Victoria Falls: Africa’s Greatest Wonder?

Victoria Falls: It’s surely one of the greatest of all natural wonders.

Forged by the mighty Zambezi river (the 4th longest in Africa), Victoria Falls straddles the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe along a huge gorge on an otherwise high and flat plateau, much of which is a “wildlife corridor” resulting in exceptional safari opportunities.

So, what else does a traveller need? Mark Bratt Travel sent Scott to find out.

If you like the sound of this then check out our Victoria Falls; Spray, Safaris and Surf trip.

 

Day 1: Lusaka, Zambia
Whilst most travellers transfer straight to the falls I took the opportunity to have an additional day in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. Now a city of several million, Lusaka provides the traveller with an opportunity to visit a non-touristy African city and one of the continent’s fastest growing.

Lusaka does not feel like a city of some 3 million people, but rather a collection of suburbs and townships joined together. Life is lived at the side of road – anything that you can imagine (and certain things you would never imagine such as full-size security gates) are traded and loaded (or in certain cases strapped) to cars upon purchase.

Street Trade in Lusaka

The National Museum, whilst lacking any real quantity of exhibits, holds useful information on the movement of the main tribes from across Zambia and the wider area of Southern Africa as well as artifacts from the surrounding areas as tribal masks. Embassy Park, which houses mausolea of Zambia’s former presidents, has an unmistakably African feel to it and is worth the small entry fee.


Embassy Park

Cairo road provides the only real evidence of the scale and regional importance of Lusaka, as high-rise buildings overlook modern shopping plazas and familiar fast food restaurant chain logos. On the edge of Lusaka (and beyond the reaches of tarmac roads) is the beautifully landscaped Kalimba Reptile Park. The Park houses most of the region’s indigenous reptiles, including the highly venomous Black Mamba, and is a good opportunity to ensure a close-up encounter with crocodiles.

Crocodile at Kalimba Reptile Park

Accommodation: Mika Lodge. A pleasant lodge on the edge of Lusaka close to the airport. Complete with pool and hot food on site. I paid the small premium to upgrade to a suite, complete with separate lounge.

Mika Lodge

Travel tip: Take into account which order you will do each country. There are various visa packages which make certain types of crossings more expensive than other.

Day 2 & 3: Botswana

Lusaka is a 1-hour flight from the town of Livingstone, named for the Victorian explorer Dr Livingstone who was the first European to reach and record the mighty falls. There are no flights from Zambia to the Zimbabwe side of the falls, but with the falls forming the border of the two countries, and both countries having adequate tourist infrastructure, it matters not.

From Livingstone I crossed into Botswana at the border town of Kazungula and it is a crossing that is full of interest. The town sits on the shores of the Zambezi where a single ferry crosses tirelessly from 9 to 5 every day, taking 1 truck at time (assuming it does not break down, which of course it often does). A new bridge is being constructed to help relieve the backlog of trucks which spans back many miles from the crossing point in every direction.

The Ferry at Kazungula

Passengers have the luxury of crossing on private water taxis rather than having to wait for the ferry, and, after surviving the chaos of the passport office, will find themselves momentarily in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana all at once.

Botswana is the Kingdom of the Elephant with over 100,000 of them in the country. Unlike many other African countries the elephant population is booming here and there is no better place to see African Elephants in the wild.
I was to stay at Bakwena lodge at the edge of Chobe National Park; here the Chobe river floods, resulting in lush, fertile wetlands.

As evening approached we were taken on a river safari. The higher-end lodges use small boats which cruise peacefully on the river allowing you to get close to the animals on show without disturbing them. Sadly, the entry-level river safaris use large double-decker boats which do disturb the animals resulting in an inferior viewing experience.

Animal viewing on the Chobe River

The river banks in the run-up to dusk is a feast for the eyes and the camera lens: crocodiles bask, hippos and water buffalo graze, waterfowl and monitor lizards patrol the water’s edge. Then come the elephants – great herds of them arrive from the scrubland to drink, play and roll in the mud.

Words can never do justice to the witnessing of wild elephants which, for me at least, hold a very special reserved place amongst the animals of Africa.

