Our journey took us from the magical place that is Chobe National Park, across the Chobe River and into Zambia. This journey required a boat ride, a rather lengthy wait (and a sizable visa fee) at Zambian immigration, and a bus ride to our next destination, The Royal Livingstone Hotel at Victoria Falls.
Victoria Falls is included in most trip itineraries to the region and with good reason. The Seventh Natural Wonder of the World and a World Heritage Site, Victoria Falls represents a 100 meter drop of the Zambezi River — that drop stretching over a kilometer in width. And the drop is into a very narrow and deep chasm which only adds to the drama of the scene. There is always a plume of mist above the waterfall called Mosi-oa-Tunya’ – ‘the Smoke that Thunders’. It’s a spectacular sight, even at low water level as it was when we were there.
I’ll never forget our first view of and visit to the falls. We’d arrived at our hotel in the stifling heat of afternoon and settled into our room, unpacking and organizing our gear. It was approaching dusk and there finally was a little cooling of the oven-hot day. With friends Greg and Oscar, we headed towards the entrance of the Eastern Cascade. And finally there it was — this massively deep and narrow chasm. As it was the dry season, there was only a little water falling over on the Zambian side (most of the water flow was going over the Zimbabwe side), but this did not distract from the beauty of the setting. The chasm — a canyon really — is lined by sheer walls of basalt and the close proximity of the two sides makes for great viewing of the falls (though also soaking you as there is always mist, in the wet season requiring heavy rain coats and making photography impossible). One could see the attraction the place had for David Livingstone when he first set his eyes on it, an appeal it has had for millions of other eyes during the past hundred & fifty years.
Victoria Falls crosses the boundary of two countries — Zambia and Zimbabwe. Historically Zimbabwe was the main tourist destination, but the unrest under Robert Mugabe’s regime has scared tourists away from Zimbabwe (which I’ll discuss in my next post). Commensurate with this was the growth and development of the Zambian side as a tourist destination, including growth of the town of Livingstone and the development of several first class resorts along the shores of the Zambezi river near the Falls.
There is an extensive craft market near the Falls on the Zambian side, with very aggressive vendors. You’re far better off purchasing your crafts in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, where the market is more extensive, the crafts of better quality and the prices much more reasonable as well.
During our visit we stayed at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, a lovely resort about a kilometer from the falls. The hotel is modern and overall very nice. The grounds are massive and a number of animals, like giraffe, zebra, impala and monkeys wander the grounds (though fortunately no predators do!) Food at the restaurant is quite varied and overall very good, including some wildlife (eg. kudu). Rooms are large and well-appointed. You will have a personal valet to look after your needs. My main complaint was the activities desk. The desk features a large binder with many exciting adventure options that you can participate in, such as helicopter rides over the falls, bungee jumping, jet-boat rides, etc. etc. Be forewarned, however, that there are no prices laid out with this literature and the price you pay is highly variable. It will depend on where you’re from. For example, if you are from Germany or the United States, you will be charged much more than if you’re visiting from Australia or Austria (because these are “less well-off countries). I abhor this kind of behavior and we only found out about it in talking to other tourists (hotel staff neither confirmed nor denied….). I believe a service should have a set price and that price should be posted so that consumers can make an informed choice. Next time we’ll stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe (to be discussed in the next post).
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