Victoria Falls

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Zambia) / Victoria Falls National Park (Zimbabwe) / Livingstone / Victoria Falls, Southern Province / Matabeleland North, Zambia / Zimbabwe

About Victoria Falls


Hiking Distance: tour
Suggested Time: at least 2 hours (to take in all lookouts from both Zimbabwe and Zambia)

Date first visited: 2008-05-24
Date last visited: 2008-05-26

Waterfall Latitude: -17.92437
Waterfall Longitude: 25.85357

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Victoria Falls is possibly the largest singular waterfall in the world.

The falls was also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates to “the smoke that thunders” in the language of the Kololo Tribe, who were present in the 1800s.

Victoria_Falls_265_05252008 - Aerial view of Victoria Falls
Aerial view of Victoria Falls

Later, David Livingstone, the first European to see the falls, named it in honor of Queen Victoria in 1855.

So awestruck was he upon seeing the falls 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 what he said based on the kind of view you see in the photograph above.

One Of The Big Three

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

These are the only waterfalls of such size left standing in the world.

Victoria_Falls_124_05242008 - Victoria Falls shrouded in its own mist as seen from the Zambia side
Victoria Falls shrouded in its own mist as seen from the Zambia side

There may have been others through earth’s history, but they’ve been either sacrificed by damming or diversion, or they may have been casualties of changes in geology and climate.

Speaking of grandeur, Victoria Falls is 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 300-3,000 cubic meters per second.

The annual mean volume is said to be just over 1,000 cubic meters per second (which roughly converts to 38,000 cubic feet per second or 1 million liters per second).

Victoria_Falls_039_jx_05262008 - Edge on view of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side
Edge on view of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side

Mist generated by the falls can be seen and felt from several kilometers away.

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 Victoria 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.

Too Much Mist

Since the Victoria Falls plunged into a narrow gorge, all the walkways and viewpoints (with the exception of Livingstone Island) were across the misty chasm directly opposite the falls.

This created a situation where in high flow (which was the case in our visit), the mist from the falls had nowhere to go but up.

Victoria_Falls_018_05242008 - Mist inundating the Knife Edge Bridge on the Zambia side of Victoria Falls
Mist inundating the Knife Edge Bridge on the Zambia side of Victoria Falls

In fact, the mist rose so high that it dropped back down like a heavy downpour at all the lookouts.

If you ever wondered why vendors rented out rain ponchos, this was precisely the reason why!

We definitely needed our ponchos 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 let alone even sections of it from the ground.

That said, even in benign conditions, I wondered whether we’d still be able to see a good portion of the Victoria Falls from the ground anyways given its immense scale.

Victoria_Falls_034_05242008 - Mist obscuring most of the views of Victoria Falls in high flow
Mist obscuring most of the views of Victoria Falls in high flow

Nevertheless, we ended up deciding to take to the air to really appreciate the entirety of Victoria Falls as well as communicating it through pictures.

The Devil’s Pool

When conditions permit (it wasn’t for us), Livingstone Island (the island where David Livingstone first gazed upon Victoria Falls) allows onlookers a different edge-of-the-world view of the falls.

Indeed, there’s a spot called the 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 our write-up pertaining to some of the activities that we’re aware are available.

This included those we partook in like the aerial tour and the sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.

Political Ramifications

Victoria_Falls_083_jx_05262008 - Hyperinflation due to political instability in Zimbabwe as reflected in this entrance sign on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls
Hyperinflation due to political instability in Zimbabwe as reflected in this entrance sign on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls

Since the Zambezi River marked the political boundary between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe, this had some ramifications in terms of us wanting to visit the Victoria Falls from both sides.

We did a writeup discussing the less glamorous logistics of our trip.

This included some of the paperwork and fees we had to go through in addition to other things to plan and prepare for our visit.

Our visit in late May 2008 also happened to coincide with a controversial runoff election between Mugabe and Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe.

This further complicated our ability to visit the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls (let alone stay there) as the country had to deal with hyperinflation at the time.

Timing A Victoria Falls Visit

Victoria_Falls_413_05252008 - Victoria Falls shrouded in mist as seen from the Livingstone Bridge over the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia
Victoria Falls shrouded in mist as seen from the Livingstone Bridge over the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia

As a result of our experience and observations at Victoria Falls, we were quickly made aware the experience is largely dictated by 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 to be a bit difficult.

Indeed, the more the merrier does not necessarily apply when it comes to Victoria Falls.

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.

Victoria_Falls_470_05262008 - The Devil's Cataract on the Zimbabwe side getting its best lighting in the morning
The Devil’s Cataract on the Zimbabwe side getting its best lighting in the morning

This would be the time when I’d imagine more activities concerning the falls would become available though the magnitude and visual impact might be dimished.

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 as well as estimating when the optimal time to visit would be.

Victoria Falls and the Zig Zag Erosion

Like all waterfalls, the water’s flow recedes the underlying layer of rock making it “move” upstream over time.

Victoria_Falls_221_05252008 - Notice the zig-zagging chasms downstream of the Victoria Falls on the topleft of this aerial photo
Notice the zig-zagging chasms downstream of the Victoria Falls on the topleft of this aerial photo

However, what makes Victoria Falls unusual and different from other waterfalls (like Niagara Falls and Iguazu Falls) is that instead of moving continuously upstream over time, this waterfall creates cracks.

These cracks occur in the underlying basalt wall at a different angle than the cliff responsible for the current state of the falls.

Eventually, the angled crack forms a new chasm intercepting the flow of the Zambezi River and becoming the new brink of the falls.

It then leaves 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.

Victoria_Falls_441_05262008 - The next chasm and zig-zag is being created right at the Devil's Cataract on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls
The next chasm and zig-zag is being created right at the Devil’s Cataract on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls

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.

