Surprisingly, Zambia is still one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Few dare to venture away from the well-trodden tourist route, but for those who love adventure travel and who seek excitement in unchartered terrain, Zambia is the ultimate authentic safari destination.
Zambia is large geographically, but not densely populated. The Zambian people are peace-loving and proud of their culture and natural heritage, making them excellent hosts and passionate local guides. The official language is English.
Zambia offers visitors breathtaking wildlife and scenery and is one of the best destinations for photographic and safari holidays. It is blessed with vast tracts of untouched wilderness, much of which is preserved in National Parks, thanks to decades of conservation efforts, community partnerships and an emphasis on conservation-centred tourism.
Like any safari destination, the main attraction is the opportunity to come into close contact with some of Africa’s greatest wildlife and especially the predators. In Zambia, this can be done on foot! The country has carved a niche for itself as the place to go for walking safaris as well as a wide range of river adventure activities. Pioneered by Norman Carr in the 1950s and taken further by Robin Pope, the walking safari changed the approach to modern-day safaris. Carr believed that traditional safaris – in a vehicle from afar – force you to become a spectator in the bush. Walking, on the other hand, allows you to become part of the bush and offers the opportunity to see safari animals, insects and trees etc up-close creating a far more intense and educational experience.
Let it be known that Zambian guides are also some of the best trained and professional anywhere in the world. Those in the Luangwa region in particular are constantly winning international awards and praise for their guiding. A good guide, who can make the seemingly dull bush come alive is vital on safari as among other things, he shows you how to analyse tracks and inspect dung.
Which Areas To Visit?
The Lower Zambezi and the South Luangwa River valleys are the best for safari and outdoor adventures. Here life revolves around the river. The river is a source of life for the animals and perfect for water-based activities for humans! The safari season is also dictated to by the river, with most of the camps closing for the rainy months when the river swells and floods the valleys.
The Lower Zambezi River in particular offers a wide range of adventure holidays and water-based activities:
Canoeing safaris are calm and peaceful, and you get especially close to the elephants that are often seen swimming across the river.
Boating safaris allow you to get safely close to pods of hippo. Fishing (catch and release) for Tiger Fish is every angler’s dream come true. Some camps have even built wildlife hides at the water’s edge where you can sit, unseen by the animals and birds for amazing eye level photographic opportunities.
The South Luangwa is far bigger than the Lower Zambezi and offers far more fun activities if you are considering a safari in the wet season.
Best Time To Visit
Zambia has three distinct seasons. The dry season runs from May to August and is the coolest time of the year, with temperatures 24 to 28°C during the day that can drop as low as 7°C at night. This is probably the best time of the year to visit Zambia as the bird-watching is prolific, and the Falls are at their biggest.
The hot season is from September to November when temperatures rocket up to a scorching 38 to 42°C! If you can take the heat, it’s a good time for African safari tours as wildlife clusters around the rivers and waterholes.
December to April is the wet season (also known as the ‘Emerald’ season) when temperatures hover around 32°C, and it rains a lot. Roads become muddy and are often impassable; the river rises, and most of the seasonal camps are dismantled and closed.
Peak safari season spans from June to October, which also falls in the country’s dry season. Zambia weather is scorching at this time (40°C in the shade!), but if you are unfazed by the heat, the game sightings are well worth it. Most of the camps are situated quite deep in the bush and ideally near or on the river banks.
Where Is Zambia?
Located in Southern Africa, Zambia sits at the centre of the SADDC region, with Zimbabwe to its South, Angola to its West, the Congo (DRC) to its North and Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique to its East. In fact, it has a rather odd shape, almost like two countries that have been patched together. It also borders a small stretch of Namibia with access to Botswana’s Chobe region via Victoria Falls.
Best Way Into Zambia
Lusaka International Airport in the capital city receives regular flights from London and Dubai. Typically visitors on a Southern Africa circuit connect via Johannesburg. From Lusaka, the connections to the safari camps in the Lower Zambezi are with Zambia’s domestic airline, Proflight into either Royal Airport or Jeki Airport. Safari guests also use Mfuwe Airport as the gateway to the safari lodges in the South Luangwa National Park. The other international entry point of note is Livingstone at Victoria Falls. Bear in mind too that it is possible to combine visiting Malawi with a safari in the South Luangwa.
To Note When Visiting Zambia
Visitors to Zambia must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond their intended departure date, and please do ensure that your passport has a minimum of three blank pages. US citizens and citizens of most countries need to pay for a visa on arrival.
For most intra-Africa travel in light aircraft, there are strict luggage restrictions which vary depending on your destination. In general in Southern Africa, each person may only have a maximum of 20kg/44lbs (including duffel bag and carry-on). No hard frames or wheels are allowed, and the bag needs to be soft so that it can be packed into the cargo hold of a small plane.
Casual and lightweight clothes can be worn all year round, with a light jacket or sweater for early winter mornings and evenings, so pack lightly! On safari keep clothes to a bare minimum and mostly of neutral colouring – khakis, browns and greens. A sunhat, sunscreen, sunglasses and insect repellent are also a must.
A Yellow Fever inoculation is necessary and is valid for ten years. This must be done no later than 10 days prior to departure. If you have had any history of liver disorders, you must consult your physician first. Please note that you need to travel with your Yellow Fever certificate at all times.
Malaria is endemic in Zambia, and all visitors should take precautions against malaria. Anti-malaria medication should be taken before, during the stay and after departure according to your doctor’s recommendations. Tap water in the major towns is purified and safe to drink. In more remote areas the camps and lodges will boil it first or have bottled water.
The Zambia currency is called the Zambian Kwacha (ZMW). US dollars are now also accepted in Zambia. When exchanging cash at a bank or bureau de change in Zambia such as at any of the airports, the most acceptable foreign currency to use is US$, and you get better rates for larger denomination notes. Please note that these must be newer than 2006 mint – 2006 mint and older are not accepted in Zambia.
Tipping is not compulsory but widely ‘expected’. A rough guide is $5 per person per night for the general camp staff tip box, and a further $5 per person per night for your safari guide if you are happy with the effort and service provided.
Airport departure tax can now be paid in US$ or credit card, if this has not already been included in the cost of your ticket (all tickets purchased after the 7th of Feb 2013 should include this automatically, but please check at the passenger service desk on departure!). This does not apply at bush airstrips. International departure tax is US$25 per person; domestic departure tax is currently US$8 per person per flight not included in charter flight tickets usually. Other small taxes may apply.
From the adventure capital of the region, the Victoria Falls to the remote Lower Zambezi Valley and the wildlife rich South Luangwa National Park, Zambia offers the safari purist, photographer or adrenalin junkie plenty of opportunity for close-up big game encounters, adventure and wonder at every turn and is an incredible country to visit.