Victoria Falls, popularly known as Vic Falls, is a small resort city in Zimbabwe. It lies on the southern bank of the mighty Zambezi River. The river flows along the boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe, under the railway bridge that connects the two countries, thundering over the Victoria Falls and through the dramatic Batoka Gorge. The river, falls and bridge provide opportunities for cruising, canoeing, rafting, and adrenaline activities.
The quaint riverside ‘city’ of Victoria Falls provides entertainment, lodging and a home for its 35,000 residents. We pride ourselves on sharing the space with local wildlife. There are dedicated wildlife corridors through the city, and it is common to see an elephant crossing the road, or pavements filled with baboons.
The area is also home to many local communities in and around the city. These villages, often known as ‘townships’ are home to many of the city’s tourism workers, as well as artists, crafters and entrepreneurs. In Chinotimba Township, for example, you will find Dusty Road, a vibrant cafe serving tasty local dishes.
The nearby Zambezi National Park and Victoria Falls National Park are home to a magnificent range of birds and wildlife, from buffalo to crocodile, lion and wild dog. These parks border the city and are easily accessible. Hwange National Park, a few hours drive from Victoria Falls offers deeper wilderness experiences for a longer stay.
The local Makololo name for this extraordinary and sacred place is “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – The Smoke that Thunders. At the height of the river flow in May, the spray that rises up from the falls looks like smoke. It can reach 400 metres high and is visible from 50 kilometres away.
The falls are 1,708 metres wide and range between 61 and 98 metres high. As with any semi-tropical river, the flow level fluctuates throughout the year based on seasonal rainfall. It peaks in April and reaches its lowest levels in November. Due to the geology of the waterfall the Eastern (Zambian) side of the Victoria Falls can dry up completely in the low water season. However with the minimum recorded water flows of 390 cubic metres (390,000 litres) per second there is still an incredible amount of water flowing over the falls.
Victoria Falls was awarded city status in 2020, but retains its warm, laid-back personality. This is a place that has been marked by history, withstood many challenges, and is immersed within nature, living alongside wildlife every day. The city has long been known as the ‘heart of adventure’ in Southern Africa, but few people know about its world class spas, cocktail bars, distilleries, yoga retreats and art galleries. This is a vibrant town with a soul that will surprise you.
Named after the famous Victorian missionary explorer, Dr David Livingstone, who explored this area extensively, Livingstone Town was established in 1905. From Livingstone you can see a different perspective of the falls and access the ‘Devil’s Pool’ – a natural bathing pool right on the edge of the falls. A day trip to Livingstone is easy to do, crossing the railway bridge, and a KAZA uni-visa allows for multiple entries for up to 30 days.
The Zambezi National Park is located upstream from Victoria Falls stretching for 50 kilometres along the riverfront. This beautiful gem of a National Park is still fairly unknown despite its proximity to the world famous Victoria Falls. The Park is bisected by a road which runs between Victoria Falls and the Kazangula border post, dividing it into two sections - the Zambezi River Game Drive, and the Chamabondo Game Drive.
The park is home to mammals such as lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and several antelope species including Zimbabwe’s national animal, the majestic sable. Along the river, pods of hippo wallow during the day, emerging from their watery retreats at night to graze along the riverbanks. Crocodiles are regularly seen lurking along the rivers edge, waiting for antelope to come down to the banks to drink. An estimated 400 species of birds have been recorded within the Zambezi National Park making this a bird lovers' paradise, with specialities which include the Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Skimmer, Collared Palm Thrush, Lanner Falcon, Goliath Heron, Kori Bustard, African Fin foot, Rock Pratincole and Long-toed Lapwing.
The arresting Batoka Gorge zigzags downstream from the falls, a geomorphological monument carved by the might of the Zambezi River. The gorge offers adventurous hikes, rafting on rapids up to Class V, the fabled gorge swing, canopy walkway, and extraordinary views for those with more relaxation in mind. The LookOut café provides an excellent viewpoint of the dramatic scenery and landscape as well as the activities taking place along and within the Gorge.
The largest park in Zimbabwe covers an immense 14,650 sq km, with the main entrance located a two-hour drive or 30-minute flight south of Victoria Falls. The park is named after a local Nhanzwa chief and was once the royal hunting ground for the Ndebele warrior-king Mzilikazi, before being classified as a protected National Park in 1929. There are two distinct landscapes in the park, each with abundant different species, and providing a different experience. The park is one of the world’s last great elephant sanctuaries, with around 100 other mammals and 400 bird species.
Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area
The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) is one of the largest transfrontier conservation area on earth. It is a system of connected protected areas in the Kavango and Zambezi River basins where Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe converge. It is enormous, larger than Germany and Austria combined and nearly twice as large as the United Kingdom.
