Victoria Falls: Zambia vs Zimbabwe, Which Side Is Better?
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most thrilling geographic spectacles. Formed by the Zambezi River as it flows along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, this bucket-list sight ranks as the planet’s largest curtain of falling water.
To place Victoria Falls in statistical perspective, it is twice the height and more than double the width of Niagara Falls, dropping over a 108m/354ft cliff that measures 1.7km/1.06mi from east to west. It is also an utterly deafening phenomenon, as suggested by the local name Mosi-oa-Tunya – literally the ‘Smoke That Thunders’. And in full flow, it kicks a plume of rainbow-tinted spray up to 500m/1,640ft in the air.
Listed among the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Victoria Falls is a worthwhile addition to any safari to southern Africa. Indeed, for many first-time visitors, the burning question is not whether they should visit Victoria Falls, nor at what time of year. Instead, it is which of the two gateway countries, Zambia and Zimbabwe, they should choose. Both have their pros and cons, and here we examine them in detail.
In Which Country Is Victoria Falls?
Aerial view of Victoria Falls and the Victoria Falls Bridge, which connects Zambia and Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls lies partially within two countries: Zambia and Zimbabwe. It stands on the Zambezi River as it flows in a northeasterly direction along the mutual border, with Zambia to the northwest and Zimbabwe to the southeast. Confusingly, because the Zambezi bends in a southerly direction just upstream of Victoria Falls, the westerly Main Falls is actually in Zimbabwe while the Eastern Cataract falls on the Zambian side of the border.
Best Views: Zimbabwe vs Zambia Side
A photographer captures the sunrise over Victoria Falls' Main Falls (Zimbabwe) during the Dry season
The most famous and photogenic full-frontal view is to be had from Zimbabwe’s small but strategically located Victoria Falls National Park. Here, a short footpath through a rainforest sustained by year-round spray connects a series of viewpoints that show the westerly Main Falls and Devil’s Cataract to their finest advantage.
There are also some fine, and very different, viewpoints in Zambia. Indeed, when the water is high, nothing compares to Zambia’s spray-doused Knife Edge Bridge, which runs so close to the Eastern Cataract you feel like you’re immersed in the roaring cascade. Zambia is also the starting point for the only footpath to the Boiling Pot, a churning cauldron of white water set immediately below the falls at the head of the Batoka Gorge.
Whichever side of the falls you’re based at, when it comes to views, it is worth setting aside a half day to cross over to the other one. Among other things, the vista from Victoria Falls Bridge, the only direct border crossing point between the two sides, is stupendous in its own right!
Best Time of the Year: Zimbabwe vs Zambia Side
Sunrise over the falls, Zimbabwe
April to September is when the level of the Zambezi is highest and the waterfall is at its most spray-kickingly awesome, so it’s a good time to be on either side. At other times of the year, Zimbabwe will be more impressive than Zambia. And Zimbabwe is definitely first choice over the months of October and November, when the Zambezi is at its lowest and Zambia’s Eastern Cataract sometimes dries up almost completely.
There are other seasonal factors to consider when it comes to visiting Victoria Falls. If rafting and canoeing are a high priority, river conditions are best for that between August and January. If the main purpose of your visit to southern Africa is a safari and Victoria Falls is essentially an add-on, wildlife viewing tends to be best from May to September/October. For bird-watchers, avian activity peaks from November to April, when migrants are present and many resident species adopt a colorful breeding plumage. While these factors have little direct bearing on whether you visit Zimbabwe or Zambia, they could decide the timing of your visit, which might indirectly influence your choice of country.
Activities: Zimbabwe vs Zambia Side
Devil's Pool in Zambia. Source: flickr.com/photos/joepyrek/8301648482
There is more to Victoria Falls than waterfall sightseeing. The gateway towns – Livingstone in Zambia and Victoria Falls township in Zimbabwe – are the adventure capitals of southern Africa, with numerous adrenaline-charged activities on offer. Popular highlights include hippo-dodging canoe trips on the Zambezi upstream of the falls, white-water rafting as the river surges through Batoka Gorge, and bungee jumping from Victoria Falls Bridge. Fortunately, access to these activities is about the same whether you stay in Zimbabwe or Zambia. However, one very popular activity that’s exclusive to the Zambian side is swimming in Devil’s Pool, a natural pool that stands on the edge of the waterfall and is separated from the plummeting water by the narrowest of rock lips.
Accommodations: Zimbabwe vs Zambia Side
Aerial view of facilities on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. Source: flickr.com/photos/flowcomm/39700341221
There is very little to distinguish between Zambia and Zimbabwe when it comes to accommodation. Whether you are looking at budget campsites, luxurious boutique lodges or anything in between, a good range of facilities can be found on both sides of Victoria Falls.
Wildlife Viewing: Zimbabwe vs Zambia Side
Elephants at a waterhole, Zimbabwe. Source: flickr.com/photos/merajchhaya/11344836266
There are good wildlife-viewing opportunities on both sides of Victoria Falls. Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is home to plenty of elephant, buffalo, hippo and antelope, and it offers an opportunity to track white rhinos on foot, but no big cats are present. On the Zimbabwean side, elephants and buffaloes are often seen in the vicinity of the falls, and big cats are present in Zambezi National Park. However, assuming that you will be combining your visit to Victoria Falls with a dedicated safari elsewhere in southern Africa, this shouldn’t be a big consideration.
Costs: Zimbabwe vs Zambia Side
Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingstone, Zambia
Traditionally, the Zambian side of Victoria Falls is regarded to be the cheaper of the two, but when you factor in flights and other transport costs, there’s unlikely to be much in it. Both sides have amenities catering to most tastes and budgets, so your choice of accommodation and other such amenities will influence costs more than which country they are in.
Safety: Zimbabwe vs Zambia Side
Travelers walking on the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls. Source: flickr.com/photos/merajchhaya/11345890784
In recent years, Zambia has entrenched itself as one of the safest and most stable countries in sub-Saharan Africa, whereas Zimbabwe has become synonymous with tyrannical rule and economic mismanagement. Despite this, both sides of Victoria Falls are popular with tourists and as safe to visit as anywhere in the region.
Visiting Both Sides of Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls Bridge
Having weighed up the pros and cons of the two sides of Victoria Falls, our advice, if at all possible, is to visit them both. This is very easy to do, as you can literally walk between Zambia and Zimbabwe via Victoria Falls Bridge, which spans the Batoka Gorge a short distance downriver of the main event. Paperwork is very straightforward, especially if you buy a KAZA UNIVISA upon arrival in either country. This multiple-entry visa costs US$50, is valid for 30 days from issue, allows you to cross freely between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and also covers day trips to Botswana’s Chobe National Park via the Kazungula border post.
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