Zambia is half as large as Botswana with nineteen national parks comprising thirty percent of the country, stunning scenery which includes five lakes, seventeen waterfalls and, of course, the fabulous Victoria Falls.
Despite this, and being a vast, largely unspoilt land, it is still relatively unknown as a safari destination.
As a result, Zambia’s safari parks are far less crowded than Africa’s more popular safari destinations, despite having game and experiences comparable to other well-known destinations.
Zambia is also the home of the walking safari. Imagine a three day walk through the bush seeing wildlife in its natural habitat without the noise and fumes of safari vehicles. Travel the land like our ancestors did, on foot, encountering abundant wildlife along the way.
What makes visiting Zambia a fantastic safari experience? These are just a few good reasons.
South Luangwa Walking safaris
Walking safaris can be simple morning or afternoon walks out and back to the same camp accompanied by an experienced ranger and guide. Enjoy informative rambles through the bush, seeing and learning about the wildlife along the way.
These walks can be as long or as short as you wish, depending on what you find along the way. Then relax at your camp or lodge and, with a well-deserved drink, watch an impressive African sunset and the myriad stars appearing slowly at first until the sky is awash with starlight.
A favourite three-day walking trail starts at Tafika Camp. Set out in the morning through unspoilt wilderness to the first camp, Crocodile Camp, which is only accessible on foot. After a day or so at Crocodile, spend a morning walking to Chikoko Bush Camp.
Spend one or two nights here then walk back to Tafika. These camps are what makes a walking safari, with simple reed and thatch chalets and hot bucket showers, dining under sausage trees, showering under the stars and sitting around the campfire talking about the day’s adventures.
What makes this trail popular is that it can be tailored to you. Whatever your interests, whether you prefer long or short walks, or a mixture of both, it is your safari. Once you’ve approached a hundred-strong herd of buffalo on foot, game viewing from a vehicle may never provide quite the same thrill.
South Luangwa National Park
South Luangwa has been named one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world. The Luangwa River, the lifeblood of this 9 050km² park, sustains a wide variety of wildlife, birds and vegetation.
Wildlife viewing in South Luangwa is fantastic. You can see plentiful buffalo in huge herds and elephant, although slightly smaller than their southern African savannah neighbours.
There are also significant populations of kudu, waterbuck, puku, impala, bushbuck, warthog and reedbuck. Endemic species include Thornicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s hartebeest.
Perhaps the river valley is best known for its noteworthy predator populations, in particular lion and leopard, which you have a very good chance of seeing. There is however no cheetah and very little chance of seeing rhino.
Birdlife is exceptional, with over half of Zambia’s species (around 700) being recorded here. Special sights during the dry season include the impressive flocks of crowned crane, and from August onwards, the carmine and white-fronted bee-eaters gather to nest in the riverbank.
During February and March, the so-called Emerald Season, Luangwa River spills over forming lagoons and river safaris and boat trips into the flooded ebony groves and flowing channels give a different view of the valley and its wildlife.
Lower Zambezi National Park
Lower Zambezi National Park is developing rapidly and gaining in popularity as the game bounces back, but its beauty still lies in its unchanged wilderness state. Wildlife diversity is not as good as other big parks, for example there are no giraffe as the hilly terrain doesn’t suit them, but the opportunities to get close to game wandering in and out of the Zambezi River channels are impressive.
As it is on the other side of the river from the famous Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, the whole area on both sides is a massive wildlife sanctuary.
The riverbanks are overhung with a thick riverine fringe, including ebony and fig trees, and further inland is a floodplain fringed with mopane forest interspersed with winterthorn trees and huge acacias. Rolling hills covered in broadleaf woodland form the backdrop to the park.
At 4 092km², it is a large park, but most of the game is concentrated along the valley floor. Enormous herds of elephant, some up to a hundred strong, are often seen at the river’s edge and ‘Island hopping’ buffalo and waterbuck are common. Good populations of lion and leopard are resident and listen for the cry of the fish eagle.
Despite the size of the Zambezi here, it is considered calm and predictable so seasonal fishing, boating and canoeing are popular, especially guided kayaking through the channels.
There is accommodation in the park to suit any budget from luxury lodges to basic under canvas tents, so the park is well worth visiting.
