In Zambia it’s a hallmark of quality to be a walking guide; there are rigorous exams to pass and these can only be taken after many years of general guiding. So by definition when you set out on foot, you’re in the best possible hands
Combine this with some of the best terrain in Africa for walking, plenty of large wild animals and some superb old-style safari camps and you're in for a treat. Take a look at our top 5 camps for walking safaris in Zambia
These safaris are all about exploring wild, remote areas quietly, leaving vehicles and roads behind, to experience proper immersion into wild Africa. Natural High's Rod Tether has more than 20 years of experience leading walking safaris in Zambia - talk to Rod about planning your walking safari
1. Zambia is made for walking safaris
It’s no coincidence that the idea of walking safaris first emerged in Zambia. While it’s possible to walk in a rainforest or open plain, desert or marsh, it’s usually not much fun; you either can’t see anything, or there’s nothing to see.
By contrast the game-filled riverine forests that border many of Zambia's Rivers are magical places to get out on foot without having to be super-fit (read about how fit you need to be to walk). No coincidence then that so many of Zambia’s parks are nowadays synonymous with walking safaris.
2. Where to go for a walking safari in Zambia
The best parts of Zambia for walking are North Luangwa, South Luangwa, the Lower Zambezi Valley and the Kafue National Park. In the Luangwa Valley a few large perennial tributaries feed the Luangwa River. Most notable are the Mwaleshi, Mupamadzi and Kapamba.
Because these tributaries keep flowing through the dry season they make for phenomenal walking country, with year round water, shallow enough to wade through safely in the dry season without being chomped by a hippo or croc. What's more the surrounding riverine forest is a little less dense than on the Luangwa River itself.
Attractive trees provide interest, shade and importantly excellent places to take cover when necessary. The rivers meander through their valleys leaving lagoons and grazing plains that are a magnet to wildlife, so that each bend presents a new opportunity to creep up on wild animals without being seen.
In the Lower Zambezi the damming of the Zambezi upstream at Kariba has created incredible glades of Winterthorn glades favoured by elephants.
The Kafue offers massive areas of wilderness untouched by any roads and it is possible to do a really authentic multi-day fly-camping mobile in to very wild and varied country.
3. When to go on a walking safari in Zambia
The standard season in Zambia runs from the beginning of June to the end of October. There are plenty of good reasons to visit during this time and as the season goes on it gets progressively warmer, drier and the game becomes more concentrated and therefore easier to see.
Established wisdom says that the season comes to an abrupt halt on the 31st of October, however, this isnt actually the reality. If you can take the heat (and admittedly this can be a big if) November is the most productive time of the entire year – lambing impala, nesting carmines, spectacular sound and light shows from the tropical thunderstorms, a green flush of grass and suddenly crystal clear skies all make November an excellent time to travel. Talk to us about planning a walking safari
During November you'll also find the maximum number of bird species present in Zambia, many starting to nest and some on passage. You'll get good rates at the camps and encounter few other visitors...because the safari-season ended last week.
The other end of the season - June and July - is also worth considering; quieter than August to October and while the game is a little less concentrated than later on in the year, this is a glorious time to walk and enjoy walking for the sake of walking. It's worth being aware of the presence of Tsetse flies particularly if you're going in early season. For most people these are nothing more than a minor pest, but forewarned is forearmed. Ask us about this if you have any concerns about this or any other aspect of walking safaris in Zambia.
The fact you can still be comfortably out on foot at midday means that you can put more hours in and therefore your chance of close encounters with good game increases proportionately - thereby compensating for the lack of concentration. As there are still outlying lagoons and waterholes, the options of places to walk to are greater than at the end of the season when one is restricted to the last remaining sources. Talk to us about when to travel
4. Why go? That frisson of excitement
Crucially, walking safaris aren’t all beetles and small brown birds, the chances of encounters with large game on foot in Zambia are very good.
What’s more, remove the big mammals that populate these parks; Elephant, Hippo, Buffalo and Lion, and walking safaris lose their frisson; it’s the fact that you’re in their territory, and on their terms that supplies the adrenalin. However, the fact that African animals are (with - lets face it - very good reason) scared of humans is what makes walking amongst them possible.
All the mammals tend to have a greater "flighting distance" when encountered on foot than from a vehicle to which they become habituated. So this begs the question:
5. If I’m in more danger and I'll see less, why should I walk?
More than anything the reason to walk is to participate; there are no passengers on a walking safari, the armed scout may ultimately be responsible for safety and the guide's knowledge will unquestionably add to the experience, but everyone must keep their wits about them, scan the horizon and play their part by listening carefully and watching intensely. This alone is a thoroughly addictive aspect of walks.
The objective is to see animals as they should be seen, on their level and on their terms, to get in amongst the habitat on which the daily life-and-death dramas are carried out, to take down the barriers – not to be restricted to a cleared track or the capabilities of a land-cruiser.
While it may be true that as a rule you won’t get as close to the game on foot as in a vehicle, you’ll certainly feel closer. Elephants are categorically larger when encountered at close quarters while walking - and the animal's reaction to your presence is a big part of this.
Lions, the great sleepers of the savannah, who may deign to open an eye for an approaching jeep, will always react to man on foot. There’s a primordial element to looking in to the eyes of a lion contemplating whether to fight or run - and this touches something deep in our psyches; a piece of hard-wiring left in place from before our exodus from Africa and evolution to desk-bound-city-dwellers.
Skills left unused since boy-scouting days such as testing the direction of the wind suddenly become of critical importance, more essential to immediate survival than any end of month audit report, the price of gold or the current state on the Hang Seng.
In a nutshell
These safaris are in part about stripping away the unnecessary paraphernalia and concentrating on what's outside the tent. For an experience less-sedentary, in the company of a master of their craft, undertaken in an area of outstanding natural beauty, with big game around – a Zambian walking safari offers a plethora of experiences to be treasured - and which are increasingly hard to find. Talk to us about planning your walking safari in Zambia