This is the third in a series of posts documenting my January 2019 trip around the world, which took me to Victoria Falls, Cape Town, Chiang Mai, and Hong Kong. You can read my last post, covering my trip from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls here.
I’ll be honest…. I’m not sure if Victoria Falls is worth the schlep. While the Falls are pretty cool, they paled in comparison to Iguazu Falls, which I’ve had the chance to visit, and I don’t think they were that much more stunning than ones I’ve seen in Norway or Iceland and are more accessible. Maybe it was because I was there at the end of low flow season, or maybe it’s just not a good solo travel destination. Two days was probably enough time, but a third day would have allowed me to do rafting or something and relax on the property. Anyway, my hotel, the Victoria Falls Safari Club, was lovely, and it ended up being a nice decompressing few days—especially since on my first day, all social media was blocked, and on days 2 and 3 all internet in the entire country was shut off, both due to protests in Harare. In this post, I’ll cover the hotel, and in my next I’ll cover the rest.
Victoria Falls Safari Club
The Victoria Falls Safari Club is one of four different affiliated hotels on a single compound: the Safari Club, the Safari Lodge, and the Safari Suites, and the Loku Lokuthula Lodge, which is the cheapest and is affiliated with some timeshares. The Safari Lodge is the classic hotel, with 70 rooms. The Suites are basically villas, each with 2 or 3 bedrooms – and all of the services are at the Lodge. The Club is the more boutique property, with only 20 rooms, and its own “lounge” – which has a bar, restaurant, and private “butler” staff (with access to the stuff at the main Lodge too). It also has its own pool, which I didn’t get to.
For some reason, on the dates I was looking, the Club had cheaper rates than the Safari Lodge (just on Orbitz). I was originally torn about staying there, because it is a bit out of town, and there were some hotels that seemed *fine* but were in walking distance of town. The reviews were really good, and it seemed very luxurious and a great deal for such a fancy property. The rate was $199.50 a night, and then I was able to use a 15% off coupon. (One thing to note, the hotel appears to charge twice as much for double occupancy of the same room, which is unusual for a non-all-inclusive property.)
I had prearranged for a car to transport me to and from the Victoria Falls Airport for $34, and a young woman was waiting with a sign with my name on it. She escorted me to a Toyota minivan that I’d say was about 15 years old, and we were on our way for the 20 km drive into town. The town of Victoria Falls itself was pretty much nothing. It turned out to be even duller because all the bars and restaurants closed at 9pm due to protests going on in the capital. Livingstone, the city on the Zambian side of the Falls, is supposedly more of an actual city, but it is farther from the Falls. Probably still a doable thing, and you can fly into Livingstone itself if you go that route. To get to the Victoria Falls Safari complex you basically go into town from the south, and then back out about 5-10 minutes northwest. I got to the hotel at 1:15pm, about 45 minutes after I landed, so not bad at all.
The center of the Victoria Falls Safari Club is the “lounge”, which is a thatched-roof structure open on three sides, more or less, that serves as a lobby, bar, restaurant, and concierge/registration area. Upon arrival, Hugh, the outstanding “butler,” directed me to the main open seating area, where I had great views of the landscape before me. There was a folio ready for me to fill out, and Hugh brought a welcome juice and a cold towel.
Hugh explained the hotel benefits to me, which included breakfast, afternoon tea service, and a sundowner happy hour. (I never made the latter.) The restaurant in the lounge was fully booked that evening, which I later discovered was for a conference group. My room wasn’t ready yet, but I was told it would be in 15 minutes. It was longer, but I didn’t mind, as the lounge was very peaceful and relaxing. While there Hugh volunteered to confirm all of my excursions for the trip, and was exceedingly kind and helpful.
Eventually I made it to my room, which was quite lovely. It was one big open space, with the half closer to the door dedicated to bath and the front half more the bed, if that makes sense. Rather than a separate door to the bathroom, there was a half wall separating the area, though the toilet was fully enclosed. There was a free-standing tub in addition to a stall shower. Next to the sink, there was a range of complimentary toiletries, including sunblock, insect repellent, and aloe.
In the “back” half of the room, there was a king-size canopy bed in the center, with mosquito netting that came down for the evening. There was an armchair and ottoman in one corner, and a desk and chair on the other side. On the desk was a welcome platter with snacks – jerky, nuts, dried fruit. There was also a minifridge with free sodas, beer, wine, and water. There was both a Nespresso machine and a French Press with ground coffee.
Then the real stunning part of the room was the balcony, which stretched the length of the room, and had a view of Zambezi National Park. I was a little disappointed because the materials said every room had a view of the watering hole, but it was far in the distance off to an angle, so I never saw any animals. But it was still pretty.
Even without internet, I didn’t realize there was no television in the room. A large part of that was just how little time I spent in the room. If I had a third night in Victoria Falls it probably would have been enjoyable – and I probably would have had time for the pool. But on the afternoon of my arrival, I basically just napped, since I had a 4:05pm for my Zambezi “Sunset” River Cruise (spoiler alert: disappointing booze cruise).
One thing that was a nice feature of the hotel was its free same-day laundry service. I didn’t have a lot, since it was the beginning of my trip, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to launder what was already three days of clothes since I’d left my house in Washington. I just left my clothes in the provided bag on my bed in the morning, ticking off the contents on a form, and they were returned folded and clean later that evening.
On my first morning, I got to breakfast right at 7am, when it purportedly started, and the building wasn’t open yet. A manager let me in and they weren’t quite ready yet. When I was seated, it felt a little odd as I was the only one and there were six or seven people working and cleaning.
There was a small buffet, with pastries, cheese, juice, and fruits, and an omelet and waffle station. There was self-serve water, champagne, and wine, as well, and I was brought a French press coffee. At 7:20, the station still wasn’t going, so I just ordered off the a la carte menu, the full English breakfast, which was okay but I didn’t love all the accoutrements. On day 2, I realized people were doing custom orders, so I just ordered scrambled eggs.
The best part of breakfast is the view, and I actually saw some animals my first morning while I ate.
I hadn’t gotten any information about when my transfer would be coming to pick me up. Unfortunately, since the internet was off for the country, I couldn’t find it out. Hugh was committed to trying, though. The number on my printed voucher didn’t work, but Hugh tried all sorts of numbers and finally got through to them the morning of the departure to confirm my pickup, and then to let them know about a flight schedule change, which was its own debacle I’ll cover later.
I’d also note that the hotel has a shuttle into town and to the Falls, that I should have taken advantage of, but didn’t, as I only needed shuttles *back* from town and couldn’t figure out the schedule or pickups. Prices for taxis were higher than I’d anticipated, and perhaps I was taken advantage of, but I paid $10 once and $15 the other time (U.S. Dollars are the currency.)
Anyway, I don’t see myself going back to Victoria Falls, but I have absolutely no regrets about staying at the Victoria Falls Safari Club. The Club really has super attentive service, and I felt like I was staying at a fine luxury property for under $200 a night.
Next up: how I spent my approximately 48 hours in Zimbabwe and Zambia