It’s the destination of a lifetime, and also an opportunity to experience an activity as old as humankind – walking in wilderness with Africa’s big animals.
Table Mountain, the Great Pyramid of Giza, Victoria Falls: three great African destinations that are on every traveller’s lifetime wish list, each marvellous in its own way. But for lovers of nature, one stands out, and that place (naturally) is Mosi-oa-Tunya, where the Zambezi thunders into a chasm, its perpetual spray creating a micro rainforest.
If you have to choose just one Africa’s wonders, it has to be Victoria Falls. Why? Firstly, it has not been subjected to mass tourism. Yes, the town of Victoria Falls has a lot of hotels and guest houses, and a bewildering range of activities on offer, but it’s still an oasis in a sea of bushland. Elephants, buffalo and warthogs are frequent pedestrians in the low-traffic streets, and the waterfalls are managed in a low-key way, with only natural bush material for the fences that keep visitors safe from the churning gorge.
The town is sheltered from the economic challenges of Zimbabwe, with a noticeable absence of potholes or power-cuts and a fine international airport terminal. Now is a good time to visit – access is easy but when that airport gets more direct flights, Victoria Falls can only get busier.
The other reason to pick Victoria Falls is the chance to enjoy that quintessential African travel experience – a safari. Even on a quick visit, you are likely to spot hippos and crocodiles on a river cruise, but it’d be a shame not to make time for at least a few days in the wilds, as the falls are close to some of Africa’s biggest and best national parks – Hwange to the south and Chobe to the west, in Botswana.
Going on foot adds an exciting and immersive dimension to a safari, and there are some good opportunities in the area. The top choice is to visit to Hwange National Park. Walks have long been offered in this vast reserve, and it has some of the best trails guides in the country. Camp Hwange and Hwange Bush Camp are both trails focused, as is Bumbusi Wilderness Camp. At a higher price bracket, Deteema Springs and Verney’s Camp also have walks on the menu.
The easiest way to organise a walking safari from Victoria Falls is to talk to a local travel operator who knows walks – Umdingi Safaris and Off The Track both fit this description. Costs vary depending on how the parks are accessed (by vehicle or by air) and the nature of the accommodation, with everything from camping to luxury lodges on offer.
If time is too short for a trip to Hwange, it’s possible to walk in Zambezi National Park, a smaller park which is accessed directly from Victoria Falls. As walks are an early morning activity it is best to overnight in the park. Talk to Umdingi Safaris who can organise a camping visit, or for a luxury option, stay at Tsowa Safari Island where you can enjoy short walks on the island itself, or cross back to the shore for a proper walk.
If your heart is set on seeing a rhinoceros in the wild, the best chance is to cross to Zambia and go tracking in Mosi-oa-Tunya park with Wilderness.
Finally, there is the Chobe National Park option. This park in Northern Botswana is famous for its huge numbers of elephant, buffalo and other animals that frequent the Chobe river area. Day trips from Victoria Falls are popular, and the park is actually closer to the falls than Hwange. But for a walk, a night or two is needed. Walks are not operated in the park itself, but short guided walks are available in the more open floodplain south of the Ngomo bridge – Muchenje Safari Lodge and Ngomo Safari Lodge are both highly recommended.