With memorable activities like swimming on the ledge of a mighty waterfall to walking safaris, it’s surprising Zambia is less visited than other spots on the continent of Africa.
We recommend making it top of mind if you are considering a journey that involves spotting wildlife.
Mazuba Kapambwe-Mizzi shows you how to plan a wonderful week in zesty Zambia, her home country.
I have been a travel writer for almost 10 years, and have lived in Germany, Ethiopia, New York and Washington, DC. Yet I’ve spent half my life in my home country of Zambia. From my first time on a safari, where I went canoeing on the banks of the Zambezi river, to getting married at Victoria Falls, the heritage sites and culture of my country still leave me in awe.
Why you should visit Zambia
A landlocked country in Southern Africa, Zambia brims with waterfalls, lakes and national parks that make it an ideal destination for learning about history, experiencing culture and (of course) setting out on safari. You’ll find fewer visitors here than in neighboring countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe – making for more intimate experiences with more personal attention from guides.
The over 70 ethnic groups in the country host colorful traditional festivals throughout the year. The Kuomboka ceremony in Western Zambia, for example, involves the Lozi ethnic group migrating from lower flooded land to higher land, complete with a large barge; the Ncwala ceremony in the East sees locals don animal skins to celebrate the annual harvest.
Since the country is large and destinations spread out, it is best to select two regions to explore during a week-long stay.
Explore lively Lusaka
Begin your first day in the Zambian capital of Lusaka with a cup of Zambian coffee and breakfast at Latitude 15 Degrees, a boutique hotel in the suburb of Kabulonga. In the same neighborhood, Meraki is a women-owned cafe that serves all-day breakfast. (standouts include the red-velvet cake, and the robust Meraki Breakfast, which consists of eggs, crispy bacon, hash browns, beef-and-pork sausage and baked beans).
Next, check out work by such Zambian visual artists as Stary Mwaba, Mulenga Chafilwa and more at the stArt Foundation’s 37D Gallery on Middleway St. Mwaba’s large-scale acrylic paintings feature colorful profiles of subjects, while Chafilwa’s mixed-media work often depicts multiple subjects placed in urban settings, and responds to socio-economic themes such as unemployment. Proceeds from the sale of art at 37D go toward funding workshops for disadvantaged children and other social enterprises. Also on the property, Rock Cafe is ideal for an iced coffee or a snack like bacon quiche or chocolate brownie.
Book a taxi or use local ride-sharing apps Ulendo or Yango and head down Leopards Hill Rd for about 9.3 miles (15km) before turning on Chifwema Rd to the entrance to Lusaka National Park, the smallest of the country’s 20 parks. The park hosts an elephant orphanage run by Game Rangers International: visit at 11am to watch the majestic animals feed, then do a loop around the park in your vehicle to potentially see antelopes, zebras and giraffes. On your way out, purchase locally made artisan products like baskets, jewelry, Zambian-grown coffee or honey from Lusaka Collective, which has an outlet at the park’s discovery center. This entire mini safari should take about two hours.
Arguably Lusaka’s best restaurant scene is concentrated in the tree-lined suburbs of Long Acres and Rhodes Park. For sushi, freshly made wraps and grill-fired steaks, Three Trees is a favorite. (We’d recommend a reservation during the busy lunch hour.) Eataly Pizzeria serves up tasty pies (try the quattro stagioni or chicken diavola) and pastas (we love the penne alfredo).
For traditional Zambian cuisine, visit Mpoto Yatu on Omelo Mumba St. Order nshima, the corn-based staple food of the country, and pair it with a protein such as kafue bream or goal-meat stew. Every meal is served with vegetables, ranging from brown beans, okra to ifisashi (kale cooked in a peanut sauce).
After lunch, explore Zambia’s political and cultural history at the Lusaka National Museum, where artifacts on display include t-shirts from former political campaigns, as well as baskets and pottery made by Zambian ethnic groups including the Lozi and Tonga. The main floor of the museum features rotating exhibitions of contemporary art.