For the game fishing enthusiast, the Barotse Floodplain in Western Province offers unparalleled tiger and bream fishing, consistently producing record catches.
During the rainy season the floodplains flood, providing breeding grounds for prodigious volumes of baitfish which are gradually washed into the main channels attracting impressive volumes of large tiger fish and bream. The ideal time to visit the Barotse Floodplain for fishing is during the winter months, from May to August.
With the water comes life and the substantial populations and variety of water birds such as black heron, squacco heron, Madagascar pond heron, rufous-bellied heron, African skimmer and pied kingfisher. There is also a vast colony of African openbill storks, located near the confluence of the Luanginga and Zambezi Rivers.
Kasanka National Park
Kasanka is a conservation success story and was once in danger of becoming a defunct national park due to rampant poaching.
Situated on the southwestern edge of the Lake Bangweulu basin, it is one of Zambia’s smaller parks at only 450 km², but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in the scenery and superb birdlife with over 330 recorded bird species including such rarities as Pel’s fishing owl, the Pygmy goose, Ross’s loerie, the osprey and the wattled crane.
Despite being well endowed with rivers, lakes, wetlands, forests, lagoons, meadows and dambos (seasonal wetlands) that homes a uniquely wide range of animals and abundant birds and fish, you won’t see massive herds of wildlife.
Recovering from depletion are hippo, sable antelope and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. Puku, which were once reduced to a few hundred, today exceed 1 500 and there are good numbers of swamp-dwelling sitatunga, reedbuck, waterbuck, Sharpe’s grysbok and the rare blue monkey. Elephants also appear from time to time.
The highlight of Kasanka’s season is of course the bat migration when millions of fruit bats arrive during October. At around 10 million, it is considered the globe’s biggest mammal migration. Leaving their roosts at sunset to forage and returning just before sunrise provides an astounding sight!
Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park
Named for Mosi-Oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders or Victoria Falls, this is one of the smallest, if not the smallest national park only covering 66 km2 from the Songwe Gorge below the falls and a north-west arc along about 20 km of the Zambian riverbank.
This park is unique in that it’s the only wildlife area in Zambia with white rhinos. There are no predators and with man-made boundaries, this guarantees a stable population of wildlife throughout the year.
Apart from migratory elephants, white rhino, giraffe, buffalo, waterbuck, impala, wildebeest, zebra, bushbuck, warthog, monkeys, baboon, hippo and crocodiles are at home all year-round. The park is a mix of riverine forest and mopane woodland as well as grassland, which is also a habitat for numerous bird species.
The park incorporates the Eastern Cataract of the Victoria Falls with lush rainforest, watered by the waterfall’s spray. The forest is inhabited by smaller antelope and warthog.
A stay here offers the opportunity for two adrenaline inducing experiences. Take a walk across the heart-racing Knife-Edge Bridge during high-water season, a soaking walk about 100 metres above the gorge or, take a dip in Devil’s Pool.
This oddly calm natural pool sits right on the edge of the gorge separated from the raging torrent by a narrow rock ledge. The pool is almost midway across waterfall, close to Livingstone Island and is only accessible on guided boat tours which leave from the Zambian bank of the Zambezi upstream of the falls.
Wherever you go in Zambia you are almost guaranteed fantastic experiences. See termite hills the size of houses. Visit Lake Kariba. At 226km long and up to 45km wide, it is the largest man-made lake and reservoir in the world by volume and offers excellent fishing and boating and you’ll find Nile crocodiles and hippopotami living in the lake. Take a trip on Lake Tanganyika, the second largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world.
Meet friendly people speaking more than 72 languages, although English is the official language.
Eating is a major part of Zambian culture and no event is complete without a braai accompanied by traditional dishes such as nshima maize porridge and chikanda, a type of vegetarian meatloaf. Try vitumba, sweet fried dough balls or michopa, a roasted meat dish and drink a Mosi, the local lager.
Also don’t miss the seasonal local fruits such as masuku and masau. For the culinary adventurers, try ifinkubala fried caterpillars or inswa, fried ants.
Zambia has a lot to offer the traveller and whatever drives you to visit, you need some advice from an expert so you can make the most of your time in the country. Talk to John Pearse Safaris for expert advice and bespoke safaris to fit your interests and budget.