Before the Fame: Safari to Zambia’s Hidden Gems

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Total Trip:

12 Days
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Countries Visited:

Zambia
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Places Visited:

Zambezi River, Livingstone, Liuwa Plain National Park, Liuwa Plains, Kafue National Park, Busanga Plains
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Departure Dates:

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Africa still has big-game landscapes that have yet to be documented and discovered. Zambia’s Liuwa Plain and Kafue National Parks have only just opened to tourists, and the experience is remarkable as you can explore a final frontier that was previously inaccessible. The wildlife is outstanding and ranges from famous predators to mass migrations, and wildlife reacts without fear of your presence. This 12-day itinerary is a unique chance to experience these new, almost secret destinations before

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Day 1

Livingstone – Arrival and Relaxing on the Water

Zambia’s final frontiers take you into the unknown, which can be a little daunting when you have only just arrived after a long international flight. Livingstone is the country’s tourism hub, a quaint town a few miles from Victoria Falls. Touch down, and you will be smoothly transferred to a luxury lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River. The lodge is calm and charming, and you can pass a lazy afternoon of watching the water and recuperating from your journey. Spend your first evening on a sunset cruise and enjoy fine dining as elephants and hippos start to appear along the banks. As you are ready, you can drift off to the sounds of nature at your spacious riverfront suite.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Transfer

included

Tour

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Day 2

Livingstone – Victoria Falls and Leisurely Day Before the Intrepid Adventure

You will be close enough to see the rising cloud of spray emitted by Victoria Falls, the legendary spectacle just a few miles downriver. Transfers to the falls are included in your stay, and there is a self-guided walking trail that runs parallel to the mile-wide sheet of falling water. Cross a narrow bridge to the river’s cataracts and explore the different viewpoints, and then run beneath the cloud of spray that emerges from the chasm. This whole day is left free and is intended to ensure that you are fully rested before your safari starts tomorrow. Optional activities include boat and kayak excursions on the Zambezi, as well as sightseeing flights over the falls.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 3

Liuwa Plain National Park – Undocumented Wildlife Migrations on Unexplored Grasslands

Flights to Liuwa Plain only leave twice a week, but it is this new aerial addition that has made Liuwa Plain an accessible destination, along with the establishment of two luxury camps. To put the isolation into perspective, Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area receives over half a million visitors a year. Liuwa Plain only gets two 16-seater planes of visitors a week. Touch down, and the wildebeest are there to greet you, tens of thousands of them marauding over the grasslands. Magnificent tsessebe join them in impressive numbers, making similar journeys around the plains. Biologists are only just coming to understand their movements and the next five days bring you centerstage at one of Africa’s largest yet unknown migrations.

From January to April, the Liuwa Plains are covered in water with huge herds of ungulates congregating in the park’s southern pans. Safari during these months is challenging, with the camps only accessible by walking and canoeing from the airstrip.  It is a series of challenging adventures, but you may be the only visitors in the park. From May to July, the herds follow the receding water northwards, wildebeest joined by zebra and tsessebe, while red lechwe and eland stick to the southern pans. Slowly the herds drift into the northern woodland and savannah, accessing fresh pastures. This is a spectacular time to visit and surround yourself with galloping herds.

Rather than return on mass, the herds start marching southwards from August to October, preceding the rains. By the last two months of the year, the Liuwa Plain is packed with animals again. November and December are generally considered the best time to visit, a mix of staggering animal densities and accessible four-wheel drive trails. However, May to October remains a great time to explore, as the rescinding water makes for tense scenes at the waterholes. Arrive by flight today, and you will check into a newly build luxury camp before spending the afternoon to explore the Liuwa Plain for the first time. Like every game drive over these five days, it will be a journey into the unknown.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Transfer

included

Flight

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 4 - 7

Liuwa Plain National Park – Spectacular Big-Game Safari in Zambia’s Remote Frontier

Lions have been roaring through the night, so as dawn arrives, you will be looking for them from your private deck at the lodge. The lions blend expertly into the golden grasslands, flowing manes camouflaged with ease. You will find one large male, who immediately rears up and bellows his disapproval at your presence. A mile away you will find the victor of last night’s battle, a giant cat mating with an elegant female. He is also unsure of your presence, and after his rippling growl, he charges the safari vehicle. The driver quickly gets you away from the scene and all is safe, but it is an early indication of how aggressive the lions are in Liuwa Plain National Park. They are not posing for photos, rather they are confirming that they remain the apex mammals.

