Boat safaris on the Zambezi are a must at The River Club.

Zambia | Bat Migration, Wildebeest Migration & Victoria Falls | 10 Nights Kasanka National Park, Liuwa Plains National Park & Victoria Falls

Even if you’re a safari veteran, much of what you experience in Zambia will be new to you. Think unexpected vistas from new perspectives, or familiar phenomena in unlikely settings. From the Kasanka bat migration to the wandering wildebeest of Liuwa Plains and the tumbling Victoria Falls, a luxury Zambia safari is a study in perpetual emotion.

Three nights at the Kasanka bat migration

While we always enjoy staying in luxury lodges, we recognised that in order to watch the multitudes of the Kasanka bat migration we’d have to prioritise headcount over thread count. That said, Wasa Lodge, while basic, was very comfortable and proved to be the ideal launchpad for our Kasanka experience. We spent our first afternoon and evening on the lodge’s treetop platform, watching the vanguard of the bat formations circling above the forest. The manager jokingly referred to the circular flight as the fruit loop, and we kept a close watch on the slices of lemon in our sundowner cocktails.The familiar call of a fish eagle greeted us as we set out on our morning ‘Wasa walk’, following the edge of the lake with our guide in search of the one other mammal we particularly wanted to see: sitatunga. Over the course of several trips to Botswana and Kenya, it had made its way up our ‘most-wanted’ list by virtue of its elusiveness. We were delighted to finally get this tick on our list, along with an alert herd of puku and elephant first drinking, then playing in, the water. A celebratory beer was in order with our lunch.The bat population of Kasanka was increasing daily; our dawn trip to one of the preferred roosting spots resulted in incredible scenes as the rising sun tried to light the earth through thousands of portable lampshades. Our day was just beginning as the bats were going to bed, and even now they had to run the gauntlet of predatory birds swooping among them. Happily, the tired bats still retained a talent for evading talons, and all made it to the roost. It was a different story later, however: we witnessed at least two kills as nimble falcons picked off the slower-moving mammals.

While we always enjoy staying in luxury lodges, we recognised that in order to watch the multitudes of the Kasanka bat migration we’d have to prioritise headcount over thread count. That said, Wasa Lodge, while basic, was very comfortable and proved to be the ideal launchpad for our Kasanka experience. We spent our first afternoon and evening on the lodge’s treetop platform, watching the vanguard of the bat formations circling above the forest. The manager jokingly referred to the circular flight as the fruit loop, and we kept a close watch on the slices of lemon in our sundowner cocktails.

The familiar call of a fish eagle greeted us as we set out on our morning ‘Wasa walk’, following the edge of the lake with our guide in search of the one other mammal we particularly wanted to see: sitatunga. Over the course of several trips to Botswana and Kenya, it had made its way up our ‘most-wanted’ list by virtue of its elusiveness. We were delighted to finally get this tick on our list, along with an alert herd of puku and elephant first drinking, then playing in, the water. A celebratory beer was in order with our lunch.

The bat population of Kasanka was increasing daily; our dawn trip to one of the preferred roosting spots resulted in incredible scenes as the rising sun tried to light the earth through thousands of portable lampshades. Our day was just beginning as the bats were going to bed, and even now they had to run the gauntlet of predatory birds swooping among them. Happily, the tired bats still retained a talent for evading talons, and all made it to the roost. It was a different story later, however: we witnessed at least two kills as nimble falcons picked off the slower-moving mammals.

Three nights at King Lewanika Lodge

After a final visit to the roost, we made like the bats and took flight, heading for Zambia’s frenetic but friendly capital city of Lusaka. Our hotel was extremely comfortable, but we missed being serenaded to sleep by the chorus of squeaks. The following morning, a second light aircraft brought us to Liuwa Plains.As soon as we’d heard that a permanent luxury lodge had opened in Liuwa Plains, we made sure that King Lewanika Lodge was on our itinerary. Named for the Lozi king who’d first set aside this area as a wildlife sanctuary, it was perfectly situated for optimum viewing of the ‘other’ great wildebeest migration. The view out across the floodplains was almost Mara-like in its scope; what was different was the pecking pairs of crowned crane who (unlike us) seemed oblivious to the spectacle of hundreds of wildebeest filing past.Seeing two incredible migrations in just two days made us feel that we should be mobile too, so we eagerly leapt aboard for our first morning game drive. The alert senses of our guide soon detected a commotion on the far side of the herd, although it took us a moment longer to realise that the creatures which were milling around were not wildebeest, but hyena. There were dozens of them, tails up and yipping, from at least two different clans, gathered around the carcass of a single antelope. Our guide suspected that wild dog had made the kill, but had been chased off.Our aim on our third day was to look for lion. Liuwa was once the home of the lioness known as Lady Liuwa; believed to be the reincarnation of a Lozi elder, she had eked out a solitary existence until conservationists had managed to reintroduce more lion to join her. While the great dame no longer roamed these plains, Lady Luck was smiling on us, and we came across a regal and replete male lion. Over dinner, the purple Liuwa skies were rent asunder by a dramatic thunderstorm – our cutlery froze in our hand as forked lightning lit up the plains.

