ZAMBIA, ZIMBABWE, BOTSWANA
- When: 25 May-27 May, 2019
- Where (accommodations): The Kingdom Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
- Transportation: British Airways from Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia. Wild Horizons ground transportation from airport to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Zambezi Helicopters flight over the Falls, Wild Horizons Chobe National Park tour
- Sights/attractions: Zambia and Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls, “Flight of Angels” helicopter flight; Botswana: Chobe National Park
- Food/drinks: Victoria Falls Hotel for dinner
Yes, we are that crazy- we did see three countries in a span of a long weekend! When we planned our Africa trip, we chose South Africa as our base and arranged the rest of the travels around it. The fact that from Saturday arrival, until Monday departure, we were able to see one of the largest waterfalls in the world (from both- Zambia and Zimbabwe sides) AND to have a full day safari in Chobe National Park, Botswana is sort of a miracle. There was only one flight a day from Johannesburg to Livingstone, so if the airline gods were against us, this trip would not have happened. Since it worked out so well, I must share, so you can do it too!
First things first- visas. I already mentioned in my South Africa post that Americans do not need a visa to South Africa, while Lithuanians like myself, need to go to the consulate and obtain a multi entry visa. It was not hard, just some paperwork and a trip to NYC. To get into Botswana neither of us required a visa. So that was very convenient. For Zambia and Zimbabwe we both had to get one. The option was to either obtain a visa prior to arrival or get one at the airport. Because we had such a short time there, we got it online and definitely saved ourselves some time at customs. It took us probably about 10 minutes to enter the country. I highly recommend getting KAZA UNIVISA either prior to travel or upon the arrival. This visa is good for BOTH Zambia and Zimbabwe and you can leave and enter multiple times. It is very easy application online and you get the approval in a matter of a day or two.
We chose to fly to Livingstone, Zambia, but stayed in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Here is why. The flights from Johannesburg to Livingstone were A LOT cheaper than flying to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It was only about 30 minute drive, even with the border crossing. We had transportation arranged through our hotel, who used Wild Horizons company to pick us up- representative was waiting outside upon landing, collected passports and got them stamped at the border to Zimbabwe- we did not even need to leave the van!
VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE
We chose The Kingdom Hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe because it was literally 10 minutes walk from the famous waterfall. We had to wait a few minutes for the other people to come through customs, so it was almost an hour after the flight landed that we arrived to the hotel.
The place is not super fancy ( if you want one of those, book yourself into the Victoria Falls Hotel), but it was comfortable, clean and had plentiful breakfast. We put our bags down and headed straight to the Falls. Right next to the hotel was elephant path! People were walking on the street, because elephants were on the sidewalk path and they were not friendly. We were advised to stay out of their way, so we walked along the sidewalk sharing the road with the cars 🙂 . There is not much traffic, so nothing to worry about.
10 minutes later we were at the entrance, there was barely anyone in line, so we got the tickets (30 USD per person, they take credit cards) and went to explore this wonder of nature.
Victoria Falls is classified as the largest, based on its combined width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft), and height of 108 metres (354 ft) resulting in the world’s largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America’s Niagara Falls and in height second to Iguazu Falls in Brazil/Argentina. One side of the falls is in Zambia and the other in Zimbabwe. I think both have incredible views and I would have a hard time choosing one over the other. The mist rises high and we got completely soaked while walking around, but it was part of the fun 🙂 .
We enjoyed Zimbabwe side of the Falls for about an hour, before we needed to run back to the hotel to make our heli flight that was scheduled at 4pm. We booked the 12 minute “Flight of Angels” through the hotel prior to the trip. It was very easy and convenient- we prepaid in advance, so all we needed to do was show up for the pick up. Zambezi Helicopters staff was very friendly, each person on the flight had a window seat, but based on weight I got to sit in the front with the pilot!
Aerial view was absolutely incredible- very much worth the expense for the short flight. There were only four passengers and we made friends with the two men who shared the flight with us- Benjamin and Damian. They invited us to have dinner with more of their friends at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel and we had such a great time, we ended up hanging out with them the following evening as well! The Victoria Falls Hotel was built by the British in 1904 and originally conceived as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway.
