One of Africa’s best kept secrets, Zambia offers superlative game viewing by 4X4, boat and canoe, and is home to the best guided walking safaris on the continent.
Vast areas of unspoiled and virtually undiscovered protected wilderness areas make Zambia an undisputed favourite among dedicated safari enthusiasts. Taking its name from the mighty Zambezi River, which flows along its southern border, Zambia has set aside a large percentage of its land as wildlife reserves. This well-watered region of Africa has large tracts of open woodland and flood plains rich in wildlife.
Within Zambia’s borders are several national parks each with its own character and particular blend of predominant animals and birds. South Luangwa and Kafue National Parks are ideal wilderness areas for traditional walking safaris, mobile tented camps, remote bush camps, night drives to view the fascinating nocturnal species, excellent opportunities for game fishing, and water borne activities.
Small, well run lodges and camps offer friendly, personal service in pristine wilderness areas known both for their concentration and diversity of game and birdlife.
The warmth and welcome of the Zambian people is legendary. The safari-goer is guaranteed to encounter a variety of animals and few Homo sapiens. A safari in Zambia epitomizes the ultimate wilderness experience, in the tradition of Stanley and Livingstone.
History & Economy
The discovery of 2-million year old stone tools suggests that Zambia has long been inhabited by humans but its indigenous Khoisan hunter-gatherers were displaced by waves of migrating African farmers and herders in the 12th century. Arab and Portuguese traders on the hunt for gold, ivory and slaves followed but it was the 19th century explorers, most notably David Livingstone, who put Zambia on the map with the discoveries of Victoria Falls and huge copper deposits. Colonised and ruled as Northern Rhodesia by the British, independence arrived in 1964.
With copper comprising 80% of its exports, the significance of Zambia’s copper mining industry cannot be overstated. It is however agriculture that occupies some 80% of the workforce, most of whom are engaged in subsistence farming though corn, sugar cane, peanuts, tobacco and cotton are important cash crops. Initiatives to diversify Zambia’s economy include nickel, tin and uranium mining as well as tourism and hydro power projects.
People & Culture
A country comprising some 70 ethnic groups and as many languages, Zambia is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most highly urbanized countries: almost half of its 13.5 million inhabitants live in Lusaka and Copper Belt towns leaving much of the country sparsely populated. It’s a deeply religious country – close to 90% of Zambians are Christians – but one that mixes traditional beliefs with formal worship.
Used in commerce and in schools, English is Zambia’s official language but Nyanja and Bemba are the most commonly spoken African languages – travellers who make the effort to say a few words in a local language are always appreciated by the locals! A country noted for its pottery, carving, weaving and music, Zambia has a long tradition of festivals and ceremonies; the Lozi tribe’s ‘Kuomboka’, when their king is transported on a river barge, is one of the most spectacular.
Landscape & Wildlife
Slightly larger than Texas, most of Zambia lies on an elevated plateau that gives way to mountains in the country’s north-east. Covered in large part by vast open woodlands and punctuated by river valleys, Zambia is in effect a huge drainage basin, supplying water for both the Zambezi and Congo Rivers. Unique ‘dambos’, flat-bottomed drainage valleys on the plateau, support a wealth of plant life while Zambia’s extensive wetlands and floodplains are home to huge numbers of large mammals and birds.
Little wonder then that Zambia is home to some of Africa’s best game viewing: the crossover of Southern and Central African species and the fact that Zambian parks tend to have a water element to them greatly increases the country’s biodiversity. The extraordinary South Luangwa National Park is the flagship reserve and home to huge numbers of classic African animals and predators, as is the Big 5 destination of the Lower Zambezi National Park.
Zambian wildlife highlights include bird watching in Victoria Falls ‘Mosi OaTunya’ National Park; guided walking safaris and night drives in South Luangwa; canoe and boat safaris in the Lower Zambezi; and predators and birding in wild Kafue National Park.
You’ll experience some of Southern Africa’s wildest and most remote destinations but you’ll be far from roughing it: a Zambia safari combines excellent big game viewing with luxurious lodges and some of the best guides in Africa. And although the raw beauty of Zambia’s vast reserves has long made them a favourite for safari connoisseurs, they don’t attract the crowds that cluster around sightings in the better-known parks in Africa – in fact the only bustle you’re likely to find is at the country’s most popular attraction: the spectacular Victoria Falls.
Picking a park to visit is not always easy as each offers a unique safari experience: go on guided walking safaris through the South Luangwa, famous for its rich diversity of wildlife; skirt crocodiles and yawning hippos as you paddle along the river on a canoe safari in the beautiful Lower Zambezi; or enjoy game drives and horseback safaris in untamed Kafue National Park – its wide open floodplains are home to large herds of antelope and there are plenty of predators on the prowl. We’d highly recommend combining 2 or 3 different destinations for a complete Zambia safari experience.
