Victoria Falls: Which Side is Better?
Because a waterfall such as Victoria Falls
spans two different countries it's natural to ask which side is better. In this case, is the Zimbabwe (or Zim) side
or Zambia (or Zam) side
Unlike other cross-border waterfalls like Niagara Falls
where you can say, "the falls are on the American side but the views are on the Canadian side," you can't really say that with Victoria Falls. That's because the border cuts in the middle of the Zambezi River, but the falls spans that river! Therefore, both countries will yield frontal and profile views of the waterfall. It's just that the western side of the cataract is Zimbabwean while the eastern side of the cataract is Zambian.
Perhaps after the break down of the differences, pros, and cons of both sides, you'll draw your own conclusions
and decide how to plan and prepare for your trip
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From our pre-trip readings, Zimbabwe used to be hands down the better side. In fact, the town of Victoria Falls
, Zimbabwe used to be the preferred base to stay and explore the area. After all, the town is only 2km away from the park (which is definitely walkable) and was built with the tourist in mind. The Zimbabwe side also seemed to have the lion's share of the frontal viewpoints of falls.
The viewpoints range from Cataract Point in the far west (which offers a profile view of the falls looking eastward) to Danger Point at the eastern end of the plateau before it drops abruptly into the union of the falls' gorge and a narrower gorge separating the two countries.
From Cataract Point, you're closest to the Devil's Cataract though you might glimpse parts of the Main Falls before the rest of the falls gets lost in its mist (at least from our May 2008 visit when it was very misty due to high water). From Danger Point, you'll get a frontal view of the so-called Rainbow Falls as well as parts of the Eastern Cataract on the Zambian side. In between these points, there are numerous viewpoints connected by the "Chain Walk" offering frontal views of the Devil's Cataract, Cataract Island and its associated falls, the Main Falls, Livingstone Island, Horseshoe Falls, and Rainbow Falls.
The reason why we had been talking about Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls in the past tense as the preferred base was largely due to the country's political situation. When we were there in May 2008, there was significant political turmoil due to the policies of the leader at the time, Robert Mugabe. He was credited with leading the liberation of the country from the British (formerly Rhodesia) in the 1980s, but his operation "Drive Out The Trash" (where farms and businesses were seized and given to Mugabe appointees or "cronies" depending on how strongly you feel about this) probably didn't do the economy favors.
The once thriving economy of booming tourism and agricultural exports then degenerated into a failed state with rampant hyperinflation (Zimbabwean Dollars was practically useless at this point - see the neighboring photo), corruption, food and petrol shortages, and millions of refugees fleeing to neighboring countries of Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique.
The result was that there were millions of remaining Zimbabweans starving or were unable to carry on life as many of us were able to enjoy. Hence, begging and even muggings were more frequent (a result of desperation, no doubt).
During our visit, the country was in the middle of a runoff election between the incumbent and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Unfortunately, Mugabe-controlled police and military tortured and killed Tsvangirai supporters during the main and runoff elections. There were reports of voters forced to vote under immense pressure (essentially an armed person watching over you as you vote) to vote for Mugabe. We learned that Tsvangirai had since dropped out of the runoff allowing Mugabe to be "re-elected."
Although Mugabe's antics made visiting the Zim side much cheaper, we could sense the desperation firsthand when we crossed over to the Zim side with frequent pleas for food. It definitely felt like we were one of the few tourists who pushed forward given the conditions, but it certainly wasn't a relaxing one to say the least.
Since our trip had passed, we had learned that a power sharing agreement was made between both Mugabe and Tsvangirai. In the years since, it appeared that the economy had stabilized (currency now pegged to the US dollar) and things have significantly improved. In an online extension class that I took, I had a Zimbabwean classmate who confirmed that things have indeed stabilized.
While political situations can be quite unpredictable, I certainly hope this trend can continue. I always wished we could've spent more time in Zimbabwe and actually see the country. It was just that we couldn't take the chance back in 2008.
