Victoria Falls is the only waterfall in the world with a length of more than a kilometre and a height of more than a hundred meters. This combination makes it is the largest waterfall on earth. Listed as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world, the Falls represent the largest curtain of falling water on the planet.
Naming of the Falls
The original names given to the falls are:- Mosi-oa-Tunya, in Lozi, a local language, which means "The Smoke that Thunders" and, Shungu Namutitima in Tonga, another local language meaning "Boiling Water".
The name Victoria Falls was originated only much later by David Livingstone, a Scottish physician, missionary, and the first European explorer to set foot at the falls in November 1855.
Where are the Victoria Falls?
The Victoria Falls are located in Southern Africa on the border of Zambia (the closest town is Livingstone) and Zimbabwe (the closest town is Victoria Falls).
Which River flows over the Victoria Falls?
The Waterfall is on the mighty Zambezi River, the fourth-longest river in Africa which flows for 2,574 kilometres (1,599 mi) from Mwinilunga District in northwest Zambia (elevation 1461m/4793ft above sea level) through six countries to the Indian Ocean in Mozambique.
The elevation at Victoria Falls which is the approximate midpoint of the Zambezi is 889m/2917ft above sea level.
How was the largest waterfall on earth formed formed?
Check out this short but informative video from a Wild Horizons tour guide on how the Victoria Falls were formed.
Victoria Falls Statistics
While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, the Victoria Falls are classified as the largest, based on its combined width and height resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. Here are the technical details of the Victoria Falls.
Classification and Rock Type
The Victoria Falls is known as a Cataract Waterfall, which simply means it is a waterfall on a large river with a high volume of water.
The bedrock found near Victoria Falls is basalt, a dark volcanic rock formed 150 million years ago.
Basalt is a common rock type found all across the planet. Basalt is most typically seen in places that have experienced intense volcanic eruptions and basalt formations as the result of these eruptions are everywhere you look, especially underwater where you will find large pieces of basalt rock making up the ocean floor.
Dimensions of the Falls
The full length of the Victoria Falls is 1,708m (5,604 ft). The height varies and increases in height from the west at what is known as the Devils Cataract 70m (233 ft) through to the far east side, or the Eastern Cataract 108m (360 ft).
The mean annual flow rate is 1088 cubic meters per second (38,430 cu ft/s) and the mean maximum flow rate is recorded at 3000 cu m/s (105,944 cu ft/s).
The highest recorded flow ever at Victoria Falls is at least 9 500 cubic meters per second, (335,489 cu ft/s)which was in 1958 when the Kariba Dam was still being constructed.
The lowest recorded flow at Victoria Falls happened during the 1995-1996 season, with a low of 390 cubic meters per second.
High and Low Water Seasons
The water level is highest during March through May and lowest between September and December.
The amount of water flowing over the Victoria Falls changes depending on rainfall levels at catchment areas upstream in Zambia, Angola, and Botswana.
World Heritage Site
The Victoria Falls was listed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Science and Culture Organization) as a world heritage site in 1989.
The Falls within the Falls
Two islands can be found on the crest of Victoria Falls: Boaruka (a Tonga word meaning "divider of waters") Island also known as Cataract Island near the western bank, and Livingstone Island near the middle. This is where Livingstone first viewed Victoria Falls.
At less than full flood, the water divides into a series of separate streams. The following are the names of these streams from Zimbabwe to Zambia: Devil’s Cataract(called Leaping Water by some), Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls, Rainbow Falls (the tallest waterfall), and the Eastern Cataract.
For more information about these, checkout our Virtual Tour of the Victoria Falls, click here.
The Zambezi River flows rapidly through the First Gorge and then zigzags to follow a series of gorges before continuing on its path to the Ocean.
First Gorge: The gorge at the Victoria Falls
Second Gorge: 250 meters south of the falls, 2.15 kilometers (1.3 miles) long, spanning over the Victoria Falls Bridge (as can be seen in the image above.
