Diane's Trip Report Part II: Vic Falls

Old Apr 5th, 2004, 12:16 PM
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Diane's Trip Report Part II: Vic Falls

Continued trip report . . .
On March 25, we set off for Victoria Falls -- more specifically, Livingstone, Zambia. We were nervous about staying in Zim, so we opted for the Zambia side of the Falls.

We were also nervous about malaria, so we wanted to stay someplace with air conditioning. We ended up choosing the Royal Livingstone and were 100% happy with our selection. Regarding malaria: We took Malarone and had no bad side effects. The one good side effect we experienced was incredibly vivid dreams at night. This side effect has worn off with time (I'm still taking the meds but my dream quality has, regrettably, diminished). Also, we found out somewhat later that the town of Livingstone is a hotbed of malaria. The manager of Little Vumbura told us that their friends live in Livingstone and get malaria 7-8 times EACH YEAR!! We don't think we even got bitten there, so we're keeping our fingers crossed.

The only airline to fly to Livingstone was Nationwide Airways (I think British Air is adding service). The plane was somewhat old (distressingly), but everything went smoothly.

The Royal Livingstone is in a stunning location, right on the river. It is beautifully decorated and the service was impeccable. You can see the spray of the falls from the hotel. When checking in, they give you yummy iced tea and tell you about all the activities at your disposal. You are taken to your room on a golf cart. The rooms are simply lovely -- each room has a full river view.

The first thing we did was book activities. We were very disappointed to learn two things: First, they had ceased offering white-water rafting a week prior to our arrival due to very high water levels. They stop rafting every year for several months, but it normally doesn't happen until mid-April. We were unlucky that this year the water levels were higher than average and that we came 7 days too late. The second disappointment was that the elephant rides on the Zambia side of the falls were completely booked for the following 2 days. Since I really wanted to do this activity, we booked an elephant ride on the Zim side for the following day. It is more expensive and more of a hassle (due to the border crossing) to do it in Zim, but I was determined to do it.

After booking our activities, we headed out for the Falls. The best piece of advice I received about the Falls was to bring a disposable waterproof camera. I was expecting to get wet, but I wasn't expecting to get quite that wet. It's like walking under a shower that has the best water pressure you've ever felt. It was lots of fun seeing the Falls that way. By the way, don't bother to bring an umbrella or raincoat -- these are provided by the hotel.

After seeing the Falls, we had dinner at the restaurant at the Royal Livingstone. It was superb -- but also the priciest meal we had in Africa -- easily over $100 for 2 (and we had only 2 glasses of wine). Again, the service was great; you are treated like royalty.

The next morning we did a river safari. It was just us and one other couple. The boat was a small powerboat. It was very enjoyable. We saw lots of hippo (which made we happy we weren't in a canoe) and a crocodile. I think normally you can see much more wildlife, but the time of year was wrong. The grass was very tall, which made sightings hard.
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Old Apr 5th, 2004, 12:53 PM
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I am certainly enjoying your report - thanks!
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Old Apr 6th, 2004, 04:38 AM
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continued . . .

The afternoon elephant ride was quite fun, but the process of getting to the ride was a bit arduous. It took us about 2 hours to get there (going from Zam to Zim). This was largely due to the fact that we had to wait for up to an hour for other tourists who were inexplicably running late (v. irritating). Then, the border crossing took about 30 minutes on the way to Zim (on the way back, we breezed through in 5 minutes). By the time we got to the rides, it had started to lightly rain, and continued to rain for the duration of the 75 minute ride.

But despite all these problems -- the ride was really very fun. They provide ponchos in case of rain, which was appreciated. Each elephant had one tourist and one "driver." The driver was very knowledgable about elephants and we learned a lot about behavior and about other animals we were seeing (like waterbuck). The ride itself was surprisingly comfortable -- much more comfortable than being on a horse, e.g. This is clearly due to the fact that you are sitting on padding, but still. A little baby elephant accompanied us on the ride. The other elephants had found her stranded one day and sort of adopted her. Now, they will not do rides unless the baby comes along. She was adorable! I would very much recommend doing the elephant ride, but you should absolutely do it on whatever side of the Falls you're staying on. Possibly make reservations a few days in advance.

That evening we ate at the steakhouse in the Sun International complex. It was very good and MUCH less expensive than the Royal Livingstone restaurant. The only downside to the steakhouse is that you have to walk through a cheesy "casino" (only slot-machines) to get there. The idea that there is a casino in a safari area is a somewhat repugnant idea you sort of have to ignore.

I will also say what other posters have said -- that the whole Vitoria Falls area is very touristy. It was the only time in Africa that I felt like I was just one of a mob of Tourists. And tourists with a capital T. You know? I mean tourists who arrive in large groups, tourists who complain loudly, tourists that come to the Falls only to spend hours at a casino, watching sports on TV, or dressing up for dinner. It's just a scene I don't love. That said, I loved spending time at the Falls.

The next morning, we had no activities planned before our afternoon departure to Botswana. We woke up late, glanced out the window from our bed, and saw monkeys and 5 zebra approximately 50 feet from our patio. It was a great good-morning!

We spent the morning strolling around the grounds of the hotel, looking at the river, and trying to soak everything up (oh, and I also got a pedicure from the hotel's beauty salon -- I know, I know, I'm just like the Tourists I was previously complaining about . . . ).

To sum it up, we had a great time at the Falls, but felt like it would have been even better at a different (slightly less wet) time of year. But since a trip to the Falls is generally combined with other things (like safari, or Cape Town), I wouldn't plan timing around water levels at the falls, since you will only want to be there for 2-3 days maximum. Just my two cents.
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Old Apr 6th, 2004, 04:59 AM
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Very funny. I enjoy your writing style. I felt like I was with you, BUT..........can we PUH-LEEEEESE get to Botswana now?
Old Apr 6th, 2004, 03:46 PM
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Oooooh, yes. And I'm still waiting to hear about Singita.
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Old Apr 11th, 2004, 06:26 PM
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Did you get to interact with the elephants (other than just riding)? Do you get to groom or feed them?
If so, what type of contact do you have?

How long was your ele adventure?
Did you go to "Elephant Camp?"

Did you hear anything about the all day or overnight packages? If so, would love your insight. Thinking of staying over night - what do you think - is a morning or afternoon ride enough?
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Old Apr 12th, 2004, 05:49 AM
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We did not get to groom them, but we did feed them with treats after the ride. That was a lot of fun.
As I mentioned, we were running late, pressed for time, and it was raining. I think usually the afternoon ride begins was a lot of "getting to know the elephant." Because of the time crunch, that was pretty much eliminated and we just got on the elephants right away. We rode for 75 minutes -- that is the same length of time as they always offer in the afternoons -- and ended with feeding them their "reward."

I didn't speak to anyone who had done longer elephant adventures. By doing the afternoon ride, you're essentially guaranteed a fun ride, learning a lot from the handlers, and engaging in some limited interaction (like feeding). If you want more than that, maybe you have to do an overnight or something.
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