sunset cruise on the zambezi

Things to Do in Livingstone, Zambia

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History of Zambia

Zambia was once known as Northern Rhodesia and was an English Colony.  It gained its independence in 1964 and struggled through single-party rule for many years.  After 20 years of unrest, a new constitution was written, multiple parties were established, and elections were held.

While Zambia now operates more democratically, its economy still struggles.  A new president was elected while we visited in August of 2021 and celebrations could be heard nightly for a week!  It will be interesting to see what the future holds in Zambia.

While in Zambia, we spent a few days in Livingstone and then went on safari in South Luangwa National Park.  While in Livingstone, though slightly unorganized, we found a variety of activities.

History of Livingstone

Livingstone was founded in 1905 and named after Scottish explorer, David Livingstone, who was the first to explore the area.  In 1911, it was named the capital of Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia.  It lost is capital status to Lusaka in 1935 as the administration wanted to be near the copper belt.

Livingstone, however, on the banks of the Zambezi and home to Victoria Falls remained the trading and tourism capital of Zambia.  Today, there are many things for visitors to do in Livingstone. 

Stay at the Thorn Tree Safaris

As I mentioned above, Livingstone was a stopover point for us on the way to the South Luangwa National Park.  As a result, we didn’t look for any place fancy and found Thorn Tree Safaris on Hotels.com. The camp includes 10 tents, a pool, and outdoor living, dining, and kitchen area as well as a permanent structure which features five rooms and kitchen area.

We rented out the five rooms and had the entire camp to ourselves given COVID (a year later) has still caused a reduction in tourism.  The place was simple, but nice enough for our needs.  Though I could have done without the poorly flushing toilet and the strange smelling smoke created from the wood burned to heat our water the creeped into my room nightly.

In the mornings, Claire, the owner, prepared us breakfast which included coffee from her father’s farm; bread with butter, jam and honey; fruit salad; and eggs.

thorn tree safaris

Thereafter, we enjoyed a variety of activities which Claire arranged, all-be-it, in a very unorganized fashion.  With COVID challenges, I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt as she is very friendly, knowledgeable and heavily involved with the community, but the times and prices for each activity changed regularly during our Whatsapp communications.

If I were to return, I might consider a fancier place such as the Royal Livingstone Hotel or the Maramba River Lodge which offers many tours.  We visited both places while in Livingstone and fancied them. 

Eat at Royal Livingstone Hotel

In fact, our dinner at the Royal Livingstone Hotel was magnificent.  Ruth’s mushroom soup was lovely.  Kim’s pasta was divine.  The oxtail was flavorful though relatively boney.  The crocodile carpaccio was a first for us, and dessert was excellent.  I highly recommend visiting the Royal Livingstone Hotel for high tea, massages or dinner while zebras, giraffes, and other antelope roam around. Royal Livingstone Hotel was our first stop after we unpacked, and it was a nice way to relax as we recovered from jet lag.

zebra at the royal livingstone

Take a Helicopter Flight Over Victoria Falls

In between our afternoon on the Royal Livingstone’s water front deck and dinner in its restaurant, we had our driver, O’Brien, take us to the Batoka Sky “Maramba” Aerodome where we took a helicopter ride.

Helicopter flights over Victoria Falls are 15 or 30 minutes and cost US $195 or $360 per person, respectively.  Pricey, I know!

Personally, I wanted to take the 15-minute Microlight flight which is more like an open-air glider, but it was not available as the operator was in the process of renewing its license.  The microlight flight is less expensive and goes closer to the falls than the helicopter.  I can only imagine the experience.

Because it wasn’t available, however, I joined others in our group the 30-minute helicopter flight which we booked in advance.  The flight circles high above the falls four times before it passes through Batoka Gorge, rounds the falls one last time, and returns over the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park for wildlife viewing.

things to do in Livingstone: helicopter ride over Victoria Falls

The helicopter can hold three passengers.  We had four people, so we went up in pairs with a pilot that flew for South African Airlines before COVID hit.  Flying through the gorge was the most fun part.  The falls are nice, but the choppers keep their distance due to the spray, and the elephants and rhinos look like dots.

I can’t say it was the most exciting helicopter flight I have ever taken, but it’s not that often I will be at Victoria Falls either, so I made the most of the opportunity.  Anyone who has never been in a helicopter, like our friend Marty, would love it.

While viewing Victoria Falls from the sky is cool, do not miss seeing it from the ground.

Visit Victoria Falls

The following morning, we visited Victoria Falls, the largest falling sheet of water in the world and one of the seven natural wonders.  From Livingstone, after purchasing the US $20 ticket, we entered the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, across from a Zambia craft market.

Located on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls may be viewed from both countries.  The Livingstone side features the boiling pot and the knife edge bridge as well as other paved walking paths.  There are a handful of nice viewing points, though I really liked the knife edge bridge.

At the end of August, when we visited, the falls were transitioning to low water season, so there was only a light mist on the bridge.  During high water, the bridge is not accessible due to the heavy spray.  And at the end of dry season, the falls slow to a trickle which may only be seen from the Zimbabwe side. For me details, see my post about Victoria Falls.

While the falls are a main attraction in Livingstone, don’t forget about the wildlife.  There are a few interesting experiences, different from a safari.

Take a Walk with the Rhinos

One is a walk with the rhinos.  Wild Horizons offers a three-hour tour (two hours walking) with the rhinos for US $105.  The pick-up times are 6:30 in the morning and 1:30 in the afternoon.  We missed the morning tour as we visited the falls, and by the time we figured out the plans for the afternoon, we needed to go right away.  We only knew this from Claire, who was “organizing” it.

