Tag Archives: Zambia

tourist boy jumping rope with local kids at a school in Chiawa Zambia

Ask a Teenager: 5 Unusual Trips Kids Will Love

Note from Wendy: This article was written by my son Doug when he was 16, based on his experiences in more than 50 countries. 

Now that most of the world’s countries have reopened and you can take your family pretty much anywhere again, I’ve thought back to some of my favorite foreign adventures. These are places where teenagers like me can go beyond the typical beach resorts, explore a different culture, talk to the local people, and learn what the world is really like.



  1. Zambia and Zimbabwe

In the undisturbed wilderness here, animals roam free and rule the land, and they are magnificent. It was my first time staying at a bush camp, so I was excited but scared. After landing in Zambia, first we drove from Mfuwe Airport to the Mfuwe Lodge, where we stayed the first few nights.

view from a car driving on a road in Zambia, a white tourist boy and an African driver

The moment we arrived, we were invited on a game drive that night. About three seconds in, not even moving, there it was: A beautiful leopard trying to get through the locked gate to the spa. Maybe to make his or her nightly spa treatment.

Then, three minutes into the drive, there was a baby hippo walking across the road.  On a night game drive, you see different animals than on a daytime drive—or, if they’re the same animals, you see them in different locations.

We traveled to different bush camps almost every day. There were animals everywhere. On the third drive, we went to a lagoon that had three teenage lions. We got within 15 feet of them.

It was exhilarating but scary to be 15 feet from an animal that is 8 feet long, wild, and could kill you in seconds. We weren’t too worried, though, because the lions had just gorged themselves and could hardly move.

We spent a few days in the village of Chiawa, where we saw how real people live in Zambia and learned about their culture and their life, which is very different from ours.

kids at a water pump in Chiawa Zambia

We got to visit a school there. The students were so welcoming to us and invited us to play with them. It was great getting to meet them.

kids playing ping pong at a school in Chiawa Zambia

A group of girls called The Power Kittens, a girls’ empowerment club, even greeted us with a welcome dance.

When you don’t speak the same language, you can make friends with people through sports. That’s why we brought frisbees with us as a gift for the school.  We played volleyball with the students too, and they showed us games they’d made up jumping rope.

The next day we went to a church service in Chiawa. Many of the kids who went to that school attended the service. It was more fun and upbeat than the church services I had been to in the past. They sang in beautiful harmony.

Then we went to Zimbabwe and to Victoria Falls, which is one of the world’s largest waterfalls.  You can really appreciate the beauty of the falls from a helicopter.

Another highlight of Victoria Falls was the Elephant Cafe, which rescues and rehabilitates elephants.  You actually get to hand-feed them. It was exciting to hand-feed peanuts to the world’s biggest land animal that could kill you at any second.

On the way to the elephants, we took a jet boat over rapids on the Zambezi river above the falls, The boat was bouncing over huge rapids, skimming the rocks, and water was flying every which way.  What surprised me was how fast a large boat could go over rapids, even when it was hitting rocks.

I got drenched in water. It was an unforgettable experience.


2. Israel and Jordan

Joe Yudin, who lives in Israel and guided us around the country, was so fun and amazing. The first thing he did was take us sandboarding in the Negev desert.

man holding a sandboard in Negev desert Israel

He gave us the best experiences possible, from all the religious sights to taking a powered paraglider over Masada and the Dead Sea.

Powered paragliding over Masada Israel

For more about the powered paraglider (and more photos and video), read my article 3 Cool Things To Do on a Family Trip in Israel.

We saw so much of the world’s greatest history all in one spot. We did everything from spelunking through the buried city to visiting war zones and a secret underground bullet factory.

We learned about Israeli foods like all the different types of hummus, which taste like completely different dishes depending on the toppings. Food expert Inbal Baum gave us a food tour of Tel Aviv.

We went to markets to buy the food for an Israeli cuisine cooking lesson we had. The Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem was massive, with all the smells circulating through your nose all at once.

Then Chef Tali Friedman taught us how to cook the ingredients in her kitchen.

cooking class in Jerusalem Israel

Later we went to an archeological dig site.

It was like the most unexpected treasure hunt.  We uncovered mostly broken pottery, but our neighbor was on an earlier trip there with her family and found jewelry, in the same spot we were digging in, that is now in a museum.

two teenage boy tourist sifting sand for artifacts at Tel Maresha Israel

At the Dead Sea, we covered ourselves in mud, and when I went into the water it came off and it felt like my skin was reborn. Getting to float in the Dead Sea was spectacular.

