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Zambia trip report

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Me and my wife spent 2½ wonderful weeks in Zambia June/July this year, and I thought I'd share our experiences. First of all thanks to matnikstym and luangwablondes for their help before our trip (see earlier thread I’ve split up my story into two parts: first our experiences and impressions, and then the practicalities. Hope you like the structure.

This was our itinerary:
South Luangwa 1 week
Livingstone 3 days
Lower Zambezi 4 days
Lusaka 1 day

This is what we did and experienced:
South Luangwa was great. Lots of hippos, impala, puku, zebra, elephants and giraffes on virtually every drive/walk. We also saw lions and leopards more or less every day. We were there the last week of June which is sort of a shoulder season, so we weren't alone in the park, but apart from one or two night drives we didn't meet many vehicles. During walks we didn't really see any others, apart from when entering or leaving the park.

- Leopard in full dayligh, running in the grass just a few meters from our vehicle
- Two leopards hunting together. Probably a mating pair we were told.
- Giraffe giving birth. This was a rather lengthy procedure, and we had to leave before the baby was born, but when we returned a few hours later we saw the newborn and were amazed at how well it coordinated those long legs just hours after being born.
- Walking safaris. This is why we went to South Luangwa, and we weren't disappointed. I was surprised at how relaxed the animals were. Impalas were a bit nervous, but Zebras would allow us to get as close as about 15 meters away. During the giraffe birth we stood completely still for one hour, and the group of 5-6 giraffes came closer and closer and got as close as 20 meters away and at times we had giraffes all around us.

We also visited Kawaza Village. I found it very interesting, my wife less so for some reason. My feeling was that they are getting very close to the point where it starts to feel staged. To me it more or less seemed as if people went about there daily business most of the time. The dance certainly wasn’t part of their everyday life, and the woman who distilled spirits probably produced more for tourists than for locals (I sure hope locals didn’t drink all the booze!), but you can’t expect to find an untouched place and have someone guide you around it and explain how they live.

The Victoria Falls were amazing. We stayed in Zambia, but crossed over to Zim and in our opinion you see the falls better from there. We also went on a micro-light flight and that was awesome. It was thrilling to fly without being enclosed in a cabin, and it was a fantastic way to see the falls. I think you haven't really seen the falls unless you've seen them from the air, and I can't imagine that a helicopter gives you anywhere near the same experience. There's nothing between you and the falls!

Livingstone was a rather pleasant town. It's not pretty by any means, but the overall atmosphere was friendly and people-watching was fun. We're glad we stayed in town rather than in one of the tourist complexes outside.

Visiting Zim was heart-breaking. It was very clear that people have great difficulties making enough money to get by. The guys selling handicrafts begged us to buy from them, and were very persistent. We didn't feel unsecure or threatened in any way, but you need to be prepared to have to politely say no thanks quite a few times, especially if you do buy something from one of them as the others will try even harder then. Do buy something from them though. They sell beautiful handicrafts and they need the money. Bring an extra pair of sneakers and t-shirts and trade. Not to save money, but because clothes seem to be more useful to them than cash is. Several people asked me for my sneakers and t-shirt. I ended up trading my t-shirt for a copper bracelet, but in retrospect I should just have given it away as copper often comes from phone cables.

Our final activity was a 2-day lodge-based canoe trip on the Zambezi river. We started opposite the Nyakasanga River confluence and canoed downriver to the Kayila Lodge on the first day, and from there to the border of the Lower Zambezi National Park on the second day. It was so beautiful and peaceful. As it was downriver we hardly had to paddle at all, apart from an hour at midday when there was a headwind.

We didn't see any other canoes during our two days, and just a handful of boats. The only thing that did bother us was when we passed the Munyameshi Lodge and they ran their generator right next to the river disturbing everyone within miles. Very thoughtless, and I would want to stay there as it shows a lack of respect.

