Victoria Falls in Zambia
One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the major waterfall on the Zambezi River was named Victoria Falls by explorer David Livingstone in honour of Queen Victoria. In the local language, it is called “Mose-oa-Tunya” or the smoke that thunders”. The indigenous peoples got it right. Victoria Falls is a majestic sight.
Accessible from either Zambia or Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is a perfect addition to a safari anywhere in southern Africa. We arrived in Kasane, Botswana via a small bush flight at the end of our Okavango Delta safari experience (Learn more about this by reading our Botswana blog 1 and Botswana blog 2. From Kasane’s modern airport, we trucked to the Chobe river, where the borders of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia all meet in the middle of the river. The line up for trucks to cross the river via the only barge is many days long we’re told (deliveries are made in Africa time; our driver tells us). They’re building a bridge but it is not finished yet. We board a small speed boat in Botswana (although technically I think our luggage crossed briefly into Zimbabwe) before setting off on the short trip to the Zambia side of the river.
After clearing customs and getting a Zambian visa, we set off for our retreat for the next couple days. Royal Chundu is a Relais & Chateaux lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River, a couple of miles up stream from Victoria Falls. The road to Royal Chundu is bumpy and upon arrival we received a welcome neck massage and a fresh iced-tea. Every hotel I arrive at from now on, I want there to be a neck massage available, along with fresh iced-tea.
Royal Chundu itself is similar to a heavenly all-inclusive. There are tasting menus at dinner showcasing Zambian staples updated with some modern flare. The pool is warm and overlooks the Zambezi itself, and the terraces on your riverside cottage are secluded and provide excellent privacy from your neighbours. You’ll have no privacy from the crocodiles and other wildlife that calls the river home though, getting a safe, front row view of the passing world of this African river. Sunset river cruises end your day at the hotel, sipping gin and tonics as the sun falls below the mighty Zambezi.
We were here for Victoria Falls and we had organized a tour of the Falls along with a Livingstone Island experience. You’ll ask yourself if it is necessary to visit the island, nestled in the middle of the gorge, and swim in the Zambezi river at the top of a waterfall. The answer is a resounding yes.
After a walking tour of the paths on the edge of the gorge, we headed to the small boat which would ferry us and a couple other adventurous souls to Livingstone Island. Navigating what I’m sure is an ever-changing path through the shallows, we snake our way towards the island that splits the falls during rainy season and forms the outer barrier in dry season. We visited during the transition between wet and dry seasons. This is an ideal time to visit, as in rainy season when the Zambezi is fully flooded the mist and spray from the water curtain can completely obscure your view.
During full flood, it is not possible to swim in the river but now, our guide directs us to slide carefully into the water at the top of the waterfall. A naturally formed pool protects you from being swept over the edge and allows you to swim not two metres from the edge of a 100 metre drop into the gorge below. It is a thrilling experience and is not to be missed.
A helicopter tour is a must to see the power of the Falls in its entirety and there are a lot of day tours to choose from, but we had a better idea. On our final day, we opted to be transferred to the airport by helicopter, bypassing the bumpy road on the way in. It will only be marginally more expensive and all helicopter transfers from Royal Chundu come complete with the standard flyover of the Falls and a dip into the gorge as well. There is no better way to cap off a luxurious adventure than arriving by private helicopter to a public airport.
If you’ve come to Southern Africa for any reason, you’ve already come so far, do yourself an enormous favour and extend your trip just slightly. Spending a couple days in Zambia at Royal Chundu and Victoria Falls will leave you with countless small memories and almost certainly a heart pounding one of being perched on the edge of the thundering smoke.
March 7, 2018