Where should I go on safari?

It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s dark. At this time of year, it’s only natural that thoughts turn to holidays! If you’re having a destination dilemma, and are tempted by a safari, read on – you’ll find the top ten questions we get asked at travel shows every year (with answers.) It might just help you narrow the selection down! 

In the entertainment world the New Year is punctuated by a series of glittering awards ceremonies – in January you have the Golden Globes, followed by the BAFTAs and then of course it’s the Oscars at the end of February.

In travel, it is our busiest time of year with wall to wall travel shows, brochure requests and enquiries galore  – so we are just as busy but possibly not quite as glamorous!

Travel Shows offer a great opportunity to find out everything you need to know about your destinations of interest. You can pick up brochures on a whole range of places and experiences, ask the experts your burning questions, and enjoy presentations on world food and travel in the celebrity and destination theatres.

Here are some of the most common questions fired at us during the travel shows (with abbreviated answers – if you want the ‘full’ answer , do give us a ring on 01603 283 517).


Where should I safari in 2016? Here goes with the top ten questions. 

Q.Where’s the best place to catch up with the migration?
 A.Kenya’s Masai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti (depending on time of year).
Take a look at this classic tented safari holiday, put together with the Migration in mind.

Q.We’re on a budget – where do you recommend? 
 A.South Africa and Kenya currently offer the best value in Africa. 
This 19 day trip to South Africa, including a stay in a tented camp in the Greater Kruger is fantastic value.

Q.We’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Where do you recommend?
A.It has to be Botswana…ideally combined with Victoria Falls (but the answer will vary depending on who you speak to!)
To be honest, if you go once, and do it right, we know you’ll be smitten and desperate to return to Africa!
Q.We’ve travelled lots in Africa and are after something completely different? 
A.Namibia or Ethiopia will make a big impression.

Q.Where can I see rhino?
 A.Your best chances are in Kenya (Lake Nakuru or Laikipia); South Africa (KwaZulu Natal); Namibia (Etosha, Damaraland)

Q.Where can we have an adventure? 
A.Take your pick: Zimbabwe (walk in Mana Pools, canoe the Zambezi, track rhino on foot in Matusadona); Botswana (horse ride, canoe, camp) Uganda & Rwanda (trek to see gorillas and chimps); Tanzania (climb Kilimanjaro, dive the Indian Ocean); South Africa (cage dive with a Great White); Zambia (incredible walking safaris)

Q.What do you recommend for a classic safari and beach holiday?
 A.Tanzania is wonderful – combine a classic Northern Circuit with the Spice Islands of Zanzibar or Pemba. Or get off the beaten track, and head to the vast southern parks of Selous and Ruaha, followed by the mainland coast or rustic Mafia Island with its marine reserve.  Alternatively combine a safari in South Africa’s Kruger with the beaches of Mozambique, or safari in Zambia before chilling on the shores of  Lake Malawi. Got more time and a bigger budget? Try Botswana and Mauritius, or Kenya and the Seychelles.

Q.Where can we tick off the Big Five?
A.Kenya is your absolute best bet. We even have a sample holiday called The Big Five! Don’t forget the Big Seven – head to South Africa for that!

Q.We want to see leopard – where do you recommend?
 A.Our top picks would be Zambia (the South Luangwa offers night drives, ideal for catching up with these nocturnal beauties); South Africa (Greater Kruger – Sabi Sands area); Botswana (a private concession in the Okavango)
Q.What’s the best time to go?
A.Sub-saharan Africa covers a vast area so it depends where you are going and what you would like to see! As a very general rule the peak months for Botswana, Zimbabwe , Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa’s Greater Kruger  are May to October. For East Africa the peak months for safari and beach are December to February and  June to October while the weather in Ethiopia and South Africa’s Cape would be best November to March. The peak months for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda tend to be between June and September, the long dry season.

By Sara White.

 

The Hunt

The new BBC1 series The Hunt, narrated by Sir David Attenborough looks at predation in the natural world.  Viewers are transported at 9pm on a Sunday evening to a range of wonderful locations around the world to witness real-life dramas unfolding before their eyes.

Credit: BBC/Silverback Films/Huw Cordey. Filming wild dogs in Zambia.

Executive Producer Alastair Fothergill writes on the BBC website, “the kill itself isn’t interesting, because once animals have killed, the story’s over. What is interesting is the build up, the strategies adopted by both the predators and prey. This has never been looked at in detail, and that is the aim of The Hunt”.

