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South Barotse Trails Route


Ngonye Falls
The Ngonye Falls (or Sioma Falls after the close by town of Sioma) form one of the main attractions in the upper part of...



Below is a list of accommodation establishments along this route. Bookings and enquiries can be made directly with the establishment.

Good Will Guesthouse
Facilities and services: Affordable and comfortable accommodation; Self-contained rooms; Satelite television (DSTV)...

Kabula Lodge
Situated on the banks of the mighty Zambezi within Barotseland, the Lozi people's mystical wetland region that the famou...

Maziba Bay
Maziba Bay is set in a gorge below Ngonye Falls, where the Zambezi is narrow and fast flowing, with dramatic rapids in v...

Mutemwa Lodge
Mutemwa Lodge is tucked away along the banks of the mighty Zambezi River in Western Zambia. The Zambezi spreads its bank...

Shackletons Tiger Fishing Lodge
Shackletons Tiger Fishing Lodge is situated in south-western Zambia on the upper Zambezi River near the village of Mwand...

Brenda's Best Baobab Tree
Brenda's Best Baobab Tree offers three chalets, three guest rooms and a cocktail bar. Camping is also allowed on the pro...


Below is a list of arts and crafts outlets and projects on this route. Booking and enquiries can be made directly with the business.

Bird Guide - Agnitor Mutelo
The Zambian Ornithological Society has been training Community Bird Guides in different IBA's in Zambia.  These com...

Bird Guide - Evans Nawa Mumbuwa
The Zambian Ornithological Society has been training Community Bird Guides in different IBA's in Zambia. These Community...

Bird Guide - Jebby Mutakazona
The Zambian Ornithological Society has been training Community Bird Guides in different IBAs in Zambia. These Community...


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The South Barotse Trails Route is a community-based tourism route in south-western Zambia which roughly follows the Zambezi River from Victoria Falls in the east, to Ngonye Falls in the west. The route’s gateway is Livingstone in the east or Katima Mulilo if approached from the south and it meanders through Mwandi and Sesheke before heading into the rural areas of Lusu and Sioma. Apart from being able to delve into Livingstone’s rich history, the route provides visitors with the opportunity to interact with local communities in the untouched charm of their rural surroundings alongside the Zambezi, one of Africa’s greatest rivers. The first thing one notices upon arrival in Zambia is the gentle and friendly nature of its people. It is this aspect that stays with you long after you have forgotten the natural beauty which the country has to offer. Zambia offers much in terms of natural beauty, highlighted by the fact that it has 19 national parks, 37 game-management areas and two bird sanctuaries. Wildlife is abundant in many parts of Zambia and you could spot endemics to the region like Kafue lechwe, Thronicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest. Birders will not be disappointed, with 740 different bird species recorded in the country so far.

The appeal of the route lies in the combination of African remoteness and westernised infrastructure. The remoteness of some of the areas means that villages have not yet been influenced by western standards, yet on the other hand, one is somewhat surprised that a lot of the area is accessible by tarred roads. This makes it an ideal opportunity to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world combined with the experience of visiting the as yet unspoilt areas further inland. There is currently a yearning for people to return to their roots and to connect with their natural environment. This route gives visitors the opportunity to revitalise the soul as only the African bush can, and to connect with the people of this area.

The history of Zambia is well documented through the travels of legendary explorer David Livingstone. Few people however are aware of its history before the arrival of Livingstone. Zambia’s present population lives on lands that have been inhabited by ancestors for millions of years. Archaeologists have established that the human civilization process got under way 3 million years ago, and crude stone implements, similar to some of that age found in Kenya, have also been found alongside the Zambezi River.


The history of Zambia:

Early Stone Age sites have been excavated in many parts of Zambia, the most significant being at Kalambo Falls in the North and at Victoria Falls in the south. There is evidence that during the middle Stone Age, modern man probably emerged in Zambia around 25 000 years ago.

About 15 000 years ago, the Late Stone Age commenced and people began to live in caves and rock shelters, the walls of which they decorated with paintings. Very few of these have survived Zambia’s seasonally humid climate, but a surviving drawing of an eland at Katolola in the Eastern Province suggests that this art was more than decorative, that it had a ritual or religious meaning. It has been documented in South Africa that the eland was sacred to the Late Stone Age people.

