The first European to set eyes on the Falls was the Scots explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone in the mid-1850s. Overcome by the experience he named them after the English queen, Victoria.
On a clear day the spray generated by the Falls is visible from 50 km (31 miles) away—the swirling mist rising above the woodland savanna looks like smoke from a bush fire, inspiring their local name, Mosi-Oa-Tunya, or the "Smoke that Thunders." The rim of the Falls is broken into separate smaller falls with names like the Devil's Cataract, Rainbow Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and Armchair Falls.
The Falls, which are more than 300 feet high, are one of the world's seven natural wonders and were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. Upon seeing Victoria Falls for the first time Dr. David Livingstone proclaimed, "Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight." Truer words were never spoken.
A basaltic plateau once stood where the Falls are today. The
whole area was once completely submerged, but fast-forward to the Jurassic Age and the water eventually dried up. Only the Zambezi River remained flowing down into the gaping 1.6-km-long (1-mile) continuous gorge that was formed by the uneven cracking of the drying plateau.
The Falls are spectacular at any time, but if you want to see them full, visit during the high water season (April–June) when more than 2 million gallons hurtle over the edge every second. The resulting spray is so dense that, at times, the view can be obscured. Don't worry, though, the frequent gusts of wind will soon come to your aid and your view will be restored. If you're lucky to be there during a full moon, you might be able to catch a moonbow or lunar rainbow (a nighttime version of a rainbow) in the spray.
Sorry, Zambia, but the view from your side just doesn't stack up to the view from the Zimbabwean side. Only on the Zim side do you see infamous Devil's Cataract racing through the gorge, the entire width of the world's most spectacular waterfall, and the most rainbows dancing over the rapids. Both countries have commissioned a statue in remembrance of Dr. Livingstone's first sight of the Falls. You'll also get to walk through the glorious rain forest that borders the cliff edges, where wild flowers glow from greenery and monkeys chatter in ancient trees. This is also where accessible, flat-stone pathways—found immediately after you pass through the Zimbabwe entrance to the Falls—will take even the most unfit, tottery, or wheelchair-bound visitor right up to all the viewpoints. You don't need a map or a guide, as each path to the viewpoints is clearly marked.
On the Zambian side it is possible to cross the Knife Edge bridge to the very middle of the Gorge, and during low water guests can swim in the Devil's Pool on Livingstone Island. The Zambian side has many levels and steps making it practically inaccessible for anyone in a wheelchair.
Built in 1905, Victoria Falls Bridge is a monument to explorer, adventurer, empire-builder, and former South African Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes and his dream of creating a Cape-to-Cairo railway. Though the line was never completed, steam-powered trains still chug over the bridge, re-creating a sight seen here for more than a century. From the bridge you get a knockout view of the Falls, as well as the Zambezi River raging through Batoka Gorge. An added bonus: watching adrenaline junkies hurl themselves off the 364-foot-high Victoria Falls Bridge.
Victoria Falls is renowned for the plethora of adventure activities that can be organized on either side. It's best to arrange activities through your hotel or a safari adventure shop, but if you want to go it alone, know that some operators serve only one side of the Falls, and operators have a tendency to come and go quickly.