The Zambezi River, also known as the Zambesi (meaning “Great River” in the language of the Tonga people), is a river that flows through much of central Africa's southern regions. It is the fourth-largest of all the rivers of Africa. 


The Zambezi River is 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) long and begins in the wetlands of northern Zambia's Mwinilunga District near the border between Zambia, Angola, and Congo Republic before flowing into the Indian Ocean at its mouth in Mozambique.

The Zambezi River has many unique features that make it one of the most interesting rivers on earth, yet it remains the least known of the top 4!

Thousands of people visit the Zambezi every year to enjoy the river's splendor. Sightseeing, rafting, boating, and game viewing are among the activities that attract tourists.

The Mighty Zambezi: Lifeblood of Southern Africa and its people.

The Zambezi River is a vital source of water for millions of people as well as thousands of species of fauna and flora in southern Africa.

Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique all rely on the river to some extent to satisfy their country's demands.

Man on dug-out canoe on the Zambezi River

Paddling down the Zambezi on a Makoro (dugout canoe)

People of the Zambezi

The Barotse (Mavhandu), who dominate the Upper Zambezi, have utilized the yearly flooding of the Barotse Plain for millennia and practice a mixed farming and animal husbandry (cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals) lifestyle.

The most significant groups of the middle and lower Zambezi include the Tonga, Shona, Chewa, and Nsenga peoples, many of whom engage in subsistence farming.

In Mozambique, the riverine population is diverse; many of them participate in commercial agriculture, which was built by the Portuguese.

Fauna of the Zambezi

The Zambezi River flows through a number of game reserves and national parks, providing food to a wide range of animals, birds, and fish species.

The river is home to the tiger fish, a species that may be found both above and below Victoria Falls.

In the upper stretch of the river, pike predominates, as do yellowfish and barbel. The Bream population in the area has increased dramatically. They're now found throughout the river, both above and below the falls.

The Zambezi River is also home to bull sharks (also known as Zambezi Sharks), which are accustomed to living in coastal seas. They have been seen swimming up the Zambezi River, sometimes far upstream.

Bull Shark

Bull Shark

Crocodiles are found throughout the Zambezi, though they avoid areas of fast-flowing water.

Hippopotamuses are also commonly seen in the upper and lower sections of the Zambezi.

Elephants are very common on the river's route, particularly in sites like the Sesheke Plain and near the Luangwa confluence.

Elephant in the Zambezi River

Elephant in the Zambezi River

Buffalo, eland, sable, roan, kudu, waterbuck, impala, duiker, bushbuck, reedbuck , bushpig and warthog are just a few of the wild animals that may be seen along the river.

Water Buck on the Zambezi River


Lions may be observed in the Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe and along the river's route, while cheetahs, although less common, can sometimes be seen.

Leopards are common both on the plains and in the river gorges. Monkeys and baboons are found in abundance throughout the area.

African Lion

African Lion

The Zambezi River, with its rich floodplains, attracts a wide range of birds to its life-giving water, it is home to more than 400 bird species.

Blacksmith Lapwing, Goliath Heron, Sacred and Glossy Ibis, Egyptian and Spurwing Goose, Water Thick-knee, Pygmy Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle, and a slew of other species are among the most prevalent.

Fish Eagle catching it's prey

Fish Eagle catching it's prey

Flora of the Zambezi

Along the upper and middle sections of the Zambezi, there are mostly savanna plants, including deciduous (shedding their leaves annually) trees, grass, and open woodlands.

An interesting vegetation type in Zambia is the valuable Rhodesian teak (Baikiaea plurijuga). Teak's characteristics have made it quite popular.

It is long-lasting, water-resistant, pest- and rot-resistant, with only slight shrinkage; does not rust with steel; and most importantly, has a lovely appearance that naturally weathers to a silvery gray color over time.

The Zambezi has distinctive fringing vegetation that includes riverine forest, particularly Ebony and small shrubs and ferns.

The typical vegetation in the lower stretch of the Zambezi is dense bush and evergreen forest, with palm trees and patches of mangrove swamp.

Zambezi - The Source of Life (video)

Here are 8 amazing facts about the Zambezi river:

The 1st European to discover the river

The Zambezi River was first seen by Vasco da Gama in 1498. He nicknamed the Zambezi the "River of Good Omens" (Rio dos Bons Sinais).

It's Africa’s fourth-largest of all the rivers of Africa and flows through 6 countries

The Zambezi River is the continent's longest east-flowing waterway. The basin area is 1,390,000 square kilometers (540,000 sq mi), which is about half of the Nile's.

The 2,200-kilometer-long river rises in Zambia and flows through 6 countries in total, those being Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and finally Mozambique, where it empties into the Indian Ocean.

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Separated by the world’s largest curtain of falling water

Victoria Falls, also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya or "The Smoke That Thunders," is one of the world's most famous natural wonders and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Zambezi River cascades down 108m drop into the Batoka Gorge at this location, which is on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Creates Grade 5 rapids

The world's best and most thrilling one-day white water rafting is found on the Zambezi River. In a length of the river that twists through the Batoka Gorge, 24 ferocious rapids have been formed, with Grade III to Grade V being the highest commercial level rapids.

Victoria Falls is a very popular extreme holiday location. The Grade 4 and 5 rapids, which provide a genuine white-knuckle water experience, are popular with thrill-seekers. From August to December, when the water levels are lowest, the most exciting rapids are encountered.

White Water Rafting on the Zambezi River

White water rafting on the Zambezi river

Of all the rivers of Africa, the Zambezi river has never been a means of long-distance travel for its people because it is frequently disrupted by rapids, which have prevented it from being an easy method of transportation.

It cascades over several waterfalls

The Victoria Falls is the most notable feature of the Zambezi River, other prominent waterfalls along the river that must not be overlooked are those found in northwest Zambia's Chavuma Falls and also the Ngonye Falls, which is difficult to access.

The Zambezi supports two hydroelectric power plants

Zimbabwe's first power source is the Kariba Dam, which generates electricity for both Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique provides power to parts of Mozambique and South Africa.

The Kariba Dam, which produces huge amounts of hydroelectric energy on the Zambezi River, is one of the world's largest.

It is 420 feet (128 meters) tall and 1,900 feet (579 meters) long, making it one of the world's biggest dams. It was finished in 1977 after 86 men died while constructing it

A water spirit, known as the Nyami Nyami, guards the Zambezi river

The river god to the Tonga people who live near the water is known as Nyami Nyami. It's said that the spirit of the river dwells in the Zambezi River and guards it, as well as all life surrounding it.

The spirit of the river is also thought to protect Tongans and offer food during hard times.

The Zambezi has 4 major crossing points

The Victoria Falls Bridge, which connects Zambia and Zimbabwe, is used by train, road, and foot passengers.

At Kariba, the dam wall is heavily utilized by motorized traffic, and a road bridge at Chirundu also connects Zambia and Zimbabwe across the river.

The rail and road bridge between Mutarara (Dona Ana) in Mozambique and Vila de Sena in Mozambique is the fourth significant crossing.

There are also numerous motor ferries that cross the river at various locations.

Top attractions in Victoria Falls

The iconic Victoria Falls Bridge


This majestic and mighty river has been an important part of life in Southern Africa for thousands of years and remains a vital source for the people, animals, birds and plants that depend on it daily, to survive.

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