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Zambia Country Guide

The ins, outs and in-betweens of Zambia

Too far north to be southern Africa, too far west to be East Africa, and not quite central Africa either, Zambia is not only a geographical anomaly when it comes to safari countries, but also completely and utterly, wonderfully, charmingly different. The country may have popped on to your radar thanks to its excellent walking safaris but there’s so much more to be discovered too – wonders of the world, mammal migrations, exquisite bush camps and of course, the people (who have the biggest smiles in Africa, hands down). So, if you think you’d like to get to know the country a little better, have a read of our Zambia Country Guide and familiarise yourself with the hotspots, how to combine them and what to expect on safari.

Zambia Country Guide
Walking safaris in the South Luangwa

South Luangwa National Park

The first park in our Zambia Country Guide is, of course, the South Luangwa. A true hidden gem, its biggest claim to fame is as the home of the walking safari and boy are they fabulous. But it’s not just ground-pounding explorations on offer here. The park is one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries on the continent and has an outstanding population of leopard, good numbers of lion and other large mammals, and herds of springing antelope around every corner. Add to that the picturesque floodplains, the lovely Luangwa River, and the outstanding accommodation and you’ve got one of the finest and most authentic safari experiences you could wish for.

How do I do it?

The South Luangwa fits snugly into just about any Zambia itinerary. As the wildlife star of the show, there are plenty of flight connections to allow this and some people even drive in from Lusaka (if you’re coming by road, bring a sense of humour and a few spare hours too!). Once there, you could happily spend a week walking between bush camps along the river, perhaps with a night at a larger lodge at the beginning or end. These multi-day walking safaris are a South Luangwa speciality and by combining the camps and lodges of one company, you might even find yourself saving a few pennies too (our first Zambia country guide tip). Try Luwi, Nsolo and Kakuli bush camps and end with a night of luxury at Chinzombo, or head south to Chindeni and Chamilandu, followed by sister property Mfuwe Lodge.

Where do I start?

If this is all sounding rather lovely, there are plenty of itineraries to choose from when planning a South Luangwa safari. The Best of the South Luangwa trip is focused on rustic bush camps and exploring on foot – experiment with adding a night under the stars for maximum adventure – whilst Zambia’s classic safari destinations allows you to combine your walking with time at Victoria Falls and in the Lower Zambezi. If you fancy visiting in the emerald season and boating into the hidden corners of the park, have a look at the trip Zambia’s green season gems– and if you’re not sure when you’d like to visit, then have a look at our month-by-month guide to the weather instead.

South Luangwa
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Zambia Country Guide
Sundowners in the Lower Zambezi National Park

Lower Zambezi National Park

If the South Luangwa is the home of the walking safari, then the Lower Zambezi definitely takes the title for the most varied activities in Zambia. Located in the central-southern part of the country (sounds strange, but have a look at a map and you’ll see what we mean), the park is bordered by the mighty Zambezi River to the south and is a mix of beautiful leadwood and fig forests and rolling grass plains. This section of the river is broad and free flowing allowing for fabulous canoe safaris and boat safaris as well as the opportunity to fish for the fearsome Tiger fish alongside traditional game drives and walking safaris. Wildlife-wise, game often congregates on the banks (buffalo, lion, plains game) and swimming elephant are not unusual. The big cats are also well represented but there are no cheetah.

How do I do it?

The best way to reach the Lower Zambezi is to fly from Lusaka, Victoria Falls or Mfuwe (the South Luangwa airstrip). It’s a well-connected sort of place that’s easy to add in to most safari itineraries and the quirky selection of activities is a good distraction from norm. Most camps offer two activities a day (morning and evening) so a three-night stay would allow at least four opportunities to experience all that’s on offer, but you could squeeze it into two nights if the flight timings are in your favour. For something a little bit different, Tusk & Mane offer excellent mobile safaris – a relatively new concept for the Lower Zambezi.

Where do I start?

Our tried and tested Zambia itinerary is to sandwich your time in the Lower Zambezi with a couple of nights at Victoria Falls and then South Luangwa, as showcased here. If you fancied something a little extra, experiment with adding time in the North Luangwa at the end (this walking safari itinerary would be a good place to start), or hop over to Lake Malawi, Zambia’s answer to the ‘beach’, for sun, sea and plenty of R&R.

Lower Zambezi
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Zambia Country Guide
The watery wildlife of Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls (Livingstone)

It wouldn’t be a Zambia country guide without mention of the world-famous Victoria Falls. Every minute, 650 million litres of water plunge into the Batoka Gorge creating a spectacular waterfall that tops many a bucket list. Adrenalin seekers arrive in their droves to bungee, gorge swing, white-water raft and microlight above and below (and in!) the water, but those looking for a quieter pace of life aren’t forgotten, with tranquil boat cruises, island picnics and genteel Afternoon Teas to enjoy too.

How do I do it?