This huge area, much of which is a vast and beautiful wilderness of deserts, savannas, marshes and rivers boasts the world’s largest inland delta, the Okavango, and the awe inspiring tumbling cataracts of the Victoria Falls. KAZA is a safari connoisseur’s dream destination with some of Africa’s best wildlife and adventure experiences.
Local communities participate in management of the TFCA through the Transboundary Natural Resources Management Forum. The aim of this forum is to maximize skills and resources to promote sustainable land use, conservation of wildlife and landscapes, and rural development.
Our History and People
The first archaeological signs of human activity in Victoria Falls date back three million years. Stone artefacts from the Early, Mid and Late Stone Age have been found in the area. The Stone Age inhabitants were subsequently displaced by Batoka, Matabele and Makolo tribes who, over time, dominated the area.
The first European to see Victoria Falls was Dr David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer who wanted to find a way to the east coast of Africa.
It was the Makolo tribe, whose descendants still live in the area today, that escorted Dr Livingstone in dug-out canoes to see the falls in 1855. Livingstone named the falls after the reigning British monarch of the time, Queen Victoria.
But European settlement at the falls didn’t start developing until 1900, when imperialist Cecil Rhodes, with ambitions to build a railway from the Cape to Cairo, commissioned a bridge to be built across the mighty Zambezi River. Rhodes died before the Victoria Falls Bridge was completed in 1905.
The Victoria Falls area is rich in stone age artifacts; weapons, ornaments and other tools from the era suggesting that there were healthy populations of the Homo habilis in the area dating as far back as three million years although the majority of the artifacts are from approximately 50,000 years ago.
Arab slave traders who operated throughout the interior of Southern Africa from the 1200s referred to the waterfall as “the end of the world”. Centuries later in 1715 a map produced by French cartographer Nicholas de Fer, indicated the presence of cataracts at the point where Victoria Falls is located, although they only rose to fame once David Livingstone ‘discovered’ them a century later.
The first Bantu inhabitants of the region were the ancestors of the Tonga people, believed to have migrated from the equatorial forests of the Congo Basin, reaching the Zambezi Valley via Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa, sometime around the fifteenth or sicteenth century. Despite their decentralised and less warlike society, making them easy targets for more aggressive tribes, their descendants still live along the banks of the Zambezi above and below the Victoria Falls.
Towards the end of the seventeenth and beginning of eighteenth centuries, other Bantu peoples migrated south from their original homelands in the Southern Congo basin. The earliest of these tribes to arrive, following the Batonga, was the Toka-Leya, under Chief Mukuni. The word ‘Leya” means ‘to keep out of trouble’ and the explanation given that Mukuni led off a number of his followers and settled in the country on both banks of the river above and below the Victoria Falls.
The political organisation of the Lozi Tribe has long centred on a monarchy whose reigning head, the Paramount King, is known as ‘Litunga’ which means ‘keeper of the earth’. Early Lozi oral tradition states that they have always inhabited the area along the Zambezi River from the Victoria Falls upstream, eastwards up the Chobe river floodplain in Botswana, to the Barotse Floodplain in North-western Zambia.
After the fall of the Great Zimbabwe Empire in the 15th century, a sub-chief by the name Sahwanga left for present day Hwange National Park with a small group of followers, where they established their new home made of stone structures, similar to those found at Great Zimbabwe. By the 1800s their numbers had grown and they occupied land along all the major rivers in the arid area between Hwange and Victoria Falls.
In the 1830s an army that originated in the Tswana-speaking Bafokeng region of South Africa, known as the Makololo, led by a warrior called Sebetwane, invaded Barotseland and conquered the Lozi. Sebetwane and David Livingstone forged a strong friendship and it was the Makololo people that led Livingstone to the Victoria Falls in 1855. In 1864 a Lozi revolt resulted in the Makololo being overthrown and scattering.
The Ndebele, a branch of the Zulu who rebelled against King Shaka in the early 1820s and moved North through present day Botswana and into Zimbabwe. Led by Mzilikazi, the Ndebele swiftly overpowered the Nambya tribe and while exploring their new domain, which included the lands dropping down from the northern edge of the present-day Hwange National Park, down into the Zambezi Valley, had their first sight of the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls which they named ‘AManza Thunqayo’ – ‘the water which rises like smoke’.
Although David Livingstone was the first white man to see Victoria Falls on the 17th November 1855. Various local tribes had been living here for years. The town of Victoria Falls originally became established as a trading post called Old Drift on the Zambian side of the river where they used to cross the Zambezi it was moved to the current day location of Livingstone in around 1900
By 1903 the famed Cape to Cairo Railway was nearing Victoria Falls as part of the extension into central Africa but crossing the Zambezi River posed a major stumbling block. Two crossing points were identified, one up-river near the Old Drift settlement and one over the Batoka Gorge. The latter option was selected by Cecil John Rhodes by famously saying “Build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls.”
