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Epic Guide To Backpacking In Zambia

Backpacking in Zambia can be an incredible adventure, offering a mix of wildlife, landscapes, culture, and adventure activities. This is my travel guide to help you plan your backpacking trip to Zambia.


Backpacking In Zambia

I have been to Zambia twice now on two separate trips from Ethiopia to South Africa and Zambia was one of my favourite countries to visit and has one of my favourite destinations for a safari.

The beginning of the article is about the top destinations you will want to visit when backpacking in Zambia and at the end is some practical advice for the country.

Of course, there are other places that you can visit but if it’s your first time in the country focus on the main sites mentioned here and you will get the best out of what the country has to offer.

Top tip: get the Bradt Zambia Safari Guide to help plan your trip. It’s the best guide I have used for Zambia and Bradt Travel Guides in general are some of the best to use for Africa.


4 Top Destinations When Backpacking In Zambia

There are plenty of options for where to go and what to see in Zambia but as a backpacker, there are two must-see places as far as I’m concerned and that’s Victoria Falls and South Luangwa National Park.

If you’re travelling to other countries like Malawi or Botswana it’s perfect as you will be passing by Victoria Falls and South Luangwa on the same journey.


Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world based on its combined width and height. The sheer volume of water cascading over the edge creates a mesmerizing spectacle and a constant mist that blankets the surrounding area.

When backpacking in Zambia this is the must-visit destination to go to. It’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

During the dry season (usually from mid-August to mid-January), you can take a thrilling swim in the Devil’s Pool, a natural rock pool situated at the edge of the falls on the Zambian side. It offers a unique perspective of looking over the edge into the gorge below.

Because of the mist created by the falls, vibrant rainbows are often visible, especially during sunny days. You can capture stunning photos of rainbows arching over the falls from various viewpoints.

Victoria Falls is known as the adventure capital of Africa, offering a wide range of adrenaline-pumping activities such as bungee jumping, zip-lining, white-water rafting, microlight and helicopter flights, and gorge swings.

I did the white-water rafting at Victoria Falls and the microlight flight. The white-water rafting is one of the best things I have ever done, anywhere, and the microlight flight gives you excellent aerial views of the falls.

Taking a microlight flight over Victoria Falls.

The best time to visit Victoria Falls depends on what you want to experience:

  • High Water Season (February to July): This is when the falls are at their most impressive, with the highest water flow. However, the mist can obstruct views, and some activities may be limited due to safety concerns.
  • Low Water Season (August to January): During this period, the water levels decrease, providing better visibility of the falls and access to activities like swimming in Devil’s Pool.

The rapids when white water rafting on the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls are insane! If you run the full course for a whole day it’s 26 rapids you will go over with some being grade 5.

I’m in that raft!

If you’re on a tight budget and there was just one activity to choose from to do then I recommend the white-water rafting for sure.


South Luangwa National Park

South Luangwa National Park is one of Zambia’s best safari destinations, it’s my favourite one and is renowned for its high concentration of wildlife and beautiful landscapes.

South Luangwa is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife, including large populations of elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and various antelope species. It’s also famous for its leopard sightings, with the park having one of the highest densities of leopards in Africa.

Other predators you might encounter include lions, wild dogs, and hyenas. The park is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over 400 bird species recorded.

Some of the best safari options, of which I have done all, are these:

  1. Game Drives: Morning and evening game drives are the best times to spot wildlife when animals are most active. Experienced guides lead these drives in open 4×4 vehicles, taking you deep into the park’s wilderness.
  2. Walking Safaris: South Luangwa is renowned as the birthplace of walking safaris. Walking through the park with armed guides allows you to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the bush up close while learning about the smaller flora and fauna often missed on game drives.
  3. Night Drives: Nighttime safaris provide a chance to see nocturnal animals such as leopards, hyenas, genets, and civets. Guides use spotlights to illuminate the wildlife without disturbing them. Personally, when I saw a lion come out of the darkness and come right next to our vehicle was one of the most exciting wildlife experiences I have ever had.

Spotting lions on a night safari.

Accommodation options in South Luangwa range from luxury lodges to tented camps and budget-friendly campsites. Most lodges and camps offer all-inclusive packages that include accommodation, meals, and safari activities.

Some tips for your safari:

  • Pack lightweight, neutral-coloured clothing and comfortable walking shoes for safari activities.
  • Bring binoculars and a good camera with a zoom lens for wildlife photography.
  • Respect the park’s rules and guidelines, including maintaining a safe distance from wildlife and following your guide’s instructions.

South Luangwa National Park is dedicated to conservation efforts, including anti-poaching initiatives and community involvement in wildlife management. By visiting the park responsibly, you contribute to these conservation efforts and help support local communities that depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

If you plan on visiting other countries for safaris then have a look at my in-depth guide to safaris in east and southern Africa (link opens in a new tab).


Kafue National Park

Kafue National Park, located in western Zambia, is the country’s largest national park and one of the largest in Africa. It’s renowned for its diverse ecosystems, abundant wildlife, and pristine wilderness.

