Taking the Plunge At Victoria Falls, Zambia

Visitors swim in Devil's Pool at Victoria Falls. It looks like they will be swept over the waterfall but a thick lip of rock keeps people safe. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Oddly, the high point of my trip to Zambia in Africa wasn’t watching nearly extinct white rhinos from 30 paces, or seeing so many hippos in a river that I lost count, or walking next to zebras, or even the surprise bubble bath with a river view.

No, it was jumping into a pool literally on the edge of Victoria Falls and being able to SWIM to the very rim.
It was in Livingstone — yes that Livingstone, the explorer of 19th century British/African fame. (So when you are here, don’t miss the museum in town and the room devoted to David Livingstone’s expeditions, which were unbelievable slogs through the wilderness. He died on the third of malaria and dysentery.)But that’s not really what the area is known for these days. “When I first came here,” said Tongabezi owner Ben Parker, “the shops just had red plastic plates, blue plastic plates, Vaseline and peanut butter. Nobody really came here except a handful of hippies”

Parker was among the first to build an international quality lodge in the mid 1990s. Today there are some 15 “A class” lodges, though most were built only in the last decade.

In  Your Bucket Because….
  • You really like excitement and adventure.
  • You are comfortable in the water.
  • Good for: People willing to travel far for something unique.

Victoria Falls (locals call it “The” Victoria Falls) is a mile wide and 360 feet high. But you don’t really get a feel for this at the lip. It wasn’t until I flew over it in a helicopter that I realized the falls, unlike Niagara, is a long, thin rip in the earth.

And though the first thing you’d think of at a place with a gigantic waterfall is honeymoons, that’s not the half of it.

Thundering, Spectacular Waterfalls Cut Into The Earth

I thought Swakopmund in Namibia was Africa’s adventure capital but Victoria Falls gives it a run for its money.  Whitewater rafting, game viewing from canoes, walks with lions by your side, flights in microlights (think glider with a lawnmower engine), bungee jumping, some craziness that involves swinging on a cable like a pendulum over the falls. And, of course, Devil’s Pool.You take a boat to Livingstone Island, which is where Livingstone first saw the falls on Nov. 16, 1855 and named it after Queen Victoria. Devil’s Pool was discovered by fishermen around 1970 but didn’t become a tourist thing until the mid ’90s. You hike a bit, swim through a shallow pond and scramble over some rocks. Then you jump into THE pool, a large basin 30 feet across and 15 feet deep with a sturdy rock lip at the very edge of the waterfall.

Guide Felix and his buddies scrambled over the rocks like they were crossing the street. We, meanwhile, let the current push us against the rocky rim where we clung, watching the rainbow-sparkled water literally thunder from our shoulders to the chasm below.

The guides stood on the lip where their ankles formed a sort of fence. It was tempting to grab a foot but, well, it’s such bad form to knock your guide over the edge. So we just hung there and gawked.

Practicalities

  • May through July is dry and cooler. August through November is dry and hot. December through April is wet. For Victoria Falls, you want July through September. The rest of the year, it’s either too dry or too wet.
  • Visits to Devil’s Pool are arranged through Tongabezi Lodge
  • General Information for Zambia tourism and Zambia national parks.
  •  South African Airways (www. www.flysaa.com) flies from New York (JFK) and Washington (Dulles) to Johannesburg in South Africa, after which you transfer to SAA’s flights for Zambia. SAA has a code share arrangement with Jet Blue (www.jetblue.com) and United (www.united.com) to book flights and transfer bags.

Comments

  1. says

    Not on your life would I swim there! I’ve seen that falls from all angles except this one, and it makes me dizzy even from a distance. I don’t intend to check that one off my bucket list, but it’s a great article and I’m glad you did it, and survived to tell us about it!

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    • says

      Honestly, it’s not nearly as frightening there as you’d think. You jump into this rather large pool and let the current gently push you to a sturdy wall. Interestingly, our guides stood at the lip so someone could stay behind their legs if they wished. The hardest part to me was jumping in. I slithered down into the water instead. YC

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    • says

      & thanks for liking it. Yes, I loved the animals but the swim to the waterfall was incredibly unique. Some of our group was truly frightened. I figured if they hadn’t lost a tourist yet, I probably wouldn’t be the first.

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      • Karen Berger says

        Yvette — that’s how I felt about shark diving in Fiji — they”ve been running it 11 years, thousands of divers, no accidents. Odds felt good….

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  2. Tim says

    I have stood on the opposite side of the crack in the earth that makes the falls and was in awe of the sight. As for getting within a couple of feet of the edge… well, barbara would not let me get within 20 feet of the edge with no water flowing by! The falls is one of the great wonders of the world. But under no circumstances stay at the Rainbow Lodge..

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