At the Conde Nast Luxury Travel Fair, where we exhibited in November, we were lucky enough to enjoy a talk in the Expert Theatre and meet BBC wildlife cameraman Doug Allan, who worked on Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, also produced by Alastair Fothergill. Doug told us that it takes on average 450 days of filming to get enough footage for a one hour episode. Taking such stats into account the team here at Real Africa has even more reverence for the BBC’s latest sensational wildlife series.

The Hunt

Catch the next episode of The Hunt, Nowhere to Hide, on BBC 1 on Sunday at 9pm. The episode follows cheetahs, bald eagles and lions on their hunt for prey in the exposed plains landscape with much of the 60 minutes filmed in Africa.

So where are the best places in Africa to see some of The Hunt’s leading ladies?

Cheetahs are diurnal, hunting in the morning and afternoon, and can be seen perched on termite mounds, rock kopjes and even on safari vehicles on occasion in order to survey the horizon – they can see prey 5km away and accelerate from 0 to 64kmh in just three strides. The Hunt filmed cheetahs in Kenya’s Masai Mara – we would recommend the Mara or the Serengeti to see these beautiful cats in action.

Real Africa clients get closer than expected!

 

Leopards are more tricky to see being nocturnal and relying on ambush. They need to get within 4m of their prey to be successful. Leopards are most often spotted draped in umbrella acacias in East Africa or on night drives when their eyes shine brightly. Zambia’s South Luangwa is a fantastic place to see leopard as is Sabi Sands in South Africa’s Kruger.

Leopard siblings playing taken by guests Diana & Walt at Nkwali, Zambia.

 

Lionesses …well, put it this way, I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t seen a lion/lioness in the Masai Mara. The Marsh Pride were made famous by the BBC Big Cat Diary series and can still be observed hunting in the Mara along with many other prides. The Hunt filmed specific lion behaviour, as they stalked zebra in Namibia, in Etosha, another excellent place to see them, especially during the peak of the dry season in September and October when game congregates around waterholes. When it comes to lions, you have a great choice, from Kenya and Tanzania, or the lions of Duba Plains, Botswana to the prolific Luwi Lions of Zambia’s South Luangwa, or Cecil’s offspring in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.  You can even see them in trees in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park and Uganda’s QE National Park.

See Real Africa footage of lions hunting buffalo in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater.

Lion cubs try out stalking – picture taken by our guide Gaudence.

 

Nile Crocs– Get to the Grumeti River in the Northern Serengeti between July and September and you will see plenty of giant Nile Crocodiles feasting on wildebeest as they make the crossing from one side to the other enroute to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Murchison Falls in Uganda is another great place to observe these beasts.

Credit: BBC / Silverback Films / Huw Cordey. Nile Crocodile taking wildebeest on the Grumeti River.

 

Ethiopian Wolves– With only around 500 of these long-legged fox-like creatures remaining in the highlands of Ethiopia, you have to be lucky to get a glimpse. Give yourself every chance by staying in the Bale Mountains at the wonderful Bale Mountain Lodge.

Elusive Ethiopian Wolf in the Bale Mountains.

 

Wild Dogs-The formidable wild dog or painted dog thrives in packs of around 6 to 20 dogs, roaming open plains and woodland. Wild dogs are also endangered but the Linyanti region is Botswana has very  reliable sightings with several packs denning in the area. Another good place to try and see Wild Dogs is in Zambia’s South Luangwa – but, as I well know, the dogs move very quickly, with incredible stamina, and can be elusive so it doesn’t always work out. I spent a week trying to see them in Zambia – saw their prints, heard them, glimpsed them but never quite managed to catch up with them! The positive news is that in the last ten years the wild dog numbers in the valley have increased. By the way…I saw everything else when I was there, from lions chasing impala into jeeps and leopards sheltering from the rain in thorn bushes…

Wild Dog Pups taken from Kwando Lebala.

 

Watching wildlife is of course, unpredictable so although we can’t guarantee you’ll witness a sequence like the cheetah taking a wildebeest calf during your safari holiday,  we can ensure we use our expert knowledge, experience and wonderful guides to get you to the best places at the best times for what you want to experience.

Here are our Top Five recommendations for places to catch some serious safari action.