Anyways, politics aside, I've provided pictures below give you a taste of what it's like to experience the Zimbabwe side of the falls...
Entering the Zimbabwe side of Vic Falls
A large skull behind the entrance. An elephant skull?
We weren't kidding when we said it was very misty
Devil's Cataract and Falls beneath Cataract Island
Going further on the walkway towards the Main Falls
Closeup of the Main Falls
We saw bungy jumpers from the far eastern end of the Zimbabwe walkways
Imagine hanging upside down high aboev the gorge with mist from Victoria Falls spraying you
They put sharp barbed wires or vines to prevent visitors from getting too close to the edge
Heavy mist-laden rain at the Horseshoe Falls sign
When we walked back towards the Zambia side, this guy followed us and wouldn't leave us alone
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As of our May 2008 visit, the Zambia side was the preferred base in which to explore Victoria Falls and the surrounding regions. It featured a handful of viewpoints at the waterfall's far eastern end, a walk to the Boiling Pot whirlpool, helicopter excursions, sunset cruises, and bungy jumping on the Livingstone Bridge among other things.
However, the town of Livingstone
was 11km away. Even though it was said to be more of a true African town, the distance did pose a bit of a problem in that we constantly had to think about the taxi situation.
Even though it was possible to get around by walking, going 11km in each direction would be inconvenient for most people (including us). Now even with that said, we did find more reasonably priced accommodations (such as Chanter's Lodge) as well as backpacker hostels (such as Fawlty Towers) in town. There were also more curio shops, restaurants, services, and even a few medical clinics.
Nonetheless, we made frequent use of the blue taxis to get to places in a more-or-less timely manner. Fortunately, at least some of the paid excursions include transfers to and from the accommodation (as was the case when we did the helicopter tour).
The expensive hotels like the Royal Livingstone
and the Zambezi Sun
(which had gotten even pricier thanks to the Zimbabwe situation during our trip) were closer to Victoria Falls (in some cases close enough to be walkable) but were well away from the town of Livingstone
Once we were inside the park, we got profile views of the Eastern Cataract (with rainbows in the morning) as well as frontal views of that cataract across the Knife Edge Bridge and profile views of the segments of the falls on the Zimbabwe side.
Livingstone Island excursions (when conditions permit, which it didn't for us) allow you to experience the falls from the top down.
There was also a trail further to the south from the eastern end of the cataract that descended from the main walkway towards the Boiling Pots whirlpool (though it was flooded during our visit).
Below are some of the panoramic photos as seen from the Zambia side...
The Knife Edge bridge
Contextual view of Julie checking out the cataract
Misty view of the Eastern Cataract
Headed back to the Knife Edge Bridge with mist from the north blasting it
Lots of mist as seen in the afternoon
Rainbows in the mist
Livingstone Bridge as seen from the Zam side
Descending down the Boiling Pots trail
A WWI Memorial
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So obviously, it's worth seeing Victoria Falls from both sides
. Clearly, they're different but beautiful and equally worthwhile. Unfortunately, visiting both sides has drawbacks (at least during our May 2008 trip). The Zimbabwe side had the political issues even though there were more viewpoints and the town was more convenient. Meanwhile, the Zambia side was more expensive (especially regarding the recent Visa fees, which you can read more about here
) and had fewer viewpoints. Plus the town of Livingstone was too far to feasibly walk while on limited time.
Personally, we've gone through the trouble of jumping through hoops and over hurdles to visit the Zimbabwe side for a half day in addition to the Zambia side, and we didn't regret it one bit (except for being a bit lighter on the wallet thanks to the costs involved with Zambia Visas). However, I can totally understand those who forsake the Zimbabwe side given the political situation (though this may no longer be the case now).
So with all the textual and visual information provided here, we hope you can decide for yourself which side is better and plan your trip accordingly.
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