Today it’s a 5 star luxury hotel that is worth a visit even if you don’t stay there. I would recommend having dinner there if you are visiting Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe side.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK, BOTSWANA
We set up this tour with Wild Horizons through our hotel, just like we did with the helicopter arrangements. Pick up was at 7.30 am- we will have a long day! Remember, we are here for only a weekend, so sleeping in is going to have to wait 🙂 . The tour was not private- we had a big bus with about twenty people. The bus for the other group broke down, so our driver actually turned around and went back into town (we were only about 15 minutes into the trip) to pick them up. As he said- we help each other out here. Full bus now, we headed off towards Botswana border. It was a very comfortable air conditioned ride and soon we were at the customs. Everyone had to get out of the bus and go through a small checkpoint to get a stamp that we are leaving Zimbabwe. We then were taken by a different bus to the checkpoint to enter Botswana. The whole process was not long, approximately 20 minutes.
First activity today- Zambezi River cruise. We arrived to the lodge, had time to freshen up and boarded the river boat.
Ride was slow and smooth and we observed the wild animals along the way- hippos, crocodiles, buffalos, elephants and countless birds. Very relaxing couple hours and a different perspective than a land safari. We didn’t see much wildlife right away, so we were thinking it’s a waste of time, but as the cruise went on we saw plenty of animals and were happy this was part of the tour.
By 12.30 pm we returned to the lodge and were served buffet lunch (a soft drink or a beer included). It was pretty good and filing- it kept us satisfied through the second part of the day- land safari! We were very excited for this part- open vehicle drive through Chobe National Park.
It was a hot day and if you are sitting on the side of the vehicle, like I was, make sure to apply sunscreen- sun is very strong in Africa! We saw SO MANY ELEPHANTS. I could easily rename this tour ‘Elephant Safari’ 🙂 .
Botswana is home to over 120 000 elephants, so no surprise they were everywhere. This was very different from Kruger National Park in South Africa. I would say if you love elephants and don’t care to see much else- Botswana is perfect. We saw impalas and a few giraffes, but other than that, it was elephant kingdom.
Despite the lack of variety of animals, we were very happy with the experience and overall tour. Border crossings were smooth and by 6pm we were back at our hotel.
We arrived Saturday afternoon and now it’s Monday. We have a flight back to Johannesburg at 1.30 pm from Livingstone, Zambia. But we have only seen Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe side and from the helicopter! So what does an adventurous couple like us do? We get up at 6am and walk 45 minutes to Zambia! That includes two border patrol checkpoints each way. We have SO many stamps in the passports from this trip! Because it was so early, there were no lines at the borders for tourists walking on foot. We talked to the truck driver though- he has been sitting there for 3 whole days and had not crossed it yet from one country to another! Well, luckily we are not in a trailer carrying cargo.
Entrance here was only 20 USD per person, they take credit cards as well. We spent about an hour- definitely could have been longer, if we didn’t have an international flight to make the same afternoon.
We got a bit wet from all the mist, but not as much as on Zimbabwe side. There are ponchos you can use, but since it was warm, we did not mind it. The most amazing part to me was the rainbow. It was not your typical angle and just to see this was worth the early wake up and the walk!
Minding the time, we walked back across the border, bought some souvenirs along the way and made it to the hotel for breakfast and enough time to take a picture with our new friends.
Travel tip: Be prepared to talk to some vendors if you are walking on your own. They are not annoying, but will walk along and will try to persuade you in buying their merchandise. Bargain! Zambia has no stable currency, so USD is what they prefer, but the prices are completely made up. One tried to sell me a fridge magnet for 15 USD, I ended up getting it for 3 USD :).
10 am Wild Horizons came to collect us for the ride back to Livingstone, Zambia for our flight. So before noon we managed to cross from Zimbabwe to Zambia not once, but twice! We saw a line of people at customs during that time of the day, so if you want to avoid the wait and have the Falls basically all to yourself- set your alarm early and I promise, you won’t regret it.
Such a fun and eventful weekend getaway. It really IS possible to visit all three- Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana in a matter of 3 days. We were very fortunate- no flights were delayed or cancelled, transportation and tours showed up as promised- we are extremely grateful for that.
Not all comes down to luck though. If you want to have a well executed busy trip- put some effort in planning and researching. KAZA UNI visa application online was a great idea and saved time. Pre-booking transportation and tours also was extremely efficient way to see as much as we did. Combination of effort, planning and good luck was the reason for this successfully pulled off adventure.