DELIGHTFUL ZAMBIA WOOING VISITORS
We want to start by saying, we’re all doing our best, hey? The information provided in our Trip Reports is as detailed as possible (maybe too much sometimes) with what we are able to gather from research, interviews, and personal experience at the time. Updates and changes, or quite honestly, misinterpretation of loose terminology from official government documents (“from travel” vs “from arrival” … quite a different if you’re coming from the USA with long-ish layovers), is possible after publication, but never intended. Please check with the Trans Africa Safaris team in case anything has changed as Covid (pre, present, and eventually post) is very much a continual unravelling and rebuilding as we’ve all seen. This Trip Report was published on October 5, 2020 and based upon two weeks in Zambia in late September. Thanks!
And with that, we hope you enjoy Brooke’s in-depth Trip Report and all the photos and videos Johann took! Thanks for taking the time to join us on our journey(s) and to find out more about how to best get your guests to Africa NOW and long into the future. We are currently in Uganda for the next two weeks, so please follow our adventure and share as you would like to if you are as interested in The Pearl of Africa as we are.
Brooke and I will be leading a detailed discussion of the logistics of our visit to Zambia and Uganda at 10a Mountain Time on October 22nd. Register HERE. Andre Botha and Jennifer Paterson from Trans Africa Safaris will join. Brooke will also highlight her recent visit to Kenya and can answer questions about the technicalities of visiting East Africa NOW!
Johann & Brooke
|EVERYONE FALLS FOR ZAMBIA|
Johann and I went into our two-week Zambia trip with a bit of pandemic-preparedness as I had just returned from two weeks in Kenya (Trip Report here), my first adventure to Africa post C-19 protocols had been put in place, and so much of the uncertainty was already minimized. Plus, Zambia outlined the detailed steps for tourists to enter so we felt confident that all would go smoothly, and it did. I love this quote from Johann: “Your lodge experience is 98% and your safari experience is 200%. You have to wash your hands more at camp, but you are often the only person on safari”
THE PRIVILEGE OF PRIVACY
It is quite a privilege to have some of Africa’s most popular parks all to oneself. In other years, visitors would see countless other game vehicles packed with people. This year, in exploring three national parks, we didn’t see another vehicle during our time in Kafue, only a few and with a couple or family each in South Luangwa, and no one else in Lower Zambezi. This is by far the BEST year to get to Zambia and there are still two months of epic animal viewing and awesome activity that travelers can take advantage of. For the past decade, Sausage Tree Camp has been guaranteeing private vehicles, and they continue to do so for all bookings there and at Potato Bush Camp. In addition, almost all other camps, and definitely the ones we visited, are limiting the number of guests per vehicle to ensure distance, however if you go NOW the likelihood that you get a private vehicle anyway is very high. Regardless, in any year, requesting to book the new photographic vehicle at Mfuwe Lodge means you’ll be getting a private vehicle and one totally kitted out for photographers.
Zambia requires a negative PCR Covid-19 test within 14 days of arrival, which is much more generous than other countries requiring 48, 72, and 96 hour results before arrival. With every new trip to Africa I realize another detail, in this case, for any traveler coming from a country where English isn’t the official language, as it is in Zambia, ensure your results are in English (Zambia isn’t restricting access based upon country of origin so citizens the world around can come for safari and more).
If you are uncertain that you can get your test in English, even with an accompanying doctors letter, we would suggest getting your visa ahead of time within your country of residence; otherwise a visa upon arrival is seamless (though as we were some of the first international visitors to Zambia, when we checked in for our flight in Washington DC, the Ethiopian crew had yet to receive notice that a visa upon arrival was possible and we spent time calling our Zambian Ground Handlers team and looking through PDFs while the gate agent contacted her supervisor … a bit of a stress point five minutes before boarding, but an issue we believe to already be resolved for current travelers.
Since currently VIP Meet & Greets aren’t permissible, we walked off the plane and across to the terminal, stood in the queue to hand in the health declaration form we filled out on the flight, show our Covid-negative paperwork, get our temperature taken, and then walked to the appropriate visa line to hand over USD$50 and be welcomed to Zambia! While waiting for luggage, Johann went to get a trolley and they have both personal hand sanitizer stations around the airport, and disinfectant wipes so you can clean your trolley handle as well. Social distancing wasn’t strictly adhered to though there are floor markings, but masks were worn and everyone seemed very much at ease.
