Livingstone, on the edge of Victoria Falls, is a great place for a safari, but (unless you want to be charged by elephants) a bit lacking in good running routes. Continue reading “Running in Zambia” »
Known as the “adventure capital” of Africa, Victoria Falls (and its national park) is often considered one of the natural wonders of the world. Since I’d seen Iguaçu Falls a couple of times, I had never really cared about visiting Vic Falls (which I had read wasn’t as impressive), but as more and more people mentioned how amazing it was, and since it happens to be a hub for different Africa itineraries, and since we could get cheaper flights to Livingstone (Zambia) than Victoria Falls Town (Zimbabwe) we figured we’d stop by. The falls are shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the latter taking 75% of the area of the falls. Because of this, people often skip visiting the Zambian side of the falls, opting for the ‘bigger bang’ in Zimbabwe. We were going to do the exact same thing – until I read about the Devil’s Pool, which can only be accessed from Zambia’s side.
The Devil’s Pool is a natural pool that happens to be right on the edge of the top of a waterfall. Consequently, it’s quite a rush to swim in it because you’re literally on the edge of a cliff. It’s on Livingstone Island, a private area within Victoria Falls owned by a resort, so you can only go to the Devil’s Pool with their private tour company – which they charge $65USD per person for the privilege (on top of the $20USD park entry fee).
Not wanting to spend $180USD between us just to go swimming in a natural pool, we started looking into how to get there without a tour. We found very little information online and only a couple sites mentioning that you didn’t have to go to Livingstone Island to get to the Devil’s Pool, and that you could hire a guide within the park who would take you for much, much less. SOLD.
How to NOT visit the Devil’s Pool in Victoria Falls
When we got to the park, however, we learned that you absolutely could not reach the Devil’s Pool without entering Livingstone Island, and that you absolutely could not step foot on Livingstone Island without paying for that ridiculous tour. Apparently the guides we had read about were ‘illegal’ guides, and so it wasn’t safe to go with them, not to mention that they wouldn’t be able to take us to the Devil’s Pool anyway, and would likely try and cheat us and take us somewhere totally different. Taking that with a pinch of salt, we skipped the paid tour and wandered into the park.
Our cab driver had spoken to one of the curio shop vendors after we told him what we were trying to do. And that guy waited until we entered the park and walked us over to another guy who didn’t have any shoes on named Felix, who said he could take us as far as Livingstone Island, but unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to cross in as it was private property. He explained that some people go later in the afternoon (around 5P.M., which is an hour before sunset) and the rangers who guard the border of Livingstone island will often let them in for $50 per person (a $15 discount per person), but that still seemed super expensive to us. $100 for a swim? No thanks.
Felix was up front about the fact that we couldn’t go to the Devil’s Pool, but said he could take us to another similar natural occurring pool (he called it a Jacuzzi) on the edge of the falls. He wanted $35 per person, and after some very weak bargaining on our part, we agreed on $40 total (really we should have paid $10-$20).
We set off with Felix, a native of the area, who hopped from rock to rock with ease. He told us that he often fished in the rivers so he knew the area very well. Jordan and I wondered if we were going to get robbed and left in the middle of nowhere.
After stopping in several spots and learning a bit more about the area, he started leading us to this Jacuzzi he had mentioned – the main reason we were there. We had to take our shoes off and wade in the river, which was filled with plankton and was extremely slippery – Jordan and I looked at each other and we knew that we were both thinking the same thing – we’re going to die.
Melodramatic? Maybe – but since we had read about someone dying at Victoria Falls on a trip with an illegal guide, it wasn’t a totally inappropriate thought. That, and when Felix let go of my hand to help Jordan, I slipped on the rock and almost face planted into the river.
Eventually we got to this pool of stagnant water on the edge of the cliff. Luckily, we passed right by it (Jordan and I both were worried that this great ‘Jacuzzi’ he kept telling us about was going to be an utter disappointment and that we had just wasted $80).
Felix led us right to the edge of the cliff and pointed down to a little nook that wasn’t immediately obvious. True to his word, there was a little whirl pool with rushing water and a mini waterfall, leading off to the big fall that went right off the cliff. It really did look like a Jacuzzi, with the rocks almost forming (albeit very slippery) seats, perfect for us to perch on and look over the falls. We grinned and climbed right in (carefully).
We took a selfie, blown away by the sheer awesomeness of this private little pool on the edge of a waterfall. It doesn’t look that impressive, does it?
But then you zoom out and you can see the waterfall pouring from our little pool over the side of the cliff. So what? Big deal.
And then you zoom out entirely and you can see the magnificence of exactly where we were hanging out. HOLY CRAP WE’RE ON THE EDGE OF A FREAKING WATERFALL!!
