The Great Victoria Falls Debate: Zambia vs Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of falling water in the world! That alone makes the falls worth visiting, but seeing this thundering waterfall is just one of the many highlights of a Victoria Falls holiday. Get so close to the falls that you’re soaked by its spray, then take your pick from all the activities on offer: scenic flights, horse-back safaris, peaceful river cruises on the upper Zambezi or thrilling white-water rafting running the rapids below the falls.

With so much to see and do you simply can’t skip the falls, and the biggest decision you’re left with is which side of the Zambezi River to stay on. Victoria Falls is shared by two countries: Zambia (to the north) and Zimbabwe (to the south). Which is the right side for you? Here’s everything you need to know to make that decision.

NinaraThe Zimbabwe side of the falls - Ninara

Seeing Both Sides

Whether you stay in Zambia or Zimbabwe, I’d recommend seeing both sides of the falls. This is now even easier thanks to the introduction of the KAZA Univisa; a single visa that covers Zambia, Zimbabwe and daytrips into Chobe National Park (in Botswana). The Univisa costs US$ 50 and is available to some 40 nationalities including Brits, Americans and Australians.

Crossing between countries takes you over the Victoria Falls Bridge. Make this part of the adventure by walking (you can always catch a taxi back). The walk takes around 20 minutes, but give yourself enough time to take in those waterfall views or watch the excited huddle of bungee jumpers waiting to earn instant bragging rights by throwing themselves 111 metres towards the river below.

In short:

  • Opt for a Univisa and see both sides of the falls

NinaraVic Falls Eastern Cataract (Zimbabwe) - Ninara

Best View of the Falls

While first prize is viewing both sides of the falls, what if you’re short on time? For that classic view of the Main Falls, visit Zimbabwe. Around two thirds of the falls lie in Zim. Here the Victoria Falls National Park (entrance fee US$ 30 per person) has neatly laid out paths opening onto viewpoints of the Devil's Cataract, Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls and well-named Rainbow Falls.

But while Zimbabwe certainly has more viewpoints, I really enjoy the wilder feel of the Zambian side. Here the slightly cheaper Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (US$20 per person) gets you right up close to rushing water: find a quiet spot above the falls to sit for a while and walk across the Knife-Edge Bridge. If the Zambezi is in full flood prepare to get thoroughly soaked as the spray seems to come at you from all directions.

In short:

  • Zimbabwe has more viewpoints, including the Main Falls
  • A highlight of the Zambian side is the Knife-Edge Bridge

Global Water ForumZambian side of the falls in dry season - Global Water Forum

Time of Year

As I mentioned above, I love the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls but I’ve always travelled when water levels are high (February to June). At this time of year vendors sell much-needed plastic ponchos, and your greatest challenge is capturing clear photos of the falls amongst all the mist and spray.

In the driest months (October and November) the falls on the Zambian side dry up completely, and you could find yourself staring at a rocky wall. This doesn’t happen on the Zimbabwe side, where the Main Falls flow all year round. Still, don’t discount Zambia completely in the dry season as low water levels allow for a dip in the Devil’s Pool - more about that in the next section.

In short:

  • On the Zimbabwe side the falls flow all year round
  • Zambia’s falls dry up around October / November

SarahDepperSwimming in the Devil's Pool (Zambia) - SarahDepper

Choice of Activities

Victoria Falls is a destination that shouldn’t be rushed; give yourself a good three days to try some of the many things to do. You’ll find that most of these activities – sunset river cruises, bungee jumping, helicopter flips, white-water rafting and zip lining – are available in both Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The big exception is the Devil’s Pool, which you can only get to from the Zambian side of the falls. This activity starts gently enough with a boat trip out to Livingstone Island, famous as the spot where David Livingstone first saw the falls. Then it’s time to test your nerves as you’re guided through the running river to a rock pool right on the very lip of one of the tallest waterfalls in the world!

In short:

  • The Devil’s Pool is only accessible from Zambia
  • Elephant Hills Hotel in Zimbabwe has an 18-hole golf course

The Boma Restaurant (Zimbabwe) -

Markets, Shops & Eating Out

Victoria Falls town is an easily walkable 2km from Zimbabwe side of the falls. This is a definite tourist town with cafes and bars, a large outdoor market filled with soapstone sculptures and wooden carvings, and the popular Elephant’s Walk Shopping and Artist’s Village which sells higher-end carvings, silver jewellery and hand-painted fabric.

On the Zambian side, the town of Livingstone lies around 10km from the falls. Livingstone is a larger town where you can get a better feel for local life. There’s decent infrastructure, a museum, and a handful of casual restaurants - although for eating out you’ll find more options across the river in Victoria Falls town.

In short:

  • Livingstone is a larger town and lies further from the falls
  • Victoria Falls is a tourist town a short walk from the falls
  • The Zimbabwe side is a better option for shopping and eating out

TongabeziTongabezi Tree House (Zambia) - Tongabezi

Accommodation in Victoria Falls vs Livingstone

Zimbabwe has a larger range of accommodation within walking distance of the falls, since most of the lodges and hotels lie in or around Victoria Falls town.

There are two options a short walk from the Zambian side of the falls: a family-friendly resort and a luxury 5-star hotel. For more budget-friendly options, Livingstone has a choice of great backpackers and there’s also camping and chalets along the river. And if you want to splash out, Zambia is best known for its romantic riverside retreats upstream of the falls.

In short:

  • Zimbabwe has a great choice of accommodation close to the falls
  • Zambia has some incredible riverfront lodges along the Zambezi

Gary BembridgeLivingstone Airport (Zambia) - Gary Bembridge

Paperwork & Practical Advice

You used to require a Yellow Fever vaccination (and certificate) for travel between Zambia and South Africa. This is no longer needed, but do check with a medical professional on which jabs are recommended or required for both countries.

As far as money is concerned, Zambia’s currency is the kwacha, while Zimbabwe has a multiple currency system and accepts dollars, euros, pounds and South African rands.

Both Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town have international airports, but there are other practical considerations such as the cost of flights and how Victoria Falls fits into the rest of your itinerary. 

In short:

  • Yellow Fever Certificates are no longer required
  • In Zimbabwe you can pay in dollars, euros, rands or pounds
  • Livingstone & Victoria Falls both have international airports

Whichever side of the falls you pick, you’re sure to have an incredible holiday. Just think carefully about the best time to travel based on what you want to experience, and find out beforehand whether you’re eligible for a Univisa (which is available on arrival at the airport).

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