Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe side, travel guide and things to do: 20 to reasons to visit

1. EXPERIENCE: CHOPPER FLIGHT OVER THE FALLS

David Livingstone waxed lyrical about the falls, describing them as – "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight". A 13-minute "Flight of Angels" with Zambezi Helicopter Company will have you reaching for superlatives (and your camera) as you soar through the heavens over the World Heritage Site. At 1700 metres wide and 108 metres deep it is one of the most impressive phenomenon in nature. See zambezihelicopters.com

2. EXPLORE: VICTORIA FALLS NATIONAL PARK

Known by the local Kololo tribe as Mosi-oa-tunya, "the smoke that thunders", Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It is protected on the Zimbabwe side of the Zambezi River by the Victoria Falls National Park. You don't need to be David Livingstone to explore its easy pathways on foot. Midday is the ideal time to visit – rainbows are at their best and the crowds are busy with their lunches. Tip: take a clip-lock bag for your smart phone (you will get soaked). See zimparks.org

3. REJOICE: IN THE "NEW" ZIMBABWE

When Robert Mugabe resigned as president on November 21, 2017, ending his 37-year rule, mass celebrations broke out in the streets. As the post-Mugabe era begins, lead by Emmerson Mnangagwa, there is a palpable optimism about the future. After decades of neglect new lodges are opening in Zambezi National Park, wildlife is better protected, corrupt police and officials have been given the boot, and that old Zimbabwean bugbear – road blocks – are almost non-existent. The real joy can be found in the local people, who are now free to chat openly about their current situation and hopes for the future.

4. EXPLORE: ZAMBEZI NATIONAL PARK

This 56,000-hectare park is upstream of Victoria Falls, stretching for some 50 kilometres along the Zambezi River. After years of neglect and abuse by poachers this little park is making a comeback, with healthy herds of lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and antelope, plus more than 400 species of birds. The river frontage is the big drawcard with pods of hippo wallowing by day and postcard-worthy sunsets. Take a cruise, drive the Zambezi River Game Drive or stay at one of the luxury lodges. See zimparks.org

5. STAY: ZAMBEZI SANDS RIVER CAMP

Situated inside the Zambezi National Park this luxury lodge is built on raised platforms overlooking the Zambezi River. Each Bedouin-style tent comes with its own private splash pool, lounge area, ensuite, sun deck and outdoor shower, and is connected to the main lodge by a raised walkway. Activities range from a gentle sunset drift with drinks and canapes, to a guided canoe trip amid hippos, a traditional game drive, or the most challenging of all – a morning game walk through the "adrenaline grass". As a bonus, Zambezi Sands is owned by Imvelo Safari Lodges, a company known for its dedication to wildlife conservation and community empowerment. See imvelosafarilodges.com

6. CANOE: THE ZAMBEZI RIVER

Kayaking on the upper Zambezi above the falls is not as extreme as it sounds, in fact it is a relatively easy paddle, perfect for those who want to get close to nature from water level. The birdlife is phenomenal, particularly around the islands and channels, while hippos, elephants and other game can be spotted along the banks. Your river guide will carry two essentials – a revolver and an Esky stocked with drinks for sundowners. Guests staying at Zambezi Sands can take the experience to another level with a picnic lunch on one of the islands. See imvelosafarilodges.com

7. SHOP: ELEPHANT'S WALK SHOPPING AND ARTISTS VILLAGE

Skip the wooden bowls and baboons on offer by the street hawkers and head to Elephant's Walk, where you can buy direct from the artists themselves. In a handy location in the middle of Victoria Falls village, and with almost 30 stores showcasing everything from ceramic artists to wire masters, you'll be sure to find the perfect Zimbabwean keepsake. The Africa Cafe serves local dishes from its own organic herb and vegie garden as well as Zimbabwean tea, coffee and sweets. See elephantswalk.com

