Zambia - a country in Africa - once considered as a remote location is frequently visited by tourist and businessmen.
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Most of Zambia’s population centres on Lusaka, the capital city. While Christianity is the official religion, many of the diverse ethnic groups and tribes practice their own forms of worship, performing ceremonies that can be at once spectacular.
You'll probably find that you spend most of your time in the bush. There's a wealth of opportunities to pursue outdoor activities, many revolving around the three rivers that define the country: the Kafue, the Luangwa, and the Zambezi. Zambia is a tropical environment but it can get cold in the mountains.
Waterfalls are a major attraction in Zambia too. They can be a trek to reach but stunning when you finally arrive. Victoria Falls is the best known but Kalambo Falls,
LIONS ARE DISAPPEARING. With populations cut in half over the last 25 years, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has classified the felines as vulnerable to extinction. To put into context, there are more rhinos, Western lowland gorillas, and African elephants in the wild than there are lions. But help is on the way.
National Geographic Emerging Explorer Thandiwe Mweetwa, a wildlife biologist working for the Zambian Carnivore Program in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, tracks and identifies lions to sustain their numbers and habitat. “Like many people, I had always found lions fascinating,” Mweetwa says. “The defining moment for me was the day I sat in a car surrounded by three young males roaring their lungs out. I had never experienced such power before.” (Meet the new generation saving Zambia’s lions.)
How can travelers get involved? Mweetwa says the best thing safarigoers can do is visit conservation areas and learn from organizations working to address the challenges lions face in the wild. This is an easy thing to do on game drives in Zambia, which is celebrated for its pristine wilderness areas and Victoria Falls excursions. As The Lion King roars into theaters, here are a few of Mweetwa’s favorite places to spot big cats. (The Walt Disney Company is majority owner of National Geographic Partners.)
The Luangwa River, Kafue River, and Zambezi River loop and meander through their respective parks forming pools that churn with crocs and hippos that support wildlife in abundance.
South Luangwa National Park
Because of its flat, grassy plains and low woodlands, South Luangwa National Park is an ideal place to see lions on foot in Zambia, says Mweetwa. Head to the park during the dry season (May to November), when you can glimpse these fierce felines congregating around permanent watering holes. In the park, Mweetwa recommends trekking to the main game-viewing area just past Mfuwe Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. The Nsefu Sector and the Kapamba-Lusangazi river confluence in the south of the park make for prime perches to see prides in the area. (Discover why walking safaris are the best way to see wildlife.)
Safari tip: Toward the end of the dry season (late October to early November), the banks of the Luangwa River teem with birdlife. Bring your binoculars to spot great white pelicans, little bee-eaters, and African skimmers. While birdwatching, catch other safari highlights such as leopards, elephants, African buffalo, and hippos.
Kafue National Park
Less visited than its sister parks, Kafue National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Zambia. It also happens to be a fantastic place to spot lions thanks to its acres of unspoiled wilderness—but take your time. “Drive slowly, approach with caution,” Mweetwa says. “Lions can be shy around humans and run away at the sound of a vehicle. Pay attention to tracks and signs, and you will find them in the most unexpected places.” (How to do wildlife tourism right.)
Safari tip: Lodging at Kafue National Park varies from remote tented camps to luxurious safari enclaves. Most accommodations close during the wet season (November to April); if you plan to visit during this period, look for lodges that stay open all year, such as Mayukuyuku Bush Camp and Mukambi Lodge.
Lower Zambezi National Park
Early morning is prime time to snap photos of lions playing in Lower Zambezi National Park. As temperatures rise with the sun, the big cats can usually be found dozing in the shade. “Travelers need to consider hunting patterns and behavior,” Mweeta says. “Dusk is a great time to watch lions. You get to watch lions transform from lazy cats to formidable hunters.”
Safari tip: The easiest way to get to Lower Zambezi National Park is via Lusaka’s international airport. From there, Proflight Zambia offers short connecting flights to the airstrip, where your safari outfitter will transfer you to your lodge. In the dry season, self-driving safarigoers can make their own way to the park. Stop for lions—but stay in the truck!
LONG OVERLOOKED IN favor of more established safari destinations like South Africa and Tanzania, Zambia remains one of Africa’s unsung treasures. But as I discovered on a visit last January, it’s bound to become one of the continent’s shining stars, with national parks filled with big game—including lions and leopards—and rivers teeming with crocodiles and hippos.
Though there are more flight connections to the country than ever from South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and even Dubai, Zambia maintains its under-the-radar status. But that just means visitors can enjoy world-class wildlife sightings without having to vie with hordes of vehicles, and they can stay in top-tier safari lodges without necessarily paying top dollar. Here’s what to keep in mind when planning your visit.
WHEN TO GO: Like many safari destinations, Zambia has distinct seasons. The dry season, which is prime for wildlife viewing, generally lasts from May to November. Rainy season runs from December to April, and due to weather and access issues, some lodges even close during this time. That said, my own trip there in mid-January was dry as a bone with perfect temperatures in the mid-80s. Daredevils should beware that visits to Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls (which is accessible only from the Zambian side) are prohibited from mid-January to mid-August, when the water levels are too high.
VISA: Zambia offers visitors landing at Livingstone (renamed Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport) or Lusaka airports a single-country visa good for 90 days.
PACK: Standard safari attire should suffice, including light-colored, long-sleeve shirts and pants and a good hat to protect you from the strong sun. Bring your own cameras but leave the binoculars at home, since most safari camps have extras to lend out to guests. Camps often provide free laundry service, so you might not need more than a change or two of clothes. All the better, since the light aircraft flying between the country’s smaller airports tend to have strict weight limits on luggage.
SLEEP: There’s no shortage of hotels and lodges, ranging from the economical to the extravagant. Pick the national parks you wish to visit and home in on your accommodations from there.
Rare polka-dotted zebra foal photographed in Kenya
Near Livingstone, the hub for Victoria Falls, Tongabezi is a low-key luxury lodge with activities like sunset cruises and visits to a local school the lodge supports. Sausage Tree Camp in the Lower Zambezi has romantic tent-style accommodations with plunge pools and hammocks, and offers both land- and river-based excursions.
One of the country’s newest safari camps, six-villa Chinzombo sits on a riverfront stretch of South Luangwa National Park on the site of one of wildlife conservation pioneer Norman Carr’s original camps. Those spending a night in the Zambian capital of Lusaka have a fantastic option in the art-filled Latitude 15° hotel, which is part of a burgeoning African boutique-hotel chain.
NAT GEO EXPEDITIONS
EXPLORE: The first stop on everyone’s Zambia itinerary tends to be Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders” in the local dialect. Book a tour of Livingstone Island, from which you can swim in the rapids (with help from guides!) to Devil’s Pool at the lip of the falls.
South Luangwa National Park ranks among Africa’s best game-viewing destinations thanks to its concentration of leopards and other big game. The untouched expanses of Lower Zambezi National Park are sandwiched between the rugged Zambezi escarpment and a mile-wide stretch of the Zambezi River. Unique activities there include kayaking among crocodiles and hippos on various tributaries, or even picnicking on a sandbar in the middle of the Zambezi.
SHOP: Like the rustic-chic furnishings at the safari camps? Chances are they were designed and manufactured from local materials by Nzito Furniture, whose Lusaka showroom you can visit and where you can custom-order artisanal pieces for your own home. You can also pick up smaller items like jewelry and dishes sourced from fair-trade workshops in other parts of the country.