A microlight rider glides over Victoria Falls in Zambia // © 2013 The Royal Livingstone
Canoeing with crocodiles. Walking in the company of buffalo and baboons. And drifting off to sleep in remote bush camps, while listening to grunting hippos and roaring lions. We discovered the “real” Africa we were seeking — in Zambia.
Off the radar for most tourists, Zambia offers some of the continent’s most authentic and wild safaris. Guests will probably sleep in a tent (albeit a luxurious one) without air conditioning. But the wildlife parks teem with animals, and your up-close-and-personal viewing will rival what’s shown on National Geographic television shows. Zambia also boasts majestic Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall and a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border.
Visits often combine safaris at two main Zambia parks — South Luangwa National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park — with a stay in the tourist town of Livingstone to explore the falls.
Hailed as one of Africa’s finest game parks, South Luangwa National Park is home to high concentrations of giraffes, zebras, lions, elephants, leopards, wildebeest, buffalo, hyenas, wild dogs and more than 400 species of birds. The 3,500-square-mile unfenced park is also known for its “walking safaris,” pioneered by Norman Carr in the 1960s. Unlike safaris in other African countries, where visitors view wild animals on game drives, guests will mainly explore the bush on foot (with an armed scout) in South Luangwa. The excursion adds a raw edge to the experience. Without the protection of a converted Land Cruiser, we were more alert and more aware of our surroundings, and the animals react in a more natural way than when habituated to seeing game-viewing vehicles. Norman Carr Safaris is still a respected operator in the park — it opened its new deluxe Chinzombo Camp in June.
Over in Lower Zambezi National Park, the Zambezi River takes center stage with canoeing, catch-and-release fishing and wildlife viewing by small boat along with night drives and bush walks. The landscape is lusher than South Luangwa, and elephants and hippos are the main draw.
Like South Luangwa, the park is quite undeveloped, with only six camps inside. The camps are small and intimate — Old Mondoro has just four permanent tents. We didn’t even have to venture out to see wildlife, as the animals came to us. We watched elephants munch on winterthorn trees right outside our outdoor shower.
Victoria Falls is ideal for resting up post-safari. The Kololo tribe living in the area in the 1800s described the mile-wide Falls as “The Smoke That Thunders,” and huge clouds of spray can be seen from miles away. Walk along the edge of the gorge and across narrow, 300-foot-high Knife Edge Bridge to be rewarded with eye-popping views of the waterfall. Hotels such as The Royal Livingstone, set on the banks of the Zambezi, offer serene stays.
The area also has a reputation as an adventure-tourism hot spot. Walk with unleashed lions, fly in a microlight, ride elephants or go whitewater rafting, jet-boating or bungee jumping — it’s all available.
There are no direct flights from the U.S., but clients can fly non-stop to Johannesburg from New York, then connect to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, or Livingstone on a direct 2-hour flight, on South African Airways. Delta Air Lines also flies non-stop from Atlanta to Johannesburg.
From Lusaka and Livingstone, Proflight flies to airstrips in South Luangwe and Lower Zambezi national parks.
Where to Stay
For next-day safari connections from Lusaka, Chaminuka Luxury Lodge is only 30 minutes from the airport.
Norman Carr Safaris runs six safari camps in South Luangwa National Park.
Chiawa and Old Mondoro are top-ranked camps in Lower Zambezi National Park.
The five-star Royal Livingstone is a 10-minute walk from Victoria Falls.