Zambia, a country of 15 million people, has been one of the most stable in the region for decades, and is an obligatory stop on any southern African overland experience. Friendly people, cheap prices, and loads of options for adventure activities make Zambia a fantastic all-around option. Safaris, markets, waterfalls, white water rafting, and rock climbing are just a few of the activities on offer. If you’re not sure where to start planning your trip, we’ve got you covered. Here are the 15 incredible experiences in Zambia that every visitor should try.
1) Victoria Falls
The most famous waterfalls in Africa (and quite possibly, the world), Victoria Falls is the top highlight in Zambia for many. Set on the border with Zimbabwe, two thirds of the falls are actually in Zambia, so visiting them depends on what type of view you want and how much you want to spend (on visas, entrance fees, etc.). The famous Devil’s Pool and Livingstone Island are on the Zambian side, but you’ll probably have a better panorama in Zimbabwe.
With 1.7 million people, Lusaka is by far the largest city in Zambia. As cosmopolitan as any large city in southern Africa, Lusaka has all the international amenities you could hope for from hotels to international restaurants to markets and art galleries. A good place to reintegrate yourself with the comforts of civilization after you’ve been traversing the country’s national parks and natural areas.
3) Royal Livingstone Express Train
Featuring classic steam trains from a century ago, you’ll feel like you’re in the fading glory days of the British Empire on the Royal Livingstone Express Train. Traveling from Livingstone through Mosi-o-Tunya National Park, guests will travel along the Zambezi river and be able to appreciate the full beauty of Zambia as they enjoy an incredible five course meal.
4) South Luangwa Walking Safari
South Luangwa National Park is one of the greatest parks in all of southern Africa. You can expect to see the big five here as there is a dense concentration of wildlife. Set in Eastern Province, South Luangwa can be reached by a quick flight or ten hour drive from Lusaka. You can go the traditional safari car route, but we recommend really getting in the bush by doing a walking safari, as Luangwa’s flat grasslands and numerous tracks make it the ideal spot for one.
5) Saturday Dutch Market
On the last Saturday of each month, artisans and sellers from all corners of Zambia and the region converge on the Dutch Reformed Church in Lusaka. Artisans from as far afield as Zimbabwe and Congo will come to sell their jewelry, masks, carvings, and more. The assortment of foods available is reason enough to come out. Make sure your haggling game is on point and bring a bag to store all your purchases!
6) Lake Kariba
Located in Southern Province on the Zimbabwean border, Lake Kariba is the world’s largest artificial lake. Filled between 1958 and 1963, the lake is home to an amazing array of wildlife and an excellent place to relax on the weekend (or anytime). Sunset boat cruises and fresh seafood are just a few reasons to visit.
7) White water raft the Zambezi
The mighty Zambezi River cuts an impressive channel from Angola and through Zambia before emptying into the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Through Zambia however, are some of its most impressive rapids and the river is known for hosting some of the best Class IV and V white water in the world. There are plenty of certified and expert outfitters to help you get wet and wild.
8) Experience every day life in a compound
As tourists, most of what we see and do in developing countries is pitched to us as reasons to go to a certain place. As travelers, we want to dig deeper and see what life is like for the average person. Most urban Zambians live in neighborhoods called compounds. There are some tour operators who can take you to see what life is like for the average Zambian living on much less than what we’re used to. Catch a glimpse of local life and try chibuku, a fermented alcoholic beverage made from corn meal. As always, make sure the tour operator engages in sustainable practices to ensure your visit is beneficial to both parties.
The adventure capital of Zambia, no trip would be complete without stopping at Livingstone, the gateway to Victoria Falls. Besides the park, there is the Express Train, nearby national parks, and the Livingstone Museum which offers a history of the area and country. Besides those activities, nearly every sort of adventure can be had from here from bungee jumping, to a giant swing off the bridge spanning the gorge, rafting, and much much more depending on your taste for action (and budget).
10) Lilayi Elephant Nursery
The perfect way to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures, the Lilavi Elephant Nursery is a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned elephants located in Lusaka. The staff will give you plenty of information on elephants, Zambian wildlife, and even let you pet and feed them. How cool is that?!
11) Night safari
Okay, so maybe we’ve done a few safaris in our day, but how many of us can say we’ve seen the wonders of African wildlife by night? A few of Zambia’s many parks offer visitors the option to do a night safari. Besides the thrill of tracking animals in the dark by spotlight, you’ll have a much higher chance to catch predators like lions, hyenas, and leopards feeding since they are primarily nocturnal hunters.
12) Abseil the Batoka Gorge
There are few better ways to experience the Batoka Gorge in Victoria Falls then to literally have it in your face. Abseiling or repelling down the cliff face not only provides an adrenaline rush, but also gives you a unique perspective of the entire area, albeit one which may potentially make you lose your lunch. Just don’t look down, and you’ll be fine, we promise!
13) Likumbi Lya Mize Festival
This yearly festival is held every August and takes place in Mize Palace in southern Zambia and the Luvale people gather to celebrate their cultural heritage. Music, drinking, dancing, food and all types of handicrafts can be found at the gathering over which Senior Chief Ndungu presides. Makishi dancers re-enact tales from mythology through song and dance and the whole event is definitely one of the most interesting in all of Zambia. If you plan on visiting anytime around August, make sure you make arrangements to see the festival.
14) Check out Zambia by air or water
While there are several operators throughout Zambia, the majority of tour companies offering views of Zambia from above are congregated around Livingstone, yet again. Seeing the country from above via helicopter or microflight is absolutely breathtaking and an experience that lasts a lifetime. And if you’re not up for white water rafting, the Zambezi River by traditional riverboat is also to die for. Especially at sunset with a drink in hand while birds, hippos, and crocodiles sound off around you.
15) Kafue National Park
Zambia’s oldest and largest national park, Kafue has largely recovered from the poaching that once plagued it decades ago. A few hours west of Lusaka, Kafue is one of Zambia’s lesser visited parks but home to the Busanga Plains, a beautiful wetland area with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.
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This article was originally published December 3, 2014.