&Three recently traveled to Zambia where we fell madly, deeply, head over heels in love. As a boutique travel Company specializing in Africa, we spend a lot of time traveling to different countries, checking out new places and re-visiting old favorites. We send travelers only to the places we collectively know and love. About one third of the way into this particular trip, we knew THIS: Zambia may just be Africa’s best kept secret. The lesser known, the less traveled, the less obvious, the less expensive (!), absolute gem of a safari destination.
Zambia reminded of us of her neighbor, Botswana, for pure unspoiled beauty, wildlife and animal interaction in the waterways. The landscape is an incredibly rich combination of mountains and deep rift valleys, floodplains and wetlands. We traveled along the Zambia’s two major river systems - the Zambezi and South Luangwa, each teeming with hippos and crocs and wildly wonderful and exotic fish. There were lions in trees and elephants swimming between the banks of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The air smells of wild lavender and basil, water hyacinths abound and around every turn are magnificent eucalyptus and baobab trees. Zambia is known for its old school walking safaris – getting out of the vehicle and taking in the beauty by foot provides such perspective. Biking, fishing and boating are a part of daily life as well.
The country’s secret weapon, however, is her people. Zambians are truly the nicest, warmest, loveliest people who are so excited to share their country with you. And as we always say, travel is not only about the places you go but the people you meet along the way …
Where To Stay
Throughout our route we stayed at little magical bush camps out in the middle of nowhere, often along the water. Whether smack on the riverbank of the Zambezi, or off on a smaller channel, or tucked far away, deep in the heart of the bush in a lily pad bog, every camp was uniquely elegant, romantic and simply appointed. Some are without electricity – hot baths and lanterns await after a long day out. Some are more modern – chic décor, a killer bush bar, swinging chairs and large private decks with plunge pools. The views from your bedroom always take your breath away. Wildlife is in and around every camp during the days and nights. We love hearing the sounds of animals passing in the dark, happily munching and going about their business. The best place to stay? We’ve each got our favorite camp – it’s so hard to pick! – but we collectively agree on how to combine the camps for the perfect, rich and varied experience.
What to Eat
The food on safari is always a surprising highlight. So many of our travelers reminisce about bush breakfasts being their favorite part of the day. We couldn’t agree more. Homemade bread toasted over an open fire and perfectly bold coffee are a given. Waking in the early morning, catching the sunrise, and wondering what the day will bring over eggs, fruit, homemade yogurt and muesli, is well, a spectacular way to start the morning. Apart from every single breakfast, our favorite meal was served under a tree on the bank of the Luangwa River at Chinzombo. EVERYTHING was made from local sources … the tastes, spices and textures and colors we had never seen before.
Wild hibiscus champagne, mbaula (bbq made in the ground), bread cooked in the ground, spices made from the baobab and tamarind trees, and a hummus made with the local Njama bean. Medicinal teas were crafted just for us from plants and flowers and trees we encountered along the way. We were given kegelia cream from the Sausage Tree … revered for it’s ability to heal the early stages of skin cancer as it reacts to the melanoma bacteria and other rashes. We didn’t know that our safari would be equally about the animals and ecosystems and culture as it was about herbalism – huge bonus!
What to Do
Safari in Zambia is equal parts wildlife, physical activity and re-wilding. Game driving is par for the course and the night drives are particularly action packed. Boating is a big part of safari in Zambia – cruising the river in searching of wildlife, having a civilized lunch cruise, canoeing the pristine channels. The fishing is outstanding – we caught tons of tiger fish (great game fish, crazy teeth) and, with a bar of soap on the recommendation of the locals, a Giant Vundu (not the prettiest).
The opportunities to walk and bike through the bush are exceptional – we had great fun in dry lake beds that resemble beaches. Surprise sundowners were set up IN the water. Little fish nibbled at our toes as giant herds of elephant crossed the water in the distance. Bush dinners, campfires at night, zero light pollution and southern hemisphere stargazing make for a humbling, unplugged, and wildly wonderful experience.
Don't Leave Home Without
When traveling to Zambia, you must bring a great sense of adventure and a desire to get back to nature. This is authentic, raw Africa at its best. Don’t leave home without a great camera lens, a really good pair of binoculars and comfortable walking shoes. Prepare to be AWAY FROM IT ALL.
&Three will design a custom itinerary from the moment you land in Africa to the moment you depart. Zambia is a stand-alone safari destination but pairs awfully well with South Africa or Zimbabwe. The best time to go to Zambia is in the dry season (May-October) when the days are warm, the nights are cool, the game viewing is excellent and Victoria Falls is as at her fullest.
Kelly's Packing List