Livingstone Island Tour & Swimming in Victoria Falls

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ssullivan on October 23, 2012

Our entire reason for going to Livingstone, Zambia was to visit Victoria Falls. And, it so happened we would be visiting the falls during some of the driest season of the year, which meant that the flow of the Zambezi at the falls would be but a tiny fraction of its peak. This meant we would not get to see the spectacular sight of the falls and mist in their full glory. However, it did mean we would have some opportunities not available during the wetter periods of the year, including a tour of Livingstone Island and swim in the Devil’s Pool, a natural swimming hole formed by rocks at the very top of the main falls. When my partner heard me talking about this possibility, and saw the photos in the Lonely Planet guidebook I had purchased, he immediately agreed with me that a couple of days on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border at Victoria Falls was definitely in order.

The are a couple of ways to get to Livingstone Island and the Devil’s Pool. The first, and least expensive, is to hire a local guide to take you. This generally involves walking to Livingstone Island from the Zambian side of the falls, which is possible at times when the river’s flow is at its lowest. This also involves a somewhat treacherous path across rocks and through some of the smaller river channels to approach the island. There are no real safety precautions in place for this path, and while it is inexpensive, several guides and tourists have met with disaster going this unofficial route. The cost of this method is often as little as $20 USD, but it is discouraged by local authorities.

The official way to get to Livingstone Island is to book one of the tours through Sun International, which operates the Royal Livingstone and Zambezi Sun Resorts. Sun holds the franchise agreement to operate tours to Livingstone Island, but these tours do cost considerably more – depending on the tour option and time of day, they can easily cost well over $100 USD per person. For that price, you get transported from the dock at the Royal Livingstone Hotel to Livingstone Island in an aluminum boat, with several guides and life jackets, a tour of the island, and depending on the time of day, a continental breakfast and tea service, full lunch, or afternoon tea. And, if conditions are right, the option to swim in Devil’s Pool.

Because the boats used to transport tourists to the island are small, there are fairly strict limits on the number of tickets sold for each tour. It generally takes two trips of the boat to transport everyone who is booked on the same tour.

Once on the island, we were given time to explore the falls and have our pictures taken in front of the dramatic gorge that forms the falls. Several of the areas we toured on the island would be under several feet of water during the peak flow at the falls. We were also able to visit the monument that commemorates David Livingstone’s arrivals at the falls in 1855.

Then it was time for those of us who were going for a swim in the falls to head over to the guides that would be taking us to the Devil’s Pool. We had worn swimsuits, so that all we would need to do to change for the swim was to remove shirts and shoes. Cameras were collected by one of the guides, who placed them in a waterproof bag for transport over to the island, so that the guides could take pictures of all of us in the pool. I was a bit worried about my nice camera surviving the trip across the river to the pool undamaged, so I opted to leave it behind, but my partner’s point-and-shoot camera was perfect for the task.

We were then divided in to smaller groups of about four per guide to go over to the Devil’s Pool. The pool is a short distance across a river channel from Livingstone Island, which means that accessing the pool requires swimming or wading through a portion of the river at a point that is maybe 150 feet from the edge of the falls. Fortunately this portion of the river is not very deep, has a slow current, and there is a safety rope that has been stretched across the river to aid in helping visitors navigate across the channel. I was a bit nervous about all of this, as I have never been a strong swimmer. My idea of "swimming" is to wade around in a pool and play games in the water, but not to really swim – and certainly swimming across a river current just upstream from where that river spills over a cliff that is nearly 400 feet tall is not something I thought I would ever do. But, I convinced myself I had to do this, and I slowly made my way through the chilly water with the aid of the guide rope to the other side of the channel, which was probably 75-100 feet away. On the other side, we had to climb over several rock formations to access Devil’s Pool. These rocks sit right by the edge of the waterfall, with the main flow of the river over the falls just beyond them. The rocks are also rather sharp and a bit painful to walk on. We laughed at how the guides acted like climbing and walking on these rocks with bare feet and hands was no big deal at all, but to those of us who are not used to such activity, it was not an easy task. Finally, at the top of the rocks, we peered down to the Devil’s Pool and falls on the other side.

Our guides then instructed us on how to safely get into the Devil’s Pool. The pool exists because a rock formation creates a natural wall with a couple of inches of water flowing over the top of it. Between where we were, on top of the rocks that stuck up out of the river, and the edge of the falls, where the wall is, there is a deep pool of water, located just outside the main current of the river. It is an amazing fluke of nature that this exists; the rocks not only create a formation that directs most of the river’s current away from this deep spot, but they also form the wall, with a ledge about 12" below the water surface, that safely keeps visitors in the pool. Our guides instructed us to either jump into the pool by jumping to the left, away from the main current, or to slide down the rocks into the pool. Everyone except for me opted to jump, but I slid in.

Once in the water, the current at Devil’s Pool quickly pushes you toward the edge of the falls, where the rock ledge stops you. The rush is amazing, as you stop at the wall, but the water pushing you toward the edge continues over the cliff. Once everyone was in the pool, it was time for pictures. Our guides took photos of the entire group, as well as each person who wanted to look over the edge and pose for a picture sitting on the ledge with a guide, just out of view of the camera, holding his or her feet for safety. I opted not to do this, instead enjoying the view from a more secure position inside the pool.

Devil’s Pool tour participants only get about 15-20 minutes in the pool. Once our time was up, we each climbed out of the pool with the aid of a tow rope that the guides used to pull each person across the pool against the current. Then it was back across the sharp rocks (I actually ended up with pieces of the rock inside my foot that took nearly a month to work out), and the river channel, to Livingstone Island where we were presented towels.

Our trip to Devil’s Pool complete, it was now time for lunch. We gathered at a table under a tent where we were presented with a lavish spread of salads, meats, breads, dessert, and a selection of wines, beers, and non-alcoholic drinks. The food was good, and the drinks were refreshing in the hot and humid Zambian climate.

Our experience with the Livingstone Island tour was exceptional. While it is expensive, the experience was truly something that was once-in-a-lifetime, and the guides were friendly and very good about watching out for the safety of tour participants. The lunch on the island was the perfect way to end our morning of touring Livingstone Island and swimming in the Devil’s Pool.
Livingstone Island Tour
Zambia, Zambia
260 3 324450

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