After a final visit to the roost, we made like the bats and took flight, heading for Zambia’s frenetic but friendly capital city of Lusaka. Our hotel was extremely comfortable, but we missed being serenaded to sleep by the chorus of squeaks. The following morning, a second light aircraft brought us to Liuwa Plains.

As soon as we’d heard that a permanent luxury lodge had opened in Liuwa Plains, we made sure that King Lewanika Lodge was on our itinerary. Named for the Lozi king who’d first set aside this area as a wildlife sanctuary, it was perfectly situated for optimum viewing of the ‘other’ great wildebeest migration. The view out across the floodplains was almost Mara-like in its scope; what was different was the pecking pairs of crowned crane who (unlike us) seemed oblivious to the spectacle of hundreds of wildebeest filing past.

Seeing two incredible migrations in just two days made us feel that we should be mobile too, so we eagerly leapt aboard for our first morning game drive. The alert senses of our guide soon detected a commotion on the far side of the herd, although it took us a moment longer to realise that the creatures which were milling around were not wildebeest, but hyena. There were dozens of them, tails up and yipping, from at least two different clans, gathered around the carcass of a single antelope. Our guide suspected that wild dog had made the kill, but had been chased off.

Our aim on our third day was to look for lion. Liuwa was once the home of the lioness known as Lady Liuwa; believed to be the reincarnation of a Lozi elder, she had eked out a solitary existence until conservationists had managed to reintroduce more lion to join her. While the great dame no longer roamed these plains, Lady Luck was smiling on us, and we came across a regal and replete male lion. Over dinner, the purple Liuwa skies were rent asunder by a dramatic thunderstorm – our cutlery froze in our hand as forked lightning lit up the plains.

Three nights at The River Club

A light rain shower marked our departure from Liuwa Plains, but didn’t dampen our spirits as we knew that the onset of the summer rains could also add to the power and majesty of Victoria Falls, our next destination.Although we were less than 20km from Victoria Falls, at The River Club we felt we were in a different world (and quite possibly a different era). And yet we were still connected to the essential life force of Zambia, with the mighty Zambezi flowing literally past our front door. The floor-to-ceiling windows of our luxury river suite gave us unimpeded views of the river, and I indulged in a bubble bath while my partner read some of The River Club’s fascinating history to me, including a decades-old murder in the dining room, and attempts to recreate The Boat Race.My day began with a private yoga session with Carolyn, the resident instructor. My partner meanwhile had accepted (and won) the challenge of a pre-breakfast game of croquet on the manicured lawns. I say manicured, but it’s possible they’d been grazed by hippo. Serenity and pride both restored, we slipped into the rhythms of the river and enjoyed a leisurely day at the lodge, including high tea under the pagoda and a sunset cruise on the Zambezi, our captain skilfully weaving between hippo and boulders as the water reflected a flaming sky and skeins of geese flew home for the night.At first glance, the microlight that was to take us over Victoria Falls appeared to be missing a few components, such as a fuselage… but once we were airborne the genius of its design soon became apparent. The views were breathtaking and my heart soared as I enjoyed my own private ‘flight of the angels’. It was a flight that Livingstone had vividly imagined, and with little spray from the reduced cascades of water at the end of the dry season, I could see deep into the gorges. It was just as thrilling to sweep low over Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park to spot Zambia’s only rhino.

A light rain shower marked our departure from Liuwa Plains, but didn’t dampen our spirits as we knew that the onset of the summer rains could also add to the power and majesty of Victoria Falls, our next destination.

Although we were less than 20km from Victoria Falls, at The River Club we felt we were in a different world (and quite possibly a different era). And yet we were still connected to the essential life force of Zambia, with the mighty Zambezi flowing literally past our front door. The floor-to-ceiling windows of our luxury river suite gave us unimpeded views of the river, and I indulged in a bubble bath while my partner read some of The River Club’s fascinating history to me, including a decades-old murder in the dining room, and attempts to recreate The Boat Race.

