There is a small window of opportunity when the dry season ends, and the mighty Victoria Falls at its most shallow, that adventure-seekers can swim on the edge of the Devil's Pool. A small eddy of water on the rim of a waterfall is a bucket list must and your best chance to get extra close to one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Meters away, the Zambezi River pours over a precipice. The exploding spray of water and deafening sound create the local Tonga name of the falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya: The Smoke that Thunders.
Immediately below me is a pocket of water the guide promises is protected from the force of the current. They call this “The Devil’s Pool,” and I feel like I’m about to make a deal for my life.
I can’t do this. I almost said out loud, as alarm bells sounded in my brain. My internal adrenaline junkie is urging me off the rock. I’ve already signed a waiver, crossed the river by boat to Livingstone Island, and reached this boulder by wading through a pushy current holding a guide rope. I glanced sideways to see the water disappearing over the edge as my feet slid out from under me on the slippery basalt plateau. Gripping the rope harder I regained my footing, and crossed to the relative safety of boulders. Surely I can’t back out now.
Yolo! Rings through my head as the adrenaline pulses through my veins.
But I might not be alive at all after this. Seemed to be the closing argument from my pragmatic self, which rarely wins. With that, I bent my knees, swung my arms, and braced for launch. A friend who did this years ago told me to jump high because as you're hanging mid-air, you see everything below, the water tumbling over the ledge, and think that it's most certainly your last move.
I don’t want to die, but like many thrill seekers, the mere thought that it's possible is the only way to really know what it’s like to live.
Just as I am about to spring into the air, one of the guides grab me by the arm.
“Stop!” he commands, with mild concern. He tells me we’re no longer allowed to jump, that the rules have changed. I asked if he still jumps, and he shrugs with a smile. Instead, he showed me where to safely scooch myself into the water.
As I float and slide toward the ledge, the slick rock on the lip of the pool is all that separates me from the chasm on the other side. I wonder how this little wall withstands the constant force of the river behind me, never mind the added weight of humans leaning against it.
Feeling nervous but curious, I heave my body onto the wall, feeling the river flowing around me, spilling over this less forceful section. I peer into the gorge below. It is dizzying.
Both guides walk nimbly to the ledge of the falls, offering to snap photos and video for anyone who risked bringing their camera. I move as close to the barreling water as I dare, and marvel at this pool of calm so close to oblivion. Some brave souls did a Superman pose on the ledge. If you have little ones back home, this is one of the rarest Flat Stanley pics you can give them (laminate well!). When I do it again, I’m strapping on my new waterproof GoPro.
For me, the adventure is over all too soon, though my husband tells me later it seemed like plenty of time. We climbed back onto the rocks, and made our way back across the rope to the island where we are met with towels and a hot breakfast.
When we are on our way back to the lodge, my husband asks if I would do it again. “Definitely!” I answer, before lowering my voice and whispering conspiratorially, “but next time, I’m going to jump.”
Want to Do It?
Victoria Falls is divided between two countries: Zimbabwe and Zambia. Livingstone Island and the Devil’s Pool are on the Zambian side. You will need a VISA (obtained at the airport) and proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination. Tongabezi is the only official tour company for The Devil’s Pool, holding an exclusive operator’s license. Tours can be either be public or private (arranged by paying for the maximum number of people in a group). In total each group spends about 15-20 minutes in the water.
For luxury travelers, the Royal Livingstone is the most convenient hotel to the Devil’s Pool, but it comes with a hefty price tag. Budget-minded travelers and hostel-goers often prefer to stay on the Zimbabwean side and take a day-trip to Zambia. If staying in Zimbabwe, make sure you purchase a multiple-entry Visa at the airport, to save yourself a long queue and stress at the border crossing.