Technology of the Iron Age prevailed, not merely because metal made good strong weapons, but because the how, axe and the knife allowed agriculture to establish itself and to expand through the forests. 'Slash and burn' (chitemene) is the prominent system of agriculture in parts of Zambia to this day. Besides iron, copper began to be mined and refined around 350AD, when it was used to make jewellery and as currency. Copper is today Zambia’s largest industry in a country that has been mining for at least 1 600 years.

The centuries between 1 500AD and 1800AD saw many of the peoples of Zambia organised into chieftaincies or monarchies, including the Chewa in the east, the Lozi in the west, and the Bemba and Lunda in the north. By the 18th Century the empire was trading with the Atlantic Coast, and other states on the eastern seaboard. Copper, ivory and rhino horn had a ready market, as did slaves.
The wealth of Indian Ocean trade and the spread the Gospel in the 15th Century were factors that inspired the Portuguese to embark on their bold 'Voyages of Discovery'.

By 1515 the Portuguese had, through a force of arms, seized the Indian Ocean trade route and established themselves on the coasts of Mozambique and Angola. Although the Portuguese happily bought the ivory and copper that central Africa produced, the slave trade rapidly became – and for centuries remained – a major commercial venture.

Beside the influence brought to bear on Zambia by the Swahili and the Portuguese, the effects of the Dutch (and subsequent British) colonisation of the Cape and its hinterland from 1652 onwards, would also be felt.

Perhaps as a response to foreign intrusion in southern Africa, Shaka, king of the Zulu nation and Nguni clan, set about creating a centralised militaristic state in the early 19th Century. Surrounding peoples who did not voluntarily agree to absorption into the growing Zulu empire had no option but to flee for their survival. Three of these groups were to make a forceful impact on Zambia, 1 500km to the north of the Zulu heartland in eastern South Africa.

One of these was the Sotho clan, living today in the Orange Free State of South Africa. Its leader was Sebitwane and he named his people Kololo, after his favourite wife. Another was Mzilikazi, one of Shaka’s generals who quarrelled with him and moved away. After being defeated by the Dutch settlers in the Transvaal, he and his Ndebele invaded and conquered Western Zimbabwe. The third, like Mzilikazi an Nguni, was Zongendaba. He led his followers out of Shaka’s domains in the 1820s. These Ngoni (as they are known today) crossed the Zambezi in 1835 and went northwards as far as Lake Tanganyika where they settled for a while among the Bemba people. In 1865, under Zongendaba’s successor Mpenzeni I, they established themselves permanently in what is now Zambia’s Eastern Province.

Mzilikazi conquered Zimbabwe in 1837, while Sebitwane had crossed the Zambezi a few years previously and taken over territory just north of the Victoria Falls. From there he marched west to conquer the Lozi kingdom of the Upper Zambezi and founded his Kololo state.

It would be a mistake to talk of Zambia at this time as a country. The area defined by the present boundaries was occupied by various kingdoms, for example the Bemba, the Lunda, the Kololo, the Chewa, the last much weakened by Ngoni pillaging. It has been argued that these entities, if left alone, could have developed into 20th Century nation states – central African Bhutans or Swazilands.

David Livingstone:

In 1840, David Livingstone, a 27 year old Scottish doctor and ordained minister, sailed from Britain to the Cape, to work as a medical evangelist with the London Missionary Society. He was set to open central Africa to the gaze of British imperialists. Meanwhile, Portugal was planning to consolidate its African territories by uniting Angola and Mozambique across the central plateau. Unlike the Portuguese, the British knew next to nothing about the interior of this part of Africa.

Livingstone was to give the true picture. He started his activities at the LMS station at Kuruman (in today’s Northern Cape province of South Africa), but soon moved north to found his own mission at Kolobeng, near Gaberone, Botswana, where he stayed for a decade. He made only one convert, Chief Sechele, who soon lapsed. Livingstone grew bored with conventional missionary work and started going on longer and longer journeys of exploration, receiving help from a wealthy Englishman named William Cotton Oswell. The two of them were the first Europeans to visit Lake Ngami in the middle of the Kalahari, led there by Tswana guides.

In 1851 Livingstone and Oswell crossed the Kalahari to visit Sebitwane. Livingstone was equally impressed and thought it a sign of God’s blessing that the Kololo language was similar to the Tswana in which he was fluent. But at Sebetwane’s he had his first sight of the slave trade – the Kololo nobles were wearing Manchester cloth obtained from the Portuguese in Angola in return for ivory and slaves.

