Nicola recently spent a month in Zambia, walking with private guides in North and South Luangwa National Parks. Here she shares a report on her walking safaris and gives her thoughts on why they’re an essential safari experience!
“I would urge the more adventurous safari enthusiast to seriously consider taking a walking safari in Zambia as I did in September. My safari took me to the South Luangwa National Park, the home of the walking safari in Africa, and to the lesser visited but equally stunning North Luangwa National Park.
Despite travelling on safari during one of the driest months, there was still so much in leaf and bloom. From the heady scent of the wild jasmine to the woolly caper bush (a favourite for kudu, giraffe, impala, buffalo and a host of other browsers), the beautifully perfumed flowers are perfect for birds to pollinate. Alongside the magnificent scent of the Natal mahogany tree and the wild gardenia, it was akin to walking through a scented garden!
I spent a glorious time in the bush with my guides, tracking wildlife. The stories one can tell simply by reading from the sand. Together we identified hippo highways and elephant trails; hyaena walking down the path a few hours before we arrived; the tiny prints of the elephant shrew with its perfectly formed footprints; the large, deliberate imprints of the lion, or the unhurried shuffle of the elephant; the deft, dainty indentations of the impala. Once we came across drag marks of a kill, overlaid with leopard prints, a fascinating story unfolding before us!
Looking at the faeces of lion, hyaena and hippo, one can tell equally as much; furballs regurgitated by the lion with perhaps part of an impala hoof, the calcified droppings of the hyaena, or the civet latrine studded with berries. Hippo will mark strategic points of its trail to remind themselves and inform others of which route they have taken. Impala will create dung middens which start off as territorial markings to attract a mate, but then in turn gets broken down by the dung beetles and termites during the rainy season.
The termite mounds in these parks grow to epic proportions, and as we came across them during our walks the guides shared all their knowledge with me. What intelligent insects they are! With four different species, they all have specific and vital niches; their ability to clear detritus and recycle nutrients makes them a keystone species in their environments.
As well as the minutiae of tracks and spoor, the larger beasts are also easily seen on a walking safari. I can confidently share with you that I have seen some of my best sightings on foot rather than by vehicle!
The North Luangwa region is my absolute favourite walking area, because of its pristine beauty. The large, wide Mwaleshi river and the Luangwa River provide water, the life blood to animals, when the water holes have all dried up in the dry winter months. I stayed at Mwaleshi Camp on this safari to Zambia, which provides one of the finest walking safaris for those who prefer to come back to a camp in the evening.
My first walk was around three hours, taking us across the river to the other side of the bank, where we found wildlife aplenty. My guide pointed out a pair of mating lions, who subjugated themselves for hours on end, just below a dead tree stump supporting an immature martial eagle! We then saw a couple of Thornicroft giraffe on two occasions, lots of Crawshay’s zebra and finally several small breeding pairs of elephant.
After a wonderful afternoon siesta, we continued on for another three-hour walk, culminating in sundowners back at the camp. The wildlife in this region is superb and across several walks we saw another pride of six lion, we had so many encounters close to elephant, and of course we saw buffalo too. There’s also lots of hippo, leopard, sometimes wild dog and of course plenty of antelope and zebra to be seen here. My last walk was six hours and equally productive!
Of course, having the finest of guides is imperative for a successful walk and Zambia has a plethora of quality guides to accompany you! Outside of Zimbabwe, Zambia offers probably he finest standard of guiding in Africa.
Next, I travelled on to the South Luangwa National Park, which is generally busier than the North Luangwa. However, I opted for a sector where only one company has the walking concession, to get away from the main hubbub of tourism.
I stayed at a comfortable camp in the Mupumadzi region before embarking on a five-day walking safari, walking between three camps in this remote and beautiful, game-rich region. South Luangwa is known for its endemic giraffe such as the Thornicroft’s, as well as the Crawshay’s zebra, and of course the highest concentration of leopard in southern Africa. I came across six lion, many elephant at different times, wildebeest, warthog, zebra, impala, puku and a herd of 500 buffalo which we walked to in close proximity. It simply doesn’t get better than that!
What about the birds? We were fortunate to be there for the nesting period of the carmine bee eater, one of Africa’s most beautiful and colourful birds. We spent some time watching them flying into their burrows in the sides of the riverbank, reappearing again to dart over the landscape in a flurry of colour.
Being on foot is one of my favourite ways to go on safari in Africa and Zambia is undoubtedly the home of the walking safari – it never disappoints! I urge anyone to consider taking walks with their private guide on their next vacation in Africa!” - Nicola
See behind the scenes of a mobile walking safari in South Luangwa >> watch our video
Essentially there are three ways of undertaking a walking safari in Zambia.
I recommend combining your walking safari in South or North Luangwa (or both), with the magnificent Lower Zambezi. Kafue and the Busanga Plains are also extraordinary.
The dry season (May to October) is a good time to travel because wildlife congregates around depleting water sources, making wildlife much easier to spot. Generally, the best months to travel are July to October).
The green season (November to March) however is a good time for birding as migrant species return. There are fewer tourists and the animals are relaxed, but one must be prepared for rains. Exploring the rivers by boat is also wonderful during this time in the South and Luangwa National Parks.
Whichever you decide is right for you, know that by choosing Zambia with its hugely diverse scenery and vegetation, concentrations of wildlife and friendly people, that you will have one of the finest safari experiences on the African continent!
Let us design your luxury Zambian safari, tailored by our experts. Please do get in touch with us to start your journey.
Images by kind courtesy of Robin Pope Safaris and Remote Africa