We also went to Eilat, which is the seaside city at the southern tip of Israel. We got to go scuba diving with dolphins.

teenage tourist boys in scuba gear in Eilat Israel

The dolphins would come up right next to us and put on a small show of their own. The cool thing was the dolphins were wild and free to swim in the Red Sea whenever they wanted.

Also on that trip we took a mini two-day trip to Jordan. We wanted to see the ancient city of Petra, which is carved into a sandstone canyon.

We stayed at a hotel across the street from the entrance to Petra so we could be the first ones inside in the morning. At 6 a.m. we had the place to ourselves.

When you walk into Petra, the first thing you see is The Treasury. It is famous for being in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The city of Petra is huge. We hiked around there all day, learning about the architecture, the agriculture, and the irrigation system (they created their own aqueduct).

We got to see the painting on the ceiling of some of the houses and the remains of a huge amphitheatre.

Wadi Rum is nearby and is a vast desert that used to be the ocean floor.  There are random plateaus, 500 feet straight up, above the sand.  We drove around Wadi Rum in the back of a four-wheel-drive pick-up.

tourist family driving truck in desert of Wadi Rum jordan between two rock walls

Miles of beautiful scenery. It’s a landform you’ll never see anywhere else.

Wad Rum desert in Jordan with orange sand and large rock towers

We saw where they filmed The Martian and Lawrence of Arabia.

tourists on camels in wadi rum desert jordan with rock mountains behind

It was an all-around amazing trip.  Even if you’re not religious, Israel (and Jordan) is still a trip you really should take because it has played such an important role in world history, and you really can do everything there.

3. Morocco

When we went to Morocco, we went with our family friends on a road trip all around the country.  We started off in Marrakech and ended in Fez.  Much was desert, but there was also farmland and even a ski resort.

man looking over ancient village in Morocco

For the eight days we were there, we spent a total of 29 hours driving. On the long rides, in a nicely outfitted 12-passenger bus with Wi-Fi, we played Moroccan card games and built sites and markets we saw with Legos.

Earlier this year Wendy and her family traveled through the #2 country on our list: Morocco. Here they are at the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou.

Along the way we had many great experiences, like making drums out of goat skin and making Moroccan bread at a family’s beautiful home.

In between Marrakech and Fez, we glamped in the Sahara desert for a night and got to sleep like sultans in beautiful striped tents with real beds.

Morocco desert camp at night

We got up at dawn for a sunrise camel ride and to go sandboarding down the dunes.

Morocco desert sandboarding

We went on a sunset camel ride too.

camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

We had races running up and down the dunes. Running in such deep sand was extremely hard.  The slower you go, the more you sink.  Running at different speeds will cause the properties of the sand to be different. Running on it fast will make the sand compact quicker, so it feels like sprinting on concrete, but if you go slowly, you just sink.

At the end of our trip we had a hammam.  A hammam cleanses your body and takes away a lot of dead skin. You have water splashed all over you. You sit in a really humid room, and then they shower you and scrub off all of the dirt and dead skin.

four boys wrapped in robes and towels in a hammam in Morocco

Having another family with us in Morocco added a lot to the experience.  When you travel to such an out-of-the-ordinary place, it’s good to be able to share it with friends your age and get their take on it.  That trip was my first trip with these friends and hopefully not my last.

4. United Arab Emirates

The buildings in Dubai were so futuristic.

Dubai Burj Khalifa view from hotel balcony

And there were million-dollar cars dotting the roads. I saw cars of famous YouTubers everywhere. I went to this car dealership called Deals on Wheels and it was amazing the type of cars that they had in stock. They had McLarens, Lamborghinis, Koenigseggs, Maybachs, and much more.

teenage boy taking photos of silver supercar in Dubai at Deals on Wheels auto store

We checked out the Dubai Mall, which is the biggest mall in the world, at more than 12 million square feet. It’s got more than 1,200 stores and one of the world’s largest aquariums. It was all air-conditioned, which was important because we were there in August when it was 115 degrees.

