Every river on this planet has a personality. Come along on a short journey as I share the beauties of the Zambezi in East Africa with you.
It’s a bold river that starts in Zambia and winds through six countries before emptying into the Indian Ocean on the east coast.
The fourth longest river in Africa, the Zambezi is 1,600 miles (2,574 km) long.
More info: Zambezi River Wikipedia.
Due to its proximity to the Rift Valley, the geological formation of centuries of uplifts and fault movements have carved the Zambezi through hundreds of miles of mountains and gorges.
Divided into three sections, the Upper, Middle and Lower Zambezi provide much-needed water to this sun-parched inland landscape and its human and wildlife residents.
The Middle Zambezi includes Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Also known as “The Smoke that Thunders,” for the constant spray and roar that the falls produce, Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall. It has a width of 5,604 feet (1,708 m).
Where these African women and girls stand in the above photo, it is so loud that they don’t even bother trying to talk. Fresh river droplets are dancing in the air all around them.
Upstream from Victoria Falls, the Zambezi flows over a flat plateau of basalt extending hundreds of kilometers in all directions. (See aerial photo at end.)
Then, at the falls, the water suddenly plummets 260 feet (80 m) into a deep chasm.
The water volume in Victoria Falls varies depending on the season. We were there in July, but I’ve been told the waters rage much more in the rainy season, February-May.
The Zambezi’s volume also varies by season, with regular flooding and ebbing, other waterfalls, and two hydroelectric dams. It also has many sizeable tributaries.
Some sections are pounding with water, attracting white-water rafting enthusiasts for the high volume of water and steep gradients.
Other sections of the river are calmer.
These next three photos are from a Zambezi tributary, the Luangwa River. Elephants and hippos, wading birds and many other animals gather at the water.
Locals are often seen on the water in dug-out canoes. Those humps in the water are not rocks…they’re hippos.
At the border of Botswana and Zambia, the Zambezi is 1,300 feet (400 m) wide and the current is strong. Relations between the two countries have been strained for years, locked in dispute over the construction of a bridge.
So instead of a bridge, a pontoon ferry system transports locals, tourists, trucks, and cars across the river. Two boats operate, like this one below, all day long.
Even though it only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to get across, we spent several hours waiting in the line. Semi-truck drivers wait in line for days, sometimes weeks.
I read that recent bridge construction has finally begun.
Raging in rapids in some places, and too shallow to navigate in others, the Zambezi is a dynamic river. I’m glad you could join me for a short tour.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.