Despite high poverty levels and an overreliance on copper prices to keep cash flowing through the governmental coffers, Zambia has weathered the upheavals of post-colonial Africa better than most all of its near neighbors.
This is not a country of coups and counter coups, but rather of democracy and capital investment.
It’s a place where great engineering feats (just look to the Kariba Dam to see what we mean) sit side-by-side with natural wonders of the world: the winding Zambezi River; the gushing Victoria Falls.
Cities like Lusaka buzz with development, while old Copperbelt towns still churn out ores from their dusty hills.
And all the while there’s Zambia’s wild side.
This indifferently carries on all over the place.
Antelopes hop and scurry through the miombo woods of the south, while elephants dodge leopards on the banks of Lake Tanganyika, and safari goers flock by their thousands to catch a glimpse of it all.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Zambia:
Cascading down to the banks of Lake Kariba in a patchwork of acacia trees, palms, rosewoods and forest figs, the verdant town of Siavonga has established itself as one of the premier holidaying spots in all of Zambia.
It’s peppered with excellent hotels that boast sunning terraces and cafes overlooking the water, while boats bob along the shoreline and the hills of the Zambezi Valley erupt all across the horizon.
On this – the largest reservoir in the world – it’s possible to enjoy oodles of watersports and recreational activities, while Siavonga itself is fringed by pretty beaches and walking trails.
2. Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
The legendary ‘Smoke which Thunders’, Mosi-oa-Tunya is home to some of the most striking and unforgettable sections of the Victoria Falls.
As the second-largest single cataract on the globe, it’s easy to see why that part of Zambia’s mighty river has garnered itself a UNESCO heritage tag.
And when you add in the populations of white rhinos, Angolan giraffes, zebras and the occasional elephant that also tread this way, it’s even easier to see why quite so many visitors flock to this corner of the country every year.
You’ll need good walking boots and a daring disposition at hand, ready for the narrow platforms of the so-called Knife-Edge Bridge that arches over the falls themselves!
3. Kasanka National Park
A pint-sized place close to the straight-line border with the DRC in the middle of Zambia, Kasanka offers up a curious cross-section of Central African fauna.
Pangolins and mongoose stalk the countryside, while sable antelopes and hartebeest coalesce on the grassy meadows.
Granted, there are few – if any – of the so-called Big Five game here, but there are other, more niche opportunities, to encounter the continental ecology – think meandering boat journeys and fishing outings on the Luwombwa River, sitatunga antelope stalking amidst the swamps, and some of the most amazing bat migrations known to man!
Kitwe has risen and risen in the last century to become one of Zambia’s most populous towns.
Today, more than half a million folk call this one their home; most of whom sweat and toil away in the copper mines that first brought money to this corner of Central Africa.
When you arrive, you’ll be able to see the consequences of the booming mining industries here.
They loom in the form of metal rigs above the dusty ground, and pop up amidst the stalls of the city’s Obote Ave Market – look for the curious handmade copper trinkets.
Kitwe is also perfectly placed for further explorations among the towns of the greater Copperbelt.
The onetime capital of Zambia now bears the honorific moniker of perhaps the most famous explorer of the African continent who ever lived: David Livingstone.
In fact, the place is a fitting memorial to the Scottish expeditionary and anti-slavery campaigner, not least of all because it’s the gateway to the roaring cataracts of the Victoria Falls (Livingstone is said to have been the first explorer to have set eyes on the wonder!). It’s also one of the best-loved places for safari goers and adventure travelers heading to Central Africa, famed for its ease-of-access to the legendary Zambezi National Park (in Zimbabwe), and the whitewater rapids of the Zambezi River to boot!
6. Nsumbu National Park
Ranging from the sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika to the scrub-clad hills of the country’s Northern Province, the Nsumbu National Park is a diverse and enthralling experience of the Central African hinterland.
It’s also something of a wildcard safari choice, only opening to mainstream visitors in the last couple of decades with the inauguration of gravel road connections to Kawambwa.
Highlights of the park include the gorgeous reaches of Kasaba Bay, where elephants can be seen wandering the swamps, and the meanders of the Lufubu River, which host everything from snapping crocs to water buffalo.
The place where Zambia’s go-getters and entrepreneurs flock in search of opportunity, Lusaka is a throbbing city of mercantile types.
Its markets – like the sprawling Soweto Market and its medley of shamanist and used car part stalls – burst with chatter, as locals haggle their way through the wares.