Dubai aquarium wall, with tourists looking through clear glass at a diver insider the aquarium

We also went to the Abu Dhabi desert for a couple of nights. We stayed at Qasr al Sarab, a desert resort where the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens stayed when filming. It looks like a huge Crusader castle in the middle of nowhere.

white buildings of Qasr al Sarab resort in Abu Dhabi desert

When I stepped outside to go sandboarding, the desert was scorching.  We walked about a half mile up a dune and the heat was so extreme that the boards didn’t even work. When the sand is that hot, it gets sticky. It was sticking onto the board so much that the board couldn’t really move.

sandboarding in Abu Dhabi desert

When I got back into the hotel, I felt so faint from the heat that I had to throw up. Fortunately, each villa had its own private plunge pool to cool off in.

Qasr al Sarab hotel villa pool Abu Dhabi

Every time I go to a desert, I go sandboarding and I also ride a camel. My favorite sandboarding and camel riding were in the Sahara desert, but it’s important to try them everywhere because they’re always different.

Abu Dhabi teenage boy tourist getting up on camel

Between Dubai and the Abu Dhabi desert, we stopped at Ferrari World, which is a Ferrari-themed amusement park. As a car lover it was a dream for me. I got to sit in a real Ferrari and even drove a racing Ferrari simulator.

child in car at Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi

There was also the fastest roller coaster in the world, topping out at speeds of 150 mph in 4.9 seconds. They give you goggles (which you need) and put you on it. The coaster is definitely a 10 out of 10.

After the desert, back in Dubai, we stayed at the Burj Al Arab, which is one of the world’s nicest hotels. It’s built to look like a sail.

Burj al Arab in Dubai with ocean in front

It’s next to a water park belonging to a sister resort next door, and if you stay at one of those hotels you get free admission.

Dubai- Wild Wadi Waterpark

Mom’s friend and her two kids around our age came to visit.

Burj al Arab beach with kids

We played in the ocean and then went to Black Tap Dubai, which is a place that makes the most over-the-top milkshakes, which were phenomenal. That night we had dinner in a restaurant in the Burj al Arab that has an aquarium in it with lots of fish, sharks, and a few eels in the middle.

Burj al Arab's Al Mahara restaurant with aquarium in background in Dubai

There’s really no other place in the world like Dubai.  I would love to go back to the United Arab Emirates someday.


5. Sri Lanka

Even though it was such a long plane ride to get there, Sri Lanka was phenomenal.  The country has unique tropical animals I’d never seen before. At one hotel, we came back from dinner to find banana peels all over the floor of my parents’ room. Monkeys had jumped through the window, found the fruit basket, and peeled and eaten the bananas.  They had no interest in the other types of fruit and left them behind in the basket for my parents!

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a culture that is totally different.  In our effort to learn about Buddhist culture, we went to a sacred rock temple that is one of the highest Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.  It was a very steep hike up 670 feet to the top of the rock.

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

At different levels on the way up, we saw giant Buddha statues.

At the top of the rock, we received a blessing and a lesson about the colors of the Buddhist flag and what they mean.

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

But the best part of the trip was when we spent Christmas Day at The Rainbow Centre. The Rainbow Centre is a school for kids who are in extreme poverty and can’t afford an education. The students are picked up by bus every day, then washed, fed, and taught basic schoolwork.

The second we got there, we were greeted with happy smiling faces and a traditional dance that they put on for us. We hung out with the kids for a long time and played many games with them—like Rounders, Musical Hat (this is like Musical Chairs, except with a hat), and Draw the Tail on the Elephant. One of the blindfolded girls holding the marker accidentally marked my nose instead of the elephant!

You can read more about our day at The Rainbow Centre, and see more photos and videos, in my article What Your Kids Get Out of Giving Back.

When we got back to the hotel, there was a man playing Santa—who probably weighed 90 pounds—riding a wave rider on the lagoon outside. He came and visited all of us kids staying at the hotel and gave each one of us a special present based on things we were interested in. It was definitely my most memorable Christmas!

The next day we went to an elephant orphanage where they rehabilitate injured and orphaned elephants. One of the elephants had to have a prosthetic leg made out of wood and strapped to his knee. He was able to move around and had plenty to eat.  Watching the baby orphaned elephants was very funny because they were only a few weeks old and learning how to walk, and they didn’t understand how to use their trunks yet, so their trunks kept flailing around randomly. It was so funny to watch.

