Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989, Victoria Falls is undeniably one of the world's most awe-inspiring waterfalls and one of the most beautiful natural landmarks in Africa. When Scottish explorer David Livingstone became the first European to see the waterfall in 1855, he proclaimed, "No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight." He named it after Queen Victoria; however, the Kalolo-Lozi people had long been calling it Mosi-oa-Tunya. Here are seven other fascinating facts you might not know about these spectacular falls.
The Waterfall Is One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World
Both the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the New Seven Wonders of the World showcase incredible human-made creations, but the Seven Natural Wonders of the World is a celebration of all things Mother Nature. The project was launched in 2008 with the aim of preserving and promoting the world's most indelible natural sites — the waterfalls, canyons, mountains, and reefs that top the bucket lists of travelers around the globe. The list spans nearly every continent, and Victoria Falls features alongside the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; the harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the northern lights; Mount Everest; and the Parícutin cinder cone volcano in Mexico.
The Falls Straddle the Border Between Zambia and Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls is formed by a natural gorge situated almost halfway along the 1,599-mile long Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls Bridge crosses high above the river and is both a popular viewpoint and a heavily transited road, with hundreds of cars, cyclists, pedestrians, and trains crossing between the two countries every day. Both sides of the falls offer different perspectives. On the Zimbabwean side, the Victoria Falls National Park has well-marked trails that lead to wonderful views of Devil’s Cataract, Horseshoe Falls, and Rainbow Falls. Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park brings you within touching distance of the rushing water. Interestingly, Victoria Falls isn’t the only one of the world’s great waterfalls that sits on an international border: Canada and the U.S. share Niagara Falls, while Argentina and Brazil share Iguazu Falls.
It's the Largest Curtain Waterfall in the World
It's a common misconception that Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall. While this isn’t technically true — it is neither the tallest nor the widest — it does feature the largest curtain of falling water on the planet, which pours unobstructed over a broad and level valley of basalt. At its widest, Victoria Falls spans more than a mile — an incredible 5,600 feet, which is nearly the entire width of the Zambezi River. Its maximum drop is 355 feet, and the average flow of water over the falls is an eye-popping 33,000 cubic feet per second. To put that into perspective, Victoria Falls is about twice as wide and twice as deep as Niagara Falls.
The Falls Can Be Heard From Up to 25 Miles Away
Although the falls were named in honor of Britain’s Queen Victoria, the local Kalolo-Lozi people call the spot Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates to "The Smoke That Thunders" in the Sotho language. And it's no wonder why: The roar of rushing water is so loud that the sound can be heard from up to 25 miles away. During the high-water season between February and August, the spray and the mist of the falls rises up to 1,300 feet high and can be seen from a distance of up to 30 miles in any direction.
You Can Swim in a Natural Infinity Pool
Thrill seekers visiting the falls will be drawn to Devil's Pool, which might just be the world's most hair-raising natural infinity pool. At the edge of the falls on the Zambian side, a narrow lip of stone creates a deceptively calm 10-foot-deep swimming hole that sits adjacent to the raging waters cascading hundreds of feet below. Devil’s Pool is generally accessible from mid-August to mid-January via tours that depart from Victoria Falls village and the Royal Livingstone Hotel. If the pool is inaccessible, then you can try the similar Angel’s Pool. Both are close to Livingstone Island, where David Livingstone first glimpsed this magical sight.
And Bungee Jump Over the Zambezi River
If the pools weren’t daring enough, visitors can also take a death-defying jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge. Though it's not the world’s highest bungee jump — that honor goes to the 764-foot Macau Tower jump in China — it is certainly one of the most scenic. And it's one where you're able to jump over two countries at once. A precipitous 364-feet drop takes just four seconds to bring brave jumpers face-to-face with the roaring Zambezi River below. Adrenaline junkies can also opt for a bridge slide and bridge swing.
It’s Possible to Witness a Lunar Rainbow
Thanks to sunlight that is reflected and refracted by the many water droplets, rainbows are omnipresent around Victoria Falls. But another much rarer natural phenomenon sometimes occurs when a full moon is present. "Moonbows" (also called lunar rainbows) can be seen only on cloudless nights when the light of the moon is bright enough for it to disperse, reflect, and retract with the spray of the falls in the same way that sunlight creates a rainbow. Victoria Falls is one of the few places around the world where lunar rainbows are visible, made possible by the sheer amount of water at the falls and the lack of surrounding light pollution. The best time to catch a moonbow is between February and August, and Knife’s Edge Bridge, on the Zambian side, is one of the best spots to observe the phenomenon. California's Lower Yosemite Falls and Iceland's Skógafoss are other famous waterfalls where you can sometimes spot lunar rainbows.