Vic Falls - How many days, and where to stay?

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Aug 18th, 2005, 11:02 AM
  #1
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Vic Falls - How many days, and where to stay?

Hello everyone,

I'm planning a return to Botswana in June/July 2006 (can't wait!) and this time I'd like to spend a couple of days in Vic Falls -- I skipped it this year because the political situation looked particularly bad right when I was finalising my arrangements.

I'll be arriving in Vic Falls after two weeks in Botswana, so I'm looking at my time there primarily as an opportunity to relax before heading back to London. I'd like to do a few activities -- the flight of angels, maybe the flying fox or bungee jump or the elephant back safari, as well as a bit of shopping. With these things in mind, I have a couple of questions for those of you who've been there:

How many days would you recommend staying in Vic Falls?

Which side of the river (Zim/Zam) do you recommend? Where are most of the activities located? How easy is it to cross the border? Does it depend on the direction?

Does anyone recommend having breakfast or lunch on Livingstone Island?

Which 'flight of angels' option is best for photography (helicopter, microlight, small plane, ultralight)?

Finally, are there any particular lodges or hotels you recommend? I prefer smaller, more intimate boutique-style places, and I'm looking for somewhere either very close to the Falls (walking distance) or somewhere where transfers are included. Ideally, I'd like to have some activities included as well.

I'm travelling on my own, so single supplements are an issue -- as you might expect, the two weeks in Botswana are costing a bloody fortune, so I'd like to avoid too much additional financial damage.

So far, I like Matetsi Water Lodge (single-supplement free), but it seems like most of the activities are being run from the Zambian side. The Victoria Falls Hotel and Ilala Lodge both have great locations walking distance from the falls, but I think I might prefer a lodge. Tongabezi has wonderful accommodation, but may be too expensive for a single person. Low-key game-viewing from the lodge would be a plus.

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 18th, 2005, 11:53 AM
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Julian--we stayed at the River Club and I can highly recommend it. It's about 30 minutes drive to the falls, but tours of the falls (Zam side) are included free, as well as several other tours, including a nightly sunset cruise, where one can see the occasional hippo and crocodile, some baboons, etc. We did the 30 minute helicopter flight over the falls and can highly recommend it.

Here's a link to the section of my report regarding Vic Falls and the River Club. http://www.traveltalkonline.com/foru...b=5&o=&fpart=1
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Aug 18th, 2005, 11:56 AM
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I stayed at The Victoria Falls Hotel, and while its certainly not a boutique hotel, the rooms are very nice (I used Amex Platinum and was upgraded to a suite), and were welcome after a Botswanan safari. You can also walk to the falls -- around a 5-minute walk. I was there in 2001 so I don't have current info on border crossings. I also took the helicopter tour and its great for photos.


My cousin recently (May 2005) visited the area and he had lunch on Livingston Island and he raved about it, but he's 71 and his interests may be quite different than yours.

Michael
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Aug 18th, 2005, 09:05 PM
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We stayed at the River Club and enjoyed it. It's very romantic, and has a "colonial shabby chic" feel to it. I do have to say the food is not good at all. By far the worst of all the places we visited. Most lodge will drive you to/from activities so it doesn't really matter where you stay. We did not wat to stay Zim side because of all the unrest there.

We stayed 2 nights and it was plenty for us. The game viewing is not worth it if you're going to Botswana. But if you want to do all the things you list you may want to stay 3 nights. Also the shopping is much better than in the camps. You should book in advance for the elephant safari. When we were there it was sold out.

We took a helicopter flight and it was not great for photos (and imho not worth the money). I think a microlite would be better.

Have a great time!

Judy
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Aug 18th, 2005, 09:15 PM
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Hi jasher, I have stayed at 3 hotels in Livingstone so can supply some insight to the Zambian side.

The Zambezi Sun - I would compare the atmosphere of this hotel to a resort hotel in Cancun. There are a LOT of tourists and kids, rooms are motel style but very clean and well decorated. I was weirded out by a local band singing 'tie a yellow ribbon' and other western wedding-type songs. On the positive side, it is literally a five minute walk to the Falls with tame zebra on the path and a local market just outside of the premises.

I have also stayed at the Tongabezi Lodge and Sussi & Chuma Lodge. The last two are, well, I wouldn't call them boutique style but I would call them safari-camp style. Smaller, intimate and with a remote location. The two lodges are close to one another and located upriver about 20 minutes from Livingstone and very near the Mosi O Tunya national park. (You mention easy access to low-key game viewing, and that is exactly what this park offers. In my opinion it is similar to a zoo. Because there are no predators, the animals are extremely relaxed and not bothered by the vehicles. You have the chance of seeing the 3 rhinos, which we did, but they seemed more like cows to me.) Although there is no problem arranging transfers, the distance from town can be inconvenient for doing your activities at the Falls unless you arrange everything in order so you don't waste transfer time. I believe that the precious African evenings, sunsets, sunset cruises, & morning coffees are all enhanced by the exotic views and un-touristy location of these 2 lodges. Both of them have thatched units with balconies overlooking the Zambezi.

