Author: Tim, Cape Town marketing intern
Livingstone has become one of the top travel destinations in Africa for good reason; the most obvious being its proximity to one of the world famous Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the mighty Victoria Falls. Seeing the Falls is reason enough to visit Livingstone, but they only scratch the surface with what’s to offer in this special part of Africa. There are activities galore in Livingstone and if, like me, you’re on a budget and time limit, you can’t do them all. So, whether you’re volunteering with us, or just stopping by for a flying visit, I’m going to run through my top picks for a weekend spent in Livingstone, albeit a jam packed one!
Now, personally, I like to learn about the history and culture of a destination before exploring. If this interests you too, then you should check out the Livingstone Museum before anything. It will set you back fifty Kwacha (US $5) and you’ll learn about the area’s rich history, right from its first indigenous inhabitants millions of years ago, through to the arrival of David Livingstone, subsequent British Colonial rule, and the country’s eventual independence.
Once that is out of the way, bring on the adventure!
Now that you’ve got a better understanding about your environment, it’s time to go check out the Falls from the Zambian side. From this angle, you will get to see the ‘back’ of the falls, where the Zambezi River drops over the edge and the thunderous mist rises up. One of the best ways to do this is to book a tour to the Devils Pool. This is a rock pool right on the waterfalls edge! Try to book ahead as this is a popular tourist activity that can only be accessed in the dry season. Many hotels and backpackers will try and sell you the package deal with lunch that will set you back around US $160! However, try and seek out the walking tour through your accommodation and expect to pay around $80 – $100. If you can afford it, it’s a worthwhile experience and makes for a great photo opportunity.
Next up, you will want to see the falls from the Zimbabwean side. You will need to arrange a taxi to take you over the border. Pay no more than US $15 for this. The taxi driver will wait for you while you pass through immigration and get your visa and passport stamped. I recommend going early in the morning as there can be a long wait, and if you leave it until mid-morning expect for the whole process to take up to 1 – 2 hours. I made this mistake and it took me an hour and a half to cross the border. The price of the visa varies depending on which country you’re from, but most cost around US $30. Your taxi driver will then take you across the bridge into Zimbabwe.
Victoria Falls National Park
Now, there are three things you need to tick off while you’re here in Zimbabwe, the first being the viewing the Falls from the Victoria Falls National Park (which will set you back around US $30). There is a walking trail with different viewpoints where you can stop and admire the Falls. In one section there is a rainforest nourished by the constant mist of the falls, which is refreshing to walk through as it’s usually very hot! The Falls themselves are a sight to behold. They are 1.7km wide and a whopping 550 million litres of water cascade of its edge every minute. And expect to see a perfect rainbow!
The Lookout Cafe
Once you’ve covered the Falls, you’ve probably built up a bit of an appetite from all that walking. You need to head over to the Lookout Café, roughly a five-minute walk from the national park. It’s called the Lookout Café for a reason; it has a great view over the Botoka Gorge and the Victoria Falls Bridge that spans it. During your lunch you are bound to see at least one person bungee jump off the bridge. However, this is another popular tourist spot with many of the tables reserved, so if you find yourself without a seat, do what I did and reserve one for yourself in an hour, and kill the time with a drink at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
Victoria Falls Hotel
The Victoria Falls Hotel is a five-minute walk from The Lookout Café, through a bush track. Look out for baboons and water hogs. The hotel is in a classic old British colonial style building, with a touch of African class. Sit outside and grab a cold beer (or whatever your drink of choice), and relax whilst taking in the elegant surroundings and view over The Victoria Falls Bridge.
Now, my choice of safari is at Chobe National Park in Botswana, for two reasons. Firstly, it offers both a boat safari on the Zambezi River, and a land safari by jeep, giving you two different aspects to enjoy in one day. Secondly, you get to tick off another country on your bucket list, and get a stamp from Botswana in your passport. Who doesn’t want that! A one-day safari will set you back US $150, and you can book through most hotels and backpackers. The immigration process is much easier (and quicker) than Zimbabwe and you’re lead through the whole process by your tour guide. Breakfast is provided, followed by your boat trip, lunch and then onto your jeep safari. Expect to see hippos, crocs, elephants, lions and leopards, to name just a few.
After an awesome day on safari you may be keen for a night out, and Fez Bar is where it’s at. This is a popular bar for tourists and backpackers, and great for a boogie if that’s your thing. Friday nights are best; however, I recommend just taking some cash and leaving your phone at home as it can get busy and you may be at-risk of being pick-pocketed. Always get a taxi back to your hotel, and never walk home alone. Livingstone is generally pretty safe, but like any town or city, it’s always smart to keep an eye out for trouble.
If you have the time and the budget, I highly recommend going white-water rafting on the Zambezi River. I’ve done just about every extreme adrenalin-filled activity there is and white-water rafting at Victoria Falls is among the best I’ve thing I’ve ever done. You can do a full-day or half-day experience for US $170, which sounds expensive, but trust me, it’s worth it. You are bound to fall out of your raft – and even flip the whole thing – which is intense and scary at the time, but the professional local staff will have your back. They know the rapids like the back of their hand!
For the perfect finish to a perfect weekend, you have to do the sunset cruise on the Zambezi. It costs US $65, lasts around three hours and even includes dinner and unlimited booze! However, if you’ve booked a full-day white-water rafting trip you can get the sunset cruise for free! The sunsets over the Zambezi are second to none. Expect to see some hippo submerge next to the boat, and an elephant or two on the banks of the river. Take it all in while making some new friends as you sip on sun-downer drinks.
And there you have it, one jam-packed weekend in Livingstone. I’ve travelled most of the world and I can honestly say my time spent in Livingstone and the Victoria Falls ranks up there with the best of it. If you’re combining it with some meaningful volunteer work with us, then it’s sure to be a life-changing travel experience that you’ll never forget.
African Impact run several volunteer projects from Livingstone, focusing on wildlife conservation and community development. There is something for everyone in Zambia. Or, alternatively, you can just fly in for some fun!