The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including the Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhinoceros), as well as numerous other species such as hippopotamus, crocodile, giraffe, zebra, antelope, and more than 400 bird species.

The diverse habitats within the park, including savannah, miombo woodland, rivers, and floodplains, support this rich array of wildlife.

You can do the usual game drives and even a walking safari but there is also the option of taking a boat safari along the Kafue River or one of its tributaries to observe hippos, crocodiles, and a variety of birdlife. Boat safaris offer a unique perspective of the park’s waterways and floodplains.

Kafue National Park offers a range of accommodation options to suit different preferences and budgets, including luxury lodges, tented camps, bush camps, and self-catering campsites. Many lodges and camps are located along the park’s riverfront or in prime wildlife-viewing areas.


Lower Zambezi National Park

Lower Zambezi National Park is a pristine wilderness area located in southeastern Zambia, along the northern bank of the Zambezi River. It is directly opposite Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, creating a transboundary conservation area renowned for its scenic beauty and diverse wildlife.

The park is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including elephants, hippos, crocodiles, buffalo, lions, leopards, and numerous antelope species such as impala, kudu, and waterbuck.

The Zambezi River supports a thriving population of aquatic species, and birdwatchers will delight in the park’s prolific birdlife, including African fish eagles, kingfishers, herons, and storks.

You can do the usual drive and walking safaris but one of the more unique ones to do there is to explore the Zambezi River by canoe on guided canoe safaris, which allow you to paddle quietly along the waterways while observing wildlife up close.

Canoeing safaris are a serene and intimate way to experience the park’s natural beauty.

I would still choose South Luangwa as the number one choice for a safari destination but if you want to do various safaris in different locations and have the time and budget then add the Lower Zambezi National Park to your options.


Cultural Experiences

  1. Livingstone Museum: Learn about Zambia’s history and culture at this museum located in Livingstone.
  2. Traditional Village Visits: Experience Zambian culture firsthand by visiting local villages and interacting with residents.
  3. Local Markets: Explore bustling markets in cities like Lusaka and Livingstone to shop for souvenirs and sample local cuisine.

When to Go

Zambia has a tropical climate with three distinct seasons: the hot, wet season (November to April), the cool, dry season (May to August), and the hot, dry season (September to October).

The best time for backpacking in Zambia is during the dry season when wildlife viewing is at its best and outdoor activities are more enjoyable.

Relaxing by the Zambezi River at sunset.


Visa

Most visitors to Zambia require a visa, which can often be obtained upon arrival at the airport or border. However, checking the specific visa requirements based on your nationality is essential before your trip.


Health and Safety

When you go backpacking in Zambia be sure you’re up to date on routine vaccines before travelling. Additionally, consider vaccinations for diseases like malaria, typhoid, and hepatitis A and B.

Use insect repellent and sleep under mosquito nets to prevent mosquito bites. Tap water is not safe to drink, so stick to bottled water. Be cautious of petty theft, especially in crowded areas and public transport.


Budget

Zambia can be relatively affordable for backpackers, especially if you stick to budget accommodations and local food. Camping is a popular option, and there are numerous campsites throughout the country.

Budget around $30 at least for simple accommodation, basic food places, and local transport.

However, prices for activities like safaris and adventure sports can vary widely. If you’re planning on doing a safari and some adventure activities at Victoria Falls then you will want to add roughly an extra $100 per day you plan for those activities on top of the average daily budget for food and accommodation.


Getting Around

Public transport in Zambia mainly consists of buses and minibuses, which can be crowded and not always reliable. With the minibuses in particular they will cram as many people as they can inside and sometimes you may have to wait a few hours for it to fill up.

The minibuses are definitely not the “comfortable” way to travel but you will have some memorable travel experiences in them!

Hitchhiking is common and relatively safe for backpackers but exercise caution. Alternatively, you can rent a car, but be prepared for rough roads in some areas if you get away from the main roads. Make sure you’re an experienced driver and used to rough roads if you choose this option.

I think it’s best to just use the local transport and organise any off-the-beaten-path travel with an experienced driver and vehicle like a 4×4.


Accommodation

Backpackers in Zambia have several accommodation options, including hostels, guesthouses, campsites, and budget hotels. Lusaka, Livingstone, and the South Luangwa National Park area have a good selection of backpacker-friendly accommodations.


Packing Essentials

  • Lightweight clothing suitable for hot weather
  • Sturdy hiking shoes
  • Insect repellent and mosquito nets
  • Sunscreen and sunhat
  • Waterproof gear (during the rainy season)
  • Basic medical kit and any necessary medications
  • Portable water filter or purification tablets

Zambia

Zambia is one of the best and most adventurous backpacking destinations in Africa, if not the world and I’m sure you will have a great trip there as well.

Remember to always respect local customs and wildlife when backpacking in Zambia, and enjoy your adventure in this beautiful country!

Again a top tip: get the Bradt Zambia Safari Guide to help plan your trip. It’s the best guide I have used for Zambia and Bradt Travel Guides in general are some of the best to use for Africa.

For more on the region have a look at my backpacking guide to Malawi.


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