VICTORIA FALLS & THE SERENGETI
One of the most stirring sights in Africa, Victoria Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. It is where the mile-wide Zambezi River suddenly plunges 30 stories into the Bakota Gorge, at times spilling water at a volume of more than 2 million gallons per second. Rainbows, mist and the tremendous roar of the water stir the senses— few other natural wonders match the raw power of the Victoria Falls.
The first European to see them was David Livingstone on November 17th, 1855, during his 1852-56 journey from the upper Zambezi to the mouth of the river. The falls were already well known to the local people and the Matabele named them Mosi-au-Tunya, "the smoke that thunders," because of the cloud of spray that rises above them. Livingstone named them in honor of Queen Victoria.
Victoria Falls actually consists of several separate falls, divided by islands in the river—the most impressive are Rainbow Falls, the Devil's Cataract and Main Falls. The best time to see the falls is during July or August, midway through the dry season. The volume of water over the falls is at its peak just after the rains end (March-May), but this is a poor time to go—the force of the falling water at the base sends a mist shooting up to a height of more than 500 ft, which obscures views of the falls. Even during the dry season, you can get plenty wet from the mist—it creates a lush forest on the opposite side of the gorge, even though the rest of the countryside is parched. At its driest—around the end of October—water is flowing over only about a third of its crest, and while it's nice, it's just simply not as impressive.
First-time visitors are often surprised to find that the entire falls can't be seen from one vantage point on land. Rather, Victoria Falls is best seen from several viewing points on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides of the river. The closest views are from a trail running parallel to the falls, in Zimbabwe, but one of the best views is from the bridge between the two nations. (If you plan to view the falls from the international bridge, be sure to get a multiple-entry visa so that you can return to Zambia.)
The falls can also be seen via the Flight of Angels, a twin-engine plane that flies for about 15 minutes up and down the falls. (If you've come this far, it is recommended to spend whatever the current rate for this flight is. It's not a budget breaker, and it's worth every penny.) A longer and much more expensive air tour also flies above the falls, around the countryside and over more of the river, but don't bother with it unless time and money are unlimited.
Plan a full day on the Zimbabwe side in the town of Victoria Falls: In addition to getting a much closer look at the falls, you'll want to stop in at the Victoria Falls Hotel for a drink and look around, and perhaps visit the Crocodile Ranch or shop a little in town. Day and evening sundowner cruises on the Zambezi, lasting two-four hours, are also worthwhile. It's possible to spot hippos, monkeys, crocodiles and elephants from the boats. Nearby Lake Kariba, much of which is in Zimbabwe, has water sports and game watching. You can also take trips through the seven Zambezi Gorges. Several days could be spent in the Victoria Falls area.
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
Covering almost 5,000 sq. mi, the Serengeti National Park is Tanzania's second largest game reserve after the Selous and it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978. The word Serengeti comes from the Maasai word siringet, which literally means "an extended area."
The Serengeti's far-reaching plains of endless grass, broken by rock outcroppings and tinged with twisted acacia trees, are home to an estimated three million large animals, including the big five (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant) and more than 500 species of birds. It protects the largest single movement of wildlife on earth—the annual wildebeest migration, which is a highlight for most visitors and a phenomenal sight. The wildebeest move first, then the zebra, and lion, hyena and scavenger birds follow in their wake and feast on the sick, young, old or weary. The migration usually moves south from mid-November to January, then north again from the end of May to June—though there is some variation in the dates, depending on the level of rainfall during a given year. (Avoid late June-October, when most of the animals will probably already be out of the Serengeti and into the adjacent Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.) If you have the opportunity to watch the wildebeest crossing Lake Legaga (near Ndutu) from the air (by balloon or plane), spend the money and do so—it's quite impressive.
Because of these great distances to the Serengeti, some companies offer tours by plane, flying from one park lodge to another. (The lodges and tented camps can be quite comfortable; the older and larger ones are a little dated and have an institutional feel about them, but the newer ones are luxurious and more intimate.)
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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