Zambia is one of the most exciting and progressive tourist destinations in Africa today. A land that still feels the socio-political growing pains of a community long suppressed by colonial rule, Zambia is quickly finding its feet on the world stage and the world in turn is quickly discovering a country of incredible diversity, beauty and cultural heritage.
Although Zambia is a pervasive and eclectic place the focus of this article will be on the region’s rich South Western territories, home to the vast Zambezi River and the inimitable Victoria Falls. The Zambezi is one of Africa’s longest rivers and has its source in the highlands of north western Zambia before meandering around and then west; forming part of the border with Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Meaning ‘God’s River’ the Zambezi’s most impressive feature is of course the Victoria Falls, the World’s largest waterfall and considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders. The powerful river plummets dramatically 108m vertically down into a transverse chasm known as the First Gorge which also operates as a border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The renowned Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone was the first recorded European to witness the falls and named it in honour of his monarch, the reigning Queen Victoria.
Understandably Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya (Smoke that Thunders) as it is indigenously known is a major tourist attraction drawing thousands of people each year to confront its raw power, scale and beauty. Visitors can retrace the footsteps of Livingstone by walking across the eponymous Livingstone Island, the only land mass accessible in the centre of the falls and the site from which the adventurer originally viewed them. Two bridges have been established along the river; the Victoria Falls Bridge originally commissioned in 1900 which offers a stunning panorama of the falls ahead and the deep lying gorge below and the Knife Edge Bridge on the Zimbabwean side of the border which runs parallel to the river. During the wet season such is the density of the water vapour that ‘smokes’ up from the falls, views from the Knife Edge are actually largely obscured by a wall of mist, although many consider the haze a refreshing and cooling break from the warm Zambian sun (just don’t take anything with you that you don’t want to get wet.)
For the adventurous traveller there are a number of more ‘unique’ perspectives to be had of the falls; one of the most famous being from the ominously named Devil’s Pool; a naturally formed rock walled basin that when the water flow is low enough allows visitors to quite literally swim to the edge of the falls and peer over into the abyss. A more sedate and lofty vantage can also be appreciated during a micro-light flight over the area, promising superb views of the surrounding scenery. Adrenaline junkies may even choose to throw themselves off the Victoria Falls Bridge into the gorge below attached by a bungee rope; certainly not for the faint hearted.
The wider Zambezi region with the falls as a catalyst is becoming an increasingly popular destination for discerning travellers. Wildlife viewing is readily available in the immediate area with the nearby Mosi-O-Tunya National Park offering game drives as well as the extensive Chobe National Park only a few miles over the border in Botswana.
A number of luxurious safari lodges and camps have been established along the Zambezi to the north of the falls including the stunning Safari Club and Tongabezi river lodge. The islands of Siankaba, an exclusive all chalet camp has also been ingenuously constructed on two densely forested sand islands that nestle within the Zambezi itself, promising unrivalled privacy and intimacy. The grand dame of the region is the Royal Livingstone resort which stands less than a five minute walk from the falls themselves. Set out into a succession of colonial homes that line the river bank they offer the grace and elegance of a forgotten era.
However you see the falls and whatever you do after your visit, gazing up at their grandeur and appreciating this wonder in its full glory is one of those epochal moments in your life; truly magical and unforgettable.
James Bell is a Director of Turquoise Holidays.