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Victoria Falls

The largest single sheet of falling water in the world (with a height of 355 feet (108 m) and width of 5,604 feet (1,708 m) and one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls, Victoria Falls straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Located on the Zambezi River, which creates a thriving ecosystem for diverse species of plants and wildlife, Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Victoria Falls was named after Queen Victoria, whose reign over the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland lasted until she died in 1901. David Livingstone, a British explorer, was the one to christen the waterfalls with his Queen’s name in 1855.

Victoria Falls has much more to offer than its enchanting views. Nearby attractions include the town of Victoria Falls, historical monuments, fascinating museums, flourishing markets, wildlife viewing and superb accommodation.

The beauty of Victoria Falls can be explored from both the Zimbabwe and the Zambian side. We’ll share some facts that’ll help you make the decision. But before that, let’s learn a little more about Victoria Falls and its history.

1. Formation of Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls was created over millions of years via a series of geological events that led to the formation of this remarkable natural wonder.

  • It is a result of volcanic eruptions occurring 180 million years ago that laid the basalt
  • 40 million years later, cracks formed in the basalt, which gradually widened over the years
  • 95 million years later, a gigantic uplift in central Zimbabwe led to the formation of Lake Makgadikgadi
  • 10 million years after the formation of the lake, tectonic movements caused Makgadkgadi Lake to spill and subsequently form the upper and lower Zambezi Rivers
  • The Zambezi River then began flowing over these cracks, which created the curtain-like waterfalls that we know today as Victoria Falls
  • Victoria Falls’ known age of existence is at least 250-100 thousand years

 
Visit: Victoria Falls Tour

2. The ‌History‌ ‌of‌ Victoria Falls

Based on archaeological evidence, humans have lived in this region for at least 3 million years. The stone inhabitants were displaced by the hunter-gatherer tribe Khoisan who used iron implements. Over the years, Bantu people moved into the region and gained dominance over it. Then came the Matabele and Makololo, whose descendants still live in the surrounding regions of Victoria Falls.

  • 1852-1856: David Livingstone, a British explorer, explored the upper Zambezi River. In 1855, the chief of the local tribes, Chief Sekeletu, escorted David Livingstone to the Victoria Falls viewing site. Before Livingstone visited Victoria Falls, it was known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “Smoke That Thunders” in the local language. David Livingstone renamed the waterfall after the British monarch of the time, Queen Victoria.
  • 1860: David Livingstone returned to the Falls along with his fellow explorer John Kirk. They were followed by other renowned explorers such as Emil Holub and Thomas Baines. Next to follow were the traders.
  • 1901: Marked the beginning of a rustic settlement, which was prompted by the possibility of hydroelectric power. This rustic settlement has become the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side.
  • 1905: Cecil John Rhodes, a British mining magnate and politician, commissioned the building of Victoria Falls bridge, a famous landmark, which was completed in the year 1905. Once the bridge construction was completed, it became a major transport route for rail and road traffic. It also facilitated the growth of trade and enterprise in the entirety of Africa.
  • The 1990s: Since the construction of the bridge, the visitor population has gradually increased. During the 1990s, Victoria Falls was a very popular adventure holiday destination. Since then, Victoria Falls has remained a spectacular scenic attraction together with the thriving tourist towns of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side and Livingstone on the Zambian side.

3. Victoria Falls Straddling Zimbabwe and Zambia

3.1] Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

i. Victoria Falls National Park

Victoria Falls National Park in northwestern Zimbabwe protects the southern and eastern bank of the Zambezi River. It was established in 1952, runs along the Zambezi River and is an extension of the larger Zambezi National Park further upstream.

Victoria Falls National Park has a rainforest that grows in the spray of Victoria Falls, located within the Zambezian and Mopane woodlands ecoregion. The park’s wildlife includes Cape buffalo, elephants, giraffes, hippopotamus, southern white rhinos, elands and antelope species. A crocodile ranch near the park offers a great vantage point of the crocodiles on the banks of the Zambezi river.

ii. Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe Side

  • It offers a stunning view of the Victoria Falls, the main highlights being Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Eastern Cataract.
  • There is a wide range of accommodation, including lodges and hotels, located within walking distance of the Falls
  • The Falls are located near Victoria Falls Town where visitors can explore the markets, shops, bars and restaurants. The town is known for its soapstone sculptures and other curios, the colonial Victoria Falls Hotel where you can enjoy high tea overlooking the Victoria Falls bridge, and much more
  • Wildlife viewing in the Victoria Falls National Park and further upstream in Zambezi National Park

3.2] Victoria Falls in Zambia

i. Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is the equivalent of Victoria Falls National Park, on the Zambian side of the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls, although Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is larger than Victoria Falls National Park located in the southern province of Zambia and was established in 1972 to have representative wildlife species from Zambia.

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park features a riverine forest, grassland, and miombo woodland ecosystem. The ecosystem offers a home to wildlife species such as velvet monkeys, baboons, impala, Cape buffalo, Burchell’s zebra, sable, Angolan giraffe, and warthog. It has a limited number of southern white rhinos.

Visitors may be able to spot African elephants in the dry season as Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park falls in their migration path. Also, along the river banks are basking crocodiles and wallowing hippopotamus.

ii. Victoria Falls on the Zambia Side

  • It offers a very close-up vantage point for viewing the falls
  • When the water levels are low, safari visitors can visit the fascinating Livingstone Island. You can also visit the Livingstone Museum
  • During the low water season, safari visitors can swim in the Devil’s Pool
  • Wildlife viewing at the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park

 
Regardless of which side you choose to visit or stay on during the safari, you can easily cross the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Visitors can participate in adventure activities, including gorge swinging, white-water rafting, and bungee jumping.

When To Visit Victoria Falls

  • Victoria Falls has a high water and low water season each year, affected by rainfall in the catchment area of the Zambezi river in Angola and Zambia mainly. The high water season is from January to June, usually peaking around March while the low water season is from July to December, with the driest months being October and November, before the rains arrive.
  • In order to witness the stunning Victoria Falls, the best time to visit is from March to June, a time when the water levels are at their highest, and the waterfall looks truly exceptional.
  • During the high water months, you might get drenched by the spray from the best viewing spots – take a rain coat! You can also expect to see rainbows during your visit as the sun shines through the spray.
  • Visitors who want to participate in activities such as swimming in Devil’s Pool at the top of the Falls (on the Zambian side) and white-water rafting need to visit the Victoria Falls from August to December (depending on water levels). During these months, the water levels are low, and it’s safer to navigate the river.
  • During the driest months October to November, the Victoria Falls can dry up before the rains arrive. This occurs more notably on the Zambian side, leaving bare rock walls that aren’t as attractive as the waterfall.
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