The members of a Makololo tribe escorted David Livingstone, an explorer who was the first European ever to see the falls down the river on November 17, 1855. Livingstone returned to the area in 1860 to make a detailed study of the falls with John Kirk.
European settlement of the Victoria Falls area started around 1900 in response to the desire of Cecil John Rhodes, a businessman, for the exploitation of natural resources north of the Zambezi such as the huge timber forests, the ivory and animal skins and the mineral rights.
Until 1905, the Zambezi River was crossed above the falls at the Old Drift, this was in a dugout canoe or a barge towed across with a steel cable. Rhodes’ had a vision of a Railway line that stretched from Cape to Cairo and he initiated plans for the first bridge across the Zambezi to be built.
He insisted it be built where the spray from the falls would fall on passing trains. The Victoria Falls Bridge was finished in 1905 unfortunately after Rhodes death, but the railway offered accessible travel to whites from as far south as Cape Town to as far north as the Belgian Congo.
The Falls became an increasingly popular attraction during British colonial rule of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), with the town of Victoria Falls becoming the main tourist centre.
In 1964, Northern Rhodesia became the independent state of Zambia. The following year, Rhodesia made a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) that was not recognized by the outside world, which led to war in Rhodesia on the south side of the Zambezi.
In 1966, due to this conflict, Zambia restricted or stopped border crossings and did not re-open the border completely until 1980 when Zimbabwe gained its independence. This brought about comparative peace.
The 1980s saw renewed levels of tourism and the region developed rapidly especially as a centre for tourism and adventure sports. Activities that gained popularity in the area include white water rafting in the gorges, bungee jumping from the bridge, tiger fishing, horse riding, canoeing, and flights over the falls.
Historically, the number of visitors to the Zimbabwean side of the falls has been much higher than the number visiting the Zambia side. This is due to the greater development of the visitor facilities there.
However, the number of tourists visiting Zimbabwe began to decline in the early 2000s as Robert Mugabe’s land reform policy began to increase political tensions in the country. Zambia’s tourist industry has capitalised on this situation and grown enormously over these years, with occupancy levels now reaching almost 100%.
In 1989, Victoria Falls was inscribed as a World Heritage Site.
REFERENCE: Google Earth