Planning a Trip
Country Codes -- This guide contains phone numbers for three countries. So that you'll know which country each is in, all phone numbers in this section start with the country code as well as the local code. Phone numbers starting with 263 are in Zimbabwe, those starting with 260 are in Zambia, and those beginning with 27 are in South Africa. The Zimbabwean telephone exchange is temperamental (make that hair-tearingly frustrating), and you will find that at certain times of the day, it is impossible to get through to any number. E-mail almost always works, but addresses change often.
The Best Times to Come -- The falls are most impressive from January to April after the summer rains, when up to 700,000 million cubic liters (182,000 million gal.) per minute rush over the 100m-high (328-ft.) lip into the gorge below. The spray can become so thick during this time, however, that it obscures the view. From May, nights can be cold, but it starts to warm up by the end of August. By September and October, at the end of the dry season, the flow is down to about 3%, but the view is clearest. (In Oct and Nov, when the water is very low on the Zambian side, the Zimbabwean side is the better place to be.)
With tourism to this country growing as fast as it is declining in Zimbabwe, the Zambia National Tourism Board is maintaining an up-to-date website (www.zambiatourism.com). For more background information on the destination, with useful (but not necessarily current) trip-planning advice, visit the Getaway website (www.getawaytoafrica.com) for features on Zambia. As Getaway is predominantly aimed at the local South African market, you can put together a trip that will halve costs. Then again, you'll spare yourself some hassle and ensure a smooth trip by dealing directly with www.wilderness-safaris.com and www.kerdowney.com, the two most established Zambian operators, each with a great lodging near Vic Falls, as well as upmarket camps in the big Zambian national parks.
The largest Victoria Falls operator, specializing in the full spectrum of adventure activities (also mostly budget accommodations) and transfers on both sides of the falls, is Safari Par Excellence (tel. 44/845/293-0512; this U.K. number is for an agent, available 24/7; you can also contact them at email@example.com or visit www.safpar.com). The Zambia office is at Zambezi Waterfront Lodge, off Mosi-Oa-Tunya Road, halfway between Livingstone and the Vic Falls bridge; if you're traveling from South Africa, contact the local representative at Maplanga Africa (tel. 27/11/794-1446; www.maplanga.co.za).
Safari Par Excellence serves as booking agents for the widest number of activities on and near the falls, and specializes predominantly in accommodating groups of overland travelers. If you're in the U.K. and looking for more personal, discriminatory assistance or considering a more substantial safari adventure into Zambia (which is highly recommended, given that the country is still relatively undiscovered and the bush is wild), contact the London-based Zambia Safari & Travel Company (tel. 44/800/840-1377; www.zambezi.com), a small, independent family-owned safari company serving adventurous spirits from all corners of the globe. U.S. travelers should look no further than Mashinda (firstname.lastname@example.org), headed by Judy Udwin, who personally visits every lodging she recommends and has a great eye for details that count, across the budget spectrum.
To plan your trip on the Zimbabwean side, start by browsing www.gotovictoriafalls.com; it's an excellent site, cohosted by all the tourist stakeholders in Victoria Falls. Low tourism numbers in the village mean that hotel staff, private operators, and other tourist stakeholders will bend over backward to assist you; this website is their initiative and their passion for the village and falls shows.
Money Matters in Zimbabwe -- At independence, Zimbabwe's dollar was worth more than the U.S. dollar; at press time, Zimbabwean dollars are not accepted anywhere -- not even in Zimbabwe, where they are used as fire-starters or toilet paper. Inflation in Zimbabwe was running rampant, at over 230%, until a shaky coalition government suspended the currency in 2009, making foreign currency (dollars, euros, pounds, and rands) the note of legal tender. State price fixing has also been dropped along with high duties on imported foodstuffs, a welcome move that has reduced inflation slightly. In any case, be warned: such basic goods as sanitary towels can be hard to find (though this is less true in Vic Falls village). It's advisable to carry a lot of small denomination notes: Change will not always be available in the currency you offer to pay with. Credit cards are accepted in most accommodations, but plenty of operators won't take them (and certainly the market traders can't), so it is imperative that you also carry some foreign currency (and prepay for as much as you can before arrival). Please also note that MasterCard is not always accepted in Zimbabwe, so make sure you have a Visa or Amex card, or stick to the Zambian side. Visitors are expected to declare the cash they bring into the country but there are no limits on the amount.
From Johannesburg -- The majority of visitors are more likely to arrive on the Zambian side of the falls, at nearby Livingstone International Airport: BA Comair and SAA fly here daily. You might want to compare prices with the daily flights to Victoria Falls International Airport (even if you're heading for the Zambian side, it's relatively easy to arrange a transfer, visas are not expensive, and it's only an hour to Livingstone). Both SAA and BA fly once daily; Air Zimbabwe offers the same route and was recently given a clean bill of health (but, personally, I'd still stick with the big aviation guys).
Most hotels offer a complimentary shuttle from the airport; arrange this in advance. Departure taxes are now included in the price of your air ticket.
By Train -- If you fancy chugging to the falls in style, consider the Shongololo Express Southern Cross Adventure, a 16-day journey that travels leisurely between Victoria Falls and Johannesburg, making calls at destinations in Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. (tel. 27/11/483-0657, -58, -59; www.shongololo.com; R38,850-R58,000, depending on carriage.)