Although its sensational walking capabilities, opportunities for sleeping under the stars in far flung parts of the bush and tracking big game mean that Zambia is a great option for seasoned safari-goers, there is also fun aplenty to be had by those heading out for safari for their first time. High-quality, owner-run lodges and camps, staffed by knowledgeable and friendly teams, are perfectly positioned to take in the sensational scenery in key wildlife areas. Sometimes you don't even need to leave camp but simply sit back, relax and watch the wildlife come to you. Original Travel Africa Expert Charlotte Cox travelled to Zambia for two weeks of exploring the most prolific national parks - the South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi - to find out what this beautiful country has to offer, and left feeling part of an extended family with many, many reasons to return.
It may sound obvious as a reason to go to Zambia, but when it comes to safari Zambia really does deliver, and in the most natural of surroundings. The parks are teeming with amazing wildlife, so much so they have been acknowledged as offering some of the best game viewing on the continent. As well as the typical African wildlife you would expect to see on safari (elephants, buffalos, lions, giraffes, zebras) it's also a great destination to see rare and elusive species such as wild dogs and leopards. Despite being one of Africa's most endangered carnivores, wild dogs are on the increase with the numbers now estimated to be in the region 350 in the Luangwa Valley all thanks to the Zambia Carnivore Programme. As if all this wasn't enough, the South Luangwa National Park has been named as Valley of the Leopard and with good reason - this elusive animal which usually is seldom seen across the continent is regularly observed in Luangwa, and so much so that it's unlikely that you will leave without seeing one.
Unlike many other safari destinations, Zambia offers a huge variety of activities outside of your traditional wildlife-spotting experience. The South Luangwa National Park is renowned for its walking safaris, which allow you to concentrate on the smaller creatures, learn about the plants and trees and examine different wildlife tracks. While traditional 4x4 game drives still play a massive part of the safari day, allowing you see the big game up close from an open-topped vehicle, night drives offer an altogether different experience; when the sun sets you can watch the bush come alive with the sounds and sights of nocturnal wildlife (including my favorite - the porcupine). The Lower Zambezi National Park is a water lovers' paradise, with activities concentrating around the Zambezi River which numerous hippos and crocodiles call home and elephants bath and play. Activities include canoe trips, boat cruises and fishing for the famous tiger fish.
Zambia's national parks are incredibly beautiful and diverse, and, due to rivers and escarpments that act as natural boundaries in this park there is no need for fences, ensuring that you feel a world away from civilization.
You'll see the Oxbow Lagoons which are a source of water throughout the seasons, the Nchindeni Hills that provide a sensational backdrop to the South Luangwa, and the open plains all around you teeming with plains game and interspersed with elephants and occasional predators. Flying into the Lower Zambezi, I was particularly taken by the views of the dramatic and rugged cliffs that make the Zambezi Escarpment, towering above the permanently flowing Zambezi River that is lined with striking winterthorns.
Zambia is known for its small intimate bush camps, which contain only handful of rooms at most. Many of these camps are owned and run by families who have lived in Zambia for generations. The staff are like family and are incredibly warm and friendly, with many of them having worked at camps from a young age. It's these small, remote, down to earth camps, that I personally found so special about Zambia. They offer the right amount of luxury without the frills in a remote location so that you can fully immerse yourself in the bush.
Throughout my stay in Zambia I was blown away with a number of small surprises set up by the camps. A few of these include pizza-making in the middle of the bush when out on a game drive; turning the corner to sundowners in the shallow waters of the Kapamba River, complete with lantern-lit table and chairs; and dining on a boat cruising down the Lower Zambezi with a bottle of bubbles.
I think that when it comes to Zambia, a lot of people turn up with an idea of what it will be like, whether they've been on one safari or 50. However, this country exceeds expectations in every way, and wildlife and nature lovers should definitely be considering Zambia for their next (or first!) safari.
If you want to find out more about booking the ultimate Zambian wildlife adventure, please do contact us.