Pop quiz! Raise you hand if you've heard of Devil's Pool. Until a few years ago, I had no idea what it even was! Situated at one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World - Victoria Falls, it offers a unique experience found nowhere else in the world - you can literally swim to, and sit at the edge of the falls as 10 million litres of water per minute, cascades 108m into the chasm below!
Honestly, going to Zambia wasn't even on my list of things to do. It was completely sudden and spontaneous! I was merely sitting at my desk updating an airline's website with a new special on flights from Durban to Zambia for only $50 and thought, “You know what? That's way too good a deal to pass up... but what about a place to stay?” Then I remembered earlier this year I had designed a site for Jollyboys - a lively backpackers in Zambia. “Sweet, I can totally do this!!”
My boss, Paul, and Claire from the office organised some awesome discounts for me (thanks, guys!), and also having a South African passport meant I didn't need a visa for Zambia so I was as good as gone!
I landed in Livingstone and met Michelle, the new manager at Jollyboys, and Kim, the owner. They're both superb and took good care of me making my stay exceptionally enjoyable. I also met two exuberant young girls, Nija - a package engineer from Texas, and Caro - a journalist from Belgium. The three of us hit it off immediately, hung out a lot and had a flippin' blast together!
There are five guided trips to Devil's Pool daily - three breakfast, one lunch and a high tea. These range from $100-160 and can be booked on the day or in advance to avoid disappointment. Devil's Pool is only open in the dry season (usually mid August to mid January) when the current isn't as strong and the water level is low enough to allow swimming.
I was booked in for the lunch trip at 12:30, beginning with a short boat ride to Livingstone Island and a brief history on David Livingstone and his discovery of Vic Falls. You're then given a moment to change into your swimwear before crossing a short stretch of water to a small rocky outcrop alongside Devil's Pool. About 85% of this section can be walked but some parts are deeper and you could also cut yourself against unseen rocks. Safety is key and the guides take extra care to ensure everything runs smoothly.
A group of up to 16 people can be on any given trip. You wait upon the rocks until the guide assists you into the pool. There were only two other people (a lovely couple from Minnesota) in my group that went into the water. The pool is 4m deep but it's a really short (2-3m) swim to the rocks along the edge upon which you can sit and take in the splendour of it all.
Your camera or phone can be given to a second guide who does a thorough job at capturing between 50-100 photos (and video) from various vantage points. You would likely spend 15-20 minutes in the pool itself. The views are spectacular, especially looking over the edge. It is really indescribable and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After your 15 minutes of fame, you swim back to a three course lunch ready and waiting to show your tastebuds a good time. We had gazpacho soup for starters, scrumptious grilled beef, chicken and roasted veg for mains and a mouth-watering peach sorbet for dessert.
An amazing, little town with a lot of personality. Staying in central town puts everything you need within walking distance - restaurants, grocery stores, banks, markets, souvenir stalls and everything else Livingstone has to offer. The people are super friendly and the town is safe during the day. You may run into a few overly persistent street hawkers, and women traveling alone may get hit on and proposed to a lot, but people aren't harmful and take rejection in their stride. I was warned that it may not be as safe at night but I'm from South Africa, we don't stick around to test those theories.
When it comes to food, you can't really go wrong. There are loads of great restaurants ranging from local cuisine (I recommend Cafe Zambezi) to authentic Italian restaurants (like Olga's and Da Canton). Da Canton makes absolutely drool-worthy gelato. Seriously good. Like I-had-gelato-that-good-in-Italy good.
There's so much for tourists to do in and around Livingstone. Lots of adventurous activities - bungee jumping, white water rafting, microlight flights, and many more relaxed ones - day safaris, hiking trails in the National Park, sunset cruises and historical tours. You can also visit local villages and markets. Maramba Market has reasonably priced fabric in a myriad of vibrant colours and designs. The girls had bought quite a lot and had a bunch of garments made at very reasonable prices.
The Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is a great spot for hiking and viewing the falls. There are various trails within the park which are mainly unguided walks at your own pace. The Boiling Pot Trail is by far the most exhausting and strenuous one. This trails leads to a small, rocky viewing area at the bottom of the falls some 100m down a rather steep, winding ‘rocky staircase'. It takes about 15 minutes to get down and you'll see the water current swirl due to resistance causing a back flow and upsurge of water, similar to boiling a pot of water. Cool, now let's trek back up that 100m ascent! I'm reasonably fit and it still took me a good half an hour trudging along in the heat. 38°C actually. I stopped every five minutes to have a drink of water and recuperate, and there are two benches along the path to sit on, pass out on, die from heat exhaustion on, whichever.
Getting around Livingstone is easy - most places are within walking distance and anything far, you just get a taxi, with 50-60 kwacha being the average price for places 10-15 minutes away. One of our absolute favourite chill out spots was the Royal Livingstone Hotel. A five star resort situated along the banks of the Zambezi River - with zebra, giraffe and impala strolling around on the grounds. Built upon the shore is an indulgent bar area with a deck overlooking the river. We returned every second day to relax, have a drink and watch the sun set - with great company, funny conversations and hippos lazily snorting in the water. It's actually one of the most relaxing and amazing things you can do. One simply does not tire of seeing the sun set over the Zambezi!
Some things to remember when visiting Livingstone:
It's hot: Stay hydrated, wear as much (or as little) as necessary and use sunscreen.
Use insect repellent: There are a crap ton of mosquitoes, especially in the summer months. I was at a restaurant and saw one buzz by so I waved my hand to shoo it away and about five more scattered from the table. Malaria is a minor threat and unlikely to affect you but it's still a possibility so be cautious.
Wifi: Many places have it. It may be painfully slow at times but it's usable.
Electricity: Although infrequent, there can be sudden outages which may last a few hours. Many restaurants, hotels, etc have generators. Make sure your cameras and phones are charged.
With Livingstone situated a mere one hour from the Zambian border, I couldn't resist just popping over to Botswana to experience one of the best safaris in Africa - the Chobe Day Trip. This full day activity departs at 7am to the Kazungula Border where you board a small boat and cross into Botswana. After a brief breakfast at a coffee shop, you're ready for your cruise!
At a cost of $160, the day trip, which consists of a three hour river cruise, lunch and a two hour game drive, is well worth the price! In the dry season animals make their way down to the river, making it the perfect time to visit. The cruise offers unbelievable sightings of buffalo, crocodiles, hippos, a number of different bird species, and of course, elephants. Chobe is home to well over 100000 of them! It's a treasure trove for wildlife photographers, with the highlight for me definitely being the large number of ellies crossing the river - truly a sight to behold!
At 12:30pm you return to the coffee shop for a buffet lunch before commencing with your game drive. We got to see zebras, elephants, giraffes, impala and warthogs which wasn't too bad. Ideally 2-4pm in sweltering heat isn't the best time for a game drive as predatory animals are rarely out at that time of day or when it's that hot. However, that's only for the single day trips. There are two and three day trips available with game drives in the evenings and early mornings. They're all remarkable whichever way you look at it.
At the end of our holidays, we ultimately had our own lives, families, friends and homes to go back to, but for the time we spent together - eating breakfast, relaxing at the pool, chatting and laughing, drinks and sunsets, going out for dinner; it was only us in a spellbinding experience bound by space and time, and forever captured in a perfect memory. You never know where life will lead you nor what memories you'll make. That's the beauty of it.