1.TANZANIA – THE SERENGETI

The Serengeti promises a special safari whenever you go, with the wildebeest migration making its circular journey year-round . However, the southern plains of the Serengeti play host to calving season during January and February and is said to be the best place in the world to observe cheetah hunting.

During a dramatic 3 week window, starting in late January depending on the arrival of the rains, the wildebeest have their calves with thousands being born daily, long legged and unsteady as they take their first steps on the short grassy plains of the Serengeti, their nursery.

During these key few months, this area of the southern Serengeti and western Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to Africa’s densest concentration of predators. The big cats patrol the  grassland waiting for an opportunity to strike. Cheetah sightings are especially good along with large prides of lion while other predators like hyena and caracal can also be seen.

If you are keen to witness stalking behaviours then heading to the area around Ndutu in February would be our number one recommendation – many would say that this is the absolute best time to be in the Serengeti.

Mobile camps come into their own, moving to be within reach of the migration and offering an authentic ‘Out of Africa’ safari experience. Our favourites include Alex Walker’s Serian Serengeti South, Lemala Ndutu Tented Camp and &Beyond’s Serengeti Under Canvas. Mobile camps are seasonal tented camps which move depending on the location of the herds.

If you prefer a permanent camp then we would recommend Ndutu Safari Lodge,  Lake Masek Camp and Sanctuary’s Kusini Camp but there are several lodges and camps in this area so do ask!

INSPIRATION

Lemala Migration Safari 

Wildlife Extra

Serengeti Under Canvas

Alex Walker’s Serian Camps

Lemala Ndutu

2.KENYA – THE MASAI MARA

The Masai Mara is synonymous with big cats. The Marsh Pride came to life on our screens during the BBC Big Cat Diaries – you can even stay, like the BBC film crew did, at Governors Camps in the Mara, well placed for visiting the Marsh Pride.  Several big cat projects are based in the Mara including the Mara Predator Project, the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project as well as a Spotted Hyena research centre so this is a indication that the area is rich with wildlife.

Research in the 1990s by Joseph Oguto showed that there were roughly 3 lions per 10 square kilometres in the Mara, the largest pride of 48 being the Talek Pride. It is true that lion numbers have dropped by around a third  in the last twenty years, as they have all over Africa but the Masai Mara is still one of the very best places to see these beautiful big cats.

Visit the Mara between July and October when the Great Wildebeest Migration is in the vicinity and chances are you may see something very special. We recommend staying in one of the private concessions as opposed to within the National Reserve itself. The main reserve has many lodges, often quite large ones, and as such can see high vehicle densities at peak times. In the private conessions which work in partnership with the local Maasai communities, visitor numbers are restricted to 1 guest to around 350 acres allowing for a more exclusive experience.

You’ll find lovely small lodges, classy mobile tented camps like Saruni Wild and Alex Walker’s Serian as well as affordable riverside camps like Karen Blixen Tented Camp on the Mara River, one of our favourite ‘good value’ tented camps in the Mara North concession, which bridges the gap between the tiny, top end  lodges/camps and the larger 3 star lodges/camps in the national park.

For  observing predators and their prey the Masai Mara is a fabulous place to safari.

See Real Africa footage of cheetah hunting.

INSPIRATION

Karen Blixen Fly-in Safari

Masai Mara Fly-in & Lake Malawi

Saruni Wild

Little Governors

Kicheche Mara

3.NAMIBIA – ETOSHA

The best time to be in Etosha for wildlife is in the peak of the dry season when vast numbers migrate to waterholes (August – October). As the dry season progresses the landscape becomes increasingly arid and by October, the hottest month, can be quite dusty. It is at this time that the BBC film crew captured the incredible footage of lions hunting – with the swirling dust storm confusing their prey and masking their scent.

Many of our clients choose to explore Namibia on a self-drive itinerary over 16 or so days with a 4×4. You can also explore with a flying safari.

You may be interested in our blog, Namibia – In the Driving Seat.

INSPIRATION

Self Drive of Namibia

Namibia Fly-in Safari

Ongava Lodge, Etosha

Onguma Tented Camp, Etosha

4.BOTSWANA – DUBA PLAINS

Duba Plains in Botswana is famous for its clashes between lions and buffalo in particular. The special thing about the Duba lions is that they hunt during the day allowing visitors to witness them at work rather than simply lazing in the shade. Many will remember the film made by the Jouberts about the lions of Duba and it is a stay at the Joubert’s camp, Duba Plains, with just six ensuite tents that will get you close to the lions here.

