Ask any international tourist if they know where Zambia is and most will answer ‘its in South Africa isnt it?’. Zambia one of the least known African countries and still remains a bit of a mystery to most travelers, only really recognized for having Victoria Falls on its border with Zimbabwe. Its such a pity as those who do know it know its one of the safest countries in Africa and it was recently voted to have the most friendly people on the continent.
How many people can say they have really explored the north of Zambia? Its exciting, authentic, off the beaten track and perfect for those looking for safe self driving safari destination with a difference.
Its a place of rich culture, kind people, majestic little known waterfalls, wondrous parks where you will probably be the only travelers and the rare pleasure of viewing the expanse of the longest lake in the world, Lake Tanganyika in the Rift Valley.
Does this not excite you to go out there and see what Northern Zambia has to offer? Pack up your car and camping gear and come along on a inspirational journey with us.
Our Proposed Route:
Firstly I do recommend that to get the most out of this experience that you buy one book to take as a fun and insightful read for the journey, ‘The Africa House’. If you enjoy historical novels, then this book about Stuart Gore Brown and how Shiwa Ngandu estates came to be is for you. I am not usually a fan of this genre but once I started I couldn’t put it down. Its a very interesting and sordid tale of passion, adventure, determination and love and once you have read it, the house tour (Day 12 from Kapiysha Hotsprings) will means so much more. It really is an amazing site to see and will immerse you in Zambia’s colonial history throughout this journey.
Lusaka > Kasanka National Park: Day 1 – Day 3
To do this journey its advised that you use a 4X4 vehicle and also pack your camping gear and some basic supplies. Of course the road conditions and the sights will vary as to the time of year you visit so make inquiries beforehand to make sure you get the most out of your adventure north.
Very importantly – switch off your phone. Its time to look out the windows and not down at a screen, feel the spirit of adventure and really see Zambia passing you by. Wave at the smiling kids and stop and buy that BBQ mealie (corn) from the mama by the roadside, my personal favorite seasonal snack which costs only around 50 cents. There is so much to see and experience if we are just open to it.
As you drive farther away from town, hitting the Great North Road, the traffic will start thinning as well as the number of people. Already you can feel you are heading out into the wilderness. The villages become smaller and the houses more intricately hand-painted and you will find that everyone will greet you with a smile. That is what truly makes Zambia so special, the people. Its very safe to travel, even to the furthest corners, and if by chance you do break down there is always someone willing to help you just for the sake of kindness and maybe a kwacha or two.
Our first stop is Kasanka National Park. From Lusaka it will take about 7 hours to reach there, all on good tar road. You can stop to fuel up at Serenje as you pass through as there are no more fuel stops until Mansa.
At roughly 390 km², Kasanka is one of Zambia’s smallest national parks. Kasanka was the first of Zambia’s national parks to be privately managed.
When you arrive at Kasanka, there are a few different options you can choose; either drive out to one of the Campsites and pitch your tent ($20pp/pn), or stay at the conservation center in modest chalets with basic amenities. The Pontoon sites are lovely andare based on the water ,these are the most popular campsites mainly due to their stunning location in an evergreen forest overlooking a swamp clearing favoured by hippos, sitatunga. Also they have close proximity to the Bat Forest and Fibwe Hide.
You could spend a night or two here then move over to the Kabwe campsite for a change of scenery and game viewing. Quiet and with a beautiful setting overlooking a lovely grassland. Located midway between the Bat Forest and Bufumu Forest allows for a complete mix of wildlife and birding experiences. You may see Buffalo and the possible Elephant there if you are lucky.
Bafumu campsite is supposedly nearby to a scared chieftain burial ground. Its a remote campsite near the “Tall Tree.” Includes a fantastic 14 m tall “Canopy Tower” which overlooks the Mateshe, and with great view of “the Big Tree”. The birding from here is amazing, all at or below eye-level!
If you would prefer a guided camping tour, Kasanka also offers 2 – 3 night explorations by foot including camping and meals for around $150pp/pn. This is probably the best way to get the most out of your Kasanka experience.
Between October and December each year, about 10 million straw coloured fruit bats descend into a tiny patch of evergreen swamp forest inside Kasanka National Park, Northern Zambia. This natural phenomenon, unique only to Kasanka lends itself to some truly astonishing birdlife sightings set against a backdrop of incredible scenic surrounds and dramatic skies.
See a video on it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKlDkfUECfE
Find out more info on Kasanka here: http://kasankanationalpark.com/
Kasanka > Samfya – Day 4
It only takes about 3.5 hours to reach Samfya from Kasanka so its a nice easy drive and you can spend the afternoon and 1 night there to see the sights.
Samfya is known for its perfectly white beaches on the western shores of Lake Bangwelu. Its a great stop off point to just relax and enjoy the scenery. It is not recommended you swim in the Lake due to crocodiles but a quick splash in the shallows is perfectly fine.
