To visit both South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi, you’ll want at least eight days on the ground. (This trip was 10.) It’s also a great idea to add a couple of nights at either end to see the mighty, not-even-remotely-overrated Victoria Falls.
Visas are required for U.S. citizens entering Zambia. Single-entry visas can be purchased at the airport upon arrival for $50 USD; tour operators can arrange dual-entry visas, if necessary.
Travelers are advised to consult with their doctors about required and recommended vaccinations for Zambia. A full course of malaria medication is a must, as is a strong insect repellant: Peaceful Sleep is widely available in African stores and is remarkably effective.
When to Go
May through September, the dry season, is ideal. During these months, rivers, lakes, and watering holes start to dry up, leaving animals to congregate around the few remaining water sources and making for better wildlife viewing. Good prices are available in April and October, though temperatures can get extremely hot by late September. By November, most of the camps are closed for the season.
Book your lodgings at least four to six months ahead, as the smaller camps tend to fill up quickly. August and September are the most popular months for travelers and require even more advanced planning.
Most international flights fly into Lusaka (LUN), Zambia’s capital, or Livingstone (LVI), the gateway to Victoria Falls. There are no direct flights to either airport from the U.S., but British Air flies nonstop to both from London, and Egypt Air flies to Lusaka via Cairo. Travelers may also choose to fly nonstop from New York or Atlanta to Johannesburg (JNB), then catch a two-hour South African Air flight to Lusaka or Livingstone.
From Lusaka, Zambia-based Proflight serves the Mfuwe airport (for South Luangwa) and Royal Airstrip (for Lower Zambezi). Your lodge or safari outfitter will arrange transfers from either.
- Zambia’s Best Safari Lodges
- Zambia: Africa’s Next Great Safari Destination
- Packing for Safari
- Q&A with Grant Cummings
Outfitters and Travel Agents
Explore Inc.: Colorado-based Cherri Briggs—a T+L A-List agent—did a fantastic job advising on and planning this trip. Zambia holds a special allure for Briggs, who spends part of the year at her house on the Lower Zambezi. She creates custom safaris to the camps featured in this story, and well beyond. Briggs herself is deeply committed to Zambia (she helped to found the Lower Zambezi Conservation Trust), and she and her staff know the country well.
Passage to Africa: This South Africa–based travel company is run by Michael Lorentz, one of Africa’s premier safari guides and wildlife experts (and, more recently, a co-creator of Safarious.com, a community site for safari guides, operators, and aficionados).
Cox & Kings: Luxury adventure operator Cox & Kings has partnered with Travel + Leisure to offer exclusive itineraries. Their newly launched T+L Trip to Zambia features 10 days in South Luangwa and the lower Zambezi.
Bushcamp Company: Operates six supremely stylish yet refreshingly simple camps (as well as the more formal, brick-and-mortar Mfuwe lodge) in South Luangwa National Park, one of Africa’s premier game parks. The company is known for their unspoiled locations, chic and eco-friendly design, excellent food, and ace resident guides. Camps are scattered a few hours’ walking distance apart, and most visitors will stay at several, sometimes hiking from one to the next (bags are delivered by vehicle). Each camp sleeps six to eight guests; meals and activities tend to be communal. Among our favorites: Chamilandu, with open-fronted tree houses facing a prime stretch of the Luangwa River; and Chindeni, with breezy, spacious tents perched over a wildlife-rich lagoon. All-inclusive. $$$$$
Chinzombo: The original flagship for Norman Carr Safaris, a regional pioneer who has operated in Zambia for 60-plus years, has been recently refurbished, and now includes six villas with private plunge pools overlooking the Luangwa River. All-inclusive. $$$$$
Chiawa Camp: Set along a magnificent stretch of the Zambezi River, Chiawa was founded in 1989 (the first camp inside the Lower Zambezi National Park), and is still owned by the Cumings family, who run it with pride and a personal touch. Nine spacious tents made of timber, reeds, and canvas are outfitted with colonial-style furnishings and claw-foot tubs, and spread along a forested hillside above the river. Guide staff is renowned for leading excellent walking, fishing, and canoeing excursions: don’t miss a canoe ride with senior guide Paul Grobler. Bonus: Neither Chiawa nor Old Mondoro charge a supplement for single travelers. All-inclusive. $$$$$
Old Mondoro: Chiawa’s smaller and more primitive sister camp is located about an hour downriver and nestled in a glade of winter thorn trees, whose seed pods lure elephants. A local elephant group hangs around camp all day, often coming right up to the bar, close enough to touch. (Don’t.) Its four simple guest huts are constructed with reed half-walls, thatched roofs, and canvas flaps that pull down at night; each hut has a porch with a daybed as well as an outdoor shower and bathtub, with spectacular views of the river and grazing wildlife. All-inclusive. $$$$$
Tongabezi: A fine base for seeing Victoria Falls, this quiet riverside camp is marvelously secluded, on a wide bend of the Zambezi about 30 minutes outside the busy tourist hub of Livingstone. Vervet monkeys frolic on grassy paths connecting the property’s five tents and six cottages, which offer front-row views of hippos, elephants, and birdlife in or along the river. Besides tours of Vic Falls (by foot, boat, helicopter, or microlight aircraft), the staff can organize boating safaris on the Zambezi, game drives in a nearby reserve, and a visit to the lodge’s own Tujatane Trust School (a T+L Global Vision Award winner in 2012). The same company also operates Sindabezi, a smaller (five-tent) and more elemental camp set on a private island, just 20 minutes up the Zambezi from Tongabezi. (Many guests stay at both.) All-inclusive. $$$$$
Zambia, by Chris McIntyre (Bradt Publications, 2012 edition): Africa authority McIntyre literally wrote the book on Zambia: his astonishingly thorough, colorfully detailed guidebook (part of the excellent Bradt Travel Guide series) remains the definitive text on the country.
Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, Elizabeth Becker (Simon & Schuster, 2013): Published just this spring, Becker’s probing, unvarnished look at the global tourism industry includes a lengthy and insightful chapter on Zambia and its key players, including Andy Hogg of the Bushcamp Company.
Safarious.com: Michael Lorentz’s safari community website is a great place to get inspired, share travel tips, or ask for advice. The site is members-only but free, and well worth joining.
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000