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Victoria Falls

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I'm going to Botswana in Nov. 2004 and would like to see Victoria Falls prior to my safari. Questions:

1) On which side to stay - Zambia (at Zambezi Sun) or Zimbabwe (Ilala Lodge)? I've heard that the Zambian side might be better b/c of political & economic unrest in Zimbabwe.

2) I'm only interested in seeing/touring Vic Falls & possibly taking a helicopter ride/sunset Zambezi cruise(no river rafting, etc). So how many nights at Vic FAlls would be sufficient (1 or 2 nights)?

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    it depends at what time your flight arrives in Vic Falls. Victoria Falls/Zimbabwe is perfectly safe. Which airport are you arriving at? Vic Falls or Livingstone? Maybe stay at the country in which you arrive to avoid a border transfer.
    For a visit to the falls you should plan an afternoon maybe slightly longer if you want to include the flight of angels.
    Are you going across to Botswana after your Vic Falls visit or are you arriving from Botswana? 1 night is probably enough on the Zimbabwe side if you arrive there in the morning (before noon).

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    September through to December are traditionally associated with the Zambezi River not being in full force. THe view of the falls at this time of year from Zambian Side ( particular September & October ) can be disappointing.

    I'd personally stick to Zimbabwean side if I was visiting in November.

    I would say one day is sufficient if you can get a flight that arrives before noon. If not then you definately require 2 nights - as Helicopter and Falls close after about 5pm.

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    We arrived from JNB (first flight) arriving VFA at about 12:30pm. It was November, and the falls were at low-flow which was great. At least there was something to see rather than walking thru wet and mist under raincoats and seeing nothing during hi-flow - we did the tour the next morning.

    But on arrival we did the sundowners cruise at about 5pm, which kind of touristy, there were a small group of some great people and was fun.

    The Ralls tour took us all the way to the bungee bridge, then we left at about 11am to drive to Botswana where we were staying in Chobe for a few days. Neither one of us had any desire to do flight over the falls, no heli or ultra-lite for either of us - it just wasn't necessary.

    After time in Chobe, drove back to VFA and spent afternoon doing last minute shopping at the open air trinket market, then caught 4pm flight to JNB.

    The Ilala Lodge is close to the Falls, kind of small, but looked nice, however, it was right off the main road. We stayed instead at the Kingdom, much bigger, great rooms and property, with plenty of security around the entire complex. A back trail takes you right to the Falls. We decided against the Vic Falls Hotel, as too many tour groups and rather "stuffy".

    We felt perfectly safe in VFA, though there were a few beggers on the streets, but hey, nothing unusual with that - though they took simple "no" and went on their way.

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    We were at the Falls in Sep.2003. The water was low and I thought it was very beautiful.

    As to which side of the falls to stay on. It is totally up to you. We stayed on the Zambian side for the same reason you are thinking of doing so.We stayed at the Royal Livingstone resort,which we liked a lot.We could see the river from right outside our room. There were monkeys all around,and hippo in the river.It was beautiful at sunset!The Zembezi Sun is on the same property and is also very nice.It is right next to the entry to the falls and a fun craft market.

    Since I had come so far to see the falls,and am pretty sure I may not be lucky enough to see it again.We did take the time to see it from both sides.I really can't say which side is best if I had to pick just one. I thought both side were worth the time to see.Both have different views and are special in there own ways.

    We arrived in Livinstone early afternoon. And we also took the sundowner cruise on that first evening.We went with the African Queen. It was nice, but, as the above poster said it is touristy.

    The next morning we were pickup for our tour of the falls from the Zimbabwe side. Which was a couple of hours long. It ended up being a little expensive,with the tour and the border crossing, ect..But the views were worth it,to me. We returned to the hotel just in time for the Livingstone Island lunch tour that we had booked.This was expensive also, but it was great. The views of the falls from here are nothing short of spectacular.We were right on top of the rainbows, WOW! You can also swim right by the edge of the falls here if you want to.Sounds scarier then it is. After our return boat ride from the island,it was almost time for our afternoon tour of the falls from the Zambian side.This side is truely beautiful also.

    By the time we did all this we had a very full day.We watched the sunset from the grounds at the Livingstone,as the hippos were making their way to shore.We sat wishing we were staying just one more day, to enjoy this area.But we had to leave the next morning. We did have just enough time in the morning to hit that craft market, and buy some of the wood cravings. We should have gotten more.

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    I was just there on the Zambia side. You can see my trip report for details. In response to your two questions:

    1. We stayed on the Zambia side for the same reasons you identified and loved the Royal Livingstone, which is connected to the Zambezi Sun. Our only taste of Zimbabwe was when we drove through the town of Victoria Falls on our way to the elephant ride. In fact, we drove right by Ilala Lodge, since it is very near the Falls (and sketchy border crossing) and right on the main road. I did not go inside Ilala Lodge, but I can tell you that in terms of quality of hotels, the Zambezi Sun is much much nicer. The Zambezi Sun is in a large park-like setting that is very secure. There are several restaurants within the hotel, and a beautiful pool. It is more of a resort, whereas the Ilala is more of a motel.

    To me, the only reason to stay at the Ilala would be its location -- it is soooo close to the Falls. But so is the Zambezi Sun. It is maybe a 5 minute walk to the lookout points on the Zambia side.

    As to the Zam vs. Zim question, I am hardly qualified to opine since we had such a limited view of Zimbabwe (or Zambia for that matter, since we pretty much stayed in the hotel complex). I will say this: If all you want to do is see the falls, do a helicopter ride, and a river cruise, it really doesn't matter which "side" you're on. Both the Zambezi Sun and Ilala Lodge offer easy access to all these activities.

    On the safety issue, I'm sure you will be fine in either Zim or Zam. However, you will FEEL much more secure at the Zambezi Sun simply because it is not on a main road where there are lots of hawkers, loiterers, etc. It's the difference between a Marriott resort on beautiful grounds covering many many acres, vs. a Holiday Inn on the main road of a very rough-looking neighborhood.

    Finally, I think 2 nights would be best, although if you rushed, you could squeeze everything in in just 1. I don't think any flights get in before noon. So if you did one night, you would want to immediately see the falls, do a sunset river cruise in the late afternoon, whith a heli tour in the am. Definitely doable.

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