Victoria Falls: Zambia or Zimbabwe?

No photograph can do justice to Victoria Falls. Travel when the Zambezi River is in full flood and you’ll hear the Falls before you see them, a rumbling roar that brings to life their local name of Mosi-oa-Tunya or “The Smoke that Thunders”.

One of just 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls is a “must-visit” destination on any Southern Africa safari itinerary. But once you’ve made the decision to go, you’ll need to pick which side to stay: Zambia or Zimbabwe?

Let’s take a closer look.

Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia
Victoria Falls lies on the mighty Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

View of The Falls

Victoria Falls is made up of a series of waterfalls. The Zimbabwe side certainly has more expansive views and a lot more viewpoints including the iconic Main Falls (a massive sheet of falling water!), Devil’s Cataract, Rainbow Falls and Horseshoe Falls. On the Zambian side there’s just one waterfall, the Eastern Cataract.

Although about two thirds of Victoria Falls lies in Zimbabwe, you get up closer to the Falls in Zambia. In high-water season, you won’t want to miss crossing the Knife Edge Bridge; the spray coming at you from all directions. Such an invigorating experience! And if water levels are a bit lower, take the beautiful Boiling Pot Trail down at the base of the Falls. The path is steep, but well worth the effort.

Timing is everything though (see our logistics section below for more).

Accommodation: Hotels & Lodges

Victoria Falls Town in Zimbabwe lies right next to the Falls, so there’s a greater selection of accommodation within walking distance. That said, on the Zambian side we love The Royal Livingstone which not only has its own private footpath but also its own entrance gate to Victoria Falls – giving you free access whenever you feel like it.

Many of our travellers, however, choose to stay further upstream a bit away from the buzz surrounding the Falls. Luxurious lodges sit tucked into the trees on the bank of the Zambezi River, offering a peaceful retreat after an activity-filled day at the Falls.

These are a few of our favourites:

Ilala Lodge in Victoria Falls Town
Ilala Lodge, in Zimbabwe, is perfectly placed to make the most of your Victoria Falls holiday.

Zimbabwe:

  • Ilala Lodge: Just a few minutes’ walk from Victoria Falls, this lovely lodge is the perfect base for visiting the Falls, as well as the nearby restaurants and shops.
  • Old Drift Lodge: For a safari feel, Old Drift has wonderful tented suites right on the river in the Zambezi National Park. Service and attention to detail is outstanding!
  • Matetsi Victoria Falls: This award-winning lodge lies in a private wildlife concession upstream of the Falls, and has beautiful suites each with their own plunge pool,.

Zambia:

  • The Royal Livingstone: Zebras graze the neatly cropped lawns of this elegant hotel, which has a private footpath and its own entrance to Victoria Falls.
  • Royal Chundu: The first Relais & Chateaux property in Zambia, Royal Chundu has 2 lodges: the 10-suite River Lodge, and smaller and even more romantic Island Lodge which sits on its own private island.
  • Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma: Built on a quiet bend of the Zambezi River, Sussi & Chuma has 12 luxury tree houses in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park.
Royal Chundu Island Lodge
Candlelit bubble bath under the stars at the wonderfully romantic Royal Chundu Island Lodge, in Zambia.

Timing & Logistics

Wherever you choose to stay, we do recommend visiting the other side of the Falls too. Travellers from over 60 countries (including the USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany and Australia) and eligible for a KAZA Univisa. This multiple entry visa allows you to travel between Zimbabwe and Zambia as often as you’d like within a 30-day period. You can even use it for a day trip to Botswana.

Main Falls on the Zimbabwe side
The largest curtain of falling water in the world: dusk at the Main Falls, in Zimbabwe.

As for the best time to visit, Victoria Falls is at its most impressive between February and June when the Zambezi River water levels are at their peak. That said, July and August is possibly our favourite time of year, as there’s slightly less spray to obscure your view – which means better photographs too!

From around October to early December, certain sections of the Zambian side of the Falls dry up completely and you’ll find yourself staring at a deep, rocky chasm. However, water flows year-round on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls.

Low water levels at Victoria Falls
When water levels are low, sections of the Zambia side (right) can dry up completely.

Activities: Devil’s Pool & Game Viewing

Whether you prefer high-adrenaline adventures (bungee jumping, white water rafting, microglight flights) or something a little more sedate (sunset river cruises, helicopter flips, fishing) – you can do all of this activities and more in either Zambia or Zimbabwe.

