Victoria Falls - Planning and Preparing for Your Trip

A serious drenching on the Knife Edge Bridge
Planning and Preparing for your trip to Victoria Falls?

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This page covers the following topics:

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Victoria Falls is shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe. If you want to see the falls from both sides (well worth it), you'll have to abide by the Visa and Passport Requirements for both countries.

Since rules may change and the rules are different depending on who you are, we're going to explain this based on our own experiences (i.e. a foreign visitor from the United States in May 2008).

For Zambia, we needed a passport and a Visa. Up until the start of 2008, we learned that Visas could be arranged with the hotel or accommodation you're staying at in Zambia. Unfortunately for us, starting in 2008, the Visa fee for US Citizens was $135 USD per person in cash only for a multi-entry! We needed multi-entry Visas because at any time during a stay in Zambia (or for the life of the Visa which was typically 30 days but can be extended twice for a grand total of three months), if we left the country and wished to come back, then we needed to re-enter Zambia (hence the multi-entry Visa). And since we planned on seeing Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side as well as the Zambia side (where we were staying), this type of Visa was necessary.

I understand for people coming from the UK, it was even worse (around 200 GBP - ouch!). I'm sure this couldn't have helped many of the local businesses as fewer people (especially from the US and UK) would want to be coming here. So it's conceivable that this could change if it continues to adversely impact the Zambian economy here.

Finally, it's worth noting that we noticed the Visa entry fee for citizens from other countries like Canada or France was significantly less than ours. I'm guessing the Visa policies reflect how difficult it would be for Zambians to visit the country in question. In other words, the US and UK made it real expensive and tough for Zambians to visit so they reciprocated in kind.

For Zimbabwe, we also needed a passport and a Visa. However, at least the Visa fees were more reasonable than in Zambia (about $30 USD per person for single-entry as of when we were there in 2008). This was pretty straight forward for us as we were visiting from Zambia. All we had to do was to walk across the bridge (or taxi the short distance if you're so inclined) from border to border and walk up to the immigration post to fill out the immigration card, pay the Visa, and be on our way. The converse was true had we come from or stayed in Zimbabwe and wished to walk to Zambia.

If you're coming from other countries (i.e. not the US, Canada, UK, or other 1st world countries), you'll have to check those requirements and costs. If you're from another country, check out this link for Zambia or this link for Zimbabwe.

The passport must have at least 1 blank page (for the big Visa stamp) and be valid for 6 months after your trip. You'll probably want a few more blank slots on your passport pages (a problem for frequent international travelers like us) for other stampings that occur when you cross borders by air or by land.

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When we visited Zambia, we weren't asked to present any certificates of immunization (like the Yellow Fever Certificate or something like that) upon entry into the country. However, there are some serious health threats that can be mitigated prior to your arrival to the country. Unfortunately, most health care insurances in the US will not cover vaccinations. The following link from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides some additional medical suggestions to prepare your body for travel to Zambia.

When we visited Zimbabwe, we also weren't asked to present any certificates nor proof of immunization. But like Zambia, there exist diseases and health risks as well. So it may be in your best interest to treat yourself with pills or vaccinations prior to traveling here. The following link from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides some additional medical suggestions to prepare your body for travel to Zambia.

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In order to ensure a relatively safe trip, here are a few things you might want to consider packing for your trip in addition to your basic toiletries and clothes.

  • Comfortable Shoes - it's probably wise to wear closed-toe athletic or hiking shoes in the event you're on a safari. There is the possibility of snakes and parasite-riddled mosquitoes so boots will help protect the feet the most in those circumstances. However, if you're only exploring the immediate falls area (especially the places you're going to get drenched), then perhaps shoes that can handle water (like Keens or other forms of water shoes) might be the way to go. It is possible to wear sandals or Chacos, but keep in mind there are risks involved with that.
  • Hat - given the intense sub-tropical heat and sun, this will at least keep your scalp from getting severely burned. If you're wearing a broad-rimmed hiking hat, it could also help protect your neck, ears, and face.
  • Sunscreen - again, given the intense sun, it's a good idea to protect other exposed parts of your skin from sunburn.
  • Insect Repellant (preferably with DEET) - since mosquitoes are present here (many of which carry diseases), this will help prevent them from biting you and passing their diseases to you. Malaria and Yellow Fever are very real threats here.
  • Poncho or Raincoat - very useful for shielding yourself and/or your equipment (namely camera) from getting drenched, especially if the falls are particularly flowing strongly. But don't fret if you forgot to bring this because (at least in Zambia) they do hire out ponchos.
  • Quick-drying Clothing - chances are, you're going to get wet from either sweat or spray from the falls or both! These clothes will at least help keep you relatively comfortable and even re-usable later on in the trip after initial use. Long sleeve and long pants also serve as an additional protection against both sunburn and mosquito bites.
  • Sunglasses - prevents cataracts or other harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays on your eyes

Some other things worth bringing to enhance your experience include...

