The votes are in*, the people have spoken, the word is out.
Zambia, that little nugget of a land-locked African nation, is where it’s at for the sophisticated, off-the-beaten-track safari experience.
Just ask Jonathan Scott**, one of my dear friends, who travels there regularly for the abundant and diverse wildlife.
Or, ask the random lady I met whilst luncheoning on a sandbank at Sausage Tree Camp who told me, “Zambia is where the sophisticated traveller goes on safari, darling.” We nodded knowingly at each other as we sipped our Pimms cocktails, while I subtly made sure the Supré label was tucked right into my T-shirt.
Anyway, if the camps I stayed in during my eight day safari there in November were anything to go by, then Zambia really is where it’s at for a pimping safari experience.
Here are five camps that prove it.
*Please do not ask me for a vote count.
**Please do not ask Mr. Scott about our friendship. I lied about that, too. I merely met him briefly in a Jeep going into the South Luangwa National Park from Mfuwe Airport. I had no idea who he was at the time, until a girl in another Jeep yelled across at ours, “I f*&ken love you Jonathan Scott!”. I am now rather fascinated with the man.
In the southern part of South Luangwa National Park, this was my entrée into the Zambian safari scene.
It turned out to be the most rustic of my bush experiences (and at around $770 a night was about a fifth of the price of the others), but at the time it seemed like five star luxury.
Metal gates covered the front of my room giving it an alfresco vibe, and leaving me hopeful that a curious leopard might poke his clammy nose through in the night (South Luangwa is a leopard hot spot; we got about a metre away from one while it was lying in a tree one day).
My room also had a massive bath that looked out over the river (which, sadly, was a dust bowl when I was there during the “suicide month” of October when the country is at its hottest and driest and the game is at its most active). I filled said bath with cold water when the temps hit 40 and pretended it was a pool, naturally.
Our guide at Kapamba tracked down a pack of wild dogs, the second most endangered species in Africa, which we followed for two days – stopping only for sunset G&T’s on the front of our Jeep, and for a surprise alfresco dinner in the belly of the emptied river. Because that’s how you roll on safari.
Ahh, Chinners. From the moment I stepped onto the little boat that shuttles you across the river to the camp, it was the fanciest of pants.
Only in its second year of operation, it’s set on 60 acres overlooking the Luangwa River and was designed by an architect and interior designer in tandem, meaning the design flows more smoothly than Barry White.
It’s all leather, raw wood and linen, muslin curtains, black and white photography, air conditioning and private plunge pools in the six villas, plus the best food I had during my trip and outstanding guides, thanks to the Norman Carr heritage*.
Our man, Innocent, sniffed out a baby elephant being attacked by 14 lions. It fought back, it survived, we caught the whole thing on camera and the shiz went VIRAL.
A flawless experience that you pay top dosh for (a four-day package will set you back upwards of $4445).
*Oh how embarrassing, you don’t know who Norman Carr is, do you? Well he was a famous conservationist, who started the oldest safari company in Zambia. (confession: I had no idea who he was until I stayed there)
Take a one-hour flight in a teeny plane, drive another bumpy hour (enjoy it, it’s an “African massage”) and you’ll arrive at Baines, teetering on the banks of the Zambezi.
Here, you’ll have an actual room rather than a tent, decorated in the epitome of safari-chic, with enough zebra print and ethnic fabrics to put the opening scenes of Coming to America to shame.
The best thing about being on the Zambezi is that you can take river cruises, canoe with the hippos, and fish for Tiger Fish. Big Ben, one of the managers here, might actually be Africa’s keenest angler, so take his advice and get out there. I’ve never fished in my life but managed to catch a six kilo Tiger Fish*.
(Packages from $2415 per person twin share, including all the usual suspects and return flights from Lusaka.)
*Ok my guide probably had a fair bit to do with my catch, seeing as he put my bait on, threw my line out, told me when to start pulling and reeled the sucker in for me. Wait, did I even…
Chongwe River Camp
It’s the canoeing you come here for. It’s a little hair-raising crossing the Zambezi (especially when your guide, who has only been on the job for seven weeks, shouts “Shit! Hippo!” when you’re in the middle of the river), but once you get into the narrow channels it’s heaven on earth, with baby crocs, baboons, birds and buffalo grazing on the banks as the sun goes down.
Chongwe also has more elephants strolling through it than a Babar episode, so you need to keep your wits about you as you walk from your tent to the main area for meals. Which happen five times a day.
(Three nights from $3055 per person with all the usual inclusions.)
‘Bedouin-style tents’. Need I say more?
Probably not, but I will. I’ll also say ‘private plunge pool’. I’ll say ‘personal butler’. And I’ll say ‘good looking blonde guy guiding canoe trips’.
Oh, and I’ll say ‘sausage tree,’ just for the LOLs.
(Three nights from $3830 per person twin share.)
Bench International, who I travelled with, put together rocking safari experiences throughout Africa. Check them out HERE
SEE MY ZAMBIA PHOTO GALLERY HERE