Life moves both quickly and slowly in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Travelers breeze through town to meet up with their safari group or to see the famous waterfalls before heading on to their next destination. The water rushes over the gorge, the views are heart-pounding, and extreme sports flourish. But there’s also something about Victoria Falls that is quiet, relaxed, and leisurely. There’s a great coffee scene, and the vibe is distinctly laid-back, good-humored, and welcoming. It’s well worth spending several days in town to experience all the amazing attractions and activities. Here are some of the best things to see and do in Victoria Falls.
Marvel At Victoria Falls National Park
You simply can’t visit Victoria Falls and not go to Victoria Falls National Park. The Falls, located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, are one of the natural wonders of the world, and they are spectacular. This is one place that has not been overhyped!
Two-thirds of the Falls are located on the Zimbabwe side and are a designated national park. Exploring is easy, and you can follow the well-marked trail as a self-guided tour of the park. The park’s entrance is within central Victoria Falls, and you can easily walk there or take a $5 taxi ride to avoid the heat.
One of the best spots to enjoy the drama of the Falls is the westernmost point of the park, Cataract View, near the David Livingstone statue. When conditions are just right, you’ll have an incredible view of the Falls, complete with a prism effect caused by the mist in the air and the sunshine. From there, continue eastward along the path. Along the way, you’ll encounter multiple scenic points and natural features, including a view of the Victoria Falls Bridge. My walk only took about an hour.
I visited during October, when the rainy season was coming to an end and the water levels were on the low side. The Falls were just as dramatic, but there was little spray, and I barely got wet. However, those visiting in the spring should prepare to be soaked! The spray from the Falls washes over the walkway and a great deal beyond as well. Raincoats and umbrellas are available for sale inside the park, or you can plan ahead and bring your own.
If you visit just before, during, or just after a full moon, you can visit the park at night and enjoy a rare lunar rainbow. To my everlasting regret, I missed it by just a few days.
Victoria Falls National Park isn’t just filled with visitors. There’s a lot of wildlife hanging out the park as well. Baboons and other monkeys are plentiful, as are beautiful birds and hungry warthogs, eagerly munching on the greenery. Watching an utterly relaxed, completely unperturbed warthog devour a patch of grass while I stood just a few feet away was one of the highlights of my time in Zimbabwe. (As always, wild animals should be left alone to go about their business in peace, especially the fickle baboons.)
Before leaving the park, take the time to enjoy a cup of coffee at The Rainforest Café. The coffee beans are local, and the cappuccino comes with a complimentary shot of amaretto on the side. The food is delicious, and the shady patio with its refreshing misters is a lovely place to relax and write postcards.
Try The City’s Best Coffee And Cake
Speaking of great coffee, Dean’s Victoria Falls (formerly known as Africa Café) in the Elephant’s Walk Shopping & Artist Village is considered the best place for coffee in Victoria Falls. Having enjoyed several visits there, I have to say that I agree. The beans are all local, from Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, and the staff members know what they’re doing in terms of Americanos, cappuccinos, and even red cappuccinos, which are made with rooibos tea. The lunches are delicious -- I loved the local bream fish with spicy peanut sauce -- but my absolute favorite was the homemade cheesecake with powdered baobab fruit. The baobab tree’s fruit is meant to be eaten when the flesh of the fruit pod dries out, leaving a spongy, crumbly fruit similar to meringue in texture and flavor. In powder form, it’s the perfect light, sweet ingredient for cheesecake.
Shop Till You Drop
The Elephant’s Walk Shopping & Artist Village isn’t just home to great coffee and cake (though, to be honest, I would wholeheartedly support a visit just for the cake). It’s also home to quality local crafts and curios and some downright funky folk art. There are superb art galleries here, as well as an exhibit dedicated to the indigenous tribes of Zimbabwe and their traditions, language, and art.
