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Widely regarded as one of Africa’s most beautiful, friendly, unspoilt and diverse countries, Zambia offers plenty of attractions that showcase its eclectic culture and history. Biodiverse national parks, massive lakes, rich rivers and fascinating towns are just some of the delights a visit to the southern African nation is certain to provide. As with most other travelers, the spectacular Mosi-Oa-Tunya or “Victoria Falls” was the highlight of my Zambian trip.
Holiday Destinations in Zambia – The Parks
The national parks and reserves of Zambia take up about 30% of the country’s territory, with a number ranking among the world’s finest game parks. Intrepid explorers, animal and bird lovers are guaranteed a great time viewing the biodiversity found in Zambia’s national parks.
South Luangwa National Park
Few places in Zambia offer birdwatchers the excitement and diversity of the South Luangwa National Park. Over four hundred avian species call this vast reserve home. At the end of the dry season, birders can easily spot great white egrets wading through muddy waters, along with pelicans and red-faced yellow-billed storks. By November, migrant bird species from Northern Europe flock the South Luangwa National Park to enjoy the warmth of Zambia’s rainy season. This is an ideal time to view the hundreds of carmine bee-eaters that gather along the riverbanks.
Lower Zambezi National Park
Although the Lower Zambezi National Park lacks in diversity and abundance of wildlife species, it makes up for this with its offering of untouched wilderness and the chance to experience the African bush at its finest. Most of the Park’s animals gather along its lower valley, with lions and leopards dotting the landscape. The most impressive sight, however, is that of the elephant herds, some numbering close to a hundred, which congregate along the river’s edge. Visitors to the Lower Zambezi National Park can paddle the Chongwe River in a canoe or go on a game drive through the valley floor.
Kafue National Park
Kafue National Park is Zambia’s largest national park and the second largest of its kind in Africa. Although its sheer size is impressive, it’s the species diversity found here that attracts wildlife tourists in droves. Enjoy views of the Big Five within the plains of the massive reserve, along with the yellow-backed duiker, sitatunga and lechwe grazing inside the swamplands close by. Afternoon evening cruises and evening game drives offer rare opportunities for spotting the elusive leopard descending from the treetops. If you’re lucky, you will also see a pack of wild dogs.
Liuwa Plains National Park
Also known as Barotseland, Zambia’s Western Province is home to the Liuwa Plains National Park, the site of the second largest wildebeest migration in the world. Every November, at the end of the dry season, tourists flock this remote national park to witness the massive herds turning south while headed to Namibia.
A detour from Liuwa Plains will take you to Mongu, the capital of Barotseland, which is famous for its unique and expert basketry and carpet weaving. Tour the town’s craft markets where the unique wares are crafted and sold and sample some of Zambia’s best mangoes and freshest tiger fish. Souvenir hunters looking for copper handicrafts may have to visit the Lusaka markets for more variety.
And do inquire at the markets for a good place to sample Mopani worms, a local delicacy. It took me a very long time to get the first worm into my mouth, as I just stared at the plate of tiny black heads on grey grubby bodies set before me. But when I finally did get the nerve, I found that the worms didn’t taste bad at all.
Then visit the Nayuma Museum, a showcase of the handiwork and traditions of the Lozi people. Plan your visit to Mongu around June when the floodplain is fresh with new grass and offers scenic views of the Zambian countryside.
If visiting Barotseland in April, don’t miss out on the Kuomboka, a traditional ceremony held annually by the Lozi people to commemorate the end of the rainy season. Zambia’s most famous traditional ceremony and a great showcase of Zambian culture, the event is a spectacle involving a large wooden canoe, massive war drums, and about 100 paddlers in headdresses made from lion’s mane and skirts made from animal skin.
Kasanka National Park
Every October, the world’s largest migration of giant fruit bats takes place at the Kasanka National Park. Visitors can expect to go batty with the excitement of witnessing 8 million bats swarming harmlessly above in a beautifully orchestrated dance.
A diversity of fresh water fish, crocodiles and hippos call Lake Kariba – the world’s largest artificial lake, home. Large numbers of tiger fish attract various unique birds, which in turn attract birdwatchers. Visitors can enjoy a spectacular sunset from the lake’s edge while marveling at the sheer size of the Kariba Dam wall. Take a walk across the bridge straddling the lake on one side and a massive gorge on the other, while offering a breathtaking contrast in nature.
If traveling overland to Zambia from Tanzania or vice versa, consider taking the TAZARA train. TAZARA is the Tanzania and Zambia Railway Authority, whose locomotive trains link Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. The biggest draw to catching the TAZARA is the scenery you get to enjoy on your 2-day train journey.
Built to travel off the beaten path, the TAZARA bypasses an outside world of unspoilt natural beauty, while journeying past lush, hilly landscapes. Before arriving at its final destination, the train will have taken you over bridges, through tunnels and around mountains as it winds over the yellow terrain of the dry African savannah. During the passage through Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, be sure to look out your window at giraffes loping toward acacia trees, warthogs racing beside the train and wildebeests camouflaged in their surroundings.
Commonly known as “Victoria Falls,” Mosi-Oa-Tunya is the world’s largest waterfall. But long before English explorer David Livingstone saw her and named her Victoria, the Falls were known to the Lozi people of southern Zambia as Mosi-Oa-Tunya or “the smoke that thunders”- a rather befitting name for the breathtaking curtain of falling water.
Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park
Situated along the Upper Zambezi River, the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park houses half the waterfall along with protected lands rich in biodiversity. The Park has a host of paths winding through towering forests which I enjoyed strolling along; although the highlight was crossing the Knife’s Edge Bridge where we enjoyed spectacular views of the falls. Thereafter we made the steep descent into the Boiling Pot where we stayed awhile watching the majestic falls crash into the mighty Zambezi River.
Situated at the top of Mosi-Oa-Tunya is Devil’s Pool, which offers adventure seekers the chance to swim to the edge of the falls. Thrills are guaranteed as the only thing keeping you away from the 100 meter drop into thundering waters are submerged, slippery rocks! If you aren’t afraid of toppling over, you will be rewarded with truly spectacular views from the falls’ edge.
The best time to view the magnificent falls is between March and May when they are at their fullest. Although the Falls are the biggest draw to the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, wildlife lovers can also go on a game drive here and spot zebras, antelope, giraffes, warthogs, rare rhinos and many bird species. The Park is also an important corridor for elephants which are commonly sighted crossing the Zambezi.
Visitors to the Park can also indulge in the beauty of the Zambezi, one of the most scenic and powerful of Africa’s rivers, by floating along on a sunset river cruise. This mighty river also offers adventure seekers some of the most exhilarating kayaking, river-boating and white-water rafting on earth.
My final contact with Mosi-Oa-Tunya was while crossing the Victoria Falls Bridge situated in No Man’s Land between the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe. After a worthwhile trip across Zambia, I was now filled with anxiety at the thought of going to Zimbabwe during its time of political turmoil. But there was no turning back. I looked back one last time with envy at the adrenaline junkies on the Victoria Falls Bridge preparing to embark on the most beautiful bungee jump in Africa, and then bid Zambia goodbye.
Various tour companies offer packages for vacation/safari to Zambia, and can take you on an African adventure, showing you all the wildlife Zambia has to offer, as well as the majestic Mosi-Oa-Tunya. Below are some of the tour operators recommended by the Zambia Tourism Board:
- All Seasons Travel & Tours – asttzambia.com
- Euma Tours – eumatourszambia.com
- Juls Africa – julstravelzambia.com