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5 of the best activities along the Zambezi River

As the fourth longest river in Africa that runs through six countries on its journey to the Indian Ocean, the Zambezi has become known as Southern Africa’s “river of life”. Besides supporting thousands of people and an array of wildlife through it’s rich vegetation, water catchments, floodplain soils and fish life, the river has also become a popular attraction that annually draws thousands of tourists to partake in activities such as sightseeing, rafting, boating and game viewing. We picked some of the top activities that should not be missed for any visitor to the iconic river: 1. The Elephant Café While this may not be one of the commonly expected additions on a Zambezi to-do list, the exclusive Elephant Café is a hidden gem that was named Zambia’s best new restaurant of 2016. Situated just a few kilometres upstream from the powerful Victoria Falls, the Elephant Café now serves as the centre point of a unique riverside location that is also home to a herd of rescued elephants. Guests to the café are provided with the opportunity to interact with these gentle giants before sitting down to a fine-dining three- course meal. This is where things get interesting – the menu is designed by head chef Annabel Hughes, who endeavours to serve “bush gourmet cuisine” through the use of African fusion food created with only wild and locally-sourced ingredients. As the seasons change, so do the flavours of the various unprocessed food creations, with Hughes (who grows many of her own ingredients) living by the philosophy of serving “fresh, simple food that is as local as possible”. Although customers can arrive by vehicle through the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Victoria Falls Waterfront resort also offer the opportunity to travel to the restaurant by speed boat, which adds yet another element to the overall experience. Elephant Cafe 2. White water rafting This is an activity that is renowned with the Zambezi river, and has been acclaimed as one of the best one-day white water trips available in the world. This experience offers what many other adventure tours don’t: utter unpredictability. The varying nature of the water levels (the high water season runs from the middle of January to early August) means there is no telling what the rapids might dish up on the day. As experienced on our rafting tour in early January, it took four attempts before finally managing to successfully negotiate the opening rapid know as the Boiling Pot, which spat out a couple of paddlers along the way. The 25 rapids – with fearsome monikers such as The Devil’s Toilet Bowl, The Gnashing Jaws of Death and the Stairway to Heaven – widely range from Grade II to Grade V, and provide endless accounts of thrills and spills. From the Zambian side, Safari Par Excellence have been operating white water rafting trips since 1991, and ensuring safe passage through the breathtaking Batoka Gorge is a primary priority. Half-day tours enable rafters to tackle the first 10 rapids (which include the most challenging sections), while a full-day tour encompasses all 25 rapids and includes a riverside lunch break. One added bonus of rafting from the Zambian side, over Zimbabwe, offers the relieving option for rafters to end a full-day tour with a cable car lift out of the gorge. White river rafting 3. Canoe safari There are few experiences that provide such a sense of being one with nature, with canoeists able to cruise mere metres away from pods of hippos and sun-bathing crocodiles. While certain canoe safaris started running in the lower Zambezi national park more than two decades ago, the upper Zambezi has more recently proven to offer equally ideal conditions to meander down river, while observing an endless array of birdlife and wildlife from a unique vantage point. Particularly during the dry season, when elephants are drawn to the abundant Zambezi water source, there is also often an opportunity to witness these magnificent animals drinking and bathing on the riverside. On offer are half-day, full day or even overnight trips, where the evening can be spent in tents alongside the river. The canoe safaris are commonly conducted with two guides, who willingly provide interesting insights into the fauna and flora on offer, while safeguarding guests from drifting astray. Canoe safari 4. Guided Victoria Falls and Livingstone island tour Thousands of visitors to Zimbabwe and Zambia are drawn to the awe-inspiring attraction of the Victoria Falls – one of the seven natural wonders of the world. There are few other demonstrations of nature’s sheer power that compare to witnessing the full force of the Zambezi river pouring through the First Gorge’s 110m-wide exit. In peak season, it’s said that the entire yearly water consumption of New York flows over its edge every three and a half days. While visitors to Victoria Falls can make their own way to the various viewing spots on offer, a guided tour offers an opportunity to receive additional insight into the formation of the majestic falls. As our guide from the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge explained, Zambia and Zimbabwe were once engaged in a ‘tourism’ battle to call Victoria Falls their own. In the end, while Zambia won the battle to claim their place as the ‘home of Victoria Falls’, Zimbabwe turned their attention to promoting the fact that they had the best view on offer. Indeed, the impressively developed visitor facilities from the Zimbabwean side enable visitors to stop at 16 different view points that capture the falls in almost its entirety. Interestingly, Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone is believed to have been the first European to view Victoria Falls from what is now known as Livingstone Island. For visitors to Vic Falls from the Zambian side, there is the most worthwhile option of touring Livingstone island, where there is also the opportunity to venture to what is known as Devil’s Pool for a swim just metres from the edge of the falls. When the water level is relatively low, a rock barrier forms an eddy with minimal current to enable swimmers to view the falls from this remarkable vantage point, while the nearby Angel’s Pool can accommodate adventurous swimmers at the time of the year when the water level is too high. Vic falls tour 5. Sunset cruise This is undoubtedly the quintessential Zambezi experience. A serene cruise along the river boundary of the Mosi-Oa- Tunya National Park, and commonly around Siloka Island, provides plenty of opportunities for game viewing, with the unmistakable call of the African fish eagle often serving as the only interruption as hippos and crocodiles regularly pop up nearby to provide additional entertainment. There are an array of cruises to choose from along both the upper and lower Zambezi, and from both Zimbabwe and Zambia, while some even offer an onboard barbecue in addition to the open bar. For those looking for a more intimate experience, there is the opportunity to opt on board some of the smaller boats that seat some 10 to 20 people, but that also stands in contrast to a renowned vessel such as the luxuriant Lady Livingstone, which can seat up to 144 people across three decks. With so many options available, including some popular party boats, it’s a good idea to conduct some research to select a cruise that is best suited for the occasion. Ultimately, very few will be left disappointed by a two-hour journey on the Zambezi that is backlit by the setting African sun. Zambezi sunset cruise

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  1. Thank you, Craig, for this fantastic post. These are charming places to do adventure. I’ve neven been to Zimbabwe before. I love to travel, and this would be a splendid idea to visit this fantastic sites.

  2. I rafted once below Vic Falls and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Great place, great people.

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