This is the fourth 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, which covered my hotel in Victoria Falls, the Victoria Falls Safari Club, here.
Alright, so you heard about where I stayed in Victoria Falls, now onto what I did there. As I said in my last post, I don’t know if I’d go back, but it may have been a combination of the time of the year at the Falls, and some disappointing activities. In retrospect, a third day (a second full day) would probably have been ideal, as it would have allowed me to do some of the other activities that interested me, and also relax more. My schedule was totally jam-packed, and much of what I did was based on how I could squeeze everything in, as opposed to what I wanted to do most. I would have loved to do whitewater rafting or gone to Livingstone Island and/or Devil’s Pool, and if I had a second full day, I would have. And in retrospect, that may have been a better option for my afternoon then what I did do, but oh, well.
I arrived to town early in the afternoon on Day 1 and left in the morning on Day 3. To maximize what I could do, I looked for evening or late afternoon activities. The two that seemed best were a Zambezi River cruise on one evening, and an Evening Game Drive on the other. The latter was pretty expensive, $137 per person, as there is only one company offering it. But I was able to book a package through Pure Africa that combined those two activities, and included a guided tour of the Zim side of the Falls, which I had planned on doing on my own, for $189 total. With all that booked, I had a few hours mid-day on day 2 to play around with, after finishing up at the Falls and before pickup for the game drive. So, what did I do? I walked to Zambia. I’ll walk you through my two days.
Day 1: Zambezi “Sunset” River Cruise
There are a ton of different cruise options along the Zambezi River from Victoria Falls. They run at different times of day, some have dinner, some have different levels of luxury. I really couldn’t figure it out, given how many companies sell the same trips. I figured the one in my package would be fine as it would allow me a relaxing, pretty welcome to the Bottom line: mine was basically a party boat with free-flowing alcohol, meager food, very few animals, and no sunset. I lucked out and made friends, though…
Pickup for my trip on the Zambezi Explorer was scheduled for 4:05pm, and came around 4:20pm. On the bus already were two Argentine guys, and then there were six other people from the Safari Club (one British couple, two American couples). We then picked up a very boisterous international group at the Safari Lodge, who I later discovered all worked for an Israeli company in Namibia, and headed on our way.
There were three levels of the boat. Me and the two Argentines were on the middle level of the boat, whereas everyone else was on the upper level, which was the pricier level (mine was “Luxury” and there was no one on the main level). There was also a large group of Korean monks (not sure if actually monks, but men and women in religious garb accompanied by a tour guide). I joined the Argentines and got to talking with them, and eventually gathered they were a couple on a trip through Africa, which was fun.
The cruise itself would have been rather boring otherwise. There were very few animals we saw—some birds, hippos, and crocodiles. The Zambezi itself was pretty flat and boring. And there was no real sunset view. It managed to go from light to dark without any sunset.
There was a full bar, in addition to waiters coming around with refills of wine. I drank many glasses of a South African Sauvignon Blanc. I was shocked how much the monks drank. There were potato chips and nuts on the tables, and the waiters came around with trays of canapes like four times. The result being me, and basically everyone else on the boat, was completely drunk. I know at some point I was back at the hotel with the Argentines and the older British couple, then we tried to find a bar in town that was open, but all were closed by 9ish due to a government-imposed curfew, and at some point, we just took a $10 taxi back to the hotel and I went to bed.
Victoria Falls National Park (Zimbabwe side)
I hadn’t planned on doing a tour of the Falls themselves, and if it hadn’t come with my package, I wouldn’t have. And now having done a tour… I wouldn’t do a tour, at least on the Zimbabwe side.
My driver came and picked me up at my hotel right on time at 8:45am. He collected the $30 park fee, which wasn’t included in the booking, and we proceeded to the next and final pickup. The driver told me he thought it might be a couple who didn’t speak English, as one of his colleagues had taken them on a different tour the previous day. Sure enough, they spoke approximately three words in English, and although there are many tour companies offering Chinese-language tours, they chose an English one. The guide kept trying to talk to them and explain things to them, but no matter how slowly and loudly he spoke, they were not going to understand English. It was going to be a long morning.
We got to the park itself at 9am, where the guide gave us each a water bottle and a poncho. And then, we hit each of the clearly marked 16 vantage points. There was very little in the way of historical explanation (i.e., none), and I very easily could have walked down the clear, linear path myself. Indeed, it took super-long because at each stop we waited for the Chinese couple who took about 23525 pictures, and talked to the Chinese tour groups we ran into along the way. At one point, they had people they met from Singapore ask our guide where his assistant was from. The assistant being…me.
The Falls were pretty, though not as awe-inspiring as I’d imagined – definitely could tell it was low water season. You do get pretty wet from the spray! Lots of rainbows. I’ll let the photos and video speak for themselves. But you could easily do the circuit in an hour.
The last point is right next to the Victoria Falls bridge, and then you just turn around. And on the way back, a bee stung me in my face, so the most useful thing of having a guide was him pulling the stinger out. That was fun. I was done at 10:50am, and with my pick-up for my evening activity not scheduled until 4pm, I did the only normal thing one can do: walk to Zambia.
