Zambia travel guide
Though Chipata is pleasantly nested at the foot of hills, it's one of those places you try to get out of as quickly as possible. It's a trading town for the upland and acts as an access point for South Luangwa National Park and neighbouring Malawi. The streets are lined with colourful trading houses, and there are banks and supermarkets so you can stock up - and that's pretty much it.
Lusaka is roughly split into two parts separated by the rail line. On the east side is Cairo Rd, Lusaka's main road, with its odd collection of 70s-futuristic concrete buildings. The crowded (as crowded as it gets in Lusaka) commercial area extends a few blocks east where traders fill the sidewalks and corners with their goods of fruits, outdated cellphone accessories and second-hand clothes. The west side is the more modern one consisting of fancy malls among quiet tree lined residential neighbourhoods. There are no sights to speak of in Lusaka and the biggest landmark is probably the nuclear-power-plant-look-alike chimney. Welcome to Lusaka!
Nobody would have heard of Mfuwe if it wasn’t the gateway to South Luangwa National Park, but it is, and so they have. Other than the park itself there are no attractions to speak of, but there are two things that make it an attractive place. The first is all the wildlife, of course, but what is special here is that quite a lot of it can be enjoyed on the Mfuwe side of the river – not just inside the park. A definite highlight is the evening river-crossing by a good number of elephants who spend the day in the park but leave it to forage for planted crops at night. Not so much fun for the farmers, of course. Largely due to its proximity to the park, there are also a number of community and conservation projects based in Mfuwe, and some of these are well worth a visit.
Despite its proximity to its far more famous cousin to the south, North Luangwa is an entirely different experience. Very remote – access for visitors is by chartered plane only – this is a place to visit if you wish to spend time in a true wilderness, and to do so without seeing more than a handful of people while you do so. The bush here is often fairly dense, making it less suitable for traditional safaris than South Luangwa, but most people come up here to experience the wild on foot, not by vehicle. If you wish to tick off the Big Five in a day, this probably isn’t the place for you (although lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos can all be found in the park). If you wish to experience a real wilderness and get away from the crowds, however, North Luangwa is perhaps the best place in Africa to do so.
Nshima is that gooey lump that is served with pretty much any meal throughout Africa. It's made of maize flour and a bit of water which is boiled into a porridge and then paddled constantly under heat until the texture reaches a stickiness that makes it impossible to get off the spoon. Since it doesn't taste much, it's often served with a small selection of relish or hot sauce along with some meat or fish. The tricky part for untrained nshima eaters is that it's eaten with the bare hands - a messy affair if you don't master the art of scooping with your fingers. Since nshima fills up the stomach cheaply, it's the stable food in many parts of Africa, where it goes under different names like sadza, pap, ugali and fufu.
South Luangwa National Park is not just the best in Zambia, but considered one of the best in the whole of Africa in terms of variety and density of animals. There are literally animals everywhere: Impalas, pukus, buffaloes, waterbucks, hippos, crocs, elephants, zebras and giraffes, where some are of species that are endemic. Furthermore, there are good chances to come across hyenas, leopards and lions on the game drives. Birds are equally plentyful and come in all colours and sizes so even ornithology-ignorants get drawn by them. Snake eagle and different storks are common - and even the African fish eagle, which is on the Zambian flag, is easily spotted. Lodges in all budget categories can be found near the small dusty village of Mfuwe, the gateway to the park. Here, the wildlife come to you at nighttime, so be careful not to tumble upon a munching hippo or elephant when moving around the lodge grounds (walking outside the lodges is suicidal).
Amazing Victoria Falls is just an impressive sight. A wall of water more than 1700 m wide, plunging more than 100 m down into a gorge. It can be visited from both the Zimbabwean side and the Zambian side. Though most of the front of the falls is one the Zimbabwean side, the Zambian side has its fair share of great view points, some really close to the action. And for views of Victoria Bridge (where the bungy jumping is done from), you can't beat the Boiling Point. In the end of the dry season (April to October) and before the rainy season (November to March) picks up, parts of the Zambezi dry up and it's possible to walk across some streches at the crest of the falls. Through Livingstone Island you can get out to Devil's Pool, a natural rock pool right on the edge of the falls, where brave people have a dip and foolish people slip over. In the flood season (February to May) the falls are enveloped in mist, which can be seen many kilometers away. A visit to the falls at this time will leave you drenched and entranced by the power of nature.
Victoria Falls Bridge spans from Zambia to Zimbabwe over Zambezi River right below Victoria Falls, one of the wonders of the world. The view of the falls from the bridge is just spectacular, making it one of the most scenic border posts on the planet. The 124 m high steel bridge, which was constructed in 1905, is mostly famous for the 111 metres bungee jumping, which many backpackers consider a must-do. In 2011, the cord snapped for an Australian woman, who miraculously survived the accident. Afterwards, the Zambian tourism minister did the bungee jump to prove that the money-making-attraction was again safe. There are border posts at each end of the bridge, but it's possible to walk out without getting stamped out (and the trouble of getting another visa).
According to some accounts, the Luangwa Valley was the birthplace of the walking safari – at least the kind that involves just looking at wildlife and not shooting at it. Since it was pioneered here in the 1960s by Norman Carr, South and North Luangwa national parks have both retained a reputation of being perhaps Africa’s best walking safari destinations. In addition to the standard morning or afternoon walks available in so many parks and reserves, there are several safari operators that offer extended walks, stretching over several days and sleeping either in tents or in seasonal bush camps. This is very different from the shorter walks, and sleeping under the stars to the roar of lions after a day of tracking animals on foot is quite the experience. One of the highlights of longer walking safaris is actually the not walking bits – simply taking the time to sit under a tree or on the banks of the Luangwa River just to see and hear everything that goes on around you.