The Zambezi River

The magnificent Zambezi River has yet to be completely explored.

To the communities around it and the people who visit, this spectacle of nature is majestic and spiritual.

Why the Zambezi Is Famous

About 32 million people inhabit the Zambezi River basin. The population in the river’s upper course practice agriculture extensively, and many sport and commercial fisheries operate on the Zambezi River. Besides fishing, the Zambezi tourism industry continues to thrive as the river attracts many people who come for, among other things, the numerous exotic fish species in the river.

The Zambezi River Valley has rich reserves of fossil fuels and minerals, as well as coal mines. The river is also home to the Cahora Bassa and Kariba Dams, two of the largest hydroelectric power projects on the continent. Still, these feats of human engineering pale in comparison to the grandeur of the captivating Victoria Falls. Even though the Victoria Falls and the Zambezi’s numerous rapids make extensive navigation impossible, there’s still some water traffic along the river’s short, uninterrupted stretches.

Geographical Details of the Zambezi

Over head view of the Victoria falls on Zambezi river

The Zambezi, along with its tributaries, is the fourth-largest river in Africa and is the longest river flowing east. It drains a vast area (more than 500,000 square miles or 1.3 million square kilometers) of south-central Africa.

The distance from the Zambezi’s source on the Central African Plateau to the Indian Ocean, into which the river empties, is roughly 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers), and the river spans six countries: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The upper course of the Zambezi starts from a marshy bog 4,800 feet above sea level in Zambia and ends at the Victoria Falls. Here, it starts its middle course, extending 600 miles (965 kilometers) from Victoria Falls to Lake Cahora Bassa in Mozambique. The Zambezi’s lower course descends the Central African Plateau down to the coastal plain, where it empties up to 247,000 cubic feet (7,000 cubic meters) per second into the Indian Ocean via two channels.

The Zambezi River Basin has a tropical climate. Savannah vegetation prevails in the basin’s upper and middle portion, whereas mangrove swamps and evergreen forests dominate the river’s lower course. The Zambezi River Basin is home to a wide variety of terrestrial (mammalian predators, game species and other mammals), aerial ( such as herons, wattled cranes and African fish eagles) and aquatic (crocodiles and hippopotami) animal species.

Historical Significance of the Zambezi

From the 10th century, Arab traders were the first non-Africans to traverse the Zambezi using its lower reaches. The Portuguese followed in the 16th century hoping to use the river to enhance trade in slaves, gold and ivory.

Until the 19th century, little was known about the river, then called the Zanbere. Accurate mapping of the river began with David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer, who charted a large portion of the Zambezi’s course in the 1850s. Until further surveys in the 20th century traced the source of the Zambezi, his map of the river was the most accurate.

How to Get to the Zambezi

You can access the Zambezi River from multiple points in Zambia or the other countries through which the river flows. Major airports near the Zambezi in Zambia include Solwezi Airport and Lubumbashi International Airport. Once in the country, you can reach the access points to the Zambezi via bus services, car rentals or trains.

The Zambezi is one of the few remaining rivers in the world with unexplored reaches, evoking excitement and mystery.