Victoria Falls; a wonder to behold

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Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls is a waterfall situated at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa on the Zambezi River.

Origin of Victoria Falls

A Scottish missionary and explorer, David Livingstone is believed to have been the first European to view the Victoria Falls. He is believed to have accomplished this on the 16th of November 1855.

Victoria Falls

Livingstone named his discovery in honor of Queen Victoria of Britain. But the indigenous language name is “Mosi-oa-Tunya” which means “The Smoke That Thunders”.

However, the World Heritage List officially recognizes both names. The European also cites an older name, Seongo or Chongwe, which means “The Place of the Rainbow”. This name is as a result of the constant spray that is exhibited by Victoria Falls.

The close national park in Zambia is named Mosi-oa-Tunya. However, the national park and town on the Zimbabwean shore are both named Victoria Falls.

Size of Victoria Falls

It is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world. However, Victoria Falls is classified as the largest, based on its combined width of 1,708 meters and height of 108 meters. This makes it among the world’s largest sheet of falling water. The only rival the Victoria Falls has is Argentina and Brazil’s Iguazu Falls.

There are two islands on the crest of the falls that divide the water even at full flood. These are: Boaruka Island near the western bank, and Livingstone Island. This Livingstone Island is near the middle point from which the European first viewed the falls.

The Zambezi River experiences a rainy season from late November to early April. Then there is a dry season for the rest of the year. The river’s annual flood season is from February to May with a peak in April. The spray from the falls naturally rises to a height of over four hundred meters. Sometimes, it rises twice as high and is visible from up to forty-eight km away.

However, it is impossible to see the foot of the falls and most of its face during the flood season. Also, the walks along the cliff opposite it are in a constant shower and shrouded in mist.

History of Victoria Falls

In 1715, a map drawn by Nicolas de Fer shows the fall clearly marked in the correct position. It also displays dotted lines indicating trade routes that David Livingstone followed 140 years later.

Livingstone returned to the area in 1860 and made a detailed study of the falls with John Kirk.

The falls were often visited by other Europeans until the area was opened up by the building of the railway in 1905.

Victoria Falls Bridge initiates tourism

Around 1900, Europeans started to settle at Victoria Falls. This was in reaction to the aspiration of Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company for mineral rights. Also for the exploitation of natural resources like timber (which are north-east of the falls), animal skins, and ivory.

Since the introduction of the railway in 1905, there has been accessible travel from afar. The railway has allowed for travel from as far as the Cape in the south. It has also allowed ease of journey from places like the Belgian Congo in the north.

The Victoria Falls Hotel was opened in 1904 to accommodate visitors arriving on the new railway. The falls, however, became a more popular attraction during the British colonial rule of the two countries. During this period, the town of Victoria Falls became the main tourist center.

Activities that are popular in the area include game fishing, horse riding, kayaking and whitewater rafting in the gorges. Other exciting experiences include bungee jumping from the bridge, and flights over the falls.


Nearly four hundred thousand people visited the falls annually by the end of the 1990s. The attraction is accessible by bus and train, and is not very expensive to reach. At Victoria Falls, there are more Zimbabwean and Zambian visitors than tourists from other parts of the world.

Both countries allow tourists to make day trips across the border to view the falls from both viewpoints. Each time visitors cross the border, it is mandatory for them to purchase a visa. Visas can be gotten at both border posts.  However, visa regulations change frequently. Therefore, visitors are advised to check the rules currently in effect in both countries before crossing the border in either direction.

A famous part of the attraction is the naturally formed “Armchair” which is also called “Devil’s Pool”. It is located near the edge of the falls on Livingstone Island on the Zambian side.

When the water flow reaches a certain level, a rock barrier forms a whirlpool with a slight current. This usually occurs between September and December. It allows adventurous swimmers to splash around in relative safety a few feet from the point where the water flows over the falls.


The national parks contain abundant wildlife. These include large populations of elephant, Cape buffalo, giraffe, Grant’s zebra, and a variety of antelope. Lions, African leopards, and South African cheetahs are seen occasionally. Vervet monkeys and baboons are also common. The river above the falls contains large populations of hippopotamus and crocodile. In the dry season, African bush elephants cross the river.

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