Lower Zambezi National Park

Lower Zambezi National Park

The Lower Zambezi valley is a huge rift in the earth's crust, through which a mighty river flows. Over millennia, mineral-rich volcanic soils deposited by the Zambezi have nurtured lush vegetation, while old meanders and oxbow lakes add to the attraction for wildlife.

There are national parks on both sides of the river – Mana Pools National Park on the Zimbabwean bank, and the Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambian side. The landscape is beautiful: tall leadwoods, ebonies, acacias and figs stand on a carpet of rich grassland. But the main attraction is the area's game, which congregates near the river during the dry season.

Safaris to the Lower Zambezi

Most visitors to the Lower Zambezi fly in by light aircraft to one of the valley’s small airstrips, and stay at one or two of the safari camps or lodges along the river. Although it is possible to drive into the valley, or even to drive part of the way and finish your journey by boat, arriving by air is the most efficient way to maximise your time within the park.

Flights can be organised from Lusaka, Livingstone or South Luangwa’s Mfuwe Airport, making a Lower Zambezi safari easy to combine with time in the South Luangwa National Park or a trip to Victoria Falls. On arrival you will be met by someone from your safari lodge, and transferred by 4WD, taking in any game that you see along the way. Back at the camp, you will be welcomed by the team with some time to settle in, before heading out on an activity such as a safari walk or drive.

Lower Zambezi safari camps and lodges

At Expert Africa, we concentrate on the safari camps that are within, or beside, the Lower Zambezi National Park itself – as we believe that these offer the best game and safari experience. All are located in natural bush along the river, with game regularly roaming through camp. Safari camps in the Lower Zambezi are widely spaced, so you won’t see many, if any, other vehicles during a game drive.

Although the safari camps in the Lower Zambezi National Park differ in style, from sophisticated safari lodges to the simplest of bush camps, you can expect personal service that is up there with the best. Guiding is generally excellent, with all guides trained to the high standards set by the Lower Zambezi Conservation Trust.

Several of the camps in the valley, such as Chiawa Camp, Chongwe River Camp, Sausage Tree and Old Mondoro, are independently owned and run, and receive consistently high reports from our travellers. There are also a couple of safari houses, which are great options for small groups or families travelling together.

Activities on a Lower Zambezi safari

Visitors to the Lower Zambezi National Park, with its location on the wide Zambezi River, can usually choose from an exceptional range of activities. Most Lower Zambezi safari lodges offer two activities a day, one in the early morning, the second in late afternoon – with plenty of time for a leisurely lunch and a siesta between the two.

Game drives in open-topped 4WD vehicles are a regular fixture in all camps, but most also offer the option of a walking safari with a qualified guide and armed ranger. On the water, there are boat trips to explore the Zambezi, keeping an eye out for hippos, crocodile and an impressive array of birds. The more intrepid might prefer to take to the waters in a canoe, while anglers won’t want to miss the opportunity to seek out the mighty tigerfish (though note that all fishing here is on a catch-and-release basis).

Flora and fauna of Lower Zambezi National Park

Like the nearby South Luangwa National Park, the Lower Zambezi protects a slice of a huge rift valley which, geologically, is related to East Africa's Great Rift Valley. In fact, most of the park consists of the hilly higher ground on the sides and top of the escarpment – where the bush consists mainly of thick, broad-leafed miombo woodland. However, with little water here the dry season sees the game concentrate on the flat alluvial plain, beside the deep, wide, permanent Zambezi River.

Here the vegetation is very different: rich soils nurture tall, strong trees typical of riverine areas, including ebonies, leadwoods and fig trees. Winterthorn woodlands – where the apple-ring fruits are so popular with hungry elephants – seem to stretch endlessly along the river. The beauty of these areas is that bush growth under the trees is usually sparse or even absent; this allows unobscured views of game, and makes a great environment for walking safaris.

Animals in the Lower Zambezi National Park

The Lower Zambezi has strong populations of big game. Buffalo and elephant are common, and move freely between Zimbabwe and Zambia, often grazing on the islands in the middle of the river. The Lower Zambezi's antelope species are dominated by large herds of impala, but there are also good populations of kudu, eland, zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, bushbuck and the odd duiker or grysbok. Giraffe are completely absent (there is no record of them ever having lived here) as are cheetah and black rhino – the latter due to poaching.

In the river, crocodile and hippo are always present, but look also for the large water monitor lizard, which occurs frequently here.

The major predators in the Lower Zambezi are lion, leopard and spotted hyena – and in our experience it's an excellent park for game viewing. The varied terrain (with many large trees) seems to suit leopards, whilst the large herds of buffalo attract large prides of lion. Wild dogs occur, and generally also den in or near the park, although sightings tend to be sporadic.

Birdlife of the Lower Zambezi National Park

The park’s birdlife is rich – 378 species have been recorded here, including many species of eagle, heron, stork and bee-eater. Just considering the kingfishers, you'll find pied, giant, woodland, malachite and brown-hooded kingfishers are all common here. Similarly, the river is frequented by darters, cormorants, egrets and storks, and fish eagles are often seen perching in trees that overlook the water. The Lower Zambezi is rich in wading birds, both resident and migrant; uncommon residents include ospreys, spoonbills and African skimmers.
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