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Travel Guide: Visiting Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

12th Oct 2011 1:53am | By Editor

Despite being in a part of the world threatened by political injustice, MICHAEL BROWN says Victoria Falls is a must-see for anyone heading to Africa.

It's one of the most truly amazing sights situated in one of the world's most deeply disturbing countries. A natural phenomenon of immense power and beauty, Victoria Falls has been captivating visitors since David Livingstone laid his eyes on them in 1855. Some have tried to travel over them in a barrel, others choose to buzz metres above them in microlites or helicopters or even hop from rock to rock as if it's a gentle stream belying the fact they're on the edge of a 100m-high precipice, while the less adventurous simply choose to admire them from underneath an umbrella on the adjacent cliff face.

Whatever the vantage point, the result is still the same - sheer awe at the size, magnitude, volume and splendour of one of the natural wonders of the world. Spanning 1708m wide, Victoria Falls is the largest curtain of water in the world and as much as 550,000 cubic metres of water plummets over the edge of the 90m-107m-high cliffs into the Zambezi Gorge every minute.

They can usually be heard before they're seen. A continuous and thunderous roar drifts out over the area while a widespread mist caused by the immense spray dances over the crack in the Earth, which can rise to one mile-high in the wet season.

Locals call it Mosi-oa-Tunya - the smoke that thunders - and, as you might imagine, the noise and spray is even more impressive as you wander from one vertiginous vantage point to the next.

The Zambezi river marks the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, with both countries laying claim to half of Victoria Falls each. The Zimbabwe side is the more spectacular, with the main body of water crashing down on the western side.

Behind the tall, steel fencing and antiquated administration buildings that surround Victoria Falls tourist complex, complete with 1970s-style museum, lies a completely different world, however. It's a less enticing place yet one that tells an important story.

Ever day I pray to God that something happens to Robert Mugabe, but every day my prayers remain unanswered," a waiter says to me matter-of-factly as he pours another glass of water. "He is an evil man."

Of that, there is no argument. Mugabe has systematically destroyed what was once a proud and prosperous nation with his despotic ways, leaving millions homeless, jobless, penniless and broken. Witnessing queues for even the most basic of supplies, like bread and flour, is a heartbreaking sight. Around the corner from the supermarket, the petrol station is deserted - there is no petrol for sale and when it does arrive, bargain-hunters from Zambia scoot over the border to fill up on the scarce commodity because it's infinitely cheaper in Zimbabwe. Down the road at the local market, desperate artisans attempt to flog off their wares for an old T-shirt, cap or dusty pair of trousers simply because the Zimbabwe dollar is worthless. It all adds up to a depressing situation, but one shining light is Victoria Falls.

The township of Victoria Falls is somewhat incongruous in what is becoming an increasingly poverty-stricken Zimbabwe. It's well developed, albeit without some of the basic commodities of life, has trendy souvenir shops and colonial-style five-star hotels. It also has beggars and souvenir touts desperate to sell even the most simple of merchandise. Tourists are a welcome sight, simply because they bring in money (and the US dollar, if they're lucky) to an area and population that needs cash.

Although Victoria Falls are the main reason why tourists visit the region, it's not the only attraction in the area. A trip on or around the Zambezi River, for instance, is a trip into a natural wonderland. Hippos peer out on the world almost completely submerged to keep themselves cool during the day and crocodiles look on ominously from the riverbanks, while elephants, rhino and lions wander confidently in the gameparks. At least one gamedrive is a must for anyone venturing to Africa.
And just beyond the falls themselves, thrillseekers can launch themselves off the nearest bridge or raft down the Zambezi on the turbulent waters just beyond Victoria Falls.

The entire region is a magical place, highlighted, of course, by Victoria Falls. Some might say that to venture to Zimbabwe is to support the Mugabe regime while others suggest that the people of Zimbabwe need all of the support they can get considering they're clearly being let down by their own government. It's a choice each person needs to make but for those who decide to travel to the troubled region, Victoria Falls is a sight that won't let you down."