Behind Elephant’s Walk is a large open-air craft and curio market. The setting is informal, and the bargaining is fierce. Look around, take your time, and be ready to negotiate. Vendors will be keen to let you know that both DLH and FedEx have offices near Elephant’s Walk, so any size package can be easily shipped home. However, I found out firsthand that international shipping from Zimbabwe isn’t exactly economical. I had a shoebox-size package of small souvenirs that weighed about 10 pounds. The cost to ship it to Canada with DHL was $342 dollars! I chose to lug the items with me until I hit Johannesburg, where I shipped the package at the local post office for $30. May my shipping drama be a lesson for all Victoria Falls shoppers: Get a firm shipping quote before you indulge in that 6-foot-tall carved giraffe or hefty stone hippo.
Experience The Zambezi River
At the headquarters of Wild Horizons, the views of the Zambezi River are breathtaking. The river winds its way through the gorge, and thousands of layers of rock are revealed. You can take in the view like I did -- sensibly, standing on the panoramic balcony -- or you can experience it firsthand with bungee jumping, zip lining, and much more. Yes, it’s insanely scary (for me, anyway), but the views and the experience might just be worth getting over your fears. Everyone I saw participating in extreme sports looked absolutely thrilled when they were done, so they must have had fun! Those along for the cake and coffee will be pleased to know that the on-site Lookout Café (reopening in December 2019) has a lovely menu.
If you’re not brave enough to zip-line over the Zambezi River -- or even if you are -- a sunset cruise on the upper Zambezi River is the perfect way to relax after a long day of sightseeing. The riverboat slowly meanders upstream, allowing you to enjoy the beautiful birds and spot elephants, crocodiles, and hippos. The price includes cold soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, along with a basic assortment of finger foods.
During my Zambezi sunset cruise, I was thrilled to see a group of elephants playing at the water’s edge. One elephant in particular delighted me when he crouched in order to scoot down the sharp embankment and safely enter the water. He looked just like a toddler sliding down a hill on their bottom! The sunset was every bit as gorgeous as I dreamed it would be, and upon returning to shore, we were welcomed by traditional musicians and dancers, which was wonderful. However, several people on our boat were surprised to learn that the majority of the seating is at communal tables. If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, you’ll probably be sitting with someone else.
Get A Bird’s Eye View Of The Falls
If you are short on time, flush with cash, or looking for something very unique, you can enjoy a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls. A standard 15-minute flight including the best views of the Falls starts at $150, while a deluxe 25-minute flight provides extra views and a chance to spot game from the air over Zambezi National Park. I think it would be an amazing opportunity to see the Falls from a completely different point of view, but I personally directed my spending money to activities on the ground.
Go On Safari
While Victoria Falls is a well-known home base for day trips to Botswana’s Chobe National Park, many visitors don’t know that there’s another park just 10 minutes from Victoria Falls. Zambezi National Park has been described by Lonely Planet as “vastly underrated” and includes 25 miles of river frontage, woodlands, and savannah. Sable, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and buffalo all call the park home, as do lions, leopards, and cheetahs (though, truth be told, they’re rarely seen). You can visit on your own in a rented vehicle and stay overnight at a campground or in a cabin. However, if you’re short on time or want some extra guidance, you can join a group tour. Most group tours depart in the early morning or late afternoon (to avoid the midday heat when the animals are sleeping or hiding) and cost around $100 per person.
Hang Out With Crocodiles
In the center of Victoria Falls is an attraction quite unlike any other: Crocodile Park! On the group tours, you can hold a friendly baby crocodile (if you’re so inclined) and help feed the adults. The staff members get high praise for their knowledge of the reptile world, and they encourage questions and participation. It’s worth noting that this attraction is actually part of a crocodile farm -- the animals are raised for their meat and leather, so it’s best not to get too attached to the babies you cuddle. I like to think of it as a good way to learn more about animals and local business. The Crocodile Park is in the heart of Victoria Falls, just off the main street, and it’s an excellent place to spend an hour or so while waiting to meet your safari group or during a short airport layover.