The rewards of traveling in Zambia are those of exploring remote, mesmerizing wilderness as full of an astonishing diversity of wildlife as any part of Southern Africa. Adventures undertaken here will lead you deep into the bush where animals, both predators and prey, wander through unfenced camps, where night-time means swapping stories around the fire and where the human footprint is nowhere to be seen. Where one day you can canoe down a wide, placid river and the next raft through the raging rapids near world-famous Victoria Falls.
Though landlocked, three great rivers – the Kafue, the Luangwa and the Zambezi – flow through Zambia, defining both its geography and the rhythms of life for many of its people. For the independent traveler, however, Zambia is a logistical challenge, because of its sheer size, dilapidated road network and upmarket facilities. For those who do venture here, the relative lack of crowds means an even more satisfying journey.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Zambia.
For scenery, variety and density of animals, South Luangwa is the best park in Zambia and one of the most majestic in Africa. Impalas, pukus, waterbucks, giraffes and buffaloes wander on the wide-open plains; leopards, of which there are many in the park, hunt in the dense woodlands; herds of elephants wade through the marshes; and hippos munch serenely on Nile cabbage in the Luangwa River. The bird life is also tremendous: about 400 species have been recorded.
One of the most thrilling experiences – not only at the falls but in all of Africa – is the hair-raising journey to Livingstone Island. Here you will bathe in Devil's Pool – nature’s ultimate infinity pool, set directly on the edge of the Victoria Falls. You can leap into the pool and then poke your head over the edge to get an extraordinary view of the 100m drop. Here also you'll see the plaque marking the spot where David Livingstone first sighted the falls.
This is what you're here for: the mighty Victoria Falls! It's a part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, located 11km outside town before the Zambia border crossing. From the centre, a network of paths leads through thick vegetation to various viewpoints. For close-up views of the Eastern Cataract, nothing beats the hair-raising (and hair-wetting) walk across the footbridge, through swirling clouds of mist, to a sheer buttress called the Knife Edge.
Covering more than 22,500 sq km (8687 sq mi), this is the largest park in Zambia and one of the biggest in the world. With terrain ranging from the lush riverine forest of the Kafue River to the vast grassland of the Busanga Plains, the park rewards wildlife enthusiasts with glimpses of various carnivores and their nimble prey. This is the only major park in Zambia that’s easily accessible by public transport, with a handful of camps just off the highway.
One of the country’s premier wildlife viewing areas, the Lower Zambezi National Park covers a large stretch of wilderness area along the northeastern bank of the Zambezi River. The best wildlife viewing is on the flood plain and along the river itself. Mammal species include puku, impala, zebra, buffalo, bushbuck, leopard, lion, cheetah and wild dog, and more than 400 bird species have been recorded. The best time to visit is May to October.
The Bangweulu Wetlands is a watery wilderness of lakes, seasonally flooded grasslands, swamp and unspoiled miombo woodland that lies 50km to the north of Kasanka. This rarely visited part of Zambia is the only place in Africa to see major numbers of black lechwes (antelopes with long, curved antlers). Bangweulu is also known for its birds. Some 400 species have been noted, and a particular highlight for twitchers is the strange and rare shoebill stork.
The excellent Livingstone Museum is the oldest, largest and best museum in the country. It's divided into sections covering archaeology, history, ethnography and natural history. Highlights include its collection of original David Livingstone memorabilia (including signed letters), tribal artefacts (from bark cloth to witchcraft exhibits), a life-sized model of an African village, taxidermy displays and coverage of modern-day Zambian history.
The main draw to the area is the surreal sight of Shiwa House, a massive English-style manor materialising seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of rural Zambia. Built in the 1920s, the decaying grand mansion built on a stately lawn is full of old family heirlooms, photographs and stories. There are guided tours of the estate (or there's a self-guided option with booklet), which include a wildlife drive to spot the property's 24 mammal species including puku, kudu, zebra and wildebeest.
This park is divided into two sections: the Victoria Falls area and the wildlife sector. The latter is only 3km southwest of Livingstone, and most famous for its population of white rhino, which you can track on foot. For their protection, the rhino are accompanied by anti-poaching rangers round-the-clock. You can only see them as part of a pre-booked tour (US$80 per person, inclusive of park fees and hotel transfer), booked through Livingstone Rhino Walks or Savannah Southern Safaris.