Victoria Falls, one of the great natural wonders of the world and a must-see for many people travelling to southern Africa. For those not familiar with the geography of this region, the Zambezi River (which creates the magnificent falls) is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, so it is possible to see the falls from either country. However deciding which side to view it from can greatly impact your experience and wallet. So which side is best - Zambia or Zimbabwe?
With regards to your viewing experience, about two thirds of Victoria Falls’ face lies within Zimbabwe which has the majority of the water plunging down. There are more viewpoints on this side and the views are much more picturesque with the dense rain forest constantly sprayed in rainbow mist from the thundering falls.
However if you prefer to get close to the torrents of water, the Zambia side of the falls will suit you better. Here you can stand upstream and watch the water cascade over the edge, get drenched crossing Knife-Edge Bridge, or climb down to the huge whirlpool known as Boiling Pot at the base of the falls. Zambia also boasts Devil’s Pool, a natural rock pool on the edge of Victoria Falls, where you can safely swim right to the edge in dry season. This is definitely the closest you can possibly get to the falls!
Another factor in which side you choose should also be the type of accommodation you prefer. The Zimbabwe side is best if you want to be within easy walking distance of the falls and Victoria Falls town. There is a great selection of hotels on the hills and riverbank outside Victoria Falls town, and from here you can easily explore the colourful markets and get a taste of local life. If you would prefer to be right at the river’s edge and in a more relaxed environment away from the bustle of the falls, Zambia is definitely your best choice. While there are a couple of hotels within walking distance of the falls, the vast majority of Zambia's properties lie further upstream and are often comprised of individual cottages with beautiful open views of the Zambezi River.
In terms of cost, you will almost always spend more on the Zambia side which is largely due to the greater luxury of the lodges there. However there are some stunning luxury properties on the Zimbabwe side that still offer (relatively) cheap rates to encourage tourists, so this is your best place to maximize your value for your money.
Another factor in which side you choose should be when you choose to travel. If you are travelling between February and May you will see the greatest flow of water on both sides because this is right after the rainy season – good luck keeping your camera dry if you plan on crossing Knife-Edge Bridge! The lowest water levels occur at the end of the dry season in October and November, and you can generally count on good panoramic shots of the falls. At this time of year we definitely recommend going to the ever-flowing Zimbabwe side because the water on the Zambia side may have dried up and you will find yourself staring at a rock wall.
Lastly, it should be noted that travellers to Zambia who are also visiting (or transiting through) South Africa are required to have a yellow fever certificate, so Zimbabwe is the clear winner for those who can't or don't want to get the vaccination.
So if we come back to the original question of which side is better, the answer is: it depends. Do you prefer iconic views of the main falls, water flowing all year round, and being within walking distance of the falls, town and markets? Or do you prefer exceptionally close views of the falls, and more relaxed accommodation in tranquil riverside lodges? In the end, whether you choose to stay in Zimbabwe or Zambia, the minor hassle of a border crossing is often worth the opportunity to visit both sides of the falls.