Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe

The Smoke That Thunders

The falls are every bit as monumental and magnificent as you imagined, their noise greater than a million migrating wildebeests, their mists vis­ible from 40 miles away. Dr. David Livingstone, who in 1855 became the first European to set eyes on them, named them after his queen (who unfortunately would never see them); they were soon widely recog­nized as one of the natural wonders of the world.

A fantasy destination of every adven­ture traveler, the falls are a mile wide, spanning the entire breadth of the Zambezi River. As they crash 400 feet to the gorge below, they create a delicate, endless shower of rain, rainbows, and – if the moon is bright and full enough – lunar rainbows that drift in and out of view.

At dawn and dusk the sky, water, and mist take on hues of pink and orange, especially during the wet season from March to May, when the cascades are at their greatest capacity and the opaque spray is kicked 1,000 feet into the sky. It is easy to imagine Dr. Livingstone’s awe as he wrote: “On sights as beautiful as this, Angels, in their flight must have gazed.” So was named today’s 15-minute heart-stopping “Flight of the Angels” over the falls, which rates as one of the world’s most scenic plane trips.

At the foot of the falls, the white-knuckle rapids provide some of the best rafting in the world. This is where the Zambezi plummets through the narrow basalt gorges separating Zambia and Zimbabwe – a mighty corridor of rushing, boiling white water interspersed with welcome havens of calm. The Zambezi’s classic passages – with names like Ghostrider and Moemba Falls – are rated IV and V on a scale of I-VI (you’ll walk around the really bad ones). Yet they are also some of the safest, in large part due to deep water and an absence of rocks midstream.

The first day out following the put-in at Victoria Falls is the most adrenaline-packed: You bounce through ten of the world’s biggest drops, reminiscent of those in the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Some local operators offer short-term, “crash” trips of one to three days, but it’s a shame to travel such a distance only to shortchange the Mighty Z. Nothing tops it.

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