Samfya is a commercial and fishing centre, as well a centre for transport by boat to islands and other areas of the lake. Its hinterland includes farms and some timber plantations. The Kwanga Festival of the Ngumbo people is held in Samfya in October. The event is not only a thanksgiving event but also a victory celebration and re-dedication of traditions and culture.
Chita Lodge is the new accommodation on Samfya and the recommended place to stay. Since you will arrive there quite early, you can organise and afternoon cruise or fishing trip from reception to see the most of Lake Bangwelu and all it has to offer.
Find more on Chita Lodge here: http://www.chita.co.zm/samfya/
Samfya > via waterfalls > Lumungwe Falls – Day 5 – 6
Its suggested to leave quite early on this leg so you have the chance to see the different falls on the route. The driving side takes about 6 hours so plan accordingly.
You can opt to stop and camp at either Mumbwuluma Falls or Ntumbuchusi Falls on your way if you find them appealing.. and you will!
Mumbwuluma Falls is a small falls where you can go for a swim and camp if you like. Ntumbuchusi is particularly picturesque and a beautiful site and has a campsite attendant to help you with firewood. The falls is small and hidden beneath the canopy of trees but you can walk around to a more open swimming spot as well.
Note that the tar road ends nearby to Kawambwa (just over 4.5 hours of driving) and you will go onto dirt road from here to Lake Tanganyika. The condition of the road is easily passable but just takes time to go a bit more slowly.
It will take another approx 2 hours on dirt road to reach Lumungwe and Kabweluma Falls. The campsite is on the top lip of Lumungwe, aptly named ‘Little Victoria Falls’ and you can bath in a small rock pool on the precipice as the sun goes down. Probably one of the most hair-raising bathing experiences you will ever have, especially if its during the wet season when the water is high and thunders down onto the rocks below.
Right by Lumungwe is Kabweluma Falls which surrounds you in a near 360 degrees of silver waters.
You can easily spend the night at the Lumungwe site and the next day exploring Kabweluma Falls, take a picnic lunch and enjoy the sights and sounds of the waters rushing by. There is also a campsite attendant there to help you out. Do note that if you an international tourist that you will have to pay entry fees to stay at the site (around $15pp and also a vehicle entry fee) but it all goes to maintaining the site and keeping it from getting developed.
Lumungwe Falls > Lake Tanganyika / Nsumbu National Park – Day 7 – day 10.
As the drive can be long- around 7.5 hours, its suggested to leave early so you can arrive to the Lake with enough time for an afternoon dip in the cool fresh waters of Tanganyika. Its dirt road all the way so take your time and have a picnic lunch on the way. If you dont have long range tanks and want to fuel up on the way, you can pull into Mporokoso market. Fuel is available from hand pumped drums and at a decent price. You can also source fuel from Ndole Bay Lodge on arrival or Nsumbu Market (also in drums).
There are a couple of gates along the way; the last being Mutundo Gate (a DPNW checkpoint, everything on your right from here on to Nsumbu is GMA and National Park so you may see the odd animal on the way) you have only 1.5 hours left to go.
You will know once you are just about there when you reach the top of the Nsumbu Escarpment and look down onto the endless blue waters of Lake Tanganyika. It was the first view onto Tanganyika that inspired the quote from David Livingstone, “an area of unsurpassed beauty” when he first came across it on his travels. From the top you will see Nsumbu Township and Nsumbu Island, an old slaving island where the slavers would maroon their captives while they rested before the next move. Now its just a tiny uninhabited island covered in grass, hiding its bleak history from the world.
Once you drive down the hill, you turn left to Ndole Bay and as the road is very rocky it will take around 20mins to reach Ndole Bay Lodge.
As soon as you walk into the lodge you will see the sandy beach and the wooden deck over the waters which is the most photographed point of the lodge, a great little paradise to stop and enjoy what Tanganyika has to offer.
Here you can either camp at their beach campsite or choose to stay in a chalet; rooms range from budget to deluxe beachfront. You will notice many hand made touches made from local materials that make you see that the place is special to the owners.
More info here: http://www.ndolebaylodge.com
Do yourself a favour and wake up early every morning. The lodge overlooks the lake and the sun rises perfectly above it, nestled in the most wondrous golden and pink skies you have ever seen. Its a moment you feel thrilled to be alive.
If you have really planned well, be here on the night of the full moon. It rises slowly in the evening and looks much larger than normal, hung perfectly over the Lake in front of you. Its so bright that you done even need a torch to walk around. The lodge normally organizes a Beach BBQ that night and it is a must do if you get the chance.
Suggested itinerary of things to do:
Day 8 – Relax for the morning and swim / snorkel / kayak in the Lake by the deck to see the fish species – Cichlids- endemic to Tanganyika. Go on the Sunset Dhow Cruise (about 2 hours and $20pp) which travels north up the lake to see the pebble fishing villages of Munshi as the sun sets behind the mountains.
