If Victoria Falls isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. It is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Victoria Falls is known by locals as Mosi-oa-Tunya (‘Smoke that Thunders’) as during the rainy season, it is estimated that more than 500 million litres of water flow over the edge every minute. This spectacular natural phenomenon is not the only thing to see if you’re planning a visit to Zambia. Here are ten things to know before you go.
1. It’s hot
Being from South Africa; I’m used to high temperatures (usually ranging between 25 °C to 32 °C in summer) but, even so, stepping off the plane in Livingstone in mid-November had me reaching for an ice-cold G&T.
The summer months in Zambia are the same as in South Africa, i.e. from November to March, when it’s hot and humid. March/April is peak season at Victoria Falls when the water is at its highest and most powerful. Winter in Zambia is from June – August and is still a great time to visit as temperatures rarely go below 7°C.
2. It’s beautiful
I visited Zambia with my family in November 2019 during the worst drought in a century, but even then, it was one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. Usually, the water would cover most of the rock formations around Victoria Falls, but we could get up close as it was so dry.
It was interesting to see the rock formations underneath the Falls; they have a strange pattern that adds foam and bubbles to the water before it tumbles more than 100 meters over the edge.
3. It’s (relatively) safe
Zambia is one of the top ten safest places to visit in Africa. South Africa didn’t even make the list, so I immediately felt safe in Zambia. Locals are friendly and eager to give advice or a tour (for a tip, of course).
The only time I felt a bit unsafe was when we crossed the border from Zambia to Zimbabwe. It is best to travel in a group when visiting the falls on the Zimbabwe side. Also, keep all your valuables like cameras and smartphones hidden from sight until you are in the nature reserve.
4. It’s a malaria area
Prophylactics have gotten a bad rap in the past with severe side effects, including hallucinations, stomach cramps, vomiting, headaches, etc. Luckily, the newer ones aren’t that bad, and our doctor strongly advised us to take prophylactics when travelling to Zambia. Our doctor recommended Mozitech*, which is available as an over-the-counter medicine at most pharmacies in South Africa but please check with your doctor to ensure you pick the right option for you, especially if you have liver or kidney problems.
Our group of six adults didn’t experience any terrible side effects, except for two of our party who had a stomach ache every few days. Just remember to drink lots of water (G&Ts don’t count) when taking prophylactics as they can be hard on your kidneys and liver.
5. It’s hydro-powered
In Zambia, most of their energy comes from their hydro electronic station. But seeing as they were experiencing a drought when we visited in November 2019, the hydro station couldn’t produce enough electricity. So, we experienced load shedding during our visit.
If you are from South Africa, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, I’ll quickly explain. In South Africa, we have load shedding when our energy provider struggles to supply energy to the country’s grid. The grid is then divided into different sections, and power is provided to these sections according to a strict schedule. During load shedding, the electricity/power is usually out for between an hour and two and a half hours at a time.
Load shedding isn’t something you should be worried about when planning a visit to Zambia. Most hotels are adequately prepared for load shedding and have generators running to ensure that the fans still work even when the aircon doesn’t. And believe me, you’ll need the fan as cracking a window to let the mosquitos in is not an option.
6. It’s where the wild things are
The number of wild animals we saw during our five-day trip was unreal. We stayed at the Avani Victoria Falls Resort, and on the hotel grounds, the zebras were chilling by the pool and the giraffes looked down on us whenever we took a walk.
We also went on a sunset riverboat cruise (which I highly recommend) and saw an elephant swim across the Zambesi while a hippo got out of his way and crocodiles chilled in the sun. It was magical!
7. It’s filled with folklore
The animals were not the only magical thing about Zambia. Almost every person I met had a spellbinding story to tell. The folklore I was most fascinated by was the legend of the Zambezi River God called Nyami Nyami. The Nyami Nyami has the tail of a crocodile, the body of a snake, and the head of a dragon/fish.
Our tour guide on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls explained the legend to us and showed us the amulet he wears around his neck as a good luck charm. The Nyami Nyami is said to control the life in and on the river. Our tour guide warned us that if we wanted to go river rafting, we would be wise to pray to Nyami Nyami to protect us before starting our journey down the Zambesi.
8. It’s a culinary experience
While Zambia offers many adventures, the one I most enjoyed was seeing what was on the menu each night. The hotel we stayed at offered a buffet of traditional dishes (along with other options for the less adventurous palettes).
My dad particularly enjoyed the kapenta, a small sardine-like fish that is fried in oil, tomatoes, and onions. After much debate and a glowing recommendation from the waitress, I tried the mopane worms (or caterpillars) known in Zambia as ‘ifinkubala‘. The worms are prepared in much the same way as the kapenta and while I’m glad I tried it, the only worms I want on my plate are the gummy sugary kind.
9. It’s tourist-friendly
Whether travelling to Zambia from South Africa or the US, your currency is likely to be accepted by most hotels. In Zambia, the local currency is the Zambian Kwacha. The exchange rate between South African Rands (ZAR) and Zambian Kwachas (ZMW) is about the same (R1 is around 1.15 Kwachas) while 1 US Dollar is approximately 16 Kwachas – depending on the exchange rate.
10. It’s an English-speaking country
English is the official language of government in Zambia. So, you should be able to easily chat with most locals while on your trip. Zambia also has seven official vernacular languages, including:
- Lunda, and
Let me know if you add Victoria Falls to your bucket list or if you have already been. I would love to know what you enjoyed most about your trip.
*Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health providers.