Zambia: Places to Explore

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Livingstone, Zambia

Roughly 750 mi from its humble origins as an insignificant spring, the Zambezi River has grown more than a mile wide. Without much warning the river bends south, the current speeds up, and the entire mass of water is forced into a single fissure. More than 1 million gallons of water disappear over a vertical, 300-foot-high drop in the time it takes an average reader to reach the end of this paragraph. The resulting spray is astounding, the brute force forming a cloud of mist visible 40 mi away on a clear day.

Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish medical doctor and missionary, visited the area in 1855 and is widely credited with being the first European to document the existence of this natural wonder. He named it Victoria Falls in honor of his queen, although the Makololo name, Mosi-oa-Tunya (literally, "the Smoke that Thunders"), remains popular. Livingstone fell madly in love with the falls, describing them in poignant prose. Other explorers had slightly different opinions. E. Holub could not contain his excitement and spoke effusively of "a thrilling throb of nature," A. A. de Serpa Pinto called them "sublimely horrible" in 1881, and L. Decle (1898) expected "to see some repulsive monster rising in anger." The modern traveler can explore every one (or all) of these perspectives. There is so much to do around the falls that the only limitations will be your budget and sense of adventure or lack thereof.

The settlements of Livingstone, Zambia, and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, both owe their existence to the falls. Settled in different countries and intriguingly diverse in character, they nevertheless function like two sides of one town. Crossing the border is a formality that generally happens with minimum fuss. Although the Zimbabwean town of Victoria Falls continues to be perfectly safe, as it's far from the documented strife plaguing the country, Livingstone, on the Zambian side, is currently the favored destination. Visitors to Zambia are spoiled with an overabundance of top-class safari lodges along the Zambezi, and this strong competition places an emphasis on individualized service, which enables you to tailor your visit. The general mood in Zimbabwe is not always upbeat, and the shortage of basic necessities is starting to affect even the top hotels. However, the absence of large numbers of travelers is lovely, and this area currently provides excellent value for money. The region deserves its reputation as an adventure center and offers adrenaline-inducing activities by the bucketful. The backdrop for any of these is stunning and the safety record superb.

This marvelous old town, once the government capital of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), boasts a wealth of natural beauty and a surplus of activities. After a few decades of neglect it's recently recast itself as Zambia's tourism and adventure capital.

There's a tangible whiff of the past here: historic buildings outnumber new ones, and many local inhabitants live a life not unlike the one they would have experienced 100 years ago. Livingstone handles the surge of tourists with equal parts of grace, confidence, African mischief, and nuisance.

Many visitors to this side of the Falls opt to stay in one of the secluded safari-style lodges on the Zambezi River. The Zambian experience sprawls out along the many bends of the large river and time ticks in a very deliberate African manner.

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