Out on the plains you will soon find a pack of wild dogs. There will be almost 20 of them, fanning out around a herd of oribi. The antelopes huddle together, then scatter, unsure of which way to turn. One is separated, and the chase begins, the young oribi quicker, the wild dogs seeking to keep their prey in sight at this early stage of the hunt. You will follow along in your vehicle, bumping across the plains, admiring how the dogs run complementary routes, forcing the antelope along a single path. For several minutes the oribi seems safe, but the wild dogs have incredible stamina and the longer the chase continues, the greater their chance to kill.

Over the next four days you will also encounter dozens of hyenas, animals that quickly challenge their stereotypes. Hyenas hunt most of their food, rather than scavenge, and these open plains are a great place to see them prowling for smaller antelopes. Cheetah and leopard complete the picture of predators. These two animals are both harder to find, the glowing gold tones of the grassland making a stealthy hunter even more hidden. However, this is not just a one or two-day safari. Nearly a week will allow you to explore all of the park’s corners and follow the stories as they unfold. For example, watch lions hunt unsuccessfully one evening, but then return the next morning and watch them continue their search.

There are many delights to find here. Zebra joins the wildebeest in making huge herds, red lechwe congregates in the open, while eland and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest reveal a shyness that betrays their size. Reedbuck and roan antelope make for impressive photos while sitatunga hide in the waters on the edge of the park. Best of all, all this wildlife reacts naturally to your presence. Return their looks of curiosity, see their brief moments of indecision, decipher the glimmer in their eyes. These animals are not used to seeing people or vehicles, making the encounters different to those in Africa’s more famous parks. The five-day program of game drives responds to what is happening in the park and guides have full flexibility over where to go. Your modern camp then provides tranquility after a day of adventure.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 8

Kafue National Park – Discovering the Unique Busanga Plains

Kafue is bigger than dozens of countries as it stretches out across the remote center of Zambia, disconnected from towns and cities. Kafue has been a national park since 1924 and remains one of the largest in Africa. However, tourism has never completely taken off here. The inaccessibility of it all does not help, and unless you have many days to spare, flying is the only way in. Furthermore, Zambia has only started to receive the safari recognition it deserves. Most safaris are based on the country’s three flagships, South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Victoria Falls, so this enormous park hardly receives any visitors.

Touch down and begin your game drive on the Busanga Plains, where blankets of fresh grass are dotted with enclaves of wild date palms and sausage trees. Miombo and mopane woodland dot the outskirts of the nearby Busanga Swamp, bringing elephants to your safari for the first time. Such a diverse range of vegetation supports a massive cast of antelopes. Huge red lechwe and puku herds provide first impressions, kudu and eland are scattered everywhere, while bushbuck and reedbuck are regular visitors to your luxury camp. Duiker, grysbok, waterbuck and wildebeest about, and there are plenty for the cats to choose from. And over the next three days, the intense scenes between predators and prey will continue.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Flight

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 9

Kafue National Park – Unique Encounters in Miombo and Mopane Woodland

You will be in the north of Kafue and begin to uncover the secrets of the game-rich swampland, woodland, and floodplains. An elephant herd marauds past, seemingly in a hurry as two lionesses emerge from the bushes, scattering a puku herd. Your expert guide will eventually find one of Kafue’s elusive leopards hiding deep beneath the mopane canopy. Today is flexible in Kafue, and you will have the chance to combine game drives with walking safaris for a great way to appreciate the behavior of the park’s many antelopes. You will be walking in the land of giants, passing elephants and buffalo among others. After six days of somewhat rugged game drives, this option will help to keep the experience fresh and reveal a new angle.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 10

Kafue National Park – Full-Day Drive Across the Wilderness

Hiding in the grass, you will spot a cheetah alongside her two young cubs, both rather playful and curious. Spots blur into the golden hues of the plains as the three start to move for an early hunting lesson, the cubs staying close with their mother, learning how to move slowly and quietly. The cubs are not the best of pupils, and they get a stern stare after play-fighting for too long. Kafue is a fabulous place to spot cheetahs as it is one of few African parks where the majority of the antelopes are part of their diet. Smaller lechwe and puku are easy targets for cheetah, but buffalo and zebra are much too large.

Your Kafue safari will culminate with a drive into the central and southern part of the park, where the wildlife density decreases but the sense of surprise is elevated. It is highly unlikely that you will see another person or vehicle, and the wilderness is quick to impose its scale. The landscape rolls on and on, and you will begin to appreciate its scale. Elephants dot your journey, eclectic antelopes greet you along the trail, and you will continue to meet predators on the way. Spend the night in a new camp in the heart of the park, and listen to the hyenas call through the night.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 11

Kafue National Park to Livingstone – Final Safari Experiences and Returning to Livingstone

