When is best for Victoria Falls?

February 12th 2018  |  Travel, Unique Experiences, Zambia, Zimbabwe  |  by  Richard Smith
Victoria Falls

A bit of background first

Victoria Falls is an essential stop on many southern African safaris – it is southern Africa’s adventure centre with plenty to do, and a wide choice of hugely different places to stay.  It’s where Aardvark Safaris was born too, with founders John Spence and Richard Smith launching their African careers as very youthful white-water rafting guides and videographers.

Victoria Falls from the air, Royal Livingstone Hotel

Victoria Falls from the air, Royal Livingstone Hotel

The gateway to the falls on the Zambian side of the river is Livingstone – once a colonial capital and now a romantic place for couples and paradise for families, with a whole range of activities to fill any length of stay.  Victoria Falls town is the hub on the Zimbabwe side of things.  Both offer accommodation options that relive the golden age of the African safari, as well as small intimate riverside lodges focussing on understated luxury in fabulous settings.

Taking a tour into Livingstone, Toka Leya, Wilderness Safaris

Taking a tour into Livingstone, Toka Leya, Wilderness Safaris

The primary attraction is the waterfall itself. Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders, as it is known colloquially is more than just a sight: it’s an experience. One of the three largest in the world (Niagra and Iguacu being the other two) the falls can be seen from the Zimbabwean or Zambian sides, overflown by microlight, light aircraft or helicopter, or surveyed from the deck of a boat.

Microlighting above the falls, Toka Leya, Wilderness Safaris

Helicoptering above the falls, Toka Leya, Wilderness Safaris

For adrenaline junkies, white-water rafting runs the rapids downstream from the falls while gorge swings and bungee jumps make the most of the cliffs carved, by the Zambezi, through African granite.

Zip wire across the gorge, Matetsi River Lodge

Once you’ve thoroughly exhausted the waterfall, move on to Africa’s wildlife.  The small lodges that are set on the Zambezi’s banks echo with the sound of grumbling hippo and territorial lion. Riverboats reach out to Livingstone Island, for lunch in the middle of the river just above the falls, and other vessels run nightly sundowner cruises.  You can ride horses on safari on trails that last a few hours or days, or explore the bush on foot with expert guides.

Tongabezi Lodge, just upstream from the Victoria Falls

Tongabezi Lodge, just upstream from the Victoria Falls

When is high and low water?

The Zambezi River tends to be at its lowest around November and December resulting in a gentler flow over the falls.  The Zimbabwe side has a deeper channel so in very low water years it’s the side with water running over the lip during these months.  The water is at its highest around April and May when the thundering flow off the edge is at its peak, with spray rising up to a mile in the air, and doors and windows rattling in town.

The Victoria Falls in full flow, Toka Leya, Wilderness Safaris

The Victoria Falls in full flow, Toka Leya, Wilderness Safaris

Low water activities

One of the highlights of the low water season between mid-August to mid-January has to be a visit to Devil’s Pool.  This natural pool on the edge of the falls isn’t for the faint hearted but for thrill seekers a quick dip here is something truly impressive.

Aardvark Safaris’ Alice Gully at Devil’s Pool

Aardvark Safaris’ Alice Gully at Devil’s Pool

It’s a great time of year for white water rafting too with trips starting just below the falls and finishing some way down the gorge.  If rafting is the main purpose of your visit, then this is definitely the time of year to choose.

White water rafting, Thorntree Lodge

White water rafting, Thorntree River Lodge

High water activities

The flow peaks around March and April with around 540 million cubic meters of water spilling over the edge every minute.  It’s one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights with clouds of spray and spectacular rainbows visible from miles around.  Be prepared to get wet as there’s no escaping the spray but a tour at this time of the year is an exhilarating way to spend a couple of hours.

Taking a tour of the falls, Toka Leya, Wilderness Safaris

Taking a tour of the falls, Toka Leya, Wilderness Safaris

Rafting at the higher water times of year – May, June, July, January, February and March – miss out the top section of the river as it’s simply too fast to negotiate safely so shorter trips are on offer now.  Still good, but perhaps not quite as exciting as the lower water options.

Medium water

The transition periods around February or June to July are a great happy medium, neither too wet nor too dry.  There’s a bit more of the rock face exposed and it’s probably at the best for great photographic opportunities.

Canoeing on the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls River Lodge

Canoeing on the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls River Lodge

Staying dry

While you won’t necessarily stay dry close to the spray from Victoria Falls, most people choose to visit during the area’s dry season. This is broadly between April and November. In December rain is likely to be short and sharp, rather than persistent, and in March it returns to showers rather than downpours.

Sundowners, The River Club

Sundowners, The River Club

What next?

We would be delighted to help you plan a holiday, or answer any questions about the best time to visit Victoria Falls. Our team of experts have travelled widely throughout Africa. They can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris.  If you would like to talk to someone who has been there and done it, please just send us an email or give us a call.

 

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