Silent, sustainable, eco-friendly safaris in Africa – is this possible? Yes! Most definitely! Thanks to an electric-power initiative in Zambia, one can now take a luxury safari in Africa with a greatly reduced footprint.
I am excited to tell you about the most exciting new trend in eco-friendly travel! For the first time ever, a safari company in Zambia is setting the environmentally friendly trend of introducing electric land cruisers to their camps and lodges in Zambia. So, now, you will be able to traverse the landscapes of the South Luangwa valley and the Kafue and the Busanga Plains in complete silence, devoid of diesel pollution.
In addition, their boats will be fitted with electric engines, and finally, in certain regions and where appropriate, they will have e-bikes too. From my perspective, this will hugely improve the quality of your overall safari. With no sound pollution or fumes, you will be able to explore the savannah grasslands and woodland in complete peace and quiet – the way it should be!
This means that observing wildlife should provide a far more natural and harmonious experience without the disturbing, throbbing sound of the engine. And now, instead of having a loud engine punctuate the peace on the river, scattering birdlife in several directions, theoretically, you should be able to get far closer to birds nesting along the river banks, such as the carmine bee-eater.
The camps which have introduced this innovative scheme are Ila Lodge in the Kafue National Park, Chisa Camp in the Busanga Plains and Shawa Camp in the South Luangwa National Park. In addition, these camps are all hugely involved in supporting the local communities and in conservation work within the regions that they operate, which means you really can travel in a green and sustainable manner!
So, let me give you a little background detail on each of these areas and these eco camps within them.
Located in the central part of Kafue National Park, Ila Lodge is named after the Ila tribe from the Kafue region. These cattle herders had a very distinctive headdress of plaited hair stiffened with a silver cattle horn standing high on top of their heads so that they could be seen in long grass when herding their cattle. The lodge lies in the Game Management Area (GMA) alongside the Kafue River in southern Zambia.
On arrival to the camp - either by road from Lusaka – (four and a half hours) or by light aircraft, one ascends a long open wooden walkway sweeping up into the heart of a crescent-shaped building completely open at the front with a sweeping river view. Whilst the crescent is large and open, in fact there are a number of cosy areas to which one can retreat.
There is a sunken seating area with a fire pit overlooking the river, a bar and then dining area. There is also a central rim-flow swimming pool surrounded by a lush green lawn and there are sunbeds for those who simply want to relax with a book after lunch.
The lodge is also very keen to collect and showcase local Zambian art as a main feature so these are displayed on the sandbag built walls that have been coated in white cement, emitting a rustic, clean feel. Meals in the dining area are delicious and might include dinner spring rolls with chilli sauce, fresh, locally caught bream and brown rice with vegetables.
Ila has just 10 luxury canvas-sided rooms stretched along the river. Each one is large, spacious and airy, constructed on wooden decking with the bed facing the river. Aside from the breeze, each room is equipped with a standing fan, desk and chair to perhaps sit and write a journal and dominated in the centre by a four-poster king-size bed with mosquito netting.
The chic African style and decor is subtle and elegant, spacious and understated. My favourite feature of the rooms is the outdoor shower, which is located on the spacious decking right on the edge of the river; there is nothing more romantic than showering beneath the stars at night!
For those seeking shade, one can sit on the pale grey cane furniture for a cooling siesta, or perhaps note down some more birdlife under the palm trees, or even imbibe in an armchair safari! During my last stay I watched buffalo coming down to drink from the river - a wonderful sight as there were around 600 of them!
The birdlife was equally good and included yellow-billed kites, Chaplain’s barbets, Goliath herons, African hawk-eagle and Meyer’s parrots, to name but a few. Apart from buffalo, I also saw bush pig, elephant, indigenous antelope, vervet monkeys, lions and warthog.
