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Victoria Falls is Gorges (and Wet)!

Approaching The Victoria Falls Livingstone, Zambia side. The Zambezi River plunges over a rock ledge into the gorge below.

The roar was deafening – and we were still almost a half mile away from the falls. In the local language, they are called Mosi-oa-Tunya or “smoke that thunders” – which is a pretty accurate description of the Victoria Falls Livingstone side!

“No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” – Dr. David Livingstone

The Victoria Falls Bridge is built over the second gorge and connects Livingstone, Zambia with Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls Bridge – over the second gorge

Victoria Falls is twice as high as Niagara Falls on the USA/Canada border and twice as wide as Horseshoe Falls. Despite this, Victoria Falls is not the tallest waterfall in the world, nor is it the widest. But it is generally considered the largest because of the single mass of water from the Zambezi River which plunges over the rock ledge into the six narrow, zig-zag gorges below. Only Iguazu Falls in South America can rival Victoria Falls’ power and beauty.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site sign at the entrance to the Victoria Falls Livingstone, Zambia side.

UNESCO sign at the Zambia entrance

When we started planning this trip to Africa, Victoria Falls was high on my list because it is one of the most important UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa. It is noted of having an “exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance,” as well as being an outstanding example “representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms.”

Our trip to Zambia and Victoria Falls came just after a long period of intense rains, which was unusual for this time of year. Despite being late in the shoulder season and heading into the dry season, the Zambezi River was bloated with excess water. Locals in an upstream village told us this was the highest the river had been in 12 years – and nobody could remember this much water so that late in the season. The result could be seen at the falls and the spray visible in the sky over 25 miles away!

The rain-swollen Zambezi River right at the top of Victoria Falls on the Livingstone, Zambia side.

The Zambezi River at the top of Victoria Falls

The Zambezi River and the falls form a natural border between Zambia and Zimbabwe (formerly North and South Rhodesia). Since tourism started in 1905, most tourists have visited the Zimbabwe side of the falls due to better infrastructure. But, like most visitors these days, we chose to visit the Victoria Falls Livingstone, Zambia side because our visit coincided with a period of renewed tensions on the Zimbabwe side of the falls. Since 2001, the majority of visitors now come to Zambia instead. This evolution has made Livingstone a significant regional hub for travel and tourism.

Visiting Victoria Falls Livingstone, Zambia side at peak flow is like being in a cloud or a shower - it's a total whiteout.

Victoria Falls at peak flow is a whiteout

Visiting the Victoria Falls Livingstone side during peak flow is like getting into the shower with all your clothes on – and then stepping on top of a water sprinkler. We were warned – if you go to Victoria Falls you might get wet. What they should have said is – if you go to Victoria Falls you’re guaranteed to get absolutely soaked.

We had brought ponchos for this purpose, which were generally ineffective (a waterproof jacket and pants would be a better choice). The water flows from all angles, including up! As the Zambezi River plunges over the walls and into the deep gorge below, some of the water is propelled back up the far side of the gorge (where you are walking) and becomes rain falling up into the sky! I’ve never seen anything like it before.

A troop of friendly baboons great visitors of Victoria Falls on the Livingstone side.

Friendly baboons at the parking lot

“Creeping with awe to the verge, I peered down into a large rent which had been made from bank to bank of the broad Zambezi, and saw that a stream of a thousand yards broad leaped down a hundred feet [30 m] and then became suddenly compressed into a space of fifteen to twenty yards.” – Dr. David Livingstone

Because of the extreme mist/vertical rain from the falls, it was difficult to see much of Victoria Falls. The deep gorges were almost completely obscured by the white, smoky mist (we had brief moments when the wind would carry the mist in the opposite direction to take a few photos). As the water vapor rose into the sky, it would even obscure the sun for periods of time. We found ourselves using our imagination to recreate what it must have been like for Dr. David Livingstone visiting the falls in 1855. Due to the high waters during our visit, it was impossible to reach Livingstone Island.

The sign at Victoria Falls alerting visitors to where Livingstone Island is located.  It is not possible to visit the island during high water season.

To fully appreciate Victoria Falls from the Zambia side, you have to cross the Knife-Edge Bridge. The bridge connects the main shore with a rocky ridge forming the first and second gorges of the zig-zag canyon below. Now, this might be a good time for me to mention that I’m scared of heights. Thankfully, I was able to make it across the bridge with very little difficulty (mostly because there is so much mist you can’t really see anything).

The mist at Victoria Falls can partially obscure the view of the Victoria Falls Bridge below.

“The islands above the falls are covered with foliage as beautiful as can be seen anywhere. Viewed from the mass of rock which overhangs the fall, the scenery was the loveliest I had seen.” – Dr. David Livingstone

When Livingstone came to Victoria Falls, he approached them from up river and the numerous islands that dot this section of the Zambezi. Just as he fell in love with the beautiful islands that were dense with foliage, we were also smitten. We were fortunate enough to stay on the two Islands of Siankaba. This was a good base to explore the region and just sit on the bank and watch the mighty Zambezi River roll by.

