We have long heard various people saying that Zambia is ideal for safari connoisseurs and people on their third or fourth safari, whilst South Africa and Kenya are often cited as being the best option for first timers. But is there any reason why Zambia would not work for someone on their first safari?
We decided to spend 9 nights travelling to some of Zambia’s best loved national parks and safari lodges to see how the experience there compares to that in South Africa’s Kruger Park area, which is a firm favourite with first timers and seasoned safari veterans alike. This is what we found:
- Both South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi are really beautiful parks, with the Lower Zambezi being especially stunning due to the permanently flowing Zambezi river which is kept at fairly consistent levels as a result of the Kariba Dam. The Luangwa River is not damned and water levels do vary across the season, meaning the park can get quite dusty toward the end of the dry season and there are also a number of smaller rivers which dry-up altogether, however this natural variation in water levels means that animals move around the reserve in search of water and grazing throughout the dry safari season. We love the Kruger Park, however we would say that both South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi are prettier and feel more remote.
- Some of the camps in South Luangwa are open all year round, however a large number are seasonal and only open in the dry season (April-November) as many roads in the park cannot be driven in the rainy season. In the Lower Zambezi, the safari season is limited to the drier months between April and November, when the roads are accessible. The lodges around Kruger are open all year as the area has better all-weather roads and does not have such a pronounced rainy season.
- South Luangwa offers excellent walking safari options, with shorter game walks offered by the majority of camps, and some operators offering longer walks with the opportunity to walk between different camps, giving you the opportunity for a true safari adventure. Many camps in Kruger offer bush walks, however we would say that South Luangwa is definitely the better option for keen walkers.
- Both South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi offer a number of water based safari options that are not available in Kruger. In South Luangwa these are seasonal depending on the river levels after the rains, however in the Lower Zambezi water based activities are offered at all times when the lodges are open. Water based activities including boat safaris, canoeing, sunset cruises and lunches on the river add a whole new dimension to your safari, and are highly recommended if you get the opportunity.
- Whilst some parts of the Zambian parks are busier than others ( especially in the Mfuwe area of South Luangwa ), the busiest areas of both parks are noticeably less busy with tourists than the busiest areas of Kruger.
- Kruger remains probably the best option for people looking for a good chance to see all of the Big-5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo) in a relatively short space of time, and neither South Luangwa or Lower Zambezi have any rhino, so if seeing the whole of the Big-5 or seeing rhino are priorities then Kruger would be the best bet. We had some fantastic sightings of lion and leopard, and the elephant sightings at both parks were exceptional. In fact I think that Lower Zambezi probably had the largest number of consistently impressive elephant sightings of any park we have visited in the last few years.
- Both of the Zambian reserves and Kruger are excellent for birders, however South Luangwa deserves a special mention for the huge numbers of beautiful carmine bee eaters that migrate to the area to nest from late August/early September.
- South Luangwa has a greater variety of game than Lower Zambezi, including giraffe and a larger population of zebra, and South Luangwa also appears to offer more frequent Leopard sightings. Lower Zambezi is probably the prettier of the two, and definitely has the edge on water based activities and elephant sightings.
So, we would definitely be happy to recommend Zambia as a safari destination for first timers to Africa, and with one of the seven wonders of the world also in Zambia we believe a holiday that includes the following would be a real winner:
- South Africa: Cape Town (stunning coastline, table mountain, rich history, Cape Winelands, penguin colony, whale watching in season)
- Zambia: Livingstone (for Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the natural world)
- Zambia: South Luangwa (good variety of game that is regularly seen, excellent leopard sightings, fantastic walking safaris)
- Zambia: Lower Zambezi (one of the most beautiful parks we have visited, wonderful river activities, fabulous elephant sightings)
Surely that is a holiday that a first timer could enjoy just as much as the hardened safari enthusiast? If you need further convincing, below are a few pictures from our recent trip to South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi towards the end of the dry season in October 2017.
South Luangwa National Park
Lower Zambezi National Park
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Well it was a long time ago, but we never forget a face! We have written previously about how a holiday to South Africa inspired us to take a career break in 2003 which ultimately lead to us setting-up Travel Butlers…well imagine our surprise and delight when we bumped into our first safari guide when we stayed at Kafunta River Lodge as part of our recent trip to Zambia.
Andrew was our guide on our very first safari back in 2002 when he was working at Savanna Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand, and his knowledge and enthusiasm helped spark our own love of the safari experience. We had a great time at Savanna and were lucky to have some amazing sightings during our stay including leopard with three tiny cubs, a huge pride of lion hunting 300+ buffalo under a full moon and many others. Following those few days we ended-up leaving the security of corporate employment, training to be safari guides ourselves, and then setting up Travel Butlers in July 2003. So it was a truly life-changing experience for us, and is it any wonder that as we arrived at Kafunta to be met by the staff and management we were able to recognise Andrew immediately despite the intervening years?
This is not the first time our paths have crossed since 2002 – we bumped into each other at Dulini lodge in the Sabi Sands a few years ago – however it was fantastic to be able to catch-up again, and thank Andrew for his part in the Travel Butlers story.
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We are delighted to announce the launch of our free Guest Information App for clients, and this is available on both Android and iPhone/iPad.
