In Zambia, all roads (and rivers) lead to Victoria Falls

August 24, 2017

There are plenty of sites that claim to be one of the world’s natural wonders, but Victoria Falls — straddling the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe — lives up to that marquee billing.

The falls are the product of the great Zambezi River, which lazily spreads itself out before dramatically plunging over a cliff nearly 2km (1.2 mi) wide and twice the height of Niagara Falls. When the river is at its full strength, nearly a million litres (264,000 gallons) of roaring water flow through the falls every second, throwing up giant clouds of mist and catching rainbows in the sun. No wonder the falls are called Mosi-oaTunya (“the smoke that thunders”) in the local Tokaleya Tonga language. The Scottish explorer David Livingstone (of “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” fame) gave the falls their English name in 1855.

As beautiful as the falls are, you can only gaze at them for so long before wanting to get closer to the action. Luckily, Victoria Falls is home to some of the best adventure tourism activities in Africa.

As an initial taster, you might take inspiration from Livingstone’s awed comment that the falls have “scenes so lovely [they] must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight,” by taking to the air by helicopter to get a truly heavenly panorama of the Zambezi as it braids its way down to the falls.

White water rafting down the Zambezi is a must-do.

White water rafting down the Zambezi is a must-do.

For a more infernal view, take a boat trip to the so-called Devil's Pool on Livingstone Island, one of the one of the narrow spits of land that are dotted along the falls. Incredibly, here you can swim in safety right up to the edge of the giant curtain of water as it rushes over the cliffs. You could hardly get nearer without plunging over them in a barrel (which, by the way, is not recommended).

It’s on rafts rather than in barrels that you do your plunging at Victoria Falls, anyway. The Zambezi here offers possibly the best one-day white-water rafting experience anywhere in the world. More than 20 rapids, many of them classed an adrenaline-pumping grade five, make up the experience, although the exact number you can shoot depends on the time of year. More of the river is accessible from August to December, after which water levels start to rise, and whole stretches can be closed between March and June when the river becomes simply too wild to raft.

The first rapids will take things slowly, as your raft guide will teach you to “high side” — otherwise known as flinging yourself from one side of the raft to another, to keep yourself balanced as you plow through the waves. Then, the rapids will come in quick succession, with names like Morning Glory, Stairway to Heaven, and the Devil’s Toilet Bowl. The Gulliver’s Travels rapids remind you look up as well as ahead, as you’ll feel tiny against the tremendous walls of the gorges you plunge through.

Most rafting trips take a break halfway through for a picnic by one of the slower stretches of water, then it’s back in the raft for more waves and drops. The Mother, the Washing Machine, the Terminator, and Oblivion all live up to their name, and —if you get to the end of the adventure without your raft flipping once — you might be tempted to dive off the raft so you can boast to your friends back home that you were washed overboard by a particularly dramatic wave. This is also usually the point where the guide deadpans about local crocodiles having a taste for tourists.

It’s a stiff climb from the end-point of the rafting adventure back to the top of the gorge, but you’ll almost bound to the top, urged on by the adrenaline and the experience that Doctor Livingstone himself could only have dreamed of.

Getting there

Ready to take a Victoria Falls adventure? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group trips to Zambia here.

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