For me, traditional mobile safaris are one of the best ways to experience the wilderness with the ground under your feet and your senses at the ready. Zambia is well known for these experiences and lends itself perfectly to mobile walking safaris.
Walking safaris are the finest way to see wildlife in its natural environment in Africa. Most of us are active and nobody wants to be constrained to a vehicle all day every day, and this is where the walking safari comes into its own.
Moving slowly through the bush with your private guide and trackers allows you to see the finest details around you, follow the wildlife’s tracks and learn about the interactions of wildlife one wouldn’t see from a 4x4. For me, the finest walking safaris in Zambia are still in the South Luangwa, the longtime home of safaris on foot, but there are also excellent experiences to be had elsewhere in Zambia.
The South Luangwa National Park is a veritable treasure trove of abundant wildlife which is concentrated around the Luangwa River and its oxbow lagoons. Its 9025 square kilometres boast one of the highest concentrations of leopard in southern Africa and it is also home to the endemic Thornicroft's giraffe.
The elephant population is healthy, as is the hippo population. The birdlife is equally rewarding, with over 400 species recorded in the area. The walking safaris are conducted by extremely knowledgeable conservationists and guides, with a focus firmly on the wildlife and surrounding environment.
Many walking safaris in the South Luangwa are conducted by walking between tented camps and spending a night or two in mobile fly camps en route. I recommend starting with a few nights in a comfortable permanent tented camp before taking a 5 or 7 night walking safari between four mobile camps, which are set up for you in a completely remote part of the park where nobody else visits.
Then return to a luxury camp or villa for the final night, washing off the sand before one returns home or continues the safari. I believe this is one of the ultimate ‘back to nature’ experiences one can have in Africa - you won’t see any other humans apart from those on your walk! I implore everyone to try it at least once…
I took a walking safari in the South Luangwa recently where the emphasis was on wildlife spotting on foot. There was no route march – perhaps 10kms maximum was be covered in an entire day over generally flat ground. I learnt so much, not just about the ‘usual’ safari wildlife but also the trees, plants, insects and birdlife.
Sleeping in a tent was simply wonderful, as the night sounds were so much closer and clearer through the gauze windows. The breeze wafted gently through bringing the smells of the plants and wild herbs with the morning dew. Being able to wake with the dawn and see the changing of the light as I stepped out of my tent, and watch the sun set each evening – I always feel so much more connected to the wilderness travelling this way!
The best way to explore is with an experienced walking safari guide with camps set up for you as you travel. Depending on your preferences, some excellent options for permanent camps and private villas to book-end your safari in the South Luangwa include:
Whilst mobile fly camping is popular and well-known in the South Luangwa, there are two in other parks in Zambia that are less-visited but no less spectacular.
The first lies in the Lower Zambezi, one of my favourite National Parks in Southern Africa. Why? Well, it’s the light! Sounds unusual, but the contrast in colours of pastel albida forest, purple Zambezi Escarpment and blue waters of the mighty Zambezi River flowing by sets a beautiful scene dotted with phenomenal wildlife viewing. Herds of elephant cool off in the river eating the grasses, kudu and antelope move through the forests and leopard slink past.
Luke Evans and Kyle Branch offer some fantastic walking and canoeing safaris here which move between three small fly camps located on islands and in a valley at the foot of the escarpment. Being owner-run, these safaris have that extra level of attention to detail - the sites of the camps have been very well thought-out to ensure that they have good access to wildlife, the game routes have been considered, the best angle for sunset and sunrise has been thought about and many other essential factors to ensure that one’s safari is extraordinary!
Luke and Kyle have extensive experience in Zambia and the Lower Zambezi National Park and they like to make your stay about the park. You explore each day on foot (or by vehicle if you prefer) and also canoe and boat. It’s not a route march, it is about taking one’s time, smelling scents on the early morning mists, seeing all the minute details of the plants and the insects going about their work and also the wildlife coming down to the river.
What is it like to take a safari in the Lower Zambezi National Park? >> Watch our video
Another mobile safari camp that should certainly be considered is placed in possibly the most far-flung park in Zambia – Liuwa Plains. If you love wildlife and haven’t been yet - why not?? This park is home to the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa (eclipsed only by the Great Migration of the Maasai Mara–Serengeti ecosystem). I saw part of the migration on my last visit, which was extraordinary with a mass of animals grazing on their slow move south towards the greener grasses.
We were visiting during the wildebeest calving time (between October and December) and one day we stopped during our game drive for an hour just to sit and watch. We were privileged to see 40 new wildebeest calves being born in the one hour. Musekese, who have a permanent luxury camp in Kafue National Park, also operate a mobile tented safari in two sites in Liuwa Plains; Katoyana and Mukulubumwe fly camps.
These camps are perfectly located to explore the Plains using the camps as a base for a couple of days, or longer. The Plains are vast, the size of Wales, with only one permanent lodge in the whole park! Though the wildebeest are well-known, what one also sees are lion, cheetah and the Park’s largest and most prolific predator, the hyena. I sat one sunset on the plains watching the sun going down over a pink sunset and saw hyena cubs emerging their den.
One day we watched flock after flock, a murmuration of 100,000 pratincoles, rise into the air and swirl around a water donga. There were also saddleback storks strutting, Kittlitz's plover, ruff, plum-coloured starling, and white backed pelicans trying to fish.
What I find so interesting is that the guides point out the small things too it is not just about spotting the ‘popular’ safari species. We saw the flowers that can be found on the plains during the rainy season which especially include flame lily, Gloriosa sessiliflora, scarlet pimpernel, Tricliceras longepedunculata, dwarf mobola, summer sand lilies, tumble weed lily and Alvesia rosmarinfolia.
Although a simpler style of safari compared to the luxury lodges that are on offer across the continent, a mobile camping and walking safari need not be ‘roughing it’. In Zambia, immersed in the wildlife, sounds and smells of nature, it is one of the best ways to really escape everyday life and decompress on your holiday. It is one of my favourite ways to travel on safari and I highly recommend it for the privilege of being at one with nature!
If you would like any more information about mobile tented safaris in Zambia, please do feel free to get in touch.
Images kindly provided courtesy of Tusk and Mane Safaris, Jeffrey & McKeith Safaris and Robin Pope Safaris. Leopard in tree copy right to Kyle Branch