Country Facts – Zimbabwe (in $USD)
We were fortunate as there weren’t many others in line, otherwise this would have taken hours. Like most African borders, the officials here don’t give a shit about the passport, and are just looking for the cash. US dollars to be precise. We had six Brits in our tour and as the first brit went in line to get her visa, the official asked to just give him all the British passports with cash and told all the Brits to wait outside. One by one, the visas were affixed without even looking at the person. TIA. It took us almost an hour to get through this border crossing and we had no line to begin with. The line had grown significantly so I can’t imagine how long it’d take on a busy day.
As Victoria Falls is such a tourist destination, Zimbabwe allows non Canadians and British to buy a single entry visa for 30$. This just means you can enter Zimbabwe but if you leave (to go to Zambia for the Devils Pool excursion for example), you will have to pay for another visa. 45$ is the price for multi entry visa. Brits and Canadians had to pay 70$. All must be done in USD cash. Some say Rands can be used but do not risk it. Dollars are what make African eyes sparkle.
We drive for another half hour before finally reaching our final destination of the overland tour at Victoria Falls. We stop at Wild Horizons tours, one of Vic Falls main tour providers that I’m sure has a business connection with our tour provider, Africa Travel Co. It is here that I realized how expensive and touristy Vic Falls is.
All prices are quoted in US dollars, which is believe it or not, Zimbabwe’s official currency. Expect to pay $150 for any of the main activities in Victoria Falls. The trick however, is to immediately walk out of this booking office, and down the street to smaller tour agents that will give discounts. Either way, these tours are probably the most expensive I’ve ever seen in all my travels. But I am already here, and sometimes you can’t think about money so I just embrace the US dollar black hole that is Victoria Falls. All in all, of all the countries I’ve traveled to in Africa, Victoria Falls is the most touristy and most expensive of them all.
W h a t to Ea t
There are not many dining options in Vic Falls, and all the non backpacker restaurants will cost just as much as a nice restaurant in the USA. However, this is the best spot in Africa to eat crocodile and warthog, the latter of which is one of my favorite game meats. For the budget conscious, In Da Belly, the restaurant within the Vic Falls rest camp (also where we stayed), serves a good Crocodile and Warthog steak for 12-13$. The restaurant is mediocre at best but it was at our campsite and as a group, we all wanted to do a dinner together.
The next night, we ate at the Palm restaurant, part of a fancy lodge right next to Vic Falls. Now This is a solid restaurant. I had a Warthog steak, stuffed with spinach and mushrooms, and wrapped in prosciutto ham, likely one of the most delicious things I”ve ever encountered. Erica had kudu medallions that were equally as divine. Dishes here are about 22-25$.
We were told about a restaurant called Boma that does a buffet dinner filled with live entertainment and activities. All game meats are available at this place but it was $50 a person and we didn’t have enough nights in Vic Falls.
Victoria Falls dinner booze cruise (an activity we did)
Vi s i t i n g V i c t o r i a F a l l s
As delicious as warthog steak is, the main attraction in this town is of course, those gigantic waterfalls. Victoria Falls was first discovered by Scottish Explorer, David Livingston in the early 1800s and has since been named one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. It is 110m high at its highest point and span a length of 1.6km.
The waterfalls themselves are actually not located in the town of Victoria Falls. They are a 15 minute walk from town and one must pay to see them. There are zero views from town. I just hope this money is going somewhere worthwhile!
From Victoria Falls Town, the only visible of the falls is mist. . Entrance is a mandatory 30$ and is only good for ONE entrance. If you decide to leave to get lunch outside of the park, re-entry is another $30! Expensive for sure, so best to stay here as long as possible and soak it all in.
Nevertheless, $30 is the price and it’s a small one to pay for seeing something this beautiful. As we walk through the gate, we read up on the history and geology of the falls, grab a quick bite at the Rainforest cafe (overpriced restaurant but the only thing available in the falls), and go about our way.
Victoria Falls is shared between Zimbabwe and Zambia. There are two sides of the waterfalls, one side in Zambia, and the other in Zimbabwe. Most of the falls are on the Zambia side so to view them, one has to be on the Zim side. On the Zimbabwean side, there is a route that is easy and clearly marked to see all of the falls. There are 18 stops, each of which offer a different view of the falls and different photo opportunities. There’s no time limit for being in here so I’d recommend slowly walking to all the stops and then going back to your favorites if necessary.
My favorite photo opportunity stop was at stop 10. This one offered the best shot of the falls with the most water. As we continue on the path, we are blasted by mist generated from the falls. Refreshing on a hot day.
Depending on the time of year, the waterfalls will be larger or smaller. As we came at the beginning of September, the low season was just starting but the falls were still impressive. During the high season (in April-May), the water is pumping hard, and pictures are hard to take as there’s so much mist spray. The lowest point is in November where they are hardly noticeable. What’s the best time to visit the falls? Well if you’re just after a ridiculous waterfall, then probably during the high season, otherwise. . . I think early September is the best time and is so for the following.