He and Oswell, who was also a staunch abolitionist, concluded that the only way to stop the trade would be through a new type of mission where a combination of Christianity and commerce would lead to civilisation: in fact a sort of Christian-development programme under which slaving would be replaced by legitimate trade in for instance cotton, which grew in the area and for which there was a large market in Britain. The scheme would be managed by carefully selected Scottish settlers.

Sebitwane, though scarcely interested in Christianity itself, agreed that Livingstone could establish a mission in his country, if only because it might afford him protection against his enemy Mzilikazi of the Ndebele, whose warrior kingdom bordered his own. Although Sebitwane died shortly after coming to this agreement, his successor, Sekeletu undertook to honour it, and Livingstone promised to establish the mission himself. All that remained was to find a suitable outlet to the sea. The most economical passage for anticipated cotton (and ivory) exports might be through the Portuguese port of Luanda on the Atlantic, so Livingstone decided to see if there was a feasible route from Barotseland (as the Kololo kingdom is called).

The journey was financed by Oswell and Sekeletu, and after an interlude at the Cape to get supplies, Livingstone set off from the upper Zambezi in 1853. The return journey of over a year was a nightmare, the route proving totally unsuitable for the export trade.

Livingstone then convinced himself that the Zambezi could be 'God’s Highway' to the Indian Ocean. Again with support from Sekeletu, Livingstone marched off eastwards down the river. He 'discovered', and named after Queen Victoria, the great waterfall, which the Kololo had already called Mosi oa Tunya ('The Smoke that Thunders'). To the Leya, who lived right beside it and held it sacred, it was called Shongwe (Rainbow).

With the conflict in South Africa finally resolved and the region politically more stable, tourism is developing rapidly. New activities are constantly emerging and the industry is becoming more and more sophisticated. Rafting the wild rapids below the Falls was the first innovation more than ten years ago. Now the list of organised, commercial activities has expanded dramatically. Visitors can kayak, canoe, fish, go on guided walking safaris, ride on horseback, lunch on Livingstone’s Island and in addition to the well-known “flight of angels”, for the more adventurous, there is microlighting with stunning views of the Falls.

After reaching the port of Quelemaine, Mozambique, towards the end of 1856, Livingstone sailed to Britain by way of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. He was welcomed in triumph as the greatest explorer of the age.

Livingstone put his 15 months in Britain to good use. He wrote and published Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (1857), a detailed and ideologically loaded account of his experiences, which became an inspirational best seller. He made speeches up and down the land promoting his idea of a cotton-exporting Christian venture in central Africa, with the Zambezi as its 'highway'.

He resigned from the London Missionary Society, but arranged for them to send a mission to the Kololo (thus by not going himself, breaking his promise to Sekeletu). Meanwhile, the Church of England backed a Universities Mission to Central Africa, which Livingstone would have under his auspices.

To crown his glory he was appointed leader of a government-sponsored expedition to the Zambezi, the secret objective of which was to found a British colony on the 'healthy highlands' (Livingstone’s phrase) near the present town of Mazabuka in southern Zambia. There would be a port for steamers nearby at the confluence of the Zambezi and Kafue Rivers.

But the whole grand scheme collapsed in ruin and recrimination when it was found that the Cabora Basa gorge in Mozambique, which Livingstone had not inspected, made God’s Highway totally un-navigable. The LMS mission to the Kololo was likewise a complete failure as most of its members died.

After the Cabora Basa fiasco, Livingstone turned his attention to the area around Lake Malawi (which he falsely claimed to have discovered) and placed the Anglican mission at the foot of the highlands to its south. Its personnel suffered deaths and disasters and the remnants were soon withdrawn.

At the end of 1863 the mandate of the Zambezi Expedition expired. Livingstone returned to Britain under a cloud of failure and disappointment with nothing seemingly accomplished.

By the end of 1865 he was off to Africa again, seeking another place for his colony and searching in vain for the source of the Nile. He was apparently lost in the heart of Africa when his much-dimmed reputation was suddenly restored by the newspaperman HM Stanley in his reports and in his book, How I found Livingstone (1872).

Livingstone died, his ambitions unfulfilled, at Chief Chitambo’s village near the southern shore of the Bangweulu Swamps in Zambia in 1873. Stanley had convinced the world that Livingstone was a hero-saint, and his embalmed body was carried to the coast by his servants and shipped to Britain, to be entombed with royal honours in Westminster Abbey, London. A memorial has been erected on the spot in his honour.

