Safaris near Victoria Falls
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
Study a map and you'll see that much of the Zambian area around the Falls is protected within a national park. (It is variously spelled as Mosi-Oa-Tunya or Mosi-O-Tunya, with or without the hyphens and/or capitals. Hence for ease I'll refer to it here as the MOT National Park).
All of this is a protected area, but only a small section is fenced off into a game park, with a low entry fee. This small sanctuary, locally known as 'the game park,' is well worth a visit, and not just because it protects what are probably Zambia's only remaining rhino (four white ones). In a few hours' driving you'll probably see most of the common antelope, including some fine giraffe, as well as buffalo and zebra, and have the chance to visit the old cemetery at Old Drift, Livingstone's first settlement. You can drive yourself around easily (entry is US$5 per person), or go with one of the many operators who run these trips such as Bushtracks, Bwaato Adventures, UTC, Wild Side and Makora Quest, all of which can be recommended. Two- to four-hour guided game drives cost US$30 to $45 per person inclusive of park fees, transfers and refreshments. For the more adventurous, there are also walking safaris, led by licensed safari guides. Beyond the excitement of tracking rhinos and other game by foot, these are an excellent way to learn about the flora and fauna. The best time to go is early in the morning. A two-hour game walk with Bwaato Adventures costs US$50 per person (inclusive of park fees, transfers and drinks) and a morning's walk followed by brunch is US$75 (all-inclusive).
Victoria Falls National Park
Like the northern side of the river, a good section of Zimbabwe's land around the falls is protected – though only the rainforest area, criss-crossed by footpaths to viewing points, is actually fenced off. If you are feeling adventurous, then follow the riverbank upstream from Livingstone's statue. (If the gate is closed beyond the statue, then retrace your steps out of the entrance to the rainforest; and turn right, then right again, down Zambezi Drive, to reach the outside of that gate.)
This path runs next to Zambezi Drive for a while. After almost 2km Zambezi Drive leaves the river and turns back towards town, passing a famous baobab tree called the Big Tree. From there the path continues for about 8km upstream until it reaches A'Zambezi River Lodge, just outside the gate to the Zambezi National Park. This is a very beautiful, wild walk but, despite its innocent air, you are as likely to meet hippo, elephant or buffalo here as in any other National Park. So take great care as you admire the view across the river.
Zambezi National Park
This park borders the Zambezi River, starting about 6km from Victoria Falls and extending about 40km upstream. You cannot walk here (without a professional guide), so you need a vehicle, but there are several Zimbabwean operators running morning and afternoon drives through the park who will collect you from any of the main hotels.
The park is actually bisected by the main road from Victoria Falls to Kazungula/Kasane (which has long been an unlikely, but favourite, spot for sightings of wild dogs). Better game viewing is to be had from the roads designed for it: the Zambezi River Drive, or the Chamabondo Drive.
The former is easily reached by driving out of town along Park Way, past the Elephant Hills Hotel and the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. This road follows the river's course almost to the end of the park, and there are plenty of loop roads to explore away from the river.
The Chamabondo Drive has a separate entrance on the road to Bulawayo. Take a right turn just before the road crosses the Massive River, about 7km out of town. This leads past several pans and hides until it terminates at Nook Pan, from where you must retrace your steps as there are no loop roads.
The park has good populations of elephant, buffalo and antelope – especially notable are the graceful sable which thrive here. The riverfront is beautiful, lined with classic stands of tall winterthorn trees, Faidherbia albida. Note that when wet this park is often impossible to drive through in a 2WD, and when dry some of the roads remain in poor condition.