As for Zambia’s accommodation, we’ve carefully selected camps and lodges that are small, unique and take great pride in the high levels of guiding offered. Honeymooners can stay in luxurious tented suites opening onto a private deck while families can opt for a safari villa with a personal chef and guide. We’d also highly recommend a couple of nights in one of the remote bush camps in the South Luangwa – they’re rustic but have just the right level of luxury and are as off the beaten track as you can possibly hope to get.
And while Zambia’s reserves are truly remote, the country’s capital Lusaka is thankfully well connected. Round off your safari in Zambia with a beach holiday on the lakeshore in neighbouring Malawi or opt for a gorilla trek in Uganda or more big game viewing in Kenya or Tanzania. Simply chat to someone who’s been there – our Africa Safari Experts can offer first-hand advice and rock-solid recommendations, and will help you put together the perfect Zambia safari.
Our top places to visit in Zambia:
- Victoria Falls – natural wonder & adventure activities
- South Luangwa National Park – big game & walking safaris
- Kafue National Park – wild & remote, plenty of predators
- Lower Zambezi – paddle along the river on a canoe safari
Zambia has some of Africa’s wildest and most beautiful national parks: the game-packed South Luangwa, the peaceful Lower Zambezi with its riverside lodges, and the vast floodplains of Kafue. And then there’s Victoria Falls, a wide curtain of thundering water and where to go in Zambia for all manner of adventure activities – little wonder it’s known as the adrenalin capital of Africa and one of the continent’s top places of interest.
Victoria Falls: natural wonder & adventure activities
Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of the Zambezi River in full flood thundering over Victoria Falls: the scale, sound and drenching spray are impossible to capture on camera and it really needs to be experienced firsthand. But if that fails to get your pulse racing, there’s a long list of adventure and wildlife activities ranging from white-water rafting and bungee jumping to helicopter flips and walking with lions; if you’d prefer to slow things down, a leisurely sunset river cruise or elephant-back safari are highly recommended.
Kafue: wild & remote, plenty of predators
Wild and unspoiled Kafue National Park is bigger than the Kruger Park yet receives a fraction of its visitors so chances are you won’t see any other vehicles on your game drives, not even at a big cat sighting! This isn’t the place to come with a checklist but there is plenty of wildlife – large herds of red lechwe and puku provide prey for the many predators of Kafue, especially lion – and it’s where to go in Zambia to see cheetah. Our favourite lodges are all on the Busanga Plains – wide open floodplains known for the best game viewing in the park.
South Luangwa: big game & walking safaris
For fantastic big game viewing in Zambia our top choice is the South Luangwa National Park. Few parks in Africa can match the phenomenal density of game that gathers at this park’s lakes and rivers: massive herds of elephant, hippo and buffalo, well-fed prides of lion, graceful giraffe and ever-watchful Nile crocodiles are among the crowd-pleasers. Go on day and night drives (a great opportunity to see leopard), or set out by foot on a walking safari.
The South Luangwa is famous for its guided walking safaris that can be anything from a gentle morning stroll from your luxurious lodge to several days in a remote bush camp. Few experiences in Africa can beat walking through an untamed wilderness led by expert, armed guides who are passionate about the bush and take great pride in sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with you.
North Luangwa: walking safaris, untouched wilderness
Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park will appeal to safari-goers who want to experience Africa at its absolute wildest: there are no permanent lodges, only few roads and just a trickle of visitors. Although you’re unlikely to see as much wildlife here as in neighbouring South Luangwa, the game viewing is still great; highlights include impressive herds of buffalo and elephant, a large number of lion prides, frequent leopard and hyena sightings, and endemic species such as Cookson’s wildebeest.
Activities in North Luangwa focus firmly on walking safaris and the only accommodation is at one of a handful of seasonal bush camps that operate during the dry season months of June to October. We recommend Mwaleshi Bush Camp which has just four reed-and-thatch chalets in a beautiful riverside setting – it’s comfortable, well known for its knowledgeable guides and is just about as remote as you can possibly get.
Lower Zambezi: peaceful atmosphere & river activities
The Lower Zambezi National Park is a peaceful reserve with wide floodplains and a wild mountain backdrop; it’s also home to some serious game viewing. A handful of Zambia’s best lodges and camps sit on the riverbank with the day’s safari activities arranged to suit your mood: wake up early for a dawn game drive or sleep late and go fishing – it’s up to you! And be sure to go on a canoe safari, it’s a fantastic way to get close to animals – and it’s from the vantage point of a canoe that you truly understand the meaning of big game.