Day 9 – Go on a early morning Half Day Fishing Trip to catch your lunch (about $90pp + Park fees , also depending on boat size and fuel used). This takes you out on a small speedboat into Nsumbu National Park, Nuundo Head area. Here you can either bait fish, spin or troll depending on your preference. Catch an Nkupi or Tanganyika Perch or two, great fighting fish and even better eating!
Day 10– Morning snorkel excursion to Chimba Rocks (2 hours and $20pp) OR try SCUBA Diving then go on an afternoon Kala Bay Cruise and Walk into Nsumbu National Park – 4 hours or so (about $120pp), or if you have your own car and on a budget, self drive into the Park for the day to the old Kasaba Bay Lodge. To get there and back is a 4 hour journey so just take it slow and keep your eyes peeled for Puku, Bushbuck, Warthog, Duiker and Elephant along the way. Do note that in the wet season the grass is long and you may not see as much as you could from a boat.
The best thing about going into Nsumbu National Park is its pristine coastlines, abundant fish and animal life and the pure fact that you are probably the ONLY tourists in the park. Its quiet and serene with the waters stretching as far as the eye can see. It really is a natural wonder.
Lake Tanganyika > Chishimba Falls – Day 11
This drive has about 5 hours on dirt road until you reach Mporokoso, then you can cruise along on perfect new tar road for another 1.5 hours to reach Chishimba Falls on your right. Its just a nice stopover if you don’t feel like driving the whole way to the Hot springs in one day.
You will arrive mid afternoon with enough time to set up your camp and then go for a walk to the bottom of the falls for an exhilarating wash under the dams falling water. Its slippery so take care!
Its a hydro- electric plant so you will see the dam walls and water wells around the site. There are little camp spots and BBQs so you can set up for the night, there is also an attendant to help with firewood. Expect to pay the same fees as for Lumungwe and the other falls.
Chishimba Falls > Kapishya Hot Springs – Day 12
From Chishimba to Kapishya Hot Springs only takes around 2 hours to leave early and get in so you can book into a Shiwa House Tour that afternoon if possible (this must be booked prior to arrival). The house is a beautifully preserved National Monument and once you have read the book, ‘The Africa House’, it will take on so much more meaning and depth as you know what it took for it to be built and for the estate to survive until this very day, still run by Stuart Gore Brown’s direct descendants.
You can either camp or book into one of the wooden chalets right on the river, both are great options. The food there is also amazing.
More info here: http://www.shiwasafaris.com/kapishya.html
That evening you can get a bottle of wine and go for a dip in the bath temperature hot springs. Its soothing to the soul and joints after a long journey so far. A great refresher for the day ahead.
Since the next days journey is not very long (3 hours) you could also book into the Day Spa here for a massage by a locally trained masseuse. Its located right over the water and a great way to loosen up before heading out.
Kapiysha Hot Springs > Mutinondo Wilderness Lodge – Day 13
Its only a 30 min drive on dirt road to reach the Great North Road again to start the trip homewards then another 3 hours on good tar road to reach the Mutinondo Wilderness turnoff.
A remote and unspoiled wilderness unlike any other privately owned and run on eco-friendly lines to conserve the area for future Zambian and world generations. With 70 Km of tract and trails to hike, mountain bike or walk and explore the amazing biodiversity which includes over 100 orchid species, and a further 14390 species of plants. Enjoy the peace and tranquility, breath-taking views, read a good book and relax away from the crowded pressures of everyday life.
There is a campsite as well as rooms here but I do suggest the rooms as you can truly appreciate the bizarre and wonderful landscape that makes it so unique. The landscape is dotted with semi circular rock hills. Almost resembling a moonscape. I would suggest an extra day here if time permits as they have plenty of walking trails to explore.
The rooms have solar lights and are built into the natural landscape and completely open with mosquito nets over the beds. When you wake up in mornings, the baboons bark in alarm from the nearby rocky outcrops.
More info here: https://www.mutinondozambia.com
As you will arrive by lunchtime, its suggested to spend the afternoon either swimming in the river, kayaking or exploring a walking trail.
Mutinondo Wilderness > Lusaka – Day 14
Its the sad day when its time to head home. From here its around 8.5 hours driving on good tar road back to Lusaka.
Overview of the journey
This trip shows the true variation of landscapes that Zambia has to offer. The smiling children, breath-taking beauty, expanses of water and serenity of being the only one in a National Park will stay with you for time to come.
It feels like you have embarked on a huge adventure, with time to reflect and do some soul searching of your own and really think about what is important in life. Its a trip that will not be forgotten. Take the time and see the friendly Northern Zambia, you will not regret it.
If you have any extra time and its the right time of year, North Luangwa Park is a little visited gem that is worth a look. You can self drive in and stay at either a community campsite of book into Buffalo Camp.
This is run by Mark at Kapishya Hotsprings and you can travel direct from there, or leave your car and get a transfer. They operate amazing walking safaris and its based on the Mwaleshi River banks. Accommodation there costs from $185pp/pn.
More info here: http://www.shiwasafaris.com/buffalo-camp.html