How to fit Victoria Falls into an multi country African wildlife safari holiday

Pip
December 18, 2015

Straddling the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls stands as the largest sheet of falling water in the world and is undoubtedly one of the most impressive natural sites in Africa. Located in the heart of the continent, it is a ‘must-see’ on many tourists’ itineraries and sits within close proximity to fantastic national parks, not only in Zamiba in Zimbabwe, but also nearby Botswana. For those looking to include this spectacular waterfall with some of Africa’s best wildlife spotting opportunities in the surrounding region, here are a few of the most impressive parks within a short drive or flight from ‘The Smoke that Thunders’.

Zambia

Witness the island-jumping buffalo in Lower Zambezi National Park

African Buffalo, Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia
Lower Zambezi National Park is known for large herds of elephants often spotted along the river edge, together with buffalo known to jump the islands within the Zambezi River.

Reason to visit: Lying on the northern banks of the mighty Zambezi River at the meeting of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the least developed parks in the region. While it lacks the variety of big game found in other parks, its lure is its pristine wilderness and the ability to get up close to big game on walking safaris throughout the valley. Vegetation ranges from thick riverine forests to inland floodplains and the miombo woodland forests that cover the escarpment along the park’s northern edge.

The park is known for large herds of elephants often spotted along the river edge, together with buffalo known to jump the islands within the Zambezi River. Waterbuck, lion and leopards can also be spotted, together with more than 400 bird species that reside or migrate through the park, most notably the African skimmer and African fish eagle whose cry penetrates through the park.

When to visit: The Lower Zambezi National Park experiences distinctive seasons, resulting in varied wildlife spotting opportunities depending on when you travel. The dry season extends from April through to October with warm, sunny days and cooler nights during the Winter months of June to August. The heat intensifies into October when limited water resources see wildlife concentrated and easy to spot, before the wet season begins in November. The landscape then transforms into a rich green and, while wildlife disperses, an abundance of migratory birds visit the park.

How far from Victoria Falls: It’s a 650 km drive to the access town of Rufunsa from Victoria Falls (around 8 1/2 hours) or alternatively, take the one hour flight to Lusaka, from where it’s just a two hour drive into the park. You need at least a couple of days in Lower Zambezi and with everything from game-drives to walking safaris and canoe tours where you can try your luck at catching a tigerfish on offer, there are plenty of reasons to stay.

Experience the diverse beauty of South Luangwa National Park

Thornicroft’s Giraffe, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
There are around 60 animal species within South Luangwa National Park to spot, including Thornicroft’s Giraffe, elephant, buffalo and hippopotamus.

Reason to visit: It’s been identified as one of the most stunning wildlife parks in the world, with a diverse range of animals, bird and plant life situated around the beautiful Luangwa River and its adjacent lagoons. South Luangwa is Zambia’s premier wildlife destination and the original home of African walking safaris. Hikes take you through dry bushland and lush forests, home to marula, tamarind and baobab trees, and there are around 60 animal species within the park to spot, including Thornicroft’s Giraffe, elephant, buffalo and hippopotamus.

When to visit: Like the Lower Zambezi National Park, South Luangwa experiences similar seasons with May through to October the best time to visit, although temperatures can get unbearable hot towards the end of this period. The wet season from November to April is the best bird-watching season however, with around 400 species recorded in the park.

How far from Victoria Falls: While South Luangwa is more than 1,200 kilometres from Victoria Falls which is a 20+ hour drive, but it is only a 3-hour flight from Livingston to Mfuwe, situated right on the edge of the park. Allow at least three nights to explore the area by 4x4, walking safari or boat safari in the wet season, allowing you to take in the magnificence of this remote but stunning part of Zambia.

Zimbabwe

Visit Zimbabwe’s largest national park at Hwange National Park

Cheetah on game drives, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Look out for hyena, rhino and cheetah that can sometimes be spotted on both game drives and walking safaris that take visitors through Hwange National Park.

Reason to visit: Just a short drive to the south of Victoria Falls lies Hwange National Park, the largest of its kind in Zimbabwe, spanning 14,650 square kilometres. Once serving as royal hunting grounds for a Ndebele warrior-king, it was transformed into a national park in 1929 to protect more than 100 species of mammal and just under 400 bird species.

Located close to the Kalahari Desert, the landscapes range from sparsely vegetated Kalahari woodland to seasonal grassy wetlands and mopane woodlands. The park is famed as having one of the largest elephant populations in the world, together with a significant number of African wild dogs. Also look out for hyena, rhino and cheetah that can sometimes be spotted on both game drives and walking safaris that take visitors through Hwange.

When to visit: The best time to visit is during the dry season between July and October when wildlife are concentrated around the limited water sources and easiest to spot, although like many of the parks in the region, the birdlife is at its most vivid during the wet.

How far from Victoria Falls: From Victoria Falls it’s a two hour drive southeast (100km) to the town of Hwange, the main access point for the national park, its major game-viewing areas and camps. As with all the parks in the region, the more time you spend, the more areas you can explore and the more wildlife you’ll see, so plan for at least two days.

