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Best Walking Safaris in Africa (Just Beware the Lions!)

You may think walking safaris are all about tracking down lions and other “Big Five” animals (leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros).

But you actually don’t want to bump into lions on foot.

You certainly don’t want to run into an ornery old Cape buffalo bull on an African walking safari.

Cape buffalo and hippos kill more humans in Africa each year than any other wild creature.

No, you don't want to see Cape buffalo too close on a walking safari in Zambia!
No, you don’t want to see Cape buffalo too close on a walking safari in Zambia!

Spoiler Alert! Contents of this walking safaris article

Walking safaris – What you’re supposed to see

Why Zambia? – The lure of going on safari in Zambia

Norman Carr – Pioneer of walking safaris in Africa

Types of walking safaris

Camps – Luwi Bush Camp, Mchenja Bush Camp and other South Luangwa Camps

Game drives

Walking safaris vs. safari game drives

Other African walking safaris

And stay far away from an elephant in musth.

You have to watch out for snakes too.

On our previous walking safari in Zambia, we might have stepped on two deadly rock pythons if our armed ranger in front hadn’t spotted them first.

So, it’s spine-tingling to walk exposed, single-file and alert, in the bush…

Norman Carr Safaris' guests walk in single file on walking safaris in Zambia.
Norman Carr Safaris’ guests walk in single file on a walking safari in Zambia (Credit: Time+Tide)

Walking safaris – what you’re supposed to see

The main point of walking safaris is to learn about the smaller critters (insects, termites, birds), animal tracks, ebony trees and the mopane tree bark that elephants love to graze on.

It’s to reflect on the whole remarkable cycle of life, death and rebirth in the African bush.

The Carmine bee-eaters are exquisitely colored birds.
Aren’t the Carmine bee-eaters exquisite birds? (Credit: Time+Tide)

We wonder, then, on our late afternoon walking safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park:

Why are there some really big animals right in front of us?

The two-foot wide sandy path we’ve walked along (one of countless “hippo highways” criss-crossing the bush) has just taken us to a lagoon full of hippos. 

They are not the small creatures we’re supposed to see.

Their bulging eyes and curled piggy ears poke up through the emerald-green Nile cabbage covering the lagoon, a little too close for comfort.

walking safari in Zambia
This submerged hippo is saying to us: “I can see you!” Just so long as he (she?) doesn’t come out of the lagoon…

Don’t worry,” our guide calmly assures us.

This pool is deep, so the hippos feel safe here. They won’t come out and charge.”

Norman Carr Safaris
An angry mother hippo in full charge! We hope the submerged hippos don’t decide to do this (Credit: Will Burrard-Lucas for Time+Tide)

The lure of a Zambia safari

Visiting Africa ignited a fire in us.

Ever since our first safari in Zambia, we’ve hankered to return.

You’re sure to see the “Big Five” animals (lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos and elephants) in, say, South Africa’s Sabi Sand Game Reserve.

The game drives are thrilling there, and most of the lodges, like Simbambili, are exceptionally luxurious.

But Zambia is more remote than South Africa, harder to get to and much less visited – and the safari experience feels wilder, more raw.

Safari aficionados say Zambia is what Kenya was like decades ago.

There was simply no denying the tug on our heartstrings. We wanted to go back.

Last time, the Lower Zambezi National Park in the southeastern part of the country was our safari stomping ground.

This time, we try Zambia’s drier South Luangwa National Park.

African wild dogs are rare to spot on safari, so we're tremendously excited when we spot a pack on a late afternoon game drive in South Luangwa National Park.
African wild dogs are rare to spot on safari, so we’re tremendously excited when we spot a pack on a late afternoon game drive

Norman Carr: Pioneer of the walking safari in Zambia

Decades ago, a safari meant hunting and shooting game.

The term “Big Five” was coined by big-game hunters for the five most dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot.

Norman Carr, a formidable hunter himself, broke the mold. 

He pioneered the idea of taking visitors on walking safaris to photograph the animals, not kill them. In 1950, he built the first safari camp in South Luangwa.

Norman Carr's son would play with the two orphaned lion cubs his father raised, and later successfully returned to the wild.
Norman Carr’s son would play with the two orphaned lion cubs his father raised, and later successfully returned to the wild (Credit: Time+Tide)

Gradually he added more camps, and Norman Carr Safaris became famous for its walking safaris.

Time+Tide has since spruced up and taken over the old Norman Carr camps.

We’ve booked a five-night South Luangwa safari with them.

Mchenja Bush Camp has five bush-chic tented chalets overlooking the Luangwa River.
We stay one night at Mchenja Bush Camp (Credit: Time+Tide)

Types of walking safaris

There are two types of walking safaris.