I don’t know what happened, but we certainly didn’t end up in a safari vehicle, walk for two hours or pay $105.  Instead, O’Brien took us in his sedan to the park office where we had to pay US $50 in cash because the credit card machine didn’t work.  US $15 was for the park fee and the remainder was for our walk with the rhinos which was rather humorous.

O’Brien was in communication with the rhino trackers who are paid to protect the highly endangered white rhinos 24 hours a day.  He drove us down the paved street through Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park until he reached a dirt road turn-off.  We bounced along in his sedan until he figured out we were in the wrong area.

We backtracked and repeated this process once more.  This time we were headed in the right direction, but branches were scraping the sides of his car, and he was bottoming out on rocks as we went 1 mph.  We didn’t want him to ruin his car, and we could see a safari vehicle a quarter mile ahead, so I spouted out, “It’d probably be easier if we just walked.”

I didn’t really expect O’Brien to take me up on it, but he did!  My next thought was, I hope there are not any cats lurking nearby!  And then I thought, Well, I only have to outrun someone else in the group.  Fortunately for me, that seemed plausible. 😊

On a more serious note, there are no cheetahs in Zambia, and the lions and leopards rarely frequent this specific park, so we marched along the rocky, dirt road without any protection as we followed O’Brien to the rangers guarding the rhinos.  Contrary to us, they were heavily armed with AK-47s, but those guns were for the poachers!!!

The head tracker led us to the rhinos and provided some history.  With his very strong accent, he was difficult to understand, but in summary, due to poaching the black rhinos became extinct in Zambia.  In 2008, the Zambia Wildlife Authority coordinated with South Africa to introduce four white rhinos in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park.

things to do in livingstone: walk with the rhinos

While the Zambezi River marks the natural northern border for white rhinos, this group, living just north of it natural boundary, has thrived and expanded to ten due to the hard work of the rangers who spend 24/7 protecting the giant creatures. 

We only spent about ten minutes with four of the rhinos from a distance, but it was the closest I had ever been to rhinos and enough to snap a few good photos.  On the way out, we spotted some zebra and the rare wildebeest in Zambia which are a dime a dozen on Kenya and Tanzania safaris.

While we didn’t really have the two-hour walking experience we were supposed to have with the tour, we had a good story to tell.  I credit both to Claire who was completely unorganized, especially given we asked a month prior to arrival about booking activities, and she told us not to worry about it.  I’d say, plan a morning at the falls, and an afternoon with the rhinos or vice versa on your own.  You’ll have plenty of time for both.

Feed the Elephants

If rhinos are not interesting to you, but elephants are, check out the refuge operated by Wild at Life.  Or for that matter, see what Wild Horizon offers, as they feature just about every activity available including the helicopter flights.  Refuges are pretty common now that the elephant population, which once stood in the millions, is now endangered from previous culling and poaching.

Wild at Life has nine elephants, some of which are babies of the orphaned elephants that were saved.  The elephants were orphaned by drought, predator attack, and culling operations in Zimbabwe.  Because some of the orphans are so accustomed to humans from being used as farm animals after the culling, this herd likely won’t be fully released into the wild.

That said, they have prospered under Wild at Life’s care.  They go out into the forest and come back every day.  One day they accepted an orphaned baby into the herd and brought it home with them.  Another time, the female matriarch was kidnapped by twelve bulls.  She came back ten months later, pregnant.  Since then, other females in the herd have calved as well.

During our visit the morning before we flew to Mfuwe, we spent 30 minutes with giant tuskers, Danny and Madinda.  The handlers select which elephants will interact with guests based on their moods.  If they don’t want to participate, they don’t have to.  But Danny and Madinda knew the drill as they swung their trunk from person to person for their snacks.  They also knew the command “trunk up”, and lifted their trunk so we could stuff a handful of treats in their mouth.

We loved our interaction.  57-year-old Danny and 40-year-old Madinda seemed so kind, gentle, and smart.  If only the world’s the largest land animal was so approachable in the wild.  They can be very dangerous and destructive, so take caution in nature! 

On a side note, if you love elephants and are in Kenya, consider visiting Umani Springs or Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust.

Cruise the Zambezi at Sunset

The sunset cruise on the Zambezi might have been our most enjoyable experience among the wildlife.  Several operators offer breakfast, lunch, sunset and booze cruises on the Zambezi River.  We booked a sunset cruise with Maramba River Lodge

The tour costs $85 US plus the $10 National Park Fee.  The park fee must be paid in cash and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve already visited the park during a different activity, as each operator must pay the fee. As a result, visitors pay again!

The cruise holds up to ten people, but our group of six had the small boat with a canopy all to ourselves.  Captain Mudenda led us down the Maramba River blanketed in lily pads to the Zambezi where we headed upriver. 

We were the first boat on the water, and we saw all sorts of wildlife including but not limited to crocodiles, hippos, elephants, baboons, a monitor lizard, bee eaters, Egyptian geese and more. 

hippo on the sunset cruise in livingstone

The cruise included soft drinks, water, beer and lots of tasty appetizers, enough for a meal.  We really enjoyed our experience, especially upon ending it with a magnificent sunset. 

sunset cruise in livingstone

While Victoria Falls is the main attraction in Livingstone, there are definitely many other choices if you have more than one day in the former capital of Zambia.  ETB

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Published by

Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

5 thoughts on “Things to Do in Livingstone, Zambia

      1. I did one years ago in South Africa. It was fascinating. But back when I was still doing print film. I scanned some images later, I’ll have to look for those some time!

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