I was very surprised and happy when I landed at the Victoria Falls Airport, Zimbabwe. This modern facility was developed by former Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Dr. Walter Mzembi who arranged a $150 million loan from the China EXIM Bank. This very modern facility offers a new runway that accepts up to 5 wide bodied aircraft, new carousels and reception spaces, an increased number of immigration officers and efficiently welcomes more visitors on a daily basis.
While taxis are available from the airport to hotels, it is advisable to have your hotel arrange for a personal pickup at the arrival area.
There are many options for accommodations at Victoria Falls; however, my favorite:
Victoria Falls Safari Club
After days of traveling on airlines, trudging through airports, standing on endless lines and driving along dusty roads, I was exhausted and anxious to find my way to air conditioning and a cold drink. As the driver passed the road sign signaling arrival at the Lodge, I felt an anxiety attack creeping into my consciousness. What would a safari lodge look like? Were my expectations realistic or absurd (they were based on brochures and movies). Would the two days of non-stop travel be rewarded, or would I be disappointed?
Briefly – my response was OMG! The reception area is absolutely brochure perfect and the welcome from the staff is just what this weary traveler needs. After a warm greeting I was offered a cool drink and a comfortable seat along with a sincere request for me to share my travels. I am sure the hotel manager had other things to do that were more important than listening to my odyssey, but he calmly and politely demonstrated a sincere interest in my journey from Manhattan to Zimbabwe.
When I finally finished (what must have been a very long story), I was registered into the hotel database, escorted to my room, and provided with a schedule and information on dining/drinking options, attractions, and an overview of the unique qualities of the hotel. .
My Room? Perfect!
The Club is built on an elevated hill site that affords infinite panoramic views of the pristine bushveld and the amazing African sunsets; the on-site waterhole is excellent for game-viewing.
Accommodations feature African prints and colors and the open format creates a feeling of spaciousness. With a private screened balcony and an en-suite bathroom, this is luxury without being ostentatious.
After taking a cold shower, unpacking a few necessities from my carry-on suitcase, I headed back to the lobby for directions to the MaKuwa-Kuwa restaurant to have lunch with the then General Manager, Jonathan Hudson.
I frequently skip lunch when I travel, considering it a waste of precious sight-seeing time; however, a quick scan of the menu changed my mind.
Lunch with the Vultures
If good food and delicious South African wine is not enough to keep you engaged during lunch time at the Safari Club, select a table overlooking the ground used for Feeding the Vultures. It is hard to believe that the vulture is on the extinct list in Africa. Although they are a necessary part of the eco-system (natures clean-up crew) they are being destroyed.
Poachers kill the elephants, cut off the tusks, and then inject poison into the remains. The vultures who feed on the carcasses die from eating the poisoned meat. If they did not die, the clouds of live vultures would alert rangers to the location of the poachers.
In addition to the poachers, local tribes kill the vultures for medical reasons. Sometimes they die accidentally when they fly into power lines.
Save the Vultures
Over 18 years ago, the staff at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and the Club decided to assist the vultures and started to feed them. Now they invite guests to the area to watch them being fed (Vulture Culture). The daily event takes place in front of the Buffalo Bar. Guests can walk down a narrow dirt path and wait in the “hide” or sit on the viewing deck with a chilled glass of chardonnay – and watch the birds enjoy their lunch.
The birds get to dine on the heads, feet and leftovers of beef, chickens and warthogs (based on what is available in the hotel kitchen). They wait patiently as the Vulture Guide tosses out the carcass bits, and as he walks away, they descend on the feast.
Next Stop. Zambesi Royal River Cruise (Wild Horizons)
An absolutely perfect way to enjoy an African sunset is on a Zambesi cruise. The hospitality team includes a chef, barmen, and host. The cruise leaves from the Cruise Terminal and roams through the islands bringing passengers up close to the abundant wildlife (crocodiles, elephants, hippos and birds). Delicious and abundant appetizers, many beverage choices and charming staffers make this an important experience in Zimbabwe.
Sundowner and Dinner
Back at the Safari Club, cocktail time is the perfect opportunity to experience more goodies from the chef and drink South African wines while memorializing the sunset. The next stop is dinner at Boma.
Boma Dinner and Drum Show
The Boma is more than a restaurant – it is a special event. Hundreds of guests, tons of food, entertainment by local Amakwezi dancers – all contribute to making this a theatrical evening. To really enjoy the “drama” – enter with a “no judgement” attitude. Accept the African fabric that is draped across your shoulders, taste everything including the warthog roast. Tables are placed very close together – making it easy to engage in conversation with other guests.
Breakfast at the Club
No matter how much I ate the night before, I am curious as to “what’s for breakfast” when traveling. Each country and hotel has its own unique approach to this first meal of the day.
Visitors to the Club will never be hungry. There are so much really appealing choices, served in beautiful surroundings by well-trained staff…I wish I could move in – permanently.
Bucket List Destination: Victoria Falls
African explorer, David Livingstone “discovered” the Falls, naming it after Queen Victoria. He is the first European to cross Africa from south to north discovering this cascade in 1855 while preaching Christianity in Africa. Victoria Falls became an attractive destination during the British colonial rule of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and the town developed into a tourism center.
Beginning of Tourism
Victoria Falls started to be noticed by Europeans at the beginning of the 20th century. The area developed thanks to the laser focus of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902) who wanted to exploit its natural resources (timber forests, ivory, animal skins and mineral rights). Rhodes actually made most of his fortune through his control of diamond mines and started DeBeers with his brother Herbert.
To start the project, he planned a bridge across the Zambezi River and the trains began to bring travel and commerce from Cape Town, SA to the Belgian Congo (1905). By the 1990s approximately 300,000 people were visiting the Falls annually.
There can be no debate, Victoria Falls is large and spectacular and it takes hours to walk the area from start to finish. The weather is hot and muggy, the pathways are rocky and unprotected (no guard rails), and unless you are in very good physical condition, the site visit can quickly move from awesome to “awe-shucks.”
Perhaps the best way to enjoy the journey and the view – is to break up the attraction into a 2-day adventure and plan the itinerary for very early morning – before the sun reaches its zenith. Wear very comfortable clothing. Although shorts, t-shirts and sandals are acceptable, between the sun, the unpaved paths and the bugs, light pants, a long sleeve t-shirt and sneakers (with socks) might make for a more comfortable adventure. Don’t forget the hat, water, sun screen, bug repellant and camera.
Ready to Go
The god of the Zambezi River, Nyami Nyami is smiling on Victoria Falls. Even the most cynical traveler will be hard pressed to complain about this destination. In addition to the Falls, Zambezi River cruises and wildlife spotting, visitors can bungee jump, experience river rafting, kayaking, and canoeing, zip line across the gorge, take an elephant-back safari, walk with lions and experience a helicopter ride over the waterfall. For additional information, click here.
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.