Elephants play fighting 

The next morning starts before the sun is up as you are transported into Chobe National Park for a morning game drive. Blankets are provided and are much needed; African mornings are surprisingly brisk (often close to freezing).
The reason for starting so early is due to one thing: big cats. If you do not get into the park early enough then you simply will not see them (or certainly drastically reduce your chances). The bush at this hour is eerily quiet as the large herds are still enjoying their overnight slumber.

Yet the predators and scavengers are out in force. Whilst en route to the place the local lion pride was last seen, we were fortunate to encounter a busy Ratel (Honey Badger) and witness a Jackal make a kill. Before long the guide caught wind of a nearby Leopard and one or two quick turns later (and a slight delay caused by a group of Giraffes crossing the track) we were metres from a Leopard resting in the undergrowth.

Jackal at sunrise in Chobe National Park

Seeing so much activity before 6am certainly made the early start worthwhile and before 8am we had spotted Hyena and the resident Lions.

Lionness with Guinea Fowl, Chobe National Park

The rest of the game drive was filled with herds of impala, warthogs, zebra, giraffe and yet more elephants (this is Botswana after all). The abundance of wildlife in Chobe National Park is incredible and whilst animal sightings can never be guaranteed I suspect very few tourists go home disappointed.

Accommodation: Bakwena Lodge. A stunning eco-lodge hidden in undergrowth on the banks of the Chobe river. The rooms are beautifully designed and come complete with outdoor shower and balconies from which hippo can be both seen and heard. The communal area is tastefully designed and boasts a charming eco pool and sun terrace. A game drive and river safari are included in your trip.

The Eco Pool Bakwena Lodge

Days 5,6,7 Zimbabwe

Another short road transfer later and you find yourself viewing Southern Ground Hornbills at the side of the road in Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe.

My first night’s accommodation was the impressive Elephant Camp, within the grounds of the National Park and within sight of the Zambezi Gorge and the mist from Victoria Falls (but more on hotel later); It was finally time for me to see the falls.

The falls themselves are walkable from the town that shares their name. So no need to plan a special trip or wait for a guided tour (unless you are staying outside the town where the hotels will provide free shuttles to the entrance of the park).

Victoria Falls

I visited in July, which is mid-season for flow rate, not that you would have guessed that due to the sheer volume of water, noise and spray. Time your visit right and you could even “enjoy” a dip at the Devil’s Pool right at the edge of the falls. The falls themselves are easy to access and view with a series of viewpoints along the falls’ edge, including the suitably named Danger Point (note: the area is extremely wet underfoot and is not behind safety barriers!) which provides perhaps the best view of the falls from the Zimbabwe side. And if you do not rent a poncho you will get very wet and get strange looks in the process (trust me, I would know).

The view of Victoria Falls from Danger Point

A short walk down river from the falls is The Lookout Café where you can dry off and enjoy a drink and some well-prepared food whilst overlooking the meandering Zambezi below.

For thrill seekers, there are zip lines situated at the Lookout café and a world-famous bungee jump (complete with baboon onlookers) right on the borderline of Zambia and Zimbabwe off a Victorian-era bridge.

The Zambian-Zimbabwe Border with Bungee Jump

For the remainder of my stay in Victoria Falls I stayed in the N1, a centrally located budget option hotel. The town of Victoria Falls has all that a tourist will need – open air pizzeria’s (with the 3 Monkeys being my favourite) , the all fashionable “I love” Victoria Falls sign, a plethora of bars, cafés and restaurants (including a game tapas restaurant) and of course tourist shops selling local gifts.

Street sellers line the streets, many offering hand-carved wooden gifts and notes of incomprehensible amounts of the now-defunct Zimbabwean Dollar. Whilst they will all approach you, if you are not interested simply say so and you will be left alone without any issue.

To add to the appeal the railway crosses through the centre of the town, including some renovated steam trains, whilst baboons and warthogs roam the streets looking for dropped crumbs. At night, you may hear the elephants walk through the town too.

A train crossing through Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

The Zambian side of the falls are also walkable from Victoria Falls town and the falls are impressive enough to warrant a viewing from both sides if you have the time.