When the film was made there was one big pride, the Tsaro pride but in the last few years this pride has split into two so interactions in the area are transforming all the time and are rather unpredictable. However Duba Plains is still rated one of the best places to see lions hunting.

Safari elsewhere in Botswana and I don’t think you will be disappointed. Linyanti is a good choice for seeing predators with the guiding teams focused on finding lion, leopard and cheetah – night drives are possible from Lebala Camp which sits in a private concession and wild dogs den in the area. Lebala is on the plains/marsh and combines well with sister camp, Lagoon, which sits on the banks of the Kwando river.

If Botswana is of interest to you, you may enjoy our country guide called Botswana – Wilderness & Wildlife. 

INSPIRATION

Duba Plains Camp

Ultimate Botswana

Kwando Lebala Camp, Linyanti

Botswana Explorer

5.ZAMBIA – SOUTH LUANGWA

South Luangwa is a fantastic place to see predators. The Luwi Sand River, close to Nsolo Bush Camp  is where several lion pride territories overlap, while leopard use the dry river bed a bit like a super highway. South Luangwa is one of the few National Park’s allowing night drives with trackers and spot lights which gives you a good chance to see leopards actively hunting.

This area is very unspoilt with few vehicle tracks in the area and much of the exploration done on foot with guided walking safaris. Accommodation is in seasonal bush camps which are erected for the duration of the dry season between May and October time. This means minimal disturbance to the environment and as a result wildlife is prolific. For lion, leopard, spotted hyena and wild dog (if you are lucky!) this area is truly fabulous.

DID YOU KNOW? BBC wildlife cameraman, Simon King, and crew stayed at Robin Pope’s Nsefu Camp in the Luangwa’s Nsefu sector when filming lion hunting buffalo.

INSPIRATION

Zambia Walking Safari

Nsolo Camp

Classic Zambia

Luwi Camp

 

Tailor-made Safaris with Real Africa

Tell us what you are keen to try and see and we will be able to give you independent advice on the best time of year, the best guides and the best lodges/camps to visit in order to realise your specific ambition. You can call us on 01603 283 517.

 

 

 

 

Fly-in or drive-in safari? The pros and cons.

Clients often ask us which is better – a fly-in or a drive-in safari? For those who are unsure, these are the two most popular ways to go on safari.

A fly-in safari, as the name suggests, means you fly into the National Park and do your safari in the vehicles of your camp or lodge. A drive-in safari means you drive to the park in your own vehicle and usually do your game drives in it too.

So which is better? Well, as so often, the answer is more complicated than this. In some places you can only fly, either because roads don’t exist, the terrain is too rough and/or the distances are too great. An example of this would be a safari in the heart of the Okavango Delta, a vast area of wetlands in Botswana. There is no option but to fly to your camp. Likewise, some areas do not have airstrips of a suitable standard to take passenger airplanes, meaning that driving to your destination is the only answer. An example of this would be a visit to Lake Eyasi in Northern Tanzania.

But if you did have the choice, what are the pro’s and con’s?

A fly-in safari.

Pro’s:

– Its quick. You can often reach your destination in a fraction of the time it would take if driving on African roads. You can therefore save a lot of time if time is precious.

– Its scenic. You will get great views of the countryside, often seeing game as you travel and a birds-eye view of the escarpments, parks and forests.

– Its exciting. The planes are small, designed for use on the small dirt airstrips they often use. Some to places like  the Masai Mara may have up to 38 seats, but most will be small 4-16 seaters, with your pilot sitting with you.

– You game-drive in camp/lodge vehicles, meaning your guides are specialists to that area and know all the latest sightings.

Cons:

– You miss out on seeing lots of the country you are in, and your perspective will be airstrips and National Parks, rather than seeing everyday life.

– You can miss a flight! If your connection is late and you miss a flight you have to wait for the next one, and that could be a wait of a day or two. One of our staff once missed her international flight home as her connecting flight from the Serengeti couldn’t take off for nearly two hours due to giraffe and buffalo on the runway. You don’t have that problem at Heathrow..

– Flights get cancelled, usually due to low cloud. These are small planes flying to small airstrips and good visibility is a must.

– They can be bumpy! Small planes tend to bounce around a fair bit in the hot air. If you like roller-coasters, of course, this should be in the Pro column…

– Camp/lodge safari vehicles are shared with other guests and rarely private to you.

Drive-in safaris.