Third Gorge: 600 meters (2,000 ft) south, 1.95 kilometers (1.21 mi) long, which contains the Victoria Falls Power Station
Fourth Gorge: 1.15 kilometers (0.71 mi) south, 2.25 kilometers (1.40 mi) long
Fifth Gorge: 2.25 kilometers (1.40 mi) south, 3.2 kilometers (2.0 mi) long
Songwe Gorge: 5.3 kilometers (3.3 mi) south, 3.3 kilometers (2.1 mi) long named after the smaller Songwe River which comes from the north-east, and the deepest at 140 meters (460 ft), the level of the river in the gorges varies by up to 20 meters (66 ft) between wet and dry seasons.
Interesting Victoria Falls Trivia
Its not only water that goes over the falls
Occasionally, objects and even animals such as hippopotamus, crocodile and even elephant are swept over the falls. They are usually found swirling about in the boiling Pot or washed up at the northeast end of the Second Gorge. This is also where the bodies of Mrs. Moss and Mr. Orchard, were found in 1910 after their canoes were capsized by a hippo at Long Island above the falls and the current took them over the falls to their deaths.
You can hear it and see it from afar
The sound waves from Victoria Falls can be heard as far as 40 kilometers away, while its spray and mist reach heights of 400 meters (sometimes double that) and can be seen 50 kilometers away. It's not surprising that the local tribes used to call the falls Mosi-o-Tunya "The smoke that thunders".
The same Waterfall in two national parks and two countries
Both Zimbabwe and Zambia lay claim to the Victoria Falls. This is because the Zambezi River runs right through the border of the two countries. The Falls can be visited from both countries. In Zambia from the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park and from the The Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe.
Home to Africa's wild animals
Be cautious when visiting Victoria Falls. You’ll be entering the natural habitat of a range of animals, including Africa's famous “Big Five”.
Be careful – crocs, hippo's and elephants are a plenty in this part of the region, so always be on the lookout. Just remember that respecting nature also means appreciating you can put your life at risk without knowing it. Always listen to what the local experts or guides tell you.
The place where Moonbows are created
A moonbow is a rare sight, and there are few places in the world have been deemed capable of showing one. One such place is Victoria Falls. Lunar rainbows, or moonbows as they are more commonly known, are a rare natural phenomenon that happens when the Moon's light is reflected and refracted off water droplets in the air.
Want to know more, learn all about Moonbows. Click here.
A place where it rains 24/7
Visitors to Victoria Falls can enjoy a rainforest on the Zimbabwe side, which due to the spray from the falls, means it rains every day of the year. The constant moisture provides lush greenery in the forest and makes it a must-see for nature lovers.
No one was there to witness the Fall highest flow in 10 years
In April 2020, the Zambezi River Authority reported the high water levels at the Victoria Falls were due to a significant increase in both rainfall and run-off in the catchment area upstream. On April 20, 3,922 cubic metres per second was recorded compared to 1 007 cubic metres per second the same time in the previous year.
Unfortunately no one was there to see it because the Victoria Falls rainforest was closed as Zimbabwe and the rest of the world was in lockdown to mitigate the spreading of the coronavirus.
The flow rate has not been this high since 2010.
You can swim to the edge of the waterfall
For an especially daring traveler, you might enjoy swimming up to the edge of the Falls at Devil’s Pool.
Swimming in the Zambezi is a dangerous activity, and people attempting this need to be aware of their location.
When you reach the edge of this pool, the feeling is thrilling. It's as though you are getting a front-row seat to an incredible show that never gets old.
You can only do this when water levels are lowest. Find out all about The Devil's Pool here.
Other Great Waterfalls and How they Compare to the Victoria Falls
Flow Rate (Annual Mean per second)
2,406m3 (85,000cu ft)
662 m3 (23,400cu ft)
1,745m3 (61,659cu ft)
1088m (38422cu ft)
Angel Falls is the highest with a short width and low flow rate.
Niagara Falls has the highest flow rate but the lowest height.
Iguazu Falls is the widest.
The combination of height and width with a good flow rate make Victoria Falls the largest waterfall on earth.