The App includes:
- day-by-day itemisation of services
- details of every booking
- emergency phone numbers
- static and interactive maps
- live flight status updates
- 5-day weather forecasts
- general information on immigration requirements, medical issues etc.
Before guests travel, the App displays a countdown to the start of their trip, and whilst they are away it will default to showing the current day’s activities and services, including automatically checking each flight’s status on the days that they fly.
Most content is available offline, however a data connection is required for flight status updates, weather forecasts and interactive maps.
Android users can download the App from the Google Play Store or search for “travel butlers” in the Google Play App.
iPhone and iPad users can download from iTunes or search for “travel butlers” in iTunes.
The App requires clients to enter their unique user details when they first download their itinerary, and we are currently in the process of contacting clients who have upcoming trips to make them aware of their details. Clients who do not have their details yet and are keen to get access to the App should phone or email their usual contact at Travel Butlers.
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Conventional wisdom is that the best time to visit Botswana is in the dry season which runs from May to October. The logic is that less rain means that wildlife concentrates around permanent waterholes and rivers and it is easier to see the animals as trees and bushes lose their leaves and the grasses die back. At the same time flood waters from Angola cover much of the Okavango Delta forcing wildlife to concentrate on higher land such as Chief’s Island, again making it easier to find the animals.
The downsides of travelling in the dry season are that the prices are higher, and many camps and lodges will be completely full as much of the dry season coincides with the European and North American summer holidays.
So given this….is it worth visiting Botswana in the Green Season? In order to check this out for ourselves, we headed out to Botswana for 10 days in March 2017 to include Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, and this is what we found:
- The whole north of the country is green and beautiful, meaning there are stunning landscapes to enjoy.
- There are still plentiful birds and lots of wildlife…although you may have to look harder to find them than in the dry season. The quality of the sightings was very good as well, including lion cubs, lions hunting buffalo and impala, elephants playing in the water and charging, wild dogs playing, a leopard up a tree (others visiting at the same time saw a leopard with her cub), and countless other memorable sightings. The one thing that we did not see is the very large herds of elephants that visitors in the dry season would expect to see regularly, however we did see a lot of elephants in family groups, and on one occasion a much larger herd of 50+ elephants on the banks of the Chobe River at sunset.
- Most antelope give birth in the green season to ensure there is plenty of food for the newborns, so there are lots of cute young animals around.
- There are fewer overseas tourists – most camps were about half full, even in the very popular Moremi Game Reserve area of the Delta. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, it is worth considering a Botswana green season safari.
- The majority of lodges are significantly less expensive than in the dry season, although it is fair to say that Botswana is a fairly pricey option at any time of year.
- If you travel in April or November you will avoid the wettest months – there had been substantial rain in Botswana before we arrived, however we only had a single two-hour storm during our whole stay at the end of March.
- You will probably not be able to do water based activities in the Delta as the flood waters from Angola do not arrive until May/June (although if there has been a lot of rain you may get lucky here and be able to do some water based activities from mid-March as happened this year at some camps).
- In Chobe consider a houseboat such as the Zambezi Queen or Chobe Princess. There are a number of houseboats that cruise the Chobe River, and these can be a great option in the Green Season as game viewing on land can be affected by the dense bush that covers much of the park. Note that these boats are actually registered in Namibia, and the cruise along the river by day and moor on the Namibian side overnight. You cannot land in the Chobe National Park from these boats, however game viewing along the riverfront is good all year round and the houseboats do offer smaller game viewing launches that can get you closer to the animals.
To put the game viewing into context we saw lions, elephants, leopards, rhino, buffalo, wild dog, hyena, giraffe, zebra, hippo, countless antelope and baboons, spectacular birds and much more. The scenery was stunning, especially in the early mornings and around sunset, and below are a handful of pictures from our trip.
We have been fortunate enough to go on many safaris over the years, and this trip to Botswana was one of our very favorite experiences. The camps, scenery, and wildlife were all excellent, and the people and service we encountered everywhere were absolutely first class. Special thanks must go to the to the camps that we stayed at: Chobe Princess and Chobe Chilwero for Chobe National Park, and Baines’ Camp and Chief’s Camp in the Okavango Delta. We also stayed at the excellent Sussi & Chuma Lodge in Zambia, which we used as a base to visit Victoria Falls, and had a lovely stay at African Pride Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, both of which would make excellent additions if you are considering booking your own trip to Botswana.
So in summary…is it worth visiting Botswana in the Green Season? Absolutely Yes!
Chobe National Park In The Green Season (March 2017)
The Okavango Delta In The Green Season (March 2017)
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We are delighted to hear that Thornybush Private Nature Reserve has begun removing its eastern boundary fence with the Timbavati, a process that should be complete by early May and will mean that Thornybush will become fully open to the Greater Kruger Park.
We think this is great news, as whilst the lodges in Thornybush have always offered and excellent guest experience and good game viewing, there can be no doubt that dropping the fences to Kruger will mean increased freedom of movement for animals and a richer game-viewing experience for guests.
I have enjoyed some terrific games drives in Thornybush whilst it has been a fenced reserve, however I have always been aware that the fence meant that there were only a fixed number of lions, elephants etc that it would be possible to find. Dropping the fence changes this and opens up the reserve to the vast animal populations on the Greater Kruger.
I am sure this move will see this lovely reserve go from strength to strength over the coming years, and I cannot wait to go back there myself and see how things have changed.
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