Another “Z”, the Zambezi River, runs through both countries, spilling over and thundering down both their borders at Victoria Falls, which many call the most majestic waterfall on the planet.
Officially, “Vic Falls” ranks as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And there’s good reason for that—this mile-wide curtain of water plunging some 400 ft. over a huge cliff, tells a tale of two countries. On the Zambia side, travelers fly into Livingstone Airport, but often head to hotels on the Zambezi riverfront, such as the stylish, colonial Royal Livingstone Hotel or the Zambezi Sun resort. Local travel companies have turned the Zambia side of the falls into fun-filled action center offering bungee jumping, white-water rafting and canoeing, as well as sundowner river safaris, game drives or elephant back safaris in Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park.
The town Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side sits right by the falls. It was built for tourism with hotels, restaurants and bars, and it’s a town that works well for tourism, remaining largely untouched by violence elsewhere in the country.
Most U.S. travelers visiting the area fly right into Victoria Falls Airport, often following a visit to South Africa. They may stay at the classic Victoria Falls Hotel—actually the oldest hotel in Zimbabwe, as this writer, who stayed there in its more modest days 40 years ago, can attest to. Nowadays, the property is elegant, surrounded by gardens with perfect views of the spray from the falls. Also positioned even closer to the watery spectacle is the smaller Ilala Lodge, a lovely colonial hotel whose rooms face the lawn that stretches to the Zambezi River gorge. Activities include exploring Victoria Falls National Park and the Zambezi National Park to enjoy wildlife drives, guided hikes and fishing expeditions. Light plane or helicopter rides over the falls are very popular with guests in both countries.
While Victoria Falls is a mainstay attraction on the Africa travel circuit—most often as an add-on to itineraries in South Africa and Botswana—Chris McIntyre, president of Expert Africa is wild about the two “Z” destinations.
“The national parks of Zambia and Zimbabwe shelter huge concentrations of big game animals, as well as more than 700 species of birds,” he explains, “and they are tops for special experiences such as boating safaris in the Lower Zambezi National Park or walking safaris in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park.”
McIntyre adds that while Zambia has a broader parks infrastructure and more upscale camps, Zimbabwe has fabulous, experienced guides. “The government test for the guide who looks after the client is very stringent; the test for the armed escort who watches the animals is even stricter.”
Lusaka is the air gateway to landlocked Zambia, which has three large lakes and is sustained by three great rivers. As one of the most sparsely populated nations, Zambia retains a sense of remoteness that gives visitors an experience of what is often called the “real” Africa. Zambia’s top safari areas are:
- South Luangwa National Park, where big game concentrates in large numbers around lagoons and sandbars, favorite habitats for hippo and crocodiles; and birdlife abounds.
- Kafue National Park contains diverse landscapes and varied wildlife, and is one of Africa’s largest game parks. Most major species are here, including the big cats.
- Lower Zambezi National Park is wildlife-rich in lions, leopards, vast herds of elephant and buffalo, and swarms of hippos.
Lion World Tours takes clients for a 6-night Walk on the Wild Side, starting in Johannesburg for a night and a second night in Livingstone at the Zambezi Sun resort. Guests then fly to the air strip at Kafue National Park, one of the largest in Africa, to spend two nights at the Musanza Tented Camp located on the permanent pools of the Lufupa River in an area well-known for leopard sightings. They continue on day six by a combination light aircraft and helicopter to the Busanga Bush Camp for three days in an area of expansive grassy floodplains and some of the best lion-viewing in Africa. Activities here include game drives, walking safaris and night drives. Departures are available June through October, and the tour price, from $5,899 pp dbl, includes roundtrip international air from Washington, D.C. or New York to Johannesburg, regional and air charter flights, and all land arrangements.