Bucket List Moment: Visiting Victoria Falls

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Ever since a few years ago when AJ and I purchased a personalized travel map for our house, I’ve had Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, marked as a dream travel destination. Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall by surface area in the world (width by height), and it is right on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. When I thought about visiting Africa, Victoria Falls seemed like a foregone conclusion. Of course I was going to go on safari and of course I would see Victoria Falls while I was there. How could I not? So when I discovered that G Adventures offered a safari that included a trip to the Falls, I knew it was the right tour for me.

We entered Zimbabwe from Botswana and managed to survive the border crossing unscathed. Overland border crossings in Africa are notorious for being corrupt, taking a very long time, and generally being unpleasant, and our guide was the most concerned about this one. There are a few different types of visas you can get for entry into Zimbabwe, and which one you need depends on how long you’ll be staying and whether you intend to leave and return. I opted to get a joint visa that would allow me to enter both Zimbabwe and Zambia, while most others opted to stick with the Zimbabwe-only visa. It cost me $50 USD, which was still cheaper than the UK residents paid for their Zimbabwe-only visas!

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I love countries where you have to actually get a visa instead of just a stamp. Makes it more exciting.

After a short drive, we arrived at Victoria Falls National Park. Our guide warned us that we would get “soaked” at the Falls and recommended that we dress accordingly and consider buying a poncho. Honestly, I didn’t believe him. I expected to get wet, so I slipped on my Airstorm Jacket from KUHL, but that was the extent of my preparation. This proved to be a mistake.

Victoria Falls National Park has a beautiful trail system set up that takes you from point to point along the massive falls. Since the falls are a mile wide and have shifted over time due to changes in the water flow of the Zambezi River, there are tons of incredible geological formations to see along the way. My first glimpse of the falls took my breath away. The double rainbow didn’t exactly hurt.

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I mean, WHAT

It was in that moment that, once again, I was reminded that I really am making my dreams come true. I put Victoria Falls on my bucket list, and in what felt like no time at all (but was actually years in the making), I found myself standing right in front of it. Those moments and realizations remind me of how lucky I am, of course, but they also remind me that, just like my parents told me when I was a kid, anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Maybe that sounds cliche, but it truly does keep me motivated. I know that if I want to go some place badly enough, I can do it – I just might have to overcome a little anxiety, a few logistical challenges, and work a little more to get there.

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Our group at the first view of the falls

As we made our way along the trail that would lead us past the falls, I started to notice that the mist we were feeling was increasing intensity. At that point, I was glad I was wearing my rain jacket, but we were a far cry from getting soaked. Besides, the beauty of the falls and the ever-widening view of them was well worth a little dampness.

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You can see the mist rising in this pic

There are about 9 or 10 different stops/stations on the trail for people to look out at the falls and catch a view, and I stopped at all of them. What was most amazing for me was that pretty much no matter where you were standing, you could see a rainbow somewhere! I assume it’s always like that, but I like to think that maybe it was just the case on that day. Even though I was there in June, during the dry season, there was still pretty good water flow. I’m told that’s not the case if you visit later in the dry season, like August, but we had no problems.

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Not exactly short on water

Andddd then the mist basically became a downpour as we reached the end of the trail. If we weren’t already soaked before, we definitely were now. Literally, every inch of my body that was not covered by my (very effective) rain jacket was completely soaked. And you know what? It was awesome. When else are you going to be completely soaked by mist coming off of Victoria Falls? Probably never. Gotta just go with it.

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Top dry, bottom soaked, rainbows everywhere. Jacket from KUHL

The following day, after my game drive in search of black rhinos, I decided to head over to Zambia. This wasn’t a country I had originally planned on visiting (I didn’t know it was an option!) but when I realized I had the chance, I jumped on it. Country #30! We had a free day to use how we saw fit, and while most of our group either stayed at the pool or headed to go bungy jumping, I opted to visit Livingstone instead. I already had my visa, after all! I ended up having the campground call me a driver who would take me across the border and to Livingstone and then walk around the city with me. My driver’s name was Enough, and he had grown up partially in Victoria Falls and partially in Livingstone, so it ended up being perfect.