8. DO: WHITE WATER RAFTING

Considered by many to be the best one-day white water rafting trip in the world, this tour is not for the faint-hearted. Names of rapids like The Terminator, Judgement Day, Commercial Suicide, Boiling Pot and Stairway to Heaven hint at what's in store (viewed, but not attempted by this chicken-livered reviewer). The intensity of the experience is determined by the ever-changing water levels – during low water (August to late December) all rapids from one to 19 can be rafted, while during high water runs (January-February and June-July) only rapids 11 to 23 can be rafted. From March to May the water is dangerously high and rafting is cancelled altogether. See wildhorizons.co.za

9. WATCH: THE SUN SET FROM A RIVER CRUISE

If you're more linen pants than life jacket, you can still take to the water – on a luxury cruiser. Throw in drinks and nibbles and you have one of the best ways to enjoy the light show as the sun sinks into the Zambezi River in a blaze of colour. The Zambezi Explorer has three decks (and three corresponding price categories) from basic beer, wine and soft drinks to top-shelf spirits, craft beers and canapés. Keep your eyes peeled for elephants and hippos as wildlife viewing is an unexpected bonus. See pureafricavictoriafalls.com

Advertisement

10. ENJOY: HIGH TEA AT VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL

Don't miss this travel trifecta – stunning views, a classic hotel and the chance to stuff your face with enough sweet treats to ensure you won't need dinner. Served daily between 3pm and 5.30pm on Stanley's Terrace, the three-tiered extravaganza is best enjoyed with a pot of earl grey tea (or a sneaky G&T) while enjoying views across the famous bridge that separates Zambia and Zimbabwe. Afterwards enjoy a stroll around the extensive lawn and gardens. See victoriafallshotel.com

11. EXPERIENCE: THE ADRENALINE RUSH OF A LIFETIME

There are easily a dozen ways to scare yourself silly in Victoria Falls. Let me count the ways – bungee jump, kayak, canoe, raft, zip wire, flying fox, gorge swing, sky dive, bridge swing, abseil, bridge slide or microlight flight. While there are any number of operators vying for your dollar it pays to choose wisely, not just for safety, but also to ensure your money does some good in a country struggling to rebuild itself. Wild Horizons offers the full catastrophe of adrenaline activities, while promoting ethical tourism, supporting the Victoria Falls anti-poaching units and empowering local people by co-ordinating initiatives such as "home-hosted meals" and "rainforest raincoats". Don't miss the Wild Horizons Lookout Cafe. See wildhorizons.co.za

12. EAT: ZAMBEZI HOUSE

Reflecting the new mood and vigour in Zimbabwe, Zambezi House is an eclectic bar and canteen on the edge of the Zambezi River. Constructed partly from shipping containers and decorated with a blend of contemporary and traditional art, it is as much an experience as a place to dine. The menu has a good range of pizzas, curries, house-burgers, homemade breads and mixed platters, all designed for informal and communal eating. Check out their magazine – Our House – for interesting articles on art, food and fashion. See zambezihouse.com

13. SHOP – JAIROS JIRI CRAFT SHOP

If you only shop at one place, make it Jairos Jiri craft shop, where proceeds go to help Zimbabwe's most marginalised and disadvantaged people. Activities supported include primary schools for the blind, hostels for the disabled, vocational training centres and gender empowerment programs. Established in the 1950s by Zimbabwe's greatest philanthropist – Jairos Jiri – the association aims to provide direct assistance and to act as an advocate for the rights and needs of the disadvantaged. 406 Adam Stander Road, Victoria Falls. See jairosjiriassoc.com

14. SEE: DAVID LIVINGSTON'S STATUE

With one hand on hip, the other on a walking stick, and gaze fixed firmly on the falls, the David Livingstone memorial statue takes pride of place inside the Victoria Falls National Park at the head of the walking trail. Since being erected in 1934 there have been a number of attempts to have him removed – from some who regard Livingstone as a reminder of a colonial past, to others who believed he should be on the Zambezi side in the town of Livingstone. But judging by his defiant stance this explorer has hung up his boots and isn't going anywhere. See zimparks.org

