Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When is the best time to visit the Victoria Falls?

This is the question I am most commonly asked and there really is, no right or wrong answer, but understanding the hydrology of the river will give you a clue of what to expect when you do visit. The Victoria Falls are situated at the half way point in the Zambezi Rivers 2700 kilometer journey to the Indian Ocean. Rising in the Mwinilunga District of Northern Zambia, (a place where they measure rainfall in meters), they get 1,8 meters (65 inchs!) of rain a year and the bulk of this rain falls from November to March. This mass of water gathers in the Barotse floodplain, an area of over 10 000 square kilometers that is submerged every year, and is the secret to why the river continues to flow all year round. This floodplain absorbs the flood like a huge sponge and then gradually feeds this water back into the main river and so regulates the rate of flow. At Victoria Falls he rate of flow of the river still fluctuates over a very wide range, at low water (November) the rate of flow drops down to as little as 500 cubic meters of water a second but at high water (April/ May) this will get up to 5000 cubic meters of water a second!

Given this information you would be forgiven for assuming that April is the best time to visit the Falls but at that time of year, the spray generated by the Falls obscures a lot and makes photography imposable so for my money, the best viewing is between January and March and then again from July to September. The other factor to consider is that due to the structure of the Falls and the presence of a hydroelectric plant on the Zambian side of the Falls, there is almost no water falling on the Zambian side of the Falls from October onwards until the local rains set in in mid December so if you are staying in Zambia, speak to your agent and get them to include a visit to the waterfall in Zimbabwe in your program, it is well worth the extra visa fee's to get a decent view at that time of the year. Even at low water the Devils Cataract and Main Falls are a spectacular site so you should have no concerns over visiting all year round as long as you see the waterfall from the Zimbabwean side if you happen to visit at low water.

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