Victoria Falls and Livingstone

Victoria Falls and Livingstone

Livingstone town was the original capital of Northern Rhodesia and still carries a decidedly colonial feel that the people are incredibly proud of. Purple jacarandas and flaming red flamboyant trees line the streets. The architecture brings forth memories of days gone by. The women sit by their stand of tomatoes and other assorted goods in the market and attempt to make a living. The blue taxis zoom by. The locals stop and chat about the weather - it is always too hot. The kids skip home in their pressed school uniforms. The church bells ring and the people laugh and sing as they walk down the street.

It's just another typical day "Somewhere in Central Africa"...

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Livingstone is considered the gateway between Central and Southern Africa. If you've come up from the South, you will notice the potholes in the roads, that the shops only sell what is in season and that everyone is chattering away in Nyanja, Bemba, Tonga or one of the other 73 languages of Zambia. If you've come down from the North, you will probably notice that the locals have a much more western attitude… the men wear suits to the office, the beers are cold and the showers (usually) have hot water. This is the place where travellers meet to swap stories of their different experiences before they venture forward, again into the unknown. Livingstone is an essential stop on any traveller's route: even without the National Park, even without the river, and even without the mighty Victoria Falls. But the point remains that we do have an excellent National Park (with Zambia's ONLY 5 white rhino), we do have the mighty Zambezi and we do have one of the most spectacular (if not the MOST spectacular) waterfalls on the planet! And to top it off, Livingstone and the Victoria Falls area is most certainly the adrenaline capital of Africa - if not the world! Suffice to say, there's a bit of something for everyone here… whether you want to mingle with the locals, soak up the African atmosphere or brave the waves of some of the best white water on Earth!

How the Falls came to be

Think back, way back, now go back in just a little bit further … to a time before bungy, before dinosaurs and even before Coca-cola had come to Zambia (I know it's hard to imagine!). About 200 million years ago, the super continent that was once the Earth's landmass began to separate. Cracks appeared throughout the Earth's crust which allowed molten lava to flow towards the surface and cool into soft loose-joined basalt. The Batoka Gorge was formed as the Zambezi slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, over millions of years, carved its way through this basalt. Amazing how persistent water can be! Perhaps the most notable point in history was the 'discovery' of the mighty waterfall. As we all know, the falls had been there for millions of years, but David Livingstone was the first white man to view what the locals call 'Mosi-oa-Tunya' (The Smoke That Thunders). The experience moved him so much that he famously quoted in his journal 'on sights as beautiful as this, angels in their flight must have gazed', and named them after his reigning monarch. So today, we all know this great waterfall as The Victoria Falls (but the local beer is now called Mosi if that's any compensation).

History of the town

The original settlement north of the Zambezi at Old Drift is now within the confines of the present day Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Due to the prevalence of malaria and its effects, the settlers chose to move to the higher ground (less mosquitoes) of Constitution Hill where the town of Livingstone remains today.

Established in 1904, Livingstone is significant to the history of colonial rule in Africa and its eventual independence. Several buildings from this bygone era still exist and a concerted effort is in place to maintain these beautiful structures. In 1935, the capital was moved to the more central Lusaka. The once bustling town of Livingstone fell into disrepair but has, in the last decade, risen again to be the hub of tourism and industry that it once was. Today, Livingstone has seen a new surge of life. With the advent of tourism and its accompanying infrastructure, the town is once again bright and cheerful yet has been able to keep its laid back, African way of life. Various manufacturing companies from timber mills and textiles to farming and food processing have returned with their associated employment. There is a real sense of community with everyone working together for the better good.

Things to do

There is so much to do in both Livingstone and the surrounding areas, that it would be impossible to write it all in one paragraph. Below is a short list of some of the attractions which Livingstone has on offer (for the action packed adrenaline stuff, please refer to the Activities and Tours page). But don't forget that this is also the perfect place to sit back, sip an icy cold beer, read a book and lie by the pool!

The Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls is more than impressive… many travellers spend the whole day walking along the footpaths or swimming on the edge of the Falls (in dry season we hasten to add) and then go back the next day for more. To really see the full strength of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it is best to view the falls at different times of the year. During low water (August-December) it is almost a trickle compared with the mighty thunderous clouds of smoke that appear during high water season (February-June). When the water is at its peak, you will most certainly be drenched from head to toe; or as one of our travellers so eloquently put it 'Vic Falls even made my knickers wet!' (thanks Deb!). Take the time to gaze upon this awesome site without any time constraints, soak it up, get soaked, see what Mother Nature is fully capable of… and for the more adventurous, fly over top to view the numerous gorges and fully comprehend the power of 'Mosi-oa-tunya'.

Lunar Rainbows

You could never tire of seeing this awesome natural phenomenon. When the moon is full, the sky is relatively clear and the Victoria Falls are at their peak flow, huge rainbows appear through the mist at night. The thundering sound of millions of litres of water crashing down into the gorges below is pretty impressive in itself. Jollyboys Backpackers arranges special night trips during the full moon at high water (Jan-May). It's worth arranging a stay in Livingstone for this time.

Full moon dates

Rapid #7, atop the Gorge

There are numerous spots to view the dramatic Zambian sunset, but this has to be one of the best. Perched atop the Batoka Gorge, above rapid #7, and with scenes of Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Zambezi and the distant spray of the Victoria Falls… where better to down a few cold ones at the end of a long day! Please ask at Jollyboys Backpackers for other great sundowner locations.

Crocodile and Snake Park

This is a must if you are in the Livingstone area, especially for some awesome pictures! The park is stocked with problem crocodiles (ie. have eaten people and/or livestock) and various poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. Saturday and Sunday afternoon is feeding time where it becomes quite obvious why these beasts rule the river!

Mukuni Village

Senior Chief Mukuni is involved with the promotion of tourism in Zambia and his village provides an excellent opportunity to see rural life in action. Located just outside Livingstone, the village is inhabited by about 8000 people of Toka-Leya decent. Life here goes on pretty much as usual, even with a few tourists about; though, curios are for sale. Please do not bring handouts for the children, however donations to the local school are always welcome. If you are lucky, meetings with Chief Mukuni can sometimes be arranged. Remember to dress modestly in any rural setting (especially woman) and ask before taking photos. Refer to the Travel Facts and Info (Local Social Conventions) page for more details.

Maramba Market

Maramba Market incorporates just about every type of business venture imaginable. There are rows and rows of stalls for second hand clothes (some excellent deals!), woman selling fresh vegetables and dried beans, stacks of chitenge and places to fix your bike, sew your backpack, buy a bed or get a toy made from some copper wire and a couple of bottle tops. The people are used to lots of Muzungus being around (quite often this market is the best stocked in town!) so feel free to walk around and soak up the atmosphere but remember to dress modestly and ask before taking photos.

Livingstone Museum

The Livingstone Museum is very well kept and informative and should be part of any visitor's stay. There are large displays about Zambia's independence, early man, witchcraft, local chiefs, crafts and an extensive selection of David Livingstone memorabilia (donated by his family). The museum also has a small gift shop.

Victoria Falls Field Museum

This small museum is based beside the Victoria Falls and is built around an actual excavation site. The museum focuses on the early people inhabiting the area as well as the geology and formation of the Victoria Falls.

Railway Museum

Railway enthusiasts think that this place is great, but others should give it a miss. Rare steam locomotives and various information on the Cape to Cairo route are on display.