Pro’s:

– You have your own private vehicle and driver. This means on game-drives you always have a perfect view from the windows and roof hatch. It also means you get to know your driver-guide who can talk about and discuss normal life in your destination, as well as about the flora and fauna.

– You can stop whenever you want, wherever you want for as long as you want. No timetables to keep to. You get to see everyday life in your destination, as the people go about their everyday lives.

– Your driver will know your interests and previous sightings, meaning you can focus on things you specifically want to see rather than the interests of the many.

Cons:

– African roads are not known for their glass-like surfaces, so journeys can be long and bouncy.

– Vehicles break down, roads get blocked and bridges washed away, so delays can happen.

The answer to the question of which style is better really depends on where you are going and what you want to do. For many safari holidays, a combination of the two is possible, allowing you to see something of the country and enjoy the company of a driver-guide, with one or two flights to cover the larger distances. Whichever you choose, few people feel they have made the wrong decision as both styles of safaris will give you a holiday that is both memorable and exciting.

Malaria-free Game Reserves in Africa

We are often asked which game reserves in Africa are malaria free. In South Africa there are several fantastic options where you can enjoy the thrill of seeing the Big Five on safari without having to take malaria tablets – this is preferable to many people but especially those travelling with children or to pregnant women.

There are several options, each with their own pros and cons. Here we offer an overview. To discuss the options in detail or to receive a tailor-made quote incorporating one of the following within a longer itinerary then please do call our safari consultants on 01603 283 517.

Madikwe

Madikwe is best visited as part of a tailor-made fly-in safari, positioned in the far reaches of the North West province, nestled next to Botswana around 4-5 hours drive north of Johannesburg. This remote wilderness comprises classic bushveld – some 75,000 hectares of it and in our opinion is the best malaria free game reserve to see the Big Five amidst true African wilderness.March to November is the ideal time to safari here as the other months can get very hot . Madikwe has around 15-20 safari camps and lodges varying in style and luxury. We love Jaci’s Lodge (pictured) while Makayane is great for honeymooners or couples after a romantic bolthole. Tuningi is another great option as is the more simple Thakadu River Lodge , offering an all-round excellent experience and good value too. Madikwe not only has all the Big Five (Leopard, Lion, Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino) but is known for its healthy wild dog population. Black and white rhino can be seen, and more than 350 species of migrant birds. The negative? Probably only the remote nature of the reserve – you really need to fly-in. A Madikwe safari combines wonderfully with a stay in the Cape.

Pilanesberg

Also in the North West province and slightly smaller than Madikwe at around 55,000 hectares is Pilanesberg,  popular because it is so accessible – just a 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive from Johannesburg and easy to combine with a stay at Sun City. The landscape is diverse marking the transitional area between the dry Kalahari and the lush lowveld. All the Big Five can be seen here. In this area we favour  the private reserve of Tshuduku. Pilanesberg represents a great conservation success story – this ancient volcanic crater was given over to farmland and rehabilitated in the 1970s.

Waterberg

A spectacular mountain range in Limpopo province offering stunning scenery including rivers and waterfalls, a richly forested plateau and craggy outcrops. Home to several luxurious lodges this is a great place to visit, but the wildlife viewing is not as consistent as elsewhere and therefore probably not somewhere we would recommend on its own  but rather within a longer itinerary exploring the region. It just depends on your priorities. Like Pilanesberg you can drive from Johannesburg within around 3 hours making it very accessible. The rugged landscape adorned with ancient rock art (within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve) is of archaeological significance and an undeniable draw. There certainly is big game here but how long have you got? We think people visit the Waterberg for the whole package rather than specifically for big game – it combines wonderfully with a stay at a classic safari lodge in the Kruger for example – try combining Honeyguide Mantobeni in the private Manyeleti Game Reserve with Honeyguide’s newest lodge, Rangers, in Entabeni Private Conservancy within the 22,000 hectare World Heritage Waterberg Biosphere Reserve for instance. Remember you will need malaria protection for Kruger.