Lusaka is a fast growing city in Africa. Its pleasant climate and central location make it an excellent stepping stone for discovering the whole of Zambia. The tourist passing through the capital may not see any reason to stay, but Lusaka is the product of a country battling to find its way in a new world, caught between colonial beginnings, years of socialist independence and new democracy. It typifies the problems many African countries face as they find their “independent” footing in a world that’s surging ahead. So it is worth spending some time exploring this lively city. A tour of Lusaka usually includes the bustling Luburma Market, the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the Freedom Statue, the MundaWanga botanical gardens and the adjoining zoo.
Zambia has a sub-tropical climate and its weather is defined by a marked wet and dry season rather than summer and winter. The dry season runs from May to October and is when to go to Zambia for the best game viewing along with pleasantly mild daytime temperatures (although September and October get extremely hot).
The rainy season (December to April) is commonly called the “Green Season” as the bush is beautifully thick and green. This however makes game viewing less easy as the vegetation is so dense plus many animals move away from dry season water sources – note also when planning your Zambia safari that some lodges close during the rainy season due to flooding.
The best time to visit Victoria Falls on the Zambia side is at the end of the rainy season (March – May)when the Zambezi River is in full flood and the falls are at their most spectacular. Be prepared to get drenched by the spray!
If you travel during the dry season (especially in October and November) there may be no water coming over the Zambian side of the falls, in which case you’ll need to cross over to Zimbabwe to see the main falls. Certain activities such as white-water rafting are only on offer when water levels are low, and this is also the time to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool – a natural rock pool right on the edge of the falls.
Planning on combining a visit to Zambia with other Southern Africa safari destinations? Read our advice on the:
- Best time to visit Zimbabwe
- Best time to visit Botswana
- Best time to visit Malawi
- Best time to visit Uganda
There’s nothing like up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts – get Sun Africa Expedition’s essential Zambia travel advice before you go.
Money & Spending
Zambia’s unit of currency is the Zambian Kwacha although US Dollars are widely accepted at lodges and hotels throughout the country. If you plan on paying by credit card, be advised that high commissions are sometimes charged around Victoria Falls, and the more remote lodges may have difficulty in processing credit card payments – check with your Africa Safari Expert before you leave.
Generally speaking, safaris are fully inclusive which means that all of your game drives, guided walks, meals and drinks are included apart from premium brand alcohol and imported liquors.
Tipping in Zambia is entirely at your discretion but as a guideline we recommend US $10 per person per day for your ranger and tracker and US $25 to be divided amongst the rest of the lodge staff.
When it comes to restaurants, some establishments will add service charge for your bill; if not, 10% is standard.
For in-depth tipping guidelines, enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts – they’d be happy to share their knowledge with you.
Average summer temperatures: 17°C to 31°C
Average winter temperatures: 9°C to 23°C
Rainy season: November to April
Refer to “best time to visit Zambia” for advice on the best times for wildlife-viewing.
What to Pack
For your Zambia safari, pack lightweight, loose-fitting clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton or linen that will keep you cool, as well as a fleece or jacket for the evenings and early mornings. Zambia is known for its excellent walking safaris so be sure to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes, as well as a hat or cap to protect you from the sun. And if you are visiting during the rainy season, don’t forget to pack a rain coat – downpours in Zambia are generally short but very heavy.
On game drives, stick to light neutral clothing colours such as khaki, olive and brown but not white as it will quickly get dusty. Avoid black and dark blue as these colours attract tsetse flies.
When travelling in Zambia, bear in mind that the dress code is conservative so women should pack knee-length or longer skirts to wear in the towns.
Flights & Getting Around
Kenneth Kaunda International Airport: located 14km from Lusaka, Zambia’s major gateway is served by several direct flights but many travellers arrive via Johannesburg. Transfer to charter flights for South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Parks.
Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport (Livingstone): half an hour’s drive from the falls, visitors to the Zambian side of Victoria Falls arrive via Lusaka or Johannesburg.
The distances between Zambia’s parks are considerable and infrastructure is limited, especially in the rainy season, so the easiest way to get around the country is to fly. Transfers and game drives are conducted in open-sided 4X4s.
Note that if you’re taking internal flights there is often a luggage restriction of 12kg per person packed in soft bags. Zambia is stricter about this than most countries and even bags with only one hard side might not be allowed.
Visa & Passport Requirements
All visitors to Zambia need to be in possession of a passport valid for at least six months from their date of departure. Citizens of South Africa and Zimbabwe can obtain Zambian visas upon arrival for free; for all other nationalities, tourist visas are available at all major borders, airports and sea ports.
Generally, Zambia visas are priced in four different brackets, depending on the length of stay: 7-day transit visa; single-entry visa; double-entry visa or multiple-entry visa.