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Zambia

Livingstone and Victoria Falls

Five hours' drive or a one-hour flight from Lusaka, Victoria Falls are amongst the most impressive in the world. 1708 metres wide and 108 metres high they are the world's largest single sheet of falling water, and are without a doubt the most accessible falls to see close up. There is a wide choice of activities including the helicopter and ultra-light flights over the falls ($175 for 15 minutes), walking safaris in Mosi Oa Tunya National Park to find the only rhinos in the country ($95), visiting a cheetah and caracal sanctuary, horse riding, white water rafting on the Zambezi downstream from the falls though the gorges, bungee-jumping from Livingstone Bridge over the gorge, lion walks, and more. In the evening there are sunset cruises upstream of the falls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Luangwa National Park

Called by some as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, South Luangwa is one of Zambia's main draws. This 9,050-sq km park is centered around the Luangwa River and is home to one of Africa's largest concentrations of wildlife.

Thanks to its inaccessible location, South Luangwa manages to combine immense density of wildlife with limited visitor numbers, and it's also one of the few national parks that allow night safaris. However, visitor numbers are steadily marching upwards, and the best time to visit is right now — before it becomes the next Kruger or Serengeti. The seasonal floodplains create an environment that supports a huge diversity of wildlife including over 100 species of mammals and over 420 species of birds as well as many reptiles, insects, amphibians and plants.

South Luangwa is home to a dazzling array of wildlife. You'll see hipposand crocodilesas soon as you cross the bridge over the Luangwa River, and elephantsare hard to miss along the river's banks. Thornicraft's giraffe, with white legs and faces, and Crawshay's zebra, without the brownish "shadow-stripe" of common (Burchell's) zebra, are both endemic to the park and easily spotted. Herds of buffalo roam the park, along with several prides of lions. The density of leopards is among the highest in the world, although spotting these nocturnal creatures can be tricky. All sorts of antelopes abound: impala are ubiquitous, the puku — rarely seen outside Zambia — is almost as common and there are plenty of waterbucks and bushbucks too.

Zebra can be seen running in small herds of about a dozen. The difference between Zambia’s zebras and those in the south and east of Africa are in the stripes. Here they are evenly spaced as opposed to broad light stripes with a faint shadow stripe in-between. Thornicroft’s giraffe is a sub-species that is only found in the Luangwa valley. Cookson’s wildebeest is another species unique to the area.

The park has 14 different antelope species, most of which are easily seen on game and night drives. Watch out for the elusive bushbuck, preferring to inhabit densely covered areas. The common duiker is not that common near the Luangwa River but inhabits the back country of the Luangwa Valley. The largest of the antelope is the eland, usually near the Nsefu sector of the Park. The most numerous antelope is the impala, these gregarious animals can be seen in herds all over the Park. Not to be confused with the puku, of similar size but a much fluffier buck with a rich orange coat and also prolific.

Perhaps the most beautiful is the Kudu, with its majestic spiral horns and delicate face. Although fairly common, they’re not always easy to find due to their retiring habits and preference for dense bush. Reedbuck, roan, sable, hartebeest, grysbok, klipspringer and oribi are all here but not prolific in the central tourist area of the Park. They tend to stay deeper in the remote parts towards the Muchinga escarpment.

The hippopotamus is one animal you won’t miss. As you cross over the bridge into the park there are usually between 30 and 70 hippos lounging in the river below and most of the dambos and lagoons will reveal many. There is estimated to be about 50 hippos per kilometre of the Luangwa River.

 Lions are commonly seen in South Luangwa National Park and it is the only place in the world where they are known to kill hippos. The lion prides here include up to 20 animals and other more furtive predators abound too, as well as leopards there are jackals, serval and caracal. 

Birdwatching is superb in the Valley. Near the end of the dry season, when the river and oxbow lagoons begin to recede, hundreds of large waterbirds can be seen wading through the shallows. The red faced yellow billed storks move along with their beaks open underwater, disturbing the muddy liquid with their feet until the fish flop into their mouths. The pelicans tend to operate in lines abreast, driving the fish before them into shallows before scooping them up into their beak pouches. The striking 1.6m saddle bill stork makes quick darting movements into the water. Then there’s the marabou stork, great white egrets, black headed herons, open billed storks and the stately goliath heron that can stand in the same position for hours before pouncing. Of the most beautiful are the elegant crowned cranes, with their golden tufts congregating in large flocks at the salt pans.

Around the same time, just before the rains set in, in November, the palearctic migrants from Northern Europe and the intra-African migrants arrive to exploit the feeding opportunities that the warm rainy season brings. These include the red chested cuckoo, white storks, European swallows, swifts, hobbies and bee-eaters, as well as birds of prey such as the Steppe eagles and Steppe buzzards that come all the way from Russia. A special sight is the hundreds of brightly coloured carmine bee-eaters nesting in the steep sandy banks of the river. 

The ever-present sounds of the birds in the valley takes some getting used to. An early caller is the ground hornbill, looking like a well-dressed turkey, but emitting the sound of a deep base drum. Also to be heard is the melodious Heuglin’s robin, the shrill cry of the fish eagle, set to the background cooing of doves.

