Why go walking?
Game drives cover a lot of ground but it’s only when you get out of your vehicle and set off on foot that you shift from being a camera-clicking observer to an active participant in the wilderness. As your armed guide leads you along well-worn elephant trails your senses sharpen and you notice things you’d otherwise miss in a vehicle: the alarm call of a troop of baboons, leopard paw prints on a sandy riverbed, the rich scent of sweet mahogany blossoms.
Wildlife too is acutely aware of your presence, you’re now in their territory walking among them; your outline no longer obscured by the boxy shape of a 4x4, your scent no longer masked by diesel fumes. From downwind you’re likely to see antelope keeping a safe distance from you. Approach upwind, and you’ll get so close you can hear elephant steadily munching on leaves or see the twitching ears of graceful impala as they graze.
Why choose South Luangwa?
Walking safaris were pioneered in the South Luangwa in the 1950s and this incredible reserve is still the best place in Africa to track big game on foot. Nothing in an authentic wilderness is guaranteed so this is not an activity for travellers pursuing a game-viewing checklist. Instead it’s a chance to become absorbed in the smaller mysteries of the wilderness as you learn how this extraordinary place fits together. That said, if you do manage to successfully track an apex predator, that surge of adrenaline mixed with wonder is a feeling you’ll never forget!
You’ve got a good chance of seeing these big players and more on walking safaris alongside the meandering waters of the Luangwa River. Its countless oxbow lakes attract large herds of elephant and buffalo, Nile crocodiles bask on sunny riverbanks and big cats stalk through the surrounding woodlands. With all this abundant wildlife you’d expect plenty of people too yet the South Luangwa has remained an under-the-radar safari destination.
It is this wild, raw edge that makes the South Luangwa (or ‘The Valley’ as it’s locally known) a top choice for those in the know. That, and the chance to walk through big game country while discovering those quieter moments and sensory experiences: evenings spent around a crackling campfire, the rich golden quality of early morning light, the scent of the African bush – this is what’s addictive, this is what keeps people coming back again and again.
How it works
Each day, in the coolness of dawn, you set off in single file with an armed scout in front, followed by your guide and then usually a catering porter (with extra water and light snacks) at the back of the line. Walking through big game country may initially seem like a scary idea but you'll soon feel safe in the knowledge that the South Luangwa guides are some of the best in Africa: vastly experienced and trained to deal with almost any eventuality. You’ll be swept away by their encyclopaedic knowledge as they share incredible facts and entertaining anecdotes about the wildlife, plants and local superstitions.
And don’t be fooled by the term ‘bush camp’. Even at basic bush camps you’ll return from your walk to a delicious feast, chilled drinks, snugly comfortable bed made up with crisp white linen, hot bucket showers and some of the most beautiful settings Zambia has to offer. If basic is just not your style, opt for a luxury camp with spacious villas and private plunge pools.
Good-to-know details & practical advice
In a vehicle you are likely to see more game and get closer to your sightings than on foot, which is why most visitors combine walking safaris with game drives. Either pick a lodge that is well known for both activities or, if you really want to focus on walking, spend your first few days on game drives snapping those close-up photos of lion and elephant, then head to a recommended camp deep in the park to explore on foot. You can even arrange to walk from bush camp to bush camp.
Each walk lasts about three to five hours, depending on what you see. Your guide sets an easy pace with frequent stops beneath shady trees. To enjoy a walking safari you need to be of at least average fitness and children must be 12 years or older.
Travel fact file
Best time to travel Zambia’s dry season months of May to October.
Best all-round camp Puku Ridge is a lovely tented camp offering both walking safaris and game drives. What’s more the fantastic location means game viewing begins before you’ve even left camp!
Best luxury camp Between game drives and walking safaris spend leisurely hours relaxing alongside your private plunge pool at Chinzombo – a luxurious bush camp with six beautifully designed villas.
Best authentic bush camp Zungulila is a classic South Luangwa bush camp with four comfortable tents. The focus is firmly on game viewing and on exploring the South Luangwa on foot.