Words and images by Dawn Bradnick @DawnJorgensen
With a mix of British architecture, museums, markets and traditional village life existing effortlessly alongside budget hostels and five-star hotels, Livingstone is at the heart of Zambian tourism. Founded in 1905 and named after the renowned Scottish explorer Dr David Livingstone, the city owes its existence primarily to Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders, as it is aptly known.
Victoria Falls remains the primary draw card and, in every sense, lives up to its title as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. With a width of 1688m and a height of 108m, in season it sends more than five hundred million cubic meters of water plummeting over the edge each minute, creating a spray that is visible for miles.
Nothing quite prepares you for the sheer exhilaration of being there though, walking the pathway that hugs the deep crevice below as you take in the full force of the spray. Don’t think twice about getting completely soaked as you gaze into the cascading waters and count the rainbows that can be seen dancing in the light. I guarantee that the force of nature will truly astound you.
Allow a few hours at the Falls, and ideally make this your first stop. From here there are plenty of other attractions on offer in this vibrant African town.
Learn More About Livingstone
Visit the Livingstone Museum. Established in 1934, it is the largest and oldest museum in Zambia and holds a vast archaeological collection depicting the biodiversity of Zambia as well as a rich ethnographic dating back to the early 20th century. But it’s the David Livingstone memorabilia, handwritten letters and personal artefacts that will intrigue; as well as the displays of life in this region, present and of a bygone era.
Choice activities for the Spirited Adventurer
Take in the magic of game viewing from the water with a sunset cruise on the Zambezi, with elephants, buffalo, hippo and crocodile to be spotted. Canoe Safaris are also on offer in the Upper Zambezi River, a beautiful place rich with vegetation. Here the rapids are small with plenty of opportunity to take in the beauty.
As much as game viewing from the water offers a tranquil experience, a Game Drive in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park connects you with a land richly populated by game. This is offered in 4×4 open safari vehicles in either the morning or evening. There is also rhino trekking on request.
For the adventurous, a must is a bungee jump from the Victoria Falls Bridge into the ravine below. There’s abseiling above the Batoka gorge only 3km away and arguably the best white water rafting on offer in Southern Africa. For those in the know it boasts several Class V rapids.
Seeing the Falls from above offers an impressive perspective of scale. This can either be done by helicopter, which will have you skimming above the rapids of the Zambezi River with the option of a spin over the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. Otherwise by microlight, which keeps more distance.
If you’re looking for an extraordinary experience, consider a few nights on the Zambezi Queen, cruising the river in your suite and taking in game drives from the deck.
My Insider highlights
No matter where you’re staying, allow yourself a treat and head to the Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara, and settle on the deck overlooking the Zambezi River for high tea. There are usually vervet monkeys around trying to help themselves to a scone or two and on my visits the surreal sight of numerous zebras on the lawn. The Zambezi river runs by with its high population of rhino and crocodile and there is a rich air of grand living throughout.
A wonderful way to spend your last morning is a trip with Tongabezi to Livingstone Island, a dry piece of land right on the edge of the Falls. Head through the fast-moving channels of the Zambezi by boat and once on the island enjoy a guided tour learning about its history, from ancient times when it served as a sacrificial site to present day and its World Heritage status. If you’re looking to flirt with the wild side, take a swim in Devil’s Pool on the very edge of the Victoria Falls. Brave swimmers may even opt to peer over the brim into the large curtain of falling water. (Dry Season only)
Spend the evening in style with a taste of luxury train living; join the Royal Livingstone Express for a late afternoon escape to the Zambian Bushveld. Departing from the Bushtracks Station, the steam locomotive shunts onto the Cape to Cairo Mainline, towards the Victoria Falls Bridge, where you stop for the sunset. Dinner and drinks are served onboard as you head back to town. Dress up just to make it even more special.
When planning your visit to Livingstone bear in mind that its worthy of a good few days stay, not only for the natural wonder that is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but to really get a feel of this frontier town that merges history and natural beauty with an endless array of activities.
Get Your Cultural Fix
Go to the markets, the most special being the Dwamba local market. You’ll find nothing commercial about this place, simply local traders displaying their fine fare, dried fish, live chickens and mopane worms for sale. There are stands selling irresistible gorgeous African fabrics and generator run fridges offering ice-cold sodas. The more tourist focused Maramba and Salaula markets are also well worth a visit and sell everything from curios and wooden carvings to secondhand clothes and African cloth.
Remember to ask for the fabrics produced in Zambia as there are replicas, and don’t take photographs without asking.
The local Livingstone Chief encourages visitors to his village, where a headman will escort you around; show you how traditional huts are made and touch on the complexities of village politics. I highly recommend a visit, which can be arranged by your accommodation on request. It’s very rewarding to get out into the more rural areas.
Give back as you go – by bicycle
Highly recommended, take an insider look at Livingstone with Local Cowboy Cycle Tours. Their guide will take you on a 25km cycle through Linda to Libuyu, Dwamba and Maramba, with a visit to a working quarry, that place where the mighty Zambezi River meets the road, the Cowboy pre-school and the Dambwa market.
All part of a community project funding the school, this is a half day out which offers engagement with the way of life, insight into the history and diversity of the area and is offered at a relaxed pace with many stops along the way. It’s very manageable cycle ride so don’t be put off with concerns about fitness.
I thought of this quote by Rudyard Kipling as I cycled – ‘The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.’ Original Cowboy Bicycle Safari Tour gives you the opportunity to really breath in the surrounds and it makes for an informative orientation. https://cowboybicycletourslivingstone.com/
Useful Information to help with your planning
There are direct flights between Cape Town and Livingstone on Kenya Airways
And between Johannesburg OR Tambo and Livingstone on British Airways and SAA.
We can arrange airport transfers for you, if required.
Victoria Falls is spectacular throughout the year, yet most impressive between February and May when the water levels are highest. By contrast the dry season of October and November is best suited to the heat seeker, with June to August offering a good balance.
You can pick up a local simcard and load it with airtime and data on arrival, making communication easy.
There are excellent coffee shops with free wi-fi in town, should you wish to catch up on work at any time. Or simply hang with the locals. Popular among them are Café Zambezi for local delicacies and Kubu Café.
The mood is light and casual, and Livingstone makes for a safe and lovely walking destination with a main road that runs from top to bottom, taking you all the way to the Falls.
Luxury options include Tongabezi Lodge, Thorntree River Lodge and the Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara. A great family option is the brilliantly positioned AVANI Victoria Falls Resort, and those looking for an affordable option will do well booking into the Jollyboys Backpackers.
South Africans do not require a visa to visit Zambia.
Must have souvenir: A necklace with a carved Nyami Nyami – the mythical Zambezi River God with a serpentine body and fish-like head that is believed to bring good luck.