The Lower Zambezi National Park, by virtue of the Zambezi River and its parallel escarpment, is one of Africa’s most scenic wildernesses, home to an impressive quantity and variety of wildlife that can be viewed not only on the more usual land-based Lower Zambezi activities, but also on a variety of water-based activities, and in the camps themselves.
In comparison to typical African safaris, the Lower Zambezi safari experience is unique: more remote, more exclusive, and experiential in nature. While both guests and guides require more patience with regards to game viewing, the results are often outstanding.
Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro are located in the middle of prime wildlife and habitat zones of the Lower Zambezi National Park, so we usually do not have to travel far to see wildlife. What’s more, often wildlife make their way into camp to visit us, providing out-of-this-world game sightings. Wildlife to be spotted includes elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, waterbuck, hippos and crocodiles.
Explore the safari activities below, all of which are included your unforgettable stay at Chiawa Camp and/or Old Mondoro.
Often the most popular Zambian safari activity, the game drive is conducted in an open 4×4 safari vehicle. This is the most effective way to see Zambian wildlife, as these cover much ground and can get close sightings without placing our guests in harms way or disturbing the wildlife. Although vehicles with canopies are available upon request we eschew canopies as these interfere with the views of the trees and birds during the day, and at night the stars. Aside from leopards feeding in the trees.
Vehicles have 3 bench seats with a back rest and a foot rest for each, so up to 6 guests can each travel comfortably with a ‘window seat’ however we typically restrict each game drive to 4 guests maximum. These leave camp in the morning and return before lunch, halting for a mid-morning coffee stop. Cooler boxes and a first-aid kits are carried on each vehicle, which is also equipped with a VHF radio for safety and for our guides to share news of interesting sightings so that the likelihood of any of our guests missing out on a great sighting is minimized.
Your Zambian safari guide is an expert in the bush and will point out interesting subjects as if by magic: a flick of a tail here, a curve of an ear there, a movement wherever.
A night drive in the Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the activities that make Zambia particularly unique – a privilege our guests enjoy, and which have minimal impact on the wildlife when conducted responsibly, as at any Chiawa Safaris camp. Learn more about our use of red spotlights during night drives by clicking here.
Bush walks are an interesting way to get a back stage pass look at the Zambian wildlife, and how the ecology of the Lower Zambezi works. Our guides are trained naturalists who can not only identify spoor, birds, plants and insects but also explain in interesting detail how these all interact with each other, how each relies on each other in this, the great circle of life. Taking advantage of the cooler weather, bush walks usually take place in the early morning and are led by one of our pro guides and a Department of National Parks & Wildlife armed “escort scout”. Sometimes walks happen right out of camp but usually we drive a short distance into more open country.
Guests are given a thorough safety briefing and orientation, and although the pace is much like a stroll in the park (no pun intended) and are by no means exerting, in the interests of safety, mediocre fitness and mobility is required in order to participate. Your professional guide will be carrying additional water, a first aid kit, radio, pencil flare and a “bear banger” to warn off any aggressive animal. After the walk, which will last between 1-3 hours, a short (or long if you prefer) game drive will take you back to camp. It is important to note that although both our camps have sufficient pro guides licensed to walk, each camp is only provided with one ZAWA escort scout and as we are able to only take 6 guests on a walk at any one time, occasionally guests may not get to walk on a day or time of their choosing – circumstances which are unusual and beyond our control.
Our Lower Zambezi River Canoe trips always head downstream, eastwards, as the current of the Zambezi is deceptively powerful. The canoes take either 2 or 3 people. All trips are led by at least one pro guide with current experience of that stretch of the river, and all canoes are paddled by one experienced “back paddler”, usually a trainee guide or other member of staff who has grown up and spent his young life paddling on the Zambezi. All canoe trips carry a dry bag, cool box, first aid kit and at least one VHF radio – guests are required to wear the floatation vests provided throughout the trip.
The best canoeing experience is to be had in the channels above camp, the Inkalange Channel above Chiawa and the Discovery Channel above Old Mondoro offer world class canoeing. Otherwise canoeing amongst the islands down the main river close to shore makes for an equally memorable experience. Drifting in near silence past birds, crocs and a variety of mammals makes for an amazing experience of a lifetime however this is the Zambezi River at its most natural and unfortunately, also at its most dangerous. Our camps have a perfect safety record, follow best practice, and take steps to mitigate the risks, we cannot eliminate the risks, and it is important that all guests who participate in canoeing and indeed any activity at our camps, understand and accept these risks and the associated liability with them.
Canoe trips usually leave camp at about 14:30, by boat towing the canoes in tandem behind after which you are dropped off at the channel entrance around 15:15 followed by a safety briefing and orientation. These float back into camp just before sunset and sundowners after which guests have the choice to relax before dinner by the camp fire and enjoy perhaps another cocktail or two, or join a night drive.
