VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe.
It was in 2006 when my friend of longstanding, Robert Mukondiwa first asked me to visit Southern Africa’s magnificent waterfalls. We were with about 20 something other African journalists on a trip to Ontario Canada.
All of us were beneficiaries of grants by the Kaiser Family Foundation covering the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto for media outlets in our home countries. And after days of hectic pre-conference workshops we jumped at the chance to make a side trip to see the famous Niagara Falls before the real work began.
We all noticed the bustling economic development projects around Niagara; the hotels, restaurants, and casinos overlooking the waterfalls. All this industry geared at generating tourism dollars.
“This is very nice, but you should see what we have back home, “Mukondiwa said then. It was five years before I finally arrived here, with Robert, now an editor with Zimbabwe’s largest tabloid daily, H-Metro in tow.
Over the years when working in Africa, I’ve always tried to find a new place to have a few days of holiday. And this trip was no different. After working in Harare, we jumped on a flight to this town of about 35,000 residents to relax.
And immediately upon arrival, I knew this was to perfect place to get away and regroup. Or maybe even have a honeymoon.
Yes, it had taken me awhile to get here, but it quickly became one of my top recommendations for a holiday on the continent.
The falls or ‘Masi Oa Tunya’, (the clouds that thunder) are stunning. They are 1,700 meters wide consisting of five grandiose drops. There are more than seven huge gorges that spread out from the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
And the clouds really are thunderous when the Zambezi drops of a cliff into a narrow chasm between 233 feet to 360 feet below.
It is over a mile wide and an incomparable natural spectacle. Unlike Niagara, there are no restaurants and hotels on the edge of the falls. Once you step into the rainforest, it is nature that surrounds you. No casinos beckon.
The entire area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1989. It will take hours to stroll through the national park. It is inevitable that visitors are drenched so the yellow raincoats available at the ticket counter are essential.
If you are inclined, you can get a bridge pass and walk into Livingstone, Zambia to get the view from there. Devote several hours in the morning or at sunset for a fantastic viewing of this natural wonder.
There is bungee jumping for the fearless, as well as rafting, kayaking and canoeing. There are also and flights over the water. Of course safaris are nearby, with close views of lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards and rhinos.
WHERE TO STAY
Escape the rabble and cluster of hotels in the city center and check into the delightful Stanley and Livingstone (www.stanleyandlivingstone.com). This was Mukondiwa’s first choice for us and I was very grateful. ‘You’ll like this place” he kept insisting and he was right.
Set on the very private 6,000 acre Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve, this boutique hotel is tranquil, with butlers who cater to your every need.
Service is impeccable.
The chalets are tastefully furnished even in their opulence. They are all surrounded by lush tropical gardens. When I stepped off my balcony to sniff the fragrant flowers I was greeted by buffalos at a watering hole beyond the near invisible fence. Privacy is respected here as many public figures have escaped here. Room rates start at $245. Luxury is often not so affordable.
Costa Shinya, the general manager will handle any requests and help you make the best of your time here, if you’ve landed without an itinerary. He might even let you see and sample the large collection of wine in their cavernous cellar.
The other luxury option is the grand Victoria Falls hotel, (www.africansunhotels.com). This historic five-star establishment is steeped in colonial history and has played host to British royalty for much of the last century. It is on a national park as and has a great view of the 106-year-old Victoria Falls Bridge that connects Zambia to Zimbabwe.
The area is dotted with good eateries but set aside an evening to visit The Boma. It is superb. This traditional open sky eatery nestled on the forest edge, has all the local meats, fish and tons of vegetarian dishes. Your dining experience includes being entertained by indigenous musicians and dancers. Then there are the storytellers and fortunetellers. Drum lessons and dancing are de-riguer. Face painting of animals that represent the diner’ s spirit done by the time dessert is arriving. But the star of the evening will remain what’s on your plate. Wear something traditional or robes will be given to you at the door before you a seated. $50. Another popular meal option, Zambezi River dinner cruises are easy to arrange.
There are international direct flights into Victoria Falls with British Airways, Iberia, South African Airways. If you have already arrived in Zimbabwe via Harare, Air Zimbabwe frequently flies there. The U.S.$ and major credit cards are accepted everywhere. The political climate seems not to have had much impact going by the hordes of European tourists arriving daily. Despite the difficult political situation in the country in recent time, Victoria Falls has always been its own entity. Crime is very low and it is extremely safe to visit.
Photos courtesy of Frankie Edozien
|Happy Diners||With Robert Mukondiwa||The Stanley & Livingstone Room|