Zambia Safari – So Much More Than Victoria Falls
Zambia safaris take you closer than anywhere else in Africa. You can walk with four-legged giants, canoe the Zambezi, track leopards through the night, and celebrate the natural splendor of a land untamed. Make no doubt about it, Zambia is not for the feint of heart. This is the destination for those who seek a really wild African adventure, without giving up on creature comforts.
A Zambia Safari
Zambian is known for Victoria Falls, although we prefer to use its indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya. That means The Smoke That Thunders and is the best way to describe such a thunderous and impressive spectacle. The famous waterfall is easily added on to a safari in Botswana, Namibia or South Africa. It’s also the gateway destination for a country that revels in its role as Africa’s wild safari frontier.
This warm and friendly country is home to all the famous animals, from rampaging elephant herds to spotted cats hiding in the forest. It offers the complete suite of habitats and ecosystems, including a World Heritage wetland and grasslands that rival Tanzania’s Serengeti. There are beautiful lodges and camps, where you can be surrounded by the daily rhythm of African wildlife. Yet Zambia is not a classic safari. It is something wilder and more adventurous, a country where your arms are constantly covered in goosebumps.
Getting around Zambia can be a challenge. Overland travel is both time-consuming and tiresome, so we recommend making use of short safari flights. They are worth the money for the time you save, especially as you can connect Zambia’s very different ecosystems and experiences.
Zambia is unique for a variety of activities that will make up your daily safari program. In other countries, you go on game drives. In Zambia, you enjoy nighttime game drives in every destination. Zambian walking safaris are the best in Africa, especially the multi-day expeditions in North Luangwa during the dry season (June to November). You can canoe and cruise with hippos, walk with rhinos, and get closer to the wildlife.
Note that adventure doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on comfort. We know some excellent camps and lodges all across Zambia. Don’t expect swimming pools and utter luxury. Instead, the vibe here is rustic and comfortable, with all the amenities you need for a clean and safe that’s stay deep in the wild. For Victoria Falls we usually recommend staying inside Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, along the Zambezi River. Then you get the full waterfall experience as well as some surprisingly intimate wildlife encounters.
Zambia Safari Highlights
- Connect with your wild side on a multi-day walking safari in North Luangwa (June to November only).
- Stand before the smoke that thunders and experience the wonder of Victoria Falls.
- Cruise and canoe on the Zambezi River, watching hippos and elephants play around the banks.
- Discover one of Africa’s hottest new destinations with a safari in Liuwa Plains (June to November only).
- Experience the wildlife wonders of Kafue, one of Africa’s best but most underrated national parks.
- Explore the World Heritage wetlands of Lower Zambezi National Park, a sublime destination for close-up encounters with four-legged giants.
- Take your time and try all the safari activities in South Luangwa, Zambia’s flagship park.
- Zambia’s greatest highlight is the opportunity to experience wildlife through a mix of safari activities.
- Experience Africa’s ultimate nighttime game drives.
- The country’s name Zambia was taken from the name of the Zambezi River.
- Termite hills in Zambia can often become as big as a small house.
- Zambia boasts Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
- Until 1964, Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia.
- On 24 October 1964, Zambia became independent of the United Kingdom.
- Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is an UNESCO World Heritage site home to one half of the Mosi-oa-Tunya — ‘The Smoke Which Thunders’ — known worldwide as Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. The river forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the falls shared by the two countries.
RECOMMENDED DESTINATIONS ON A ZAMBIA SAFARI
Livingstone / Victoria Falls
The Smoke That Thunders is one of the world’s great natural wonders. The earth splits open and swallows the mighty Zambezi River, creating the world’s largest sheet of falling water. You can hear it rumble long before you see it (the thunder). It’s so powerful that much of the water soars back into the air as a spray (the smoke). This spray can soak you in seconds. Getting wet is an iconic Victoria Falls experience, an illustration of the raw power. A visit to the actual falls takes half a day, which can be extended by spending another half day on the Zimbabwean side of the falls.
Livingstone and the park surrounding the river are very relaxed places to be. Here you can rest at a lodge upon the river, cruise the Zambezi at sunset, and watch baboons and elephants continually pass by. Then there is an adventure, including superb white-water rafting, a famous bungee jump, a scenic flight, and a walking safari with rhinos. That is a lot to keep you busy so it will depend on how much time you have. Livingstone is also the gateway for a Zambia safari. From here you can take a scheduled safari flight to any of five safari destinations.
North Luangwa National Park
North Luangwa is very similar to South Luangwa in terms of animals and ecosystems. Yet in this northern park, there are no vehicle tracks. Walking safaris originated here and it remains the best place in Africa for a multi-day expedition. Yes, you will be walking in elephant country. Just remember, your guides have grown up with these animals. They know how to respond to animal behavior and keep you safe. These walks are often in unchartered territory and you will learn the basics of animal tracking and wilderness survival.
The park is only open to visitors during the dry season months, from June to November. It is simply not safe to go on walking safaris in the green season when the grass provides so many places for big cats to hide. We only recommend North Luangwa if you wish to spend two or more days walking in the bush. It is a wild and exhilarating experience, certainly not one for the faint of heart. For those who want adventure, there really is nothing else like it in Africa.
