Zambia is an incredibly exciting destination offering the perfect blend of prime wilderness, outstanding wildlife and wonderful camps.
An exciting network of large and remote national parks provide plenty of opportunity for an immersive safari experience, from the oldest, Kafue, to the newest, Lower Zambezi.
This is a gem of a country where hospitality is warm, wildlife is awesome and scenery spectacular – we urge you to go.
When to go?
The long dry winter months April to October is the optimum time for a safari to Zambia. Days are warm and sunny and nights are cold. As the season progresses temperatures soar with October usually the hottest month. This is also when wildlife densities peak, as animals gather around the remaining water sources. Riverside camps offer a refreshing breeze and superb sightings. Camps/lodges with pools are a good choice if travelling in the heat of October/November.
The long rains tend to arrive late November into December time and stay until March – this can make unsealed roads impassable. However permanent camps are open year-round – the Emerald Season can be a very rewarding time to travel. I speak from first-hand experience having spent a week in the Luangwa one November just as the rains arrived – it was astounding to see the overnight transformation of the park. Wildlife was exceptional. Some camps depending on water levels offer safari by boat giving you a unique perspective.
Five reasons to add Zambia to your safari wish list
South Luangwa has been the home of the walking safari. since the 1960s. Guiding is consistently high quality and quality bush camps ensure a top notch experience. You can easily spend a week here. walking between bush camps, or combining a few days walking with a lodge and 4×4 safari. Walking can be tailored to your needs but 8-10km per day between camps is what you can expect. Although South Luangwa offers the largest variety of walking safaris, you can also enjoy walking in Kafue and the Lower Zambezi.
This 8 day safari combines contrasting camps and includes a walking element along with a 4×4 safari in the South Luangwa.
Nights under Canvas
Zambia offers incredible rustic bush camps. These vary in style.
During the peak dry season months of July to September you can spend a night or two of your safari in a mobile ‘fly camp’.
These fully serviced mobile camps are extremely comfortable and well-equipped with walk-in tents and full bedding. The ‘safari’ bucket shower is under a tree and the long-drop ‘bush loo’ has a wooden throne. Meals of a high standard are served under the open sky with just the glow of the camp fire and paraffin lamps.
Mobile camps allow visitors to access really remote areas where the wildlife is unused to people.
Zambia is also famous for its tented seasonal camps which open in April-May and are taken down at the end of the dry season in November.These camps, some with canvas and some with thatched roofs offer more facilities than the simpler mobile ‘fly camps’ but are still incredibly rustic and positioned in low vehicle/prime wildlife areas. Robin Pope’s Tena Tena for instance is a cluster of six tents on the Luangwa River. Ensuite bathrooms are open-air. Power is provided by solar panels and fresh drinking water comes from a bore-hole. Time & Tide’s wonderful Luwi is nestled in a grove of ancient mahogany trees, the tented suites designed to fully immerse guests into the bush experience. Set along the riverbed and overlooking the floodplains below, guests can watch the abundant wildlife right from the privacy of their own suite. Feathertop beds, an open air, ensuite bathroom and a peaceful seating area create a comfortable guest experience in this seasonal camp.
If you are not a fan of spending nights under canvas, you can opt for a permanent lodge or safari house. These have more facilities and creature comforts. Zambia has superb ‘safari houses’ perfect for groups of friends or family groups. These houses are fully staffed with driver/guide and cook – choose from large, luxurious riverside Chongwe River House with its amazing pool, to small Robin’s House complete with its own hide .
Canoeing the Zambezi
The Lower Zambezi is Zambia’s newest national park and sits bang opposite Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. If you like variety then this is the place to go – you can boat, walk, drive and fish, all with a beautiful mountain view and sublime wildlife. Canoe trips are exceptional allowing for very close encounters with large species like elephants who come to the river to refresh. You can glide along silently without disturbing the wildlife.
As well as exploring by canoe, motorised boat trips provide the chance to explore larger tracts of the riverside.
