Safari in Zambia & Malawi: Off the Beaten Path

PHOTOS BY WILDERNESS SAFARIS AND CENTRAL AFRICAN WILDERNESS SAFARIS

Often overlooked in the wake of better known neighbours like South Africa or Kenya, relatively unknown Zambia represents an unspoiled, more authentic corner of the continent. It is one of the least visited countries in Africa and relatively new to tourism, with its game parks only having been set up in the late 80s and early 90s. 

 

 

Add to that an extraordinarily low population for its massive size and Zambia conjures an image of the Africa of old; undiscovered, mysterious and remote.

WALKING SAFARIS IN SOUTH LUANGWA

One of the best ways to experience animal life in the African bush, walking safaris offer an unforgettable and unique experience, with one of the best places to go being South Luangwa National Park.

Located in the heart of the pristine Luangwa Valley, the park is sometimes referred to as Africa’s last great wilderness. It is bordered by the Luangwa River and is well known for its predators, which include lion, leopard, hyena and the endangered African wild dog. The park is nicknamed ‘The Valley of the Leopard’ as it is one of the best parks in Africa in which to see them. Elephants, giraffes and large hippos are also equally plentiful within the park and even visit the camps from time to time; it’s not uncommon for campers to wake in the morning to elephant ambling past their window as they graze nearby.

Offering an amazing way to experience the bush and wildlife, it’s reasonably certain visitors will see these magnificent creatures up close as South Luangwa is famous as a pioneer in walking safari; the activity originated here in the 1960s.

 

 

Lasting about 3 hours, walking groups set out from camp either in the early morning or mid-afternoon with an armed scout and a guide; common sightings include elephants, tracking a lion as it stalks its prey, or leopards lazing in trees. More than just the animals, guides also teach visitors about the various plants, point out different insects and even teach the basics about tracking animals.

ZAMBIA
RIVER SAFARIS IN LOWER ZAMBEZI

Arising from its headwaters in the high-lands of Zambia, the Zambezi is Africa’s fourth largest river system, running through six countries on its long, meandering journey across Africa. Stretching for 2,700km, it hosts some of the richest and most diverse wildlife in the world, with crocs, hippos, fish and all manner of land animals being sustained by its vast waters.

For an intimate, close up look of the mighty Zambezi River – either from a boat or small canoe – one should consider the Lower Zambezi National Park.

The Lower Zambezi actually flows within a massive rift in the earth’s crust. And over the years, lush vegetation has been nurtured by the deposits of mineral-rich volcanic soil carried by the waters, with tall Leadwoods, ebonies, acacias, fig trees and lush grassland combining to create a truly spectacular landscape that plays host to an abundance of wildlife.

Buffalo and elephant are common here, as they regularly move between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and are often seen grazing on the many small islands in the middle of the river. Along the river’s shores impala, kudu, eland, zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck and bushbuck are all in abundance, although giraffe, cheetah and black rhino (unfortunately because of poaching) are not seen here. 

In the water, it’s easy to spot crocs basking onshore along with omnipresent hippos. Meanwhile lion, leopard and hyena make up the main predators of the area.

 

 

As well as boat rides and game drives, the Lower Zambezi Park also offers an incredible experience with their canoe-based safaris. These make an ideal way to explore the river’s backwaters with a high chance to spot game, while meandering slowly down the river and drifting between remote islands.

The best way to get to the park is to fly in and land on one of the valley’s small airstrips. Once there you’ll be met by a guide and driven via 4WD to your camp. Flights can be organised from Lusaka, Livingstone or South Luangwa’s Mfuwe Airport.

MALAWI

After the excitement of walking safaris in Zambia, the broad, calm waters of Lake Malawi gives travellers an entirely different side of the African bush.

Spanning the borders of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, Lake Malawi is one of Africa’s Great Lakes. Not only is it Africa’s third largest and second deepest, it’s also the ninth biggest lake in the world, with over a thousand species of fish living beneath its waters – more than any other lake on earth. It is also known as the ‘Lake of Stars’ because of how the water shimmers when the sun reflects off of it. The lake covers a third of Malawi and is considered the country’s backbone, providing many of the locals with both food and a livelihood.

While Malawi itself is a small country on the southern end of the Great Rift Valley, it is also one of the most densely populated countries on the continent. Famous, too for its incredibly friendly people, it’s not unheard of for visitors to be invited into local homes for a meal.

Not surprisingly, Lake Malawi is probably the country’s biggest drawcard for visitors. And within it, the little island of Likoma is one of the most unique destinations in Malawi. Lying off the eastern shore, it’s actually within Mozambique’s territorial waters, but belongs to Malawi. 

At only 17 sq. km., it is a tiny island with one road where the locals survive by fishing and rice farming. Its natural attractions include hundreds of huge baobab trees, idyllic sandy beaches and rocky coves. The most famous man- made attraction on the island is St Peter’s Cathedral, a massive structure that has been there since 1903 and is roughly the same size as Winchester Cathedral in England.

The best place to stay on the island is Kaya Mawa, a lodge set on a rocky outcrop on Likoma’s southern tip. With a name meaning ‘maybe tomorrow’, it is surrounded by year-round clear waters and, with water activities like wakeboarding on offer, it is a good spot to relax. The massive variety of fish also mean that the lake has some of the best freshwater diving and snorkelling in the world. Divers will be treated to the sight of hundreds of brightly coloured, beautiful fish including species like Mbenji, Lwanda Black and Red Fin. 

Another great place to go on Lake Malawi is Mumbo Island, off the Maclear Peninsula. At a mere 1km in diametre and with accommodation for a maximum of only 14 guests at a time, the island is ideal for people who want to experience what a deserted island feels like. The island’s camp is eco friendly, made out of timber, thatch and canvas, with power supplied by solar panels. It is perched on high rocks among the foliage, giving guests a beautiful view of Lake Malawi from their decks. The diving around the island is excellent as well, with the area being proclaimed the world’s first freshwater national park.

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