The Zambezi River evokes images of a truly African watercourse, muddy brown, snaking and mysterious, it is the place of respite for thousands of thirsty animals. At Victoria Falls, it plunges over one of the world’s greatest waterfalls, then ebbs into the vast Lake Kariba before entering its most tranquil phase.
From Kariba through to the Mozambique border this great river passes through Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park home to one of the most remote and best preserved wildlife areas – a safari-purist’s dream destination.
Two of our best-loved camps in the Lower Zambezi are the award-winning Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro Camp which offer visitors a truly authentic safari experience. Both camps are accessible only in the dry season (April to October), and are simply built to be cleverly dismantled before the rains begin. The camps close during the rainy season which is from the beginning of November to the beginning of April. One or two only open in May… it all depends on the weather!
On such a magnificent river, the game viewing and bird watching opportunities are frequent, and you can take your pick from a wide range of activities such as canoeing, boating, walking safaris or game drives during the night or day.
Seeing lots of elephants is a daily occurrence, while hippos, warthogs and waterbuck are also abundant. Perhaps the most elusive sight is that of a tiger. Not the big cat variety, but the tenacious Tigerfish that is endemic to these waters and jumps from the water during fight, exposing its sharp teeth! Tiger fishing in the Lower Zambezi River is on a catch-and-release basis.
Of the two family-run camps, Chiawa Camp is the more luxurious and perfect for those seeking a first class safari experience. Set on the banks of the Zambezi River, it features nine exclusive thatched bungalows – including a secluded honeymoon suite – that are set amongst the shade of large mahogany trees (Africa’s version of ebony trees). It is also the only camp in Africa to offer night game drives equipped with state-of-the art equipment using red filtered lights to find wildlife for non-intrusive night time viewing and photography.
The upper deck of the main gazebo offers visitors a commanding view of this mesmerizing river and is the ideal viewing point from which to spot large numbers of wildlife and unwind with an ice-cold beverage. One of our favorite touches is that the honeymoon suite features its own private platform, 20m up. What could be more romantic?
Old Mondoro, which also lies on the banks of the Zambezi River, is the smaller sister-camp that prides itself on a strong conservation and ethos record. Much more rustic, but with that certain African charm, it is none-the-less an equally comfortable experience and affords visitors an intimate, relaxed family atmosphere. It is the perfect location for visiting families as it offers the option of a family two-bedroom-two-bathroom chalet. Hippos eye you suspiciously from the cooling waters and this camp is well-known in the region, for its frequent leopard sightings.
The Lower Zambezi is a conservation success story and the fact that there are very few safari outfitters operating in the region makes for an exclusive safari experience i.e. no other tourists around! The Cummings Family who own Chiawa and Old Mondoro are deeply involved in local community and wildlife preservation initiatives here.
Both camps are renowned for their exceptional guides and game-viewing activities and boast hides. In addition to game viewing (by boat, 4×4 vehicle or on foot), fishing is a popular activity, and many a visitor is lured to these parts to catch their own bream for dinner, or trawl for that fierce Tigerfish. Canoeing amongst the islands or a sunset cruise to watch one of Africa’s spectacular sunsets is also high on the wish-list for most visitors.
Both Chiawa and Mondoro feature the luxury of constant hot water, electricity and international electrical sockets, which come in very handy for the international jet-setter. The cuisine is also outstanding, and at both camps you will find inspired menus using only the freshest ingredients in a spectacular setting.
Chiawa itself has a host of accolades, including best safari property and best guiding team at the Safari Awards and is noted as one of Africa’s top camps for tiger fishing and lion sightings. Old Mondoro prides itself on being super-intimate, with just 8 beds. The park itself is a birding paradise, so expect to see prolific birdlife all around you.
What makes the Lower Zambezi such a magical destination is its pristine riverfront location, the wide range of activities on offer besides game viewing, the variety of wildlife and exceptional birdlife, and the fact that it is so remote and sparsely populated. The Lower Zambezi is rated by safari purists and perfect if you have already been on safari in South Africa, to the Sabi Sands for example, and now want a more remote, authentic wilderness experience.