SECOND IN A SERIES
Zimbabwe’s greatest natural attraction also happens to be arguably the world’s greatest waterfall.
When the Africa Travel Association convenes its annual congress this Friday in Zimbabwe, it will be located outside perhaps the greatest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls.
The venue was not a casual choice.
Victoria Falls is more than a mile wide. Combined with its height of more than 350 feet, it produces the largest single sheet of falling water anywhere on Earth.
The beauty doesn’t stop once the Zambezi pours over the edge. The water is merely descending into the first of five gorges. It also is the hub that connects a half-dozen of Zimbabwe’s 11 national parks.
Victoria Falls is so big, one country isn’t enough to hold it. Zimbabwe actually shares the falls with neighboring Zambia. It is the dominant feature along the great Zambezi River in southern Africa, a natural wonder in its own right.
Small wonder that this was the first-ever destination on CBS’ The Amazing Race.
The Scottish explorer David Livingstone “discovered” the falls as far as the Western world is concerned; he was the one who named it after Queen Victoria. However, archeologists have found artifacts showing that humans had been there since the Stone Age, and maybe earlier.
Those first local inhabitants had their own more descriptive — and for my money, more accurate — name for the falls:
The cloud that thunders.
Foreign and local tourists have been coming here since the early 1900s. Periodic episodes of political strife and civil war sometimes pushed down the numbers dramatically, but could never completely stop the flow of people.
Mother Nature at her most powerful always pulls a crowd.
Those people who prefer to do rather than just see have got lots of options — horseback riding, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, kayaking. I’m told you can also do some pretty serious sport fishing in the Zambezi.
If all you want is to soak in some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, you can cruise the river or take a scenic flight over the falls itself.
But maybe one of the best things you can do while at Victoria Falls is get a chance to meet and interact with the Zimbabwean people, who go to the falls as sightseers, just as you would. Indeed, more locals visit the falls than foreigners, something not typical of many of Africa’s attractions.
As far as accommodations go, Victoria Falls is one of the more highly developed tourist attractions in all of Africa, which can be both a blessing and a curse. At one point, the development was so out of hand that the United Nations was seriously considering revoking its status as a World Heritage Site.
Moreover, poachers, mostly driven by economic hardship, plague the surrounding national parks. The falls has its own anti-poaching patrol.
None of that, however, should stop you from traveling to see one of the most spectacular water shows in the world.
IF YOU GO
You’ve got multiple options for getting to Victoria Falls:
At this time, there are no direct flights from the United States to any point in Zimbabwe. Once in the country, you can fly to Victoria Falls via the national airline, Air Zimbabwe, as well as British Airways and South African Airways. However, the flights can be hideously expensive.
You might be better off financially seeking a package tour to the falls out of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana or Zambia.
For railfans, South Africa has two luxury trains that include stops at the falls, Rovos Rail and the Shongololo Express. There’s also a 1920s steam train that makes the run to Victoria Falls from the city of Bulawayo.
Bus transportation also is available from Harare and Bulawayo.
The falls also is home to the century-old and world-class Victoria Falls Hotel, a colonial-era showpiece, with prices to match. Many more economical tour packages, including stays at lodges near or overlooking the falls, are available.
Timing your visit may be the tricky bit.
Between January and April, the water volume going over the falls is at its height, but that thundering cloud of which the native peoples first spoke may be so thick that you can’t see much. Come September and October, you can see everything clearly, but the water flow is down to a comparative trickle, especially on the Zambian side of the falls.
Around October and November, Zimbabwe gets the lion’s share of the Zambezi waters, so if you’ve come for the spectacular, you’re better off then.
NEXT: A steady stream of wonders
Edited by P.A.Rice
Powered by Facebook Comments