As there is now a lot more first-hand coverage about the long-haul flight experience, including that which I covered in my Trip Report from Kenya in August, I won’t say too much here, except for a few new tips I figured out on this trip, and to reiterate that I feel completely safe flying internationally these days. Our outbound flight routing was UA DEN-IAD, ET IAD-ADD / ADD-LUN, and here are my thoughts on how to make the flying experience the best it can be:
- If you’re going to fly on Ethiopian, check THEIR specific holidays as their calendar is totally different and we ended up flying on their New Year, which is why on this one day the flight was 80% full (100% in Biz); the day before they said there were only 80 passengers total.
- They don’t give out sanitizing wipes so bring your own for your seat/section.
- If you’re nervous about taking your mask off to eat, order a special meal no matter what as I received and finished my GF meal before anyone in my section even received theirs.
Choose an aisle so you can easily stand as much as you want while listening to your audio book or podcast (via Spotify I downloaded the “Smart Asspirations with Justin Huff” podcast as he has interviewed a number of remarkable conservationists in Africa and beyond, including my partners at Cottar’s – Calvin Cottar, Tswalu Kalahari – Wendy Panainao, TransAfrica – Alberto Nicheli, and many others I’m sure you know and love).
ProFlight Zambia was running a limited domestic schedule while we were in country, however it is under constant review and will continue to pick up as more travelers visit. Because when we were there they were flying twice per week to both Mfuwe and Livingston (but again, increasing frequency as demand increases), we planned our itinerary to flow with the scheduled flights. Keep in mind, their sister entity, ProCharter, has a robust business as well so for the right guests, they have endless options to get around the country whenever they would like. ProCharter is also the official operator of the plane that belongs to Sausage Tree & Potato Bush, which they are using specifically for their Stay Four Nights Fly Free special.
We met with the Director of Operations of ProFlight Zambia to hear more about all of their safety and hygiene protocols … watch the video below to hear from him yourself as well!
All the airports in Zambia that we flew through were on top of their game; our temperature was taken before entering, there were hand sanitizing stations everywhere as were distancing markers on the floors and signage throughout reminding passengers to maintain space. We were asked to fill out forms stating we were well and where we came from/were going to. Forms, forms, forms … THAT’s the new norm so bring your own pen to avoid touching more than necessary.
Similar to scheduled carriers in Kenya, ProFlight is not limiting the number of passengers on the flights as it simply isn’t economically viable to do so. Both of our flights were on a 29-seater Jetstream 41. Our flight from Lusaka to Livingstone had 9 passengers onboard and our flight from Lusaka to Mfuwe had 24, as this was the Friday flight and many families were getting away for the weekend, which was actually quite a delight to see. All passengers sanitize their hands before boarding, and everyone is required to wear masks; they gave out water so that was the one time I saw people remove them.
LIVING LARGE IN LUSAKA
While in the city, all road transfers are in comfortable, clean, private vehicles. Respectfully, Lusaka is my favorite small, sleepy African city; there isn’t a lot of traffic compared to Accra, Dar, Jozi or others; the majority of must-see-must-dos are closely situated, especially from our preferred hotel, Latitude15; and the people are exceptionally warm, welcoming, and wonderful (meeting locals is a must!). Literally a contemporary art gallery/museum masquerading as a hotel and totally pulling it off with great food, chic setting, and sincere hospitality. It is the perfect spot to spend a night upon arrival, if an overnight is needed in the middle of an itinerary, or more over, at the end for anyone needing to say a day or two for a departure Covid test. The green space and pool outside are a pleasant setting to settle in and download photos and upload social; and, overnight guests get complimentary access to The Works, their version of a WeWork space, with a private pool/bar/dining areas, offices (we hosted a webinar from one), and more. They have a blissful spa (I had two massages!), gym (Johann was happy to get a work-out in), and restaurant (though we also had room service for our late departure day). And if you’re staying a few nights, you can choose one of the seriously spacious suites, complete with separate sitting area, dining table, and kitchen. While you might not want to leave (who would!) there are of course many fun things to do in Lusaka!