Discover the aquatic wildlife of Mana Pools National Park’s ox-bow lakes

hippopotamus and aquatic wildlife, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Mana Pools National Park is famed for its aquatic wildlife, such as hippopotamus and crocodiles that reside in and around the pools, together with prides of lion and more than 350 bird species.

Reason to visit: Designated a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, Mana Pools National Park is one of the region’s most remote, yet beautiful, wildlife parks. Translating as ‘Four Pools’ in the local Shona language, the name refers to the remnant ox-bow lakes formed inland from the Zambezi River which lies on the northern boundaries of the park. The park is famed for its aquatic wildlife, such as hippopotamus and crocodiles that reside in and around the pools, together with prides of lion and more than 350 bird species.

The woodland vegetation along the old river banks allows for good visibility and walking safaris to spot eland, impala, zebra, warthog and monkeys, while large predators are best spotted by canoe or on game drives (dry season only). The park boundaries are open to large tracts of wilderness both east, west and across the Zambezi into Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, creating an expansive wildlife corridor that allows freedom of movement for the animals.

When to visit: While the park is open year-round, the seasonal variations determine how it can be explored, with cars only permitted during the dry season and walking safaris limited during the wet. Canoe safaris are available year round, however, and September/October sees the highest concentration of wildlife towards the end of the dry season.

How far from Victoria Falls: By road it’s 700km or a 10 hour drive from Victoria Falls to Mana Pools National Park or its possible to take a short one-hour flight to the Zambian capital, Lusaka, before a four-hour drive into the park itself. Due to its remote location and spectacular beauty, it would be regrettable to rush Mana Pools and with some stunning luxury camps on offer you may never want to leave.

Botswana

Track large herds of Kalahari Elephants in Chobe National Park

Elephants in Chobe River, Chobe National Park, Botswana
The most biologically diverse of the country’s national parks and its first, Chobe National Park is home to the largest population of Kalahari Elephants in the world.

Reason to visit: It may not be situated within either of the countries that share Victoria Falls, but Chobe National park is just a short hop, skip and a jump away in northern Botswana. The most biologically diverse of the country’s national parks and its first, Chobe is home to the largest population of Kalahari Elephants in the world. In addition, there are towering giraffe, puku antelope, Sable and Cape buffalo, kudus, zebra, lion and wildebeest. Around 450 species of birds are also represented within the park, including ibis, Bateleur eagles, lappet-faced goshawks and falcons.

Chobe can be divided into four main ecosystems and the wildlife you see will depend on where you visit. In the lush floodplains and woodlands of the Chobe River in the northeast, also known as Serondela, expect to see large mammals such as elephants and giraffe congregating around water sources, together with an abundance of water fowl. On the rolling savannah of the Savuti Marshland in the west lions can be spotted and this is the best place to witness the annual zebra migration. In the riverine woodlands of the Linyanti Marsh in the northwest Roan and Sable antelopes, as well as hippopotamus can be seen, and in the hot, dry Nogatsaa grass woodland in the middle expect to come across the elegant eland.

When to visit: While the late dry season (September/October) is best for spotting big-game wildlife, the birdlife is exceptional in the rainy Summer months of December through to March.

How far from Victoria Falls: It’s just over an hours drive (85km) from Victoria Falls to Kasane, the access point for Chobe National Park near Serondela. From here you can drive through the park to visit the more remote and less-visited ecosystems and a stay of three or more nights is recommended to really do this park justice.

Explore the seasonal islands and waterways of the Okavango Delta

Wetlands, Okavango Delta, Botswana
The immense inland delta, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a landscape of seasonal islands and wetlands, formed by the waters of the Okavango River that flood the savannah.

Reason to visit: While it may be more far flung from Victoria Falls than Chobe National Park, the journey to the watery wonderland of the Okavango Delta is well worth it. This immense inland delta, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a landscape of seasonal islands and wetlands, formed by the waters of the Okavango River that flood the savannah.

The park is traversed by large herds of African bush elephant and buffalo, blue wildebeest, lechwe antelope, greater kudu, springbok, nile crocodile and both black and white rhinoceros, together with more than 400 recorded bird species.

Lodges are set spectacularly within this oasis, allowing you to be immersed in the landscape, and scenic flights offer a fantastic perspective on its immensity and beauty. On the ground, both mokoro canoe trips and walking safaris get you within close proximity to the wildlife while some sections of the park can also be accessed on 4x4 game drives.

When to visit: June through to August sees the highest water levels, making canoe and boating safaris an excellent way to explore the park, while September and October are the driest months when wildlife is concentrated around water sources and you can explore on foot and by vehicle. For twitchers, the rainy season from November through to April sees the most impressive birdlife when migratory species flock to the region.

How far from Victoria Falls: From Victoria Falls it’s a 680km drive of around nine hours to Maun, the gateway for the Okavango Delta. Considering the drive involved and the diverse game-viewing opportunities on offer, allow yourself a few days to explore the park, taking in all possible angles.

Choose your safari route around Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls’ location right in the centre of southern Africa makes it the perfect stop en route to or from some of the region’s premier wildlife-viewing parks, offering a diverse range of landscapes to explore. Whether you are traveling by road or taking short internal flights, it’s easy to construct an itinerary that lets you experience this spectacular natural wonder alongside the continent’s famed big game and birdlife, no matter which way you are headed.

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