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Walking the streets of Livingstone

I’m not gonna lie – after having very little opportunity to shop on the trip, I was dying to grab some things to bring home. I don’t buy a lot of souvenirs when I travel, but I do have 3 things I try to get in every country: a Christmas ornament, a piece of local artwork, and postcards. I sometimes forego the artwork if I don’t find anything I like, but the ornament and the postcards are non-negotiable. My grandma is 92 and I cannot let her down by failing to send her a postcard. Fortunately, there was a craft market with tons of options for souvenirs at way lower prices than anything you can find in Victoria Falls

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Give me allllll the crafts

After purchasing a few items (but not finding any postcards), we continued to walk around the city. I really enjoyed walking around Livingstone because it gave a glimpse into what life in a city in Africa is really like. Victoria Falls is very touristy (with good reason) and many of the other places I had been on my trip were not really near a population center, so Livingstone was my first chance to see normal life. Everywhere I looked, there were people selling fruit and vegetables, crafts, blankets and more. The best thing was that no one was aggressive or overly salesy, which is sometimes the case in Victoria Falls. We just got to walk around for hours and take in the sites (with me asking hundreds of questions along the way).

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You can buy fruits and veggies pretty much anywhere in Livingstone…just walk down the street!

Since you are obviously very concerned, please note that I did manage to find postcards eventually, although only one person had them out of all the little shops we visited! The things I do for my grandma 🙂

Unfortunately, I could only spend about half a day exploring Livingstone because I had to be back in time for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river. Rough life, right? This would be my last night in Africa, so I knew I wanted to send it off with a bang. And what better way to do that than by enjoying another perfect African sunset? In all seriousness, I did two sunset river cruises while on my trip and they were both wonderful. I could have done one every single day and never gotten sick of it!

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Not sure why this picture came out like this, but I like it.

LEAVE A COMMENT: What’s your “pinch me” travel moment?

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18 thoughts on “Bucket List Moment: Visiting Victoria Falls

  1. Walking into St Peters Basilica for the first time was a similar moment for me. I just couldn’t get over how HUGE and GRAND and ORNATE and (insert a ton of other adjectives here). I just walked in and, as soon as I could, stopped and gaped. I’m not a big gaper, so that says a lot. But then the gaping was raised to another level when we stood atop the dome with Rome unfolding before us. Simply breathtaking.

    1. That sounds absolutely amazing! I think the next trip AJ and I take together will probably be to Italy, and now I’m even more excited to see it!

  2. My last name is Metz, and there is a city in France of the same name. It was my “goal in life” to go to my city and take a picture next to a city sign while I was still a Metz. I went to Europe for the first time a few years back on a river cruise, and ended up in close enough proximity to make a little road trip. I put my feet on the ground in my city. I have a beautiful cathedral. I have a freaking FORTRESS. I got a picture with nearly every Metz sign I saw. We only spent one night there, but it was probably my favorite part of that trip. It was the most authentic, least touristy place we went and I loved every second of it.

    1. Aww, I absolutely LOVE this! That sounds like an incredible experience and I’m so glad you had the chance to do it while you were still a Metz 🙂

  3. What a cool experience. I like visiting touristy cities on my trips, but I also love sitting in coffee shops and taking in the local scene in smaller cities, too. I would have also jumped at the chance to visit another country, especially with a local.

    I visited Yosemite National Park last year and I was in awe the entire time. It’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life.

    1. Yosemite is one of the national parks I haven’t been to but am dying to see! I’ve heard amazing things from everyone who has visited.

  4. We liked that craft mall in Livingstone, too. It was on our first day, so if we’d realized how much better (cheaper and less pushy) it was, we probably would have bought more. You had magnificent views of the Falls from Zimbabwe – how awesome! That was the number #1 thing on my bucket list of travel, so once I saw it I had a bit of an existential crisis 🙂

    1. YES! It was so much better in Livingstone. Fortunately, I had already had a day in Victoria Falls to figure that out. I couldn’t believe how expensive everything was in Victoria Falls. I totally understand having an existential crisis after checking the falls off your bucket list, but I hope you have found some new things to add!

  5. I feel like I’m constantly decided between racing and the costs associated with that, and travel. Every year I decide the next one will be a travel year, and then I decide to do something crazy like try a half ironman, and travel goes out the window.
    If only we all had infinite funds and vacation time because Africa is so, so high on my list of places to visit.

    1. I totally feel you! That’s part of why I have not been doing as many races lately. I know that eventually, AJ and I will have a family, and it is a lot more realistic for me to go to races with small children than it is for me to go to Africa. Because the things on my bucket list tend to be expensive/far away/have little Wi-Fi availability, it made sense to do those items first – ie Africa, Nepal, New Zealand, etc. For me, I have a lifetime to do races, but traveling may not always be as realistic of an option, so ultimately, I have prioritized travel for the time being. If only we were independently wealthy!

