During this Covid-19 lockdown we have decided to take the safari experience back to its uncomplicated and authentic roots with some reading material on authentic safari experiences in Zambia.
Regions featured include Zambia’s largest reserve Kafue National Park, it’s wild Liuwa Plain, the beautiful Lower Zambezi National Park Opposite Mana Pools, and the fabulous walking destinations of North and South Luangwa.
In the early days of African tourism, the only way to explore its incredible, and untouched wilderness areas was on an overland mobile camping safari or on foot. Current fly in safaris can venture into these more remote, relatively unknown areas with greater ease these days. Affordability and luxury have thus redefined the traditional safari experience. Nowadays tourists are spoilt for choice when it comes to safari options as there is a destination and accommodation style to suit all tastes, expectations and budgets – from ultra-luxurious lodges, to camping safaris, and everything in between.
Often overlooked are many wonderful safari experiences that offer authentic and off-the-beaten-track experiences. As much about the journey as the destination.
So what factors make up an authentic safari?
- Activities on Offer – Provides a sense of adventure…this compliments your idea of an African adventure.
- Authenticity – Experience the heart and soul of raw Africa on a back-to-nature wilderness experience.
- Comfort – Simple and rustic bush camps offer a good level of comfort (proper bed, hot water, flush toilet and wholesome food) and plenty of character!
- Bonding – One on one relationships and friendships built with your expert guides and camp staff.
- Discover – roads less travelled and therefore a sense of exploration.
- Exhilaration – Canvas tented rooms that enable you to hear the full sound array that Africa has to offer.
- Experiences – Life changing.
- Expert Guiding – Through your guide you learn more about the new world around you and how it all fits together.
- Flexibility – A focus on your needs and pleasures.
- Small and Personal – Simple, yet it feels as though this portion of Africa is your personal playground.
With the above in mind, we believe the below camps deserve special mention as they tick most, if not all, of the boxes and generate a truly back-to-nature safari experience.
Tusk & Mane
Tusk and Mane is owner run, has superb guiding, is situated in some prime locations and has a good range of activities on offer. The company has two camps currently in the Lower Zambezi National Park, Chula Island and Kutali, and a third, Tafara Springs, set to open in July 2020. Safari season lasts from May to the beginning of November and to ensure that guests experience all the Lower Zambezi National Park has to offer we recommend two nights at each of the three Tusk & Mane camps.
An added bonus is that groups pay for 5 guests, for a minimum of two nights, and guests 6 – 8 only pay park fees (the lodge’s maximum amount of guests is 8).
Both camps consist of four twin/double lightweight box style tents with solid beds, crisp linen, blankets and down pillows. Simple, yet safe, the tent sides are made from reinforced mosquito net material which allows for good airflow during the heat of the day as well as letting the sounds in. Drop down canvas walls are available should it be cold or for privacy. Bathrooms with a bucket shower, flush toilet and vanity table are attached to each tent.
The main area, at both camps, is an open sided mess tent furnished with dining table, drinks station and comfortable sofa and chairs.
As the name suggests, Chula Island is situated on a large and extremely scenic island. It consists of hidden lagoons, open dambos, sandy beaches and vegetation that is predominantly Tricelia and Natal Mahogany. There are no vehicles on the island so the focus is on walking, canoeing and river activities.
Hidden away in a classic Zambezi valley surrounded by a winter-thorn forest and overlooking the Zambezi River. Guests can enjoy both day and night game drives. It is also possible to walk or canoe between camps.
This special camp will be the only non-riverside camp in the Lower Zambezi National Park. Despite its remote Rufunsa Valley setting, in the foothills of the Zambian Escarpment, the surrounding area supports a surprising amount of game. As with any new camp it will take a season or two for the game to settle down. Focus will be on walking and game drives as well as spending time at hides around watering pools.
Jeffery & McKeith Safaris
Another owner operated company where two camps, Musekese and Ntemwa-Busanga, can be found in the North of Kafue National Park. What makes these camps stand out are their remoteness, attention to detail, expert guiding and topography which are a photographers dream! Due to inaccessibility the camps are only open from July to the end of October (dry season) and we would recommend a minimum of four nights in each camp.
Perched on the edge of a lagoon are five canvas and thatch chalets. Each with an en-suite bucket shower and flush toilet. Activities include bush walks, game drives, fantastic birding and exploring the magnificent Kafue River by boat.
A rustic styled bush camp which lies on the southernmost reaches of the wild and remote Busanga Plains, a 3 hr drive north of Musekese Camp. Accommodation is in classic Meru style tents with an open-aired en-suite bucket shower and a flush toilet. Here the focus is on morning, afternoon and night game drives in an area well known for its fantastic lion viewing.
