For nearly 400 miles east of Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Not only is this one of the foremost wildlife areas of Africa, it is a region of haunting natural beauty. Once cast, its spell can never be entirely lifted.
The Zambezi is 2,200 miles long and Africa’s fourth-largest river. Mere statistics, however, do nothing to convey its grandeur and allure. Wide and powerful, although not an ocean on the move like the Amazon, it is swift-flowing, clear and surprisingly clean. (Indeed, for much of the year it is clean enough to drink, and more adventurous travelers routinely fill their water bottles without obvious ill effect.) And for historically inclined Westerners, the Zambezi also carries with it the romance of exploration and heroic fortitude exemplified by the travails of David Livingstone.
Owing to the depredations of President Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s tourist industry has been virtually destroyed. (Early in 2009, Zimbabwe became the first country to issue banknotes in trillion-dollar denominations, in response to an inflation rate that had increased the cost of a loaf of bread to around $300 billion.) The game parks are mostly deserted, many of their animals shot and eaten by rampaging soldiers. Even Mana Pools National Park, a World Heritage site no less, currently sees few visitors and is subject to an uncertain fate. Fortunately, on the other side of the river things are rather different.
Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park is contiguous with Mana Pools. Until 1983, the former was the private game reserve of President Kaunda, and it remained a pristine wilderness area, unaffected by tourism. Even today, it is a extremely remote region, accessible only by light aircraft or by boat.