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Zambia Safaris What to Expect

If you feel in danger of throwing your computer screen out the window or driving into the next person that cuts you off in the traffic, then it’s probably time you took a little break. But where?

Ask anyone who’s been on safari and they’ll tell you that there’s nothing like a few days in the African bush to help put everything back in perspective. And if you want to go somewhere worlds away from city noise, traffic and stress; somewhere wild and exciting; somewhere that’s a bit off the beaten track yet still offers a luxurious stay – my advice would be: go on a Zambia safari.

Long the stomping ground of safari aficionados, Zambia has a reputation for excellent game viewing, diverse activities, and small family-run safari lodges that take great pride in their high levels of service and guiding.

Picture for a moment waking up in a feather-soft bed to a chorus of grunting hippos and a day filled with new experiences: the thrill of an early morning game drive or walking safari through big game territory, being drenched by the spray of Victoria Falls, canoeing past elephant gathered on a riverbank or tiger fishing on the Zambezi.

Best of all with the help of expert planning you can easily experience all Zambia’s highlights in one holiday and still return home feeling completely relaxed and refreshed (with photos that will turn your friends safari green with envy). Here’s what I’d recommend:

Natural Wonder with a High Thrill Factor

Start your holiday in a massive playground set around possibly the most spectacular centerpiece in the world: Victoria Falls.

While it’s true that the main section of the Falls lies within Zimbabwe, the Zambian side is equally impressive after the rainy season (read more about when to go at the end of this article). Paths wind in and out of mist-soaked rain forest, opening suddenly to incredible views: stand upstream and be mesmerized by the pull of the Zambezi tumbling over the waterfall’s edge, get soaked crossing the ‘Knife Edge Bridge’ or hike down into ‘The Boiling Pot’ deep within the gorge.

To really get a taste of all Victoria Falls has to offer, I’d recommend staying for a good three days. My favourite activities at the Falls include canoeing past the twitching ears of hippos and knobbly croc-shaped silhouettes, trundling through the bush on a gently swaying elephant’s back and taking to the skies for an angel’s-eye view of this thundering Natural Wonder.

And that’s just the start of a long list of thrills including walking with lions, white water rafting and one of the highest – and definitely the most spectacular – bungee jumps in the world.

As for where to stay, there are hotels within walking distance of the Falls but my advice to set your sights further upstream. Tucked into the bush, away from all the buzz and excitement lie a few smaller lodges where you can spend peaceful evenings with a gin and tonic, watching the sun sink into the river. A personal favourite is Tongabezi Lodge with its romantic open-fronted cottages overlooking the Zambezi.

Big Game & Walking Safaris

Zambia’s best game viewing is undoubtedly in the South Luangwa National Park. Known for high concentrations of lion and leopard, as well as endemic species such as Thornicroft’s Giraffe and Crawshay’s Zebra, the South Luangwa holds the promise of camera clicking sightings on game drives and walking safaris.

That said, this is not the kind of reserve to come to with a ‘must see’ checklist tucked under your khaki sleeve. In the South Luangwa the guides don’t keep in radio contact so when you do come across an exciting sighting such as a lion kill, even if there are other vehicles in the area, chances are yours will be the only vehicle at the kill.

The South Luangwa is also home to the walking safari. Sitting in an open Land Rover near a lion is exhilarating, but on foot the bush comes alive in a way you just can’t appreciate from a vehicle – you are no longer merely a spectator.

The Mfuwe area of the South Luangwa has the highest concentration of game, but also a larger number of lodges. For superb game viewing I’d recommend a couple of days of game drives and night drives in Mfuwe, before heading to a bush camp deeper within the park.

The name ‘bush camp’ is actually quite misleading as what you’ll find is comfortable rooms with high quality linen and delicious meals that are miraculously whipped up in the middle of nowhere, combined with never-to-be-forgotten moments such as a candlelit dinner in a dry riverbed with lion paw prints next to you in the sand.

Peaceful River Days & Unique Activities

After all the excitement of Victoria Falls and your South Luangwa safari, round off your holiday with a few peaceful days in the Lower Zambezi.

The Lower Zambezi is an incredibly beautiful reserve: relax into the slow pace life on the river and spend an afternoon tiger fishing or go on a canoe safari, floating close to the massive bulk of an elephant towering above you on the riverbank.

Lodges in the Lower Zambezi tend to be more flexible with their schedules, and can put together a day of activities to suit your mood. However, do bear in mind that the reserve only allows water activities every second day, so I’d recommend three nights here to ensure you get at least one full day on the river.

Another fantastic way to finish off a Zambian safari is by hopping across to neighbouring Malawi and staying on one of the islands on the massive freshwater Lake.

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