Then we went on a safari in a jeep and saw dozens of big elephants in the wild.  They were so strong that we watched one of them uproot an entire grown tree just to be able to eat a few mangos off the top of it. That was amazing to watch.


If you’re trying to figure out where to take your own kids for an unusual trip, I’m happy to make suggestions. Just click on the black button below and ask for a reply from Doug.


This article was updated in March 2023. It was originally published in 2020.

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Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab Wendy and camel

Wendy’s Best Travel Moments of 2017

The highlights of my travels this year were a combo of the most surprising discoveries, the most worthwhile experiences, and long-anticipated moments that finally came true. These are experiences I wish for you in 2018. If you’d like advice for how to arrange them, I can help you over at Ask Wendy. Wishing you and yours extraordinary travels in 2018!

Zambia Elephant Cafe Wendy feeding elephant

Did you know you can feed and pet elephants in the wild?  We did this at the Elephant Café, an unfenced wildlife sanctuary near Victoria Falls, Zambia, that has replaced elephant rides with gourmet cuisine as a way to earn revenue to support the animals. In this photo, I’ve just told an elephant “Trunk up!” so I can throw grain into his mouth. Check out the video here.

Zambia Chiawa Wendy dancing

For me an African safari isn’t just about viewing wildlife. It’s about meeting people from a totally different culture. When these kids in Zambia welcomed us to their village with songs and dances, of course I joined in and did as the locals do. Yes, I looked like a spazz, but it got a lot of laughs and helped break the ice. See videos from our village visit here.

Zambia Chiawa girl with Frisbee ring

We brought school supplies and toys—including Frisbee rings—to the folks of Chiawa, Zambia. Africa travel specialist Cherri Briggs, the Trusted Travel Expert on my WOW List who arranged our safari, has spearheaded a number of life-changing community projects there. Our time in Chiawa was a highlight of our Africa trip. Here’s why.

Victoria Falls helicopter Doug

Victoria Falls, which is arguably the world’s biggest waterfall, can’t be fully appreciated until you see it from above. It’s like looking back in time because you can see the geological history of the land unfold. Watch video from our helicopter flight here.

Victoria Falls Hotel veranda

This is one of the world’s most enchanting and iconic places to stay: The Victoria Falls Hotel, built by the British in 1904. It transports you back in time to the days of B.O.A.C. Clippers and steamer trunks. You feel like you’re just one step away from Stanley meeting Livingstone.

Victoria Falls Hotel presidential suite2

Tim and I stayed at The Victoria Falls Hotel on our first date, eighteen years ago. When we came back this year, married and with children in tow, they upgraded us to the presidential suite. Queen Elizabeth II and Oprah Winfrey slept here too.

Zambia South Luangwa National Park elephants

In our ever-more-crowded world, a safari in Africa increasingly means battling other Land Rovers to jockey for the best position to see the wildlife. But deep in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, we had the animals—and the landscapes—practically all to ourselves. We were certainly the only people watching these elephants cross the river. Just by looking at them, you can gauge the depth of the water, eh?

Zambia pizza lunch in the bush

Bush brunch!  It’s such a surprise when you’re on a game drive, you round a corner in the middle of nowhere, and there’s lunch waiting for you, complete with panoramic view. It’s an even bigger surprise when you get to make your own pizza!   First we rolled out the dough with a rolling pin, then we sprinkled on our choice of toppings. Bush brunch is one of the special touches you get at Bushcamp Company camps. For more on our extraordinary safari, see Where’s Wendy: Exploring the Next Great African Safari Spot.

Zambia Zambezi River tiger fish

Tim’s dream was to catch a tiger fish in the Zambezi. I’ve never seen him so happy.

Zambia Chiawa hut laptop

“What kind of drums do they play in your church?” That was one of the best questions we got in Zambia. When this man asked us that question, I pulled out my laptop to show him a video I’d shot—in Bratislava, of all places—of an historic pipe organ filling an ancient church with gorgeous music. This man had never heard a pipe organ before. If you’ve never heard Zambian music before, listen here.

