In our regular series, Discover Africa, we introduce our readers to a different African country in each edition. In this edition we take you to Zambia, the land of smoke that thunders, situated in the heart of central Southern Africa.
By Stef Terblanche
The land of the smoking, thundering waters of the Victoria Falls. The legendary African walking safaris. The wild rapids and wide expanse of the Zambezi River. Wildlife in great abundance. Friendly welcoming people. And vibrant, pulsating urban centres and cities. Truly a blessed and beautiful land. That is Zambia.
Boasting some of the most awesome natural scenery, great national parks full of wildlife, huge water bodies, endless vast open plains, and some of the finest African safari experiences, right in the warm heart of central Southern Africa, Zambia offers travellers an unforgettable holiday in one of the safest countries in the world.
Of course, probably the best-known attraction in Zambia that draws people from all over the world, is its iconic Victoria Falls. What Table Mountain is to South Africa, or the Grand Canyon is to America, these falls are to Zambia. The falls are located on the Zambezi River forming the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. In the 1800s the Kololo tribe living in the area described the fall as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’, meaning, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’. Today the Victoria Falls are known the world over as the greatest curtain of falling water on the planet.
As more than five hundred million cubic meters of water per minute plummet over the edge over a width of nearly two kilometres, crashing to the narrow gorge one hundred meters below, massive clouds of spray rise up into the air that can be seen from miles around.
Facing falling water on the opposite side of the narrow gorge, is another sheer wall of basalt, rising to the same height, and capped by a mist-soaked rain forest. A path along the edge of the forest provides the visitor prepared to brave the tremendous spray, with an unparalleled series of views of the Falls.
One of the best vantage points is across the Knife-edge Bridge, from where visitors have an excellent, close-up view of the Eastern Cataract and the Main Falls as well as the Boiling Pot, where the river turns and heads down the Batoka Gorge.
Other vantage points include Livingstone Island, the Falls Bridge, Devils Pool and the Lookout Tree, both of which command panoramic views across the Main Falls. The Victoria Falls are not the only ones in Zambia. Others, some almost as spectacular, include the Kalambo Falls, Kundalila Falls, Lumangwe Falls and Ngonye Falls.
If you view Zambia as the lush green heart of Africa, the reason for it is quite clear – it’s a land of a great abundance of water. The Victoria Falls cover but a minute portion of the great Zambezi River, the fourth-longest river in Africa, the longest east-flowing river in Africa and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. It also serves as the Zambia-Zimbabwe border for some 500km. Its banks are lush with vegetation, offering a home to many species of birds, wild animals and reptiles.
Lodges and game reserves, as well as villages and resorts are sparsely dotted along its waters that frequently change character from being deep, placid and tranquil, to wild, rushing and thundering. Wherever you sojourn along the banks of the Zambezi, there will be magic all around. Encounter a pack of lions lazily growling while basking in the midday sun, interrupted only by the chatter of monkeys skipping deftly around the nearby trees. Or watch a crocodile slipping almost unnoticed into the river, and in the late afternoon see a family of elephants playing in the same water, while near them only the two eyes of a hippo are visible above the water.
It is less developed than other rivers in terms of human settlement and many stretches along its banks enjoy protected status. But that doesn’t prevent it from being a popular and spectacular playground for white-water rafting, kayaking, river boarding, jet boating, or navigating the channels of the Zambezi in a canoe with an expert guide as your images reflect perfectly upon the still dark water. You can also go on hikes in the beautiful wilderness of this region or go game watching, from open vehicles or on foot. The Lower Zambezi National Park flanks the river on the Zambian side and Mana Pools National Park on the Zimbabwean side. This whole area of the Zambezi supports one of Africa’s most important wilderness areas as it provides sustenance to a diverse array of game, birdlife and fish species.
Hippo, Nile crocodiles and monitor lizards, are commonly found along many of the calm stretches of the river. Species of bird, like heron, pelican, egret and African fish eagle are found in large numbers here. The riverine woodlands then support many large animals, such as buffalo, zebra, giraffe, elephant. A true natural paradise. The Zambezi also supports several hundred species of fish, some of which are endemic to the river, species that include cichlids, catfish, tigerfish, yellowfish and other large species.
The river’s journey is a long, long one to the sea, which finally flows into the Indian Ocean at Ilha Pambane in Mozambique. But not before, along its course, it opens up into the vast water expanse of Lake Kariba. On this massive man-made lake, you can enjoy some truly challenging game fishing, water-based safaris watching the great elephants and other wild animals on the banks, explore the hundreds of islands or simply laze away the time, cocktails in hand, on board a luxury lake and river cruiser.
But wait, there’s even more water. Along its northern border, Zambia shares another of Africa’s great lakes with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Burundi. It is the longest fresh-water lake in the world and the second deepest after lake Baikal in Russia. Its depth is caused by its location in the Great Rift Valley, which is also why it has such a steep shoreline. At one point the lake reaches a depth of 1,433 metres – an astounding 642m below sea level.
