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 better? Or is the Zambia (or Zam) side better?
Having been to both sides, we’re in position to give you the low down on the pros and cons of each side.
However, our visit in 2008 was affected by some political turmoil that was happening on the Zimbabwe side. I’m sure our sentiment on that side of Victoria Falls would be very different had we visited under more “normal” circumstances.
So without further adieu, here’s our take on comparing the two sides of Victoria Falls…
THE ZAMBIAN SIDE OF VICTORIA FALLS
As of our May 2008 visit, the Zambia side was the preferred base due in large part to the political turmoil that was going on in Zimbabwe.
But if we didn’t consider those circumstances, how would it compare?
Well for starters, the walkways on the Zambia side featured a handful of viewpoints on Victoria Falls’ far eastern end.
Such notable spots included panoramas yielding profile views of the eastern end of the cataract (with rainbows in the morning) as well as frontal views of that cataract across the Knife Edge Bridge. We also managed to get profile views of some of the segments of the falls on the Zimbabwe side as we looked further west.
It didn’t take long for Julie and I to fully experience the walkways here, which was made even shorter due to the intense amount of mist that kept us from spending extended amounts of time taking photos.
As a result, we wound up exploring other ways to experience Victoria Falls. This included the walk to the Boiling Pot whirlpool, going on a helicopter excursion, and taking a sunset cruise.
We even witnessed people bungee jumping off the Livingstone Bridge, which was such an intense experience that we could even hear the piercing screams of adrenaline junkies from the walkways themselves.
Another thing we didn’t get a chance to do that I believe could be arranged in the Zambia side was the Devil’s Pool. Since the river was in high flow, it wasn’t possible for us to do this safely. However, we might consider doing this if we’re fortunate enough to make a return visit under more benign conditions.
When it came to the nearest town on the Zambia side, that would be Livingstone, which was 11km away from Victoria Falls.
Even though Livingstone 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. Usually we could have our accommodation help us find a ride to get to the falls, but finding a ride back to town was a bit more of an exercise in taking our chances and testing our street smarts.
There was the Royal Livingstone and the Zambezi Sun nestled just upstream from Vic Falls on the Zambia side. However, we managed to find more reasonably-priced accommodations (such as Chanter’s Lodge) in Livingstone itself.
I suspect that the lower prices was largely due to the logistical hurdle of spanning the 11km distance from town to the falls and back. That said, there did appear to be more curio shops, restaurants, services, and even a few medical clinics (the latter of which was something we had to peruse when trying to figure out our situation regarding our missing yellow fever vaccination certificates; details of which I’ll not bore you with in this write-up).
THE ZIMBABWEAN SIDE OF VICTORIA FALLS
With the exception of our visit in May 2008, historically, the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls was generally where most of the tourist activity would take place.
This was mainly because the town of Victoria Falls was only 2km away from the park (which would definitely be walkable as opposed to the 11km that we had to deal with while staying in Livingstone, Zambia). The Victoria Falls town was also built with the tourist in mind so it made the most sense for tourists to base themselves here.
When it came to the lookouts and walkways within the park, we’ve found that the Zimbabwe side had the lion’s share of the frontal viewpoints of the waterfall.
The viewpoints ranged from Cataract Point in the far west (which offered us a profile view of the falls looking eastward) to Danger Point at the eastern end of the plateau. Immediately to the east of the plateau was the abrupt gorge separating the two countries Zimbabwe and Zambia.
From Cataract Point, we were closest to the Devil’s Cataract, which was the waterfall where the next chasm would ultimately form as the Zambezi River would cut into the bedrock over time.
Going further east along the walkways, we would experience numerous viewpoints connected by the “Chain Walk” offering frontal views of the Devil’s Cataract, Cataract Island with its associated falls, the main falls, Livingstone Island, Horseshoe Falls, and Rainbow Falls.
Once we got to Danger Point at the far eastern end of the walkways, we tried to look further east into the eastern cataract portions within the Zambian side though the intense mist made visibility difficult. Beyond Danger Point, the plateau dropped abruptly into the gorge separating the two countries of Zimbabwe and Zambia.
So with so many things going right for the Zimbabwe side, you may be wondering why the Zambia side was preferred during our visit…
Well, when we were there in May 2008, there was significant political turmoil due to the policies of the leader at the time, Robert Mugabe. A runoff election just so happened to be occurring during our visit. Combine that with the hyperinflation (devaluing of the Zimbabwean Dollar) and the ensuing poverty really made for a bad situation.
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.
It definitely felt like we were one of the few tourists who pushed forward with doing a day trip to the Zimbabwe side 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 the incumbent Mugabe and the opposition leader Tsvangirai. In the years since, it appeared that the economy had stabilized (currency now pegged to the US dollar) and things had significantly improved. In an online extension class that I took, I had a Zimbabwean classmate who confirmed that things had 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.
So obviously, it’s worth seeing Victoria Falls from both sides. Clearly, they’re different yet beautiful and equally worthwhile.
Unfortunately, visiting both sides had drawbacks during our May 2008 trip.
The Zimbabwe side had the political issues even though there were more viewpoints and the Victoria Falls Town was more convenient logistically.
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. 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.