Zambia, the warm heart of Africa, is my adopted home and has been for a couple of decades now. I came here on a six-week holiday, not long after my 21st birthday, and now, pushing 50, I’m still here!
Zambia is a beautiful country, a nation of friendly, hospitable people and incredible natural resources. Wild and relatively unpopulated, Zambia is not as well known as some of her neighbors, but she is, without doubt, one of the best all-around safari destinations in Africa. From remote bush camps to elegant safari lodges, from world-famous walking safaris to adrenaline-filled activities for the whole family. With so much to offer, you may never want to leave — just like me!
Here are my suggestions for places and experiences I believe should be included in a visit to this amazing country.
1. Livingstone And The Victoria Falls
Where better to start a Zambian journey than Livingstone and the famous Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is the adrenaline capital of Africa: think bungee jumping, white-water rafting, microlight flights, and more. But if all that all sounds a little too much action for you, then perhaps game drives, fishing, sunset river cruises, or shopping in the local markets are more your cup of tea. One activity I would highly recommend is a helicopter flight, known as the “Flight of Angels” over the Falls. Livingstone, the town closest to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side, was named after Scottish explorer and missionary, David Livingstone. Livingstone is a great place for a few days at the start or finish of a safari, and a visit to Victoria Falls is one of the top tourist experiences in the whole of Africa.
My favorite place to stay when visiting Livingstone is Thorntree River Lodge, a beautiful haven on the banks of the Zambezi River, inside the Mosi oa Tunya National Park and upstream of Victoria Falls. For booking your activities, let me suggest Livingstone’s Adventure
2. Lower Zambezi National Park
After enjoying Livingstone and the spectacle of the Victoria Falls, it’s definitely time for a safari, and there are many places in Zambia where you can do this. Let’s start by heading downstream from falls to the Lower Zambezi National Park. The beauty of the Lower Zambezi lies in its wildness. The park is surrounded by large game management areas, and there are no fences between the two, so animals are free to roam throughout the entire land area. The park lies opposite the famous Mana Pools Reserve in Zimbabwe, so both sides of the river form a huge wildlife sanctuary.
The diversity of animals in the Lower Zambezi might not be as wide as some parks, but there are great opportunities to get up close to the wildlife — herds of elephants, prides of lions, solitary leopards, and packs of wild dogs. The river itself is home to hippos, crocodiles, and the coveted tiger fish. A range of activities are on tap: game viewing drives, canoe trips, walking safaris, and some of the finest tiger fishing in the world (on a catch and release basis).
I love to stay with Anabezi who has three camps to choose from, and some very patient fishing guides! Or if you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, then I’d recommend Tusk & Mane that operates terrific mobile safaris.
3. Kafue National Park
Kafue is Zambia’s oldest and largest national park and has a diversity of wildlife that is probably the most numerous in all of Africa. Lions, leopards, and cheetahs are found here, wild dogs range through the park, and there are more antelope species than anywhere else on the continent. The Kafue River and its tributaries provide opportunities for canoeing and boat safaris. The north of the Kafue National Park is dominated by the Busanga Plains, which floods annually, creating a rich habitat with incredible birdlife and wildlife viewing. Kafue National Park represents 36 percent of Zambia’s national parkland and, when combined with the surrounding game management area, the total adds up to a staggering 9 percent of the country’s entire landmass.
With such a vast area of land to cover, there are obviously many different options for accommodations. For Busanga Plains in the north, I’d recommend Busanga Plains Camp. Another highly recommended place to stay in Kafue is Musekese Camp. When last at Musekese, we had a young male leopard in camp every night. Left behind when his mother went out to hunt and as the rest of the camp slept, this bored youngster would take “cat naps” on the sofa, tap dance along the bar counter, and really “sink his teeth into” the lodge’s library books.
4. South Luangwa National Park
South Luangwa is the best-known of Zambia’s national parks. Located In the east of Zambia, this is one of the most unspoiled natural habitats in Africa, with some of the highest concentrations of animals on the continent. The area is home to around 60 animal species and over 400 species of birds. South Luangwa is a gem of a national park, with incredible wildlife viewing, excellent guiding, and a range of accommodation options — from luxury bush camps to sleep-outs under the stars. Nicknamed “Valley of the Leopard,” this is a good place to see that beautiful cat. Hippos abound; The Luangwa River boasts some of the densest hippo populations in all of Africa. South Luangwa also offers excellent walking safaris, providing a unique way to experience and observe the bush. The park is also unusual in that “night drives” are permitted, and these drives offer an amazing opportunity to see some of the park’s nocturnal species by torchlight, at the same time, the game are at their most active.
