Zambia is sometimes considered Africa’s best-kept secret by safari aficionados. This large country (the size of France) has given nearly one third of its land to national parks and reserves – and yet it is barely on the radar of many travellers.
For lovers of wilderness, Zambia has it all: wetlands, rivers, rugged hills, large tracts of wildlife-rich bush and plenty of waterfalls, including the most iconic one of all, Victoria Falls. Here, thrillseekers can raft the Zambezi River, bungee jump off the bridge or swim in a natural rock pool right on the edge.
Wildlife lovers will be in paradise in Zambia. Leopards thrive, as do lions, elephants and other big game species including black rhinos, which were wiped out by poachers but have been reintroduced to little-visited North Luangwa National Park.
Zambia is also home of the walking safari, introduced in South Luangwa National Park by the legendary guide, Norman Carr. There is nothing to beat the experience of getting close to the wildlife on foot. And the country is renowned for the its award-winning safari guides.
Although tourism is on the increase in Zambia, you can still feel that you have discovered your own travel secret.
May to September is the dry season with pleasantly warm days and cool nights. This is a good time for walking safaris and for birdwatching. Things heat up in October-November, with it becoming increasingly hot, humid and dusty. If you can take the heat, though, it's a good time for safaris as wildlife clusters around the remaining watering holes and you may see congregations of hippos in the rivers.
December to April is the wet season. Temperatures cool down and, true to the name, there is a lot of rain — sometimes just an hour or two, sometimes for days on end. Unsealed roads become impassable, and many safari lodges close.
However, this has become known as the “emerald” or “green” season, and has its own beauty – and some very attractive lodge rates; some offer canoe safaris. It is also when Victoria Falls is at its most magnificent.
Lusaka (LUN) 26km from the city. Mfuwe and Livingstone take some international flights from neighbouring countries.
There is a good network of internal flights all over Zambia, which are not cheap but are useful for time-poor travellers. Proflight is the main carrier to Mfuwe (the Luangwa Valley) and Livingstone (for Victoria Falls and the Lower Zambezi National Park).
Zambia is a large country and roads are poor, so you’ll need time
and patience if going off the beaten track. It is possible to hire a car in the main centres. Intercity buses are fast, clean and good value.
Zambia also has three main internal train lines, from Livingstone to Lusaka, from Lusaka to the Copperbelt, and from Kapiri Mposhi to the northern border with Tanzania. The Zambezi Express leaves Livingstone on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, arriving in Lusaka the next morning.
There is a wide range of accommodation in all areas that attract tourists, including excellent budget accommodation in Livingstone and Lusaka.
There are privately-run campsites on the borders of the national parks, and nothing to stop you wild camping in many places. The safari lodges and camps are some of the best and most imaginative in Africa.
The most common dish is nshima (maize porridge) accompanied with a relish of meat, beans or vegetables. However, if staying in safari accommodation you are unlikely to come across local food.
Western dishes, including fast food, are easily found in larger towns and hotels. The safari lodges and camps serve international food to a very high standard. You may well put on weight, even if on a walking safari, as the lodges don’t miss any opportunity to feed you!
Zambian beers are good, with Mosi usually considered the best. Others include Castle, Rhino and Windhoek. The lodges usually carry a range of South African wines.
Ask your GP or a travel clinic about jabs and malaria prophylaxis.
Overall, Zambia is a safe country. Do take the usual commonsense precautions, especially in urban areas.
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