As we stayed in Lusaka longer, we ate out (literally outside) a few times, and enjoyed the casual atmosphere of Cantina and Zambean, and the cafes at 37D, Lechwe Trust, and Lusaka Collective. There are also two golf clubs that rent clubs for people wanting to play a round, both of which have nice restaurants, and the newest one, the Bonanza Golf Club, is also just about to open a Protea Hotel onsite, which will be the closest to the airport for anyone wanting to really just stay as put as possible.
While in country, we saw a detailed release on Covid statistics in Zambia from the Ministry of Health. While we were there in late September, and in a country of nearly 18 million people, there have only been close to 14,000 total cases with only 326 deaths and a recovery rate of 90%. So while it was at first a surprise to see so few locals walking around without a mask, I started to understand why. When we went into shops (such as larger chain grocery or convenient outlets within malls), everyone had a mask on; in the smaller independently-run boutiques (Lusaka Collective, Mangishi Doll’s atelier, meetings at artist studios, wandering around 37D gallery and the Lechwe Trust Art Gallery), after a masked hello, we all agreed we were happier to remove them and carry on.
That said, for those who want to support a truly impactful conservation project, stay a night at the Lilayi Lodge and Elephant Nursery, about 45 minutes away from the city center. While it didn’t get the PR recognition it should have, this is where most of the crew stayed when filming “Holiday in the Wild” with Kristin Davis and Rob Lowe as the Lilayi Elephant Nursery was featured in the flick. But celebs aside, for instance, when the team at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Kenya was getting set up, they worked with the Game Rangers International team at Lilayi to learn from their expertise and get a head start on success. The team here is doing incredible rescue, rehabilitation, research, and release work on elephants who have been harmed due mostly to human-wildlife conflicts. They take a different approach however to, say, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, and while they have met with that team too, are going about a long-term study to see if it is better to release elephants who have had as little interaction with humans as possible, so visitors here don’t feed or touch the ellies themselves, but get a wonderful presentation from the team while in the viewing platform where they can spend a few hours watching the ellies from above as they get their lunch and play about. However, with enough forward planning, it is possible to book a private “behind the scenes tour” where you can then help to make the milk formula and more. I’ll also say, for those seriously invested in elephant conservation, we talked with Game Rangers International teams to brainstorm activities that guests can sponsor that are MUCH more hands on, including participating in a relocation or collaring … contact Johann if you are interested in pitching this to your clients who travel specifically to support more hands-on initiatives.
All of the hotels in town where tourists would want to tuck in are open so it is easy to overnight upon arrival and enjoy a few days before departure if another Covid test is needed depending on your air carrier or country of origin. And, if you do need a Covid test in Lusaka prior to departure, there is a fast-track Covid-testing center set up for leisure travelers in a private medical clinic overseen by the same organization that handles other infectious disease research in country. Johann and I were the first to try the system. It is seamless!! You use this link: https://cidrz.timetap.com, put in a few personal details, select the time you want, and you’re confirmed. We instantly got a calendar download and a follow up email as well (and subsequent text reminders). The entire registration took less than five minutes. It cost USD$150, which we were able to pay for with our credit card, and we got the results back within 22 hours (but they say between 24 and 48 and I would of course encourage planning for the longer to avoid any unnecessary stress). There are also continual announcements of properties in Livingstone that are connected with the necessary to get Covid tests turned around on property there, and there is work underway to set up the same in South Luangwa as we speak.
PROTECTION ON PROPERTY
We know that many travelers are concerned about what would happen if they or other guests get sick while traveling. First, just know that part of the protocols require that staff get temperature checks three times a day, more than guests, and that properties have been working with their teams to ensure THEY remain healthy and safe while still providing the same exceptional level of service to guests!
In Livingstone, there is a local hospital and doctor that guests can go to if needed, and then there will be a determination of how severe the case may be. The location of both Kafue and Lower Zambezi provide the ability for guests to be driven back to Lusaka (3 hours from Kafue; 4 hours from Lower Zambezi though just a 30-minute flight if possible) where one can be checked in to the main medical facilities and hospitals in the capital. In South Luangwa, there is a Safari Operators Medical Fund that both The Bushcamp Company and Time + Tide Chinzombo support, along with some other properties, and that fund ensures there is an experienced doctor in the area all the times, generally on a 3-6-month rotation. The primary focus is to service the local community clinic, but if the lodges that help fund the doctor need it for guests, it’s available and basically about 10 minutes away.
