Safari guides are fond of warning tourists to never run if they happen upon a hostile animal while on a walking tour in the African bush. It's correct advice for sure, but a somewhat inflated warning for the majority of telephoto-toting tourists swarming around a bored lion, or cruising in rush hour-level Land Rover game drives in popular parks like South Africa's Kruger and Kenya's Maasai Mara. This is not the case, however, in Zambia's 2,500-square-mile Lower Zambezi National Park. This is Africa at its wildest where, more than anywhere else on the continent, opportunities to get out of the Land Rover are always good reason for an adrenaline spike.
Still largely untouched by the mass tourism threatening to overwhelm game reserves in East and South Africa, Zambia is home to some of the continent's largest game reserves, and offers plenty of opportunities to interact with the flora and mega fauna: Whether it's putting boots to African soil on a walking safari or paddling a canoe on the Lower Zambezi River past hundreds of grazing elephants on shore.
In the heart of Lower Zambezi National Park, guests at rustically luxurious tented camps like Chiawa and nearby Old Mondoro set out at dawn on foot in search of lions and leopards, accompanied by seasoned safari guides and well-armed rangers. On the way, hippos surface like submarines in the algae-covered water and waddle up the riverbank to graze, while massive bull elephants trumpet and signal a warning by flapping their enormous ears (which, according to myth, were fashioned by God in the shape of Africa).
For the afternoon, there's an equally adventurous canoe journey down the Lower Zambezi River's ever-shifting shallow channels for an up-close look at flotilla-like pods of snorting hippos – each packing incisors capable of slicing a person in half. Legendary 19th-century explorer David Livingstone called this 1,600-mile-long waterway that flows through six countries "God's Highway," and lurking beneath the surface of the slow lane are Nile crocodiles. Weighing up to 1,000 pounds and reaching lengths of 16 feet, these creatures are just waiting to snatch crested guinea fowl or Egyptian geese that wander too close to the water's edge.
Hundreds of miles downstream, Victoria Falls, the world's largest waterfall (known as Mosi-oa-Tunya or "smoke that thunders" to locals), marks the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. To best absorb the grandeur of the falls' ferocious mile-wide torrent of frothing water, consider an ultralight flight from nearby Livingstone that takes you soaring overhead the millions of cubic feet as it flows into the gorge. Or experience its power firsthand with a swim in the naturally formed Devil's Pool just a few feet from the edge of the watery abyss.
More information Leading outfitters like Maxim Tours, Rothschild Safaris, and Africa Adventure Consultants can arrange walking and canoeing safaris in the Lower Zambezi region, as well as visits to Livingstone and Victoria Falls. The best time to visit the Lower Zambezi and Victoria Falls is from June to October. More info is available at Zambia's tourism site.