Eastern Cape

The superb standard of game reserves in the Eastern Cape is a major attraction for those visiting Africa for the first time and wishing to combine the delights of Cape Town and the Garden Route with a safari. The reserves are easy to reach, have a great variety of accommodation to suit all budgets and styles and you can see the Big Five. There are conservation projects to visit and specially tailored children’s activities are offered at many of the private reserves. However it is important to appreciate that visiting a game reserve in the Eastern Cape is a very different prospect to staying in the wilds of the Greater Kruger  – these are fenced reserves – historically farmland which has been carefully managed and stocked with a great variety of wildlife. The reserves offer a fabulous safari experience giving you the chance to see conservation first-hand,  and you would be unlucky to come across a fence – the reserves are vast with Shamwari encompassing some 25,000 hectares – but the fences are there and as such the reserves cannot achieve the same sensation of  truly ‘wild’ Africa that you would get in places like Kruger. We think the Eastern Cape reserves are fantastic and would recommend them wholeheartedly to safari first-timers, say a 2-3 night stay, and also to families. Among our favourites are the Big Five reserves of  Addo, Pumba, Shamwari and Amakhala.

Bush camping – but not as you know it! Zambia’s South Luangwa has it all zipped up…

As the second May bank holiday hurtles ever nearer, I feel the need, encouraged by our children, to dust off the tent and the camp stove and to get away for a weekend’s camping.

Memories of last year’s camping expeditions have faded sufficiently for me to embrace the idea with renewed enthusiasm. Afterall,  it’s a tradition, to head off, with the car groaning under the weight of camping gear and the dog squeezed into one  corner,  to  calve out a small but perfectly formed space in a field, amidst the sea of other tents. If it isn’t lashing with rain and blowing a gale, it just isn’t the same. ‘Character building’, my father would’ve called it.

So, if you like me, are simply masquerading as a happy camper, then perhaps it’s time to try something different.

No, not glamping but bush camping, Zambia style.

Cast off any image of battling with canvas in a storm, of crowded camp sites and hullabaloo. In Zambia you are treated to acres of wilderness with not another vehicle in sight very often. Small, discreet bush camps snuggle on the edge of a lagoon or within a shady grove of trees. And the only crowd? Well the snorting hippos make a bit of a racket I suppose…

Welcome to Zambia’s most exclusive camps – the bush camps, who, as I write, are unfurling the canvas for another year.

Bush camp basics – what is a bush camp anyway?

A bush camp is a seasonal camp which is taken down at the end of the dry season and leaves very little impact on the environment. You can enjoy a good deal of comfort with proper beds, rugs and furniture and an ensuite bathroom, usually open to the stars, complete with a flushing loo and hot shower. There’s a deck too  for you to sit and soak up the views.

Bush camps are constructed from locally sourced natural material like reed, grass and thatch, as well as using canvas. They blend in to their environment. In my opinion, they are the epitome of safari chic and an incredible way to experience the thrill of real, unspoilt and off the beaten track Africa.

Bush camps should not be confused with fly-camps. Fly-camps are impromptu camps set up just for a night some distance from the main camp or lodge. You would usually walk to a fly-camp during the cool of the afternoon. You sleep on a bedroll on the floor, with a simple gauze mosquito net or a tent for shelter. There will be a bucket shower and short -drop loo. Simple meals are served around the camp-fire. This is back to basics camping, and a great option for a night if you really want to feel at one with the wilderness.

Traditionally, bush camps started off like this – as pretty basic affairs set up for hard-core walkers. However over time bush camps have evolved and now, although still very small and intimate in their nature, they offer considerably more comfort, convenience and luxury compared to a fly-camp.

Many bush camps now offer a combination of walking and 4×4 safaris. In South Luangwa,

night drives are a real highlight.

Each camp has its own distinct personality and attributes.

In summary, bush camps are:

  • Seasonal, usually mid May to the end of October in South Luangwa
  • Set up in beautiful, remote locations where wildlife is prolific
  • Small and intimate, with just a handful of tents

A profile of some of our favourite bush camps in the South Luangwa Valley

Norman Carr offers four bush camps in the northern part of the South Luangwa Valley, all open between 15 May and 31 October this year. Several of these stunning camps feature in our sample online itinerary, the Classic South Luangwa Walking Safari, the ultimate way to really experience the wildlife, landscapes and camps of the valley.

Luwi Camp

Set on the banks of the seasonal Luwi River under a canopy of mahogany trees around 12 km from the Luangwa River this rustic camp has a fabulous hippo hide, overlooking a hippo lagoon, one of two permanent lagoons near camp. The permanent source of water close to camp ensures a steady procession of wild visitors.