Livingstone’s new reputation however, did not crumble to dust with his remains. Within a year it had inspired Scottish missionaries to begin work in Malawi in his name. Also in his name the French Huguenot Francois Coillard established himself in Barotseland a decade later and other Protestant missionaries were moving into Zambia. Not to be outdone, the Roman Catholics sent Henri Dupont of the White Fathers to convert the Bemba.

With considerable help from both Coillard and Dupont, the British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes’ British South African Company (BSAC) had been able to take over the whole of Zambia by the end of the 19th Century. In 1911 the territory was named Northern Rhodesia, its capital the town of Livingstone, overlooking the Victoria Falls. Only in 1935 was the seat of government moved to Lusaka.

By 1923, Company rule had become an objectionable anachronism for the British government, and in that year, the Colonial Office took over the territory, proclaiming it a Protectorate where African interests would be paramount.

As far as Africans were concerned, Colonial Office rule may have been more benign, in a paternalistic way, than the Company’s, but it was a form of apartheid under which they were subject to racial discrimination including pass laws and restrictions on the occupation of land, with their political aspirations expected to be fulfilled through a revamped tribal system. Whites meanwhile were a privileged elite with a protected economic position and the beginnings of representative government. Persons of mixed blood and immigrants, mainly traders, from what are today India and Pakistan, held an ambivalent place under this regime.

The discovery and opening up during the late 1920s and 1930s of the rich underground ore bodies along the Zambian Copperbelt were soon to make that small region – 120km long by forty kilometres wide – one of the world’s most concentrated and renowned mining areas.

The nationalist movement was given impetus in the early 1950s when the Colonial Office agreed to have Northern Rhodesia joined in a federation with Nyasaland (Malawi), a British 'protectorate', and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Southern Rhodesia, under White settler rule, was bankrupt, and saw Northern Rhodesia with its copper wealth as the answer.

Zambian opposition to Federation, in which few Whites and Asians were prominent, was not strong enough to prevent its imposition in 1953. During its ten years of existence, as Zambians had anticipated, hundreds of millions of pounds were siphoned off to Southern Rhodesia. The White settlers there built up an impressive economic structure while the north remained without a single decent tarred highway, let alone a university or even an adequate school system or health service.

In the mid- fifties, the failed campaign against Federation became a struggle for full independence. When battle-weary Nkumbula seemed inadequate to the task, his ANC split. Younger and more dynamic nationalists formed first the Zambia African National Congress (which was banned and its leaders imprisoned) and then in 1958, the United National Independence Party. When he came out of detention, Kenneth David Kaunda, a charismatic activist who had been a school teacher, was given the leadership of the new party. UNIP engaged in a continuous and largely peaceful campaign for independence (though there was a violent uprising in the north of the country, put down by the Federal Army).

The Federation was dissolved in 1963, its only enduring monument being the Kariba Dam built across the Zambezi, intended by the federalists to bind northern and southern Rhodesia forever. In January the following year Zambia’s first universal adult suffrage elections were held and though the ANC performed well in a few substantial areas, UNIP won convincingly, and Kaunda became Prime Minister. Then at midnight on October 24, 1964, Zambia became an independent republic with Kenneth Kaunda as president.

Kaunda remained in office for 27 years until the one-party state was abolished and free elections were held in October 1991, when Frederick Chiluba became Zambia’s second president. He abolished foreign-exchange controls, passed new investment laws, set up a stock exchange, and embarked on a privatisation programme that at one point was dubbed by the World Bank as the best on the continent.

In 2001 Levy Mwanawasa succeeded Chiluba as Zambia's president.

The route covers part of the area commonly referred to as Barotseland. The ancient kingdom of Barotseland, located in what is western Zambia today, had its traditional heart in the fertile plains annually flooded by the Zambezi. Since Zambian independence in November 1964, the heart of this land was known first as Barotse Province and, from 1968, as Western Province. Before 1964, however, Western Province was known as Barotseland, home of the Lozi nation, whose influence spread north from Botswana and Caprivi to the present day border between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and from south-eastern Angola west to the Kafue. The nation comprised over 25 different peoples united by culture and ecosystems.