There are, however, a couple of popular activities that are limited to the Zambian side of the falls, the first of which is a trip to Livingstone Island. Livingstone Island sits on the lip of Victoria Falls and is the spot where Dr David Livingsone first laid eyes on the falls – an experience he famously described as “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”.

The Devil's Pool
Swimming in the Devil’s Pool, on the Zambian side of the Falls.

The view from the island is fantastic, but to really live life on the edge – take a dip in the Devil’s Pool! Leaping into the river at the top of one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls might sound like a crazy idea, however, swimmers are prevented from tumbling over the edge by a low rocky ledge called the Devil’s Armchair. Just make sure you follow the rules and go with a registered guide during dry season (around September to December). Once again, the Devil’s Pool is only accessible from the Zambian side of the falls.

One thing that is better in Zimbabwe is the game viewing. While Victoria Falls is not really a safari destination per se, it is highly unlikely that you won’t see at least some wildlife: monkeys play in the trees, warthogs graze the hotel lawns and river cruises take you past open-mouthed hippo and elephant at the water’s edge. But for game drives the Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe offers better sightings than the Mosi-oa-Tunya Reserve in Zambia – especially in the dry season when along with elephant, buffalo and giraffe you’ve got a good chance of seeing lion and even leopard too!

Matetsi Private Game Reserve
Game viewing in Matetsi Private Game Reserve.

Of course if you have a bit of time then you can go on a day trip to Chobe (available from either Zambia or Zimbabwe). Game viewing in the Chobe National Park is famously good but you’ll also be competing with far more vehicles and other people than in the on-your-doorstep Zambezi National Park.

Markets, Restaurants & Cafes

With Victoria Falls Town right there, Zimbabwe is the better choice for souvenir shopping. There’s a large outdoor market with rows upon rows of intricate wooden carvings, salad bowls and soapstone animals of all shapes and sizes. If you find markets exhausting; try the “Elephant’s Walk Shopping and Artist’s Village” which has boutique stores selling high quality jewelry, sculptures, clothing and leather goods – prices are fixed, so no haggling or swapping a wooden hippo for your grubby t-shirt.

Zimbabwe - shopping
Bring extra cash for shopping at Elephant’s Walk Shopping and Artist’s Village (in Zimbabwe).

Zimbabwe definitely has the greater choice in dining options too. Sit down to afternoon tea and incredible views at the Victoria Falls Hotel, a dinner of kudu filet overlooking the waterhole at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, or take your pick from the cafes and restaurants around town. For a light snack there’s the Rainforest Café actually in Victoria Falls Park (try their cappuccino served with a shot of Amarula) and the lovely little Africa Café at Elephant’s Walk. For a fun night out try The Boma, Place of Eating – which is admittedly touristy but in no time you’ll find yourself banging away on a drum or heading back to the buffet to taste smoked crocodile.

There’s less choice in Zambia, but a couple of options really stand out. The first is sundowner drinks on the riverside deck at The Royal Livingstone – watching the sun set and light up the rising spray of Victoria Falls is a real holiday highlight. And the second is The Royal Livingstone Express: a fine dining experience on board a luxury train pulled by a steam locomotive that chugs through villages, and into the Mosi-o-Tunya National Park as sip champagne and look forward to your 5-course dinner.

The Royal Livingstone
The perfect spot for sundowners – the riverside deck at The Royal Livingstone (in Zambia).

So To Sum Up …

Zimbabwe:

  • Around two thirds of the falls including the Main Falls
  • Face-on views from the a footpath running parallel to the falls
  • Never dries up (even in the months of October and November)
  • Good game viewing at Zambezi National Park
  • Greater choice for shopping and dining out
  • The official currency is US Dollars
  • No yellow fever certificate required

Zambia:

  • Thrilling close up viewing on the Knife-Edge Bridge
  • A path down to the Boiling Pot at the bottom of the falls
  • Trip to Livingstone Island with a picnic (dry season only)
  • Swimming in the Devil’s Pool (dry season only)
  • Romantic riverside lodges
  • Drinks on the deck of The Royal Livingstone
  • Fine Dining on board The Livingstone Express steam train

Have you always wanted to see Victoria Falls? Get in touch with a Giltedge Africa Expert for safari planning and first-hand advice.