Kafue National Park

Kafue is located in the centre of western Zambia, Kafue National Park is the oldest and largest of Zambia’s national parks and covers a massive 22,400 km2 (about the size of Wales or Massachusetts). First established as a wildlife area in 1924, and then as a National Park in the 1950’s by the legendary Norman Carr, the Kafue is one of the largest national parks in the whole of Africa. Despite its size and prominent location witht eh main gate only two hours’ drive from Livingstone and three from Lusaka, it remains little-known and largely unexplored with vast tracts of its virgin bush still untouched. Thanks to its size and variety of habitat types the Kafue holds a fantastic diversity of wildlife. However, the Kafue is not about the sheer numbers of wildlife visible, it is about the diversity of wildlife you can encounter. This is not to say the Kafue does not have healthy populations of many of the more charismatic species of animals, because it does, but if you are looking for the ‘Big 5 in 24 hours’ experience then you will miss the point of this NP.
 
The Kafue is home to more species of ungulate than any national park south of the Congo Basin. Rare and elusive antelope such as the blue and yellow-backed duiker occur in the thickets, sitatunga and lechwe in the swamps, roan, sable and hartebeest in the miombo woodlands, the list goes on. The open and seasonally flooded Busanga Plains area in the north-west has excellent game viewing density, especially buffalo, antelope, and attendant predators. The southern and central eastern sections, along the river, have more forest areas and open areas of grassland called “dambos” locally, and boat safaris are a highlight here, as well as vehicle and walking safaris. The Kafue River and its tributaries themselves are a hive of activity and home to pods of hippo and some of the largest crocodiles in southern Africa. As the bush dries out in the summer it is not uncommon to watch elephant frolicking in the water and swimming from bank to bank, with their trunks holding on to the tails of the individuals in front.
 
A rarity for Zambia is the cheetah. Cheetah cannot be found in the Luangwa or Zambezi national parks and only occur in the west of Zambia, with Liuwa Plains and the Kafue holding the last viable populations of this rare and charismatic predator. In the Kafue cheetah are not solely restricted to the plains, in fact they do very well in mixed woodland and riverine areas, where they can be found preying on puku and impala, amongst others. Cheetah are found throughout the Kafue, from Nanzhila in the south to the Busanga in the north.
 
The African wild dog (a.k.a Painted dog, Cape hunting dog) is a highly sought after species for wildlife tourists; these exceptionally rare and elusive predators are not easy to find, however the Kafue has what some might say the largest population of this species compared to any other national park in Africa.  Packs can be found on both sides of the Kafue River and in almost all habitat types, from dense woodland to riverine and dambo areas. This species has started to receive much needed and warranted interest in the Kafue from various conservation organizations, as such in 2011 the Zambian Carnivore Programme began baseline studies of wild dog in the Kafue and look set to continue its good work for the foreseeable future.
 
You are unlikely to encounter many, if any, vehicles from other lodges, the lodge concession areas being large and visitor numbers low. Given the diverse nature of the landscapes and the size of Kafue, whilst you could pick one of the areas for a three-night stay in combination with a longer stay in South Luangwa, to fully appreciate Kafue, one could spend six nights in two camps or eight or nine in three.
 

North Luangwa National Park

Covering 4636 square kilometres, the remote and little-visited North Luangwa is considered to offer one of the finest wilderness experiences in Zambia, if not Africa itself. It is not open to the public and there are no permanent lodges there. This park has a reputation as being one of the very best locations for walking safari and receives less than 5% of the visitor traffic experienced in the nearby South Luangwa.  Trips are organised through one of the safari operators granted permission to conduct walking safaris and build light infrastructure accommodation there.

North Luangwa is usually visited in combination with South Luangwa and connects directly by light aircraft from the main airstrips there. Typical stay duration is 3 or 4 nights. The attraction for me is that almost no-one goes there, but game-viewing is largely on foot. And it will be hot. This park has a reputation as being one of the very best locations for walking safari and receives less than 5% of the visitor traffic experienced in the nearby South Luangwa. It appeals to a specialist niche market, a bit like Kafue but to an even greater extent. It is more for the serial safari-goer, looking to really get into the wild.

Lower Zambezi National Park

Lower Zambezi National Park is great for different safari experiences with more water-based activities.  The park is still relatively undeveloped, its beauty lying in its natural state. The diversity of animals is not as wide as the other parks, but the opportunities to get close to game wandering in and out of the Zambezi channels are very good. The Park lies opposite the famous Mana Pools Reserve in Zimbabwe, so the whole area on both sides of the Zambezi River is a massive wildlife sanctuary.

The river’s edge is overhung with a thick riverine trees, including ebony and fig trees. Further inland is a floodplain edged by Mopane forest and interspersed with Winterthorn trees and big Acacias. The hills creating the backdrop to the park are covered in broadleaf woodland.

Even though the Lower Zambezi National Park covers an area of 4092 square kilometres, most of the game is concentrated on the valley floor. The escarpment along the northern end acts as a physical barrier to most of the animal species. Herds of elephant, some up to 100 strong, are often seen at the water. ‘Island hopping’ buffalo and waterbuck are common and good populations of lion and leopard roam. Birdlife is also very good. 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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