Zambezi River’s conditions at this time of year have earned a reputation as one of the wildest white river rafting destinations in the world. This is also a great time of year to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool.
Where to Stay
Matetsi Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – A nearly ten-mile stretch along the mighty Zambezi River becomes your private playground at 22-suite Matetsi Victoria Falls. The vibrant Zimbabwean spirit is evident throughout this family-owned, family-run safari lodge, from its distinctive design and local artistry to its warm, gracious hospitality. Set out with your conservation-minded guide on foot, by vehicle, and by boat, watching with delight as great herds of elephant, buffalo, and plains wildlife roam the private game reserve’s 136,000 acres of protected wilderness. Share stories of your safari adventures under night skies at a traditional African boma barbecue.
Insider Tip – Bespoke excursions include cultural experiences in the town of Victoria Falls and helicopter tours over the thunderous falls, aptly named the “Flight of the Angels.”
Victoria Falls River Lodge, Zimbabwe – Hippos wallow just beyond your private plunge pool at Victoria Falls River Lodge. Its surreal setting along the Zambezi River is so close to Victoria Falls, you can see the spray in the distance. The 13 tented, thatched-roof suites are built on raised decks for prime viewing; earth tones and polished wood floors make you feel at home. The six elite Treehouse Suites, nestled in the leafy canopy of a private island, offer secluded luxury. Enjoy game drives, walking tours, and river cruises; for extreme thrills, go river rafting or bungee jumping. Return for cocktails in the main lodge, watching elephants stroll past.
Insider Tip – This is a birder’s paradise, with more than 400 species recorded in the diverse rain-forest, riverine, gorge, and savanna habitats. The best time for avian viewing is between November and March.
The Royal Livingstone Anantara, Zambia – The local tribespeople call the river Mosi-oa-Tunya: “The Smoke That Thunders.” On the banks of the great Zambezi River, upstream of where the mighty cataract thunders into the Batoka Gorge, is The Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara. The hotel boasts a unique location overlooking Victoria Falls. The 173 luxurious rooms are elegantly furnished and infused with Zambian culture, featuring a balcony or veranda with outdoor seating, overlooking gardens frequented by free-roaming zebras, giraffes, and impalas. All guests have unlimited complimentary access to Victoria Falls.
Insider Tip – Enjoy a luxurious, African-inspired spa journey while basking in the serenity of the Zambezi River view.
What Not to Miss
To make the most of your visit to Victoria Falls, consider one of the various activities available either at the falls or within the nearby national park. Walking the Falls is available from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean side, and entrance fees are payable locally. If you are after a more adventurous experience, then head out on a guided walking safari.
For a unique perspective head to the skies in a helicopter to enjoy an aerial perspective of the water and snaking canyon beyond or enjoy a microlight flight where you can feel the air and spray on your face.
Adrenaline junkies can enjoy white-water rafting on the rapids beneath the falls while those looking for a more leisurely option, many of the lodges that are based on the Zambezi River offer relaxing sunset or sunrise boat or canoe trips to enjoy the birdlife and tranquillity upstream of the falls.
For a tailored experience that showcases the best Victoria Falls has to offer, plan your upcoming trip with @luxurylondonguy today. With over 25 years of experience in luxury tourism, we offer our clients insights and personally curated itineraries that take the stress out of travel, allowing more time to decompress and discover and explore your chosen destination while you’re on the road.