Dubai Burj Khalifa view from hotel balcony

Recognize this? It’s the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. This was the view from my hotel balcony on an overnight layover in Dubai. Of course Lindsey Wallace, the U.A.E. travel specialist on my WOW List who made our arrangements, knew exactly which hotel and room are best when you’ve got only one night to see as much of Dubai as possible.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab desert oasis

It looks like a movie set, eh? Qasr al Sarab is an oasis fit for a sheikh and dropped in the middle of nowhere in the Abu Dhabi desert, just a few miles from the Saudi border. Many people ask me how to spend a Dubai layover. My answer: Make your layover at least three nights, and spend at least two of them at Qasr al Sarab, which is only a three-hour drive from the Dubai airport. I guarantee it will transport you to another place, time, and frame of mind that you won’t want to leave. We were there in August—of all crazy times for a desert adventure—and, as much as I hate heat, we loved every minute.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab camel caravan

A sunrise camel ride at Qasr al Sarab is the Mercedes of camel rides. The camels are well groomed, and the tack is first-rate: The saddles are extra-comfortable, the handles are easy to grip, and there are step stools to help you on and off.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab Wendy and camel

Me and my new friend.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing

Dune bashing at Qasr al Sarab is nothing less than spectacular. If you opt for the “hard drive” (as opposed to a “soft drive”), it’s more thrilling than any roller coaster.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing sunset

This is how your off-roading adventure ends: sunset on the dunes.

Burj al Arab beach with kids

The kids went swimming in the Persian Gulf for the first time. Recognize this hotel?  It’s billed as the world’s most luxurious—and, now that I’ve stayed there, I have to agree. It’s the Burj al Arab, where the kids hit the beach with new friends they made in Dubai.

Burj al Arab room desk

Check out our room. At the Burj al Arab, this is just your typical guest room. Each room is two stories tall and comes with its own 27-inch Apple computer and printer.

Burj al Arab Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara

To get the full Burj al Arab experience, we dined in the aquarium that is British award-winning chef Nathan Outlaw’s Al Mahara restaurant. We were in awe of both the fish and the prices.

Ski Dubai Mall of the Emirates

I’d been wanting to see this for years. It’s Dubai’s indoor ski resort, inside a massive shopping mall. This is merely the base of the mountain. I was surprised by how much Ski Dubai looks, feels, and even smells like an actual Alpine ski lodge, from its equipment-rental shops to its chalet-style bistros serving fondue.

Morocco boys making bread

Making a staple of local life with their hands is a good way for kids to learn about a country. So we were thrilled when, in Marrakech, the kids learned how to make Moroccan bread from scratch, the centuries-old way.

Morocco communal oven

After rolling and shaping the dough, we carried it down the street to the communal oven where the whole neighborhood takes their bread to be baked. It was way cool.

Morocco desert sandboarding

There’s Doug sandboarding in the Sahara. We spent a magical night at a luxe desert camp in Morocco, just a few miles from Algeria.

Morocco desert camp at night

Here’s the Sahara desert camp where we slept. We even had showers and flush toilets in our tents.

Morocco Fez carpet store aerial view

Carpet shopping has been a colorful way to experience local culture for centuries. But if you end up buying a carpet—or seven—it needs to be because you love it, not because a rug merchant persuades you it’s a wise financial investment. (It probably isn’t.) This was the kids’ first time carpet shopping—in Fez, Morocco—and the store was so theatrical about it, with men in white lab coats serving us tea and rolling out about 100 carpets in quick succession, that we had a blast.

Morocco Fez carpet store Wendy and boys

Voilà! This carpet now lies in our living room. At left is the merchant who put on such a fantastic show. (We set a price limit.)

Grand Velas Riviera Maya beach

This was the moment—at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico—when the Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit had just ended. After many long days of conference prep and hard work, we finally got to hit the beach for a Taco and Tequila Tasting.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya bed rice

That’s colored rice! The Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s artistic staff recreated the WP logo on the bed of every Global Travel Summit participant!

Marseille Old Port from atop ferris wheel

I get excited when a formerly gritty, crime-ridden place that people used to avoid transforms itself back into a charming city and culinary magnet. Strolling the streets of Marseille—a stop on this Mediterranean cruise—I was struck by the colors everywhere, from the building façades to the seafood dishes that thousands of people were lunching on outdoors in the early April sunshine. I shot this photo from atop the ferris wheel in the old port.

Kitty Hawk Wright Brothers Memorial

This is the site of the world’s first airplane flight, in 1903. We drove to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, for the kids’ February school break—and let me just say that February was a lovely time in the Outer Banks: The weather was great, the Wright Brothers National Memorial uncrowded. Our dog, Macy, hasn’t been on a plane yet, but she comes on all our road trips.