You really feel out in the wilderness at Luwi, which was one of the first bush camps in the Luangwa Valley and with the use of natural, locally sourced materials blends into the landscape beautifully. There are just four chalets constructed from wood, grass and thatch with large outdoor bathrooms. There are reed mats on the floor and some simple rustic furniture. Everything is paired down and simple. There is no electricity here,  but solar lanterns provide illumination after sun down and there is a steady supply of hot water.

Meals are served either in the shade of the trees (brunch and afternoon tea) or under the stars around the camp fire (three course evening meal). The small bar with its sand floor is a good place to watch the sunset and to make the most of the views across the floodplain.

Luwi is a classic walking safari camp – there are few roads in this remote zone of the valley and so exploration is best done on foot with a guide. Sister camp Nsolo is around 7km away and the walk there ranks as a highlight for anyone lucky enough to have done it.

Mchenja

Right on the banks of the majestic Luangwa River, Mchenja is an altogether more showy camp.

Surrounded by an ebony grove, all five tented chalets have sweeping views of the river. The airy octagonal tents lead to ensuite bathrooms, open to the air, complete with Victorian roll-top bath and river view.

 

You can enjoy walking safaris here, as well as day and evening game drives. Because of the extra level of comfort and luxury – there is even a plunge pool in camp – we recommend saving your last night or two for Mchenja.

It’s absolutely fantastic to be right on the river, and this camp contrasts well with the more simple Luwi Bush Camp

Nsolo
Nsolo, like Luwi is one of the original Zambian bush camps and it really appeals to people who want to experience wildlife up close in a truly remote and untouched area while enjoying comfort, wonderful hospitality and guiding and a bit of African ‘bush’ style. The four large chalets with grass and reed walls are raised up with a private deck area and lovely views. Each  runs on solar power and has an open air bathroom with a super hot shower and a  flush loo.

At the heart of the camp is a traditional ‘chitenje’ – an open sided thatched area where meals are enjoyed and guests can pour over books, have a drink from the bar and watch the comings and going of the wildlife from the permanent pools of water beyond camp. There is also a very special sundowner spot on the riverbed.

Kakuli

Kakuli stands out because it offers a slightly longer season, remaining open until 7 November. Standing in an elevated position on the banks of the Luangwa River, the camp has four traditional walk-in, simple safari tents with ensuite bathrooms. Unlike the other camps, Kakuli has a very open feel to it. The front of the tents unzip to reveal astounding views of the wide sweep of  river while lovely large showers have plentiful hot water.

The central bar area with its thatched roof, open sides and sandy floor overlooks a grassy zone leading down to the river where wildlife frequently visits. Lounging on a sofa with a cool drink is a lovely way to while away an evening either here or further down near the fire pit.

Guests can join walking safaris, as well as going on game drives from Kakuli but one of the real highlights is exploring the riverside at night, when the elusive leopards are prowling. When the river is high, some game viewing activities take to the water in the camp’s boat.

Land of the Leopard – why you really want to explore the South Luangwa Valley

Leopards have to be right up there as a reason to go to South Luangwa. I had one of my most memorable leopard enocunters in the valley – it was during a torrential downpour during a night drive (in an open vehicle I hasten to add!) in late October. There were great cracks of thunder and out of the darkness came the roar of lions. Our guide then spotted the eye shine of a leopard – we were so close and had not realised. There the leopard crouched, looking very regal,  right next to us, enveloped in the darkness in the shelter of a thicket. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps then …

Leopards are not the only big cats making an impact on visitors to South Luangwa. The northern area, around these bush camps is also well known for its lions. Lion Plain is a game rich area accessible from the camps.

Wild dogs can also be seen in the area (I need to go back as this was about the only thing I didn’t see…). They are great water lovers and den in the area.

There are 60 different animal species and around 400 bird species, including 39 birds of prey in the park. Thornicroft giraffe amble across the plains while impressive herds of elephant gather at the river. Moody congregations of buffalo can also be seen along with zebra and a range of antelope.  The only notable exception is really the rhino, sadly poached to extinction here.

The landscape is very beautiful with some magnificent baobabs, winterthorn, mopane, leadwood and marula trees. One of the Norman Carr bush camps occupies an ebony grove which is very special.

Most importantly, the guides in South Luangwa have a reputation for being among the best. This can add immeasurable value to your trip.

All Real Africa’s trips to Zambia are tailor-made according to your specification, so if the wild open spaces and the incredible wildlife of this spectacular country appeal to you then be sure to check out the website and call us on 01603 283517.

 

By Sara White