Zambia offers a heady mix of wildlife, habitat and experiences - here's our top 5:
South Luangwa National Park
The fountainhead of the walking safari, the South Luangwa National Park remains amongst the best places to undertake one - either in combination with driving or as a multi-day expedition. Zambia's most famous Park offers a lot more besides walking - the standard of guiding is excellent and the camps are small and intimate (the average size being around 12 beds) - some camps are particularly well suited to younger guests while others focus (sorry) on photographers.
The Lower Zambezi National Park
While similar to the Luangwa in terms of wildlife, the fact that the Zambezi River is navigable by boat and canoe (the Luangwa is not - except in the green-season) adds an entirely different dimension to your safari. Add to that stunning scenery and the chance to try your hand bagging (on a catch and release basis) a Tiger Fish, Africa's fiercest-fighting fish and extremely comfortable camps and the Lower Zambezi National Park is a very attractive proposition - on its own or in combination with some of the other Parks.
The Kafue National Park
This behemoth of a National Park has a huge variety of habitat, from plains to woodland, rivers and hills - none of which bear much similarity to the Luangwa of Lower Zambezi Valleys. Nowhere in Zambia, and arguably in all Africa, is it possible to see and do so much - walking, driving, fishing, boating, canoeing and hot-air ballooning is all here. Nowhere is there a greater diversity of antelopes (21) and with nearly 500 species of birds recorded the Kafue National Park is a birder's delight. A wonderfully eclectic network of small owner-operated characterful camps now make a multi-day traverse through this wilderness both possible and massively rewarding.
The Liuwa Plains National Park
Out in the far west of Zambia towards the Angola sits the Liuwa Plains National Park. Boasting Africa's second largest Wildebeest Migration but with a tiny fraction of the visitors. A photographers playground with carpets of wild flowers and dramatic electrical storms, as with most wild places in Africa there is a huge amount besides the main attraction. Splendid birdlife and esoteric resident mammals - but perhaps more than anything a proper feeling of having fallen off the map.
The North Luangwa National Park
While the South Luangwa's nascent tourism infrastructure was being nurtured in the 1960's the decision was made to leave the North Park undisturbed in order to see what happens when you don't do anything. Sadly, this coincided with Zambia rapidly running out of funds for wildlife protection and so for a couple of decades the North Luangwa National Park was over-run by poachers and poaching. The arrival of the driven, effective, yet controversial, conservationists, husband-and-wife team Mark and Delia Owens brought this to a halt and the North Luangwa is now a real success story, currently Zambia's best protected Park and sanctuary for the country's only Black Rhino.
True to its roots the North Luangwa has remained largely undeveloped - there are few roads and access is seasonal. This makes for top-drawer walking-safari country (see more about walking in Zambia here) - where it is possible to walk for days along the banks (and sometimes in) the crystal clear Mwaleshi River, amongst huge herds of buffalo and the accompanying prides of lion. As good as place as anywhere to see lion on foot - which is a markedly different experience from the generally somnolent beasts observed from a vehicle.
Kasanka National Park and the Bangweulu Swamps
A more esoteric collection on creatures great and small are found in the Kasanka National Park and the nearby, but not quite contiguous, Bangweulu Swamps. Kasanka is best known for its annual bat migration - where every November millions of Straw-coloured Fruit Bats congregate in a tiny patch of woodland. The Bangweulu is most famous as a stronghold for the curious-looking Shoebill Stork.
Both places hold an awful lot besides their respective star attractions. Kasanka is a pretty and varied little Park, with Elephant & Hippos, along with an incredible variety of bird life and is probably the best place to see the Sitatunga Antelope – a near mythical swamp-specialist. The Bangweulu Swamps is other-wordly, extremely rich in wildfowl and crawling with the endemic and photogenic Black Lechwe. These swamps are the source of the Congo River – most of Zambia drains in to the Zambezi and out to the Indian Ocean – and being across the watershed in another catchment makes a world of difference.