For many travellers, Zambia is known primarily for the grandeur of the Victoria Falls, yet a safari in Zambia is no mere add on. Threaded with permanent rivers that prove a magnet for animals, Zambia is home to an enticing network of national parks, often less visited than their counterparts in Botswana, Tanzania or Kenya, and some considerably wilder.
Zambia is commonly regarded as one of the most beautiful, friendly, diverse and unspoilt countries on the entire African continent. Aside from the majestic Victoria Falls, Zambia has more natural water resources than any other southern African country, including a myriad of other falls dotted across the country, not to mention the famous Zambezi River. The many National Parks offer great opportunities for observing Africa’s plains game and their attendant predators, whilst bustling urban areas offer a taste of eclectic Zambian culture.
Zambia is an excellent safari destination and most of the high profile animals are relatively easily seen. South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue are particularly good for leopard sightings, but wild dogs and cheetah are harder to see. Black rhino is only present in North Luangwa and white rhino only in Mosi-oa-Tunya. Zambia has many interesting, endemic sub-species including Thornicroft's giraffe, Cookson's wildebeest and Crawshay's zebra. The Kafue lechwe and the black lechwe are specials in specific swampy areas. The best game viewing time coincides with the Dry season (May to October) when water is scarce and animals congregate to waterholes and rivers. The bush is less lush at this time, and animals are easier to spot.
Zambia’s contemporary culture is a blend of values, norms, material and spiritual traditions of more than 70 ethnically diverse people. Most of the tribes of Zambia moved into the area in a series of migratory waves a few centuries ago. They grew in numbers and many travelled in search of establishing new kingdoms, farming land and pastures.
Before the colonial period, the region now known as Zambia was the home of a number of free states. Each having comprehensive economic links with each other and the outside world along trade routes to the east and west coast of Africa. The main export was copper, in exchange for textiles, jewellery, salt and hardware.
Zambia is one of the few African countries that can pretty much guarantee the full pantheon of Africa's wildlife without having to be inside a fenced area. All of Zambia's national parks and almost all of its accommodations are unfenced, and elephants, hippos, giraffes, buffaloes, hyenas and even lions are regular visitors to many towns, villages, lodges and camps even outside of national parks.
The fashionable Lake Kariba is the largest man-made body of water in Africa, a veritable inland ocean. Visitors could be forgiven for thinking they're in Mediterranean Europe at times here, but when the sun sets there's no doubt they're in Africa.
Among safari aficionados, Zambia is feted for its guided bush walks and walking safaris. Though these activities aren't unique to Zambia, the level of knowledge of the guides generally is. With the density of wildlife, dearth of fences and continued prevalence of traditional rural living, one of the arguments is that Zambia's guides grow up in closer proximity to the wonders of the African bush than most.
While we've aimed here to shine a spotlight on some of Zambia's lesser-known highlights, it's impossible to leave Victoria Falls off this list altogether. Over the years this incredible natural wonder has exhausted all the superlatives in the dictionary in attempts to describe it, but none manage to do it justice. Known to locals as "Mosi-oa-Tunya" ("The Smoke that Thunders"), spray from the falls can be seen rising high above the deep Batoka Gorge from literally kilometers away. Once jaws have returned to their usual positions and eyes have stopped popping out of heads, there are an unprecedented number of adrenaline activities on offer in and around the falls.
When to safari in Zambia
Most visitors to Zambia come between June and October, when the land is drying out after the rains and animals are seeking out water, but the ‘emerald’ season, during the rains, can be great for birders and photographers.
How to get around on a Zambia safari
The distances between Zambia's safari areas and national parks are huge and its roads are often poor, so on virtually all of our trips you will fly between the parks in light aircraft.
Currency in Zambia
Zambia's currency is the Zambian Kwacha (ZMW), and at time of writing (Dec 2016) $1 = ZMW9.7. Camps usually charge in UK£ or US$; credit cards are accepted by most, although many have a surcharge. Most visitors heading out on safari don't get any Kwacha in advance of their arrival in Zambia.
Food in Zambia
The standard of food at Zambian safari camps is very high; the majority serve delicious international fare.
The local Zambian cuisine is based on nshima – cooked porridge made from ground maize, served with tasty meat or dried fish. The local beers (Mosi and Castle) are good, as are imported South African beers and wines. Soft drinks are available everywhere, although choices are often limited.
Health in Zambia
Zambia is a tropical country and several vaccines are sensible (typhoid, polio, hepatitis, tetanus and possibly meningitis C). Malaria is common; you should take antimalarials. Always check the latest recommendations with your doctor or travel clinic.
HIV infection rates are high; AIDS is prevalent here. This isn't usually an issue for travellers, but they should be aware of the situation, and take the same sensible precautions to avoid infection which are wise in most countries.
Language in Zambia
Zambia's official language is English, which is spoken by most people. Beside this, there are more than 70 different dialects spoken in Zambia, with the most common being Bemba and Nyanja.
The rains in Zambia come mostly in December, January, February and March though the further North you are, the earlier the rains arrive and the later they leave. Eastern areas and higher areas generally receive more rain than Western and lowland areas. This is Zambia's 'Emerald Season' – when most camps close and many unsurfaced roads in Zambia become impassable.
By April and May most of the rain has faded away, leaving a landscape that's still green, but starting to dry out. Night time temperatures start to drop, especially in higher and more Southerly locations.
In June, July and August the nights have become much cooler, but the days are clear and warm. Make sure you bring warm clothes to wrap up if you're out at night, as some nights get very cold! Most of Zambia's small 'walking bushcamps' open at the start of June, when the roads have dried out sufficiently to allow access. This is the start of the 'peak season' for these camps – with often cloudless days and continually increasing game sightings.
Into September and October the temperatures climb: the lower-lying rift valleys – Lower Zambezi, Mana Pools and Luangwa Valley – can get very hot in October. However, you'll see some superb game as the animals concentrate around the limited water sources.
November is variable; it can be hot and dry like October, or it can see the season's first downpours. Often it's a very interesting month as you can see both patterns on successive days.
Visas for Zambia
At the time of writing (Dec 2016), most nationalities can buy a visa for Zambia on arrival, using UK pounds or US dollars cash. Ask us for guidance and check with your nearest Zambia Embassy or High Commission for the latest detail; If you're in the UK then contact the Zambia High Commission.
-Fast Facts courtesy expertafrica.com
KAZA Visa for Zambia and Zimbabwe
The KAZA Uni-Visa has been reinstated in both Zimbabwe and Zambia.
WHERE IT IS AVAILABLE?
Harry Mwaanga Airport (Livingstone)
Victoria Falls Land Border
Kazungula Land Border (border with Botswana)
Kenneth Kaunda Airport (Lusaka)
Victoria Falls Airport
Victoria Falls Land Border
Kazungula Land Border (border with Botswana)
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT?
Tourists save time and money because they only have to obtain one visa to visit both countries.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST
HOW LONG DOES IT LAST?
Up to 30 days as long as you remain within Zambia and Zimbabwe. It also covers those who visit Botswana for day trips for the Kazungula borders.