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Zambia family holidays

Devils Cataract, Victoria FallsDevils Cataract, Victoria Falls© Ice | stockfreeimages.com & dreamstime.com
Capital City Lusaka
Flying Time 10hrs
Timezone GMT +2
Currency Zambian Kwacha

Today

Overview

Zambia is a remarkably beautiful inland country, home to the largest waterfall in the world and teeming with wildlife (a third of the land is national parks and game reserves). It also mines precious gemstones like Kent grows strawberries. After more than its fair share of troubled years, Zambia is now having a quiet renaissance and is currently touted as THE place for safaris, offering a rawer, less commercial and somewhat more organic experience than its neighbouring countries, and hence great possibilities for truly memorable family holidays.

With 19 national parks and game reserves. there are a numerous ways to be at one with wildlife, from game drives to walking or canoeing safaris, or, for the truly brave family, an exhilarating microlight safari over the Zambian plain, giving a rare bird's-eye view of Victoria Falls. If you have older teens, you might also come for extreme thrill experiences such as riverboarding and white-water rafting on the Zambezi.

Things to do with kids in Zambia

Stand in awe before the world's largest waterfall, Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya ('the smoke that thunders'), straddling the Zambezi River between southwestern Zambia and northern Zimbabwe and considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Stay in the nearby town of Livingstone, the 'tourist capital of Zambia', a former European settlement, it's attractive in a colonial way. Its Livingstone Museum is filled to the brim with the missionary and explorer's memorabilia and anthropological exhibits, and there's a handful of luxury hotels and a small international airport.

Experience the Zambia's premier tributary, the Zambezi – though Africa's fourth largest river, it's no bubbling stream. Thrill-seeking activities on offer here including white-water rafting, riverboarding, bungee jumping and canoe safaris, but a gentle sunset sail on a traditional steamboat such as The African Queen is a perfectly pleasant way to experience the river without rushing through it, hanging over it or being dunked in it! The river is also a mecca for budding anglers who come to land a native tigerfish or a rarer giant vundu.

See Africa's big five (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo) but also Zambia's incredible birdlife; Lochivar in the south is a prime bird sanctuary with more than 400 different species, including wood ibis, crested cranes, enormous shoe-bill storks and even teeny-tiny bee-eaters.

Visit Kafue National Park - the largest and most central game park in Zambia, and at less than 2hrs' drive from Lusaka, one ideal for those short of time. It's famous as a place to spot the tree-climbing lions of Busanga Plains and is also the only park in Zambia where you'll see cheetah.
 
Head for the nearby South Luangwa National Park, one of the best game reserves in the world. Located in the Luangwa Valley, it's an extension of the East African Great Rift valley and is home to the largest leopard population in Africa. 

For the ultimate way to see the wildlife, take a sunset river cruise through the Lower Zambezi National Park and watch herds of elephants rumble down to the water's edge for an early-evening splash. There are a number of family-friendly lodges scattered along the Lower Zambezi, where children as young as six can enjoy nature walks, learn to fish, watch birds and track some of Africa's lesser known mini-beasts.

Eat

Zambia's staple dish nshima, a type of porridge made from maize, is served with a relish of vegetables, beans, meat or fish depending on the region. Fresh fish is in abundance thanks to the country's generous river system, including bream, lake salmon and Nile perch.

Safari camps, lodges and hotels mostly cater for international tastes, and standards are generally exceptionally high. Most safari camps and lodges include all food plus soft drinks, local beers, spirits and wines in the room price.

Lager is popular and generally very good. The most popular brands are Castle (from nearby South Africa), Mosi and Rhino. There's also an opaque 'local' beer called Chibuku made from maize and sorghum, but it's a little rough on the palate.

Soft drinks brands are available even in the more remote parts of the country. Drinking water is purified in larger towns but it's best to be on the safe side and drink only boiled or bottled water.

When to go to Zambia

Tropical landlocked Zambia has two seasons, wet (Nov/Apr; 'the emerald season') and dry (May/Oct). Sept and Oct are ideal for game-spotting but temperatures often reach 38C+; the best time for family holidays in Zambia is the slightly cooler months of June through to August.
 
The wet season is the time to see Victoria Falls in all her glory, as her 'smoky' spray reaches seismic proportions, but she's still mighty impressive in the dry season, when the extreme watersports are more readily available (and when conditions are safer). Additionally, the wet season is best avoided if you come to spot game as the godly-green lushness makes it harder to spot wildlife.

How to get to Zambia

There are frequent flights to Zambia's capital, Lusaka, from London Heathrow, taking 10hrs. Zambia is GMT+2hrs, making it a jetlag-free destination.

From Lusaka, it's a short connecting flight to the major game reserves and Victoria Falls. Those travelling with kids are well advised to plan their route AND organise all transport before departure, either through their safari lodge (generally as part of the booking) or through a good African travel expert such as Imagine Africa or Expert Africa, who can also help organise visas.

Cost

Family safari holidays are not cheap, however remote or raw the country. Expect the trip to cost as a whole £150-250pp a day, though once you've paid for the trip the extras are minimal, most food, drink and game drives are included in the price. Tipping is often expected, but wait until the end of your stay and tip only if you've had good service.

By Tracey Davies

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