3 Best Sights in Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls National Park

Fodor's choice

Plan to spend at least two hours soaking in the splendors of this park. Avoid the crowds and the heat by getting there as early as possible. Bring snacks and water, and supervise children extremely well, as the barriers are by no means safe. Babies and toddlers can be pushed in a stroller. If you visit the Falls during the high-water peak, between April and June, you'd do well to carry a raincoat or umbrella (you can rent them at the entrance) and to bring along a waterproof, disposable camera because you will be drenched in the spray from the Falls, which creates a permanent downpour. Be prepared for limited photo opportunities due to the mist.

Leave expensive cameras, cell phones, and wristwatches in your hotel or lodge safe.

The constant drizzle has created a small rain forest that extends in a narrow band along the edge of the Falls. A trail running through this dripping green world is overgrown with African ebony, Cape fig, Natal mahogany, wild date palms, ferns, and deep-red flame lilies. A fence has been erected to keep non-fee-paying visitors at bay. Clearly signposted side trails lead to viewpoints overlooking the Falls. The most spectacular is Danger Point, a perilous rock outcropping that overlooks the narrow gorge through which the Zambezi River funnels out of the Boiling Pot, but be careful, as this viewpoint is hazardously wet and precarious. In low-water months (September–November) most of the water goes over the Falls through the Devil's Cataract, a narrow and mesmerizingly powerful section of the Falls visible from Livingstone's statue. Around the full moon, the park stays open late so you can see the lunar rainbow formed by the spray—a hauntingly beautiful sight. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to see the daylight rainbows most vividly. A booklet explaining the formation and layout of the Falls is available from the Victoria Falls Publicity Association for a small fee.

Victoria Falls

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 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 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."

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-long) 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 the notoriously racist arch-imperialist 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.

Victoria Falls Bridge

A veritable monument to Cecil Rhodes's dream of completing a Cape-to-Cairo rail line, this graceful structure spans the gorge formed by the Zambezi River. It would have been far easier and less expensive to build the bridge upstream from the Falls, but Rhodes was captivated by the romance of a railway bridge passing over this natural wonder. A net was stretched across the gorge under the construction site, which curiously prompted the construction workers to go on strike for a couple of days. They resumed work only when it was explained that they would not be expected to leap into it at the end of every workday. Although the workers did not share the current adrenaline-fueled obsession with jumping into the abyss, the net probably had a lot to do with the miraculous fact that only two people were killed during construction. The bridge was completed in only 14 months, and the last two cross-girders were joined on April 1, 1905.

To get onto the bridge, you first have to pass through Zimbabwean immigration and customs controls, so bring your passport. Unless you decide to cross into Zambia, no visa is necessary, though you will need a gate pass.

Depending on crowds, the simple procedure can take from five minutes to a half hour. The border posts are open daily from 6 am to 10 pm, after which the bridge is closed to all traffic. From the bridge you are treated to a fabulous view of the river raging through Batoka Gorge, as well as a section of the Falls on the Zambian side. An added bonus is watching the bungee jumpers disappear over the edge.

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