Travel POV: Victoria Falls – Zim or Zam?


It really doesn’t matter if you view it from Zimbabwe or Zambia if you had to make a choice. They’ll blow your mind nonetheless.

Both sides are equally stunning; Zimbabwe enjoys about 80% of the view of the Falls (16 view points). Zambia has only a small section – the eastern cataract (1 view point).  Furthermore, in the dry season from September through to December the Zambian portion of the Falls (eastern cataract) dries up almost completely which defeats the purpose of going to a waterfall, if you know what I mean, but the plus point is it gives you bragging rights for being able to walk across the entire length of the fall; i.e. the stretch where the water tips off  (look at photo below).

OK. I am lying… but only about both being EQUALLY stunning. 
Personally I love the Zam side better than the Zim. 

And it’s all about the fact that there’s more variety to the topography of the Zam side of it. Victoria Falls on the Zim side however is larger; i.e. the curtain of water goes on forever and the opposite grounds on which you are standing on to view it is flat and runs the entire length of the fall.
Victoria_Falls

Roughly twice the height of North America’s Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls, in terms of height and width, Victoria Falls is rivalled only by South America’s Iguazu Falls. Although it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is claimed to be the largest based on a width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), forming the largest sheet of falling water in the world. With such large sheet of falling water over great heights comes sprays that typically rises to a height of over 400 metres (1,300 ft), and sometimes even twice as high, and is visible from up to 48 km (30 miles) away. 

Although no tourist would leave Victoria Falls doubting it’s claim of being the largest waterfall in the world – thanks to being left drenched within 7 minutes of arriving at either the Zimbabwe or Zambia National Park side – one seriously needs to be standing in the middle of Zambia’s Victoria Falls’ Knife Edge Bridge to fully appreciate the grandeur of Victoria Falls.
pHaque Zambia Vic Falls 
Digital photo by {p}.Haque – All Rights Reserved – Knife Edge Bridge, Victoria Falls, Zambia

Having visited it at the end of the dry season in January, I found it impossible to see the foot of the falls – acrophobia and aquaphobia aside – and a good half of its face as the walks along the cliff opposite it are in a constant shower and shrouded in mist. Despite coming from the tropics, it was an awkward and uncomfortable experience … as if I had gone looney and was walking in a torrential rain showers with twice the humidity. 

Having chosen to take up my newly found camping mate’s offer of a white poncho with bright blue prints of “Loch Ness“(!), I trust I finally understood what it means to be a sausage stuffing with a non-sensible packaging label shipped to a far flung country.

Oh well, I had consoled myself that at the very least it would be hard to miss me should I slip and fall in either of the two national parks which are both relatively small compared to other national parks in Africa; Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is 66 square kilometres (16,309 acres) and Victoria Falls National Park is 23 square kilometres (5,683 acres).

However, now that I am writing this in the comforts of my home, getting lost would have been a very messy matter given that my passport does not have Haque on it, I had told everyone I had met (not very many frankly) that my first name is Jane – for security – don’t ask how that helps? – and the Zimbabwe border guards had only given me a badly stamped exit pass on a torn-off corner of a newspaper which had it not disintegrated to Papiermâché in my Columbia fastdri pants, the ink from the immigration stamp would have made a very faint grey streak on my thighs. 

Bottom line is I am a stuff-ed bologna sausage!

The thing with Victoria Falls is, unlike the game parks of Africa, it attracts more Zimbabwean and Zambian visitors than international tourists. This is primarily due to the fact that it is easily and comparatively inexpensive to reach by bus and train, couple by the two countries permitting Zimbabwean and Zambian tourist from either side to make day trips from each side with makeshift type day passes. 