A final game drive will give you a last chance to be humbled by the scale of the wilderness. An elephant bull lopes past, melancholy and majestic while a buffalo harem brings moments of charm. Zebra seems to line up along the horizon, and your guide will follow trails that lead to the Kafue airstrip, from which it is a short flight back to Livingstone. Touch down and spend your afternoon relaxing at the lodge as you return to a world of swimming pools and internet access. Your sunset cruise will ensure that you remain connected to nature while enjoying the modern comforts. After eight days in the remote bush, this last afternoon will help you to prepare for your journey home.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Flight

included

Transfer

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

expand/close

Day 12

Livingstone – Departure

Fly out of Livingstone International Airport and your mind will wander back to your journey into Zambia’s final frontier. Perhaps two decades from now, you will be seeing these parks on a wildlife documentary and remember what it was like to explore destinations when they were yet to be celebrated.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Breakfast

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Trip Highlights

  • Discover two destinations that have only recently become readily accessible to tourism, where the wildlife reacts inquisitively to your presence
  • Disappear into the far west of Zambia and the remarkable Liuwa Plain National Park, a resplendent grassland filled with undocumented migrations and intense predatory scenes
  • Experience the big-game enormity of Kafue National Park, a thrilling expanse of woodland and swamp that is making for some of Africa’s most intimate encounters
  • Watch huge herds roam across the grasslands with many thousands of wildebeest and tsessebe among those that are tracked by hyenas
  • Find some of Africa’s most unique predator encounters, with all the famous cats overly represented in both parks
  • Enjoy some downtime before and after the safari with a stay in Livingstone, on the banks of the Zambezi River, just upriver from Victoria Falls
  • Fully appreciate the subtleties of the wilderness and uncover the habitats of rare and endangered mammals, along with exotic birds yet to be recorded
  • Spend nine full days on big-game safari, with light aircraft the only means of accessing the two national parks
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Detailed Description

Even after a century of organized safari in Africa, there are still big-game areas that have yet to be documented and fully explored. Zambia has two of these magnificent landscapes that can dwarf many countries and are cut off from the world through a lack of roads and infrastructure. Wildlife and the wilderness have always been exceptionally preserved here, partially because they are areas that colonial explorers never knew about. Local tribes have lived in harmony and have protected the wild from change. It could be cliché to call these destinations Africa’s best-kept secret because they have not been a secret in recent years, they have just been almost impossible to get to. That has recently changed, and a handful of weekly visitors are discovering the truly untouched world of Liuwa Plain and Kafue National Parks.

This 12-day safari is a journey into the unknown as these parks are not yet fully understood by biologists and have not yet been documented by filmmakers. Devoting time is essential as the Liuwa Plain safaris require a minimum of four nights, while Kafue deserves something similar due to its size. Flying is the only realistic way of reaching the parks unless you are interested in torturous multi-day journeys by dirt road and boat. These truly are lost worlds, and the experience evokes the atmosphere of old-world explorers. It is highly likely that 20 years from now they will be firmly established on Africa’s safari circuit; after all, the world had not even heard of the Serengeti or Ngorongoro three decades ago.

Do not think that the complete lack of visitors is due to a lack of wildlife. Tens of thousands of antelope migrate around the Liuwa Plain, wildebeest are joined by tsessebe, buffalo, red lechwe, eland, zebra, oribi, sitatunga, roan antelope and more. The predators are abundant and aggressive (the main reason you can only explore on game drives), with lions that blend into the golden grass, abnormally large packs of wild dogs, hyenas and leopards. It makes for a five-day safari of heightened drama and intense encounters, with wildlife that has rarely seen people or vehicles before. Safari here can be as good as it gets anywhere on the continent.

Kafue National Park is a little more established on the Zambian safari trail. Bigger than many countries, the park remains massively under visited and it is highly unlikely that you will see another tourist. Start your Kafue safari in the north and explore the Busanga floodplain and swamp area, home to specialist animals and famous giants, with elephants that grace your safari for the first time (the absence of elephants and rhinos from Liuwa, and consequently poachers, is another key to its conservation success). Then drive south and into a landscape that is all about surprising encounters on open plains. At the very start of this safari, you will have two days to relax in Livingstone, close to Victoria Falls. You then return here for a final night to recuperate before your homebound flight.

This safari is handcrafted for those who want to discover one of the world’s unique experiences with nature. It is not recommended for anyone looking for an easy big-five safari that encounters Africa’s most famous mammals. For this reason, Liuwa Plain and Kafue are sometimes favored by those who have been on African safari before. However, the astonishing wildlife theater means there is no reason that these parks should not be considered by intrepid first-timers. In the next few years, these parks may emerge as Africa’s hottest new destinations. Right now, there is just nobody else there. Consider browsing some reviews for Zambia safari to learn more as you dream of your own safari journey.

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Starting Price

$5395 per person (excluding international flights)

This trip is customizable for your private travel.
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What's Included

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.

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