Barotseland and the Lozi people:

The word Lozi means ('plain') in the Makololo language, in reference to the Zambezi floodplain (also called the Bulozi Plain) on and around which most Lozi people live. It may also be spelt Lotse or Rotse, the spelling Lozi having originated with German missionaries in what is now Namibia. Mu- and Ba- are singular and plural prefixes in Bantu languages, so Murotse means 'person of the plain' while Barotse means 'people of the plain'.

The Barotseland region of Zambia represents a large autonomous kingdom in the Western Province. The earliest known tribe of Lozi people to settle in the area, the Luyi, migrated from Katanga in the Congo. A long line of female rulers ruled them until their settlement on the Bulozi flood plain. The earliest of these rulers was named Mwambwa, who was succeeded by her daughter, Mbuymamwambwa. According to legend they both married Nyambe, the “maker of the world, the forests, the river, the plains, all the animals, birds and fish”. In reality, Mwambwa and Mbuymamwambwa, probably bore children by several different consorts.

Mwanasolundwi Muyunda Mumbo wa Mulonga aka Mboo, the son of Mbuymamwambwa, was chosen as paramount ruler of the Lozi, becoming the first male ruler in their history. Thereafter, all his successors, as Litunga, have been males.

A revolution in 1840 removed the ruling dynasty from power. The whole of Barotseland then fell under the rule of the Kilolo, led by Sibitwane, brother of the great Moshesh of Lesotho, for the next 24 years. The Lozi dynasty continued to oppose them wherever possible, and maintained its leadership and traditions in exile. A rebellion in 1860 enabled Lutangu Sipopa, a son of Litunga Mulumbwa, to seize his chance to establish his claim to the throne. He defeated and virtually exterminated the Kilolo four years later and restored the fortunes of the dynasty. During his reign, European explorers, missionaries and travellers began to enter the region in numbers.

Litunga Sipopa’s assassination by his bodyguard in 1876 triggered a contest for the succession. Although his nephew, Mwanawina II, secured the throne, he was deposed in favour of his popular cousin, Lubosi, two years later.

Litunga Lubosi I or more popularly Lewanika, succeeded on the death of his cousin in 1878, was himself deposed and driven into exile in 1884. He escaped to Angola, collected an army and regained the throne in late 1885. Highly intelligent and keen to modernise his kingdom, he embraced the missionaries as a means of educating his people. He also recognised the risk of white settlement and arranged to accept a British protectorate in 1890 in order to protect his people and lands from encroachment. His sons and daughters were given a modern education, several being sent to the Cape or Britain for further study. He abolished slavery in 1895 and bonded labour in 1906. He died after a long reign in 1916, hailed amongst Europeans and Africans alike as one of Africa’s greatest rulers.

Yeta III, the eldest son of Lewanika, succeeded in 1916 after a long apprenticeship under his august father. The first ruler of his line to receive a modern European education, much of his reign was spent expanding education while preserving traditional customs and ways of life. He abdicated in favour of his younger brother, just shy of a reign of thirty years in 1945.

Litunga Imwiko succeeded in 1945, but died three years later, being succeeded by yet another brother, Litunga Mwanawina III. The latter had already had a distinguished career in various subordinate posts under his father and brothers. He had served during the Great War and had been educated at Lovedale College in South Africa. His reign was to be one of the most momentous in the history of the Lozi, culminating with the rising tide of nationalism in Zambia. He saw out the short-lived and unpopular federation of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, with the white-dominated Southern Rhodesia then renounced the protectorate agreement in favour of integration with Zambia on 17 May 1964. He died four years later.

Litunga Godwin Mbikusita, succeeded his brother in 1968, and was almost immediately faced with difficulties. Relations with the central government deteriorated as Kenneth Kaunda sought to impose one-party centralised rule throughout the country.  The large measure of autonomy enjoyed by the Lozi did not fit into these plans, so the Zambian government unilaterally abrogated the 1964 agreement in October 1970. The government renamed Barotseland the Western Province, even forbidding any references to the term in parliament. Despite these trials, the Litunga, whose interests were scholarly.

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Open Africa Routes

A route is a cluster of travel attractions, accommodation, tour operators, local artisans, guides and restaurants. It brings people together from all levels of community to promote travel to their area. You select what interests you on a route and create your own itinerary.


Lusu to Ngonye Falls
Mwandi to Katima Mulilo



South-western Zambia: This route roughly follows the Zambezi River. Visitors can call on the villages and their untouched rural surroundings and experience the charm of the gentle and friendly people of Zambia.

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Key Contacts

Gavin Johnson

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Pieter du Toit

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