HOT, BUT NOT TOO HOT
Arrival and daily temperature checks are part of the protocols in place in Zambia, and every property we stayed at did them (though to be fair, some more frequently than others, which was just fine by us): Togabezi/Sindabezi, Mfuwe Lodge, Time + Tide Chinzombo, Green Safaris Ila Lodge, Sausage Tree Camp, and Latitude15. While our temperatures were never above concern (37.3), we did laugh a bit when our reading was higher than normal after our sunny mid-day boat ride to Sindabezi. When we landed in Lusaka, for instance, Brooke’s was 36.3 and varied just about a degree in either direction depending on the day, the time, the activity we just did … it’s reassuring on one side to see your temp multiple times a day, and also comically alarming when you see a temp nearing the cut-off point without actually being sick, but instead being sun-kissed.
In addition to our temperatures being taken, every property has signage up and stations for scrubbing your hands, staff are wearing masks and keeping a safe distance, and you see the constant cleaning happening without it being intrusive (the BEST signage we’ve seen so far is the artistically done ones at Latitude15, but then again, we would expect nothing less from this hip boutique hotel). Zambia put out a very detailed 28-page protocol guideline and you can see that people are abiding by it. In addition, while it is easier to naturally distance these days with fewer overall guests, properties are still ensuring space by lowering the maximum number of guests on any activity, for instance at Sindabezi and Livingstone Island, the smaller boats went from allowing six to four guests and the larger boats from eight to six, unless it is a family or group traveling together; similarly on safari, the typical vehicles at Mfuwe, Time + Tide Chinzombo and Ila Lodge are also carrying fewer guests, or seamlessly organizing different guests to be doing different activities to space them out another way. And again, Sausage Tree and Potato Bush always include private guiding and activities. No matter what, all vehicles and boats are being thoroughly sprayed down and sanitized between any guest activity.
And there are so many amazing activities that you can still do throughout Zambia. Besides safari, we had a fabulous few days around the Falls doing things like Livingstone Island/Devil’s Pool (and they are using a NEW private and exclusive launch site so you don’t have to go through another hotel to access the boat, so fewer people around), a microlight flight, a rhino walk (we spent time with mama, Inonge, and her babe, Jack … hehe, yep!), and more. In past years we’ve done rafting and actual visits to the Falls and markets. This time we also visited some of the creative complexes in Livingstone as well, including WayiWayi and WayaWaya.
We also visited creative complexes in South Luangwa, including Tribal Textiles and Mulberry Mongoose. At Mfuwe Lodge we enjoyed a private poolside couple’s massage (we also had massages at the Latitude15 spa and on Sindabezi Island). We visited some of the community projects The Bushcamp Company is sponsoring in the area, and were wowed with wonderful game drives from there and from Time + Tide Chinzombo. Since the last time we were here we went for a walk, this time we decided to spend more time driving around to see more of the pristine park. I will always marvel at how magnificent it is to be able to spend as much time as you want at a sighting without others around.
South Luangwa is famous for leopard, and once again, it delivered! It’s also known for the best Carmine Bee Eater hides and we were there at the beginning of the migration and spent time watching them up close. We also had some hilarious hippo sightings, and much more.
I’m always at my best on a boat … water makes me happy and inspired. My all-time favorite activity at Green Safaris Ila Lodge are the outings on the solar-powered e-boat. There were elephants, buffalo, and even a lioness on the riverbank, but above all open space and a magical sunset. It is incredible how much more magical the bird song is on a Silent Safari as well. Every chirp and tweet is amplified and almost echoes across the waters of the Kafue until you’re surrounded. It’s bliss!
I spent just as much time on (and in) the water at Sausage Tree on the Lower Zambezi. We took the boats out for cruises and fishing, canoed the Chif Channel on a three-hour sunset safari to see hippos and crocs, elephants and more … including a leopard on the bank! WOW!! And of course languished as long as possible after our River Lunch with toes in the water and a few dips in the shallower spots along the sandbank. Beyond that, we made good use of our private plunge pool (as we did at Time + Tide Chinzombo, too) and of the 25m lap pool at the main lounge.
Yes, I’m a bit biased, but I do have to say, cooling off with a dip while the elephants walk RIGHT IN FRONT to get to the river for a drink and swim will always be one of the most special and magical moments from my time at Sausage Tree. As will the hour and a half spent solo with two leopards, one who had just killed a baboon, as the wonders of the wild played out in front of us.