Livingstone is the name of the town on the Zambian side of the Falls (Victoria Falls is the town on the Zimbabwean side) and, as you may expect, it’s pretty easy to access from most other parts of the country. The lodges here are beautiful, making the Falls a good place to decompress after a long flight and ease into the safari way of life, or indeed, indulge in some R&R after all those early mornings. If you’d like to be in the heart of the action, have a look at Thorntree River Lodge or the Royal Livingstone Hotel– both are within minutes of the waterfall itself and offer super-quick and easy access. If, however, you’re using Vic Falls for a spot of relaxation before or after a safari, splash out with Royal Chundu (it’s a Relais & Chateuax – you won’t want for anything!) or Tongabezi for ultimate romance.

Where do I start?

Our favourite way to add Victoria Falls to a safari itinerary is to start or end here – and pretty much all of our Zambian itineraries reflect that. Vic Falls is also easy to add to a multi-country trip around southern Africa; either drive in from Botswana (spend a few days in Chobe and then head up) or take a direct flight from Johannesburg to Livingstone. Have a look at our trip All in One for a dreamy bush, beach and waterfall combination, or Classic Botswana for ideas on how to combine Zambia and Botswana in one trip.

Victoria Falls
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Zambia Country Guide
Flying high above Kafue National Park

Kafue National Park

Next up for our Zambia travel guide is the Kafue National Park. Covering an area the size of Wales, it’s a magical landscape but one that receives substantially less attention than both the Lower Zambezi and the South Luangwa. It’s probably fair to say that the wildlife viewing isn’t as action packed as its counterparts, but if you’ve got a little bit of patience (and appreciate the beauty of solitude), Kafue could be the place for you. The park does in fact has a larger variety of species than anywhere else in Zambia, including cheetah, sable antelope and the elusive roan, and it’s the only area where hot air ballooning is possible. We like the sound of that!

How do I do it?

The central section of the Kafue is easily accessible by road from Lusaka and you can either drive yourself, or choose a safari company that will arrange a driver for you. Flights are also available, but tend not to be as frequent as those to other areas of the country. Another point to note is that the central area of the park (lodges like Kaingu and Ila Safari Lodge) are accessible year-round, but the beautiful Busanga Plains (Busanga Plains Camp and Shumba) are only possible to visit from June to October.

Where do I start?

In order to make the most of Zambia and see all her different sides we recommend combining the Kafue with the popular South Luangwa. By doing so, you’ll enjoy the iconic walking safaris of the Luangwa alongside the unusual activities of the Kafue – boat safaris, night drives and canoe safaris to name a few. Victoria Falls is also easy to add in – have a look at this trip for the ultimate inspiration.

Kafue
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Zambia Country Guide
A landscape bursting with birdlife in Liuwa Plain

Liuwa Plain National Park

It might not be a regular feature on a Zambia travel guide, but we couldn’t resist adding in a little something about Liuwa Plain National Park. Located in the far west of Zambia, the vast open grasslands of the park are remote and impossibly handsome, and home to incredible numbers of animals (hyena, wild dog, buffalo) and birdlife (crowned cranes, secretary birds and hundreds and hundreds of water birds). The grand drawcard is, however, the migration of blue wildebeest, currently the second largest on the continent.

How do I do it?

We won’t lie to you and tell you how easy it is to safari here, but it’s certainly the most accessible it has ever been. In 2020, there are two flights a week from both Livingstone and Lusaka (you’ll have to overnight in both destinations, however, as the flight is early in the morning) and one permanent lodge in the park, the uber-sophisticated King Lewanika Lodge.

Where do I start?

Liuwa Plain slots nicely into a Zambia itinerary either at the beginning of a trip (you’re in Lusaka already) or after a jaunt to Victoria Falls. Have a peek at our Liuwa itinerary to get you started; either keep it the way it is, flip it on its head – or pop us an email and we’d be happy to help with the logistics!

Liuwa Plain
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Zambia Country Guide
Local wildlife in Luambe National Park

The North Luangwa and Luambe National Park

If you’re looking for absolute abandonment and that sense of exploring somewhere that not many others have, our advice would be to head north to Luambe National Park and the North Luangwa. Up here, roads are limited and the focus is on walking, soaking up the sounds of the bush and immersing yourself in the wilderness.

How do I do it?

In the North Luangwa, we love tiny Mwaleshi Camp. Combine a few days here with a stay at sister camps Tafika or Chikoko Tree Camp in the South Luangwa (you’ll fly between them on a private charter) and really get to grips with the Luangwa Valley. Alternatively, add some time in Luambe to your South Luangwa safari; the combination of Flatdogs Camp and Luambe Camp works well together, and the best news is that there’s often a special running when you combine the two.

Where do I start?

The Ultimate Zambia Walking Safari is the best option to get you started with the North Luangwa. You can either combine the suggested camps above, or choose any camps you like and simply fly from Mfuwe, the main airport that services the South Luangwa, up to the North. For Luambe, this trip is one of our favourites.

Luambe
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