We had the place all to ourselves, our own private devil’s pool. Felix was awesome – he clambered over the rocks to a viewpoint and hung out under the shade of a tree taking tons of pictures for us, while we splashed and paddled and laughed and grinned. He didn’t rush us, so we just hung out there enjoying it and soaking it all in until we felt we were good to go.
He walked us back to the main trail, where we parted ways. Jordan and I thanked him for sharing this secret place with us that only locals seemed to know about. We felt like we hit the jackpot. We never made it to the Devil’s Pool but we still felt like where we got to go was way cooler than it could ever have been.
We then headed down to the “Boiling Pot”, which is the area where the waters swirl due to the resistance of the rock causing a backflow, exactly the same as you see with boiling water in a hot pot.
After a brief stop to check out the swirling waters, we headed back up and left the park, still giddy from the epic waterfall swim we had just done.
Stone Town in Zanzibar seems 1 part Havana, 1 part Marrakech, and 1 part Caribbean island, equalling one crazy place to go for a run. Continue reading “Running in Zanzibar” »
When I asked Jordan what, if anything, he wanted to see in Africa, his only reply was “Gorillas”. I hadn’t even thought about gorillas at all, but I had my own little wish list of places I wanted us to go. So since he had only one, I wanted to make sure we ticked it off the list, and made it a priority.
Rwanda is sometimes referred to as the land of one thousand hills(“Pays des Mille Collines” in french), and after pulling into Kigali I could see why. Continue reading “Running in Kigali” »
I’ve already written about how to DIY your way from Jerusalem to Petra, and about our visit to this incredible place; but I thought it might be a good idea to offer some tips and advice that came in handy for us, or that we learned from our experience.
Right now is probably the best time to visit Petra.
Since 2011, Petra has experienced a huge decline in tourism due to the Arab Spring and the issues going on in Syria, which Jordan shares a border with. Unfortunately these issues have resulted in people choosing to avoid visiting Jordan, and so Petra is practically empty compared to how it was 5 years ago. We found no evidence to suggest it was in any way unsafe to travel through Jordan, and in fact found our entire time here quite safe and laid back. While this is quite unfortunate for Jordan and those in the tourism industry, it presents an opportunity for anyone who has wanted to visit Petra because hotel prices are lower, food and taxis are cheaper (or at least easier to bargain with), and the site itself doesn’t feel like a tourist trap heaving with bodies.
- 1 day is not enough to properly see Petra. Not only is 2 or 3 days a much better value, it also means you can take your time and avoid being there in the middle of the midday heat.
- a 1 day ticket costs 50JD
- a 2 day ticket costs 55 JD
- a 3 day ticket costs 60 JD
- The site opens at 6am – it is absolutely worth arriving early at 6am, or even 7am, giving yourself 5 hours to explore before the midday heat becomes uncomfortable, especially given the amount of walking required.
- If you’re a lover of photography, an early start means you will have the opportunity to shoot the monuments without tourists in your shot, and you can comfortably take your time to set the shot.
- pro tip: take photos of the same monuments at different times during the day to see how the colours change.
- You do not need to purchase the official guided tour (which is 50JD, a fixed rate) – the information on the plaques is exactly what the tour guide provides. For a great self-guided walk, this site guide really explains what you’re looking at in great detail.
- It’s impossible to visit Petra without seeing the Treasury, but it’s entirely possible to accidentally miss the Monastery – and that would be a mistake! If you only have 1 day, be sure it includes a hike to the Monastery.
- If you have 2 days, be sure to visit the High Place of Sacrifice
- For more information on all the hikes around Petra, this backpacker report is an excellent guide
- Petra by Night (17JD per person) is not worth the cost. It sounds like a great idea – but unfortunately with everyone using their phones as flashlights and constantly flashing their cameras, it completely ruins the mood. We spend 34JD to take one crappy photo of the Treasury lit by candles.
On What to Bring:
- Water. You’re in the desert, it’s going to get hot, and you’re going to be walking a lot. We drank 3 liters between the two of us in one morning.
- Hiking shoes. Please don’t wear sandals – we saw one lady wearing them and felt so bad for her. This is the desert. There is sand. and rocks. and dirt. You will be walking a lot. You will trip. You will wish you wore hiking shoes.
- Packed Lunch. You don’t want to buy anything while inside the site. It’ll be ridiculously expensive and not worth the cost.
- Sunscreen, a hat, and/or an umbrella. Whatever you need to do to protect yourself from the sun – by 9am the heat starts to be noticeable, by 11 it’s just plain uncomfortable, and we can’t tell you about 1pm because we had the good sense to get out of there before then.
- Lens wipe. My DSLR stopped focusing because all the dust/sand in the air got inbetween the lens and the body. I had to take off the lens and wipe the contacts. The lens also got dust on it, so having something to clean the lens was essential.
- Bandaids. Both of us ended up needing them after 24km of walking over 2 days.