Lower Zambezi National Park
Gigantic elephants splash in the Zambezi River, with infants using their trunks as snorkels. Buffalo herds swim towards the lodge, after crossing from Zimbabwe. Waterbuck take a drink, upsetting pods of boisterous hippos. And so the rhythm of life continues in this World Heritage wetland. Everything in Lower Zambezi revolves around the river and you can often see thousands of animals in a single vista. We know a couple of standout camps on the riverbank, where it’s possible to experience all the animals without even leaving the verandah.
Hanging out at the camp is part of the experience here because there is real tranquility to the safari experience. Wildlife literally comes to you, which is ideal if you plan lazy afternoon drinking beers and cocktails in the wild. As with every Zambian safari park your program can be individualized after you arrive, including game drives, nighttime drives and game walk. Water-based safaris are the ultimate highlight though, especially a full day of canoeing down the Zambezi.
South Luangwa National Park
Zambia’s flagship is one of the very best safari destinations in Africa. Elephants march in large herds, crashing a path through a miombo woodland. Endemic species such as Cookson’s wildebeest and Crawshay’s zebra bring exclusivity to the game drives. Hippo and buffalo congregate around the Luangwa River while lions and leopards are relatively easy to find. Most of the game is concentrated around the Luangwa River. We know some excellent camps that are raised on stilts above the river, providing game viewing throughout day and night.
South Luangwa is a classic big-game safari destination. You need three days to make the most of its diverse habitats and wildlife. Game walks are a good complement to game drives, but the ultimate highlight will be daily nighttime drives. These are the best in Africa and are an excellent way to track predators in their natural habitat. Bouncing through the bush, following a leopard on the prowl, really is one of Africa’s wildest safari experiences.
Kafue National Park
We still cannot believe how few people visit Kafue. To call it an underrated gem is an understatement. This is one of Africa’s best safari destinations, yet it has somehow remained far off the beaten track. We really are not sure why. Kafue is roughly the same size as Belgium and more than 150 different mammal species live in the park, including plentiful elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, cheetah, zebra, and wildebeest. The birdlife is also superb, especially around swamps and rivers.
Such an animal population means Kafue could be an excellent first-time safari destination for visitors to Africa. The park’s real beauty lies in the details. Here you can create your own safari program, with a mix of drives and walks to take you deep into the wilderness. For a two-night stay, we’d recommend the south of the park, where there is more wildlife all year around. If you have more time then stay at two camps, one in the south then one on the Busanga Plains to the north. This will provide a rounded impression of a park that has so many secrets.
Liuwa Plains National Park
Liuwa Plains is only just opening up to tourism and it remains a little of an unknown. Currently there are only two flights a week landing in the park, and there is only one camp. Yet there is great potential here and the area has been protected by the Lozi people since the 19th century. Elephants and rhinos aren’t present, which is helpful as it has kept the park off the poachers’ radar. Liuwa is literally a plain, an epic grassland covered in red lechwe, blue wildebeest, roan antelope, tsessebe, buffalo, oribi, eland and others. Wild dogs and spotted hyena are the core predators, making for some dramatic encounters in a landscape where few foreigners have ever explored.
Key Zambia Safari Considerations
Useful Zambia Safari Information
GMT + 2 hours
Passports must be valid for 6 months. British and European Union passport holders can receive a visa upon arrival. It is USD 50 for a single entry and this can be paid using a debit card when arriving at one of the international airports.
Anyone planning to visit both Zimbabwe and Zambia should ask for a KAZA UniVisa on arrival. Again the cost of this is USD 50 but it provides entry into both countries, as well as a Botswana day trip.
Internal Flights and Transfers
For fly-in safaris flights are arranged by Proflight Zambia unless otherwise specified. Transfers between camps in the same park will be game drive transfers. Note that there is a strict 15 kg baggage limit for safari flights.
Best Time To Go On a Zambia Safari
We highly recommend the dry season for a Zambia safari. None of the parks ever become crowded in Zambia, so don’t worry about traveling during the peak season. In fact, parks like North Luangwa and parts of Kafue are only accessible during this season. June to August are the best months to visit, with excellent game viewing, off-road wildlife encounters, cooler temperatures, and Victoria Falls at its majestic best.
September to November is much hotter but the game viewing is superb if you are prepared to sweat a little. Do note that Victoria Falls slows down during these months and isn’t as spectacular as May and June.
We would avoid December to April. It is hot and wet, plus many of the best destinations are inaccessible. May is shoulder season and can be considered.
Planning A Zambia Safari
There is a lot to choose from in Zambia, with Victoria Falls plus five unique destinations dotted across the country. We can guide you through all the options and customize a route that suits your level of adventure. Plus, through our bulk buying power and local contacts, a Zambia safari is cheaper when you let experts like us put it together. We will guide you through what is possible and tailor a life-changing journey.
Zambia sits at the crossroads between East and Southern Africa – if you’re looking for that little bit extra, why not combine your Zambia holiday with a beach break in Zanzibar, a safari in Tanzania or a trip into the wilds of Botswana?