It’s one of the world’s greatest sights – but will only take a few days. Mike Unwin explains the best ways you can extend your stay to make the most out of Africa
Route: Around Victoria Falls, on both sides.
Time: 1–3 days
Why: Combine your stay at the Falls with seeking out the local wildlife.
The Victoria Falls area teems with wildlife, the best of which is seen in two small national parks upstream on either side of the border. These reserves are often bypassed for larger reserves further afield, but are close enough for rafting by morning and game-viewing by afternoon. On the Zimbabwe bank, the Zambezi NP has suffered some neglect, but a riverside drive should produce antelope, giraffe and elephant, the latter often crossing from bank to bank. Hippos and crocs are plentiful and large predators – notably wild dog – occasionally pass through. The smaller Mosi-oa-Tunya NP, on the Zambian bank, has the addition of white rhino in a fenced area. It also offers walking trails. Canoe safaris upriver pass the banks of both parks.
Getting started: You can explore both parks in your own vehicle, though some roads are suitable for 4WD only. Or book game drives, canoe safaris and other wildlife activities in town. Zambezi NP has self-catering chalets. Mosi-oa-Tunya has no accommodation within the game-viewing section but plenty close by.
Route: West from Victoria Falls to Chobe NP in northern Botswana.
Time: 1–4 days
Why: Chobe’s famous elephant herds are one of Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacles and an easy drive from Victoria Falls.
The northern, ‘Riverside’ section of Botswana’s premier national park – made famous by second-time honeymooners Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in 1975 – overlooks the Chobe River just west of its junction with the Zambezi. This section is known for the largest elephant herds in Africa, which take over the area during the dry season. Buffalo, giraffe and zebra are also common, and you have a good chance of lion, among other predators. Game-viewing is along loop roads near the waterfront or on one of the many cruise boats that ply the river. To get the most from the park, stay at least one night. The riverfront area gets busy in peak season.
Getting started: Enter Chobe via Kasane – 70km on tar, west of the Falls, crossing into Botswana at the Kazungulu Ferry. There are a few upmarket lodges and one campsite in the park but more options around Kasane. Travellers can use their own vehicle, with fees payable at the gate, but routes are limited without 4WD. Day trips can be booked in Livingstone.
Route: From Victoria Falls to Maun, via Chobe, Savuti, Moremi and the great salt pans, either by air or road.
Time: 10–14 days
Why? A longer trip into Botswana allows you to see more of Chobe, explore the world-famous Okavango Delta and, with time, visit the salt pans beyond.
Northern Botswana is pure big game country. Starting with the Chobe riverside section, a rough road south takes you via the park’s Savuti region, famous for its bull elephants, lions and hyenas. Continue southwest to Moremi Game Reserve, the heart of the Okavango Delta, to explore the islands and waterways by mokoro (dugout) or canoe as well as on game drives. From Maun, you can extend your trip east to the arid salt pans of the northern Kalahari: a vast expanse of blinding white plains. Devote time to Makgadikgadi or adjacent Nxai, seeking out Stone Age remains and tracking game with the San bushmen.
Getting started: A 4WD is essential for reaching Maun from Chobe riverside via Moremi. Public campsites are basic, though the more thrilling for it. You can drive to Maun from Livingstone on tar via Nata (316km south of Kasane). Maun is Botswana’s safari hub and a base for trips into all the parks. Maun/Livingstone is an established safari axis, with many packages available – either on a cheaper ‘participation’ overland tour or by air between key destinations. Upmarket lodges offer the experience in style.
Route: From Victoria Falls to Etosha and back, via the Caprivi Strip
Time: 2 weeks
Why: The Caprivi Strip provides a self-drive route into Namibia and the arid wilderness of Etosha and Damaraland.
Cross into Namibia via the well-watered Caprivi Strip and spend a few days enjoying boat cruises, fishing and game viewing in one of its parks – Mamili, Mudumu or Bwabwata. Continue west to the semi-arid expanse of Etosha, Namibia’s premier national park. Spend at least three nights here, staking out the spring-fed waterholes, which attract a pageant of game – notably lion. Continue southwest into Damaraland for towering rock formations, ancient rock art and desert elephants. Camping beneath the stars here is special.
