Victoria Falls: When is the best time to visit?

Very misty conditions at Victoria Falls
When is the best time to visit Victoria Falls?

That is a tricky question because it really depends on what you're looking for. For instance, if you want to see the falls at its most impressive, you'll want to be here when it is flowing well. If you want to do more things and get closer to the falls, you'll want to be here when the falls have low flow. Of course, most of us like happy mediums and would prefer to come when you can do both, but it's very difficult to make such timing decisions as there are numerous factors that come into play that are hard to predict, especially if you're traveling from far and away.

We happened to show up in May 2008 so we can somewhat speak from experience and extrapolate to the rest of the year based on what locals have told us, on pre- and post-trip research, and some intuition.

So here's the breakdown...

Victoria Falls and lots of mistThe falls is in its highest flow around the May-June time frame. Under this condition, you can expect the falls will span the entire 1.7km width of the Zambezi River as it plunges over its 108m basalt wall. Unfortunately, most viewpoints are too misty (think torrential downpour) to photograph effectively. We definitely had to be careful not to destroy our electronic equipment by exposing it in the rain for too long. Therefore, ponchos were a must to keep not only ourselves somewhat dry but also our sensitive equipment.

Since the close-up viewpoints weren't the best at this time of year, it did happen to be the time to see the waterfall from the air. It was only then were we able to truly appreciate the falls' grandeur, scale, magnitude, and sheer beauty. And do all this without mist overwhelming us.

There was so much mist that it alone created this waterfallThe falls is said to be in its lowest flow around the October-December time frame. Under this condition, the falls will likely to have been segmented into several smaller "strands" of water with much of the underlying basalt bedrock wall exposed. Thus, the falls would probably lack its thunderous impact at this time (and we've read that sometimes large sections of the falls become dry due to some degree of water diversion for hydroelectricity on the Zambia side).

On the flip side, plenty of other activities become possible. Among such activities are the Devil's Swimming Pool, which lets you swim right at the edge of the falls! Plus, aquatic activities in the Zambezi River below the falls becomes possible. Moreover, as alluded to earlier, the mist won't be as much of a factor.

Perhaps the most popular and optimal time to visit Victoria Falls (from the standpoint of good views and best weather) would be around the July through September time frame. The falls is said to be gradually in transition from a flooded state to a low flow state so you might have fewer problems with mist while still having an acceptable volume of water so as to not feel underwhelmed. But with this being perhaps the best time to go (in terms of getting the best of both worlds of visual impact and most activities), I'm sure the demand rises and thus the cost of accommodations and amenities as well as the crowds (though even this is relative to what the visitor is used to) are probably at their worst.

In any case, if we had to do it all over again, we'd probably come back around this time.

Around January through March/April is said to be the wet season. This is when the area is the hottest and muggiest, and thundershowers are more likely. Like the peak season, the falls is in a transitional period, but it's going from from low flow to high flow. Thus, you're likely to have satisfying views of the falls without mist being as much of a problem as during full flood. Actually, even though it does typically rain this time of year, the flow of the Zambezi River really depends on drainage systems further upstream so really it has to rain where water drains into the Zambezi River from Western Zambia and Angola in order for the waterfall to be fed it water.

To give you an idea of just how wet it was for us during our May 2008 visit, take a look at the photos below.

The overwhelming clouds on the left was all from the waterfall's mistThe overwhelming clouds on the left was all from the waterfall's mist

Lots of mist from the Zambia sideLots of mist from the Zambia side

Taking to the air was the best way to see the falls in high flowTaking to the air was the best way to see the falls in high flow

Looking along the misty chasm from the airLooking along the misty chasm from the air. With this perspective, it's no wonder why we couldn't see jack from the ground!

Looking along the chasm from the Zimbabwe sideLooking along the chasm from the Zimbabwe side

Under the high water conditions, we couldn't really see Victoria Falls from the Livingstone Memorial BridgeUnder the high water conditions, we couldn't really see Victoria Falls from the Livingstone Memorial Bridge

Being on the Zim side certainly didn't alleviate the mistiness problemBeing on the Zim side certainly didn't alleviate the mistiness problem

Only small portions of the falls could be seen and photographedOnly small portions of the falls could be seen and photographed

Misty edge-on view of Victoria Falls from the Zim sideMisty edge-on view of Victoria Falls from the Zim side



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