When thinking about walking safaris, the two destinations that come to mind are Zambia and Zimbabwe. These are two lesser-known destinations that people look to when chasing the Big Five is less important than that authentic experience where you can explore the wilderness in different ways. Both destinations are great for this, as they don’t just offer walking – they also provide boating, canoeing, and night drives, as well as your standard game drives. However, it is their walking that’s a step above their neighbouring countries!
The best walking safari experience: Zimbabwe vs. Zambia
Here’s YZ expert James’s guide to walking safaris in Zimbabwe and Zambia, in which he compares the experiences, the lodges, and the level of safety in each safari destination.
Firstly, are walking safaris safe?
Walking in South Luangwa, Zambia
Walking in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
Walking in both destinations is perfectly safe. Unlike a lot of destinations, Zambia and Zimbabwe have set difficult exams for anyone hoping to become a walking guide, and this shows in the activity. It really does play a huge part, as there is more risk in walking than in a game drive, but the guides are trained in keeping everyone safe and respecting the animals. All guided walks also require the ranger or guide to have a high-calibre rifle, which is not always the case in some destinations. Obviously, the aim is not to get into a situation requiring use of a rifle, but it’s always better to be safe.
So, which destination is better for walking?
Having walked in both Zambia and Zimbabwe, I think it really depends on what you want, as the countries are surprisingly different in their approach to walking safaris.
Zambia tends to offer a slower pace of walking. There’s a lot less focus on the big game – it’s more about exploring the park and getting the opportunity to learn about the smaller things that you don’t experience in a vehicle. This can be tracking, looking at bones, or birding, etc. The aim is not to approach big game, but this does occasionally happen. In Zambia, it is the park ranger who’s in charge of the rifle, whereas the guide is in charge of leading the walk – so when you stop to talk about something, the guide can be explaining things while knowing that the ranger is on the look-out for any approaching game. I also found that the walks tend to be a dedicated activity. You set off as the sun comes up and get back to camp at around 10 in the morning. You cover a range of 3–6km, with no need of a vehicle for further exploring. My go-to camps for walking in Zambia would be Robin Pope’s mobile camps, Mwaleshi, and the new Mapazi Camp.
Zimbabwe does offer longer walks, but shorter walks are more usual, following tracks to get close to big game. Multiple times we’d be driving along, and the guide would spot lion tracks on the road. He’d pick up his rifle and off we’d go in search for that animal. So it felt more purposeful than walking in Zambia, where you tend to see what you see. The experience in Zimbabwe is incredible if you want close encounters, and the professional guides have gone through some of the hardest exams to get to this stage. In this country, the guide is in charge of the rifle and you don’t walk with a ranger. I personally found this often meant that less information was passed on during the walk, as there was more for the guides to look out for, but they do pass this on later. It’s worth noting that Mana Pools is the stand-out game-viewing area for walking in Zimbabwe. For years there has been a big focus on walking here, and this means the game is a lot more relaxed with walkers – you can get closer to lion, elephant, and wild dog, etc. My favourite camps in Zimbabwe for walking are Hwange Bush Camp (including a couple of days’ fly camping), Vundu Camp, and John’s Camp.
So, to sum up, there is no real answer to which destination is better for walking – it’s more about what interests you. I think that a combination of Zambia and Zimbabwe is quite hard to beat, with the Luangwa and Mana Pools being my favourite parks for walking. Spending four nights in each park with a couple of nights in Victoria Falls to link up the two is as good as it gets!
Why not take a look below at James’s favourite lodges for walking in Zambia and Zimbabwe? If you see anything that interests you, by all means contact us to start planning your safari to Africa.