15. EAT: THE THREE MONKEYS

For wildlife of a different kind try the Three Monkeys, a casual dining experience offering gourmet burgers, wood-fired pizzas, flamed, grilled steaks and a good selection of local beers and classic cocktails. There's also a Little Monkey "on the go" option at a downtown location with plenty of healthy choices including fresh juices, smoothies, sushi and wraps. With its relaxed indoor/outdoor seating and cool vibe it's the perfect chill-out zone after a full day of touring or heart-stopping activities. Open from noon daily. See 3monkeys.co.zw

16. EXPERIENCE: THE BOMA – DINNER & DRUM SHOW

What could be a tacky tourist show is in fact a fun-filled evening showcasing Zimbabwean delicacies such as warthog fillet, Zambezi bream and smoked crocodile tail. As well as good tucker there's a full program of entertainment with traditional dancing, singing, face painting, story-telling and an African drumming circle. Vegetarians are catered for, and, as this is one of the most popular activities in town, reservations are recommended. See theboma.co.zw

17. STAY: GORGES LODGE

Gorges Lodge just might be the best-positioned resort in southern Africa. Perched 200 metres above the Zambezi River, Gorges Lodge offers a picturesque alternative to the hustle and bustle of Victoria Falls town. Choose between stone and thatch chalets or luxury tents on wooden decks, all set within a rugged and rocky terrain overlooking Batoka Gorge. Rates include all meals, beer, wine and local spirits, transfers and two activities per paying night: choose from a guided tour of the falls, a visit to a local village, black eagle viewing with sundowners, a school tour or a cruise on the Zambezi. Built on communal land, concession fees and royalties go towards supporting schools, domestic water supplies and clinics. See imvelosafarilodges.com

18. ADMIRE: A GIANT

The Big Tree is a 24-metre high baobab – Adansonia digitata – that sits alongside the Zambezi River Drive about two kilometres from Victoria Falls town. Reputed to be 1500-years-old with a 22-metre girth (it takes 16 people joining hands to stretch all the way around) it looks like a bunch of upended carrots with roots flailing in the air. Protected by the Museums and National Monuments of Zimbabwe it is surrounded by a chain-wire fence to keep animals (and vandals) out. Tip: Stay close to your car, as wild elephants are known to frequent the area. See nmmz.co.zw

19. EXPERIENCE: STIMELA STAR

Another sign that things are looking up – post-Mugabe – is the launch of Stimela Star, a new sleeper train running between Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park. Rolled out in May, the overnight journey is a fun way for Imvelo Safari Lodges to transfer their guests from the falls to the big five, while skipping a lengthy car journey or air transfer. The four 1950s carriages have been restored to provide 12 sleeping cabins for 24 guests, a dining carriage and bar. Original furnishings, armchairs, wood paneling and mirrors etched with the old Rhodesian Rail insignia all add to the mood. You'd be hard pushed to find a better start an early morning game drive than stepping from a train into a Land Rover as the sun rises over the Ngamo Plains. See imvelosafarilodges.com

20. VIEW: VICTORIA FALLS BRIDGE

Part of Cecil Rhodes' grand (and unfulfilled) vision of a Cape to Cairo railway, the Victoria Falls Bridge is as much an icon as the falls themselves. Linking Zimbabwe and Zambia at the Second Gorge the elegant "parabolic arch" was completed in 1905. It is said that Rhodes instructed the engineers to "Build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the falls". If you're not keen to bungee from its death-defying 128-metre height, there's a gentile 1½-hour guided tour, which will take you on the walkways beneath the bridge (bring your passport). See shearwatervictoriafalls.com

Kerry van der Jagt travelled as a guest of Bench Africa and Imvelo Safari Lodges.

Comments