The vegetation in this area is predominantly miombo woodland, the beautiful fig trees (sycamore fig) and rain trees. Ila provides several different activities; from walking to game drives, fishing and generally boating along the river. For those who simply cannot sit down, unusually, one can do up to four activities per day (most safari camps offer two!). Whilst Ila does try to give their guests their own vehicles and guides, the boat trips are always shared.
For families, there is also a children’s program to make sure your children are kept occupied. Other activities are to meet the Panthera researchers or visit the farm that supplies the fresh vegetables encountered to the lodge when driving from Lusaka. One can also visit the chief’s palace.
What I love so much about Kafue is not only the river, or its proximity to the Busanga Plains, (only 1.5 hours away), but most importantly it is unspoiled with few tourists, something that is a rare luxury in such a beautiful wildlife area.
A wonderful combination with Ila and Kafue is their new camp due to open, called Chisa. Busanga Plains in the northern region of Kafue is one of my favourite regions on the entire African continent. It is quite literally where East Africa meets Southern Africa!
Unlike the majority of Zambia which comprises oxbow lakes and lagoons and miombo woodland, Busanga is a unique plain often referred to as a mini Serengeti, with associated plains game species including wildebeest and zebra.
Chisa is a new, intimate bush camp located in the heart of these magical flood plains in the North of the Kafue National Park. There are just four truly amazing Bird’s Nests which completely blend with nature. Busanga is a gem of a park, with an abundance of characteristic antelope, birds and predators.
Watch in silence as elephants emerge slowly through the early morning mist rising from the dry riverbeds, and witness the lechwe (a semi-aquatic antelope) jumping across the Busanga streams. Marvel at the amazing secretarybird, performing a courtship display in front of your tent, dancing to attract a mate.
Chisa Busanga Bush Camp lies on a beautiful island, overlooking the massive floodplains that teem with wildlife and birds. Its remoteness and the most remarkable sunrises when the mist rises from the drying floodplains will guarantee a magical and truly unique experience.
The floodplains are mostly inaccessible during the summer because the rains turn the plains into a massive lake, so Busanga is a seasonal destination that is open between June and November. The Busanga Plains can be reached either by plane from Lusaka (approximately 1.5 hours) or by car from Ila Safari Lodge (approximately 4 hours).
The third camp is called Shawa Camp and is located in the heart of the Lupanda GMA, on the banks of the Luangwa River. It is perfectly situated in the wildlife-rich South Luangwa National Park to explore both the Park itself and the Nsefu sector.
This small, intimate property consists of five uniquely styled luxury safari tents, all overlooking the Luangwa River. The centre boma is double-story, affording a clear view over the Luangwa River.
The South Luangwa National Park is 9050 square kilometres and, with the Luangwa River running through it creating a series of lagoons, the concentration of wildlife is amongst the highest in the world. With over 60 different animal species and 400 different bird species (Zambia has 732 species), the park is a birdwatcher’s dream whatever the season.
The South Luangwa National Park has the highest concentration of leopard in southern Africa, as well as endemic species such as Crawshay’s zebra and Thornicroft’s giraffe. Two other features that make the South Luangwa so famous, are that it offers the finest walking safaris in Africa and the greatest concentration of wildlife hides. These hides are wonderful for wildlife viewing because as a photographer, a birder, or simply a naturalist, one can sit only feet away from these animals and luxuriate in the splendour of their close presence.
Finally, naturally there are a myriad of other ways of exploring Africa in silence without the use of motorised vehicles, such as exploring on foot, as mentioned above (one learns so much more on a walking safari and it is such an immersive experience) with a plethora of fabulous guides. These walking safaris can be for just a few hours or on a dedicated walking safari for just a couple of days to up to a week or more.
You could also explore by canoe and on horseback. Three truly exhilarating, immersive approaches to exploring the bush and its environs, together with observing fabulous wildlife!
Please do feel free to contact me directly or at The Explorations Company for more information about sustainable and silent safaris to Africa, or if you would just like to dream, you can do so at the Video Library.