The Zambezi River is the fourth largest river on the African continent. With a total length of 2,574 km, it is the longest river that empties into the Indian Ocean. Its waters originate on the border between Zambia, DRC Congo and Angola, and pass through countries such as Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, before flowing into a delta in Mozambique.
Along the river, we find different rapids and waterfalls, among which the Chavuma Falls (located between Zambia and Angola) and the Victoria Falls, declared a World Heritage Site and one of the most important waterfalls on the planet. If you want to know more about these waterfalls, you can see our experience here.
The fact that different geological formations and interruptions are encountered during the course of the Zambezi mean that it is only possible to navigate normally from the city of Tete (Mozambique) to its mouth. However, in different parts of the river you can navigate by canoe or boat, keeping watch but with the large number of animals (hippos and crocodiles, among others) that live in its waters.
We saw the Zambezi from Zambia, where it is known as the Lower Zambezi, and where we were able to navigate its waters that mark the natural border between this country and Zimbabwe. There, on the other side, is the Mana Pools NP, one of the most important parks in Zimbabwe that borders the waters of the Zambezi River. If you want to know more about our experience in Mana Pools NP, you can click here.
How to get there?
The easiest and most practical way to get to the Zambezi River is from the Lake Kariba Dam in the town of Siavonga. This dam that receives the waters of the Zambezi River gives electricity to Zambia and Zimbabwe creating the largest artificial lake on the African continent. If you want to know more about our days in Lake Kariba, you can click aquí.
Siavonga, which is the border town with Zimbabwe (Kariba is the border city of that country) is located about 200 kilometers south of Lusaka, the country’s capital. From there you can follow the course of the river through a dirt road until you reach the gates of Lower Zambezi National Park. During this route, you will find different accommodation options and towns from where you can approach the river.
However, there is a secondary road that will allow you to reach the Zambezi River area without the need to go through Lusaka. If you come from the east (for example, Chipata or Katete), you must follow the main route which is T4 (where you will find different tolls) until you reach the town of Chongwe. There you will have to turn left following the RD151 towards Shapolao, and when you get to the Leopard Hill caves, turn left onto the RD491 towards Chiawa which is already on the bank of the Zambezi River. This last road of about 60 kilometers crosses a mountain range and runs in the middle of a semi-arid landscape that is very beautiful and recommended to see until you reach Chiawa, and from there you can take the main dirt road that follows the river bank.
The Zambezi River runs through part of Zambia, from the northwest to the Victoria Falls (natural border between Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe) and then continues to Lake Kariba and up to the border with Mozambique. Therefore, if you want, you can also see the river from the Victoria Falls or from the north of the country. We only explain how to get to the Kariba-Siavonga area since it is where we were and where you will find after a few hundred kilometers, the entrance to the national park that bears the same name: Lower Zambezi.
What to do in Lower Zambezi?
– Take a boat trip through the waters of the river while observing different animals
This is the star activity that we consider that you cannot miss if you are in this area of Zambia. Just after the Kariba dam and up to the entrance to the national park, the course of the river passes through a series of villages from where you can take a boat to navigate and be able to observe the different animals that live or that come to the river to drink and cool off. This river is the natural border with Zimbabwe (with the Mana Pools NP on the other side) so you will find yourself between two countries enjoying its nature and the mountain ranges of the part of Zambia on the horizon.
We go on a 2-hour boat ride at sunset. From the boat, we were able to observe crocodiles sunbathing out of the water and up close; hippos that peeked out and hid when we passed by the side (the main danger of going with a canoe is that this animal, which is very territorial, can turn the boat around and throw you into the water. For this reason, the tours are mainly by boat motor); elephants cooling off and approaching the river bank; herds of buffalo; birds…
Think that on the other side of the river is the Mana Pools NP, considered one of the parks with the most elephants in Africa; and, therefore, the option of visualizing these large animals on the river bank is highly probable. In addition, in this part of the river different natural islands are formed where you can even stay to sleep in one of them through a local agency.
Apart from the animal fauna that you will find, we also recommend this activity for its landscape. You will cross the waters of the river accompanied by a mountain range in the Zambian part and you will be able to enjoy a fantastic African sunset from the same boat.
– Visit Lower Zambezi NP
The Lower Zambezi NP is a national park that is located a hundred kilometers from Siavonga. Inside, you can enjoy different safaris among acacia trees and activities related to the river, such as fishing or navigating it by canoe and boat. It is a park with little infrastructure to do it without hiring a tour or an agency, and with high national park prices. So we decided to enjoy the Zambezi River from outside the park.
– Rest and unwind while camping next to the waters of the Zambezi River
Located in a virgin and wild environment, with different local towns along the river, and in a relaxed and quiet environment; you can rest from your accommodation overlooking the river and enjoy the tranquility of the waters of the Zambezi River while watching a boat sailing and different animals (such as elephants) on the horizon drinking water.
We camped next to the river, and there we were able to disconnect, which is a very important aspect if you are on vacation and want to park all your routines and relax.
– Fish some of the most important fish in the Zambezi River
One of the most important leisure activities you can do on the river is fishing. We are not big fans, but during the boat trip we found different boats with tourists who were fishing waiting to catch some of the most important fish on the African continent. Most lodges in the area offer this activity.
In the Zambezi we will find the indomitable tiger fish that can exceed 50 kg in weight and is the main challenge for many recreational fishermen who visit the Zambezi River just to fish.
Where to sleep in Lower Zambezi?
On the road that goes from Siavonga to the entrance of the Lower Zambezi NP you will find different accommodation options, among which we highlight:
– Mukuyu Rest Camp: Without a doubt, this is the best accommodation if you want to rest and relax in the waters of the Zambezi River. It has a garden right next to the river for camping, but it also has different chalets and very nice rooms with views of the river. Kennedy, the owner of it, is a very nice boy from the town who has built this place so that tourists can enjoy one of the most beautiful parts that they have in their town. If you want to book, you can call Kennedy directly or send him a WhatsApp at +260977851361.
– Wildtracks Lodge: This Lodge is also located at the foot of the Zambezi River. Offers rooms and camping options; pool; and various activities such as fishing, canoeing and climbing a baobab. Prices range around 80$ for two people per night. For more information, you can click here.
DAY 1: We arrived at our accommodation on the banks of the Zambezi River at noon after crossing Leopard Hill and the mountain ranges separating Chongwe from Chiawa. A beautiful scenic dirt road to do with your own car. After setting up our tent right by the river, with Kennedy we agreed that we would take a boat trip down the river that afternoon to enjoy the sunset and the different animals that live there.
In the afternoon, we went out with the boat and with Kennedy as captain, and we went through the waters of the river watching different elephants up close drinking water from the part of Zimbabwe; diving hippos watching us see what we were doing and where we were going; crocodiles resting on the sand and some moving to cool off in the water; buffaloes moving away from the shore after cooling off; and more elephants causing the camera to keep clicking because of the beauty of the river, the animal, and the background landscape.
After two hours by boat, we returned to our accommodation enjoying the African sunset behind the waters of the Zambezi River. A great sunset and a boat trip that we highly recommend you do. We went to bed making sure there were no hippos by our side and enjoying the noise of the water and the tranquility of this place like the Lower Zambezi.
DAY 2: In the morning, we took the opportunity to do various necessary tasks such as washing clothes or preparing meals, while Kennedy began to prepare different tables: this afternoon there was a local wedding and they were celebrating the party there in the garden where we were camping. So we said goodbye to him and headed for our next destination, which was quite close to where we were: Lake Kariba, the largest artificial lake on the African continent created through the waters of the Zambezi River.