Explore Zambia with Tracks4Africa’s latest self-drive guide

The water-rich landscapes of Zambia are an attraction in themselves, but also a striking backdrop for game viewing. An overland trip to the country is not to be missed, says Tracks4Africa co-founder JOHANN GROENEWALD. 

My first visit to Zambia was in 1999. We had been at Lake Kariba and wanted to travel to Victoria Falls. The best route, we discovered, was via Zambia. Back then the police were wielding AK47s at roadblocks and demanding spot fines without issuing receipts. But at the time the road was good enough to detour with my VW Polo. 

Track4Africa Zambia Self-Drive Guide
Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika showing off their Nile perch. Just look at the sail made from old grain bags. Pictures by Johann Groenewald and David Findlay

Then some ten years ago, I did my second trip to Zambia and fell in love with a country that many would still dismiss as a Third World destination. This time the police were friendly and made tourists feel welcome. The spectacular wild scenery throughout the country, combined with parks that offer a real wilderness experience and the lack of overcrowded tourist destinations, has made me drive to Zambia all the way from Paarl year after year. I am lucky to call these trips ‘work’, as I venture into remote areas to do research for our Tracks4Africa maps and guidebooks

After a decade of exploring all corners of the country, I have come to realise that in Zambia a river is always involved in your trip. Rivers seem to define the natural wonders there. The Victoria Falls is just one example of the hundreds of really significant waterfalls you will encounter all over. It’s possible to visit many of these lesser-known waterfalls and be the only tourist there. Some even have wonderful camping grounds close by. In fact, waterfalls could quite easily be the main theme of a great tour of Zambia.

Track4Africa Zambia Self-Drive Guide
Crossing the Mupamadzi River on Route 5, which runs north from South Luangwa National Park to the Muchinga Escarpment. It can be done only in the dry season as this picture by travel buddy David Findlay attests.

The mighty Zambezi

The country’s famous river is, of course, the Zambezi, which has its origin in north-western Zambia and then does a stint through Angola before entering Zambia again. Here it feeds the people of Barotseland and you can visit the Barotse Plain for the best tiger fishing in southern Africa. 

From this point the river flows over the Ngonye Falls near Sioma before hitting the Namibian border and flowing on to the place where four nations meet at Kazungula. The ferry there is being replaced by a bridge to connect Botswana and Zambia, which will probably make this trade route between the SADC countries even more popular.

The Zambezi now takes us along the Zimbabwean border until it drops over the world-famous Mosi-oa-Tunya, better known as the Victoria Falls. Here the town of Livingstone has established itself as an adventure sports hub where you can swim in the Devil’s Pool just above the 108m drop or experience a microlight flip above the falls.

From Livingstone, the mighty river follows a couple of gorges before being dammed up in the form of Lake Kariba. Think houseboat excursions with magnificent sunsets over the lake. On the Zimbabwean side you will find Matusadona National Park, which has recently been taken under the care of African Parks. We anticipate great things from this partnership.

Track4Africa Zambia Self-Drive Guide
Wildlife Camp outside South Luangwa is one of the popular places to stay in the area. The park lies across the river and there are no fences.

At the town of Siavonga, the twin of Kariba on the Zimbabwean side, the river is freed again to flow between Mana Pools National Park on the Zimbabwean side and Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambian bank. This stretch sees very little human activity and is a really beautiful example of the river in its natural state. Just beyond the park, the Zambezi bids Zambia farewell as it enters Mozambique, where it is dammed up for a second time in the form of Cahora Bassa before being released to make its way into the Indian Ocean.

The Zambezi may be the mightiest of the Zambian rivers, but there are many more really big waterways that support life in Zambia. Just as captivating is the Kafue River, which has its origins in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Kafue flows through the eponymously named national park – the country’s biggest – before making its way into the Zambezi. The vast Kafue National Park offers great diversity and you could plan to visit for any period between two days and two weeks. Varying landscapes and vegetation types will be your reward and I strongly recommend including boat rides in your stay.

One of my favourite things to do is to grab a small boat and head up the Kafue River deep into the park and on my own. Then I turn and drift downstream, camera in hand, looking for birds and animals coming to drink. The only sound is the grunt of a hippo or a puku being spooked. At sunset the Kafue turns into liquid gold. This is why I come back again and again.

Track4Africa Zambia Self-Drive Guide
Bee-eaters displaying their catch in South Luangwa.

Astonishing migrations

Many people will be unaware that Zambia plays host to two great animal migrations. The first is the wildebeest migration in Liuwa Plain National Park, second only to the migrations in Serengeti. The latter, of course, brings with it a great migration of tourists, too. But then Zambia’s second migration – with far fewer tourists – is also one for the record books: the fruit bat migration that descends on a small forest in Kasanka National Park. At its peak, normally in November, an estimated 10 million fruit bats are roosting in the forest. This is said to be the largest mammal migration in the world and I can personally recommend adding it to your bucket list. Kasanka also happens to be a very interesting little park that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting.

Most travellers who have been to Zambia will have visited South Luangwa National Park. As the country’s premier park, it is home to the original walking safaris and is a productive destination for animal sightings. While you cannot camp inside the park, there are many camps on the perimeter that can give you a true wilderness experience. North Luangwa is an important conservation area and not so much a self-drive destination, but you are allowed to transit via the park, which makes for an enjoyable journey to join up with the Great North Road.

Track4Africa Zambia Self-Drive Guide
Ox carts are still a popular form of transport in rural areas.

The country has many upmarket fly-in safari destinations; places like North and South Luangwa as well as Kafue National Park are popular and well developed for this. I am, however, more inclined to drive myself and on extensive trips my budget does not support the idea of spending in excess of $500 per night for accommodation, however wonderfully beautiful and luxurious, not to mention exotic, it may be.

Zambia has become one of my favourite destinations, offering as it does a feel of untamed Africa with unfenced parks and campsites. Maybe it’s a bit rough around the edges and not to everyone’s liking. But that’s the way I like it and I can feel free when driving myself through a pothole and pitching my tent under a tree. Others would say Zambia is already too easy to travel in, so now is the perfect time to go. If you’d like to first sample Zambia before committing, perhaps extend your Namibia or Botswana trip with a detour via Liuwa Plain and Kafue national parks. You’ll be back for more. 

Track4Africa Zambia Self-Drive Guide
Spectacular light created by a brewing storm on the road north of the Luapula River while crossing the Bangweulu Wetlands.
Track4Africa Zambia Self-Drive Guide
At sunset, the Kafue River turns into liquid gold.

Win a Zambia travel combo

The Zambia Self-Drive Guide not only covers destinations and accommodation, but also provides invaluable information about equipment, border crossing formalities and road conditions. A road atlas section is complemented by highly detailed maps throughout the book.

The Zambia paper map (first edition) are published from Tracks4Africa’s GPS data, is one meter wide and produced at a scale of 1:1,000,000. This map is cleverly engineered to be used inside your car by folding open only the sections you need.  

One lucky Stellenbosch Visio reader will win a Zambia travel combo consisting of the Zambia Self-Drive Guide and Zambia paper map worth R599. To stand a chance to win, send the answer to the question below to digital@stellenboschvisio.co.za by 30 April 2021 at 11:00. Remember to include your contact details and detailed courier information. The winner will be chosen at random and notified by email.

QUESTION: Which river feeds Victoria Falls?

WINNER: Adam Mostert