Minibuses purr up and down the tarmacked roads, and there are new high-rise construction projects marking many of the corners (a sign that this capital is on the up!). The interesting Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the heart of the city is worth a gander, and so are the enlightening exhibitions of the National Museum.
8. South Luangwa National Park
One of the homes of the celebrated walking safari, the South Luangwa National Park spreads out between the rising mountains of eastern Zambia.
It’s trodden by elephant herds and hippos, countless buffalos and long-necked giraffes, straddling miombo woods and swaying savannah plains.
The biodiversity makes it something of a picture of quintessential Africa, and the addition of lion prides does well to add to the rep.
You’ll be able to stroll the hinterland in the company of pastoralist guides, learning all about animal tracking, anti-poaching and conservation.
9. Kafue National Park
The oldest national park in all of Zambia is a real treat for those in search of a bona fide African safari experience.
Covering over 20,000 square kilometers, it remains one of the largest protected game areas on the continent, and boy does the biodiversity speak for itself! You’ll spot rare antelopes on the plains, and the elusive cheetah (hardly seen in these parts at all) stalking the riverine woods.
You’ll get the chance to encounter African wild dogs on the grasses, and see them prowling their territories in the company of elephants (there are an estimated 4,000 individuals here) and monitor lizards alike.
It’s all pretty bucket-list-busting stuff…
10. Lower Zambezi National Park
One of Zambia’s more off-the-beaten-track wildernesses lies between the borders of the Lower Zambezi National Park; a place yet untouched by the onslaught of mass safari going and ecotourism.
A patchwork of muddy banks and miombo gallery woods, the 4,000-square-kilometer area is known for its vast floodplain.
This seasonal wetland magnetizes groups of lions and elephants, buffalo and leopard, which all congregate here to water and feed.
Lower Zambezi can’t be reached by paved road, so a 4X4 or a chartered flight connection (a great way to survey the wilds of southern Zambia) is entirely necessary.
Ndola is the commercial epicenter of Zambia’s Copperbelt Province; one of the industrious kingpins of the nation.
Butting right up to the border with the DRC, it’s a well-kempt town of neat streets and urban green spots, which makes a nice change from the frenetic energy of the country’s capital at Lusaka.
Despite having overtly lived-in vibes, there are a few interesting little touristic points to see, like the termite-devoured Mukuyu Slave Tree, where Arabian traders would have hawked their human goods in centuries gone by.
You can also see the striking sinkhole lake of Chilengwa, perpetually baffling locals with its curious absence of a water source.
12. Blue Lagoon National Park
Just 100 kilometers outside of Lusaka is where visitors will find the otherworldly delights of the Blue Lagoon National Park.
Nestled atop the Kafue Flats, this vast floodplain of a reserve oscillates between cracked and sunbaked desert in the dry season and verdant watering hole when the rains come.
It’s when the pearly waters begin to swell that most visitors will arrive.
They go eager to spot rare birds in the canopies of acacias that line the little oxbow lakes and lagoons.
Or, they go to wonder at the prancing lechwe antelopes as they dance around the forests.
One of the so-called Copperbelt towns of the Zambian heartlands, little Chingola is a pretty place.
It’s topped with the swaying boughs of acacia trees and the occasional spiny cactus, and ticks over to the down-to-earth thrum of copper mining machinery and the chatter of local prospectors.
Today, a clutch of good hotels and restaurants draws a humble crowd of visitors each year.
They come to wonder at the colossal open shaft mines that surround the settlement, or to have a round of golf in the nearby course – one of the most acclaimed in the entire of the Copperbelt region, nay, the whole country!
14. Sioma Ngwezi National park
Although ravaged by out-of-control poaching in past decades, the reserves of Sioma Ngwezi are now back on the up.
Once again pulling in the occasional crowd of visitors, they have been graced with the re-established presence of African elephants in recent years (there are now an estimated 3,000 individuals here, largely found on the park’s southern edge). There are also all the usual kudus and impala, along with the possibility of rare cheetah sightings to boot.
And what’s more, there are some luxury safari lodges to enjoy here, all within close distance to the pouring waters of the Ngonye Falls.
A down-to-earth mining center that sits perched high on the ridges of the north-western uplands of Zambia, Solwezi has graduated from sleepy backwater to booming industrial center.
The newfound confidence has manifested in a clutch of lively beer bars and pubs that erupt with locals after dark, not to mention the appearance of just a couple of homestays for the burgeoning tourist scene.
However, it’s not the copper mining but the rock works that will attract most of the crowds – Solwezi is home to some of the country’s oldest Stone Age engravings, which can be found in the caves and canyons along the Kifubwa River nearby.