As the sun sets, have a margarita, Moscow Mule or glass of wine together with guac and chips at Cantina, Lusaka’s only Mexican-inspired restaurant, in the Kabulonga district. Make dinner reservations back at Latitude 15, or trendy hangout spot The Other Side, on the same premises. On Friday evenings, sit by the pool and end the night with live music (from 9–11pm) played by a rotating list of local musicians. Want a nightcap? Ask for Jeff the bartender, who makes excellent mojitos.
The falls call
Have a quick breakfast, then head to the airport for the hour-long flight to Livingstone, Zambia’s tourist capital. Check into the mid-range Avani Hotel or its sister property, the more luxurious Royal Livingstone. Both are in close proximity to Victoria Falls, with the Avani offering a private entrance for guests at the back of the property.
After lunch at either Avani’s Shungu pool terrace restaurant or Royal’s The Old Drift, it’s time for the main event. Take in breathtaking views by walking the knife-edge bridge that crosses the falls as you admire the “eternal rainbow” generated by the mist. (Be sure to wear a raincoat if you don’t want to be soaked by the spray.) Additionally, you can hike downhill to the Boiling Pot whirlpool at the base of the falls.
At 4pm, choose between a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River – hippo and elephant sightings are likely – or a safari in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, where you can expect to see giraffes, elephants, antelopes and white rhinos (the last guarded by armed rangers). Both activities, bookable through a hotel or travel agent, last about two-and-a-half hours.
Return to the hotel for dinner at Avani (live musicians perform on Friday evenings) – or, for a typically Zambian evening, enjoy traditional food, music and storytelling at the Mukuni Boma. This experience recreates the Zambian way of eating a meal with family and friends while catching up on the latest gossip.
See Victoria Falls from a different perspective
Get up bright and early for an activity-filled day at the falls. You can take a “micro flight” or helicopter ride to see the falls from above (15 minutes from $179; 30 minutes from $360). Another option is bungee jumping ($160) at the Victoria Falls Bridge, a 364ft (111m) span across the Batoka Gorge with the Zambezi River below.
You can also conquer the 13 rapids of the Zambezi River by white-water rafting ($150). An ever-appealing option is a dip in the Devil’s Pool, a natural rock pool at the edge of the falls (guided tours from $98). Another thrilling activity is the gorge swing ($95), during which you’ll free-fall 230ft (70m) into the Batoka Gorge with a full-body harness attached to your back.
Adrenaline-inducing activities will have you working up an appetite, so head into Livingstone’s center (the locals call it simply “town”) and have a lunch of burgers and fries at Kubu Cafe, or Italian fare at Olga’s (don’t miss the crocodile pizza). Stop into Lavender Cafe across the street from Kubu for a nice post-meal cappuccino.
Work off the calories by taking a walk on the main street, past buildings from the early 20th century that date to Livingstone’s time as Zambia’s colonial capital. Pop into the Livingstone Museum for a lesson in the history of the region and country, with historic photographs, traditional produce and life-size models of local wildlife on display.
Culture lovers can take a taxi to Wayi Wayi, an art gallery run by visual artists Lawrence and Agnes Yombwe where paintings, drawings, sculptures and work in other media is exhibited. The Livingstone National Gallery offers rotating exhibits of contemporary pieces by local artists.
For a truly special dinner, enjoy five courses featuring ceviche, canapés and Wellington beef aboard the Royal Livingstone Express, a 1920s steam train outfitted with leather and upholstered seats, and tables laid out with white linens. The four-hour excursion takes you through Mosi-oa-Tunya Park (where you may see elephants and impalas on the savannah) and across the Victoria Falls Bridge.
Luxury back in Lusaka
Spend the last morning in Livingstone with a guided tour at Mukuni Village, home to the Toka-Leya culture. You’ll learn fascinating things about this people – who are jointly ruled by a female ruler, and whose male chiefs each swallow a rock when they take power (this is removed upon their death and passed on to the next ruler in line). If you are lucky, you may even be granted an audience with Chief Mukuni, the area’s traditional leader. A village craft shop is perfect for such souvenirs and gifts as baskets and beads.
Catch a flight back to Lusaka and check into Ciêla Resort, 20 minutes from the airport. At this extensive estate, you can relax by the pool, play golf, have lunch at The Brewery restaurant (which brews its own beer), view art at Chena Gallery or have a spa day. The coffee body wrap and the hot-stone massage are especially indulgent.