When I stayed at Sussi and Chuma last year I had a less than satisfactory experience with the accommodations, but there is a new manager and I've heard many compliments. Star of Africa is a good outfit.

Tongabezi (this summer) was fantastic. As a single you probably wouldn't stay in one of the 'houses' as my sister and I did, but there are cute little 'cottages' scattered around the property which might suit you. Another excellent possibility for you is Sindabezi, which is the sister lodge to Tongabezi and it's a very rustic place with no electicity, you must canoe over to it as it's on an island and probably more affordable than the main lodge.

Upriver is so much more peaceful and the evening sunset cruises are much more intimate than those nearer to the Falls.

Re: eating at Livingstone Island, it is pricey but very enjoyable. Depending upon the time of year you might be able to enjoy a swim in a waterhole at the edge of the Falls. The food is excellent. The views of the Falls are nice. The best part of Livingstone Island was seeing the Falls without many people or hustlers around.

As I have posted before, I am personally not all that impressed with the Falls. Waterfalls can be seen in many parts of the world. I think two days is a nice recuperation from a safari, especially if you want to shop. There are nice markets, and there are a couple of 'tourist shops' if you don't like to bargain. Last year my daughter and niece did the Gorge Swing and enjoyed it. You get into a harness and jump off the edge of the cliff and free fall for several seconds before hitting the end of the cable and then you swing in wide arcs across the canyon, slowing until you are able to stop and get out. Then you have to walk back up (cold Mosi beer awaits).

I visited the Royal Livingstone Hotel and it is a very upmarket British colonial style hotel. You can see the top of the Falls from the grounds. It has to be pricey.

If I ever go back there I would try Matetsi where at least there would be real game drives.
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Aug 19th, 2005, 03:38 AM
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Thanks for the great info, everyone -- I hadn't really considered River Club, so I'll add that to my list of possibilities. I am staying in Wilderness lodges for my Botswana trip, so hopefully the long-stay discount will make it more reasonable.

I'll also check out Sussi and Chuma. I thought it was too far away from Livingstone, but I haven't been able to get a good map of the area (if anyone has a link, please let me know!)

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 19th, 2005, 06:44 AM
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I think peoples opinions of the falls depend a lot on when they travel and what they like to do. We went in May 2004 and it was stunning - we got soaked on the ground and the noise and spectacle were something special - we actually found it more impressive from the ground as you are that much closer. The island was closed though as it was too dangerous to get there (and there was nothing available in terms of water sports which only seem to run when the falls \ Zambezi run more quietly).

I'd highly reccomend the microlite (we used Bakota Sky but there are others) but you can't take a camera (video or stills) with you. They can use a camera on the wing to take photos of you and the falls - they also take a video each week which they can send on if you like. I suspect the outfit you use will more be determined by the lodge you stay at. I'd also do the extended microlite as they take you downriver at a much lower altitude to go hippo and croc spotting. It gives a whole new perspective. My wife also did the helicopter trip and got some great photos - but have a tip handy for the crew so that you can get the front seat. 4 in the back on a bench didn't look fun (or good value).

We stayed at Tongabezi Lodge and realy enjoyed it although we probably would choose somewhere else if we went again. Pluses were the rooms \ cottages, the sunset boat trips off to the islands and the food \ friendly staff. But its a fair way from anywhere which means you rely on the lodge activities for getting about and each cottage has its own butler which we found a bit strange - we're not used to that on our camping trips ;-)

We had 3 nights there which was perfect for us - enough time to relax and also do some activities.
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Aug 19th, 2005, 08:20 AM
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We almost skipped Vic Falls because of the political situation and I'm glad we didn't. We stayed at Ilala Lodge on the Zim side for 2 nights and my only regret was that we didn't stay 3. We really had to rush to fit everything in. Ilala was fabulous and the location was great. We walked to falls and also walked to Maam Africa one night for dinner (great food and music). As for game - my parents had a baboon right on their patio looking in to their room, but that's about all we saw. Of course we were rarely in the room or on the grounds of the lodge. I liked being right next to the craft market and wished we had time to explore it more. As for "flight of angels", my own preference is helicopter but that's partly because I hate little planes (the 1 1/2 hour flight into our camp in the Delta was torture for me, but our time there made it worth it). We went with Shearwater and they did a great job. Have some wonderful pics and my parents bought the video of our flight also. The elephant safari that we did was fabulous (I think it was through the same company - not sure. We booked it through the guy who picked us up from the airport). Don't know about crossing the border, but for my money - I would definitely stay on the Zim side. Lots to do and the path along the falls is mostly on the Zim side. When I saw it from the air I realized what an advantage we had. So, that's my 2 cents worth. Enjoy!
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Aug 19th, 2005, 08:28 AM
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Thanks a lot for your comments -- I'm really torn between the helicopter and the microlight. I'd like to feel the wind in my hair, but I really want to be able to take pictures as well. Do the helicopters have the doors on or off?

Has anyone been to the Falls in July? I'll be there in early July, and I was wondering what the water would be like, and if the island would be open.

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 19th, 2005, 09:21 AM
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Got some pricing back from some of the Vic Falls lodges. Maybe there is a reason Vic Falls is popular with honeymooners -- as a single person, you can't afford to stay there!

Sussi and Chuma Lodge: $475/night (though transfers and some activities are included)

Stanley Safari Lodge: $380/night (no transfers or activities included)

Matetsi is looking pretty good at $250/night...

Julian
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Aug 19th, 2005, 12:18 PM
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For the helicopter flights its firmly closed doors - no jumping out over the falls allowed ;-)

My wife took great pictures from the front seat of the helicopter (Nikon d70 to hand) - the main issue is that the second row sits 4 - that means on a full flight 2 don't get a window seat.
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Aug 19th, 2005, 01:36 PM
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I took the helicopter tour in August 2001, and I gave the guy controlling the line $5 (maybe it was $10) so I could get the front row, window seat, and there was an opening so I didn't have to shoot through the window.

Saw several elephant in the river near the falls, and got some other great photos.

Suggest you give the guy a few bucks to get a window seat.
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Aug 19th, 2005, 06:18 PM
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jasher, I was in Livingstone in July 2005. this is typically the season for lower water, so Livingstone Island was open and all the water activities were on. Using Wilderness Safaris camps, they will 'probably' put you on Sefofane flights, and even if not, both times I flew into Livingstone I asked the pilot for a fly-by. He then requested an OK from the flight tower, and took us in two slow sweeps across the falls for some awesome photos (which have to be edited to correct for the plane windows but turned out excellent). I didn't think it was worth paying for the helicopter after that. The microlite would be different.
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Aug 22nd, 2005, 04:15 AM
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Thanks for the tip Lin -- I'm travellig to Botswana with Wilderness, so it probably will be Sefofane. I'll definitely ask about doing a fly-by of the falls. If it doesn't work out, I'll keep the info about getting the front seat in mind.

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 22nd, 2005, 05:26 AM
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We stayed at the Zambezi Sun on the Zambia side. You can't be any closer to the falls and the craft market, the price was very reasonable, every activity (microlight, canoe, helicoptor, bungee jump, village tour, etc.) can be booked there, you're a short walk from the Royal Livingstone where you can have a drink on the river deck and watch the sunset.

It certainly is not a posh setting. As was mentioned, it looks a bit like a Cancun hotel. In my mind it would be a great place to relax before heading home.
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Aug 22nd, 2005, 11:35 AM
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Has anyone stayed at Songwe? I would appreciate any feedback on location, accommodation quality, food, etc.

Thanks in advance
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Aug 22nd, 2005, 08:55 PM
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Hello, I will be staying at Stanley safari lodge in 18 days, my mom will be doing the microlight over the falls and part of game park, they will take pictures for you from a camera fixed to the wing, I think they even do a dvd. Then you can relax and enjoy the experience. I will let you know how Stanley's is and the flight.
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Aug 23rd, 2005, 06:01 AM
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I agree you should try to get the front seat on the helicopter. We didn't give the person a tip, but spent about 10 minutes talking to him (his name was Sunday and we had an interesting conversation about that, as well as his family). After that he made sure we were first in line and my husband got the front seat.

BTW, if you stay at Mombo and are flying from another delta camp, Wilderness may take you in a helicopter. I got the front seat on that ride and it was INCREDIBLE.

Judy
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Aug 23rd, 2005, 06:06 AM
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We have one night in Vic Falls (Zim side)in January - has anyone stayed at the Mercure?
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Aug 23rd, 2005, 06:13 AM
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Hello Sandy,

I look forward to hearing about Stanley Safari Lodge. To be honest it looks a bit expensive since quite a few transfers aren't included, but maybe I'm overestimating how many activities I'll end up doing.

I've heard about getting your picture taken from the camera on the wing, but to be honest I'm more interested in taking my own photos. But please tell me about the microlight -- it sounds great.

Cheers,
Julian
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