A leopard lounging in a tree in Kafue National Park, Zambia
experience

Epic safari destinations in Zambia: where to go and what to see

Harriet Comley

Contributing writer

Zambia is one of the most underrated places in Africa to go on safari. Home to the Big 5, you can see leopards, rhino, elephant, lions and buffalo there. There are even cheetahs! The incredible walking safari concept also originates in the country. Just imagine setting out on foot to explore spectacular wildlife...

If you are looking for that archetypal safari experience but don’t want to venture to the Serengeti in peak season (trust me, you don’t want to - its super busy), then try heading to Zambia instead. With 20 national parks, there's lots of choice on where to go. Saying that, these three parks - the South Luangwa, the Kafue, and the Lower Zambezi - are some of the best.

A yawning leopard in a tree in South Luangwa, Zambia

South Luangwa National Park

The South Luangwa National Park is one of my favourite places in Zambia. The game drives I went on whilst in the South Luangwa were unbelievable and visiting here is one of my favourite travel experiences to date. I originally booked two separate game drives then ended up adding two more and a walking safari.

Zambia is considered by many in the safari industry to be the birthplace of the walking safari. I went on a walking safari alone, just with the guide and an armed guard (you never know what will happen in the bush). I didn’t really know what to expect with it being my first time.

We saw zebra, impala and warthogs but it wasn’t about the big animals, it was about the infinitesimal details. It was truly fascinating to discover the important micro elements of this incredible ecosystem. We followed tracks, came across aardvark burrows and learnt about termite mounds. These fascinating details are often overlooked when searching for Africa’s notorious ‘Big 5’.

A family of hippos in South Luangwa, Zambia

A safari in the South Luangwa will leave you with many a story to tell long after you leave. I will forever remember the moment when I was about to exit my outdoor shower to head to my riverside chalet (aka, glorified tent), when I heard a rustling. A full-size hippo was plodding past and decided to stop right in front of the door (when I say door, I mean a door-less wicker structure with a chain across the entrance way). I could have reached out and touched it. I didn’t, of course! Heart pounding, I held my breath and waited a good couple of minutes for him to meander on by, hoping he wouldn’t notice me. A Zambian safari experience to remember.

The best time to visit the South Luangwa is between July and October in Zambia’s dry season, when the animals flock to the banks of the Luangwa River. However, an underrated time to visit is the end of May when many camps offer cheaper rates, and many guests haven’t started arriving yet. It also means you get to see Zambia’s beautiful, luscious greenery as well as the dry sandy savannah.

The wildlife sightings are also fantastic and, in a way, more rewarding. Spotting a leopard with a fresh impala kill strung up on a tree was an awe-inspiring moment, and the most incredible photography session.

Top animal sightings: leopards, lions, elephants, zebra, hippo, crocodiles, buffalo, wild dogs, giraffe

Where to stay: Flatdogs Camp

Grey herons and African skimmers on the bank of the Zambezi River

Lower Zambezi National Park

If you are visiting Lusaka or just flying into the capital, the Lower Zambezi National Park is a convenient and spectacular national park to visit. You can fly to Jeki Airstrip or Royal Airstrip or alternatively you can go by bus.

Despite its proximity to the capital, the Lower Zambezi doesn’t ever feel overrun with tourists. The park is known for its elephant and buffalo herds which you’ll see in abundance during dry season. Most of the lodges are located along the banks of the Zambezi River and therefore offer river cruise safaris. If, like me you are a hippo fanatic then you’ve got to go on a river safari. A bucket of cold beers, that Zambian sunshine and the sound of the thundering hippo grunts is the perfect way to round off a day of exploring.

Nsofu Lodge is a picturesque and affordable safari lodge to stay at. It’s located right on the river, with a swimming pool, and plenty of accommodation options. Though Nsofu is located a bit of a drive away from the national park you still feel as if you’re in the thick of it all. When your safari vehicle picks you up, you get to drive through villages, past giant banana plantations, it’s a trip in itself.

Top animal sightings: leopard, lions, elephants, zebra, hippo, crocodiles, buffalo, hyena, wildebeest, wild dogs

Where to Stay: Nsofu Lodge or Royal Zambezi Lodge

A lioness eating meat in the savannah at Kafue National Park

Kafue National Park

The Kafue National Park is the oldest and largest of Zambia’s breathtaking national parks. It continually surprises me that people don’t seem to travel to Zambia for safaris. People flock to the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti but lucky for us in the know, others often forget about Zambia’s national park gems.

The park is just a two-hour drive from Livingstone so it’s ideal if you’re visiting Victoria Falls. There is a fantastically diverse range of wildlife in the Kafue National Park mostly because of the diverse landscape. The Kafue River runs through the park and Lake Itezhi-Tezhi attracts wildlife in the south.

An African wild dog looking at the camera

The Kafue National Park is the only park in Zambia where you can view the incredible cheetah, the fastest animal in the world. They also have one of the world’s largest populations of the endangered African wild dogs.

When visiting the Kafue National Park, you’ve got to stay at the Kaingu Lodge. This idyllic lodge embraces its natural surroundings, offering cosy accommodation that almost makes you feel as if you’re sleeping in nature. It’s the details at Kaingu that will delight. Recycled green glass bottle nature-inspired art installations and in-the-wild showers are the perfect finer touches. Also, where else can you sleep in a tree basket overlooking the water?

Top animal sightings: leopards, lions, elephants, zebra, hippo, crocodile, buffalo, hyena, wildebeest, wild dogs, cheetahs

Where to Stay: Kaingu Lodge

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Harriet Comley

Author - Harriet Comley

Born and raised in the U.K., Harriet is a travel enthusiast and freelance writer. She has travelled extensively around the world, including many trips to Paris, and frequently returns home to London. Harriet has lived in Canada, Vietnam and China, and is currently based in Zambia.

Last Updated 12 May 2022

An aerial view of Victoria Falls with spray

Zambia

Zambia is one of Africa’s best kept secrets. It is filled with an abundance of natural wildlife, water and landscapes that have barely been touched in comparison to many tourist destinations.
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