What is your number one Zambian destination? Every visitor has a favourite. Some return time and again to the big-hitters such as Luangwa, Kafue or Lower Zambezi. Others seek out more off-the-beaten-track destinations. Not that Zambia really has a beaten track. That’s the beauty of the country: something new to discover in every corner.
1. Kafue National Park Zambia’s largest park has recently begun to regain its reputation of 50 years ago, when it was the jewel in the country’s safari crown. Scale and variety are Kafue’s watchwords, with landscapes ranging from the wetlands of Busanga Plains in the north to the miombo woodland of the central districts and savannah of Nanzhila Plains to the South. Game is not always as approachable as in South Luangwa, but all the key players are here, including huge buffalo herds and numerous lion prides, plus local specials such as cheetah and sable. Meanwhile the great Kafue River offers some fabulous exploration by boat.
2. Liuwa Plain With annual visitors coming only by the handful, this vast expanse of seasonally flooded grassland is one of Africa’s most remote and least known safari destinations. Those who make the trek, however, will find a unique and genuine wilderness, carpeted in flowers, alive with birds and home to the continent’s second largest wildebeest migration.
3. Victoria Falls/Livingstone This spectacular southwestern corner of Zambia has something for everybody. The 1.7km-wide cascade of Victoria Falls has been voted one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Upstream, nature lovers can enjoy hidden islands and abundant wildlife on the languid Zambezi; downstream, the turbulent gorges offer bungee jumping and whitewater rafting for thrill-seekers. Livingstone, synonymous with the great explorer, is steeped in both colonial history and local culture. With any number of places to stay, the visitor will find the complete African experience.
4. Lake Kariba This huge inland sea is Zambia’s biggest body of water and one of the world’s largest manmade lakes. Created by the rising waters of the Zambezi after the river was dammed in the 1950s, its tranquil vistas are crowned by the silhouettes of drowned trees and echo to the grunt of hippos. Today visitors can relax at lakeside resorts, fish for fighting tiger fish or cruise the wild shores in a houseboat in search of elephant and other game.
5. Lower Zambezi National Park Few corners of Africa can beat the Lower Zambezi for sheer scenic splendour. Just across the water from Zimbabwe’s famous Mana Pools, this beautiful national park is laid out among the statuesque winterthorns between the rugged escarpment and the mighty Zambezi river. Canoe past great pods of hippos, track lions through the riverbank thickets, or simply relax in one of several gorgeous lodges, enjoying a sundowner, as the elephants rumble past to quench their thirst.
6. Northern waterfalls route The Victoria Falls are not Zambia’s only spectacular cascade. A number of impressive waterfalls tumble over the gorges and escarpments of northern Zambia, from Lumangwe Falls, said to be home to a great snake spirit, to Kalambo Falls, which tumbles 221m towards the shores of Lake Tanganyika and is the second highest in Africa. With dozens of waterfalls to enjoy, plus a rich culture and wild landscapes, this little-known region offers true adventures to the enterprising traveller.
7. Kasanka / Bangweulu Lake Bangweulu is far from Zambia’s main safari hubs but the surrounding wetlands are home to some true gems, with herds of black lechwe grazing to the watery horizon and rare shoebills lurking deep in the swamps. Kasanka National Park, a little to the south, hosts Africa’s largest mammal gathering – a six-million strong roost of straw-coloured fruit bats – and is a top spot for the semi-aquatic sitatunga. This is not a mainstream safari, perhaps, but a real treat for serious wildlife aficionados.
8. North Luangwa / Luambe National Parks There is more to the Luangwa Valley than just ‘South Park’. North Luangwa National Park offers perhaps Zambia’s most untamed big-game experience, where visitors can track lions on foot and follow great buffalo herds far from any road. Game is skittish here, a legacy of past poaching, but the sense of wilderness is that much greater and the reintroduction of black rhinos adds a unique attraction. Luambe, between North and South parks, offers a delightful stretch of the Luangwa that you will share only with the hippos.
9. South Luangwa National Park Crescent ox-bows heaving with hippos; carmine bee-eaters erupting from their sandbank in a blur of rose-pink wings; the alarm whistle of puku as a leopard pads through the moonlit ebony grove: the sights and sounds of South Luangwa are among Africa’s most evocative. From swanky riverside lodge to rustic bush camp, Zambia’s best-known park offers visitors a safari experience that competes with any on the continent. Don’t miss the night drives or walking safaris.
10. Mutinondo Wilderness West of the Luangwa Valley, over the Muchinga Escarpment, lies a very different landscape, where great ‘whalebacks’ of granite loom out of the dense miombo woodland, and giant mushrooms grow beside tumbling streams. Mutinondo Wilderness offers an alluring back-to-nature retreat, where visitors can hike a network of trails and discover there is more to Zambia’s fauna and flora than just big game safaris.
First published in Travel Africa Zambia Special, 2012