The Europe of the mid 1800s first learnt of this lake when the English explorers Richard Burton and John Speke explored it as the possible source of the Nile, arriving at its shores in February of 1858, only to discover that the Ruzizi River in the north, which they thought to be the Nile, flowed into and not out of the lake. Lake Tanganyika is essentially a landlocked sea but in years of heavy rain the lake overflows into the Lukuga River which in turn runs into the DRC’s Lualaba River. Its surface can become quite ferociously stormy at times, with waves of up to six meters high, yet no mixing of the lower relict waters ever occurs.
The Lake boasts over 350 species of fish of which most are endemic. Like Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika is extremely old, and the combination of its age and ecological isolation has led to the evolution of unique fish populations. There are a number of other lakes to explore in Zambia, including Lake Bangweulu, Lake Mweru and Lake Tanga.
South Luangwa National Park
At this point of the journey, we leave the water behind to visit South Luangwa National Park…well, not actually, because the park takes its name from the Luangwa River, the most intact major river system in Africa with oxbow lagoons that are among the most intense in Africa. Many experts view this park to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, with a fascinating concentration of wild life calling this their home. The river is the lifeblood of the 9,059 km2 park, the place that gave the world Zambia’s now globally famous ‘walking safari’. This, on foot, is still one of the finest ways to experience Africa’s pristine wilderness first-hand. There are 60 different animal species and over 400 of Zambia’s 732 different bird species in South Luangwa National Park. The only notable exception is the rhino, sadly poached to extinction here.
The forests of the park are also something that will have anyone in awe, with among the more common trees in the valley being the mopane, leadwood, winterthorn, the tall vegetable ivory palm, the marula and the magnificent tamarind tree. There are also some magnificent baobab specimens and a few large ebony forests to admire.
Much more to do
In the north lies the famous Copperbelt, long the very lifeline of the Zambian economy. Here you can visit the bustling mining towns of Kitwe, Chingola and Ndola. There are also plenty more national parks to visit, including Kafue, Kasanka, Lochinvar, Lower Zambezi, Liuwa Plain, Luambe, Nyika, Mosi oa Tunya, North Luangwa, Nsumbu, Sioma Ngwezi and more.
There are also plenty of action thrills to be enjoyed with things like white river rafting, photographic safaris, swimming in the famous Victoria Falls Devil’s Pool, bungee jumping, fishing trips to beautiful remote parts, Bakota Gorge river rafting, abseiling, doing the Elephant Trails, taking microlight flights over the Victoria Falls, attempting the awesome Gorge Swing, going on horse trails, hydrospeeding, kayaking, lion walks, river boarding, swimming below Victoria Falls, white water rafting, birding safaris, guide vehicle or walking safaris, canoeing safaris, and so much more.
Finally, we truly leave the water behind and head off into ‘civilisation’ – Lusaka, the modern bustling capital of Zambia. Business is booming and new developments and construction are everywhere. The suburbs now sprawl out for miles on end, dotted by brand new shopping malls. Urbanisation is taking place at a rapid pace, with over 2-million people now living within the city limits of one of the fastest growing cities in Africa.
There are plenty markets in Lusaka, all of them a hive of commercial and tourist activity, as people browse and barter over the myriad of goods for sale in the thousands of stalls erected afresh each day. Here you can buy anything from Coca-Cola to beer, motor spares, fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, cloth, tools, clothing, wicker baskets, handbags, jewellery or even have your hair done.
Development, scarce work opportunities, commerce, and other attractions have brought together people of many nationalities in this city, making it a bustling centre for economic, political and cultural activities. The city lies at the junction of the main highways crossing the country from south to north and east to west. From Lusaka International Airport there are connections by air to most of the major tourist destinations in the country.
From Lusaka you can travel along the Great North Highway to the central Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi, from where you can take the Zambian-Tanzanian train on the TAZARA Railway, also called the Uhuru Railway or the Tanzam Railway, all the way to the port of Dar es Salaam in east Tanzania.
The city boasts some superb world-class hotels, numerous shopping malls, many fine restaurants, bustling pubs and clubs, and some good shopping. If you are contemplating eating out, trying the Nile perch at the Polo Club on a Friday night is a must. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t have any scheduled bus services, but there are taxis aplenty while good dial-up cabs and chauffeur-driven vehicles are also available.
Languages: English (official) and various other indigenous languages.
Time Zone: UTC+2 (CAT).
Climate & Weather: Tropical modified by high altitude; a rainy season (November to April) corresponding to summer, and the dry season (May/June to October/November), corresponding to winter.
Currency: Zambian kwacha.
Airports: Lusaka International Airport, plus numerous smaller airports around the country.
Airlines Flying To: A number of airlines fly to Lusaka, including Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, and South African Airways. .
Entry Requirements: Find out which countries require a visa before arrival. A yellow fever certificate is not mandatory when entering Zambia, unless arriving from a country that is considered ‘at risk’, but you will need one when leaving to another country.
Useful Contact Info
Zambia Tourism – Website and web-email: www.zambiatourism.com.