Liuwa Plain Mobile Safari
One of Africa’s most remote safari destinations, Liuwa Plain National Park is home to one of Africa’s largest wildebeest migrations. Only a few set departure trips leave a year and their highly sought after guides, Phil and Tyrone, are often booked out long in advance.
Beneath its unassuming, gentle beauty lies a sense of calm, peace and serenity that will appeal to those discerning, experienced travellers seeking a unique safari experience. Aptly described as ‘food for the soul’ Liuwa Plain is the real deal when it comes to getting far off the beaten track. A rarely visited area that is home to just one small permanent camp and a couple of camp sites.
Visiting Liuwa Plains is not just an experience but a privilege! There are few places that can offer the luxury of so much space for so few people. It’s the perfect destination for avid photographers and birders and those seeking to escape the outside world.
Mapazi Camp is situated in the South Luangwa National Park and is a dedicated walking camp offering bespoke, expertly guided safaris led by Deb Tittle. Safari season lies between 1 July and 20 October. The lodge combines very well with Nkonzi (South Luangwa) and Tusk & Mane’s Chula and Kutali Camps with a recommended stay of 3 nights.
Deb Tittle, with over 24 years’ of experience leading walking safaris in South Luangwa, Deb Tittle is one of Zambia’s best known and most experienced guides. She has a uniquely flexible approach to the nature of a bush walk, following each day’s action as it unfolds. Every walk is unique as fresh tracks and signs determine which direction Deb will take. Walks are an absorbing mix of tracking, stalking and observing all manner of wildlife, from big game to fascinating insects.
The camp lies on a bend in the Luangwa River within a remote corner in the north east of South Luangwa National Park. There is no road network other than the access road into camp. Nestled under mature shade trees Mapazi comprises of three walk-in Meru style tents each with a view of the river. An open sided ‘Chitenje’ (bar/lounge) snuggles under the branches of a sausage tree. Despite Mapazi’s off the beaten track location guests enjoy essential comforts of hot running water, flush toilet, fresh linen, wholesome meals, laundry and ice cold drinks.
A hidden gem of a camp found in the quiet and secluded Luambe National Park, sandwiched between the South Luangwa and North Luangwa National Parks, Luambe Camp offers a safari experience remininiscent of the early days in South Luangwa. The safari season runs between 15 June and 31 October and a recommended stay would be for a minimum of 3 nights. Recommended camp combinations include Takwela or Mwaleshi Camps in North Luangwa.
Currently the only camp in the remote and untouched Luambe National Park which, at 254km², happens to be one of the smallest and most carbon neutral parks in Zambia. Straddling the eastern bank of the Luangwa River, Luambe Camp overlooks the largest pod of hippo in the entire river. Hundreds have made this pool their perennial home. There are only four extremely comfortable tents, each with an en-suite shower, with floor to ceiling gauze windows that let in the gorgeous river view.
Featured again on another one of our blogs, Takwela Camp is remote and intimate with great wildlife, guiding and hospitality. It is situated on private land and runs from 15 June until 31 October each year. With a recommended stay of three nights it combines very well with its sister camp, Mwaleshi (an hour game drive or 3.5-hour game walk away).
With an exclusive access to 50kms of Luangwa River frontage, Takwela has the most stunning setting at the confluence of the Luangwa and Mwaleshi rivers. In true bush camp style, the four rustic, yet charming chalets and Chitenje have been hand built out of local, natural materials and is solar powered throughout.
With spectacular views of the river the chalets are furnished with two double beds, mosquito nets, and an open air bathroom with bucket shower and flush toilet.
Guests will explore a diversity of habitats on morning, afternoon and evening gam e drives. On foot, and in the company of an expert walking guide and national parks scout, guests can expect encounters with big game.
Situated within the rhino sanctuary in North Luangwa National Park (meaning it is a Big 5 walking destination – the only in Zambia), Mwaleshi Camp is set mere steps from the Mwaleshi river. It is intimate, remote and secluded with expert guides and great walking. For the avid birders there are over 400 species of birds to be seen. Children need to be 12 years or older to visit this particular camp.
Hidden on a scenic bend Mwaleshi is an old school bush camp offering peace, quiet and solitude. There are just four reed and thatch chalets offering simple but necessary comforts – two twin and two king sized beds, mosquito nets, an open air bathroom with flush toilet, shower and hot water.
As a result of the tireless and wonderful work undertaken by the North Luangwa Conservation Programme, in partnership with the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Zambia Department of National Parks, North Luangwa is once again home to Zambia’s only population of black rhino. It’s also a hotspot for lion, kudu, Cookson’s wildebeest, elephant and wild dog.
With few roads Mwaleshi is a pure walking camp. Guests experience tracking along natural wildlife trails through pristine wilderness that is only accessible on foot and untarnished by vehicle tracks.