When people want to see Victoria Falls, they usually consider visiting the Zambian side because it has a great selection of adventure activities to do around the Zambezi River. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, doesn’t (yet) have the same sort of infrastructure to appeal to visitors. What they do have however, is a railway line, and for those who like trains, this is one of the best in all of Africa. Welcome to the Vic Falls Express.
I recently backpacked from northern Uganda to Cape Town over three months. It was an epic journey and one I thoroughly enjoyed. A big highlight of the trip was my visit to Victoria Falls. Like most people, I came in from the Zambian side and spent a few days exploring there before deciding to hitchhike to Zimbabwe and try my luck at the train from the town of Victoria Falls to Bulawayo in the southern part of the country (and on the border of Botswana – my intended next destination). It was a great choice; the train was awesome!
From the north to the south of Zimbabwe the route follows the western border and the train chugs along slowly, stopping at every village you could possibly imagine in rural south central Africa. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly wasn’t in any rush and for most travellers that is exactly what we like, to take it nice and easy, seeing as much of the countryside as we can. It was also obviously a well-worn route for local Zimbabweans, with a lot of local villagers on the train. This was an incredibly unique experience for me as a backpacker in a foreign land, on a train moving more slowly than you can run, snaking its way through the African savannah. Amazing!
The start of the route at Victoria Falls is stunning. The waterfalls are a sight to behold and are considered one of the top ten cascades in the entire world. The station for the locomotive is within ten kilometres from the park’s entrance and makes a great spot to access the falls. The first few hours pass through wonderful farmlands and into a part of Zimbabwe rarely visited by tourists. Getting off here would have been great but I stayed on the train to continue the journey to Bulawayo.
We left the stunning Victoria Falls on a slow train to Bulawayo.
The station is within ten kms from the park’s entrance.
Into the evening, I was greeted by an incredible sunset overlooking the vast central plains. And then as night fell, the train passed through wildlife-strewn fields where it’s not unusual to see herds of elephants lapping up the last hours of the day.
The route follows the western border and moves slowly. Very slowly. Photo by Julien L.
The overnight sleeping arangments weren’t the most comfortable in the world, but my basic cot-style bed in a train booth did the trick all the same. And because the best opportunities to spot wildlife are at dawn and dusk, the early-morning rise on the train was definitely worth the slightly uncomfortable sleep. A slowly moving train in the middle of nowhere has the potential to be your own personal African safari. Sadly on my trip we didn’t see much, but there were stories of lions chasing gazelles, leopards in trees, baboons doing whatever it is they do, and of course the magnificent African elephant patrolling its land like an ancient sentinel of the vast plain. Leaning out the open window, smelling the fresh warm morning air was the perfect way to start a new day in Zimbabwe.
Looking out over what felt like my own personal safari.
Later that second day we pulled into the bustling city of Bulawayo and my wonderful Victoria Falls Express ride came to an end. It was so good, I was tempted to turn around and go back, but I wanted to cross into Botswana. I may not have spent much time in Zimbabwe, but the time I did spend was memorable and well worth the experience. I would recommend this rail ride to anyone.
Have you ever spent more than 24 hours on a train? If so, where and when? Share your story.
G Adventures runs a number of departures to Zimbabwe encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.