Upriver from Victoria Falls Livingstone side are the Islands of Siankaba luxury lodge.

The Islands of Siankaba in the Zambezi River

Victoria Falls is one of the planet’s great natural wonders. We feel fortunate we were able to visit on this trip to Africa.

Visiting tip: Victoria Falls is frequently included on African tour itineraries, such as Rock My Adventure Tours.

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What do you think about Victoria Falls is Gorges (and Wet)!?

  1. Helen August 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Love that you got to go here! One of my favourite places in the world! The spray in May is insane. But good on you for facing your fear of heights!

    • Lance Longwell August 11, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

      According to locals, the Zambezi water level was the highest in years, which only added to the spray. We got completely soaked, but it was worth it!

  2. Adrienne @ AdrienneAway August 15, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    So amazing!

  3. Frank August 18, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Nice post Lance. I lived in Zambia as a kid and have been back a couple of times. Victoria Falls still one of the most incredible places I’ve been – and while Iguazu is impressive, Victoria is about 100ft higher and, in my opinion, just more spectacular. Still want to make it back one day for another look.
    Funny how things change. When I was a kid we were in Zambia because there was a civil war in what was then Southern Rhodesia. That later became Zimbabwe and was for a long time the shining light of Africa. Harare was a very nice city when I visited in 1989. Now Zambia seems to be the safer of the two countries…funny how quick things change in Africa.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Lance Longwell August 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

      Wow Frank! That sounds absolutely fascinating. I lived in Nepal during the civil war there and it was quite the tumultuous time. Your experience sounds very interesting. Have you written about it? I’d love to read more.

  4. Frank August 18, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    Thanks Lance. Nepal? That’s an unusual place as well, heard that was a pretty bloody war. I wrote a piece about my stay in Zambia here:
    There’s even an old photo of Victoria Falls there, I wonder if that small bridge still exists…as I say, I’d love to go back one day and show Spanky a bit of Africa.

  5. Emily September 8, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    We visited Iguazu Falls earlier this year and it was just an incredible experience. I would love to see Victoria Falls to add it to my list of amazing natural waterfalls!

  6. Scott @ VacationCounts September 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Emily took the words from my mouth. Iguazu was incredible. On an entirely different level to Niagara Falls which is near where I lived many years ago. While Niagara is graceful and beautiful, Iguazu is an awe-inspiring monster. I expect Victoria Falls to rival it. It is definitely on my list.
    -Scott, VacationCounts – Take More Vacation Time Off

  7. the lazy travelers September 15, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    the picture at peak flow is just UNREAL. so stunning, we hope we can make it there someday soon!

  8. the constant rambler September 16, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    Waterfalls are always fantastic, lovin’ that bridge shot!

  9. Dan @ A Cruising Couple September 19, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    What a rush! Haha, sounds like you guys got properly soaked :-p We just finished a trip to Iguazu Falls in Brazil which was absolutely mind blowing!

  10. Laura September 21, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    Great read and wonderful pics! It seems to be a great place to experience at least once in a lifetime.

    • Laura Longwell September 21, 2014 at 11:01 pm #

      It absolutely is. We’d love to go back at low flow and try the Devil’s pool — you can go right up to the edge of the falls.

      • Camels & Chocolate September 29, 2014 at 10:49 am #

        Has anyone ever fallen off from Devil’s Pool?

        • Laura Longwell September 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

          Your question sent me to Google. Looks like people have fallen from various places along the edge. Wikipedia says “occasional deaths have been reported.” Eek.

  11. Camels & Chocolate September 29, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    I see what you did there, ha 😉

    Dying to get to Zambia! So cool you got to see all of this.

  12. Leah September 29, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    Waterfalls are one of those things I’ll never get tired of, no matter how many I see in my lifetime. This one is now on the “waterfall bucket list,” sounds like an incredible experience!

  13. Angie Away September 30, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    Amazing photos! Definitely on my list!

  14. Diana Edelman September 30, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    Wow, how magnificent!! Would love to go there!

  15. Cam November 28, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Looks like a special place. I’m not normally big on waterfalls, but Victoria Falls takes it to a whole different level.

  16. Kenny January 13, 2015 at 12:56 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, this is high on our list for a trip to Africa this fall (Zambia and Tanzania are battling it out in our heads, with Zambia taking a slight lead 🙂 ). Reading this makes me even more excited to go, thanks!

    • Laura Longwell January 13, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

      I’m sure both choices would be wonderful, but we really enjoyed our time in Zambia. Have a great trip!

  17. Jessica April 21, 2015 at 8:22 pm #

    This was such a joy to read; it looks like you had a lot of fun at Victoria Falls! I especially loved your photo of the Zambezi River on top of the falls, and the baboons look adorable!

  18. Cherri Megasko July 15, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    I’ve only made one trip to Africa so far, but I’m definitely going back. Victoria Falls is definitely on my Bucket List!

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