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For decades, UNESCO World Heritage Site Victoria Falls has been packaged with South African tours, thus leading to the misconception that it is a part of Africa’s southernmost country. The natural attraction also straddles the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia adding even more confusion about its whereabouts.
Lately, Zimbabwe — home to two-thirds of the Victoria Falls waterfall that belongs to the Seven Natural Wonders of the World — is priming the area as a world-class Zimbabwean destination. The country is giving travelers plenty of new reasons to visit the falls on its side of the border, from a brand-new international terminal to an extreme survival academy.
Victoria Falls International AirportTourism will potentially increase when Victoria Falls Airport opens its new international terminal, which is slated for June 2015. The brand-new runway will be 2.5 miles long and large enough to fit newer aircrafts. Once the project is complete, the hub will be the second largest of its kind in Africa, after Johannesburg.
Victoria Falls National ParkUnlike other top waterfall destinations, Victoria Falls is unique in that the Zimbabwean town was built entirely within a national park. Visitors may see herds of elephants and packs of baboons roaming freely on the roads, and even lions are spotted traipsing through Elephant Hills Resort’s golf course. It’s almost like a free safari with every visit — though, of course, the real action is out at the lodges.
Zambezi HelicoptersThe best way to get the lay of the land is by taking a helicopter tour with Zambezi Helicopters, a reputable company with a helipad right in town. The Zambezi Spectacular flight tour is just under 30 minutes and offers bird’s-eye, aerial views of the park, with the majority of airtime spent hovering over the dramatic falls and its six gorges. From above, travelers will see why the falls is known as “the smoke that thunders.”
Visitors can take in an aerial view of Victoria Falls — a flourishing destination that straddles the border of both Zimbabwe and Zambia — by helicopter tour. // © 2014 Jimmy Im
A bartender fixes drinks for passengers on the Zambezi Explorer, a new and upscale cruise company. // © 2014 Jimmy Im
Passengers might elect a sunset cruise onboard the Zambezi Explorer to witness the setting African sun while enjoying Zambezi-style gourmet snacks and beverages. // © 2014 Jimmy Im
Victoria Falls Hotel received a multimillion dollar refurbishment in 2013, which included a comprehensive upgrade to its Stable Wing rooms. // © 2014 Jimmy Im
The hotel offers a breathtaking backdrop of the adjacent Victoria Falls. // © 2014 Jimmy Im
Zambezi Explorer Cruise CompanyIf your client would rather stay closer to the water, set them up with Zambezi Explorer, a new, upscale cruise company that debuted last year. Offering relaxing cruises on an eco-friendly, three-deck catamaran, Zambezi Explorer is easily the most stylish boat on the Zambezi River with swanky interiors and a smartly dressed staff. Aboard the boat, passengers can get a thrill from hippo and crocodile sightings, not to mention a stunning sunset that is best viewed with a cocktail.
The Boma RestaurantThe Boma Restaurant is Victoria Falls’ most popular restaurant with live performances, a gift shop and an outdoor terrace. The buffet dinner is expansive, serving up traditional and exotic game such as kudu (i.e., an African antelope) and warthog (i.e., a wild pig) — both cooked while you wait — and even mopani worms (i.e., a type of caterpillar) in the salad bar. For the less adventurous, there are milder options such as dishes with chicken and a vegetarian focus.
The Boma recently underwent a massive refurbishment and launched interactive nightly performances where dancers in traditional chitenge dress perform choreographed drum shows (tables are given drums to participate) and also belt out a capella.
Wild Horizons Canopy TourVictoria Falls is known as Zimbabwe’s “adventure capital" with approximately 36 outdoor activities, from bungee jumping to white water rafting. However, a handful of new thrilling adventures have also been luring outdoor enthusiasts, including the new Wild Horizons Canopy Tour that takes visitors through a network of slides, trails and rope-bridged walkways within the canopy of the Zambezi gorges near the falls.
Bear Grylls Survival AcademyWhile adventure show host Bear Grylls has been making headlines with his new show “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” extreme adventurists can learn hands-on survival techniques at the Bear Grylls Survival Academy. Expect the usual activities at the recently opened Victoria Falls location: rough and tumble challenges, eating crawly things and much more.
Predator Diving Victoria FallsIn town, the not-so-faint-of-heart have been lining up to come face to face with live crocodiles. With Predator Diving Victoria Falls — which also opened this past year —travelers can don a wet suit, sink in a glass-walled cage and see the mammoth reptiles up close in a cold-water tank.
Victoria Falls WaterfallThe highlight of Victoria Falls is unquestionably the Victoria Falls waterfall. The falls run about a mile long, and clients can get incredibly close to the gorges from several vantage points. It’s a breathtaking sight where visitors are quite literally in the middle of all the action, unlike other falls where photos must be taken from a distance. In fact, you will get splashed, so don’t forget to wear a waterproof rain jacket.
Victoria Falls HotelStay at Victoria Falls Hotel, a five-star, post-colonial hotel that is a 10-minute walk from the falls. The hotel, which will celebrate its 110th anniversary in June and was the first hotel to open in the destination, received a $3 million refurbishment in August 2013.
The refurbishment included a complete redesign to its Stable Wing. The Stable Wing courtyard has an herb garden and 42 contemporary rooms touting antiques and modern furnishings.
Pique Travel DesignPique Travel Design, a Minneapolis-based travel agency, arranges trips to Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe and has excellent ties with the destination.