Indeed, we only realized this unusual erosion pattern when we saw our aerial photos revealing these chasms further downstream.

The Named Components of Victoria Falls

Finally, like its other Big 3 counterparts, Victoria Falls has named sections such as the just mentioned Devil’s Cataract.

Other named sections included 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).

Victoria_Falls_074_jx_05262008 - One of the named components of Victoria Falls
One of the named components of Victoria Falls

However, we observed that 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 the world wonder of Victoria Falls, perhaps photos have more impact, which you can see in the tabs below.

Authorities

Victoria Falls resides in the Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwe side and the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambia side. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting the Victoria Falls government website (Zimbabwe) or Zambia Tourism website.

Victoria_Falls_001_05242008 - Afternoon view from an overlook on the Zambian (eastern) side of the Victoria Falls
Victoria_Falls_023_05242008 - Looking across the misty gorge from the Zambia side of Victoria Falls
Victoria_Falls_027_05242008 - Looking directly at the wide wall of water of Victoria Falls on the Zambia side
Victoria_Falls_167_05252008 - Looking downstream towards the Livingstone Memorial Bridge
Victoria_Falls_037_05242008 - Mist and rainbows galore at Victoria Falls when we showed up in high flow in late May 2008
Victoria_Falls_072_05242008 - The Livingstone statue at the Zambia side of Victoria Falls
Victoria_Falls_077_05242008 - The chasm is hard to see with all that mist from Victoria Falls
Victoria_Falls_085_05242008 - The misty chasm of Victoria Falls framed between some foliage including this rather bare tree
Victoria_Falls_195_05252008 - A pillar commemorating the fallen from the Great War (World War I) on the Zambia side
Victoria_Falls_355_05252008 - Aerial profile view from the Zambia side
Victoria_Falls_249_05252008 - Angled aerial view of the Victoria Falls (Zambia side on the right, Zimbabwe side on the left)
Victoria_Falls_272_05252008 - Direct broadside aerial view of Victoria Falls with the Zambia side on the right and the Zimbabwe side on the left
Victoria_Falls_292_05252008 - Another angled aerial view of the Victoria Falls though this shot reveals one of the zig-zag chasms further downstream
Victoria_Falls_362_05252008 - Looking right down at the Zambia side of Victoria Falls
Victoria_Falls_402_05252008 - We saw this elephant further upstream from the Victoria Falls
Victoria_Falls_414_05252008 - Smaller waterfall completely fed by Victoria Falls' mist. This was seen from the Livingstone Bridge (note how the mist pretty much obscured the main waterfall)
Victoria_Falls_419_05262008 - Looking down at the Boiling Pots whirlpool from the Livingstone Bridge
Victoria_Falls_421_05262008 - Welcome sign for Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side
Victoria_Falls_422_05262008 - An elephant skull on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls
Victoria_Falls_444_05262008 - Segments of gushing waterfalls as seen from the Zimbabwe side
Victoria_Falls_464_05262008 - Given the width of Victoria Falls, you can only see sections of it at a time
Victoria_Falls_489_05262008 - Wide wall of water of Victoria Falls producing lots of mist
Victoria_Falls_068_jx_05262008 - Barbed barriers (kind of like bomas) keeping you from getting too close to the edge in some of the Victoria Falls viewpoints
Victoria_Falls_517_05262008 - Where else but Victoria Falls can you spot monkeys sharing the walkway with you?
Victoria_Falls_530_05262008 - Another edge on view of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side with a rainbow starting to appear on the lower right
Victoria_Falls_486_05262008 - With all this mist, it's hard to see the bottom of the chasm

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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.

As for geographical context, Victoria Falls sat between the towns of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Livingstone, Zambia. We managed to fly to Livingstone after a two-hour flight from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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


Focused on the main falls as seen from the Zimbabwe side


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


View from the far eastern end (Zambia side) of Mosi-oa-Tunya


Same view as above but taken the next morning with better light

Tagged with: livingstone, victoria falls, southern province, zambia, matabeleland north, zimbabwe, africa, waterfall, top 10 world, top 10, unesco, devils pool, devils cataract, helicopter



Visitor Comments:

Oops… May 12, 2012 10:14 pm by Bea - Your picture showing a sign that is hard to see says "Horse Shoe Falls USA"... Perhaps that photo is on the wrong page? ...Read More
You Should Revisit Zimbabwe now. October 12, 2011 9:02 pm by ATM - I think the writer should visit Zimbabwe now and come up with a recent true picture of what is currently on the ground. The economy is recovering, the US dollar is the currency in use now and the political situation has calmed down. ...Read More
Zimbabwe November 17, 2008 12:52 am by Carl - 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 Thunders' away in the distance. Truly awesome! But nothing prepares you for the up close and personal experience of standing next to its intense natural power. We now have a… ...Read More
Memories August 2, 2008 8:19 pm by Brita Pettersson - 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 camera. The scenery seems unchanged and as magninficent and awe inspiring as always. I live in Sweden now and have not visited Zimbabwe since 1970. This site brings back many… ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Zambia 2003 April 25, 2009 1:10 am by Doris - 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 weeks, it is a good idea to give the hostess enough money to buy good food for both of us, as I couldn't exist on… ...Read More
Devil’s Cataract and Main Falls at Peak Flow February 6, 2009 7:10 am by John Pickerill - 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. The Zambezi was at peak flow and though our viewing was restricted to Devil's Cataract and the Main Falls it was simply… ...Read More
Victoria Was The Better Thrill December 5, 2008 10:57 pm by Rhobert Tachamet - 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 camera with a plastic bag.!! Zimbabwe has great views of the falls in general. On the way there you go over a great bridge, here there is a… ...Read More

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