Victoria Falls is, by some measures, the world’s largest waterfall (based on a combination of height and width). It is also one of the greatest natural wonders of the African continent. The falls are known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya, or ‘the smoke that thunders’. Over the last few decades, as more infrastructure has been added to the area, the number of annual tourists has skyrocketed to over a quarter of a million. Victoria Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The area around the Zambezi River has been inhabited since ancient times, and the falls were certainly known to pre-European man. The first European to discover the falls was probably Jacques Nicolas Bellin, though the ‘official’ discovery did not take place until David Livingstone explored the area in 1855. By the early 1900s, the introduction of railroads began bringing swarms of tourists to the area. A bronze statue of Livingstone looks out over the falls from the Zambian side.
Victoria Falls is immense, with a width over a mile in length and a total height of over 354 feet. It is fed by and empties into the Zambezi River, and pores into a great gorge that is fed from several sides. One odd and popular feature of the falls is the Devil’s Pool, a semi-protected ridge at the top of the falls where (when the water levels are low during the dry season) adventurous visitors can swim just feet from the edge.
Victoria Falls is located on the Zambian-Zimbabwe border, and is part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Zambian side) and Victoria Falls National Park (Zimbabwe side), both of which are part of the UNESCO heritage site. There is considerable road, rail and air transportation to the parks, as well as major tourist infrastructure including hotels, making the falls very accessible. Both parks double as wildlife sanctuaries which are home to elephants, zebras, giraffes and the occasional big cat. Web: www.zambiatourism.com (official tourism website of Zambia), www.zimbabwetourism.net (official tourism website of Zimbabwe).