By Vanessa Chiasso
It’s tempting to sum up the differences between Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and Livingstone, Zambia, with a few clichés. It’s often said that Victoria Falls is more touristy and Livingstone is more authentic. But when I visited, I found communities that were eager to defy expectations.
In “touristy” Victoria Falls, locals sang about politics in the cafes and chatted about economic policy on the drive to the game park. In “authentic” Livingstone, everyone was eager to showcase their sophisticated museums and internationally inspired cuisine.
Visitors keen to look beyond the stereotypes will discover warm, welcoming destinations with their own character and plenty to offer.
Here are five key differences between Victoria Falls and Livingstone.
The Vic Falls experience
First things first: Which country is better for experiencing Victoria Falls? It’s complicated. But the short answer is that the Zimbabwean side, while farther from the falls, affords much better views. In Zambia, you will be much closer to the falls — in some cases, you can even stand in the water! — but the views are limited.
Between February and June, the waterfalls run at full force and visitors should wear rain jackets. Between July and September, you will have the best views, since the water is still strong, but not nearly as misty. And when the dry season comes in the fall, the views are great and there is ample opportunity for different water activities.
In Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, the Victoria Falls World Heritage National Monument Site offers multiple paths for exploring the falls. One of these is the Eastern Cataract, a walk across a footbridge through the mist of the falls. And, for those with plenty of moxie, there is also the Devil’s Pool. To see the falls, which are about 11km from the town centre, you will need to catch a taxi. You may also need a guide, depending on what you want to see.
On the Zimbabwean side, Victoria Falls National Park has a gift shop, an excellent cafe, local handicrafts, lots of informational panels and easy walking paths that offer outstanding views of the falls from all angles. I personally like to arrive early in the morning and stroll when things are quiet and the baboons outnumber the visitors.
Later in the day, the cafe is the perfect place to cool off and relax before revisiting your favourite trail. The park is located in the heart of Victoria Falls and is set up so that you can easily explore on your own without a guide. Note that if you are staying outside the main part of town, you might need a taxi to get there.
No matter which side you are on, if you are visiting the area during the full moon (or just before or after), ask your hotel about a lunar visit to the falls. It’s an experience you don’t want to miss!
In Victoria Falls, the tiny Jafuta Heritage Centre within the Elephant’s Walk shopping plaza chronicles the cultural heritage of the Zimbabwean people. It showcases jewellery, traditional costumes, and other artefacts. A plus: It’s located next door to Dean’s Cafe, which uses local coffee beans and is well worth a visit.
Boma in Victoria Falls provides excellent cuisine in addition to a unique cultural experience. You will have plenty of opportunities to try local foods (including impala, guinea fowl stew, and crunchy roasted mopane worms) as you enjoy the talents of drummers and dancers.
In Zambia, travellers can visit the Livingstone Museum, the largest and oldest museum in the country. Highlights of its collection include items from the life of David Livingstone, exhibits on modern-day Zambia, a model of an African village, and much more.
Admission to this wheelchair-friendly museum costs just US$5, an outstanding deal.
Livingstone is also home to the Railway & Gateway Jewish Museum. This hybrid museum chronicles the history of Zambia’s locomotive age as well as the development of Livingstone’s Jewish community. The community travelled to Livingstone in the late 1800s to escape religious persecution in their native Lithuania. They are further remembered in the small Jewish cemetery and synagogue (now a Church of Christ). – Travel Awaits.
- To be continued next week.
- Chiasson is an award-winning writer specialising in travel, food and drink, lifestyle and current events. Her bylines include USA Today, Canadian Traveller, Ontario Tourism, The Globe and Mail, and more. Her blog, TurnipseedTravel, focuses on cozy, affordable travel adventures and was named one of the 100 most influential travel blogs in the world by the White House in 2014.