Zambia: Victoria Falls and Friends

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The perfect way to end a trip began with the perfect way to start a day. We rose early in Livingstone, Zambia, despite our weariness from travel. Three out of our group of 5 had just finished travelling across the world to visit the other 2 of us, as we were just wrapping up a month of travel.

We were the first to arrive at Victoria Falls at 6:15 a.m. that morning. As we woke up slowly and quietly, the falls rushed over the cliffs as always, their rumble breaking the silence of the morning as we approached.

The falls are unimaginable; a place that absolutely can’t be captured. It’s that ever-present rumble of of 625 million liters of water per minute falling off the cliffs. It’s the subsequent mist, drifting up and clinging to you. It’s the fragmented rainbows caught in the thin strands of water. It’s the jagged, jutting gorge. It’s that cloud in the distance that isn’t a cloud coming down from the sky, but a cloud coming up from the river. It’s the wondering how early explorers crossed this massive work of nature.

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These early morning hours that we had all to ourselves at the falls switched seamlessly between staring transfixed out into the water in awe and letting our silly nature bubble over. For Sarah (far left in our group pic) and I, this trip saw the start of our 10th year of friendship. For Sarah, Liesel (gal in the middle!) and I this trip was a reunion of our time spent as hiking buddies when we worked in Yellowstone in 2010. For Jared and Liesel, it was their first trip out of the country together, and a celebration of their first year of marriage. For Alex and I, it was our 8th African country and a much-anticipated visit from friends at the end of our first year teaching abroad.

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As proven time and and time again in my life, there’s no better way to get to know a friend than being together somewhere beautiful in spirit and scenery, and experiencing new things together.

We saw it in our laughing moments at Victoria Falls.

We saw it in the chance meeting of a new friend, Bwalya, an exceptional young Zambian woman that we met in an urgent attempt to find a bathroom one afternoon and then passed hours together over the following days.

We saw it in a New Year’s sunset river cruise, dancing for hours in a Zambian bar/club and, after counting UP to ten for the “ball drop,” escaping the chaos of a middle-of-the-street firework show.

With souls refreshed from friends and Falls, we entered into 2017. Cheers to a great year ahead!

Planning a trip to Victoria Falls:

Zimbabwe vs. Zambia: We chose to stay on the Zambia side during our visit to Victoria Falls, mainly because we had heard the Zimbabwe side gets very busy and a bit crazy during New Year’s with an annual festival that happens in the town of Victoria Falls.  We wanted a more mellow experience and are really happy that we chose the Zambia side! After staying a few days in Zambia and visiting the Zimbabwe side for a day, here are our impressions. Livingstone felt more like a normal town, whereas Victoria Falls felt more like a town built for tourists. This meant a few things and you can decide if they would be positives or negatives for you: we saw a lot less foreigners on the Zam side, we experienced considerably less ‘touting’ from vendors/ crafts and souvenirs were not as easy find, Livingstone felt like a small African city-a bit of trash in the streets, chickens about, familiar markets selling more than crafts. Second impression: in Livingstone, things are more spread out; it is necessary to take a taxi to the falls from town and getting around to markets and such requires some walking. Thirdly, the Zambia side seemed much cheaper to us for lodging and food. Finally, the main falls of Victoria Falls are located on the Zim side, with the many smaller falls on the Zam side. Personally, I enjoyed viewing all of the smaller falls more, and had a hard time seeing the main falls because of the amount of mist. Both sides were beautiful and it was worth seeing the falls from both sides and seeing both towns. It is important to note that I think overall we felt more comfortable in Livingstone because it was quieter and felt familiar and comfortable to us after living in Mozambique.

Getting there: We arrived in Livingstone, Zambia by air from Johannesburg. After researching the time and cost of good charter buses, like the Intercape Bus, it seemed a better use of our time and money to fly. It is worth noting that the price of flying into Lusaka (in which case we would have bused to Livingstone) was not considerably cheaper than flying straight to Livingstone.

Visas: We were so delighted to find upon arrival that the Kaza UNI Visa had been reinstated. This visa costs $50 and gets you multiple entry into Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as day trips to Botswana. Otherwise, the Zambia single entry visa is $50 or a day trip entry for $20. The Zimbabwe single entry is $30, double entry is $45, and multiple entry is $55.

Lodging: We stayed at Fawlty Tours in Livingstone, Zambia. The five of us shared one dorm room (6 rooms per bed), but there are also private rooms and camping space available. This is a well-kept up hostel with a pool, beautiful garden, and clean shared kitchen for self-catering. They offer free transfers to the falls every day at 10 a.m., as well as free crepes every day at 3 p.m. They can also organize any and all tours or adventurous activities you would like to do at Victoria Falls. There are many, including bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, elephant back safari, ziplining, horeseback riding, micro-flight trips, helicopter tours, sunset river booze cruises, bicycle rentals…and more.

Money matters: The currency in Zambia is the Kwacha and the currency in Zimbabwe is the U.S. dollar. We saw plenty of ATM’s in both places and used our card to pay for lodging, food at nicer restaurants, and the park entry fee on the Zim side.

 

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