Getting started: Namibia is one of Africa’s best self-drive safari destinations and, except for some excursions into the Caprivi Strip and Damaraland, the whole route is suitable for normal vehicles. There is plentiful accommodation, with a roof tent a popular option for self-drive. The Caprivi Strip has houseboats. If short of time, fly from Livingstone to Windhoek, hire a vehicle and drive north.
Route: South from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park, in western Zimbabwe, and continuing to Bulawayo and Matobo Hills.
Time: 5–10 days
Why: Hwange is Zimbabwe’s top reserve and ideal for independent travellers. It lies en route to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s historic second city, and the intriguing Matobo Hills nearby.
Despite recent neglect, Hwange still offers one of Africa’s top safari experiences. In the dry season, expect huge elephant and buffalo herds, plentiful predators and packed waterholes. Reasonable roads and cheap accommodation make this a budget self-drive option, while upmarket lodges offer a more exclusive experience. Allow at least three nights. A half day’s drive will then take you south to Bulawayo, with craft markets, museums and streets reputedly built wide enough to turn a span of oxen. From there, visit the Matobo Hills, where you’ll find rhinos, cave paintings, hiking trails and horseriding among a landscape of weird volcanic rock formations.
Getting started: Turn off to Hwange Main Camp (Park HQ) 180km south of VF, or head to Sinematella Camp via Hwange town, 100km south of VF, then continue through the park. Good roads allow self-drive in normal vehicles. Camps also have chalets and guided walks; or book a private lodge safari. Bulawayo is 440km from VF, with lots of accommodation. Matobo Hills is 1hr further south, on good roads, with chalets and self-guided trails.
Route: An easy straight-line flying north from Victoria Falls, to the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa National Parks
Time: 10–14 days
Why? Zambia is often the safari choice of aficionados, renowned as it is for its abundant opportunities to venture out into the wilderness on foot and its high density of big game.
Good internal flights link all the major parks to Victoria Falls, to provide a classic safari package.
The Falls offers the perfect end to a Zambia safari. Start with South Luangwa NP, in the east, home of the walking safari and world famous for its guiding. Numerous lodges offer game drives and guided walks that explore the Luangwa River and its floodplain. Game viewing is outstanding, with countless hippos, and big cats often seen on night drives.
A two-hour flight then takes you southwest to the scenic Lower Zambezi NP, where activities such as fishing and canoeing centre on the Zambezi, and game often wanders through camp. Allow at least three or four nights for both parks, then fly to Livingstone.
Getting started: Zambia’s rough roads are challenging for the independent traveller, so self-drive is only for the experienced. Regular flights link all key parks, and most operators offer Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa and Livingstone as a package. Options become more limited during the rainy season (Nov-April).
Route: Northwest from Livingstone, following the Zambezi upstream into Barotseland, then east into Kafue NP and complete the loop back south.
Time: 10–14 days
Why: Western Zambia has the country’s most remote wilderness, including Liuwa Plain NP and the vast Kafue NP. It offers genuine off-the-beaten-track adventure for the independent traveller.
First stop from Livingstone is Sioma Falls, with yet another impressive Zambezi waterfall. Continue north to the floodplains of Barotseland, also referred to simply as the Western Province. Here, visit the remote (and so fairly quiet) Liuwa Plain NP, home to Africa’s second largest wildebeest migration after Serengeti, and in March/April witness the Kuomboka ceremony, when ornamental boats ferry the Lozi king to higher ground in a symbolic seasonal migration. Leaving the Zambezi, head east on the Lusaka road to Kafue NP, one of the largest in the world and about the size of Israel. It arguably has the greatest variety of wildlife in the region, though big game can be more elusive than in some areas. Follow the Kafue River south, staying at lodges or camps along the river. Continue south out of the park, via Lake Itezhi-Tezhi and Nanzhila Plains, and return to Livingstone via Kalomo.
Getting started: This route is only for the experienced self-drive traveller in a well-equipped 4WD vehicle. Accommodation is in fishing camps along the upper Zambezi, at community campsites at Liuwa Plain, and at various private lodges in Kafue. Alternatively, there are fly-in options (via Ngoma) for southern Kafue – or visit Liuwa
Plain with Robin Pope Safaris, the only operator working there.
Lizzie Mathews takes an elephant-back safari in Zambia | Destinations... More