Victoria Falls - The Smoke That Thunders

Victoria Falls is formed by the Zambezi River as it cascades over a chasm 300 feet deep and over a mile wide.  The river forms the boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Geologists believe that Victoria Falls was originally formed as a result of millions of years of erosion, volcanic activity and tectonic forces.  During the Jurassic period, basalt was laid down on the plateau around the region by volcanic activity.  Uneven cooling of the basalt led to the formation of massive fissures.  Long ago the Zambezi River flowed on a course that did not encounter these fissures.  Later, tectonic forces gradually shifted the course of the Zambezi until it eventually encountered the fissures and weak areas in the basalt.  Through erosion the fissures and cracks  grew longer and deeper and the resulting chasm became the first of many waterfalls.  Gradually the Zambezi began eroding weak fissures upstream of this first waterfall.   Through millions of years the Zambezi created a series of waterfalls, each slightly upstream of the previous one.  The present Victoria Falls will eventually give way to a new waterfall.  This process is already starting at the Devil's Cataract on the Zimbabwe side.  Evidence of the previous waterfalls can be seen in the zig-zagging gorges below today's Victoria Falls.

victoria falls african safaris
Victoria Falls African Safaris
Victoria Falls African safaris

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David Livingstone was the first European to see the Falls and was so impressed by the sight he wrote "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in flight."  The Falls is certainly one of the most impressive on Earth and Livingstone was so struck he named them after the then Queen of England, known in the local Kololo language as Mosi-oa-Tunya, or "The Smoke That Thunders." When the river is high the falls are at their most magnificent as the towering column of spray and thunder of cascading water falling into the river canyon is magical.  What makes the Falls so magnificent is not only the sheer volume of water flowing over it (550,000 cubic meters every minute), but also its incredible breath.  Where the river meets the cliff, the Falls is over 1 mile wide making it the longest curtain of water on the planet.  This water tumbling across such a long expanse also falls over 300 feet before crashing into the canyon below, creating what is considered one of the natural wonders of the world. Victoria Falls is a National Park and a World Heritage Site.

It's easy to loft lengthy adjectives at Victoria Falls, however, there is much more to Victoria Falls than the waterfall itself.  Assuming you can calm your heart long enough to take your eyes off the river, the surrounding scenery of rocky canyons, tropical forests and savannahs is quintessential Africa.  You can hike into the canyon, if your lucky passing by troops of baboons inhabiting the surrounding forests, where upon reaching the river bottom and peering up at the Falls face, you will be overcome with splendor.

The nearby town of Livingstone, Zambia, is a historical colonial city that doubles as both the tourism center for Victoria Falls and the extreme-sports capital of Southern Africa, with heaps of travel and adventure companies.  Adrenaline junkies in need of a quick fix while traversing Africa have a menu of activities to get the blood pumping, like Victoria Falls itself.  In the dry season from mid-August to late-December it is possible to walk across the Zambezi to the islets at the lip of Falls and river rafting on the Zambezi is at its wildest where you will find some thrilling Class 3 and 4 rapids, and some seriously scary Class 5 ones. While rafting you may also encounter crocodiles and hippos, but hopefully not to closely.

Spanning the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls Bridge was the engineering centerpiece in Cecil Rhodes' Cape-Cairo railway, which was conceived in the late 19th century and intended to link British land holdings in South Africa and Egypt. Although Rhodes' dream was never fully realized, today the bridge serves a very different function: as a springboard for bungee jumpers.  At a height of 364 feet, Victoria Falls Bridge is the world's third-tallest bungee jump, though the fear factor is arguably the greatest.  While plummeting to your potential doom, you will be blasted with sprays from Victoria Falls, and then yanked back to life within inches of the swirling eddies of the Zambezi below.

To truly experience the size and scope of the Falls spray, you've got to get airborne and the 'Flight of Angels' provides a fabulous vista of the falls, the upstream river, and its many islands. Visitors can also kayak, canoe, fish, go on guided walking safaris, ride on horseback and lunch on Livingstone's Island.

Many of our Botswana Safaris and Zimbabwe Safaris visit Victoria Falls.  Given it's central location and numerous flights, a few days at Victoria Falls is an easy add-on to any safari.