Cape Town – South Africans are blessed not only with our own abundance of natural and culturally diverse experiences, but also with being situated in close proximity to countries that offer something unique and equally beautiful.
Zimbabwe, our neighbour which recently gained a new hope in the form of political change – similar to South Africa, proves to be one of these countries with so much to offer its own people, as well as South Africans.
Rich in wildlife and nature experiences, bursting with African pride and welcoming of all people, Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls region offers more than just a safari getaway – it offers a slice of an authentic African experience.
TRAVEL GUIDE: #AfriTravel: First-timer's guide to Victoria Falls
From shopping at local markets and sleeping in the wild, to exploring a Natural Wonder of the World and being fully immersed in local cultural activities, there’s so much to do in this small region of Zimbabwe.
Victoria Falls also boasts its own airport which is a stone’s throw away from the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls National Park and a number of must-visit tourist sites.
For South Africans, local regional carrier fastjet, flies twice a week between Johannesburg and Victoria Falls, on Thursdays and Sundays. The airline also flies four times daily between Harare and Johannesburg except on Saturdays when it flies three times a day.
In addition to this, Victoria Falls is a mere few kilometres drive from neighbouring countries Botswana and Zambia – making border-crossing breaks a dream come true.
Saffers don’t need to travel too far from home to indulge in one-of-a-kind cultural and wildlife adventures. With easy access and so much to explore right next door, here’s why Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls should be on your travel bucket-list.
Sleep in the wild
While there are many accommodation options in the tourist region of Victoria Falls – from 5-star hotels to self-catering facilities – one of the most ideally located places to stay is Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
Set on a plateau which forms a boundary to the Zambezi National Park, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge offers spectacular views of the Zambezi Nature Sanctuary, magnificent sunsets and a waterhole which sees many species of wildlife visitors.
From the deck of this lodge, you can look to your right to see Zambia’s Livingstone which is brightly lit at night in stark contrast to the unspoiled bushveld ahead of the lodge. Slightly to the left you can see hues of pink, purple, orange and red as the sun sets, while enjoying a sundowner at the Lodge’s Buffalo Bar.
Standard rooms at the Lodge offers balcony views overlooking the Zambezi National Park while varying rooms offer awe-inspiring sites of the waterhole and sunset.
Traveller24 tip ---> It is advisable to take anti-malaria tablets while visiting Zimbabwe which is in a high malaria zone. Be sure to enquire from a travel clinic in your home country well in advance before your trip. Also carry mosquito-repellent sprays and lotions.
There are also two on-site restaurants at the Lodge – MaKuwa-Kuwa and The Boma – as well as a spectacular pool and viewing deck for all guests to enjoy.
The pool at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, overlooking the Zambia Nature Sanctuary. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
A stay at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge can be booked through hospitality group Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), which offers a number of accommodation options for varying tastes and budgets. Visitors to the region can also book a stay at the Victoria Falls Safari Club, Safari Suites, or Lokuthula Lodges which are all on the same premises and in close proximity to a number of must-visit destinations.
Centrally located, the Lodge is in close proximity to a number of key attractions and entry points:
- 3km from Victoria Falls Town Centre
- 4km from the Victoria Falls Rain Forest
- 5km from Zambian Border, Livingstone
- 24km from Victoria Falls Airport
- 70km from Hwange Game Reserve
- 100km from Chobe Games Reserve in Botswana.
There is an Activities Desk situated at the Lodge where guests can book and plan a number of day activities during their stay. From hide sits, guided walks and nature trails, to a tour of the Victoria Falls and surrounding villages, and even more adventurous activities such as canoe safaris, white-water rafting, helicopter tours and game drives can all be booked and paid for at the Lodge.
There’s also a complimentary shuttle service that transports guests to the Victoria Falls and town centre on an hourly basis throughout the day.
ALSO SEE: Victoria Falls, from the Zambian side
These activities and your itinerary can also be arranged through AAT in advance, together with your accommodation bookings and trips to bordering countries. AAT has recently won two prestigious Zimbabwe Council for Tourism awards including operations and finance director Nigel Frost being named Tourism Personality of the Year, and the Achievement in Marketing Award for the Africa's Living Soul tourism survey which provides tourism data of the Victoria Falls region.
One of the must-do activities for guests at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is attend the fascinating vulture feeding. It can be viewed from the deck of the Lodge or guests can take a walk down to the feeding area at 13:00 daily with a tour guide who will be feeding the vultures. The feeding takes about 30 minutes and is free of charge.