The main entrance to the park is the Mfuwe Gate. The area here is the busiest part of South Luangwa and an ideal place for less experienced safari visitors to start. The game concentration is higher here, but with that comes a higher concentration of safari vehicles, which at times can get hectic, with drivers and guides all trying to get their clients the best position at lion kills or wild dog sightings. Further north in the park, things are quieter but wilder. I once had the privilege of spending several days on a walking safari here with Deb Title, one of the most expert safari guides in Zambia. With more than 2,500 safari walks under her belt, Deb is an expert at interpreting the sights and sounds of the bush and at understanding, anticipating, and explaining animal behavior. A safari with her is like no other.
If a walking safari and hours on foot each day is not your “thing,” look no further than one of my favorites in the park, the relatively new Shawa Luangwa. Green Safaris, owners of Shawa Luangwa, are pioneers of the silent safari (incredibly quiet solar-powered, electric game drive vehicles), and the company’s operating ethos is firmly grounded in sustainability, conservation, and community development. As a bonus, the staff and guides are incredibly friendly. A once in a lifetime stay at Time and Tide’s luxurious Chinzombo Camp is also highly recommended.
5. North Luangwa National Park
Heading north from South Luangwa is the little-visited North Luangwa National Park, home to Zambia’s only black rhinos, and some of the highest lion densities in the region. Remote and wild, this park is only accessible by flight, or with someone with good bush driving skills. Walking in North Luangwa is the way to explore this park. With few roads and even fewer people, you are unlikely to see anyone else for the duration of your safari. With only a handful of safari camps, North Luangwa is a great addition to a Zambian visit, especially for anyone wanting to explore the country’s more secret destinations. It’s also home to an elephant stronghold
Remote Africa Safaris with its fabulous Mwaleshi and Takwela Camps, and unparalleled walking safaris, are the people to talk to for a North Luangwa visit.
6. Bangweulu Wetlands
On the topic of Zambia’s hidden gems, let’s move on to the Bangweulu wetlands. Bangweulu isn’t included on many tourists’ itineraries and getting here isn’t straightforward (the easiest way is by chartered plane). Bangweulu means “where water meets the sky,” which perfectly describes one of Africa’s most extraordinary and important wetlands. This is not a national park, this is a community-owned protected area, home to 50,000 people (predominantly seasonal fishermen) and over 50,000 endemic, magnificent black lechwe antelope. The wetlands are also home to the iconic shoebill, making this a must-visit place for any serious birdwatcher.
Shoebill Island Camp is the perfect place to stay to feel really immersed in this incredible part of Zambia.
7. Liuwa Plain
560 miles from the Bangweulu wetlands, on the other side of Zambia, is the equally remote and off-the-beaten-track Liuwa Plains. Liuwa is a magnificent wilderness of seasonally flooded grass plains and wooded islands. This is home to Africa’s second-largest wildebeest migration, growing lion and cheetah populations, thousands of zebras, and more than 50 hyena clans (the park’s apex predator). Flocks of cranes swirl over the vast savannah. Liuwa is one of Africa’s best-kept secrets. The only way to reach here, without the time and intrepid driving skills, is by charter flight.
Time and Tide’s King Lewanika Camp is the only permanent camp in Liuwa Plain National Park and is the essence of luxury.
And there you have my suggestions for the quintessential Zambian visit.
I must say that I feel I’ve been a little remiss in not mentioning a couple other of Zambia’s special places, so allow me to give them a fleeting mention here:
Kasanka National Park is home to the largest mammal migration in the world (10,000,000 straw-colored fruit bats). Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world, as well as its second-oldest, second-largest, and second-deepest (Zambia can only claim 7 percent of Tanganyika’s surface area). Shiwa Ngandu, a grand English-style country house in Northern Zambia, was the lifelong project of Sir Stewart Gore Brown, an Englishman who fell in love with the spot while surveying the Northern Rhodesia and Belgian Congo boundary and started building the house in 1920. Nearby is the beautiful Kapishya Hot Springs. Northern Zambia is home to an array of waterfalls, including Kalambo Falls, Africa’s second-highest single-drop waterfall (725 feet, which is twice the height of Victoria Falls). Lastly, Lusaka, the capital, was my home for several years, but I am going to suggest that as part of a Zambian holiday, Lusaka should be a transit stop only and not somewhere you spend any extended time.
And now, I promise, I’m really done with my recommendations for your Zambian holiday. Perhaps one day, our fortunes will allow us to bump into each other here.
Safari lovers will be amazed at the opportunities to see magnificent wildlife up close and personal: