Whilst so many may flock to the more well-known safari destinations like South Africa, I would urge those looking for something a little bit different, a bit quieter and more authentic, to take a family safari to Zambia! Although long-known as the home of walking safaris, for me it is so much more; the essence of ‘safari’.
Zambia is genuine, it’s traditional, the guides love the wildlife and are passionate about the wilderness and there are fewer visitors than better-known safari countries. It is quite possible to have a totally private safari viewing experience, as my last safari was.
We were on a game drive at sundown watching two leopards on the opposite bank of the river size each other up whilst a third leopard lay semi hidden high on a tree branch looking down on them. We noticed a fourth which slinked up behind us using the vehicle as a hide to look at the other leopards. We had this fantastic sighting all to ourselves – not another safari vehicle or tourist in sight! ‘Sundowner’ G&T’s ended up being served in the vehicle that evening so as not to disturb the leopards!
I know avid safari travellers who religiously return to Zambia each year and I can absolutely see why. This is the safari world of my childhood when the experience was more about the wildlife and not necessarily about luxury accommodations; it was about the lions roaring at night whist you lay in a tented room and they seemed to be ‘’just outside the door’’ ( actually a mile away in reality – sound really does carry.)
The majority of the safari camps are small and tented, though still very comfortable and en suite of course. There are luxury lodges in Zambia and lovely they are too, but I think one should mix things up and try a variety of accommodation types – always good to keep both adults and children engaged!
I suggest that one tries a tented camp and then maybe one on stilts, a private safari house to accommodate a family such as Robin’s House or Luangwa House, both in the South Luangwa. The Jackalberry House is fabulous for children too, where one can cool off in the main lodge's pool and watch elephants go by at the same time!
There is also the most beautiful house in the Lower Zambezi called Chongwe House. With four bedrooms it is an ideal base for a family. Some camps come with extra benefits for family groups, for example at Lion Camp, children aged 7-12 sharing with 2 adults pay 50% of the rate!
My favourite itinerary for Zambia is to mix three different ‘bodies of water’, the Lower Zambezi National Park, South Luangwa National Park and then fly to Malawi to spend a few days relaxing on the shores of beautiful Lake Malawi.
Start your safari with a few days on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River in the Lower Zambezi National Park where one can take game drives, go walking with your expert guide and tracker (for adults and teenagers/older children), and take motor boat excursions which all add to the variety of activities.
The wildlife here is fascinating and the park is so beautiful; I have seen more porcupine and civet in the Lower Zambezi than in any other national park and the backdrop of the Zambezi escarpment behind one frames the park spectacularly.
Next head north to the South Luangwa National Park where one finds safari camps such as Tena Tena and the hippo-filled Luangwa River. There are some camps with hides on the edge of the river so one can get very close, and if you’re lucky, even get splashed by grunting hippo! One can get – safely – incredibly close to wildlife from a hide and I have felt the breeze of thousands of delicate carmine bee-eater wings near me when visiting in October.
Finally for the perfect end to your safari, fly across to Malawi – it’s close! Spend a few days relaxing, paddleboarding, swimming and exploring Lake Malawi on kayaks or sail boats, snorkelling in the shallows, and meeting the incredibly warm and friendly locals in community visits. Pumulani has the most beautiful views of the lake, which is crystal clear and full of fascinating aquatic life – there are over a thousand different species of cichlid!
Additionally, one could begin the safari by visiting UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Victoria Falls, which lies half in Zambia and half in Zimbabwe. Depending on the time of the year it may be best to visit both sides, depending on water flow, but one can really stay in this area for easily four days or even more, depending on your interests.
On the Zimbabwe side perhaps visit the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust and see and hear about the incredible work they do to protect wildlife in the entire region, back over on the Zambia side visit a village, or a remote school, boat on the Zambezi River, go fishing, and if you are staying at Tongabezi (or their private safari house, Tangala House), then most definitely visit their Tujatane School.
To extend your safari further (the options really are endless) one could also visit Kafue National Park, which combines well with Victoria Falls. Kafue is the largest national park in Zambia and Kaingu Camp is ideal for families with younger children.
They run a Young Adventurers program which includes activities such as baking animal-shaped bread, making bow and arrows from natural products and learning archery with them, making seed jewellery, tracking wildlife, insect safaris and bush skills. Your young family is kept busy throughout the stay whilst adults can go out with your guide to explore this park.
The perfect way to enhance your safari, particularly for children, is to visit a project which supports the local community or wildlife. Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust in South Luangwa is one of the best conservation education programmes in the country and well worth supporting and visiting.
They have been operating for 20 years and have a Conservation Education Outreach Programme teaching Zambian children and communities the value of wildlife and their environment. This education allows communities to see how they can protect their environment and conserve the wildlife in the areas in which they live, and how this in turn brings visitors which in turn supports the community. Chipembele also assist with rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife.
You may also be interested in learning about the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP), if you are staying in the South Luangwa, Kafue or Liuwa Plains. The ZCP can also, for a donation, send a member of the team to meet you and tell you all about the work they do in Kafue.
This is a non-profit organisation conserving carnivores and the ecosystems in which they live. They work alongside ZAWA and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to educate local peoples in areas surrounding Zambian parks and provide veterinary care to snared or injured animals.
For those with a love of elephants, just outside of Lusaka one can visit the Lilayi Elephant nursery whilst staying at Lilayi Lodge. Supported by Game Rangers International Zambia and other organisations, orphaned elephants are rescued and kept here until they have stabilised for a few years.
During their time here they are nurtured and cared for as they learn to feed, survive in the wild and be part of a herd. Many are emotionally traumatised due to being injured or seeing their mothers be killed by poachers and so the carers here give them 100% of their care 24 hours a day. It takes on average 12 years to rescue and rehabilitate an elephant orphan.
Once they are a bit older and stronger they are transported to Kafue for a soft release into a protected wildlife area with other elephants. Recently Netflix released a film starring Kristin Davis and Rob Lowe, “Holiday in the Wild” which is based at Lilayi elephant rescue. Do watch it if you have a chance!
Zambia is one of the most fascinating countries which offers authentic, traditional safaris away from the crowds, perfect for showing children a different way of life and allowing them to escape the innumerable pressures of the modern world whilst experiencing nature and the wilderness. If you would like any more information please do feel free to contact me.
Images kindly provided courtesy of:
Chipembele, Zambian Wildlife Programme, Lilayi Lodge, Robin Pope Safaris (Pumulani, Tena Tena, Luangwa Safari House, Robin’s House), Tongabezi and Chongwe River House.