Hong Kong Ngong Ping cable car

This kitschy souvenir photo is from New Year’s Day 2017. Thanks to time-zone changes and a flight itinerary that took us more than half-way around the world, our January 1 lasted about 40 hours. We boarded our flight home from Sri Lanka shortly after midnight and landed in New York City at about 10pm on the same day. In between was a Hong Kong layover long enough for us to take the Ngong Ping cable car up to the Big Buddha. There are better ways to spend a Hong Kong layover, but after the red-eye from Sri Lanka, the fresh air and the 360-degree views of Hong Kong’s islands and the South China Sea were what the doctor ordered.


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

To see rainbows at the Falls, go in the afternoon.

Victoria Falls in Africa: 7 Do’s and Don’ts to Make Your Trip Extraordinary

A helicopter flight over Victoria Falls can bring the area’s geological history to life.
A helicopter flight over Victoria Falls, the world's largest waterfall, can bring the area’s geological history to life.
To see rainbows at the Falls, go in the afternoon.
To see rainbows at the Falls, go in the afternoon.
In dry season you can access Devil’s Pool without being swept to your death.
One advantage of dry season is that you can access Devil’s Pool without being swept to your death.
In dry season you can walk below the waterfall.
Another advantage of dry season is that you can walk below the waterfall. See those tiny hikers?
Around The Falls is rainforest with exotic foliage such as this Strangler Fig tree.
The rainforest around the Falls contains exotic foliage such as this Strangler Fig tree.
Entering the Victoria Falls Hotel is like walking back in time.
Walking into the Victoria Falls Hotel is like walking backward in time.
7. The Victoria Falls Hotel’s Terrace where high tea is served each afternoon.
This is the Victoria Falls Hotel’s Terrace, where high tea is served in the afternoon.
Tim and I think we were in one of the rooms along this corridor when we stayed in the hotel 18 years ago.
Tim and I stayed in one of these rooms the first time we were at the hotel—18 years ago.
This time we ended up in the hotel’s Livingstone Suite.
This time we were upgraded to the hotel’s Livingstone Suite.
The Livingstone Suite’s living room. Queen Elizabeth and Oprah Winfrey have stayed here.
The Livingstone Suite is where royals and celebs (Queen Elizabeth, Oprah Winfrey) have slept.
Yours truly on the balcony of the Livingstone Suite.
Yours truly on the balcony of the Livingstone Suite.
The Hotel’s Buluwayo room.
The Victoria Falls Hotel has room after room filled with history.
The Victoria Falls Hotel’s pool.
The Victoria Falls Hotel’s pool.
We took a jetboat to the Elephant Café.
We took a jetboat up the Zambezi River to the Elephant Café.
And we all shot video.
The kids and I had the same idea at the same time. You can watch the video below.
At the Elephant Café, you can feed and touch elephants.
At the Elephant Café, you can feed and pet elephants. (Watch the video below.)
When you say “Trunk up,” the elephant will raise its trunk so you can feed it by mouth instead.
When you say “Trunk up,” the elephant will raise its trunk so you can feed it by mouth.
At the Elephant Café, they give you bags of pellets to feed the elephants. Doug took a shortcut.
At the Elephant Café, they give you bags of pellets to feed the elephants. This elephant found a shortcut.
At the Elephant Café you’re welcomed with champagne.
The Elephant Café's elegant staff welcome you with champagne.
You eat in a comfy and elegant pavilion overlooking the Zambezi.
Lunch starts with hors d'oeuvres in this comfy and elegant pavilion overlooking the Zambezi. The Café seats a maximum of 24 people.
This was the menu when we ate at the Café.
Our lunch menu at the Elephant Café.
The appetizer: Carrot and Muchingachinga soup
The appetizer: Carrot and Muchingachinga soup
The entrée: Seared rib eye with Mongu rice and Nzembwe
The entrée: Seared rib eye with Mongu rice and Nzembwe
Dessert: Marula ice cream with a Mongongo nut cookie
Dessert: Marula ice cream with a Mongongo nut cookie
Our chefs, Adelina and Aubrey
Our chefs, Adelina and Aubrey
Time for our helicopter flight over the Falls.
Time for our helicopter flight over the Falls. (See the video below.)
Doug got a window seat.
Doug got a window seat.
The local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.”
The local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.”
The Bushtracks Express train that goes to Victoria Falls Bridge
This is the Bushtracks Express train that goes to Victoria Falls Bridge.
There I am, trying the cab on for size.
Yours truly, trying the cab on for size.
We spent time chatting with the engineer.
We spent time chatting with the engineer.
Charlie learns how to shovel coal.
Charlie learns how to shovel coal.
What a gorgeously restored train.
That's a gorgeously restored train, eh?
Ben Costa is the man who refurbishes the vintage trains that Bushtracks Express uses.
Ben Costa is the man who refurbishes the steam engines that Bushtracks Express uses.
Here we are on our first trip to the Falls, back in 1999.
This was on our first trip to the Falls, 18 years ago, when we first started dating.
And here we are today, with two extra people.
This time we brought two extra people along.


