Discover the land of falling waters - Zambia
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
Seven trips. Five Continents. Ten countries (it should have been thirteen but that is a frustrating story for another day). For now, let's wrap up a wild 2021in style. Our emotions? Exhilarated after a year that exceeded my expectations in every way. A year after my own gypsy heart.
Our last trip of 2021 was dramatic to say the least but we regret nothing. Zambia welcomed us with open arms. It is a completely off-the-beaten path country when it comes to Africa and is often overlooked by Safari travelers who would rather head to Kruger or Botswana. Like us, many people only make it here to see the mighty Victoria Falls.
Though you will quickly discover that there is more to do, from going on a safari, watching zebra and giraffe graze peacefully just from the comfort of your resort, walking to see the weit rhinos to interactions with African elephants.
Strap on, join us on our journey as we put Zambia on the map for you.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: Land in Lusaka, relax and unwind at Lilayi Lodge
Day 2: Drive from Lusaka to Livingstone, Zambezi river cruise
Day 3: Devils pool and Victoria Falls hike
Day 4: Walking Safari to see Weit Rhinos. R&R at Royal Livingstone Anantara
Day 5: Elephant Interaction. Breakfast. R&R. PCR Test.
Day 6: Check out at noon and head back to Lusaka for flight home next day
Day 7: Fly home
You will require a negative PCR test taken 72 hours prior to landing. Also good to carry your vaccine certificate, as you could get asked on the airline or during immigration.
In this part of the world, nothing is certain any more. Check your country's entry rules for Zambia prior to planning.
Testing tip: there are many local labs but allow your guide to plan the tests around your schedule, that is how we did it.
Flights, Visa and Immigration
We flew directly with Emirates from Dubai to Lusaka.
For Zambia, you will need to apply for a visa ahead of time and have it on you before you board. You can apply for it here. Make sure to have your itinerary, flight tickets and hotels booked before submitting your application.
Tourist visa costs as of 2022 are $25 for single entry, $40 for double entry and $75 for multiple entry.
Immigration was simple, not a lot of crowd at the time. Not a lot of questions either. Just questions on our departure date and where we were staying.
Safety and hygiene
Don't expect people to follow or be aware of COVID safety rules. They have other things to worry about. Do your due diligence, mask or double mask up, sanitize and try to maintain some distance.
Best time to visit
If Victoria Falls is what you want to see, then go between October and early December for the best chance at swimming in the Devil's pool. The pool will close in high season due to the rains, making it inaccessible.
Language and People
Language is never an issue here. Everyone is kind and speaks English.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended - we have our own, but if you are looking for one try World Nomad. USD accepted at all resorts. Carry local currency for small purchases.
Choosing a guide
If you think Africa is an easy or cheap continent to travel in, think again. Don't get me wrong, if you are ok with winging it, hitchhiking and bribing your way through places, you can definitely do it for close to nothing. There is little to no sense of time, that worries us. If you don't want the logistical headache of being stuck in the middle of nowhere for hours, you will need help from a local who knows the ways of their world. Personally, Africa is the last place I would recommend you do it yourself. This is not like backpacking in Europe, Central America or even Asia. Costs quickly add up.
The first thing I do after I decide our itinerary is find a guide who is willing to indulge me. After all, my plans are tightly packed and nonstop. For this trip, I went with Southern Dynasty. This is a trip that I have been planning since February 2021. We had to push it because of repeated restrictions. We finally made it but madness still ensued. Collins was hands-on and patient through it all. He helped us with our tests, figuring out the changes due to last minute chaos. We cannot wait to go back and complete our three country trip with them. Highly recommended for this part of the world. Feel free to reference my name if you decide to book with them.