W h i t e W at e r R a ft i n g
White Water rafting down the Zambezi river is one the bucket list of all rafters and I could see why after this experience. This was my first time ever rafting and wow, what an introduction it was. For $150, this activity is expensive but it provides the most bang for the buck. Having jumped off the world’s highest bungy bridge, and done the world’s highest abseiling in Lesotho, this was a logical next step. Low water season (Aug-Dec) is the best time for white water rafting along the Zambezi as lower water levels mean steeper drops in the rapids.
We’re picked up promptly at 7:30 by Wild Horizon tours, and taken to their rafting offices at the top of a Gorge overlooking the falls and Zambezi river offering an incredible photo opportunities, and also a glimpse at the route we were about to embark on. The guides give us indemnity forms to sign our lives away and then brief us on the day ahead. Our guide Hippo (yes that is what people called him), a portly fellow, reassures my girlfriend Erica, who is proper terrified after the briefing, that everything will be okay. We put on all our gear, grab our paddles, and driven to the launch site.
Here we hike for twenty minutes down to the river through rocks and ladders before finally reaching our boats. We get in right at the mouth of the waterfall so the view is yet again spectacular and the water is calm. We get into the boat, practice our paddling, getting down, and even forced to jump into the water to get a feel for the water. Hippo tells us these are intense Rapids and the chances of falling and/or flipping are high but there are people in kayaks that will take us to safety if we do fall. “Whatever you do, do not panic, and just float down the river until someone gets us”
For the non-adventurous, this may not be the most enjoyable of trips. It is NOT a leisurely boat ride down a river. This is a 4-5 hour adrenaline ride, going through 19 Rapids, many being grade 5. Grade 5 Rapids are serious rapids that carry with it the high chance of flipping over. The guides for this activity know their stuff but they can’t, and do not, make promises of a no-flip trip.
The group before getting into the raft.
As we approach the first rapid, a grade 3, I feel the adrenaline pumping as the calm body of water at the beginning turns into a chaotic high speed water turret. The boat tosses but we make it through unscathed. Good start?
The second one comes soon afterwards and again we toss and turn but we successfully listen to Hippo’s cues and we make it through. I’m feeling pretty good about this now and that I’ve gotten the hang of it. Then, rapid 3 hits us.
A violet grade 4 rapid, this one had at least a 2m dip. Hippo yells “get down” for the first time and not reacting quickly enough, a huge rogue wave hits me, and I go flying into the water. The Rapids are STRONG. We were briefed not to try swimming in the rapid but just pretend like we’re sitting down and let the current take us through the rapid. Naturally, I panic and try swimming but soon realize this is useless so I turn to a sitting position, all while gasping for air. I was holding the weight down on my side of the raft and since I flew off, raft was now much too heavy on the other side and I could see the raft slowly teetering over and completely capsizing, throwing everyone into the water!
As I floated down, I grabbed a hold of one of the kayaker who eventually took me to another raft where I took refuge before reuniting with my boat at calmer waters. Of the 5 people in my boat, myself and the other guy were totally thrilled and excited but being dumped in. Tthe rest were not as keen. Some cried, and some looked like they just ghosts.
We continue on but the girls were so traumatized by rapid 3 that they thought it was the end after each rapid. Having already fallen in, the thought of falling in again did not scare me anymore (perhaps not the same for many other people). I actually wanted to be thrown back in. The next few Rapids of varying grade 4s or 5s were no longer as terrifying.
Rapid 7 is the tough one. It’s a big time grade 5 and can be very intense at the start of the low water season (when we went). The guides give everyone the option of getting off the raft and walking around it, which the girls gladly do. I say to hell with that and join another boat that was keen to do it. We are briefed repeatedly by the guide that this one is no joke. The rapid is at least 30-40 meters long and if I fell at the beginning of that rapid, it’s going to be a long miserable ride through it. Nevertheless, we paddle full speed towards it, get tossed and thrown around before the guide finally yells “Get down!” and I just get down and hold for dear life. I reckon we held on for at least 5 seconds but it seemed like an eternity and we’re through without capsizing!
We reunite with the rest of the boats and having done the hardest rapid in the course, the rest are all easy. Rapid 9 is a grade 6 that everyone has to get off for (they don’t allow it anymore as it is too dangerous for beginners) and the last 10 Rapids are mostly grade 3s and 4s (perhaps one grade 5). No one else ended up Capsizing on the trip but a bunch of people were thrown off in various Rapids.
We finish around 1:30pm and have to hike all the way back to the top of the Gorge in the extreme heat, brutal after so much rafting. Small price to pay for such an experience that I won’t soon forget especially having crossed off one of the world’s best white water rafting locations.
H e l i c o p t e r R i d e
The helicopter ride around Vic Falls is consistently one of the top to do things recommended to me by other travelers. Like all the other activities, it is also 150$ and lasts a measly 15 minutes. These Zimbabweans really know how to mint American dollars. Props to them.
Having just done the helicopter ride around the Okavango where we sat in a 4 seater with open doors and great panoramic views of the Delta, this helicopter was a six seater with small Windows and closed doors. The views were still great but the pictures having to take through a glass window are not as good. The possibility of selfies is no longer there but perhaps not everyone has this as a priority :). Overall, I can only recommend this helicopter ride if somehow the tour company could 100% confirm that it is a 4 seater plane with open doors. Otherwise, for 150$…just not worth it.