Walking to Zambia
With a Kaza Visa like I got, you can freely go back and forth from Zimbabwe and Zambia. That’s good because a lot of activities are only available on one side or the other. I really would have liked to do Livingstone Island on the Zambian side, and probably should have. And the view of the Falls is very different on the Zambian side. You can take a taxi across the Victoria Falls Bridge, but having seen the bridge when I was in the Zimbabwe Falls park, it seemed really short so I figured it would be an easy walk. Reader: I was wrong.
The bridge is indeed very short, but there’s actually an extensive no man’s land on each side of the bridge, and it is very, very hot. There’s a short walk from the entrance to the Falls to the border, where you go into an office, wait in line, hand in your passport, get a stamp, show it to guards as you leave, and then start walking. I was one of very few tourists. There are tons of large trucks on the road, and it’s a very strange experience. About 30 minutes later, you’ve crossed the bridge, and are approached by cab and pedicab drivers from Zambia, and then there’s a confusing situation since the buildings aren’t well-marked, but you go into an air-conditioned office this time, get a stamp, show it to guards, and, voila.
Since I had no internet I kind of just followed the road in front of me and assumed I’d get somewhere. There is no signage really, so I don’t necessarily recommend this walking to Zambia route unless you are intrepid/crazy. But shortly past the border, you do hit Mosi-Oa-Tunya, Zambia’s Victoria Falls National Park.
The Zambian Side of the Falls
Right when you get to the park entrance, there’s a booth where you can buy your ticket, which was 240 Zambian Kwacha, or about $20. (They take cards.) It’s actually then a fair bit of a walk until you get to the part of the park where you actually need the ticket though. There are a ton of random baboons, and signs telling you not to feed them.
Then, there is a shlocky tourist market, where you will get hassled by people trying to get you to stop and check out their wares. I was already starting to fade, having only been in Africa for a little over 24 hours at this point and very hot, so I did not stop and headed straight into the park.
Whereas there is no need for a guide on the Zimbabwe side of the Falls, a guide on the Zambian side might be helpful – or at least a map. There are several different trails, and it is not linear. It is also a lot more wooded and placid, and I felt like you actually get closer to the Falls. I would have spent a lot longer there than on the Zimbabwean side but I was very tired, and knew I had a 30-minute walk back to Zimbabwe ahead of me, so only spent about 30 minutes walking around.
There were a few little restaurants near the craft market, and I stopped to get something to eat. There was no menu at the place I went, and the woman said, “perhaps you’d like a cheeseburger?” “Sure.” “and French fries?” “Yes…… and water.” They were fine, and allowed me to count Zambia as a country I visited, given my “meal outside an airport” rule.
I turned around and walked back the same way I came, and got a taxi from the parking lot of the Zimbabwe park back to my hotel for what seemed like way too much money, $15. Oh well. It took ten minutes, and I proceeded to take a long bath before a nap.
Night Game Drive
My last activity in Victoria Falls was a “Night Game Drive.” Victoria Falls itself isn’t a great safari or animal-spotting destination, but I figured it would be good to do at least some animal watching in this part of the world. Chobe National Park in Botswana is not far, and worth a visit if you want a real safari in the area. But having done a three-day safari in Namibia in 2017, I didn’t have a strong desire to do something that long again; combined with my short stay, the opportunity to do an evening game drive seemed like a good one.
The Night Game Drive is run by the Stanley and Livingstone Hotel on their own private reserve. The hotel’s open safari vehicle came and picked me up about twenty minutes earlier than scheduled, so I wasn’t totally ready. There was a family of three from Greece already in the 10-passenger van, and we picked up two German couples in town, and then headed about 15 km outside of town to the reserve, arriving at around 4pm.
The drive was very different than in Etosha National Park in Namibia, as there were more trees and higher grasses, and the hillier terrain made it much harder to see far. It was quite hot even at 4pm, so I definitely understand why this is only a late afternoon/evening option. Honestly, there were not a lot of animals and it was a little disappointing. It was mostly giraffes, impalas, and kudus, plus one black rhino, some monkeys, and some warthogs.
Around 90 minutes into the trip, our driver/guide pulled over at a reservoir/dam for a break/stretch. He then starting set up a table and I was confused, but it ended up being a full bar, along with a variety of hot canapes. I could not think about drinking and then going back into that vehicle, particularly after the night before, so stuck with Coke Light and the snacks. But the others imbibed, and one of the German men would not shut up about all the animals he hunts and kills in Namibia every year. The guide did not seem interested, nor was I.
At around 7:20pm, we pulled up for our “Bush” dinner. I thought it would be some authentic African experience, but it was not. It was a very nice buffet in a mostly open-air setting. There was a full bar and a waiter. The first course was a really good butternut squash soup, and then the buffet had salads, rice, potatoes, pasta, and pap. There was a chef manning a barbecue which had chicken, beef, and sausage. For dessert, there was a pear tart. Definitely fancier than the food you’d expect on safari in the bush.
An hour later, we were back in the jeep for 30 minutes of driving where you couldn’t see anything, and then it was back to town, getting to my hotel around 9:30pm. It was quite a long day and I was pooped. The next morning, I was off to Cape Town.
I don’t think Victoria Falls is worth a separate trip to Africa, but I can see making it part of a longer trip. I probably would have enjoyed spending an extra two days in the Cape Town area, but oh well.