Costs for getting around Zambia - from Lusaka to Livingstone
Getting around Zambia is going to take time. Whether you are only there to see Victoria Falls or go on a Safari in lower Zambezi, be prepared for long road trips. Private transfers cost around $200 - $300 while shared buses cost a fraction of that. If you have time to spare, I recommend you take shared buses to and from Lusaka to Livingstone. There was a 2 hour delay each way, but apart from that, there were no issues. Our guide had arranged for the buses and handed us our tickets.
No matter when you go to Africa, be ready to spend, especially if you don't want to compromise on certain comforts. A trip to Zambia covering the tours, safari, local transports without flight tickets and hotels would set you back $1000-1500 per person.
Again, always an issue in Africa. We stayed at wonderful properties that catered to our every whimsy. Food was, luckily, not an issue on this trip.
Where we stayed
You can get the full low down on our beautiful stay here.
We landed in Lusaka at around 1 p.m. After a quick immigration, we were picked up by our drive and taken to our resort for the night. For one night, we decided to stay at the Lilayi Lodge. Though we only had one night at the resort, the reason I chose it was because of their elephant orphanage. Please consider donating to their cause when you are here.
The room and the garden area were pure Zen. We even saw a family of pumba right outside our room. Couldn't have asked for a better start to our trip. There is also a small trail you can take right inside the property. A great way to spot more wildlife without leaving the resort.
I was pleasantly surprised to see so many vegan and vegetarian options. We tried the curry and the burger, both excellent. Highly recommend unwinding at this resort after a long journey.
We started early and took the first bus out at 5 a.m. It was a solid 9 hour drive (with multiple pick up stops) from Lusaka to Livingstone. After a long drive, all we wanted to do was relax and unwind. That was the agenda once we checked it to Avani Victoria Falls.
After a quite afternoon, we stepped out for a delightful sunset cruise.
Did you know that Zambezi river is the fourth longest river in Africa? This majestic flowing beauty is what brought the famous explorer David Livingstone to Victoria Falls. One of the most fun ways to experience the river is on a sunset cruise.
There are many options to choose from - check with your hotel concierge for which one to book. The Zambezi Royal cruise is the premium offering. You are guaranteed sightings of birds, crocodile, warthogs, hippos and if you are really lucky, even elephants. The cruise is around 2 hours. I found it to be a fabulous way to stretch your legs and move at nature's slow pace.
Back to the resort for a fabulous vegetarian Zambian dinner.
The day of the main event. I can still feel the adrenaline pulsing through our veins as I type this 8 weeks later.
First a little bit about the Devil's pool - this is probably one of the world's largest infinity pool. Made more epic by the fact that it is all natural. It is located at the edge of the Livingstone Island on the Zambian side. For years, adventure enthusiasts have been going here to peer over the edge of one of the world's largest waterfalls.
How to book:
This is not a DIY activity. If you are planning to go here on your own, know that you cannot do that. You will have to book with the handful of registered operators. The one that comes highly recommended is Tongabezi. You can directly book the tour with them on their website.
The activity costs $110 per person, includes a hearty breakfast, pick up and drop from your lodge in Victoria Falls.
Nothing we do in this lifetime is without risk. Traveling is a risk. So is driving. Even eating food can one day cause you to choke. You might want to argue then that is it necessary to take this undue risk? That is a personal choice. What I will do here is present you with real facts about our entire experience without exaggeration. You can then decide if this activity is for you!
There are multiple slots available through the day starting with 7 30 a.m. 9 a.m. 10 30 12 30 and 15 30. I recommend going for the 9 a.m. slot to catch the double rainbow. It is the best time to go without the weather being too warm. The light won't be too harsh either.
Don't carry lot of things with you. We only took our phone and gopro with us. That is all we needed. Even towels were provided to us.
You are picked up from your resort at 9 a.m. - make sure to arrange for pick up ($5 per person) when you make the booking. After a safety briefing, you will be led down a narrow path towards the falls. From here, you take a short 15 minute boat to the part where the pool begins. Take your time soaking in the view - this where you are headed. Ready? Let's go!
