Victoria Falls, better known by Zambians as Mosi-oa-Tunya ("the smoke that thunders") had been a place I have wanted to visit ever since I was a 6-year-old girl binge-watching Nat Geo with my father. Life brought me to Zambia more or less randomly, and while my time in the country was limited, I knew I had to make it south to finally see them in real life.
On this post, I will tell you all about my time here, including how I fell into the water in the most embarrassing way ever, how I managed to do it on a budget more or less officially, and how you can do it, too!
I stayed at Livingstone Backpackers the night before. It was only $11 for a dorm bed and they provided free shuttles every day to the falls, so it seemed like a perfect deal to me. I am traveling alone in Africa, so I thought this was the ideal way to connect with someone and head there together.
I ended up going with Sarah, an awesome German girl I met the night before at the hostel I stayed at in Livingstone. The city behind us began disappearing as Acacia trees started decorating the landscape. The car zig-zagged its way through the highway to avoid hitting lazy baboons hanging out in the middle of the road.
And then we reached the park. We paid our entry fee ($20 or 2000 ZKW), and were on our way!
We walked the length of the trail until we reached the end. While the falls were amazing, we felt a bit disappointed. "Where are the rainbows???!, I squealed to Sarah. "The falls looked much better in pictures", I told her disappointedly. I had read on several blogs that the falls were not that impressive during the dry season, so I vowed to return at some point in my life when there was... you know... more water falling. Maybe the next time I would see them from Zimbabwe instead, I had been told by a lot of people who did both that it looks better from there.
We were both a bit down. We were hoping for something more... jaw-dropping? Don't get me wrong, the falls DID look mind-blowing even in dry season, but I was hoping for a Jurassic Park-like view.
We began walking back to head to town again.
And then I told Sarah. "I am sure there is more to this. Let's walk OVER the falls and see what is there."
I think it wasn't technically allowed without a guide, but I chose to ignore the sign that clearly stated, in capital letters and all, "DO NOT WALK OVER THE WATER WITHOUT A TOUR GUIDE." I had come all the way down to Livingstone from Monze, and I wanted to get the epic experience everyone was gushing about.
We began walking over a small man-made edge. I could feel the rush of the water pushing me slightly, but I kept on walking. Sarah was behind me, I could hear her squealing while fretting the words "oh my god" a hundred times. "Come on, just keep moving. It will be fine!", I reassured her.
Minutes later, I learned that warning signs are placed for a reason.
I lost my balance war against the water. I began wobbling my body in an awkward dance, tumbling from right to left. I realized I was going to fall inevitably, the question was: to which side? I decided the left would be better as I thought to myself it couldn't be THAT deep and the water wouldn't go further up my knees.
I do realize that is a whole lot of thinking. The whole disaster lasted a few seconds according to Sarah, but from my perspective, everything happened in slow motion.
And then I was on the water, I couldn't even touch the ground. A guy got there within seconds and pulled me out. While he was doing so, I yelled "FUCK! MY CAMERA!", while Sarah was probably worried that I was about to die. At the same time, havoc was happening on the other side of the falls. Everyone saw the scene, and I heard incessant screams from my audience.
"Well, shit. That was embarrassing", I chuckled to Sarah, trying to act like everything was okay. My body was intact, but my pride hurt like hell.
The guy held both our hands as he walked us to the other side. I sat on a tree and revised my dead electronics. I hid them under a tree in hopes that they would dry and *maybe* at least one of them would make it.
The guy told us he would take us to "Angel's Pool". We had no idea that even existed or what to expect, but so much had happened that day that I was sure my bad luck was over. We followed him.
"Do you think he is an official guide?", I whispered to Sarah.
"I don't think so", she mouthed.
At that moment, we were both thinking he had been able to wade through the water to reach where I was in a matter of seconds. He had skills and he knew what he was doing. Who cared if he was official or not?
We walked barefooted through the water. Our guide, Herman, held our hands the whole way like kindergarten students on a field trip. He held the left one as Sarah clutched the right one so tight that I wasn't sure what hurt more: my bones that felt like they were crushing under her grasp, or the sharp rocks under my feet.
