Written by Kai Associates Inc.
The Lower Zambezi has long been one of my favorite regions in Africa. The pure beauty of the area combined with the wide array of activities in the Lower Zambezi won my heart from my very first visit about a decade ago. In addition to standard game drives, visitors have the option of canoeing in the channels off the main river, walking safaris, world-class fishing, sunset cruises, and more, all while being surrounded by stunning scenery at every turn. However, my two most recent visits (August 2019 & June 2021) have catapulted the Lower Zambezi to the top of my list. What happened in those eight years to elevate it above other well-known parks and reserves? Two major things – most importantly the quality of game viewing & frequency of excellent predator sightings has increased significantly, and the overall quality of accommodation options has improved vastly.
The Lower Zambezi is a natural game corridor created by the mighty Zambezi River to the south and the rolling mountains of the Zambezi Escarpment to the north. There has always been a healthy game population, however the animals were skittish and road systems less developed. Over the past 10-15 years the region has grown in popularity so the animals are becoming more accustomed to the vehicles, the experience is still incredibly wild but the sightings vastly improved. There have also been major developments in the Chiawa Game Management Area adjacent to the park, allowing for excellent game viewing opportunities (this includes more roads, permanent water holes, and a hide), and Conservation Lower Zambezi has done an exceptional job of ensuring all species throughout the region are well protected. There is also no shortage of quality accommodations within the Lower Zambezi region, including Old Mondoro, Sausage Tree, Anabezi, and our long-time partner Royal Zambezi Lodge, amongst others. The comfort of accommodation, quality of F&B offerings and level of service are now on par with properties in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana, although they rarely get the same recognition or respect.
My biggest realization from my visit last month is that we (the North American safari industry) have been selling this region, and Zambia as a whole, incorrectly and that needs to be rectified. Far too often you hear Zambia referred to as a great option for a second or even third-time safari-goer. I must confess that I’ve uttered those words for much of my career, but this trip made me realize that it is simply wrong. I realized this in part because one of the couples travelling with us were first-time safari-goers, and after our 5 night stay at Royal Zambezi Lodge we parted ways and they went on to Cape Town followed by three other five-star safari properties in South Africa. When I chatted with them upon their return they both said that their favourite safari property and experience was Royal Zambezi Lodge in the Lower Zambezi! (cue light bulb)
Upon further contemplation it occurred to me:
I don’t know why it took me so long, but I’d finally realized that Zambia makes for a great first trip to Africa! A standalone itinerary such as South Luanwa/Mfuwe – Lower Zambezi – Victoria Falls would work, however visiting Botswana or even Cape Town first and then doing Vic Falls and ending in the Lower Zambezi would be the idyllic program and the rates for such an itinerary would be incredibly competitive when compared to your more traditional first-time safari destinations at the 5* level.
While I agree that this might not be the best option for all, I assure you that it would be perfect for some. All I ask is that you stop viewing Zambia, and specifically the Lower Zambezi, as only suitable for repeat guests and see it for the amazing destination that it is, one that could be suitable for nearly any traveler interested in an authentic luxury safari experience.