Zim or Zam? If you Understand the Question, you Can Appreciate the Answer

World Heritage Victoria Falls
World Heritage Victoria Falls

Zim and Zam of course refer to the two countries (Zimbabwe & Zambia) who share a border at the world-renown Victoria Falls World Heritage Site. The question alludes to which side you should visit in order to see them. The answer, in short, is both.

Full frontal scenery on the Zim side
Full frontal scenery on the Zim side

Why Zim?

The majority of the gorge that fronts the seemingly never-ending series of cataracts and spray is located on the Zimbabwean side of the mighty Zambezi. Trails follow the western curve near the so-called Devil’s Cataract at the westernmost side of the falls where a statue of David Livingstone–the first European to set eyes on the falls–overlooks the chasm from the side. Winding through a forest setting that is ever-green regardless of the season (thanks to the unending spray) the path traces the edge of the ravine with periodic overlook points. There are more lookout points than fences and the rocks can get slippery, so use caution. After more than half a mile of nonstop views, the trail ends in a promontory that is separated from the Zambian side by the churning Batoka Gorge. There’s really no place (aside from a helicopter ride, to be discussed at a later time) that allows for a view of the entire falls, but on the Zim side is where you’ll be able to see the majority of it.

Why Zam?

No filter needed on the Zambia side
No filter needed on the Zambia side

The entrance to the Mosi-Oa-Thunya (the original language name for Vic Falls) National Park is on the eastern side of the falls, almost immediately past the Zambian border post. Besides having their own statue of Livingstone, there are a few trails that take in the scenic Eastern Cataract, that is usually less torrential and thereby less inclined to be obscured by spray as the cataracts further down the line. Particularly amazing is the Knife Edge Island trail, which takes visitors via a slick metal bridge to the eastern side of the Batoka Gorge and a different perspective of the Zimbabwean side. During the dry season, in the early morning, stunning rainbows allow for photo opportunities that will have everyone questioning whether or not your pictures were Photoshopped.


The only way to see it all if from above
The only way to see it all is from above

Why Zim? Helicopter flights (pricey but well worth it) from the Zimbabwe side not only offer views of the falls, but often take in parts of nearby Zambezi National Park, allowing for some aerial animal viewing. Tours of the historical (and scenically placed) Victoria Falls Bridge let visitors walk the catwalk and view the falls from both the Zim and Zam sides without having to buy a separate visa.

Playing with kitties in Zambia
Playing with kitties in Zambia

Why Zam? Excursions to centrally located Livingstone Island offer close-up view of the bulk of the falls and often include a dip in the Devil’s Pool–a calm patch of water right on the lip of the falls where adventurous visitors can soak in the Zambezi and peer down into the churning abyss. Also on the Zambian side is Makuni Big Five Safaris, which offer nature walks alongside elephants, lions and cheetahs–all with loads of animal interaction.

Where to Stay?

Unless you are staying in a posh hotel (like the Royal Livingstone) on the riverfront, my advice is to stay in Zim rather than Zam. Zim is a tourist-centric town, with a wide range of hotels, far more shopping opportunities than across the border, and a safer feel. Livingstone is a bustling city many times the size of Vic Falls, and other than some decent restaurants, doesn’t have the same feel. This is a gritty, ramshackle African semi-urban setting, which better reflects the actual state of affairs, but doesn’t make for the more comfortable vacation or natural connection most come to seek.

So, to sum up my answer to the question Zim or Zam: Stay in Zim. Play in Zam. And see the falls from both sides. And now that you understand the question, I hope that whether you Zim, Zam or both, the answer leads you to this magnificent part of the world.


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