Travel Story Stephen Scourfield's top five waterfalls in Africa

Photo of Stephen Scourfield

The best, the most famous and the most spectacular: our Travel Editor shares his favourite scenic falls from South Africa to Tanzania.

Spray rises off the great waterfalls of Africa, rising in a plume of mist. “Smoke”, as it was often called. Also being conscious of stability and security, these are my top five.

Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe

It has to be top of the list. The Zambezi River falls more than 100m into a chasm, then tumbles through a series of eight gorges. Victoria Falls covers the full 1700m width of the river — a big, white arc forming the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

It is estimated that, on average, more than 1000cum of water pass over the lip every second. The column of spray from this can rise 500m and be seen 20km away. In the local dialect, it is Mosi-o-Tunya; “the smoke that thunders”. It most certainly is.

Today I am in Livingstone, in Zambia, visiting from this side. There is a tight chasm, East Cataract, the appropriately named Rainbow Falls (pictured above — the rainbow is best in the morning), Horseshoe, Livingstone Island and Devil’s Cataract. They are all close — right in front of me.

Across Knife Edge footbridge, there is a walk loop through rainforest.

From mid-December to September, the Zambia side usually has plenty of water coming over the falls. It usually dries out in October and November but will still flow on the Zimbabwean side.

Given the choice, which side would I choose? Both, of course. But, if it had to be one, I think it would be Zambia.

Lumangwe Falls, Zambia

With a width of 100m and drop of 35m, Lumangwe Falls is certainly a centrepiece.

But the surrounding, rich frame of the Miombo Woodlands make this an interesting place to visit.

Near Chipembe Pontoon in Zambia’s Northern Province, these falls in the Kalungwishi River look a bit like a smaller version of Victoria Falls. There are good visitor facilities and it’s not so much visited. 

The traditional story is these falls are the home of the great snake spirit, called Lumangwe.

Tugela Falls, South Africa

Being around the Drakensberg Mountains is always a treat but Tugela Falls is the icing on the cake.

The Tugela River shoots off an escarpment for an uninhibited drop of 411m and a total fall of 947m. Some have measured it at 948m. Whatever, it is the tallest in Africa. 

Tugela Falls is in the Royal Natal National Park in KwaZulu-Natal Province, and among the most accessible of the continent’s great waterfalls.

The Drakensberg Mountains claim Africa’s second-highest cascade waterfall, the Ndedema Falls, which falls 610m. Also on the South African list is Augrabies Falls on Orange River, in Augrabies Falls National Park in the west of South Africa (870km north of Cape Town).

The falls is about 60m in this place originally called “ankoerebis” by the local Khoikhoi tribe ... “place of big noises”. It gets big volumes of water in flood.

Ruacana Falls, Namibia

In northern Namibia, the Ruacana Falls drops some 120m, and it is particularly spectacular when water from the Calueque dam overflows. 

Near Ruacana on the Kunene River, the fallsis 700m wide and among the biggest in Africa by width and water volume.

Kalambo Falls, Tanzania

Close to the Zambian border, at the southern end of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, Kalambo Falls drops more than 220m — some record it up to 235m. It’s not just the tumbling water that is the draw.

This is one of the African continent’s most significant archaeological sites. 

Archeulian tools from the Late Paleolithic age have been found in excavations near the falls, and a sequence of human activity over more than 250,000 years has been charted.

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