It’s not hard to see why Victoria Falls was called “The Smoke That Thunders” (“Mosi-O-Tunya”) in the local Tonga language: the spray of water reaches up to 500 metres high and is visible from 70 kilometres away. The sound of the powerful Zambezi River falling into the gorge can only be described as a low thunder – and you will hear it even when you are kilometres away.
Victoria Falls is the biggest sheet of falling water in the world: twice as high and 1.5 times wider than Niagara Falls. It’s 1.7 km wide (just longer than a mile) and over 100 metres high. There are no words to describe what it feels like to see it for the first time. Breath-taking and awe-inspiring, maybe, but even they don’t do it justice.
Seeing the falls is Number 1 of Things to do in Victoria Falls
A view of the main falls
- The most dramatic time to see Victoria Falls (in my opinion) is at the end of the high water season between March and May. It is still spectacular at other times of the year, and the ‘best’ time to see the falls is hotly debated. The high water season means just that – the waterfall is at its highest volume of water – which means you will also get wetter! It also means that some of the viewing points may not be accessible, but in this case, quality of experience beats quantity of view.
- Zimbabwe has the best view of Victoria Falls. 15 of the 19 viewing points are in Zimbabwe – that’s 80% of the best sights. 4 of the viewing points are in the neighbouring country of Zambia. (Scroll to bottom for viewing points map.)
- If you’re staying on the Zimbabwean side: To see the falls, follow the signposts from the town of Victoria Falls which will take you to a car park opposite the entrance to the falls. Vendors will sell raincoats to you if you don’t want to get wet from the spray (I prefer to just take a change of clothes).
- After paying the entrance fee at the entrance (and possibly the guide fee if you would like a guided tour), take a few minutes to walk around the exhibit near the entrance to learn many fascinating facts about the geography and history of Victoria Falls.
- Follow the signposts to the falls viewing points. You’ll find yourself in a green rainforest which is sustained by the spray of the falls. Suddenly, you’ll be face-to-face with Victoria Falls. The feeling that you experience when seeing the waterfalls for the first time (and the second, and the third …) is something that will always stay with you.
- After your first glimpse of the falls, the temptation is to turn right to see more of them, but I prefer to head left first and so that I can work through the viewing points chronologically starting from Viewing Point 1: David Livingstone’s statue. This will mean seeing some of the viewing points twice, but who minds a double dose of awesome?
(Scroll to bottom for a map of Victoria Falls viewing points.)
- The entrance fee is about US $30 because it is situated in the Victoria Falls National Park.
- Advance booking is not required except for very large parties.
- It is very easy to walk around the waterfalls yourself as there are informative signs and arrows along the paths. However, if you so choose, you can do a guided tour which can be booked through your accommodation. The guided tour costs around US $20 in addition to the entrance fee.
- Don’t be tempted to cross the natural barriers to get closer to the falls – although the barriers aren’t as official-looking as in other parts of the world, their purpose is no less important.
- I’ve been known to take a plastic sandwich bag with me to protect my camera from the spray. There are, of course, camera protector bags that you can also buy. This is only really needed at high water time.
- Rainbows can be seen throughout the day, but the best chance of seeing them and photographing them is at around 4pm.
- The gift shop stocks some high quality crafts and clothes and is well worth a stop.
- There’s also a good cafe at the exit (the Rainforest Cafe) if you’re feeling peckish – watch out for the monkeys who may want to steal your sandwich!
- High water time is between March and May, which I think is the best for experiencing the view of the falls, but any time of year is thrilling.
- Viewing points 13 and 14 can be very slippery in high water season. It goes without saying, but don’t go near the edge! The barriers are natural and unobtrusive (a big plus for me) but this means they are minimal, so common sense is advised.
- It will take about 2 hours to walk around the falls, gift shop and monuments at a leisurely pace.
- Is it family friendly?: The barriers between the path and the waterfalls are minimal which makes them good for viewing, but safety is very much the responsibility of the visitor. The barriers are easy to cross and could be deadly if they’re disregarded. Young children may get tired from walking and slip on some of the paths. I wouldn’t recommend children younger than 10 to visit the falls.
- Read about our guided tour of Victoria Falls here and our self-guided tour here for more details and photos.
Try something different:
Why not visit Victoria Falls at night to see a rare moonbow (lunar rainbow)? Enquire with your hotel or with your tour company, or at Wild Horizons in town about this. I believe visitors can also enter at the gate, as they would for a normal visit to the falls. Moonbows can be seen for 3 days each month, are best seen between April and July and trips cost around US $45, inclusive of park fees.
For an even closer encounter with the Falls, see it from Livingstone Island, where you can sit in a rock pool at the edge of the precipice. As this is happens from the Zambian side, I didn’t include it in the top ten, but have a look at the Best of the rest page for details.