CAN’T CURTAIL CONSERVATION & COMMUNITY
During the months without visitors, or the supportive income from tourists, many properties continued to double down on their projects that help improve the lives of locals. At Tongabezi for instance, the staff pivoted to providing meals and health education to the community and especially the families of the children who usually attend the Tujatane Trust School created by the lodge years ago. They are also working on long-term self-sustaining projects, such as their chef working to create a community farm – complete with chickens! – and they have built a new Tujatane Art Center, which is located closer to the community and will really be, what I call, a “self-sustaining female empowerment and vocational school” complete with veggie and chicken garden, and a safe-space (private room with bed and bath) for any woman who might need it.
At Green Safaris Ila Lodge, the staff started teaching conservation and sustainable farming classes in the local schools and inviting pupils into the park for the first time for lunch, a game drive, and more. In addition to the time in the Kafue with the students, the team continues to patrol even without guests to help deter the threat of poaching. The Green Safaris Conservation Foundation Community Farming Project and Secondary School have also continued to thrive. We saw how they are using eco-friendly sand bag brick construction (also used to build the lodge) for the pig and chicken enclosure, and also for the new mushroom house. They are creating their own compost and worm juice, which are very rich in nutrients to go back into nurturing the soil. One area that caught our eye was a patch with plastic bottles laid out in rows, and upon closer inspection we learned that it was an innovative irrigation system whereby the bottles have holes punched in, they are filled with rocks and “planted” next to the plants so that when water is poured into the top it will be directed specifically toward the roots so nothing is wasted.
They are also in the middle of building the first of three new classrooms for the secondary school so that as children graduate from the primary school they have the ability to continue their education. If not for the new classrooms being built close to the community, many of the students wouldn’t be able to further their studies as the next closest school is still too far away. The same sand bag brick construction is used here as well; the use of local materials means it costs less and is better for the environment (no shipping or transportation needed), and it provides naturally good insulation so the building stays cool in warm months and warm in cool months.
In South Luangwa, The Bushcamp Company did a number of renovations on the property itself (new photographic studio, spa, Director’s House, etc.) as well as rebuilds or improvements with some of the actual bush camps, but moreover, they are most proud about continuing their focus on community programs. Their “Commit to Clean Water” program provides boreholes that each benefit about 300 people, and this year, to date, they have set up 12 with more to go, so about 50-60% of what they would do in a normal year. Their “Meal a Day” program has continued to feed 2,500 children a day even while schools were closed. And as an additional focus on education and improving the local school they are experimenting with building with containers so that inside the containers there are offices, storage or other needed space, and then the containers provide the structure for a roof to go on top and a classroom, dining hall, or other space can be created as well.
Time + Tide Africa has properties in three different regions across Zambia, and the Time + Tide Foundation has been fortunate through the generous donations of guests who’ve already traveled and through the company’s support of all admin overheads, that their philanthropic work has continued in full force throughout this year. The Time + Tide Foundation teams were in the field carrying out key projects in the areas of educational support, female empowerment and home-based care for vulnerable children, which directly impacts hundreds of children and families in the local community. Through their own teams’ donations, they also supported around 1,400 people with food parcels.
Sausage Tree & Potato Bush actively support Conservation Lower Zambezi and also used this time to upgrade their solar system, so for the past four months the entire camp has been 100% solar. They pivoted and put out a self-catering special (bring your own supplies and the chef will prepare meals) for private groups coming in from the local market, which was so well received that the staff was able to keep busy with guests out on game drives, which of course helps to keep poachers at bay, and enabled the teams to keep working even without international guests.
With all of the above, and more I’m sure, I can safely say, Zambia is OPEN, READY and a MUST! I’ve always felt this little land-locked country was the best kept secret in Southern Africa (affordable, diverse, easy yet exceptional), and this trip just reiterated that for me. There are many more areas to explore as well, even further removed and remote, but for those craving a carefree getaway NOW, there is definitely still time to take advantage of having the hot spots all to yourself, or looking ahead to next year when there will be more people, but also more air lift and intimate bush camps open as well. For now, get on a flight this Friday if you fancy … Zambia is ready to welcome the most Zambitious of travelers!