Multi-day walking safaris

“True” walking safaris are multi-day trips in the bush.

You’re on foot most of the time, perhaps walking from camp to camp, or returning sometimes to the same bush camp for a second night.

Half-day bush walks

The other type is a guided bush walk ranging from a couple of hours to half a day.

These are offered by some African safaris in the morning or late afternoon as an alternative to going on a game drive. 

This is how we experienced our walking safaris – going on guided walks at two Time+Tide camps in the South Luangwa.

Five luxurious South Luangwa safari camps

An elephant tooth; elephants typically lose and replace their adult chewing teeth six times in their lifetime.
Our guide on our first walk shows us an elephant tooth; elephants typically lose and replace their adult chewing teeth six times in their lifetime

You could call our first, late afternoon “hippo” walk a “walking safari lite,” as we don’t walk for more than 90 minutes or so.

It’s not a good idea to stay out late and risk being caught in the dark – that’s when lions hunt.

Besides, some killer gin-and-tonics are waiting for us back at camp.

Luwi Bush Camp

Afternoon tea at Luwi Bush Camp, Zambia
Afternoon tea at Luwi Bush Camp

Our camp here is Luwi, a seasonal bush camp and the most rustic and remote.

It has just four thatched huts for eight guests.

Each year, Luwi Bush Camp is completely rebuilt, opening in May after the rains have stopped.

Grass mats that cover the packed earth floor in the bathrooms are woven by local village women.

Mchenja Bush Camp

Mchenja Bush Camp - Norman Carr Safaris
It’s pure delight to shower outside in your private bathroom, like this one at Mchenja Bush Camp

Our second morning walk is from the more deluxe Mchenja Bush Camp.

Mchenja has five bush-chic tented chalets overlooking the Luangwa River.

What's for lunch today at Mchenja Bush Camp? Lots of lovely salads and this spinach-and-cheese quiche.
What’s for lunch today at Mchenja Bush Camp? Lots of lovely salads and this spinach-and-cheese quiche

Our walk from Mchenja is longer than the walk from Luwi.

We even have a “porter” who carries a massive backpack – turns out it’s for the tea, coffee and shortbread cookies for our mid-morning break.

We break for tea on our morning walking safari from Mchenja Bush Camp.
We break for tea on our morning walking safari from Mchenja Bush Camp

Other bush camps

The two other bush camps are Nsolo and Kakuli.

Chinzombo is the fifth camp in South Luangwa (covered below).

Multi-day walking safaris

If you want a more extended walking safari experience, you can walk from camp to camp in a circuit, staying overnight at each.

They’re located within a morning or easy day’s walk from each other.

Walking safari in Zambia map
You can go on a four-day walking safari from camp to camp


The fifth Norman Carr camp in South Luangwa is Chinzombo.

The most deluxe, it wows us with luxury (and killer leopards).

We don’t do any walks here – our game drives are exhilarating enough. Plus, the camp is so drop-dead gorgeous, it’s sometimes hard to leave!

Safari game drives

African wild dogs, also known as painted dogs, are an endangered species, unique to Africa.
African wild dogs, also known as painted dogs, are an endangered species, unique to Africa

You see more wildlife, closer up, when you’re on a game drive – the more popular way to go on safari these days. 

African safari animals are habituated to the sight and sounds of people seated in an open tiered Land Rover.

They’re comfortable letting you approach them up close this way.

South Luangwa supports large herds of elephants.
South Luangwa supports large herds of elephants, which we see on game drives

In Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa, lions have walked by just feet away from us in a vehicle. Talk about heart-stopping! (A lion smells a little like an unwashed dog.)

On that African safari, we also watched lions fan around in a circle, tearing into the bloody meat of their kill – we were so up-close-and-personal we could hear the snapping of the dead impala’s bones as the lions ripped it apart.

Here in Zambia, we go on plenty of game drives with Time+Tide.

On our drive to Luwi Bush Camp, three lions by the river catch our attention.

They appear to be waiting to swim across, but they’re cautious, pacing on the riverbank, taking their time. They’ve spotted a large Nile crocodile gliding back and forth right in front of them.

Crossing the river is a dangerous business,” our guide remarks drily.

walking safari in zambia
A lioness waits it out on the riverbank; she doesn’t want to swim across the river when there’s a large Nile crocodile waiting for her!

Walking safaris vs. game drives (danger zones)

A walk in the park? Not exactly…

On walking safaris, the animals react differently to humans.

As upright, two-legged creatures on foot, we’re perceived as predators by prey animals like antelope. Intrude on their space, even slightly, and they become skittish.

walking safari in Zambia
One of our armed rangers shows us the bullets for his rifle

The animals’ comfort zone is 500 feet, outside of which they behave normally.

