Whilst Victoria Falls is well known as a destination for more adventurous types, people who blow their travel budget on everything from bungee jumping to white water rafting, we chose to explore on a shoe string. Since we got back from our year long backpacking trip around the globe we don’t necessarily need to stick to a tight budget in the same way that we used to, but hey, old habits die hard and we’re not exactly what you’d call thrill seekers!
Given that we try to make our posts as useful as possible for travel planning, we thought we’d give you a few hints and tips for how to visit Victoria Falls on as budget, as well as sharing what we got up to.
Getting to Victoria Falls & Where To Stay
Our trip to Victoria Falls was the starting point of a longer trip around Southern Africa – where we’d join our G Adventures tour for a week of camping and exploring Botswana. With our budget in mind we decided to fly in the day before our tour and base ourselves on the Zimbabwe side of the falls. You can get a multiple entry visa, but with single entry already costing a somewhat pricey $55USD per person and only a day to explore before meeting our tour group, we figured we’d make our way to Zambia on a future adventure.
Our flights from London Heathrow took us into Victoria Falls Airport via Johannesburg and we flew with Virgin Atlantic which was kind of a treat after flying with so many budget airlines on recent trips! We paid around £500 return, although our flights back were from Windhoek to London, again via Johannesburg.
Just a note that there is something called a KAZA Univisa that’s available for tourists to Zimbabwe and allows for travel up to 30 days between Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, but when we arrived at Victoria Falls the only options available were the single or multiple entry visas. Not quite sure what’s up with that but I guess TIA – good post here that explains their somewhat erratic availability!
We stayed at Shearwater Explorer’s Village, a budget friendly option just 15 minutes walk from the falls. There are lodges available but in the spirit of our trip we camped out – in tents provided by our tour company. Here you can chill around the pool, enjoy basic spa treatments if you fancy, and most importantly, can enjoy the local Zambezi beer for just a couple of dollars a bottle. Which is exactly what we did for several hours after touching down in Zimbabwe!
We’d definitely recommend this resort, whether you choose to camp or stay at one of the lodges. The facilities are great, food is fab and the location is spot on for exploring the falls.
Activities in Victoria Falls
As I mentioned, there are tons of activities for tourists at the falls, however, none of them come particularly cheap. Helicopter flights over the falls look spectacular but cost up to $200 for 15 minutes. Bungee jumps and other excitements for adrenalin junkies will also set you back a fair amount. It’s also worth mentioning that if you visit at high water season, as we did, a lot of tourist activities aren’t available for safety reasons – rafting, gorge walking etc included in these.
We opted for a simple day exploring the falls ourselves. Entrance to the park surrounding the waterfalls is $30USD each and you can explore the various lookouts and viewpoints over a leisurely few hours. It’s an easy walk down to the entrance and with 19 viewpoints in total showing the falls in all their glory you’ll definitely be able to see the best of the falls in a day. There’s loads of information on how the falls were formed and their history so we didn’t feel we missed out by not taking a guided tour. Pack umbrellas / raincoats… if you’re visiting in April you will get drenched!
Regardless of the intense mist and spray, Victoria Falls was incredible. The largest single sheet of water in the world, it, in my view, put Iguazu and Niagara Falls in the shade. Rob disagrees somewhat but I promise, it’s amazing. Especially in high water season where parts of the falls are actually hard to see and the cloud of mist rises unbelievably high in the sky. You might have seen this story on our instagram, but yeah, don’t do what we did and ask for directions to the falls when the huge cloud of mist is visible from miles away, you’ll look a bit simple!
After a couple of hours here and a quick drink in the cafe we made our way to the famous iron bridge that separates Zimbabwe and Zambia. If you’re on a single entry visa like us, you can simply get a stamped piece of paper from the immigration booth and make your way right across the bridge. So technically, we did make it just about to Zambia! However if you manage to get into Zambia proper you will need to buy a new visa to get back into Zimbabwe – something to watch out for although it all seems pretty straightforward so I’m not sure how people make that mistake.
It’s a pretty long walk in the heat to the bridge so we made our way back to the entrance of Victoria Falls and took a trip to the Lookout Cafe. I’d read about it before our visit and was keen to check out the awesome views over the gorge. This place isn’t quite so budget friendly so we made do with drinks and an antipasti sharing platter. Definitely worth a visit for the best views in town – try and time your trip for sunset if you can.
Our final activity of the day was a sunset cruise – booked through Shearwater – which consisted of a lazy couple of hours boating down the Zambezi river with a couple more Zambezi beers. This was more of a blowout at around $40USD each and whilst we didn’t see too many animals it was worth it for a beautiful sunset and riverside views. If you’re looking for wildlife it’s probably advisable to spend your cash on one of the game drives on offer, but if you’re heading through Victoria Falls to Botswana, then just enjoy the cruise and the sunset views.
Our Victoria Falls Experience
Last but not least, after a surprisingly good night’s sleep in our tent and a brilliant breakfast at the hotel ($8USD pp), we took some time to have a mooch around the market stalls just outside Shearwater. Here you can expect lots of friendly hassle, promises of good prices, and some semi-legitimate looking African souvenirs (possibly made in Taiwan). We didn’t buy anything but the guys on the stalls were more than happy for us to take photos and only occasionally offered to swap us hippo statues and giraffe key rings for the clothes we were wearing.
Heading into Zimbabwe for the first time, and knowing the financial instability and political problems the country has faced, we weren’t sure what we were in for. We definitely didn’t expect to meet such friendly welcoming people and whilst we did get hassled by touts, as with so many other places, a simple no thank you was plenty enough to be left in peace. We felt perfectly safe walking around alone and would definitely recommend a visit to Victoria Falls.
It’s not the cheapest destination, but then, given it exists pretty much solely for tourism, I guess that’s what you’d expect. Hotels, high tea, craft beers at the local brewery and bungee jumping definitely come at a price but it’s more than possible to have an amazing time at Victoria falls on a budget. We absolutely loved our time here, and would come back in a heartbeat!