When I was a young girl I dreamed of living with the animals in Africa. I played “safari” where I had to save the hippos or elephants or monkeys. They would become my friends, and like Dr. Doolittle, I would have a special relationship with them forever. So, when we finally booked a self-drive in southern Africa, hitting a bit of Zambia, Botswana, the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, and ending in Johannesburg, I was beyond excited.
Disclaimer: Some of our articles may contain affiliate links; when you click on these you can purchase a product or service at no extra cost to you, but doing so provides us some income to run the blog, and we thank you.
First Taste of Africa
We arrived on the continent in Johannesburg. We only stayed there a couple of days before catching our flight to Livingstone, Zambia where we would start our safari. Upon arrival, we paid for and picked up our Zambian visas. Because of our time frame, we weren’t going over to Zimbabwe so we only need a one entry tourist visa.
Since our trip, you can apply for your visa online. Livingstone is one of those places that anyone visiting Victoria Falls will probably drive through. Situated on the Zambezi River, the city has embraced safari tourism and even added a number of adventure activities to entice people to stay longer than the one small animal park and falls would normally permit.
As soon as we arrived at our accommodation, we signed up for two activities. The first was the evening safari into the national park, Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders), and the second was an all-day car and driver hire to Victoria Falls then the rope swing and adventure activities in Batoka Gorge.
This is very typical when staying at various accommodations, you sign up for activities including safaris once you get there. The hotels and campsites all rely on bookings as part of their income, but you can also book through independent companies as well. There are plenty of tour and activity operators in Livingstone.
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park Safari
Our safari was that very evening was in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. We were introduced to our driver and into the jeep we jumped. We could hardly contain our excitement that we were finally on a real safari. Right away we started seeing birds, antelope, giraffes, zebras, and wildebeest.
The driver told us this animal park, named after the famous Victoria Falls, was one of the smallest on the continent, yet we were able to see such a diversity of wildlife. If it had been our only safari, I would have been content, but we had a couple more weeks of safari drives to do, and as a matter of point, it did pale in comparison to some of the drives we did in Botswana. However, for a short introduction, it was great.
It was late evening, which is always good for animals. We saw antelope, buffalo, even a giraffe. This park had been trying to keep some rhinos alive and away from the poachers.
In fact, a couple of days before we arrived poachers had tried to kill that last one. Luckily the guards chased them away, but the rhino was shot. We were able to witness the vet giving the rhino antibiotics. It saddened us that this is still happening in Africa, and the only chance the rhinos have is to be kept in protected enclosures.
The sun eventually set, and the driver returned us to our accommodations where we ate dinner. We stayed at the Camp Nkwazi, which was located right on the Zambezi River, with a gorgeous deck and the dinner was served there. Oh what a sunset view!
The next day we were picked up by our driver, and we made our way through the city of Livingstone. As a general rule, when I think of towns and cities in Africa, I don’t often think “peaceful,” because they are usually loud, chaotic, frenetic, and there are people everywhere.
However at 8:00 in the morning, it was still quiet in Livingstone. People were biking, motorbiking, or walking to work. The shops were still closed, and no one was trying to sell us anything.
What to do in Livingstone
- Go on a Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park safari drive
- Visit the world famous Victoria Falls, Zambia
- See bungee jumpers at Batoka Gorge
- A cruise on the Zambezi River
- Visit one of these museums – the Livingstone or Railway
- An adventure activity like – rafting, biking, hiking, ziplining, rope swing
- Take a one day excursion over to the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls, The Zambian Side
Our driver dropped us off and we walked from the parking lot, or should I say souvenir market, to the ticket booth. Yes, there were cars in the lot, but there were more vendors and trinket sellers than cars.
It always makes me wonder how many people buy a souvenir on the way into an attraction, because if I’m going to buy something, I buy it on my way out. Of course that never stops the vendors, hawkers, from trying to hard sell you.
Pro Tip: Tickets cost $20 each for a one time only entrance to the park. You are not allowed to leave and reenter, so it’s important to have your camera batteries charged, and make sure you didn’t leave anything in the van that you might need.
Unsurprisingly, Victoria Falls was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1989 since it is one of the most amazing waterfalls in the world.
Once in the park, you can follow different paths to see various parts of the falls. We immediately started feeling water spray, so we quickly shelled out the money for the heavy duty rain ponchos you can rent. It was well worth it, too.
We went in July, so the falls are pretty full of water, and it’s difficult to see much. During that time of year, the best viewpoint is the Knife’s Edge. They are all worth walking, though, so take your time. You will get wet. In order to see anything of the falls, the spray is just everywhere and comes at you hard, so make sure your documents and camera are well protected.
I use a rain cover on my camera, and I love it. The walks were great, and while we enjoyed the falls we were also able to watch some baboons grooming themselves right off the path. We weren’t expecting to see any wildlife on this part of the excursion, so it was a bonus!
After a pretty good lunch at the Lookout Cafe, we were taken to the part of Batoka Gorge where we were going to rappel, rope swing, and zip-line. I ended up only doing the rappel and the Flying Fox zip line, because once Jim jumped off that cliff, I was absolutely not doing it.
No way! Why? One reason is that when you get to the bottom of the gorge, you have to hike back up to do the next activity. One climb was enough for me. I can say we both felt safe and well looked after, so don’t hesitate to get your adventure on while you are there.
We were a bit weary after climbing up the gorge, Jim twice, so we had our driver drop us off at the Royal Livingstone Hotel for drinks on our last evening in Zambia. We ordered our sundowners and then sat on the veranda along the river right along the top of the falls. We were in awe at the low rumble coming from the thousands of tons of water spilling over the edge a few hundred meters away.
The sunset gave the river and the jungle around us a sublime golden, rose glow. The most amazing part, however, was the small group of hippos that were pulling themselves out of the river onto the bank of an island right out in front of us! Sitting on the sunset soaked sundeck and enjoying the world around us was so serene, a perfect way to end our first foray into bush Africa.
Where to Stay in Livingstone
There are plenty of choices while looking for accommodation in Livingstone. We chose a more mid-range option, but all levels exist, from camping or glamping on up to super luxury. You can get an idea and compare prices here.
If you plan on doing any type of trip in southern Africa, you must visit Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its wet, breathtaking views. Livingstone, the city on the Zambian side of the falls, is set up to help you have the best time you can. Enjoy an evening boat ride on the Zambezi or a go in a jeep, both ways to view a plethora of wildlife. A word of warning, though. Africa is a siren. She’ll call you back over and over again.
Stay Tuned! This was only the first leg of our amazing road trip through Southern Africa. You can read all about our next stop, Chobe National Park here.