Combined with walking and 4×4 safaris this is a wonderful way to experience the richness and diversity of Zambia’s national park network.
No trip to Zambia would be complete without a visit to the Falls. Livingstone is the town on the Zambian side of the Falls where many activities such as rafting can be organised. A number of stunning river lodges stretch along the river bank upstream from the Falls. Lodges provide complimentary transfers for guests to the Falls with some also offering activities such as river cruises. These lodges are a wonderful choice for pre or post safari R&R. An increasing network of domestic light aircraft flights connects several of Zambia’s key attractions with the main gateways of Lusaka and Livingstone meaning you can combine parks such as the Lower Zambezi and Mfuwe in the South Luangwa more easily than ever before.
Endangered species – wild dogs rule
Visitors to Zambia can enjoy spectacular wildlife including the chance to see many rare and iconic species. The Zambian Carnivore Programme recently announced that the South Luangwa National Park is now officially home to Zambia’s largest African wild dog population. Despite being one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores, wild dogs in and around the South Luangwa National Park have enjoyed several years of increasing numbers, and there are now estimated to be approximately 350 adults and yearlings living in the Luangwa Valley.
To find out more about Zambia’s national parks, you may be interested to read our country guide here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 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.
I watched the South Luangwa river come into view from the air ; a meandering serpent of shiny bottle green and its sweeping sandbanks dotted with large burgundy shapes of basking hippos. How many rivers are there left on earth that flow for over 1000 kms and are still as untouched, remote, healthy and scenically beautiful as the Luangwa? There are no dams, commercial agriculture or livestock along its banks. So it was a real treat and a privilege to have four days in the South Luangwa Valley , also known as theValley of the Elephants, on a walking safari with Norman CarrSafaris. This area is famous for its walking safaris, wildlife and beautiful landscape. The Luangwa River, surrounded by flood plains, lagoons and riverine woodlands, is home to herds of buffalo up a thousand strong. The area is also famous for its large number of predators, particularly the elusive leopard.
I received a warm welcome from Nsolo Camp who were waiting for me with braai already set up and the other camp guests were keen to tell me about a lion kill they had seen earlier in the day. The accommodation is based in comfortable, spacious chalets built on raised wooden decks with reed walls and en suite bathrooms, open to the trees and skies. Each chalet is set under the shade of evergreen trees with private verandas overlooking the surrounding bush and the seasonal Luwi River. The late Norman Carr established the South Luangwa Valley’s first safari camp in 1950 and pioneered the idea of a safari where people took photographs of animals rather than shooting them! He recognised, far ahead of his time, how important it was to work with the local communities and established Nsefu Camp in the northern sector of the park in partnership with Paramont Chief Nsefu and his community. Norman then went on to create the walking safari in Zambia and his son, Adrian and daughter in law, Christina, are carrying on the company as Norman would have wished. The following day I moved to Luwi Camp where I had another exciting day walking through the African bush. The day finished with me being kept awake by nearby lions growling in the bush!
I then flew down to Lilongwe in Malawi where I transferred to a light aircraft. The flight from Lilongwe gave us wonderful views over the Malawian countryside and Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is also known as the Lake of Stars, named so by Doctor David Livingstone, and it is definitely the stunning centre piece of this lovely country. I flew to Likoma Island which is an island covered in mango trees and ancient baobabs about 8 kilometres from the shore. On arrival, I was warmly greeted by James Lightfoot on the short airstrip who transferred me to the beach where we took a speedboat around the bay to his beautiful lodge of Kaya Mawa located on the south west tip of the island in Lake Malawi. The lodge was rated by Conde Nast magazine as one of the planet’s ten most romantic destinations and I have to agree with them! James showed me round all the accommodation: the bar, just metres from the water, offers fantastic sunset views all the way to the south of the lake. Dinners are served on the beach or in a romantic hideaway somewhere around the lodge. Sadly this beautiful lodge was the last part of my epic odyssey and the end of my stay in Malawi. But what a wonderful end! I am already dreaming of returning one day soon.