Down in the south of Africa there is a country called Zambia. If you visit expect friendly people who know English, clean streets, and attempts by the government to help its own people. If you make your way south from the capital to a town calling Livingstone, be it by bus or plane or train expect wonderful views and a place filled with a variety of dining and lodging options.

 But all that is extra. What should really draw you to Livingstone is the Zambezi River, a mighty waterway on whose banks stand multiple World Heritage Sites that attract animals of all kinds. Sure, most of the parks are not close to Livingstone, but it's only in Livingstone that you can see the Smoke that Thunders.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls, known as Vic Falls to the locals, is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The largest waterfall in the world at over a mile long and 360 ft tall, up to 3,000 cubic meters can fall into the gorge below a second.

Victoria Falls
Credit: Jennifer S. Johnson

The easiest (and cheapest) way to view the Falls is by buying a park pass and walking around the grounds. The farthest path, the Photographic Trail, offers the best views. There are beautiful panoramas of the Falls and the rainforest that has sprung up in response to the spray. The Knife Edge Island trail takes you into that rainforest, and it's advised you rent a poncho from the kiosk. The spray is intense, preventing you from seeing the majority of the Falls. Those who forgo the poncho spend hours drying out. There's also Palm Grove Trail which descends to the Boiling Pot, a bend in the river where the water from the Falls hits rocks and is pushed back, churning up the water, before continuing downriver. Be warned, this trail is rather steep and involves lots of close encounters with baboons.

Other ways to see Victoria Falls are helicopter and glider rides, the only way to see the Falls in their entirety due to their size, and adventure activities involving the base of the waterfall. During the dry season, when the water is lower, it's possible to cross the Boiling Pot and make your way to rock pools under the waterfalls for swimming. Or you can go white water rafting, starting at the base of the falls and making your way down river.

 Victoria Falls spans the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and it's possible to cross the border by bridge. The bridge itself serves as a bungee jump station, one of the tallest locations in the world. The Zimbabwe side offers more vantage points and a chance to walk along the edge of the Falls.

Zambezi River

The Zambezi River is the fourth longest in Africa, originating in Zambia and emptying into the Indian Ocean from Mozambique. Near Livingstone, up river of the Falls, lie a number of islands. The most famous is Livingstone Island, named after David Livingstone who first saw the Falls from it in 1855. It's possible to visit the island, have a meal, and if the water is low swim in Devil's Pool.

 All year round river adventures include cruises and water safaris. Cruises include meals and there are breakfast, lunch, and sunset/dinner options. Water safaris are done via canoes and you can choose a half day or full day option. Be wary of crocodiles, they're all over the place. Hippos are also common, and the river is the favorite watering hole of many of the animals in the Mosi-Oa-Tunya park. During the dry season, elephants can also be seen.

Upstream of the Falls, the water is relatively calm. Rapids are for the most part limited to after the water falls over the cliff.

Sunning Hippos
Credit: Jennifer S. Johnson

Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park

The park gets its name from the local phrase for Victoria Falls, which directly translates to “the smoke that thunders”. It stretches along the cost of the Zambezi River, including Victoria Falls. It's unique ecosystem means it is also a World Heritage Site and it serves as a breeding park for many animals.

 While it is the second smallest national park in the country, there is a lot to see. Waterbucks, wildebeests, rhinos, bushbucks, imbalas, water buffalo, baboons, monkeys, giraffes, and zebras all live there year round and it's possible to see them during the same trip. Elephants are seasonal visitors, during the rainy season it's too muddy and they don't like getting stuck in it. There are no predators in the park, the space is too small to support any but that does mean it's easy to view the animals.

Safari Time!
Credit: Jennifer S. Johnson

There are several viewing options. There are variety of walks you can do, with the specialty being a rhino walk were you track the animals through the bush to see them, learning about tracks and droppings as you go along. Mosi-oa-Tunya is an ideal habitat for rhinos. If you don't feel like walking, you can visit the park in the back of an open air jeep or on the backs of elephants.



And if none of those sound interesting, a walk around town itself is lovely. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes, as well as a historical museum that's open every day. Yes, Sunday too.