The following is a guest post from my good friend, Amy Hennen. She and her husband recently returned from a three week trip to southern Africa. I've asked them both to share some of their experiences in a series of blog posts.
One of the things that made me the most nervous when contemplating our trip to Southern Africa was the border crossing at Victoria Falls between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The two countries (especially Zimbabwe) are not known for their stability or lack of corruption. I worried we would try to cross the border in either direction and be told we couldn’t without a steep bribe. However, I really wanted to see the falls from both sides so giving up on it was out of the question.
Doing some research before we left meant that we were as prepared as we could have been. We chose to walk across the border; driving is a bad idea if you want to keep costs down, due to the taxes on cars crossing the border.
We got a double entry visa for $45 at the Victoria Falls airport in Zimbabwe, which made it easier and cheaper to leave Zimbabwe and come back. The single entry visa is $30 and you can also get it at the airport, but it’s not clear if you can leave Zimbabwe and come back while the visa is valid.
If we wanted a multi-entry visa for $60 it would have been necessary to get it from the consulate before leaving for Africa. When we got to Zambia, we bought a “day pass” visa at the border in Zambia for $20.
One of the most surprising parts to me was how professional and orderly everything was a both border checkpoints. The people working in customs and immigration were cordial and direct. When there wasn’t a crowd in the immigration office, they were downright friendly.
Apart from the customs and immigration the actual border crossing was remarkable. It’s a walk in the hot African sun of at least 1km once you leave the Zimbabwean border post until you get to the bridge over the Zambezi River. It’s a no man’s land that is dry and desolate. It’s nothing like the lush landscapes of the national parks on the other sides of the borders. When we were there, we saw people actually making tar over a coal fire to repair the road. There are also huge trucks that are constantly zooming by because foot traffic, vehicles, and trains share the limited amount of space.
Another option, which we did not choose, is to leave Zimbabwe, but stay in the no man’s land between the two border posts. You can go through the Zimbabwean border post to the zip line / bungee jump / restaurant spot on the opposite side of the bridge without going through the Zambian border. If you do that, you won’t need to “re-enter” Zimbabwe on the way back, but you need to tell the officials that’s what you’re planning to do because you do not want them to put an exit stamp on your passport.
Once you get to the Zambian border, ignore people who want to “help” you get through immigration; you don’t need the assistance. It’s also best not to get too close to the baboons that hang out at the Zambian border post; you won’t need their assistance either. Once past the gate, the Victoria Falls park is only another .5km on the left; you don’t need to take a taxi, though the drivers can be pushy.
I was glad we researched it ahead of time. We did see one couple who hadn’t prepared for this and didn’t understand that the double entry visa they had did not mean it was good at both borders. They likely wound up “burning” one of their entries when they decided to go back and try again the next day.
Most of all, I was glad we did it. The falls look totally different from the two perspectives the countries offer. Zimbabwe views are close, straight on, and you can feel the mist from the falls. Zambia looks down the falls, so it’s a different perspective. From the Zambia side we hiked down to the Zambezi River and we walked on top of the falls because it was the low season. Viewing the falls from both sides is an absolute must!
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