Make dinner reservations at Botanica, the newest gastronomy restaurant on the estate. On his six- and 12-course tasting menus, chef Sungani Phiri elevates Zambian cuisine by taking inspiration from traditional dishes and modernizing them. For example, impwa, a green, pod-shaped vegetable with a bitter aftertaste usually cooked in a tomato-and-onion stew, is here puréed into a hummus, while the fermented white beverage munkoyo becomes a stylish cocktail.
Head into the bush
Take a plane to South Luangwa National Park in Mfuwe, Eastern Zambia, where a guide will meet you and take you to your safari lodge of choice. Budget travelers can consider Croc Valley (where dorm-style rooms cater to large groups) and Marula Lodge (select a chalet overlooking the river); mid-range options include Thornicroft and the newly opened Bush Box (where rooms occupy converted shipping containers).
Luxury lodges include Chinzombo (where each of the six luxury tents has a private patio), Sungani (a remote camp that requires an additional flight to reach) or Puku Ridge (an intimate eight-tent resort featuring views of wildlife on the Luangwa plains).
Have lunch at your lodge, then relax a bit. At 3:30pm, coffee, tea and snacks are served at the communal dining area, before everyone heads out into the bush at 4pm for an evening game drive. You’ll see amazing sunsets on the plains, cool off with a sundowner and likely spot everything from lions and wild dogs to nocturnal animals like hyenas, bush babies and hippos.
You’ll arrive back at your lodge for a leisurely dinner and dessert. If visiting during the colder months of June and July, you can gather at the outdoor fire in the communal area to reflect on your wildlife sightings with fellow guests.
Watch all the wildlife
Mornings on safari begin with a 5:15am wake-up call. A light breakfast of granola, yogurt, fruits and coffee or tea is served at 5:45 – then it’s off for your morning game drive. Keep your eyes peeled for the Thornicroft giraffe, a species only found in South Luangwa. It is distinguishable from other African giraffes by its smaller size, darker markings and its lack of a patterned hide below the knees.
A couple of hours into your morning, your guide will park the car and you’ll all embark on a walking safari, a more intimate way to observe wildlife. You can expect to learn how to track animals from their footprints and dung, identify such trees as the baobab and tamarind, and discover nature’s many practical applications. Did you know, for example, that burning elephant dung repels tsetse flies? Or that a porcupine quill can stop a nosebleed? These are things I have learned on walking safaris.
After lunch at the lodge, take part in a paint workshop at home-decor company Tribal Textiles, which reinvests profits into community-conservation projects. Another social enterprise worth supporting in the area is Mulberry Mongoose, whose artisans make jewelry using confiscated animal snares and other creative materials (think a “rhino conservation snare bracelet” made from snare wire, vegetable-ivory seed and Zulu seed). Head back to the lodge for afternoon tea and snacks – followed by another evening safari and dinner at the lodge.
The following morning, tick the remaining animals off your list with a final safari session.
After a last lunch at your lodge, head back to Mfuwe airport for the one-hour flight to Lusaka.
Back in the capital, have dinner at one of East Park Mall’s numerous restaurants. Night Jar is known for good cocktails, Marlin is known for its pepper steak and the newly opened Prime Catch caters to fish lovers (try the smoked salmon salad or the hake).
Stock up on handmade souvenirs
If still on Great East St, have a cappuccino and breakfast at Vida Cafe, Brew Me or Corner Cafe. If it’s a weekend, Arcades Shopping Center hosts a weekly crafts market where various stalls sell accessories, brightly colored fabric called chitenge, baskets and more. (As prices are not fixed, you will have to haggle with vendors – an experience in itself.) If traveling during the week, head to Kabwata Cultural Village for items like key chains, fridge magnets and baskets.
Take a taxi or drive down Great East St toward Chongwe to The Orchard, a farm-to-table restaurant with flower-filled, Instagram-friendly gardens. Order the smoked barbeque ribs or the honey-glazed salmon – before heading to the airport and home after an unforgettable week.
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