Now, in this picture it might seem like I am leaning over the edge with no support. A small gush of water can push me over, right?
Not really. A gorge forms a “deep wall” of sorts at the edge of the waterfall, creating a safe barrier from where you can peer over - not by yourself. The safety guide is always behind you. He will hold your legs if you do decide you would like to peer over the edge of the pool. You don't have to. Feel fee to just sit on the rocks. We had complete faith in our guides and felt safe the whole time they were holding us.
Now things start to get serious, pay attention. Depending on the size of your group, you will have two or three safety guides. We had two since our turned out to be a private tour. One of them took photos from the shore, the other one was helping us stay afloat. They told us exactly what to do every step of the way - where to jump and where not to. You see where there is a rush of water just around the edge of the pool? We were told to jump there and swim along a straight course until we reached the edge, where the guide was ready to support us.
You are not allowed to stand here or do anything else fancy!
Note that there are times of the year, this is a seasonal activity. The water levels could go as high as 10-15ft; the pool will be closed at that time. The guides know what they are doing. They assess the situation every minute and will advise. DO NOT STEP OUT OF LINE.
True to my travel style, I did plenty of research on the activity to make doubly sure we were mentally and physically ready to take up this challenge. We were not disappointed. The entire experience is hard to put into words. It was beyond thrilling; exhilarating, surreal and easily one of the most beautiful places we have been to in a while. It is worth all the hype. Of course, planning always pays off, so yes, we even got to see the double rainbow which just added to the whimsical vibe.
On hindsight, it was not as scary as people made it out to be since we were with some of the most hardworking guides the whole time who did everything to make sure were safe. The water levels were already high at the end of November so it was a lot harder to swim upstream but swim we did. This was actually the trickier part more so than sitting at the edge of this thunderous waterfall. We are no strangers to wild activities and in my opinion, this once in a lifetime adventure is relatively safe, provided you are a confident swimmer, aren’t afraid of being in the water and are ok with being this high up above ground level.
After a quick lunch, I set off incredible Victoria Falls but this time by foot. As I made my way up towards the trail, I caught the late afternoon light reflecting off the water cascading down Victoria Falls.. but I remember now that I could hear the deafening roar of the falls long before I could see it. This is the trail to see the Mosi-Oa-Tunya, aptly named the “smoke that thunders” in the local language.
It feels nearly impossible to show the grandeur of this place through pictures but it is not for my lack of trying. I have only ever seen drops of water being splayed into the air in Niagara falls and this is just as ethereal. If you are staying at the Avani hotel, you can take a 10 minute walk to the entrance of the Victoria Falls - there is a $20 entrance fee. Once inside, there are multiple loops you can take. It is a great place to spend a few hours, especially later in the day.
Seeing the falls from it's base is an activity you cannot miss when here. To do this, you need to get to the boiling point loop trail. Note that this also a seasonal activity and in high season, the water would have flooded the trail. This trail does require that you be fit - it is not an easy hike to do. This is as close as I could get to Zimbabwe on this trip - thanks world.
TIP: Be sure to wear good hiking shoes.
Fun back story: the hubs did not join me on this hike. I was accompanied by two Zambians - one a security guard and the other one a guide looking to make a quick buck, I didn't turn down the offer. Though I did not have cash on hand, I decided to donate my shoes and earring to his little sister. Her priceless smile made my whole day.
We started early to go on our first and only safari of the trip. I found out that Zambia is the birthplace of the walking safari. We did our first ever walking safari in Uganda and realized that it is a wonderful way to connect with the earth. You can discover not just the big things, but also refocus your senses to see the little things – learning how everything is interconnected in nature.
Apart from impala, zebra and vultures, one of the things we came across was a land filled with elephant carcass. When elephants die of natural causes or due to disease, their remains are burnt so as to not spread the disease to other animals in the park. Apparently, elephants from the family still visit this place as a shrine, remembering a lost member. They really are a special species.