At 300 feet, antelope such as impala and kudu freeze and perk their ears up, then sprint away.

Get to 150 feet of them and you’re in the danger zone; there’s a very good possibility any lion, buffalo or elephant in range will charge and attack you.

Critical zone? About 80 feet or less – you better know how to climb a tree really fast!

And sadly, the armed ranger who walks in front of you will try to shoot the attacking animal to protect you.

A ranger armed with a high-powered rifle always leads Time+Tide's Zambia walking safaris.
A ranger armed with a high-powered rifle always leads Time+Tide’s Zambia walking safaris

So, it’s a good thing we don’t glimpse lions (or buffalo) on any of our walking safaris in Zambia.

We’re content to spot them only on game drives.

The up-close hippos in deep water are okay though…

South Luangwa is also a birder's paradise; this yellow-billed stork is a pretty sight.
South Luangwa is also a birder’s paradise; this yellow-billed stork is a pretty sight

Other walking safaris in Africa

Other walking safaris in Zambia

Some of the best walking safaris in Africa are in Zambia.

Of course, there’s Time+Tide (and previously Norman Carr Safaris).

But Norman Carr also helped train Robin Pope, who then branched off to start his own South Luangwa safari company, Robin Pope Safaris.

With Robin Pope Safaris, you can do a five-day mobile walking safari, walking about six miles a day along the Mupamadzi River. Tents are taken down and set up again each day. You shower under a tree and the toilet is a “bush loo.”

Other African walking safaris

Walking safaris are also offered in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

At many lodges and camps, you have the chance to go out on a guided bush walk as part of your safari experience. Multi-day trips can also be booked.

You’ll probably want to talk with your Africa safari travel agent about this.

Where is South Luangwa National Park?

See this link to Google Maps for the location of Time + Tide’s Mchenja Camp in South Luangwa National Park. You’ll see Mfuwe on the map too.

Time+Tide in brief


Norman Carr Safaris was founded in 1950 by Norman Carr, pioneer of walking safaris in Africa, and specifically, Zambia walking safaris.

His camps are now part of the Time+Tide collection of exclusive safaris and remote island adventures across Zambia and Madagascar.

Zambia safari camps

There are five Time+Tide camps in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park.

Time+Tide also run another wildly luxurious camp, King Lewanika Lodge, in Liuwa Plain National Park.

They also operate Chongwe Safaris in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park.

You can seamlessly go on safari to all three parks for three completely different Zambia safari experiences.

More information: See the website for Time+Tide.

Experience more of Africa!

A river safari: Grunting hippos! Ellies at sunset! A river safari on the elegant Zambezi Queen is unlike any other kind of safari.

Cape Town, South Africa: Hiking up Table Mountain isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But the views are astounding!

Stone Town, Zanzibar: Discover 17 spell-binding things to do in Stone Town.

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

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Photo credits: 1, 4, 6, 9 to 13, 15 to 21 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

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Dave Lowry

Saturday 16th of December 2017

Beautiful pics! Awesome article to read!

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 12th of September 2017

This looks absolutely stunning and you saw so much wildlife! I've never been on safari but it's high on my wishlist. Might have to wait a couple of years and do it when we retire ;)

Janice and George

Tuesday 12th of September 2017

Going on safari was our dream trip :-). We went once, then were hooked and had to go again!

Marcelle Simone Heller

Wednesday 16th of August 2017

We were camping at the border of South Luangwa National Park. A stunning place as there are no fences and everyday the elephants roam through the camp. It was the National Park where we had most of our leopard sightings.

Janice and George

Wednesday 16th of August 2017

Sounds like you had a great safari experience near South Luangwa! Leopards... So special :-).


Monday 14th of August 2017

What an incredible adventure. You were so lucky to see the wild dogs! I've spent many months in Southern Africa and keep missing them. So glad you found them!

Janice and George

Monday 14th of August 2017

The wild dogs are such sociable creatures too. We were really lucky to come across them just before sunset. We saw them sleeping at first, then they woke up, first one, then the others as they they woke each other up. They then licked each other and had a "meet-and-greet" session, nuzzling each other and playing a bit. This lasted for a good 5 minutes, then suddenly they trotted off in single file to go hunting for the night. Fascinating to watch! Hope you see them at some point :-).


Monday 14th of August 2017

We've done a walking safari in Tanzania and it was quite exhilarating! You were really lucky to see the wild dogs, we didn't spot any there

Janice and George

Monday 14th of August 2017

Yes, we were thrilled to see them! The first time we went to Africa (Zambia and South Africa), we didn't see any painted dogs.