Often described as 'the real Africa', Zambia has its own special charm and has managed to maintain that feeling of being in another age - as yet untouched by 'mass tourism'.
A safari in Zambia is still run on 'old style' principles - comfortable but not luxurious - the 'real' Africa. The camps and lodges are more rustic than in other parts of Africa . These small, personalized safari outposts are home to some of the most knowledgeable wildlife experts in Africa.
Apart from the South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi National Parks, Zambia 's many parks are virtually unknown. The Kafue, North Luangwa, Liuwa Plains, Lochinvar, Kasanka and Bangweulu Swamps are all National Parks of interest to the visitor. Night drives are also a feature within the National Parks (something not available in most other countries), and of course this is the land of the legendary African walking safari.
The Luangwa Valley is one of Africa's prime wildlife sanctuaries, with concentrations and varieties of game and birdlife that have made it world famous. Down the centre of the valley flows the Luangwa River, fed by dozens of sand rivers that come down during the rainy season. The Luangwa carves a tortuous course along the floor and when in flood rapidly erodes the outer bends, depositing silt within the loops. Eventually the river cuts a new course, leaving the old course to silt up, forming 'ox bow' lagoons. These lagoons are very important to the ecology of the riverine zone and account for the high carrying capacity of the area. The countryside is spectacular in its rugged beauty, the vegetation thick and, near the Luangwa River and its many tributaries, a lush riverine forest occurs that is green all year round. Flanking the river's western banks are the North and South Luangwa National Parks separated by the 30km Munyamadzi corridor.
Experts have dubbed South Luangwa as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration of game around the Luangwa river and it's ox bow lagoons is among the most intense in Africa. The park's 9050km2 is host to a wide variety of wildlife birds and vegetation. The now famous 'walking safari' originated in this park and is still one of the finest ways to experience this pristine wilderness first hand. The changing seasons add to the Park's richness ranging from dry, bare bushveld in the winter to a lush green wonderland in the summer months. There are 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species. The only notable exception is the rhino, sadly poached to extinction.
The Luangwa valley is certainly the equal of other great wildlife areas of Africa - and home to the first commercial walking safaris. It is renowned for its fantastic leopard sightings, made possible by the ability to go out at night with spotlights. Night drives are a must. This is a pure game-viewing and birding experience.
The Lower Zambezi National Park extends along the northern bank of the Zambezi river in the south eastern corner of Zambia and is about 150km down stream from Lake Kariba. The river is the focal point for the abundant riverine flora and wildlife. Huge herds of buffalo, elephant, hippo, and plains game are found along with a large concentration of lion and leopard. Exclusive species such as porcupine, honey badger and wild dog are also seen along with over 400 species of birds and probably the best tiger fishing in the world.
The Kafue is Zambia's oldest park and by far the largest. It was proclaimed in 1950 and is spread over 22 400 square kilometres - the third largest national park in Africa and about the size of Wales. Despite the Park's proximity to both Lusaka and the Copperbelt, it has remained underdeveloped until the most recent years.
Despite poaching and lack of management, the Park is still a raw and diverse slice of African wilderness with excellent game viewing, birdwatching and fishing opportunities.
From the astounding Busanga Plains in the North-western section of the Park to the tree-choked wilderness and the lush dambos of the south, fed by the emerald green Lunga, Lufupa and Kafue Rivers, the park sustains huge herds of a great diversity of wildlife - from the thousands of red lechwe on the Plains, the ubiquitous puku, the stately sable and roan antelopes in the woodland to the diminutive oribi and duiker. The solid-rumped defassa waterbuck, herds of tsessebe, hartebeest, zebra and buffalo make for a full menu of antelope. Large prides of lion, solitary leopards and cheetahs are the prime predators. There is a host of smaller carnivores from the side-striped jackal, civet, genet and various mongoose.
Birdwatching, especially on the rivers and the dambos is superb. Notables include the wattled crane, purple crested turaco and Pel's fishing owl. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded throughout the park.
This remote park in the far west of the country is pristine wilderness, which to the ardent bush lover, makes it its biggest attraction. Considered by some as being "one of the most amazing wildlife parks in Africa" - it is certainly one of the least visited. "At the right time of year, a safari to the Liuwa Plains can be as good as safaris ever get, and so whilst the cliche 'best kept secret' is applied with sickening frequency to many parts in Africa; Liuwa Plains is one of the few safari areas which really deserves it".
In November, with the onset of the rains, the massive herds of blue wildebeest arrive from Angola, traversing the plains in their thousands, very often mingling with zebra along the way or gathering around water holes and pans. Other unusual antelope found include oribi, red lechwe, steinbuck, duiker, tsessebe and roan . The jackal, serval, wild cat, wild dog as well as lion and hyena are the predators of the area.
Fly-in safaris are now available to Liuwa Plains at certain times of the year.
