The Falls are 1,688m wide and average just over 100m in height. Around 550 million litres (750 at peak) cascades over the lip every minute, making this one of the world's greatest waterfalls.
Closer inspection shows that this immense curtain of water is interrupted by gaps, where small islands stand on the lip of the falls. These effectively split the Falls into smaller waterfalls, which are known as (from west to east) the Devil's Cataract, the Main Falls, the Horseshoe Falls, the Rainbow Falls and the Eastern Cataract.
Around the Falls is a genuinely important and interesting rainforest, with plant species (especially ferns) rarely found elsewhere in Zimbabwe or Zambia. These are sustained by the clouds of spray, which blanket the immediate vicinity of the Falls. You'll also find various monkeys and baboons here, whilst the lush canopy shelters Livingstone's lourie amongst other birds.
The flow, and hence the spray, is greatest just after the end of the rainy season – around March or April, depending upon the rains. It then decreases gradually until about December, when the rains in western Zambia will start to replenish the river. During low water, a light raincoat (available for rent!) is very useful for wandering between the viewpoints on the Zimbabwean side, though it's not necessary in Zambia. However, in high water a raincoat is largely ineffective as the spray blows all around and soaks you in seconds. Anything that you want to keep dry must be wrapped in several layers of plastic or, even better, zip-lock plastic bags.
The Falls never seem the same twice, so try to visit several times, under different light conditions. At sunrise, both Danger Point and Knife-edge Point are fascinating – position yourself carefully to see your shadow in the mists, with three concentric rainbows appearing as halos. (Photographers will find polarising filters invaluable in capturing the rainbows on film – as the light from the rainbows at any time of day is polarised.)
Moonlight is another fascinating time, when the Falls take on an ethereal glow and the waters blend into one smooth mass which seems frozen over the rocks. On the Zambian side
, viewing the Falls could not be easier. Simply follow the signs and your nose along the paths from in front of the field museum and curio stalls. Entrance is US$10 per person, and the gate is open 06.00–18.00 daily. One track leads upstream for a while. For photographers, this is best explored in the early morning (good for photographers as the sun is still behind you and illuminates the Falls) or in the late afternoon (take your own snacks and drinks) when you may catch a stunning sunset.
If you visit when the river is at its lowest, towards the end of the dry season, then the channels on the Zambian side may have dried up. Whilst the Falls will be less spectacular then, you can sometimes walk across the bed of the Zambezi as far as Livingstone Island, before you are stopped by a channel which is actually flowing. Looking down on the Falls from their lip does afford a totally different perspective – just don't slip! In recent years, however, the diversion of water to generate power has been curtailed so the flow of water is more constant, and this activity is no longer permitted.
The main path leads along the cliff opposite the Falls, then across the swaying knife-edge bridge, via scenic points, photo stops and a good vantage point from which to watch bungee-jumpers. This finishes at the farthest west of the Zambian viewpoints.
A third path descends right down to the water's edge at the Boiling Pot, which is used as a raft launch-site during the main rafting season. It is a beautiful (but steep) hike down through palm-fringed forest – well worth the long, hot climb back. Take a picnic and relax by the river if you've time.
Viewing the Falls by moonlight is not restricted, though elephants wander about occasionally and it is best not to go alone. If you can visit during a full moon then watch for a lunar rainbow, an amazing sight. .
While the Falls can easily be explored on your own, most tour operators offer excellent guided tours of the Falls and the surrounding area, either stand-alone or in combination with historical, cultural, game viewing and other sightseeing tours. These are highly informative with professional guides offering detailed explanations of the formation of the Falls and gorges, the river, local history and flora and fauna. Tours cost around US$25–35 per person, including entrance fees.From the Zimbabwean side
, viewing the Falls is more regulated. There is now a small ticket booth and display at the entrance gate to the Falls, which is a few hundred yards from the Zimbabwean border post. Tickets are valid for the whole day, so you can return for no extra cost during the same day.
Technically this area is within the Victoria Falls National Park – and you will find a map of the paths at the entrance. Start at the western end, by Livingstone's statue – inscribed with 'Explorer, Missionary and Liberator', and overlooking the Devil's Cataract.
Visiting the viewpoints in order, next is the Cataract View. If water levels are low, and the spray not too strong, after clambering down quite a steep stairway you will be greeted by views along the canyon of the Falls. Climbing back up, wander from one viewpoint to the next, eastwards, and you will eventually reach the slippery-smooth rocks at Danger Point.
Few of these viewpoints have anything more than brushwood fences and low railings to guard the edges – so going close to the edge is not for those with vertigo. Viewing the Falls by moonlight is possible by special arrangement.