Victoria Falls is a must-see for many travelers to southern Africa. It’s the world’s largest curtain of falling water—a spectacular sight. It’s also the name of the town near the waterfall that offers an array of activities and has seen a lot of touristic development (there’s now a KFC—gasp!—on the shopping strip near the historic Victoria Falls Hotel). It’s also increasingly easy to get to: Located on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, there is an airport on each side of the Falls—Victoria Falls airport on the Zimbabwe side; Livingstone airport on the Zambia side—and both are adding more flights.

But whether to go, and what to do there, depends on the timing of your trip. The month of March, for instance, is when the most water shoots through the Falls, making it as thunderous and heart-pounding as it gets. In March the curtain of falling water is a mile wide. You will get drenched from the spray. By contrast, in October, the driest month, the curtain will instead be a series of trickles with dry stretches in between, and there will be precious little mist to cool you off as you trek in the hot sun from one end of the Falls to the other. What makes things tricky for southern-Africa safarigoers is that the time of year when you will see the most wildlife (September and October, since those are the hottest and driest months, when the most animals are out searching for water) is the opposite of the best time for seeing the Falls (March and April).

My family is just back from Victoria Falls, as we made it the grand finale of our August safari in Zambia.  This was my second trip to Vic Falls—the first was 18 years ago—and now I wanted my kids to see it. I found a lot of new things worth trying, a lot of old things worth doing again, a lot of touristy things we skipped, and lot of cool things we wish we’d had time to do but didn’t. I’ve boiled our findings down to seven key recommendations for you (and be sure to check out our trip photos, above, that illustrate these recommendations) :

1. Tour the waterfall in the afternoon, not the morning.

We did both—so that you don’t have to. Our comparison found that mornings are cooler but more crowded, and you don’t get rainbows. Rainbows come when the sun hits the Falls from a certain angle—and that happens in the early morning only, from about 6:30 to 7:30, and then again in the afternoon. Three nights per month (during the Full Moon period), you can take a Lunar Rainbow tour, when you may see a “moonbow” (rainbows that take place at night).

It’s easy to buy tickets to the Falls (which is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm) and tour the site on your own, but I’m glad we did it with an experienced guide. He enabled us to skip the ticket-buying line, pointed out things we would have missed on our own (e.g., exotic plants in the rainforest around the Falls), and made our experience more educational by answering a ton of questions that the kids threw at him. To see the Falls properly, you need to walk a mile or two, and there are 16 viewing points, so allot about two hours for it with a guide, three hours if you’re doing it on your own. (Wear walking shoes with traction—the ground can get slippery—and carry a plastic bag to protect your camera from the spray.)

2. In drier months, take advantage of thrills that are possible only when the water level is low.

June through October—when the water level is at its lowest—is when it’s possible to try white water rafting . (Rafting starts and ends at a different time each year, depending on rainfall, but August and September are guaranteed; October can be very rough and rocky.) From late August through November you can climb down into the gorge and stand under the Falls, but be warned that it is a seriously tough hike.  Or, if you’re in a death-defying mood, in dry season you can inch your way along the lip of the Falls to Devil’s Pool, a legendary rock pool that sits at the sheer edge of the waterfall. (Check out the photo of Devil’s Pool in the slide show.)  If we’d had an extra day, we would have tried at least one of these activities.