  6. I love your pictures and the commentary that you put with them. Honestly can say that before reading your blog, Africa was never on my list. It is now. Thank you for opening my eyes and heart to new possibilities!

    1. This is the best compliment I can receive. Thank you, Bethany! I am so glad that my blog has helped you consider parts of the world that you hadn’t before. That means a lot to me!

  7. I’m very happy you found your postcards. That’s my ‘thing’ when I travel, I send a postcard to anyone who asks for one. Much easier than trying to get souvenirs sorted and I enjoy reflecting on my travel while I write on it what I’ve been up to.

    My big bucket list travel item is hiking the Chilkoot Trail and I’ve just made a game plan for getting it done for my 40th birthday. Hopefully, that will be my “pinch me” moment as I’ve wanted to do it since I was about six or seven. I fully expect to cry on summit day.

    1. Yes! I currently have a list of 4 people that I send postcards from everywhere I go, and then a rotating list that occasionally receives cards. Usually, they are relatively easy to find, but not always (Uruguay was weirdly impossible). Stamps are the hard part!

      I have never heard of the Chilkoot Trail, so now I’m intrigued! I will have to check it out!

  8. Love all of the pictures – and so happy you got this bucket list opportunity!

    It is weird … even with a bunch of travel I am not sure what my ‘pinch me’ moment would be. I mean, I love so many of the normal places in the US – Boston, NYC, SanFran, WashDC, etc. And also places from trips to Canada and Mexico and islands in the Carribean, and from Europe.

    Every place I have gone I have done research, and while the experience was ALWAYS better than expected, the sights more beautiful, the people so grand and so on … it was always just ‘more than’ rather than totally unexpected. Make sense?

    When I think of moments that really struck me, there are three:
    – New Orleans between Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. I had to fly early for work and had an extra day before heading to final destination … and so I rented a car and roamed the city. It was almost ghostly how dead it was – this was a Saturday night and it wasn’t that cold but it was emp-ty! Looking down the French Quarter and having it so quiet was eerie and weird.
    – Running through Troy NY. I went to RPI for engineering undergrad, and everything was centered around campus and the fraternity. And, to quote Animal House, ‘fat, drunk and stupid’ isn’t too far from accurate of me half the time (certainly the fat part!). So in 2014 I was up for the 150th anniversary of the fraternity (founded at RPI) and went for a few runs over the weekend all around campus, the city and surrounding areas … it was surreal and everything was at once familiar and different. Space and distance was all distorted.
    – Traveling in Southern Mississippi … my first job out of college was with a research instrumentation company, and we were small enough that occasionally we ended up going out doing training and/or helping with applications stuff. Which, frankly, was awesome at that age! For my first trip to Univ of Southern Mississippi I had a map and directions … but then I actually left the airport. And drove right into “The Deep South”. As a Massachusetts boy in the pre-internet era, I had no clue about the true depths of poverty, racism, and desolation … if there was ever a drive from an airport to hotel that changed my life, THAT was it.

    1. You make such a great point. I think the really unexpected experiences have happened in places I didn’t bother to research much, for whatever reason. I also think that the lower my expectations, the more likely the experience is to blow me away. When I build up a place too much, it is a lot easier to be disappointed or just mildly impressed. Example – I had NO expectations about Ecuador when I went to South America for the first time, and it ended up being one of my favorite places I’ve ever been to this day! I find I actually do less research now than I used to (within reason) to allow room for surprises.

  9. Hey Danielle,

    Lovely post and thanks for the heads-up on Victoria Falls. I am an Indian national currently living/working in Dubai and I’m taking every opportunity I can to visit places I can. In the last couple of months I have been to Mauritius, Ukraine, Laos, and Thailand and I must recommend Chernobyl to you. I know it’s not everyone’s cuppa but it’s extremely surreal and provides a grim reminder of how man-made accidents can destroy nature and affect life. I want to head down to Africa in the next couple of months. I have been doing visa-free or visa-on-arrival destinations with 18 countries so far but slowly moving towards visa-required places as well.

    1. Hi Harshad! Thanks so much for your recommendation! I have heard amazing things about Chernobyl and what a powerful experience it is. If I am ever over that way, I would certainly not miss it! Your travels sound very exciting. I know you will love Africa if you have a chance to get there! It is a bit of a journey and a process to go, but it is worth it!

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