This past summer I spent 3 weeks exploring Zambia and I loved it. It not only offers great game-viewing and stunning scenery but also has maintained an uncrowded, authentic, down-to-earth safari experience that is really unique and increasingly hard to find. Here is just a taste of what I loved about Zambia and highlights from my trip
There is of course great game-viewing in other countries; just know that you can also get it in Zambia. I took some amazing lion photos in Kafue National Park and saw more leopards in South Luangwa than I have ever seen on safari, one on every night drive. At Nsefu we saw 400 buffalo at a waterhole and got REALLY close to hippos while canoeing at Busanga in Kafue. According to my guide, Sandy, the hippos and crocs in Kafue are uniquelyunaggressive which allows you to get closer than normal and I got some great pictures. On more than one occasion, including at lunch at Chongwe and during an outdoor shower at Sausage Tree, I got up-close and personal with elephants. Zambia has everything you would expect except for rhino and cheetah.
2) Walking safaris
You can do walking safaris in other countries but this is something that Zambia really excels at and many of the properties in South Luangwa National Park are set-up specifically for walking, including multi-day programs, and the guiding was exceptional.
3) The Quality of the Guiding
The quality of guides, especially those specializing in walking, was really exceptional. These were local Zambian guides who have lived in and around these national parks their whole lives. Paul from Chiawa and Brian from Luwi particularly stood out.
4) The Variety of Activities
In addition to classic game drives and the walking safaris I mentioned above there are a lot of other great activities in Zambia. I went canoeing at several properties and took a micro-light flight at Tafika Camp in South Luangwa which was incredibly fun and a great way to see game. Tafika Camp is the only place you can take a micro-light flight and Tafika’s owner, John Coppinger has to be around because he is the pilot! In August and September in Kafue National Park you can take a hot air balloon ride from Busanga and Shumba camps. This is special because hot air balloon rides are harder to come by in Southern Africa (compared to East Africa).
5) Small properties
Many properties in Zambia are small bush camps that are only 4-6 rooms, 8-12 guests in camp at a time. In addition many properties or groups of properties are owned and run by comparatively small operators owned by families who have lived in Zambia for generations. It is these small properties and operators that contribute to the remote, authentic, down-to-earth safaris experience that I found so special in Zambia and fading in other safari destinations.
6) Diverse and Beautiful Scenery
I really enjoyed how different the scenery was in the three national parks I visited in Zambia. Kafue, specifically the Busanga Plains were open savannah reminiscent of East Africa and while it did not have the volume of game as South Luangwa or Lower Zambezi I loved the feeling of remoteness and exclusivity there. South Luangwa was much more bushy which made it perfect for walking. At Lower Zambezi National Park I was really taken with the views of the Zambezi Escarpment. The escarpment is the northern boundary of the park and acts as a natural boundary with the Zambezi River that keeps the park’s animals in the Zambezi valley (the southern limit of the Rift Valley). Quiet mornings taking in the views of the plateau from a camp like Sausage Tree set on the river where definitely some of the most peaceful and enjoyable moments of my trip
7) Value for Money
Compared to Botswana, which is also known for small, remote properties and great game-viewing, at the same peak time of year (July-October) Zambia is significantly cheaper.
- A relatively short season: The season is very short in Zambia with many camps only open between mid-April and mid-November. The wet season starts in earnest in late November and continues through into March and makes many camps completely inaccessible.
- Lots of flying: A safari in Zambia that includes several national parks requires a lot of flying and you have to fly back to Lusaka to get between the parks. This takes time, can drive up the cost, and is not great if you are afraid of flying.
- Think twice about canoeing: Canoeing is a fun activity and sounds very tame but it is not always safe. You need excellent guides who know the area and how to avoid crocs and aggressive hippos. This applies in multiple countries but because so many properties in Zambia are based around the Zambezi River it is a commonly offered activity.
All in all Zambia is a terrific safari destination that is has retained some elements of the classic safari experience that make it very special and a great option for both first-timers and safari experts.