Our canoeing highlights were when the elephants came down to the river in the afternoon to drink. When we saw elephants we’d paddle near to the riverbanks about 10 meters downstream of them and just stay there and watch them. Truly amazing! There were occasional hippos and crocs around. Hippos can be dangerous if you get too close, but they prefer to keep their distance so as long as you don’t sneak up on them you should be alright. We never felt in any danger of any kind. It was great and you shouldn’t miss this experience, but the one thing I’d do differently would be to canoe on the Zim side of the river as there are hardly any lodges there. On the Zam side there are quite a few of them, and you don’t feel you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Before flying back home we stayed in Lusaka one day. Lusaka is a perfectly OK city, just not very exciting.

Accommodation and other practicalities:

The Bradt Zambia guide is very good!

Our international flights brought us to Lusaka where we waited for a few hours before hopping on a Proflight plane to Mfuwe. We'd made sure we had enough time between flights in case of a delay coming in from Nairobi. The connection wasn't guaranteed, but I had asked Proflight whether they could reschedule us in case of delays and they said they would, as long as seats were available on the next flight.

In South Luangwa we stay at Flatdogs Camp, which was a lovely place! Very nice and relaxed atmosphere, good accommodation, reasonable prices and excellent food. We were on full board and paid USD 80 per person per day, USD 200 the days we had full day activities.

We flew down to Livingstone on Zambian Airways, changing planes in Lusaka. Quite a bit of delay both out of Mfuwe and then again from Lusaka. Out of Proflight and Zambian the former seemed to us to be the most professionally run operation, but that could be just chance of course. On arrival in Livingstone we were the last ones to get our bags, and all taxis were taken when we came out. Don’t linger in the arrivals hall.

In Livingstone we first stayed at Maramba Lodge, which is by a small river a few kilometers outside town. It was beautiful, with both tents and chalets. Their luxury tents are very charming. But in June it was very cold at night. We ended up sleeping fully dressed with two layers of clothing and three blankets, and it was still too cold! After one night we decided that we’d rather stay somewhere with central heating and moved into town to The New Fairmount which was quite alright. Maramba should be lovely any other months than June and July though. Bring/buy sleeping bags if you will sleep in tents during the winter. You can find sleeping bags at the Falls Park shopping mall.

Livingstone felt very safe. We did take taxis at night rather than walking, but the town generally had a nice, friendly atmosphere.

Visiting Zim from Livingstone was very easy. We took a taxi to the border, walked across, paid the Zim visa and were in. No queues. As we only had a single entry Zam visa we had to pay for another one when re-entering Zam.

From Livingstone we headed north-east to the Lower Zambezi for canoeing. Flying there is quite expensive, and there are no direct buses, so we took a bus headed for Lusaka and hopped off at the Chirundu turnpike where we hitched a ride to Chirundu (just say The turnpike and people will know what you mean). We went with the Mazhandu Family bus company as everyone told us they were the most reliable, and they were good. The bus was of good quality, the driver did a good job, and they left on time! They leave from the town center, about opposite of the post office, and their ticket office is there as well. You can, and should, make reservations the day before. The road is truly horrible for the first hour or two, but after that it’s good. The bus makes plenty of stops and you will be able to buy both snacks, fruits and cooked food along the way. One of the stops is at a truck-stop where you can buy barbequed chicken and the like. You will have no problem finding toilets. At the turnpike we walked for a few minutes to the Total gas station where we sat down and waited. In just 10 minutes we got three offers for a ride, and the third one was going all the way to Chirundu so we hopped in. Me and my wife typically don’t hitchhike, but it felt very safe to do so.

Our canoe safari started and ended at Zambezi Breezers. Anne-Marie, who runs the place, organized the canoe trip for us. She did a fantastic job, helping us set up the perfect trip even though we didn’t really know what we wanted to do when we started planning. The canoe trip was carried out by River Horse Safaris, who provided our guide, canoe, food and all. We had an excellent guide, Martin, who took very good care of us. Equipment was good, our packed lunch was OK.

Kayila Lodge was very, very nice. Waking up in the middle of the night hearing hippos graze just outside your chalet is truly wonderful! The one negative thing about Kayila was that the atmosphere between the white Zimbabweans who ran it and the black Zambians who worked there felt like something from the past. I wouldn’t recommend not staying at Kayila though, as that would just work against the people who are employed there.

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