We landed in sand-filled pieces of land every once in a while. Each time we reached one, Sarah and I stared at each other while we blurted long sighs of relief.
And at last, we reached one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
We were at the edge of the falls.
"Maaaaaaaaan!", Sarah yelled.
"Fuuuuuck!", I exclaimed.
We stared in awe at the scene before us. The mist of the water grazed our toes and rainbows formed bridges across the gorge.
"Worth it", I claimed conclusively.
We took photos of ourselves, perfectly aware that a small trip would mean we would plummet to our deaths.
I am not even sure I would mind falling. Right then, it felt as though my life was complete. I secretly decided that, if I ever decide to kill myself, it would be by jumping off this exact spot. A dark thought, I know, but if I die, I want to die happily. Hell, I would probably decide life is worth it if I ever made it there and saw how magical the world can be.
We just sat there for a good twenty minutes, still in disbelief of what stood before our eyes. David Livingston, the first European to see the falls, described it as "a scene gazed upon by angels in their flight." He was right.
We continued our trek, unsure anything would be able to top what we had just witnessed.
After another treacherous walk through rocky waters, we reached Angel's Pool!
We were so in disbelief. I jumped in the water from a 5-meter height and there we were. On the edge again, this time IN the water.
We couldn't believe it! I had wanted to experience the more well-known Devil's Pool on the Zimbabwean side, but for $130 + visa costs to Zimbabwe (my passport doesn't qualify for the KAZA visa, which allows you to visit both countries in one go), so I would have to end up paying an extra hundred just to get into Zimbabwe and back to Zambia. It was way out of my budget if I wanted to do other things while on this continent.
But here we were, in a great alternative, with no one around. We had this piece of paradise all to ourselves.
It was SO damn epic.
We swam for an hour before heading back. At the end, we gave our guide $25 each. A low price to pay for such an awesome day. As we left, we saw him secretively handing money to a park ranger.
"Oops, he was definitely not an official one", I denoted.
"Who cares!", Sarah giggled.
I came back to find my camera and phone. I had such a great time that I had forgotten what had happened earlier. Miraculously, they both returned back to life!
On the ride back to Livingstone, we spotted a group of young elephants on the highway. We stopped the car, perplexed. This day was getting better and better by the second.
HOW TO VISIT VICTORIA FALLS ON A BUDGET
In total, I spent less than $100 including activities, accommodation, transport, and food. Victoria Falls on a budget achieved!
To be exact, here is a breakdown of my costs:
$22 to stay two nights at Livingstone Backpackers. The beds are cozy, there is a pool, and even a kitchen to cook your own meals (not that I did that, I ordered pizza, of course). I always like to stay at places that look like there was some love put into them and this was exactly it! The sofas to chill out on were covered in gorgeous kitenge fabrics, there were statues of animals made out of twigs, and tons of small details that made the place feel like home rather than just a bed to sleep on.
Entry ticket to Victoria Falls: $20
Guide to Angel's Pool: $25
Food and snacks: $7
Taxi back to the hostel: $2 (we bargained down to $4, so we split it by two). You can also walk back to the city, as it is only 8 kilometers away, but be aware of baboons (they like stealing stuff, especially food) and elephants - they can get aggressive during hot season!
I researched online, and this trek can be booked for about $120 per person (including the entry ticket). I think this is not necessary, but of course, some might debate with me that only official tours should be booked. That is completely up to you. You can also hire an official guide, just ask at the entry for one. Do not attempt to go without a guide, even if he is unofficial. I would have never been able to even find the place alone and the rocks are sometimes really slippery. Plus, it is illegal to do so and if you get caught by a guard ranger, you might end up paying a very steep fee to the government (I found this out until later). Do not do what I did during wet season if you value your life, though! I researched online a lot, and the pool looks deathly! You can't even go where I went without using a rope.
If you just want to see the falls, there is no need to hire a guide. It is perfectly safe to go on your own on the opposite side.
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