Kasanka is Zambia's only national park under private management and is entirely reliant on tourism revenue and charitable funding. It is a valuable conservation area with diverse flora and fauna including many endangered species and exceptional birdlife.
The Bangweulu wetlands, just north of Kasanka are one of Africa's most spectacular wildlife secrets with over 100,000 Black Lechwe and the world's most visible Shoebill storks.
Kasanka NP and the adjacent Bangweulu Wetlands make very rewarding destinations for visitors seeking to delve deeper into Africa's hidden corners.
Zambia is a fabulous big game destination and probably best known for its walking safaris. Here is a brief synopsis of the safari options:
Zambia is a fly-in destination. As already mentioned, the distances between parks are considerable and the roads are not good, making traditional mobile safaris impractical. It is best to make use of the scheduled charter services from either Livingstone or Lusaka. There is not a circuit as such so it is sometimes necessary to 'hub' out of the main centres.
Zambia is not currently a mobile tented safari destination, due mainly to the long distances between the National Parks. However, on a similar theme to the traditional mobile tented safari, there is what is referred to as a "walking mobile safari" available in South Luangwa NP. This is where guests walk between camps each day, with the camp being moved and re-erected ahead of the group.
Whilst predominantly adhering to 'no under 12 yrs' in most of the bush camps, more and more lodges are encouraging families with family units/rooms and special children's programs. Unique to Zambia are a circuit of 'Family Houses' at Victoria Falls, in the Lower Zambezi and in South Luangwa where your family can have exclusive use of a 3 or 4 bedroom lodge with your own staff and private guide.
There are limited options for horse riding in Zambia. Ask for details..
The Luangwa is considered the home of the African walking safari with a good selection of multi-day walking trails on offer. Ask for details..
Nothing quite compares with canoeing down the mighty Zambezi river.
Available at Victoria Falls are vast range of adventure (and adrenalin) pursuits. White-water rafting must surely be the most fun and exciting! Not to be missed.
The best fishing in Zambia is to be had either on Lake Kariba or on the Lower Zambezi river.
Although we tend to recommend staying on the Zimbabwean side of the Victoria Falls the falls viewable from the Zambian side as well (but not, in our opinion, nearly as impressive).
Described by the Kololo tribe living in the area in the 1800s as 'Mosi-oa-Tunya' - 'the Smoke that Thunders' and in more modern terms as 'the greatest known curtain of falling water', the Victoria Falls are a spectacular sight of awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur on the Zambezi River, bordering Zambia and Zimbabwe. Columns of spray can be seen from miles away as 546 million cubic meters of water per minute plummet over the edge (at the height of the flood season) over a width of nearly two kilometres into a gorge over 100 metres deep. The wide basalt cliff, over which the falls thunder, transforms the Zambezi from a wide placid river to a ferocious torrent cutting through a series of dramatic gorges.
When to visit the Victoria Falls?
Different times of the year will provide completely different experiences of the Falls region. Peak flood season is around March and April and the full power of the falls can be experienced in all its glory. But due to the masses of spray rising from the fallen water the full width of the Falls cannot be seen on foot. The aerial view at this time however is spectacular, with clouds of spray rising high into the sky. As the floods abate the view of the falls gets better and better through the year, but at it's lowest, around November and December the Falls become little rivulets running over the edge and in some places along the 1,7km width no water falls at all. This season's gift is the view of the impressive cliffs that form the Falls wall and the magnitude of the abyss can be fully appreciated.
From the air:
To fully appreciate the incredible size of the Falls, and the awesome power of the water as it carves into the deep zig zagging gorges for eight kilometers, one must see it from the air. Micro-light and fixed wing flights are available. The pilot will take you along the wide tranquil upper Zambezi, and over the huge 2 km rent in the earth. The breathtaking sight of this magnificent natural phenomena, seen in all its glory from the air, is unforgettable.
A range of excellent accommodation options are available on the Zambian side at Victoria Falls (Livingstone) if required.
Some points to note when planning your Zambian itinerary:
Zambia combines well with South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.
A safari in Zambia is still run on 'old' style principles - comfortable but not luxurious - the 'real' Africa. The camps and lodges are more rustic than in other parts of Africa. They have been done like this on purpose and have not been developed with the 'mass market' in mind. These small, personalized safari outposts are home to some of the most knowledgeable wildlife experts in Africa. Night drives are also a feature within the National Parks (often not available in other countries).
Zambia is a big country. The National Parks are both large and far apart. The premier park, South Luangwa NP, is a good 1.5 hour flight from Lusaka or the Zambezi river. The Victoria Falls and the Lower Zambezi are a similar flight time apart. The Kafue NP is huge but off the mainstream tourist route, with Liuwa Plains, Kasanka and the Bangweulu Swamps being little known gems for the more adventurous.