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What is Victoria Falls?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Victoria Falls is a massive waterfall in southern Africa which is one of the largest waterfalls in the world. It straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and it has become a notable tourist attraction, thanks to its beauty and the appeal of the surrounding African environment. Because Victoria Falls has become such a popular spot to visit, it is generally easy to find accommodations there, thanks to a wide assortment of hotels in the area.

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have been living in the vicinity of Victoria Falls for centuries. The first European to see the falls was David Livingstone, who was apparently dissatisfied with the African name for the falls, Mosi-oa-tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.” He named the falls for Queen Victoria, following a long-established convention among British explorers to name new places and landmarks after the King or Queen of Britain.

For Livingstone, the falls must have been a startling and amazing sight. The sound of the falls can be heard from a great distance, and in the rainy season, spray from Victoria Falls can be seen for miles. It is also fairly impressive during the dry season, although the rate of flow is greatly decreased. Technically, Victoria Falls is not the tallest or broadest waterfall in the world, but the total area of the falling water is larger than any known waterfall, and certainly much larger than Niagra Falls, another well known waterfall.

The Falls appear at one of the widest points of the Zambezi River. They are caused by the flow of the river into a very narrow, extremely deep gorge which causes the Zambezi to bend sharply to the East. Because the gorge appears at such a wide point in the river, the volume of water which suddenly rushes over the side is quite impressive, and it falls around 355 feet (108 meters) to the bottom of the gorge. Thanks to the gorge, people can view the falls head-on from the other side of the gorge. A series of deep gorges follows from the first, zigzagging back and forth several times before the river gently curves to the East, where it meets the Indian Ocean.

In 1989, Victoria Falls was designated as World Heritage Site. In addition to the falls themselves, the site also features an abundance of African plants and animals, making it an exciting and interesting place to visit. Visitors can go on nature walks around the area to explore it, and in certain times of the year, they can even swim on the brink of the falls, in a natural pool known as the Devil's Swimming Pool.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SnowyWinter — On Nov 18, 2010

@wesley91: The Devil’s Cataract was named for the adjacent island in the river in which the local tribes used to perform sacrificial ceremonies. When missionaries came to the area, they referred to the tribal ceremonies as “devilish” and that is where the name came from. The Devil’s Cataract falls are 70 meters high.

The Main Falls are 93 meters high and are the largest of the waterfalls with the most spectacular view.

Horseshoe Falls, which is 95 meters high, actually resembles the shape of a horseshoe. This is where the least amount of water is. Horseshoe Falls is also the first to dry up, usually occurring in October or November.

Rainbow Falls is the highest point of all the rest of the falls. They are 108 meters high. On clear days, a rainbow can usually be seen here.

The Eastern Cataract falls are the 2nd highest falls and they are completely on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. However, you can get a spectacular view of the falls from the Zimbabwean side. The Eastern Cataract falls are 101 meters high.

By wesley91 — On Nov 18, 2010

@snowywinter: I had no idea that Victoria Falls had any other waterfalls. Do you have any information on the other ones?

By SnowyWinter — On Nov 18, 2010

@oceanswimmer: Yes, that is true. The Victoria Falls are actually made up of 5 different falls. Four of them are in Zimbabwe and the other is in Zambia. The ones that are in Zimbabwe are: Main Falls, The Devil’s Cataract, Rainbow Falls, and Horseshoe Falls. The Zambia falls is called Eastern Cataract.

By OceanSwimmer — On Nov 18, 2010

Aren't there several smaller waterfalls that make up Victoria Falls?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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