There are some travel experiences, some entire trips even, that are so exceptional you wonder how anything will be able to top the experience and my recent trip to Southern Africa was one of them.
Not only has it been on my personal trip list for years, it was uncharted territory for me and I knew I needed to experience it myself. Squeezing in so much into 17 days was quiet the feat. I saw so much, but at the same time barely scratched the surface.
I am pleased though that I have many recommendations for when sending clients to experience this amazingly unique, and truly awesome gem.
Over the next few blog posts, I plan to share step by step where I went, what I saw and why I think it should be on your list of places to see.
Let’s first start with a pre-planned and last minute planned portion of the trip.
Zimbabwe and Zambia
The Infamous Devil’s Pool.
The Zambezi River.
The Victoria Falls Hotel.
Each are a must see and must do.
My first thought when planning the trip to Southern Africa was it had to include Victoria Falls. I mean, how could you miss the biggest waterfall in the world?
One of the best parts of Victoria Falls is you can see it from both Zimbabwe and Zambia in one day, but I really had never given Zambia any thought…until 2 days before leaving for SA. More on that in a minute.
The flight from Johannesburg to the Victoria Falls International Airport was about and hour and 50 minutes. Getting through customs was a little slow because of the visa purchasing process. Yes – you need a visa to get into Zimbabwe and it must be purchased when you arrive and in US dollars – cash – no exceptions.
The line I was in took a bit longer because I wanted to purchase a KAZA UniVisa, which allows you to cross both borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia and move between both sides of the falls. If you purchase this visa, you’ll not only save some money, you won’t have to wait in line to cross over to the other side of the falls.
When I had made the call 2 days before leaving for SA to include Zambia, the UniVisa was sold out and hadn’t been available for days, so I was so happy when it was available because it saved some money and time. In the case that you cannot get the KAZA UniVisa on arrival, just purchase the visa for Zimbabwe and then there are immigration offices conveniently located near the entrances to the falls so you can purchase a visa to Zambia and vice versa if you start in Zambia.
But let’s get to the main event – Victoria Falls.
Three-quarters of Victoria Falls lies within Zimbabwe, and there are so many amazing views. I set up a private guide for the day that picked us up at our hotel. Did we need to have a guide? No, but as I look back at trips where I have and have not had a guide, I’ve always had a more enriching experience with one. Some benefits to having a guide – you learn more about the people, the area and the history than just reading a placard before walking in. They’ll provide raincoats if you need them – and yes you do need them during specific times of the year!
It’s also awesome to have someone snap a few pictures for you! Thankfully I have an amazing photographer as my travel partner – thanks @jdotschultz! Here are a few of our favorites:
Now don’t get me wrong. Victoria Falls was ah-may-zing. I’m still confused by how 4 hours went by just walking around gazing at its beauty and chatting with our guide about everything Zimbabwe.
But. Can we now talk about my last minute addition to the trip?
Zambia – yes you can view the falls from the other side, but that really never crossed my mind that I needed to do that. Not until I heard about Devil’s Pool.
Who has watched those crazy videos that have gone viral on social media, lately? Like this one for example:
I’m not a huge adrenaline junkie and was skeptical on whether or not I should actually be signing up for this, but I didn’t want Jeremy to miss out and decided to put my big girls pants on and just do it. I rearranged our schedule in Zimbabwe and added Zambia to take on one of the best sights (that I’ve ever seen!) from the truly breathtaking Devils Pool.
Devil’s Pool is adjacent to Livingstone Island and it is literally at the edge of the Victoria Falls. It’s typically only open August through mid January when the water levels of the Zambezi are at their lowest.
This is when you can literally lounge on the edge of the world….with no harnesses, gear, ropes…just a rock holding you from going across the edge. Yes, yes I am crazy for doing it, but I would actually do it again in a heartbeat to see that view again!
I’m still in disbelief that I did it, but still in awe at how beautiful Victoria Falls looked from that vantage. We were so lucky to have a double rainbow that morning and favorable skies. I was truly on cloud 9.
Well Victoria Falls wouldn’t be Victoria Falls without the Zambezi River and a Sunset cruise on the Zambezi Explorer one evening was a must. The Zambezi Explorer is made up of three decks onboard. The two lower decks provide a luxury service and includes a range of beverages and cocktails and snacks.
The ‘Signature Deck’ is the uppermost level and it is pure extravagance with gourmet hors d’oeuvres and premium beverages served from a private bar. I wanted this evening to be special and sprung for the Signature deck. The deep set couches, attentive service and free flow of drinks made for a wonderful evening on the Zambezi.
Finally, to cap off our time in Zimbabwe, it wouldn’t be the same without our two dinners at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
There are two restaurants on property – one called Jungle Junction and the other The Livingstone Room. Jungle Junction is a little more casual and buffet style – but don’t let that fool you – some of the best food of our trip was on that buffet – hello ostrich! Not only is the food standout, but the entertainment is just wow. I was mesmerized by the African dances and did not want it to end!
We checked out The Livingstone Room the next night, which is an experience in itself. First, don’t forget your coat! Yes, guys you have to dress up, but it is totally worth it! The restaurant was voted the 7th finest Restaurant in the World by The Daily Meal and consistently sets the benchmark for fine dining in Africa.
We opted for the multi course tasting menu that included wine pairings and it was just divine! Despite it being a little formal, I spent a little time goofing around post-meal (probably was the wine!)
Zimbabwe and Zambia did not disappoint for a minute. I honestly thought to myself – how could this trip possibly get any more beautiful?
Well South Africa proved me wrong.
Stay tuned for the next blog post where I’ll be sharing my experience in the winelands!