Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya)

Livingstone, Southern Province, Zambia
Victoria Falls, Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe

Rating: 5     Difficulty: 1
Victoria Falls from the air
Victoria Falls (also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates to "the smoke that thunders" in the language of the Kololo Tribe, which were present in the 1800s) is possibly the largest waterfall in the world. David Livingstone, the first European to see the falls, named it in honor of Queen Victoria in 1855. So awestruck was he that he described the falls saying "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight." Sometimes I wonder if Livingstone meant the kind of view seen in the photograph above.

This waterfall is what Julie and I consider one of the "Big Three" (the other two being Iguazu Falls and Niagara Falls).

In fact, it's a UNESCO World Heritage site as it boasts some mind boggling dimensions. The falls itself is basically where the mighty Zambezi River drops its entire width (about 1.7km across or just over a mile) over a 108m vertical wall into a narrow gorge. The volume of water over the falls typically ranges between 300-3000 cubic meters per second. The annual mean volume is said to be just over 1000 cubic meters per second or 38,000 cubic feet per second or 1 million liters per second.

Looking across the chasm at the falls in the mist Mist generated by the falls can be seen and felt from several kilometers away, and we could attest to that fact because we were able to see the mist from as far away as Livingstone (Zambia), which was some 11km from the falls. When we toured the falls, we were even able to feel the mist further downstream from it at the Livingstone Memorial Bridge, which spanned the river between the border posts of both Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Since the falls plunges into a narrow gorge, all the walkways and viewpoints (with the exception of Livingstone Island) are across the misty chasm directly opposite the falls. This creates a situation where in high flow (which was the case in our visit), the mist from the falls has nowhere to go but up and rises well higher than the lookouts. Then, the rising mist eventually falls back to the ground creating a virtual nonstop downpour. This was what made wearing a poncho a must in order to prevent our clothing, ourselves, and most importantly our cameras and other electronics from getting drenched.

This high flow also meant that we weren't able to get any all-encompassing view of the falls or even sections of it from the ground (though even in benign conditions, I wondered whether you'd still be able to see a good portion of the falls anyways given its immense scale). So given the conditions, we had to take to the air to really appreciate the whole thing and communicate it through pictures (see the photo at the top of this page).

Edge-on view of the falls from the Zimbabwe side When conditions permit (it wasn't for us), Livingstone Island (the island where David Livingstone first gazed upon Vic Falls) allows onlookers a different edge-of-the-world view of the falls. There's even a Devil's Pool where it's said that you could cheat death and literally swim right on the edge of the 108m drop!

You can read about some of the activities that we're aware are available here, including those we partook in like the aerial tour and the sunset cruise.

Since the Zambezi River marked the political boundary between the two countries, this had some ramifications in terms of us wanting to visit the falls in both countries. We did a writeup discussing the less glamorous logistics of our trip (including some of the paperwork and fees we had to go through in addition to other things to plan and prepare for our visit), which you can about here.

Lots of mist means full rainbows As a result of our experience and observations at Victoria Falls, we were quickly made aware that the type of experience you might get at the falls heavily depends on timing.

Come (as we did) at a time when the Zambezi River is in high flow and nearly all viewpoints become a misty mess obscuring views and drenching onlookers. Though the falls may be the most impressive at this time, we found the photography and the viewing experience in general from the ground a bit difficult.

Come at a time when the Zambezi River would be in low flow and the falls would segment into several smaller, narrower waterfalls exposing the immense wall underneath. This would be the time when I'd imagine more activities concerning the falls become available though the magnitude and visual impact might be dimished.

Notice the zig-zagging chasms downstream of the falls on the topleft of this photo If we're fortunate to come back, I would love to return when we could get the best of both worlds. When that time would be depends on various seasonal factors. We did a writeup discussing those factors, which you can get into by clicking here.

Like all waterfalls, the water's flow recedes the underlying layer of rock making it "move" upstream over time. What makes Victoria Falls unusual and different from other waterfalls (like Niagara and Iguazu) is that instead of moving continuously upstream over time, this waterfall creates cracks in its underlying basalt wall at a different angle than the cliff responsible for the current state of the falls. That angled crack eventually forms a new chasm intercepting the flow of the Zambezi River (becoming the new brink of the falls) and leaving the remaining knife-like cliff that once supported the edge of the falls bare and exposed.

Over time, the result is a series of gorges (currently there's said to be some 6 or 7 of them with the oldest ones being furthest downstream) zig-zagging up to the falls' current position. This process is still ongoing as a new crack has started to form on the Zimbabwe (western) side near the section known as the Devil's Cataract. This really didn't become apparent to us until I reviewed our aerial photos.

Finally, like its other Big 3 counterparts, Victoria Falls has named sections such as the just mentioned Devil's Cataract, the Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and Rainbow Falls (among others). The named sections are typically segmented or partitioned by islands above the brink of the falls (namely Cataract Island and Livingstone Island).