The Victoria Falls Bridge
The entire 198m long bridge was prefabricated in England by the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company, before being shipped to the Mozambique port of Beira and then transported on the newly constructed railway to the Victoria Falls. It took just 14 months to construct and was completed in 1905. e Zambezi it was moved to the current day location of Livingstone in around 1900
Victoria Falls Hotel
Once the first steam train arrived in Victoria Falls, plans for the construction of the bridge turned into reality, all of which meant accommodation was needed. The hotel first opened its doors in June 1904 as a simple building of wood with a corrugated iron roof, well raised from the ground to afford ventilation and freedom from damp and pests. It consisted of 12 single rooms and four doubles, a dining room, a bar and offices.
While the rest of the world reeled from the post-war Great Depression, domestic and regional travel to the Falls was encouraged by the Railway Company with the offer of inclusive travel and accommodation fares, with passengers staying at the Hotel. The special offer was so successful that the company often had a long waiting list.
First Scenic Flights
Towards the end of the 1940’s Spencer’s Airways, using a fleet of one Avro Anson, one de Havilland Fox Moth, a Tiger Moth and one Fairchild UC.61A began offering short pleasure trips over the Falls and safari flights along the Zambezi River.
1980’s Tourism Boom
The birth of the adventure sport industry in the early ’80s sent the tourist industry into orbit. By the 1990s Victoria Falls was a boom town, fizzing with new hotels and tour companies. White-water rafting was raging, punters queued up for what was then the world’s highest bungee jump and new ideas for action-packed activities bounced from the drawing board into reality.
Our people and communities live in the heart of the largest conservation area on earth. To live side by side with nature means that we need to conserve and protect it, as well as responsibly manage our growth and development.
The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, The Forestry Commission and several private organisations work collaboratively on measures designed to eradicate poaching and the illegal harvesting of natural resources, ensure effective legal frameworks and deterrents against wildlife crime, strengthen law enforcement, and support sustainable livelihoods.
Human Wildlife Conflict Management
With the current human population growth rate, the increasing demand for natural resources and growing pressure for access to land, conflicts over human–wildlife interactions are present. There are however ongoing efforts by different partners to reduce conflict and increase public support for professional management. Community guardians, mobile bomas, chilli gun deployments, research, monitoring and education are just some of the initiatives underway in collaboration with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to address human-wildlife conflict.
Research and Biological Monitoring
Long-term biological monitoring is key to effective, evidence-based conservation management. In and around Victoria Falls there is ongoing research, disease testing, wildlife and biological monitoring with a strong focus on fostering community-based conservation methods. For example, the Community Guardian program was established in 2016 by Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust. Local community members were employed and trained to protect community livestock and villages from wildlife, and to work to mitigate wildlife coming into the communities. The guardians track any collared animals and are able to pre-warn community members in advance of possible conflict.
As the mandated authority, Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority play a vital role in maintaining the pristine ecology and wildlife within the Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks.
With so much of the naturally forested areas surrounding Victoria Falls falling under the mandate of the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, they play an integral role in preserving the buffer zones and natural wildlife corridors around and between the National Parks.
Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust
The Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust is a non-profit organization setup in 2008, whose mission is to advance and promote environmental conservation in Southern Africa through hands-on wildlife research; management of a wildlife veterinary diagnostic laboratory and rehabilitation facility; the education and empowerment of local peoples in the sustainable utilization of indigenous resources through active involvement in conservation training and community outreach programs. Based within Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, the Trust is dedicated to protecting the area’s unique indigenous fauna and flora, in collaboration with appropriate Authorities, local communities and other stakeholders. Projects include rehabilitation of injured or orphaned wildlife, anti poaching and wildlife veterinary assistance, research and monitoring, community outreach based projects, and a children's conservation education program.
The Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit
The Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of local wildlife and natural resources in and around Victoria Falls. With a City located in one of the most beautiful environments on earth, with unspoiled expanses of wilderness, abundance of wildlife and spectacular settings, it is vitally imperative that support is provided to ensure the protection of the biodiversity which makes this destination so special. Set-up in 1999, VFAPU has worked in close collaboration with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Zimbabwe Republic Police to achieve numerous successes. Efforts are not limited to anti-poaching and include support in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.
Established in 2010, The Bhejane Trust is dedicated to assisting Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in aspects of the management and operations of the Parks estate in north western Matabeleland. This includes facilitating anti-poaching and deployments, research work, staff welfare, and a host of other missions, as well as its original Rhino monitoring program. Bhejane Trust has been active in the Chamabonda Vlei in Zambezi National Park for over ten years, reviving and implementing key water points for wildlife to supplement their water supply during the dryer months, and to assist with infrastructure development of viewing platforms and hides within the Park.
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