Boat Cruises, or Zambezi River Safaris are conducted on custom built, stable pontoon boats with a canopy that can be raised or lowered according to circumstance and powered by near-silent, environmentally sensitive 4-stroke outboard motors. Thus, each river safari gives guests the opportunity to see more of the river and perhaps more Zambian wildlife by being able to cover more area – and in more comfort and safety than a canoe. Each boat carries a first aid kit, flares, VHF radio, sufficient life vests, fire extinguisher, and of course the obligatory cool box.
Guided by one of our expert river guides who will have grown up on the Zambezi, explore the main bank, islands and channels coming across fish eagles, herons, perhaps a buffalo lurking in the reeds, a crocs and hippos sunning themselves, or elephants crossing the river – these are a relaxing way to enjoy wildlife viewing all the while in awe of the scenery. As the sun sets, your guide will pour your cocktails of choice and serve you snacks before gently motoring back to camp or dropping you off at a waiting 4×4 to take you on a night drive. Sometimes we use the boats to drop off our walks on the mainland or – for those wanting a walk on a totally pristine habitat with no vehicles – on the permanent islands.
Fishing for tiger fish is a seasonal specialty of the Zambezi River. We say seasonal as the best time to catch them is from late August to mid November during the hotter months, however, tiger fish and other species can be caught throughout our Zambian safari season. Netting and killing of any fish is not permitted within the National Park, and a 100% catch & release applies for all species.
Additionally, no live or cut bait is permitted (artificial lures only), no ultra light tackle (minimum 20lb) and only one single de-barbed hook per line is allowed. These measures have all been proven by science to reduce stress and mortality of caught and released fish, making this activity in the National Park more sustainable, and hence making this stretch of the Zambezi River the most protected stretch along its length. Consequently, this stretch of the river also offers some of the most productive sport angling opportunities available. Both Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro have expert river guides who have grown up on the Zambezi and who have been guiding anglers, novice and expert alike, for a decade and more. With our custom built 18’ pontoon boats and intimate, local knowledge of the river there is nowhere else on the Zambezi that offers finer opportunities to fish from. Over the years absolute beginners and world-class anglers alike have set a number of IGFA World Records for tiger fish at Chiawa Camp.
The tiger fish is a wily and strong adversary. Somewhere between a trout and a piranha on the evolutionary scale, they are equipped with large bony jaws and a mouthful of razor sharp interlocking teeth. Wire leaders and strong, sharp hooks are a must. Apex predators, they eat smaller fish up to 75% their own length including their own species, and even young ducks and swimming reptiles.
Your guide will position the boat to help you get the right cast to the fish, usually towards the bank behind cover and structure, in eddies and over sand bars on the drop offs. Casting slightly upstream you will let your lure sink to about 7 foot depending on water depth, and then retrieve as the current brings your lure roughly adjacent to you, with an erratic jigging action. One often gets the strike on the pick-up, but in reality tigers are so aggressive they are known to strike at pretty much any lure at any speed at any depth. Getting them to strike is the easier part, setting the hook is less easy – 50% skill and 50% luck – a sharp snap of the wrist on conventional gear and a strong strip on fly is the best you can do. Getting them to stay hooked is trickier still with strike to catch ratios of roughly 10:1 whereby after their initial and unmistakable hit, they tear line off the spool with a short, intensive run before leaping into the air, shaking their heads and usually throwing the hook at that point. At this point keep your rod tip down and your fingers crossed, don’t allow any slack line, ever, and don’t stop working until the fish is at the boat or lost! Tiger fish are strong fighters but don’t have much stamina so even big ones should be gotten to the boat quickly – we strongly discourage fighting fish to exhaustion which otherwise increases stress and mortality.
Once secured by the boat side, whilst watching out for crocs and ensuring the boat does not drift over a pod of hippos, your river guide will help revive your fish before lifting it out briefly for you to hold and photograph and then release.
Like fishing anywhere, some days you are going to get skunked and catch nothing, but most days anglers can expect multiple bites and boat perhaps half a dozen. On a really good day an accomplished fly fisherman can boat 40+ fish. Most common size is about 3lbs, average size 5lbs, a trophy would be in excess of 8lbs, and a monster in excess of 12lbs. Camp record is 21lbs and there are still stories of the one that got away, so we believe that there are fish in excess of 25lbs waiting …
FISHING POLICY at no charge to help you in your quest. However one should be prepared for lost and broken tackle and all losses and breakages whatsoever will be charged for, in lieu of a tackle rental fee, and we strongly recommend that serious anglers bring their own tackle according to this LIST, which has been crafted over years of experience.