Dry and wet places to visit in Zambia

Monday, April 3, 2017

I haven’t chosen the title just for fun and giggles. The geographical placement of water bodies does affect the life in this small country quite significantly. Zambia was named after the massive Zambezi river that also forms the southern border of Zimbabwe. The combination of volcanic activity and abrasiveness of water is the reason many places to visit in Zambia are in the bosom of nature. At the first sight, this country is richer than Malawi and Zimbabwe due to its copper resources. However, the national identity is not anyhow strong. My first and last impressions were sadly annoying road taxes at the border and ridiculous bureaucratic processes. Criticizing the system hard got me almost into a fight with an official. Nevertheless, I enjoyed wonderful days exploring the following highlights:

Luangwa River: meeting fellow explorers

I have spent my first night in a camp next to this river surrounded by awesome nature. I welcomed the fact, that the campsite was equipped really well. My most cherished part of this stop was, however, meeting other foreign nomads. Interpersonal dialogue helps to deepen your experience and open eyes to things we do not see ourselves. We exchanged many stories in a cordial chat. One of them also traveled by his car, but he stepped up my game and drove an authentic old-timer Bentley – I will never complain about the difficulty of getting spare parts for my car again! He usually has them sent by airmail or builds them with local mechanics. This strong-willed New Yorker has already driven through more than one hundred countries with his car. What an inspiration! Besides him, I met a Malawi based German and a Dutchman, who were on their way to observe birds in the pure nature of Botswana, also driving a troublesome car. Each of us had his own priorities in the life on the wheels and all together it was a very empowering encounter.

Lower Zambezi: finding the right path again

If nothing else, this is for sure the place to visit in Zambia. It is by far the wildest national park and you will certainly need a 4wd. I enjoyed every moment of exploring on my own and fighting the sandy roads. Many paths were just dried out rocky river basins. Some of the roads are not clearly visible and others might not be fully crossable, which can cause major complications when searching for animals. But once you prepare to get into such situations, you will experience the ride of your life… or at least a week. Offline GPS maps helped me a lot to overcome these obstacles. The most challenging part was a five meters long steep creek, where we had to wedge the wheels in order to get a grip and to continue. As if this wasn’t enough, there were elephants herding on the path, one even started to launch at us in an aggressive manner. Luckily, our tactics to scare it away with the noise of the engine in neutral gear worked!

Victoria Falls: nearly dry instead of soaking wet

While around, I could not miss the Victoria falls for sure. Honestly, this frequented touristic spot caused me quite a cultural shock after all those rural areas and wild nature. October, unfortunately when I was there, is a dry season and the famous magnificent waterfalls turn into a small lazy stream of water. It is only two months later when the falls stretch again into the two kilometers wide roaring mass. Instead of meeting a crowd of soaking wet tourists, I was harassed by desperate souvenir sellers. And because they were used to generous tourists, it was really hard to connect with them on a personal level. The ludicrous final touch on the whole image were baboons mating shamelessly on the paths.

bored souvenir salesmen playing a game near the Victoria Falls

Livingstone: following the notorious explorer

Livingstone is, among all the places to visit in Zambia, actually the only touristic city in the whole country. I decided to follow the footsteps of its spiritual father, Dr. David Livingstone, famous Scottish explorer of the African continent. Two hundred years ago, when he was exploring, there was no infrastructure and he had to face enormous risks hidden in the wild nature, not to mention the local tribes. Today, we can effortlessly drive to all of his discoveries – among those are also the higher mentioned Victoria Falls. Until today, there is his statue in the bush, depicting him spotting the Victoria Falls for the very first time. Besides Livingstone in Zambia, there is also a city called Livingstonia in Malawi to celebrate his tribute. Hardly anything is as boosting for a travelers stamina as knowing, that somebody before him managed with less equipment. It was worth it back then and still is today!

Lusaka: last but not least of places to visit in Zambia

Lusaka honestly feels like Nairobi, just smaller. The most charismatic part is the central business district. I recommend dropping by for one day but not staying longer. If you decide to list Lusaka among the places to visit in Zambia, make sure you will not miss the national gallery and museum. The execution is an incredible mix of various styles crammed in a tiny space. The exhibitions cover topics from social problems to the national identity expressed by art. The top floor started with a pre-historic exhibition, that seemed like a brief philosophical approach to the many theories about the origin of the world combined with intelligent design. Followed by the country’s cultural heritage with professionally chosen exponents, portraying the historical milestones forming a national identity. The next section was a bit more emotional, it was about the acknowledgment of the AIDS epidemic through the eyes of children. And last but not least, the ground floor was reserved for a sophisticated art exhibition with impressive masterpieces. I like to witness both - the authentic views of the raw everyday life and the higher culture of each nation, because only this way, one can grasp a coherent idea about the beliefs of the life there.

Not so many places to visit in Zambia

Besides Victoria Falls, there are way more places to visit. In Zambia mainly the off-road adventure lovers will find a little heaven on earth. The rough national parks revealing the geographical history are the biggest highlight, when it comes to the rest, it cannot quite compete with the neighboring countries.