  • Lots of Memory or Film or Portable Hard Drive - the first and third items are for digital photographers. In any case, you'll be taking heaps of photos and you'll want to make sure you can bring all your photos home. But keep this away from the water or spray as much as possible to prevent damage and/or malfunctions from shorts.
  • Wide Angle Lens - useful for expansive landscape photos, especially for a waterfall as wide as Victoria Falls
  • Telephoto Lens - if you're a wildlife buff, you'll want these to take photos of wild animals (big game, monkeys, baboons, and even snakes) without getting dangerously close to them. However, this isn't particularly useful for shooting the falls per se.

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Here are some more things to think about with regard to safety in Victoria Falls.

It's no secret that there is some serious poverty in African countries and both Zimbabwe and Zambia are no exception. As a result of the big gaps between rich and poor, it's conceivable that muggings and/or petty theft can occur. This was especially the case during our visit given the problems in Zimbabwe. That's not to say Zambians and Zimbabweans are criminals (in fact, they're by and large nice, generous, and peaceful people), but as a traveler, it's your job to be vigilant about keeping your money and your valuables out of sight (both as a courtesy and as a common sense measure; flaunting your bling bling is asking for it). You can accomplish this by concealing your money in a body pouch beneath your clothes.

In addition to crime, here are some other things to consider regarding your safety...

  • Bottled Water - If your stomach isn't used to it, you're going to get sick drinking or even brushing your teeth with their tap water. So load up on bottled water and watch out for uncooked foods, vegetables, and fruits that might be washed in bad water. Also, watch out for ice as well.
  • Stay on the walkways and away from the water - this is pretty self-explanatory, but getting swept away into the Zambezi River is a death sentence. So stay away from the edges and keep to the well-developed walkways. Do be careful if they're wet (they usually are) as they can be slippery.

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If you carry the US Dollar (and quite possibly the Great Britain Pound Sterling or Euro these days thanks to the falling US Dollar), it's not necessary to exchange money as just about everyone (including street vendors) will take US Dollars (at least that was our experience in 2008). That said, you can also exchange your money for Kwachas in Zambia. As for Zimbabwe, until the economy there is stabilized, I wouldn't even consider exchanging for Zimbabwean Dollars. The advantage of using the local currency is that you're lessening the likelihood of getting screwed on conversion rates if you're unable to calculate and do the conversions on the fly. However, over the years, we've run into situations where exchanging money into the local currency didn't save money (in fact, it made things worse due to the money exchange rates, the transaction fees, then the locals who were savvy enough to impose two-tiered pricing based on what Westerners were willing to pay or their insistance on foreign currency over local currency by giving you ad hoc dismal exchange rates).

As of late May 2008, the exchange rate was about 3200 Kwachas for 1 USD (though I'm sure it's considerably less by the time you read this as the dollar continues to fall thanks to our government's tendency to print money without adhering to its actual representation in terms of gold reserves or other assets that hold real value).

Even though Zambia was getting more expensive as Zimbabwe was falling apart (again, as of 2008, though this could totally be different by the time you read this), the prices for things like food and accommodation (outside the real resorty Royal Livingstone or Zambezi Sun) were quite reasonable. But remember, outside of tourist excursions, restaurants, and services, we were able to barter for curios, taxis, and other petty expenses.

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How much time should you spend at Victoria Falls?

I'd say give yourself at least 4 days and 3 nights (not including the travel days) to allow enough time to see the falls from both the Zimbabwe and Zambia side on your own with time for an excursion or two. We ended up spending three nights here, and it seemed like it was a reasonable amount of time.

Certainly the more time you spend there, the less rushed it will feel and the more time you'll have to explore other optional (see activities). You'll also give yourself a greater chance of experiencing the falls in good weather with the bigger time window. The drawback to a longer stay will be cost and time (especially if you're on limited vacation time).

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Have you been to Victoria Falls?

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