We took this safari mainly to see the now endangered and rare white rhino.
The trip starts with a drive into the national park to meet the rangers who are tracking the rhinos. There are a total of 8 rhinos in the park; they are heavily protected by rangers 24/7.
Surprise! they are not actually white. The story goes like this - the Dutch settlers referred to this rhino as having a wide lip. The English mistook the word “wijde” (meaning wide) for “white” and simply assumed that these are named white rhinos by the Dutch.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing every bone in Anantara. What a perfect way to spend our eighth anniversary.
We spent our last full morning interacting with five of the six orphaned African elephants. This was our chance to walk in the bush and hand-feed elephants. You learn to appreciate scale until you are face-to-face with a full grown adult elephant. We were booked with this group just a short distance from Anantara.
Unlike the encounters you have in Thailand, Srilanka or Nepal, here the animals are free. You will usually find them roaming around inside the park and are protected by members of the local community. Immersing ourselves in their journey and learning from experts who care for them every day was an experience that enthralled us.
We got so close to them and encountered some very strong personalities - like the male who shooed away the female because she got too close for comfort. Oops. We also discovered their unique skills that make them the magical creatures they are. Since being orphaned in the 70s, these elephants have since been raised safely under human protection. They were transferred to the care of Safari Par excellence inside the Mosi-Oa-Tunya national park, a place these animals now call home.
What I loved was the strong bond between the handlers and the elephants. You can see the subtle ways in which they interact with their caregivers - no jitters, just comfort. This love is given to all humans they encounter. The elephants, though older, were naughty and extremely comfortable in our presence. They never shied away. That just goes to show that these animals are treated right here.
The encounter lasts about 30 minutes - you grab food with both hands, say mouth open, drop in the seeds with one hand. Use your other hand to drop food in their trunk. Don't forget to give her/him a nice pat. I cannot tell you what a blissful feeling this was. Could have done it all day long.
P.S. expect to get whacked on the backside by those giant ears!
After the feeding, the elephants run off to splash mud and take a bath in the waterhole. It really is the most endearing way to witness these magnificent giants in their natural environment. Bathing splashing, playing and being themselves in their natural environment. You are never truly alive until you breathe same air as wild animals do. Moments worth living for.
Rest of the day was spent at Anantara, enjoying a grand jetty breakfast and soaking in the most breathtaking views.
Day 6 & 7 was spent doing PCR tests and finding our way back home from Lusaka
We spent our last night in Lusaka at the Wild Dog Lodge, a simple eco-friendly lodge just 15 minutes from the International airport.
Mama Africa, I have a crush on you. Even before the pandemic, Africa travel was not for the faint hearted. It takes a lot of planning but it will never disappoint you. There in lies its allure. Pack tons of patience, money, flexibility and head on your way for adventures that will leave an everlasting impact on the way you view the world.
How can I explain the allure of Africa to someone who has never experienced it? Do I love it because it dances to the beat of its own drum just like me? Is it because this is a continent that really has it all? It is SO much more than a big 5 safari. Africa is home to the hottest deserts, rugged mountains, endless savannah, mammoth waterfalls, and paradise white-sand beaches. Or is it the people who celebrate their land, and have a simplistic and very courageous outlook to life? All of the above. It is almost always tied with South America as our second favorite continent to travel in.
Zambia has a lot going for it. It also happens to be one of the most safest places to visit in Southern Africa. I can vouch for that. People are incredible, warm friendly and don't invade your space. I obviously chose this country because it is yet to be discovered by most travelers. If you need more convincing - imagine seeing the thunderous Victoria Falls without it being packed with tourists unlike in certain other places. That in itself warrants a visit. You cannot help but stand in awe as you get sprayed by this waterfall.
Zambia was the befitting end to our phenomenal year packed with intrepid countries. We cannot wait to go back and finish the rest of our trip later this year.
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