The Victoria Falls gorge, which straddles the border of the republics of Zambia and Zimbabwe, is a spectacular scene. It’s even considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. But, for selfie-seeking Instagrammers, a daring pose on the edge of the gorge´s Devils Pool can end in tragedy.
Victoria Falls is one of the world´s most exhilarating waterfalls. In 2019, it pulled in nearly a million visitors. But the rise of viral smartphone filming has in recent times cajoled ordinary daredevil tourists, celebrities, and wannabe-influencers into the habit of swimming or dangling precariously on the edges of its famous Devils Pool. The Devils Pool is a natural pool enclosure in the falls that plunges down 108 meters (354 feet) into the falls’ gorge.
“The goal is to film thrilling social media snippets for Instagram or TikTok videos, boost following, and earn social media clout. It´s a thrill laced with death,” says Carter Mavhiza, an independent auctioneer who sells off second-hand tour boats in the Victoria Falls town.
Devils Pool is fairly safe if visiting under the guidance of experienced local tour guides. “To reach Devil´s Pool at the edge of the Victoria Falls gorge, swimmers must wade 100 meters [328 feet] through weak water current. Inexperienced swimmers are marshaled by guides,” explains James Phiri, a tourist liaison officer with the Zambia Police Service.
However, it´s not just the water that poses a threat but crocodiles and hippos that guides must also watch out for whenever they venture into the waters feeding the falls.
If that alone doesn’t sound terrifying, on the very edge of Devils Pool, things get really dicey.
“The pool itself is about three meters [10 feet] deep and water is running a bit fast but a crater of rocks formed by hundreds of years of erosion embraces the pool. Hang inside the pool and you are fairly safe. If you´re jittery go back,” explains Stanley Zulu, a tour guide with the Victoria Falls Five Club.
However, the rocks at the tip of Devils Pool can get slippery. “For photo-seekers this is the dangerous tipping point. The only thing preventing your fall is slippery fragments of stone,” adds Zulu.
Yet the urge to attempt dramatic TikTok videos and Instagram shots persists. A bevy of tourists is motivated to swim or walk outright to the edge of the pool. The common goal? Capturing a selfie with the lush rainbow that often appears behind the falls’ misty waters.
Dying for Photos
This quest for the ultimate selfie has resulted in tragedy for many.
Prominent examples include a 2009 incident, when a tour guide leading a group of South African visitors fell to his death down the gorge. He was attempting to rescue a tourist who had slipped while swimming in Devils Pool and was dangling from the rocks. The tour guide had managed to rescue the visitor from danger, pulling them up back from the brink, only to then slip and fall to his own death.
In February 2019, an Israeli tourist drowned while swimming in the Zambezi River, near the mouth of Victoria Falls. His body was discovered floating in the falls’ gorge.
The most disturbing recent case occurred in January 2021 when Tinashe Dikinya, a tourist from Zimbabwe, slipped to his death moments after posing for a photo at the edge of the gorge. Dikinya was walking at the rocky cliffs right at the edge of the falls before he slipped and vanished into the waters. The painstaking recovery of his remains summoned the combined efforts of police, air force, and specialist divers.
“The number of tourists who die at the Victoria Falls over the years is never known because it´s never counted,” says Carter Mavhiza, the tourist boat auctioneer. “Some tourists are solo travelers and we never know what happened to them.”
Only one photo-loving tourist is known to have fallen at the Victoria Falls and survived. Wang Shunxue, a Chinese tourist was lucky to be pulled alive from a horrific fall in November 2013. Local media reports say he had asked for a photo at a bridge with the waterfalls forming a backdrop before falling into its waters.
“We continue to inform our visitors that the Victoria Falls is a memorable place of family relaxation but no selfie is worth your life,” James Phiri, the tourist liaison officer with the Zambia Police Service stresses.