the victoria falls
The best of africa
Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a huge curtain of water measuring 1.7km wide, plunging off a plateau into a deep gorge below. The boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe lies midstream and the falls make a sensational addition to any holiday to those countries, or to nearby Botswana and Namibia, too. Read on to find out the best way to see Victoria Falls.
The Zambezi River, the longest east flowing river in Africa, encounters a dramatic impediment to its smooth course as it reaches the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia – a sheer drop which at its highest point is 108m, over which the river plunges, forming a vast curtain of water measuring 1.7km wide. When the Zambezi is in full flow, the spray formed can be seen 20km away. Interestingly, this spray isn’t formed by water hitting the rock at the base. In fact, the volume of water and the height of the falls is so great that before getting anywhere near the ground, the water is buffeted by the strong rising winds and turned into that famous mist.
Victoria Falls is not the highest waterfall in the world by a long way – the Angel Falls in Venezuela takes that prize – but when height, width and flow rate is taken into account, it is the largest. It’s undoubtedly one of Africa’s most iconic highlights, heard and felt before it’s even seen, the spray pulling the temperature down and filling the air with a roaring sound. Suddenly, the local name, Mosi oa Tunya, or ‘the smoke that thunders’ makes perfect sense.
Officially, Victoria Falls is made up of five different falls, four of which are in Zimbabwe and one in Zambia. The Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls (the highest point of the falls) and Horseshoe Falls are in Zimbabwe, while the Eastern Cataract lies in Zambia. The falls plunge off a basalt plateau and have been slicing through it slowly over the last two million years. Over this period, the river has slowly retreated and the remains of earlier, ancient falls can be seen in the gorges downstream from the current cataract.
“No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
Not that you really need to know any of these measurements or facts to admire the falls – although there are handy infographics at lookout points to put you in the picture – just seeing it, hearing it and feeling it is enough. You’ll find adjectives such as ‘awe-inspiring’ ‘mighty’ and just plain ‘wow’ popping into your mind as you take in its vastness and get drenched in its mist.
You won’t be alone in feeling moved by the falls, either. Scottish 19th century explorer Dr David Livingstone, who gave them the name Victoria Falls, was so captivated by the sight that he said “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” Scottish novelist Muriel Spark, meanwhile, was moved to leave her troubled marriage while gazing at the Victoria Falls, and wrote a beautiful poem about this natural wonder. She said: “the experience of the Victoria Falls gave me courage to endure the difficult years to come. The falls became to me a symbol of spiritual strength…”