Victoria Falls presents a spectacular sight of awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur on the Zambezi River, forming the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It was described by the Kololo tribe living in the area in the 1800’s as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ – ‘The Smoke that Thunders’. In more modern terms Victoria Falls is known as the greatest curtain of falling water in the world.
Columns of spray can be seen from miles away as, at the height of the rainy season, more than five hundred million cubic meters of water per minute plummet over the edge, over a width of nearly two kilometers, into a gorge over one hundred meters below.
The wide, basalt cliff over which the falls thunder, transforms the Zambezi from a placid river into a ferocious torrent cutting through a series of dramatic gorges.
Facing the Falls is another sheer wall of basalt, rising to the same height, and capped by mist-soaked rain forest. A path along the edge of the forest provides the visitor prepared to brave the tremendous spray, with an unparalleled series of views of the Falls.
One special vantage point is across the Knife-edge Bridge, where visitors can have the finest view of the Eastern Cataract and the Main Falls as well as the Boiling Pot, where the river turns and heads down the Batoka Gorge. Other vantage points include the Falls Bridge, Devils Pool and the Lookout Tree, both of which command panoramic views across the Main Falls.
While it looks as if these visitors to Victoria Falls are flirting with disaster, swimming in the Devil's Pool is not quite as dangerous as it looks, thanks to an underwater lip. Located on the Zambia side of the falls, the pool is only accessible during the dry season from August to January.
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This legendary waterfall is among the biggest, and most awe-inspiring, on the planet.
The Zambezi River is more than 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) wide when it cascades over the lip of a large basalt plateau and plunges as much as 354 feet (108 meters). The flow has been slicing slowly through this plateau for some two million years. During this time the river has slowly retreated and the remnants of earlier, ancient falls can be seen in the gorges downstream from the current cataract.
The falls generate mists that can be spotted from more than a dozen miles (20 kilometers) away. Famed Scottish explorer David Livingstone dubbed this waterfall Victoria Falls; its older, Kololo name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, means "the smoke that thunders.” The mists also sustain a rain forest-like ecosystem adjacent to the falls and on the opposite cliff that faces them like a dried-up mirror image, thick with mahogany, fig, palm, and other species of vegetation.
The national border between Zambia and Zimbabwe lies midstream, and national parks of both nations exist on either side of the Zambezi. The gorges and cliffs below the falls in these parks are prime territory for raptors, including falcons and black eagles.
Stone artifacts from the hominin Homo habilis have been identified near the falls and show that early humans may have lived here two million years ago. More “modern” tools also evidence far more recent—50,000 years ago—Middle Stone Age settlements.
Today several hundred thousand visitors from around the world trek to the falls each year; several hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, and other tourist businesses cater to them.
The beauty of the falls lies in their natural state, but the area is at some risk of runaway tourism-based development—more resorts, hotels, and even a possible dam below the falls that could flood several park gorges. Operators in the area offer everything from helicopter overflights to bungee jumping, and the management of these activities while preserving a quality visitor experience for all is an ongoing challenge.
How to Get There
Most visitors visit from either Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) or Maramba (Zambia), where complete tourist facilities exist. Each town is accessible by road, rail, and air.
When to Visit
The river is typically in full flood during February and March, when as much as 540 million cubic meters of water fall over the edge every single minute. During the rainy season, however, the spray plume can obscure the view of the falls themselves. By November, when the water is at low ebb, visitors may see the curtain split into many smaller channels of falling water.
How to Visit
The falls are massive and invite contemplation from many different viewpoints. Trails invite you to walk around the area and enjoy vistas. Unique views are also to be had from the Knife Edge Bridge and Victoria Falls Bridge. River-level views from below the falls are a good way to experience their power up-close. At certain times of the year the daring may even swim in pools on the very crest of the cataract.
One of the greatest attractions in Africa and one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, Victoria Falls is located on the Zambezi River, the fourth largest river in Africa, which is also defining the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Victoria Falls is the only waterfall in the world with a length of more than a kilometer and a height of more than hundred meters. It is also considered to be the largest fall in the world.
The noise of Victoria Falls can be heard from a distance of 40 kilometers, while the spray and mist from the falling water is rising to a height of over 400 meters and can be seen from a distance of 50 kilometers. No wonder that the local tribes used to call the waterfall Mosi-o-Tunya “The smoke that thunders”.
Scottish missionary and famous explorer of Africa David Livingstone (1813-1873) named it after Queen Victoria. Livingstone who was the first European to cross Africa from south to north discovered this awe-inspiring waterfall in 1855, while preaching Christianity in Africa. That is why Livingstone wasn’t very pleased with his discovery: it was just an obstacle on his way.
Despite the inconveniences, he was fascinated by the beauty of the falls. In 1857 Livingstone wrote that no one in England can even imagine the beauty of this scene. Religious Livingstone also wrote that most probably angels are admiring the scenery while flying nearby. He was accompanied by soldiers but only two of them took the risk of approaching the waterfalls with Livingstone. For centuries local African tribes had a sacral fear from the waterfall.
The waterfall was hardly visited by people up until 1905, when a railway to Bulawayo was constructed. Since then Victoria Falls quickly gained popularity until the end of the British colonial rule. At the end of the 1960s the number of tourists started to decrease due to the guerrilla struggle in Zimbabwe. After Zimbabwe gained independence the region has been in relative peace and Victoria Falls started to attract a new wave of tourism.
By the end of 1990 nearly 300,000 people were visiting the falls each year. Victoria Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the citizens of both Zambia and Zimbabwe no longer have fear of the “the smoke that thunders”, and are successfully developing the tourism on both sides of the river.
The falls were formed in a zone of crustal faults. On the crest of the fall numerous islands divide the main flow into several branches. During floods, the water flow capacity reaches half a million liters of water per minute.
The water level varies throughout the year; it is at its peak in April, at the end of the rainy season when on average 500,000,000 liters of water flow and it is at its lowest level in October and early November.
Interestingly, during the dry season the water level in the Zambezi River drops sharply, and it becomes possible to walk through some parts of the waterfall. However, during the rest of the year Victoria Falls is a roaring machine that strikes anyone with its power.