When our travel agent told my friends and me that she’d booked us for two days in Victoria Falls, we balked. None of us was convinced we’d need that length of time to look at water, no matter how spectacular it was. Boy, were we wrong!
We arrived in Vic Falls on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon after a pleasant trip from Johannesburg. As we left the arrivals lounge, we were greeted by the sound of drumming and singing. We couldn’t help but watch as this agile and athletic group of musicians greeted us. It was a fitting welcome to Zimbabwe.
Since we were leaving the next morning to watch game at Hwange National Park, we knew we had only a few hours to see the Falls. Our plan was simple: check in at the hotel, grab a bite to eat and head out.
As we walked over to the hotel restaurant, we could see smoke-like wisps and hear what sounded like the rumble of thunder in the distance. It was the Falls. I didn’t realize we’d be that close, but I wasn’t complaining.
I started to feel my pulse quicken. We had been planning this trip for about three years and I was ready to replace whatever images I had in my mind with memories more vivid and more lasting than any I could have envisioned.
Shortly after lunch, we set out accompanied by Vic Falls Hotel’s Peter Makhuzha, who graciously offered to guide us. (I couldn’t understand, at first, why he insisted on coming with us but I’m glad he did!) We exited through a side gate that had a sign warning that it’d be closed at 6. I didn’t worry as I knew we’d be back before then.
The gate not only kept animals out, it provided a barrier between the manicured lawns of the hotel and the dry, brown vegetation that threatened to overrun it. A dirt path, wide enough for two, maybe three people walking abreast connects the hotel to the Falls and as we moved closer, the roaring became louder.
We were chatting animatedly and laughing among ourselves when a few locals we saw alerted Peter that they had spotted a buffalo in the brush near the path. We stopped dead in our tracks while Peter made sure the animal wasn’t coming in our direction. It wasn’t. When he gave the ‘all clear,’ I realized that I had been holding my breath the whole time. Seeing a buffalo so quickly after arriving and so close to the hotel brought it home: we were no longer in New York! I didn’t think we’d see animals near the hotel. In fact, I didn’t think we’d see any until we reached Hwange.
Clearly, I hadn’t done my homework. If I had, I would have learned that the Victoria Falls Hotel is located in the Victoria Falls National Park, which is home to elephants, white rhinos, cape buffalos, hippos and antelopes. No, we were certainly no longer in New York!
According to their brochure, the Victoria Falls Hotel was built in 1904. Charming and elegant, it echoes a bygone era and has sheltered the Royals, the famous, and the not-so-famous, in its many stately rooms and suites. Though refurbished recently, it still retains its Old World ambiance.
But the buffalo was too busy looking for food to notice us and we passed quietly and quickly by. Another minute or so later, we saw the welcome sign to the Falls.
Peter left us at the entrance and promised to return to get us in an hour and half. Again, I thought: hour and a half? We’ll be ready before then!
The excitement of seeing the Falls made me feel light, my feet couldn’t move fast enough. The sound blasted my ears and vibrated through my body like a drum. It was so thrilling, I almost ran to the edge.
My breath caught in my throat when I saw it. Water, tons of it, tumbled over the lip of the Falls and gushed down the Zambia side in thick, white foam while the colors of a double rainbow glistened and danced on the grass.
I couldn’t pull my camera out fast enough. I stood for about a minute and just started, a smile brightening my face.
A group of policemen (some not in uniform) noticed my Jamaica t-shirt and made a beeline straight towards me. I still don’t know which well-known personality they mistook me for, but they were eager to snap photos with me, as if my friends were not even there. They were eager to tell me that reggae musician, Sean Paul, was going to be in Harare a few days later and anxious to know about track star, Usain Bolt. They also asked how I felt about seeing uniformed officers in the area. It was great, I said, as if we got lost, they would help us find our way. They asked and I gladly agreed to sign their book.
When I rejoined my friends, we instinctively began to follow the path as it meandered the Falls, stopping to take photos at lookout points along the way, and staring, mouths agape at the breathtaking views in front of us. At some points, we were able to go right up to the edge and look down to the river below.
All along the Falls side, the vegetation was lush and green. Cross the narrow path to the other side and almost all the trees were bare.
Even though the water level of the Falls was relatively low because it was winter, there were puddles of water from the spray in spots along the path and soon we started to get wet. Our glasses got foggy and at times we couldn’t see well or even take our cameras out so we missed several good shots. (I’m sure visitors who go in the spring must get soaked. It would also be more difficult to see any animals then hidden as they would be by the dense vegetation).
Speaking of animals. Along the way, we saw a few warthogs. One was so busy digging away in the mud it was as if we weren’t even there. At one point, it crouched on its two front legs to get closer to the ground and just kept digging. Another one (probably its mate) stayed back behind the brush. We also saw a few deer and, in the distance, on the Zambia side, we two or three elephants.
We kept checking our watches to make sure we didn’t lose track of time. Just as the sun began to set, we arrived at the last lookout point, several meters from the bridge to Zambia. We could see it in the distance and would have loved to have had more time to make it there but we didn’t want to keep Peter waiting for us, so we doubled back.
As we left the Falls area, a group of young men selling carvings and trinkets descended upon us. Despite our refusals, they persisted in trying to get us to buy something. I was interested in getting some Zimbabwe dollars. Zimbabwe stopped using its own currency in 2009 after it became worthless, replacing the official currency with South African Rand, U.S. Dollar and U.K. Pound. Ironically, the Zimbabwe Dollar is probably worth more now than it did then. This one’s my favorite – One Hundred Trillion Dollars. Have you ever seen so many zeros?
By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was dark and the gate was closed. Thankfully, Peter was there to take us the long way around to the main entrance.
It had taken us more than 2 hours and there was still a large part of the Falls we hadn’t seen. We could definitely have used another day!
A few things to do in Victoria Falls
I don’t want to leave the impression that there’s nothing else to do in Victoria Falls. Far from it. So here’s a map of the area and a list of a few of the things I now wish we could have done (if we didn’t have Hwange, Cape Town, Durban and Lesotho on our schedule):
- Skydiving over the Falls
- Whitewater Rafting on the Zambezi River
- Helicopter ride over the Falls
- Bungee jumping from the Bridge — yes, I would have definitely tried that!
- Hot Air Ballooning
There are also several types of walking safaris — walking with lions, elephant safaris, birding safaris, etc., and day and night game drives.
If you’re into a bit of gambling, there’s a small casino inside the Kingdom Hotel, which is just down the road from the Victoria Falls Hotel.
And for those interested in sculpture, Zimbabwe (Shona for “House of stone”) is famous for its stone sculptures. There’s a large garden of sculptures made from soapstone, serpentine, verdite, etc., right in the center of town and a smaller one at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
So, there’s a lot to do in Victoria Falls. And yes, you do need more than a day to do them. Enjoy!
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