Travel

The Rare Walking Safari in Zambia—and Tips for First-Time Safari-Goers

Written by: Brianna Peters

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Published on: March 7, 2024

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It’s hard to imagine sweltering in 72-degree sunshine, but creeping silently through dusty thickets of brush and grass in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, you heat up quickly. When the guide signaled everyone to freeze, I heard a soft crunching of leaves before I saw two majestic giraffes having lunch about 200 feet away.

I was on my first-ever safari—a walking safari, where you explore on foot (in a straight line, with a guide and an armed guard). Beyond seeing wildebeests and elephants up close, with your feet on the actual earth, you learn the intricate differences between hyena and leopard tracks and experience the enormous variety of native plants (and hear the ways they’re used as healing remedies by Zambian locals). And, of course, you learn how hot and dusty 72 degrees can get.

The Bushcamp Company operates nine different camps and lodges in the park. I went to five of them: Mfuwe Lodge, where elephants walk through reception and a lagoon thick with hippos sits right outside your door; Bilimungwe, with a breathtaking stargazing deck and thatched-roof chalets (where I woke from a nap to a herd of elephants splashing around); Chindeni, with its private verandas, gorgeous Luangwa River views, and lots of leopards; Zungulila, a luxurious tented camp with roomy outdoor tubs; and KuKaya, with private plunge pools and cozy firepits.

While the walking safari is a truly rare experience in Africa—most safaris are conducted exclusively from jeeps—Bushcamp’s game drives are amazing, too: It’s the only company operating in the southern part of the park, so on each drive, you see maybe one other vehicle; there was no having to clamor for a “good” spot. From the jeep, I watched a female leopard chase a screeching baboon up a tree, followed a pack of African wild dogs as they chased a hyena into hiding, witnessed an entire pride of lions (with cubs) nap lazily after a feast, and caught a candy-colored sunset fading over a river crowded with hippos and crocodiles.

Life in the camps is as luxurious as it can be—you’re blissfully untethered to the internet, having soba noodle bowls and sauvignon blanc alfresco with your group while listening to baboons call and hyenas yelp. Lunches were mostly on the trail. The team set up a make-your-own-pizza station in a hidden spot in the bush one day; on another, they set up the folding tables so we were actually dining in the river with our toes in the sand. The company runs a sprawling organic farm—with 35 beehives and crops from tomatoes and spinach to papaya and mango, so the journey between farm to table is short: Instead of flown-in produce, chef Wendy Dunn has incredible just-picked fruits and vegetables to cook with.

IN MY BEAUTY BAG

You might think that sundowners (nightly cocktail hours) and moonlit fireside dinners might require freshening up, but there’s usually little time between safari and sundowner, so people simply add layers. A bit of ultramoisturizing rouge-tinted lip balm was really the only makeup I took (or needed).

  1. goop Beauty
    Clean Nourishing Lip Balm in Tomato
    goop, $20SHOP NOW

BUG SPRAY

Beyond basics like a hat, sunglasses, travel adapter, camera, and sunscreen, do not forget bug spray. I brought this amazing DEET-free mist that I sprayed on all over before heading out on game drives, and I brought the wipes along with me for touch-ups throughout the day; both smell like a Creamsicle and really, really work.

  1. Kinfield
    Golden Hour Bug Spray
    goop, $22SHOP NOW
  2. Kinfield
    Golden Hour Wipes
    goop, $20SHOP NOW

SKIN CARE

For my skin and hair, I brought the bare minimum. This cleanser by New York facialist Sofie Pavitt washed away all traces of dirt and left my skin soft, purified, and moisturized. I packed the goop vitamin C serum for a brightening, glowifying boost (and for some sun-protection benefits) and my favorite moisturizer from Augustinus Bader, which happens to come in a great travel-friendly-but-generous mini size (I used it all up). Last, I took this cushiony, does-it-all solid serum-balm—it miraculously melts into a nourishing oil when you warm it up with your fingers. It’s waterless and noncomedogenic, and it kept my skin, lips, and cuticles happy.