The absence of accommodation – safe for the super luxurious and the strip down basic camping grounds or hole in the wall type “hotels” – and the need for foreign tourist to purchase single entry visas costing US$20 to USD$50 each time they cross the border (with regular changes in visa regulations) meant that it’s uncommon for foreign tourist to visit the falls in both countries, with majority of the adrenalin hungry youths converging at the middle of the infamous bridge that bridges the two countries to partake in extreme and adventure sports.
pHaque Zambia Vic Falls Bridge
 Digital photo by {p}.Haque – All Rights Reserved – Taken from the border bridge that divides Zimbabwe and Zambia. The rainbow is actually hovering over Boiling Pot – I’m too lazy to do the Adobe Illustrator thing-y again!

Since visa requirement did not apply to me for either Zambia and Zimbabwe, and not wanting to be suspended in mid-air with blood gushing to my brain, or walk with some tame and exploited lions, I had decided to walk across the border from Zimbabwe to Zambia – having failed miserably at pleading (to bribing) my tour guide/driver to bring me across. Given his vehement refusal, I decided I was better-off without him, considering that he could have been a wanted man on the other side of the chain linked fence for civil offenses ranging from spousal abandonment to murder and anything in between. 

The short walk however, was far from short … as it was truly a lonely walk with almost no one in sight for kilometers stretch other than sleeping cargo truck drivers in their cabs. The occasional foreigner would be those heading for the bridge to take a leap of faith, high on adrenalin to even notice my existence or Zimbabwean and Zambian hastily walking under the scorching sun.
pHaque Zambia Border
 Digital photo by {p}.Haque – All Rights Reserved
clockwise top left: Zimbabwe immigration building, cargo sorting in the compounds of Zambia immigration post, encouraging signage of Zambia’s Victoria Falls sign a couple of hundred meters before the Zambian fenced border, meeting Chili along the “no man’s land” between Zimbabwe and Zambia – a small price to pay for my safety!   
Interestingly what got me going, despite the inner voice repeating “mom is so gonna kill you for this if you do emerge alive”, was frankly my eagerness to have Zambia’s stamp on my passport – another useless bragging rights! – rather than seeing Victoria Falls from Zambia’s side.

My only bragging right today is: I walked a total of 18 kilometers that very day in flip flops! 
I have never wore flip flops before then. 
I had brought a pair of flip flops after reading Lonely Planet’s warning about possible creepy crawlies in the toilets.

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useful TIPs
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ENTRANCE FEES
Entrance Fees – US$30 for International tourist/ visitors and US$20 for regional countries like South Africa. Zimbabweans pay US$7
This is a single entry ticket, and so yes,  if you exit the gate you will have to pay again.

POINT OF ENTRY
Victoria Falls is accessible by Air, Rail and Road. Victoria falls has its own airport – 22kms from the town centre with readily available transfers and taxis.

VISA REQUIREMENTS
If you are staying for less than six months, you can enter Zimbabwe with a minimum of formalities. Most passports holders are issued with a single or double entry visa at the port of entry. Some passports are exempt. Multiple entry visas must be applied for at the embassy prior to travel.

WHEN TO SEE THE FALLS?
Victoria Falls is hot most of the year round although in the winter months of June, July and August, the evening temperatures can drop to only few degrees Celsius.  Summer, which is September through to April can get exceedingly hot with temperatures reaching 40 degrees. The Falls are at their fullest flow rate around March, April, May and at their lowest in late October early November. At peak flow rate there is so much spray it is almost impossible to see the falls on feet, but you can certainly feel them! But the helicopter aerial view  (I can imagine) would be spectacular.

WHAT OTHER THAN THE FALLS?
Apart from viewing the magnificent Victoria Falls, there are countless of activities to engaged in;  white water rafting, bungee jumping, river boarding, kayaking and canoeing, gorge swing, zip wire, flying fox, sunset and dinner cruises on the Zambezi, game viewing activities (please do not expect the same outcome as Kruger NP or the Serengeti!), walking safaris, horseback safaris, fishing, golf, helicopter and micro light flights, elephant back safaris, walking with lions (to be avoided if you even have 5% PETA tendencies), cultural experiences (especially on the street trading trillion of Zimbabwe dollars for US$1) and lots of local crafts to haggle over in the market place.
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