“This is a conservation exercise to help maintain the local vulture populations, providing guests with a thrilling insight into the lives of these raptors,” says the Lodge.
Tour guides refer to the feeding area as a “special restaurant” and explain the importance of this activity in maintaining a balance with vultures, as well as share valuable insight on these birds.
Discover Victoria Falls Town
Get a feel of Victoria Falls by taking a short trip into town and explore the craft, art and food delights at nearby markets, or experience a view to thrill of from the popular Lookout Café.
At the nearby Elephant Walk curios market, one can browse through stalls displaying a number of crafts and find souvenirs and gifts to take home, chat to locals and see Zimbabwe’s artists and craftsmen at work.
A stop must be made at the Lookout Café which is directly opposite Zambia, boasting a scenic view of the Victoria Falls Bridge which connects Zimbabwe to Zambia, as well as Instagram-worthy views of the rapids, gorge and gorge swing.
See Victoria Falls Bridge and Zambia directly opposite from the Lookout Cafe in Zimbabwe. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Explore a World Natural Wonder
Of course, one cannot visit the region without making a stop at one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls – also known Mosi-oa-Tunya – meaning "The Smoke That Thunders".
Viewing the waterfall in its full might is nothing short of a spectacular experience. It is both overwhelming and cathartic to witness the power of the Zambezi River as it flows with full force, plunging 108 metres into the gorge below.
Adventure tour operator in the Victoria Falls region, Wild Horizons, says that April is the best time of year to visit Victoria Falls.
Cruise the Zambezi River
There's nothing like sipping on a cold beverage of your choice while cruising down the great Zambezi River as the sun sets.
Wild Horizons Zambezi Royale provides relaxing and romantic cruises from Zimbabwe's side of the river, offering cruisers a menu of drinks and finger foods, including crocodile meat sosaties. As you indulge your tastebuds and watch the sunset, you can also spot a variety of bird species, hippo and crocodiles.
Traveller24 tip ---> Be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat and shades as the sun can be extremely hot in this part of Africa. Also keep your camera at hand to capture wildlife moments and skyline hues created by a magnificent sunset.
Cruising the Zambezi River. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
A taste of Zimbabwean culture
Get a taste of Zimbabwean cuisine at The Boma dinner and drum show at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which recently won the Place of Eating “Most Imaginative Dining Experience Award”.
Try out the traditional beer and a variety of meat delicacies including impala, warthog, crocodile and mopane worms. And if it's your first time eating mopane worms, you will receive a certificate for your foodie achievement!
In between a hearty buffet meal at The Boma, guests may also immerse themselves in Zimbabwe’s cultural activities by partaking in traditional drum-playing, dancing, singing, have their faces painted with local cultural artworks, or even visit an on-site traditional ‘bone-thrower’ who will reveal your future to you.
The Boma buffet. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
When to visit?
Wild Horizons advises that during the winter months, “the game viewing around waterholes is outstanding”.
“From August onwards, the months of summer provide the perfect opportunity to experience the white-water rafting, river boarding and canoe trips up the Zambezi River. Bird life during this time is at its most spectacular, with a huge variety of migrant birds returning south to spend the summer months in and around the Zambezi River.
"Photography will also be excellent during this time of the year as much of the surrounding wilderness will be in,” adds Wild Horizons.
South Africans are fortunate enough to not need visas to enter the country, and also benefit from cheaper entrance fees at places such as Victoria Falls Rainforest. Coupled with a myriad of unique sites and experiences to enjoy, Zimbabwe should certainly be on a local’s #AfriTravel bucket-list.
While Zimbabwe is working on easing visa requirements for other nations, Africa Albida Tourism CEO Ross Kennedy says that “Destinations such as ours need to have competitive advantages and a high degree of user-friendliness, and a much softer efficient visa process certainly helps tick these boxes”.
“Fewer visitors that need a visa plus more visitors that do not need a visa, coupled with reduced visa fees all enhance the appeal of a country or destination,” says Kennedy, adding “We applaud this strategy and know that some existing key source markets will welcome this move which can only be positive for tourism”.
*Disclaimer: Traveller24 content producer, Kavitha Pillay, was hosted by Africa Albida Tourism, Take Note Reputation Management and fastjet on this border-crossing break.