  1. Sofie Pavitt Face
    Clean Clean Cleanser
    goop, $34SHOP NOW
  2. goop Beauty
    20% Vitamin C + Hyaluronic Acid Glow Serum
    goop, $125/$112 with subscriptionSHOP NOW
  3. Augustinus Bader
    The Rich Cream, 15 mL
    goop, $96SHOP NOW
  4. Bonjout
    Le Balm
    goop, $120SHOP NOW

SUNSCREEN

Sunscreen is essential—I brought this one from Saint Jane for my face. It’s subtly tinted and blends seamlessly, smoothing imperfections as it (really) protects. For body (especially my hands and arms after stripping off layers in the afternoons), I reapplied this Dr. Dennis Gross SPF 50 often.

  1. Saint Jane
    Luxury Sun Ritual Pore Smoothing SPF 30
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  2. Dr. Dennis Gross
    All-Physical Ultimate Defense Sunscreen SPF 50
    goop, $42SHOP NOW

HAIR CARE

I poured my beloved shampoo and conditioner into travel containers, and they kept my hair soft and shiny. I also brought this super nourishing, frizz-smoothing oil from ROZ to keep my wind-whipped hair moisturized and manageable, and on most full-on safari days, I braided my hair with silk scrunchies to keep it out of my face.

  1. Crown Affair
    goop-Exclusive Crown Affair Set
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  2. ROZ
    Willow Glen Treatment Oil
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  3. Crown Affair
    The Scrunchie No. 001
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TWO OUTFITS PER WEEK—AND NOTHING WHITE

Each camp had laundry service, so, as advised, I packed only two outfits for an entire week (I was skeptical, but it was totally fine). I was there in July, and the temperature varies dramatically; when you’re up at dawn for your first game drive, it can be 45 to 50 degrees, and then it can climb to the mid-70s in the afternoon, so layers are crucial.

The colors of your clothes are also important—especially for a walking safari. You can’t wear bright colors or white (which stands out to the animals), and you can’t wear black (which attracts tsetse flies), so focus on neutral, earthy colors like khaki, green, brown, and grey.

MY TOP LAYERS

  1. G. Label by goop
    Sako Field Jacket
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  2. G. Label by goop
    Ballantyne Hoodie
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  3. G. Label by goop
    Caff Crewneck Long-Sleeve Tee
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  4. G. Label by goop
    Lee Rib Tank
    goop, $195SHOP NOW

MY BOTTOM LAYERS

I wore neutral leggings while walking—you’re in brush, so anything too loose snags—and breezy shorts or cargo pants back at camp. I brought hiking boots that I wore every day and a pair of Birkenstocks for walking around the camp and relaxing in my room.

  1. Rivet Utility
    Artist Jumpsuit
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  2. Splits59
    Ella Airweight High-Waisted 7/8 Leggings
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  3. Sea
    Karina Shorts
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  4. Birkenstock
    Arizona Big Buckle
    goop, $160SHOP NOW

If you don’t own a soft duffle, invest in a good one—to get there, you take small bush planes that can’t accommodate larger, hard luggage (someone on my trip ended up having to toss things at the airport). I brought this duffle and a fanny pack that I wore on walks and game drives.

  1. Métier
    Perriand Weekend Tote
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BEYOND THE BUSH

Bushcamp also does incredible community and conservation work in Zambia, supporting anti-poaching efforts and tree-planting initiatives, drilling boreholes to make clean drinking water available to the local villages, building dorms and classrooms for schools, sponsoring students, and more. And you can participate.

I got to spend an afternoon in a village seeing a water pump in action, surrounded by children excited to show me how to use it. Getting to chat with students and teachers in the classrooms of Chiwawatala Primary School was so inspiring. They learn Zambian traditions—they showed us tapestries they’d woven and played drums for us—along with the more-expected science and math.

On the way back from the village, I was surprised by some pretty incredible shopping. At Tribal Textiles, the ethically handcrafted place mats, linens, pillow covers, and more were irresistible. At Mulberry Mongoose, I bought jewelry made of snare wire recovered from poaching traps (the proceeds go to anti-poaching and conservation efforts), all handmade by local women.

Before You Go: First-Timer’s Tips

As soon as you’ve booked your safari, make an international travel appointment with your doctor for antimalarial medication and vaccine suggestions (see the CDC website). Ask your doctor if there are any other preventive measures you should take before your trip.

For Zambia’s visa entry requirements, you need to have two blank pages in your passport and obtain a single-entry visa upon arrival (it’s between $25 and $50). You can pay in US dollars, but make sure the cash is crisp with no major wear or tear (or they might not accept it).