Upscale yet informal, the AVANI Victoria Falls (formerly Zambezi Sun) is a great choice for families or couples seeking a hotel with lots of amenities, proximity to the falls, and that indefinable “African” ambiance.
Spread over several dozen acres, the fun begins when you arrive. A troupe of tribal-garbed singers serenades each group with song, dance and lots of spear action, which is guaranteed to put you in a good mood. When you get to your room, it gets even better. Most of the 212 rooms are basic yet colorful and comfortable, with nice touches like carved wooden headboards and brass fittings. But if you upgrade to a suite (which I highly recommend if you can afford it), the decor gets a little more interesting. Mine was done in a Moroccan-style theme, with stained-glass lamps, intricately tiled bathroom counters, Middle Eastern rugs, and hand-painted Moorish furniture. Unfortunately there were quite a few resident bugs and a very small bathtub, but the plug-in insect repellent devices eventually took care of the former, and the spectacular view over the lake from the bathroom window made up for the latter.
The two-story, low-rise, terracotta-colored buildings sprawl across the grounds, which include an expansive swimming pool, an outdoor dining area and an open-air restaurant at the center. Monkeys, zebras and the odd giraffe freely wander across the lawns and paths, so close you can touch them (though this is not recommended). The casual fare at the pool bar is great for a leisurely lunch or afternoon snack (don’t skimp on the yummy desserts), while the main restaurant does mean buffet-style breakfasts and dinners that cover both European and African fare. Just make sure to keep an eye on your food, or monkeys might steal it! On Saturday nights the boma (cultural village) hosts traditional African-style dinners with local musicians and dancers as an added plus; I wasn’t around for the festivities, but I hear it’s good fun. During the day you can tour the stalls at the boma, which include a traditional medicine hut, a wood-carvers workshop, and staff who can explain the local traditions and customs. (Make sure to offer them a tip!)
One of the hotel’s huge advantages is its location next door to the falls. A five-minute walk to the back gate of the property puts you at the entrance to the park, where you’re entitled to free entry to as a hotel guest. You can go as many times as you like during your stay, and staff will even provide rain ponchos to keep you dry during peak flow periods (when the falls get VERY wet and misty). And though it’s not signposted well, around the back of the main reception area is an entertainment complex consisting of a range of curio shops, conference rooms, an ATM, and an activities centre where you can book flightseeing trips and cultural tours. There is also a steakhouse-style restaurant that was still being renovated when I stayed there, but when it opens it should offer a decent alternative to the other onsite dining options.
Though most people use the hotel as a base for day trips and activities off-site, the hotel is almost a destination unto itself, with walking trails, a spa, and various custom dining options (you can request a private, romantic tent dining experience, for example). If you’ve got kids, there’s also a staffed kids’ center, with playground equipment and even kid-friendly excursions.