My day began with a private yoga session with Carolyn, the resident instructor. My partner meanwhile had accepted (and won) the challenge of a pre-breakfast game of croquet on the manicured lawns. I say manicured, but it’s possible they’d been grazed by hippo. Serenity and pride both restored, we slipped into the rhythms of the river and enjoyed a leisurely day at the lodge, including high tea under the pagoda and a sunset cruise on the Zambezi, our captain skilfully weaving between hippo and boulders as the water reflected a flaming sky and skeins of geese flew home for the night.

At first glance, the microlight that was to take us over Victoria Falls appeared to be missing a few components, such as a fuselage… but once we were airborne the genius of its design soon became apparent. The views were breathtaking and my heart soared as I enjoyed my own private ‘flight of the angels’. It was a flight that Livingstone had vividly imagined, and with little spray from the reduced cascades of water at the end of the dry season, I could see deep into the gorges. It was just as thrilling to sweep low over Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park to spot Zambia’s only rhino.

What sets it apart

Even in some of Africa’s more far-flung national parks, it’s not always easy to get away from other travellers and explorers – but on a luxury Zambia safari the sensation of having your own private wilderness is more frequently felt than you might expect.Not that you’re in danger of being lonely. Zambians are renowned for the warmth and sincerity of the smiles with which they greet visitors, and whether you’re staying at a luxury lodge or – with the aim of accessing somewhere really remote – in more basic accommodation, you’ll be made to feel like the local royalty you’ll hear regularly namechecked.When you factor in the masses of wildlife – much of it on the move, in thrall to ancient rainfall rhythms and the tug of traditional routes – you get the best of both worlds: being surrounded by incredible dioramas of life, and still one of very few people to experience them.A luxury Zambia safari definitely comes with the right kind of bragging rights, as after all, any trip to Africa should still have an authentic flavour of exploration. Being one of just a handful of witnesses to the Kasanka bat migration, or one of the passengers on the world’s most exclusive airline (scenic flights over Victoria Falls in a microlight), or ambassadors come to pay homage at the old court of Lady Liuwa marks you far more indelibly than any passport stamp. And in the midst of all this motion, moments of tranquil stillness to savour.

Even in some of Africa’s more far-flung national parks, it’s not always easy to get away from other travellers and explorers – but on a luxury Zambia safari the sensation of having your own private wilderness is more frequently felt than you might expect.

Not that you’re in danger of being lonely. Zambians are renowned for the warmth and sincerity of the smiles with which they greet visitors, and whether you’re staying at a luxury lodge or – with the aim of accessing somewhere really remote – in more basic accommodation, you’ll be made to feel like the local royalty you’ll hear regularly namechecked.

When you factor in the masses of wildlife – much of it on the move, in thrall to ancient rainfall rhythms and the tug of traditional routes – you get the best of both worlds: being surrounded by incredible dioramas of life, and still one of very few people to experience them.

A luxury Zambia safari definitely comes with the right kind of bragging rights, as after all, any trip to Africa should still have an authentic flavour of exploration. Being one of just a handful of witnesses to the Kasanka bat migration, or one of the passengers on the world’s most exclusive airline (scenic flights over Victoria Falls in a microlight), or ambassadors come to pay homage at the old court of Lady Liuwa marks you far more indelibly than any passport stamp. And in the midst of all this motion, moments of tranquil stillness to savour.

Day 1–3

Kasanka National Park is the site of the annual bat migration.

You’ll be met as you disembark from your international flight at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, and assisted through customs and immigration. After a scheduled light-aircraft flight to Kasanka, you’ll take a transfer to Wasa Lodge, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 4

Latitude 15 Degrees, Lusaka Zambia

After a transfer from Wasa Lodge to the airstrip, you’ll take a scheduled light-aircraft flight to Lusaka. A private transfer will take you to Latitude 15°, where you’ll spend one night.

Day 5–7

Enjoy an authentic bush campfire at King Lewanika Lodge. © Time + Tide

After a private transfer from Latitude 15° to the airport, you’ll take a scheduled light-aircraft flight to Liuwa Plains. A transfer will then take you to King Lewanika Lodge, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 8–10

Have a private poolside meal at The River Club. © The River Club

After a transfer from King Lewanika Lodge to the airstrip, you’ll take a scheduled light-aircraft flight to Lusaka, and another to Livingstone. After a transfer to the Zambezi River, a boat trip will take you to The River Club, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 11

Your Zambia safari will take you to a land of wild beauty.

After a boat trip from The River Club, a transfer will take you to Livingstone. A scheduled light-aircraft flight will then take you to Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, to connect with your international flight.

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