3. Stay at the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel.

Built by the British in 1904, it’s one of my favorite grande dame properties in the world, with history in every hallway. Tim and I stayed there 18 years ago, when we first started dating. When the hotel heard we were coming back, this time married with children, they gave us the Livingstone Suite—the three-bedroom suite that Queen Elizabeth and Oprah Winfrey have stayed in. Check out the photos in the slide show!  In my humble opinion the Victoria Falls Hotel is one of those unique travel experiences that is worth every cent, but even if you opt not to splurge on a stay there, at least stop by for a gin and tonic—or, better yet, high tea on the Terrace—and a stroll through the gardens. When you pass by the concierge desk, ask for their leaflet entitled “A Brief History of the Victoria Falls Hotel.”

4. If you love elephants and/or are a foodie, splurge on the Elephant Café.

This elephant sanctuary on the Zambezi River was a trip highlight for my kids—for two reasons: First, we went there by jetboat. Out of a week’s worth of water activities that my kids did on the Zambezi, that jetboat ride up small rapids to the Café was their favorite. Second, where else can you feed and pet elephants?

The elephant family you meet was rescued from drought and culls decades ago; over the years, they’ve been joined by babies born within the herd. These elephants are treated extremely well, roam freely, and have plenty of land for doing so. Because it costs a fortune to keep them well fed and cared for, a year ago the elephants’ caretakers opened the Elephant Café as a new way to earn enough funds to support the elephants. Don’t worry: It’s not some sort of captive show, and elephant riding is no longer allowed. In fact, if you’re concerned about animal cruelty, this is your opportunity to see animals supported the right way.

The Café serves “bush gourmet cuisine” made from hyperlocal Zambezi Valley ingredients that are found and foraged within a 12-mile radius—especially wild nuts, fruits, and leaves that the elephants themselves eat. Founding chef Annabel Hughes, who grew up in Zimbabwe and lives in Livingstone, has trained local chefs who now do the foraging and cooking. (See them, and the delicious meal they created for us, in the slide show).

5. If water levels are high, consider a helicopter flight over the Falls.

The more water in the Falls, the more exciting the helicopter flight will be. The 12-minute ride gives you a perspective—a sense of what’s upriver and what’s downriver—that you won’t get any other way and that brings the area’s geological history to life. In dry season, though, if you’re looking for a way to save money, I’d say the helicopter ride is one of the activities you can skip. The only member of my family who would disagree is Charlie, and that’s because he sat in the front seat and had a superlative view throughout. Should you end up in the middle seat in the back, you may be disappointed. (For a taste of our helicopter flight in dry season, see my video.)

6. If you love vintage trains, consider the Bushtracks Express steam train to Victoria Falls Bridge.

The train chugs from the Victoria Falls Hotel train station to the Victoria Falls Bridge, which was the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes and was built in 1905 above the second gorge of the Falls. The Bridge connects the Zim side with the Zam side and represents No Man’s Land between the two countries.

Tim and the kids loved this train ride because they took full advantage of it in a way that few else on our train did. The other travelers, who belonged to a group tour, sat in a plush vintage compartment focused on cocktails and canapés, while Tim and the kids spent much of the ride in the cab, where they chatted with the engineer, fireman, and coal tender, helped shovel coal and stoke the boiler, and learned how to run a steam locomotive. (See the photos in the slide show.) There are currently four Bushtracks Express train rides on offer—two from the Zim side, two from the Zam side. Be warned that if you spend time in the cab the way we did, you could get a little dirty.

If you really love vintage trains, stop by the Bushtracks Express railyard in Livingstone and meet up with Ben Costa, who refurbishes the vintage steam trains used and has encyclopedic knowledge of steam engines.

7. Arrange your visit through a southern Africa travel specialist who has up-to-the-minute info on the logistical ins and outs.

Travel logistics in Victoria Falls can change frequently with no warning, and you can waste a lot of time in lines or coping with snafus. As an example, some activities are on the Zim side, others are on the Zam side, and going back and forth can be a time-consuming hassle, depending on whether you bought the right type of Visa, how many people are in the immigration line ahead of you, and whether your driver has the clout to get you past the line. My hyper-efficient two days in Victoria Falls, and the rest of my Zambia trip, were arranged by Cherri Briggs, one of the safari specialists on my WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts. Cherri lives part of the year in Zambia, knows every mover and shaker there, and can pull rabbits out of hats; it’s thanks to her that we got into the Elephant Café, met Ben Costa, were upgraded at the Vic Falls Hotel, and much more. If you’re interested in an Africa trip and not sure where or how to start the planning, feel free to reach out to me at Ask Wendy.


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