ZAMBIA OR ZIMBABWE?: HOW TO PICK A SIDE OF THE ZAMBEZI RIVER
The Zambezi creates a natural border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, which means Victoria Falls, one of the great wonders of the world, has got two suitors on her arms at all times. And with lodges stretching all the way from the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Zambia’s Livingstone, the competition between the two of them is fairly stiff.
So which side should potential hoteliers pick? Both are undoubtedly spectacular, particularly for any lodges lucky enough to be set on the banks of the Zambezi, where the warm, reddish water rushes past viewing decks and balconies, teeming with catfish, crocodile and angry-looking hippos.
Although for visitors slowly cruising along the river, there is a distinct visual difference between the two banks. Zambia looks more densely packed with bush, while Zimbabwe has plains running down to the water and tall palm trees stretching to the sky.
“Both sides of the river are amazing, yet different”, says Graham Simmonds, the Travel Shop Manager for Wilderness Safaris, whose lodge, Toka Leya, is on the Zambian side. “The two areas do complement each other. In Zambia for example, the majority of accommodation is above the Falls and looks across the river on to Zimbabwe’s National Park. On the Zimbabwe side, it mirrors the views on to Zambian National Park, and accommodation is set back a bit from the river, but looks on to the area below the Falls in Zambia.”
“Livingstone in Zambia is a bigger town than the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side”, he continues. “So if guests want something a bit quaint and quiet, they might prefer Zimbabwe. If guests want a livelier scene, then Livingstone is the place to be. We have had guests who swap locations on a yearly basis as they can’t choose. Accommodation on either side range from entry-level back packers to presidential suites frequented by the who’s who of the world.”
Neck-and-neck as they may be, Zimbabwe will always have one major jewel in its crown: it’s got access to the main Falls viewing decks, which lie just before the border crossing and offer 12 extraordinarily beautiful viewing platforms from which to see The Smoke that Thunders in all her glory.
However, thanks to a new visa scheme, Kaza Univisa, travellers from America, the EU, Australia and a few other nations can purchase one visa for Zimbabwe, Zambia and Chobe National Park in Botswana, making a quick trip over more manageable than ever.
“We have transfers that will take guests at Toka to the bridge which borders the two countries”, says Simmonds. “If guests want to simply walk on to the bridge and see the bungee and the view, they don’t need to carry their passports. If guests want to cross over, passport control is necessary. It’s quick and efficient as Wilderness operates a touring division on each side. The train tracks run across the same bridge, and it’s something to see when it crosses over the mighty Zambezi.”
Weather also plays a part. In the driest months (October and November), the Falls on the Zambian side sometimes dry up completely, which means visitors find themselves staring at a rocky wall. This never happens on the Zimbabwean side, where the Falls flow all year round, and the only fluctuation is in the quantity of spray you’re likely to be drenched under.
However, Zambia in the dry season has some perks of its own. Devil’s Pool is most easily accessible from September to November – and only from the Zambian side. Set dramatically just next to the sheer edge, it is not for the faint-hearted – but any photo of you lounging against a deadly waterfall drop is likely to send any social media likes soaring.
So while the choice may be a difficult one, luckily, there is no wrong answer.
[Photos are courtesy of Toka Leya]