Other activities are available locally too, such as game drives and rafting / canoeing on the Zambezi. I decided to try the latter. The canoeing day trip includes a short game drive through the national park and breakfast on the shores of the mighty Zambezi, which is a mile wide in places. From your starting point you and your guide canoe down the river at a relaxed pace for a couple of hours, all the while taking in the local residents which include crocodiles, hippo and plenty of water birds. You may even get a glimpse of huge Goliath Tiger Fish or yet more elephants having a drink. A bbq and a cold beer await you at the end of your journey. This excursion really was one of the highlights of my trip and I highly recommend you getting on the Zambezi in some capacity during your stay.

Canoeing on Zambezi

Travel Tip: Cash is scarce in Zimbabwe. If you are planning on paying by card, do not accept the locals first reply that the card machine is not working – it will be, they just want you to pay cash!

Accommodation: The Elephant Camp. Situated within the Zambezi National Park, the Elephant Camp sits on a small ridge overlooking the Zambezi gorge. Each room is in fact a luxury tent, complete with individual plunge pool, unlimited mini bar and a walkie-talkie to call for room service. No expense has been spared here. All excursions are included in your all-inclusive stay and include drinks in a pop-up bar right at the edge of the gorge at sunset (which is perhaps the most spectacular place I have ever drunk a g&t), tours to the local village and early morning nature walks through the bush (which I highly recommend). Animal interactions are also available.

 

Elephant Camp room complete with private plunge pool

N1: The N1 is situated in the heart of Victoria Falls. Featuring 24-hour security and nicely-equipped clean rooms the hotel provides everything a traveller needs in a town such as Victoria Falls. For me, this is a great priced option which may just allow you to take that extra day of safari or stay in your perfect rural retreat.

N1 Hotel

Days 8,9,10: Cape Town, South Africa.
From Victoria Falls I flew to Cape Town. The views from the flights themselves were a wonder to behold as we flew over rugged terrain and eye-catching salt pans.

Upon landing I took advantage of the perfect conditions and went to visit Cape Town’s most famous resident: Table Mountain. You can hike up (if you are feeling athletic enough and have a day to spare) or can take the cable car.

Table Mountain Cable Car

The views from the top are truly incredible – the table cloth creeping over the mountain, Cape Town dominating the bay and the infamous Robben Island all clearly visible, even when the “Table Cloth” starts to descend.

Table Mountain

Victoria Wharf and Camps Bay both provide excellent evening locations for a stroll and good food and drink, which by UK standards is still really well priced.

Cape Town has something for everyone – from the colourful houses of Bo-Kaap to Truth, the steam-punk themed coffee shop (voted the best in the world) to Robben Island museum and District 6 museum. The architecture is a mix of colonial grandeur and modern day opulence, with the skyscrapers of the financial district overlooking the 200-year old town hall and Castle of Good Hope.

 

Learn more about our Victoria Falls; Spray, Safaris and Surf trip.

Cape Town Town Hall with street market

An early start to watch sunset over cape Town from Signal Hill is a must, as is an excursion out to Boulders Beach to view the Penguin colony.

Sunrise over Cape Town from Signal Hill

Beach huts at Muizenberg Beach


A Hyrax at Boulders Beach National Park

Penguins at Boulders Beach National Park

Travel Tip: There are two viewpoints at Boulders Beach. If driving from Cape Town take the second. From there you can get on to the beach and get better (and quieter) viewing of the penguins.

Equally as essential is a visit to Stellenbosch, an area made famous for its main export: wine. With wine tasting at the leading vineyards costing under £5 and even the most expensive glasses of wines in the local bistros being just £2 Stellenbosch really is a wine lover’s dream.

Delaire Graff Estate Vineyard, Stellenbosch

Accommodation: Big Backpackers Lodge. Well located close to all the main areas of interest, I stayed in a private room making it more akin to that of a hotel rather than that of a hostel stay. However the communal breakfast with the other travellers and staff alike made getting the most out of my time in Cape Town all the easier.

The Big Backpackers Lodge, Cape Town


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