Zambia – Africa’s hidden gem

Travellers the world over are slowly discovering that decades of ignoring a country has its benefits. This is certainly true where Zambia is concerned.

The infrastructure needs a bit of an overhaul here and there, but the raw material is beyond comparison – leagues, nay, vast tracts of completely wild and untamed Africa lie waiting for adventure and exploration.

Like the proverbial iceberg, tourists the world over have for the last decade tripped over the tip of Zambia’s potential, namely Livingstone – home of the Victoria Falls and all that thunders along with them – and the well-established and equally renowned South Luangwa National Park. But the truth is that Zambia is so much more than Livingstone and the Luangwa.

Zambia has several hidden assets. There’s the Kafue National Park, for example – all 40,000 square kilometres of it! And with literally just a handful of lodges and bush camps, the Kafue guarantees exclusivity.

Or what about the Lower Zambezi National Park? At just over 4000 square kilometres and another 6000-odd which fall under the control of bordering game management areas and the ground-breaking Chiawa Partnership Park – a joint initiative of lodge owners and local community bordering the park – there is very little to compare to this particular piece of paradise.

The Lower Zambezi – simply breathtaking!

The Kafue and Lower Zambezi may be jewels in Zambia’s crown, but they are far from being the only jewels. Time, and a steadily growing income earned from booming tourism and the influx of foreign arrivals, will see other treasures brought to the fore – like Kasanka National Park, where each November millions of straw-coloured fruit bats gather on an annual migration which rivals that of their Mexican free-tailed cousins on the other side of the world.

Then there’s the Bangweulu wetlands, a magical place whose name means “where the water meets the sky”. This is the home of the almost mythical shoe-bill stork – the holy grail of twitchers the world over and an ornithological “tick” of note.

And, of course, there’s Liuwa Plains, made famous by the documentary “The Last Lioness” – the story of this national park’s last remaining lion and the reintroduction of her kind into the park – and home to southern Africa’s “mini migration” which sees hundreds of thousand of wildebeest and zebra move into the park in time for the annual rains each year.

Add to this the magnificent Sumbu National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the far north of Zambia and the hitherto unexplored (by tourists at least) wildernesses of the North Luangwa and Sioma Ngwezi and you have a recipe for unrivalled eco-tourism success.

Pristine wilderness like this at Chongwe River Camp is easily accessible to would-be safari goers, with great international flights to Lusaka and connections to safari hotspots.

As I have said, infrastructure can be patchy at best and bordering on non-existent at worst in the lesser known parks, but developments in this respect are nonetheless taking place, and with every passing year tourism is given a higher and higher priority on the government’s own “tick list”.

International access to Zambia is good, with direct flights from London to the country’s capital of Lusaka, and excellent connections via Johannesburg and Nairobi.

Some of Africa’s best top-class safari operators work out of Zambia too, and internal flights are well established with ProFlight Zambia offering a thorough safari schedule to all major destinations.

With a US-dollar based economy, Zambia is not the cheapest of destinations, but certainly offers incredible value for money and outstanding game viewing and wilderness experiences.

My advice to all avid safari-goers and those considering their first safari is to go and experience Zambia now, while it still has the edge of the unexplored and the thrill of adventure about it.

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