No doubt about it, Mosi-oa-Tunya (meaning "The Smoke That Thunders") -- but more commonly known as Victoria Falls -- is one of the most amazing sights in the world. Adjacent to Livingstone in Zambia
and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe
, the Falls are twice as tall as Niagara Falls, and several times longer.
The big question is which side - Zambia or Zimbabwe? There are two things to consider, views of the falls and cost.
Two thirds of the actual Falls lies within Zambian territory, as does Livingstone Island, from where David Livingstone first famously set eyes on the Falls. The main viewing areas lie on the Zimbabwean side with a kilometer long pathway leading along the edge of the falls. During the wet, the view from the Zimbabwe side can be obscured by spray, but during the dry the smaller water flows are mainly on that side.
Travellers will have an assortment of visa charges involved in seeing both sides of the falls. The variables include your nationality, single or multiple entry, and whether you will stay longer than 24 hours.
To cross the border from Zambia to see the falls on the Zimbabwe side you will need to pay at least US$30 for a Zimbabwe single entry visa (depending on nationality), and if you want to return the Zambian side you will need to pay an extra US$20 for a multiple entry Zambian visa. To cross the border from the Zimbabwean side to the Zambian side you will need to pay an at least US$20 for a single day Zambian visa, and at least an extra US$15 for a multiple entry Zimbabwean visa. Don't forget you will need to decide whether you are getting a single or multiple entry visa when you first apply for it. If you are flying from South Africa just to see the falls, consider if it is worthwhile arriving on the Zimbabwean side and leaving from the Zambian, as you will minimise your visa costs this way (but may pay more for airfares). Flying to the Zambian side usually costs less than flying into the Zimbabwe side.
Still, for less than US$100 you can do both sides and tick another African country off your list.
Victoria Falls is cash only. ATMs are available in both Livingstone, Zambia, and Victoria Falls town.
It took thousands of years of erosion for Victoria Falls to appear as and where it does now. Mosi-oa-Tunya, or "the smoke that thunders” only became known to the western world as Victoria Falls after David Livingstone first set eyes on this astonishing natural wonder in 1855, a heartbeat ago in geological time.
» How the Falls Were Formed
During the Jurassic Period (150-200 million years ago) volcanic activity resulted in thick basalt deposits covering large parts of Southern Africa. As the lava cooled and solidified, cracks appeared in the hard basalt crust, which were filled with clay and lime. Erosion and the course of the mighty Zambezi River cut through these softer materials, forming the first of a series of waterfalls. Over at least 2,000 years, the Falls have receded 8km upstream, as the Zambezi carved its way through seven gorges. This geological history can be seen in the dark basalt in the series of rocky gorges below the Falls. It is guessed that the Devil's Cataract, which is presently the lowest point of Victoria Falls, will eventually become the next gorge as the river continues to cut its way back upstream.
» Dr. David Livingstone, I presume?
Scottish missionary David Livingstone first heard about Victoria Falls, known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, a full four years before he arrived there. The area was a sacred site for the Batoka and other local tribes. On the 17th of November 1855 Chief Sekeletu of the Makololo paddled Livingstone to an island in the Zambezi, known as Goat Island. Although the water was low at the time, it's little wonder that he felt a "tremor of fear" as he approached the wall of spray.
Gazing down into the churning chasm below must have been a heart-stopping experience (you can still make your way out to the island - now called Livingstone Island - during the dry season). Rumors abound that a Portuguese man beat him to it, but the evidence for this is scarce, so the first official description of the Falls, as penned by Livingstone, follows: "No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."
» The railway bridge
The discovery of coal in Hwange and reports of copper in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) brought an influx of people into the area around the Falls. The Victoria Falls Bridge was commissioned by Cecil John Rhodes in 1900, as part of his ambitious plan to build a Cape to Cairo railway. The railway line never made it as far as Cairo, but the bridge was completed in 1905, opening up the area to colonization. An interesting snippet of information about the railway bridge is that the first living creature to cross it was a leopard.