However, we thought these named waterfalls blended together (especially since it was during high flow) into a singular wall of water. I'm pretty sure the average visitor may not even be able to tell let alone care about which section is which (despite the help of signs).

While I can go on and on about various aspects of Victoria Falls, perhaps photos have more impact. So without further adieu, check out the photos below to see more of this world wonder.

Directions: There are many ways of getting to Victoria Falls. If you're interested in reading about our accounts of how we managed to get to the falls, you can read about it in this writeup by clicking here.

And as alluded to earlier, for foreign visitors like us, we also wrote up a guide detailing the logistics of how we managed to handle some of the less glamorous aspects of enabling a visit to the falls such as Visas, money changing, etc., which you can read about here.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
Double rainbow at Victoria Falls' misty mess as seen from the Zambia side
One of the cleaner looks of Victoria Falls that we could get from the Zambia side
Appreciating the immense scale of Victoria Falls from the air
Victoria Falls seen edge-on from the Zimbabwe side
The Devil's Cataract
Afternoon view from an overlook on the Zambian (eastern) side of the fallsAfternoon view from an overlook on the Zambian (eastern) side of Victoria Falls

How misty can it get? Maybe this view of the Knife Edge Bridge gives you an ideaHow misty can it get? Maybe this view of the Knife Edge Bridge gives you an idea

Looking directly at the wide wall of waterLooking directly at the wide wall of water

All that mist is bound to yield rainbowsAll that mist is bound to yield rainbows

Looking downstream towards the Livingstone Memorial BridgeLooking downstream towards the Livingstone Memorial Bridge

The misty chasm framed between some foliage including this rather bare treeThe misty chasm framed between some foliage including this rather bare tree

A pillar commemorating the fallen from the Great War (World War I)A pillar commemorating the fallen from the Great War (World War I)

Aerial profile view from the Zambia sideAerial profile view from the Zambia side

Angled aerial view of the fallsAngled aerial view of the falls

Another angled aerial view of the fallsAnother angled aerial view of the falls

Looking right down at the fallsLooking right down at the falls

We saw this elephant further upstream from the fallsWe saw this elephant further upstream from the falls

Smaller waterfall completely fed by Victoria Falls' mistSmaller waterfall completely fed by Victoria Falls' mist. This was seen from the Livingstone Bridge (note how the mist pretty much obscured the waterfall)

Looking down at the Boiling Pots whirlpool from the Livingstone BridgeLooking down at the Boiling Pots whirlpool from the Livingstone Bridge

Another look at the Devil's CataractAnother look at the Devil's Cataract

Segments of gushing waterfalls as seen from the Zimbabwe sideSegments of gushing waterfalls as seen from the Zimbabwe side

Edge-on view from the Zimbabwe (western) side of the fallsEdge-on view from the Zimbabwe (western) side of the falls

Barbed barriers keep you from getting too close to the edge in some viewpointsBarbed barriers keep you from getting too close to the edge in some viewpoints

Sometimes it's so misty that reading signs becomes difficultSometimes it's so misty that reading signs becomes difficult

Where else but Victoria Falls can you spot monkeys sharing the walkway with you?Where else but Victoria Falls can you spot monkeys sharing the walkway with you?

With all this mist, it's hard to see the bottom of the chasmWith all this mist, it's hard to see the bottom of the chasm


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS

Sweep from within the Zimbabwe side starting from the wall of water looking towards the Zambia side and ending at the Devil's Cataract


Sweep of just the main falls from the Zimbabwe side ending towards the misty mess looking towards the Zambia side


Sweep from the Boiling Pots towards the gap revealing a very misty Victoria Falls as seen from the Livingstone Bridge on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border


Sweep of double rainbow embedded in the mist of the falls as seen edge-on from the Zambia side


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MAP OF THE FALLS

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TRIP REPORTS
For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES



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NEARBY WATERFALLS


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Oops... 
Your picture showing a sign that is hard to see says "Horse Shoe Falls USA"... Perhaps that photo is on the wrong page?

Devil's Cataract and Main Falls at Peak Flow 
Having never got there when in lived in South Africa, my wife and I spent a few days at the Kingdom Hotel in early May 2007 on a visit to SA from Australia. …

Zimbabwe 
I visited Zimbabwe prior to recent troubles, staying at the Elephant Hills Intercontinental. And from the roof top bar, you could see the 'Smoke that …

Memories 
Having spent my childhood in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, we visited Victoria Falls on many occasions. I have black and white photos taken on my old Brownie …

Zambia 2003 Not rated yet
I stayed with my friend, a retired school teacher, in Choma for 2 weeks. She had a nice two bedroom brick house. When one lives with a Zambian for two …

Victoria Was The Better Thrill Not rated yet
I went here in 2005. The views from both sides are breathtaking. Zambia has close ups and rainbows and you get soaked! Make sure you cover your …

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