POST 11 – January 2nd 2019 – Destination
A short hop to Victoria Falls !
Located at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria falls were on my bucket list of places to visit for quite some time. Since we were in South Africa, it was a good opportunity to make a small detour at the end of the trip and spend a few days there… Especially considering that there was some award availability using my British Airways miles at that period.
Since the Victoria falls are a popular tourist hotspot in the region and lay between two countries (and also bring significant revenue to the local economy), the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments implemented a combined visa, called KAZA/Univisa, for tourists visiting the two countries for less than 30 days. The benefit of this combined visa is that it is cheaper than purchasing one visa for each country (50 US Dollars instead of 80 USD – cash only). Another benefit is that you can have unlimited and smooth border crossings between both countries for 30 days and you can also visit the border region of Botswana for one day without any extra fees (but we did not do that).
As usual, a summary of the trip going to the Victoria falls is available on FlyerTalk, where I am writing a trip report on this sabbatical leave for the parts related to transportation… https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/30534784-post54.html
We spent the first day and night in Zambia, and stayed in the town of Livingstone, located about 10 km away from the border and the National Park of Victoria Falls (Zambia side). While it is only 10 km away, the wildlife is at home here, and you can very often see some elephants, zebras and girafes crossing on the road, like it was the case for us that day !
Each of the countries has it’s own national park for Victoria Falls, although most of the falls are technically located in Zambian territory, but in that particular season (november), the falls were quite dry and most of the water was actually flowing (and was better visible) from the Zimbabwean side.
The advantage of the Zambia side in that season is that you can access (more or less legally – and with the help of some local guys who get some extra revenue by bringing tourists around) to some natural pools located at the edge of the falls. The most famous one is named after the « devils pool », but my friend Myriam tried the smaller, but not less scary, « Angels pool ». I volunteered to take the pictures J. The Zambia side of the falls was also way less touristic than the Zimbabwe side.
After our first night in Zambia, we crossed the border (by car) to go to our next hotel, in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The border crossing in itself was a formality, but we had to change cars at the border for some reason and cross the Zimbabwe customs on foot.
The town of Victoria Falls is located barely half a kilometer away from the border, and the Zimbabwean Victoria Falls national park, we decided to go there on foot, and encountered on the way some tourists running away from Elephants… at 1 pm in the afternoon !
Wildlife is also at home on this side of the border, and the employee at our lodge confirmed this by informing us that a goat was killed by a lion a few kilometers away that early morning !
The national park located on the Zimbabwean side of the falls is surprisingly (more on that later…) more developed and « tourist friendly » than its Zambian counterpart. It is also more touristic, although we were quite lucky not too face huge crowds that day. In this month of november, the water falls were stronger in Zimbabwe, and you could easily spot several rainbows… and take postcard-type pictures.
Being a European guy, I am used to cross international borders very easily. I nowadays live at the border between the Netherlands and Belgium, with also Germany being very close-by and I sometimes don’t even notice that I just crossed a border. But this concept is really a European specificity and does not apply everywhere else in the world. Take the (land) border between the USA and Canada for example, or the border between Chile and Argentina, and it is not such an easy formality. In Africa, between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and thanks to the Univisa we had, this crossing was quite painless, even on foot, and we were able to snap some nice pictures on the bridge representing the border. I don’t know if the border crossing is as easy for the locals as it was for us though… We were seeing on the way some long lines of trucks waiting to go through the bridge… Between the two border posts, lots of locals are selling various souvenirs, including the famous (and formerly used) Zimbabwean dollar bills…
The next day we visited the town of Victoria Falls, and had a sundowner cruise on the Zambeze river. Funny enough, our cruise boat started to catch some water while being at the middle of the river – and you don’t have only fishes there, but also hippos and crocodiles ! We eventually got back to the dock to swap boats after the crew spent 30 minutes trying to scoop out the water !
The Zambia experience was enjoyable, in a sense that the food was excellent, and life (accomodation, food, transportation, etc…) affordable. The situation just 10 kms away, in Zimbabwe, was however quite the opposite. Zimbabwe, following some recent elections and also the big economic challenges the country is facing is in a very difficult situation, and this is, I believe, impacting tourism. As our host at the lodge told us, this is « basically a country without cash… » And she was right. The 3 banks in Victoria Falls have their ATMs switched off, the US Dollar is the currency of choice since the Zimbabwean dollar is out of the market, the local supermarkets, restaurants and shops are displaying insane prices and long, long lines of cars are waiting at the gas stations to fill up whatever they can, and whatever is left over…
From what I saw, most of the population really struggles there, as the life is so expensive, and this was quite heartbreaking to see… I cannot imagine how the situation could be in the rest of the country as Victoria Falls is considered to be quite wealthy, by Zimbabwean standards. I did not have the same feeling in Zambia, at least from what I saw of this country…
I am certainly very happy to had the opportunity to visit this region and wish I would have maybe spent one more day on the Zambia side and maybe go to neighbouring Botswana.
Stop #6 : Livingstone, Zambia and Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe, 3 days.
Positives : The falls are definitely one of mother nature masterpieces… If one stays for a longer period of time, plenty of outdoor activities could be done, from safaris, to hikes in the nature (with a guide), cruises etc…
Negatives : The safety concerns in this part of the world are not due to humans, but due to the wildlife. It is out of question to go out on foot after dark because of the wild animals around. I however never felt unsafe because of the people, but being a tourist, you should be prepared to be approached by some locals every few minutes to purchase something from them, especially in Zimbabwe. This might become annoying, although, one can easily understand that they are not doing this for pleasure, but just to survive…
The prices in Zimbabwe are ridiculously high, and the visitor should be prepared to bring some cash from abroad (this includes neighbouring Zambia) as you will not find cash in the country. Preferred currency is the US dollar, preferably in bills lower than 20, but any stable currency (Euro, British pound or South African Rand for e.g), would be accepted at a less favourable rate. Visa and Mastercard credit/debit cards are accepted in some touristic places, some restaurants and tour companies, but you should not rely exclusively on your credit card if going only in Zimbabwe. Typical prices in Zimbabwe (besides the ones shown on the pictures above) : A 500ml potable water bottle : 2 USD, a bucket of 20 chicken wings : 70 USD, a lunch consisting of a green salad, some pasta and a local fruit salad : about 25 USD, a postcard : 1 USD, a souvenir magnet : 4 to 7 USD. Prices would be about 4 to 5 times cheaper in Zambia.