Classic Zambia Trip Report (September 2022)
Here is a detailed day-by-day trip report from Marc’s most recent trip with Classic Zambia.
Day 1: Arrival Day: YYZ-ADD-LUN with Ethiopian Airlines.
I started my journey with a flight from Toronto to Lusaka via Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines. Since this was an early morning flight, Pearson Airport (YYZ) was quite fast despite what you see on the news. The new Addis Ababa Airport was an easy enough transit although it was a bit chaotic with non-existent queues at security.
The Arrival at Lusaka’s new airport was seamless and I was out of there within 20 minutes from disembarking the plane. The cost for the Zambian Tourist visa was $25 USD for Canadians, which I paid using a credit card. They also checked my vaccination certificate. Even though wearing a mask was still mandatory in Zambia, there were still some people not wearing it and it was not heavily enforced.
I met Tyrone by the exit and was driven to the manager’s cottage for the evening. We had dinner at the Village Eatery and had some burgers and beers.
Day 2: Lusaka to Lower Zambezi
I went back to Lusaka this time in the domestic terminal to catch my flight to Jeki Airstrip. The terminal is quite small and currently under construction (see terminal instructions from CZ), but I was met by a Classic Zambia rep as soon as I entered the airport. The airport handler is under “Corporate Air”, but branding is very visibly Classic Zambia. I was with 2 other Italian passengers, who were also staying at Kutali. They flew straight to Lusaka via Ethiopia (from Milan), then the charter flight timed perfectly for their arrival to catch the flight to Jeki.
(For a detailed domestic terminal walk through, click here)
The flight to Jeki airstrip was 35 mins on a Cessna 210. It was a scenic flight as you fly over the escarpment followed by an aerial view of the Zambezi River.
We were met by Joshua who gave us a good lay of the land explaining the topography and the landscape of Lower Zambezi on eastern side of Jeki. The Classic Zambia game vehicle was comfortable with bucket seats as well as cold drinks. We headed towards Kutali as the sun was setting and within 10 minutes from Jeki airstrip, we saw 3 big male lions. Kyle Branch who was on the other Kutali vehicle was already in the sighting with guests. Behind them was also a female leopard perched on a termite mound quietly observing Kyle and the lions. A few minutes later a family of elephants came by, trumpeted and chased the 3 male lions. The leopard eventually went up on the tree. This was a great welcome sighting in the first few hours at Lower Zambezi!
We continued on as the sun went down leaving the escarpment behind us en route to Kutali camp. This took about an hour to get there with game drive. The game was plentiful with elephants, waterbucks, impalas, kudus and other plains game and all of which seemed relatively relaxed with our vehicle driving along. We arrived just before 7pm and was greeted by the rest of camp staff.
Dinner was lovely with soup, pork belly, mashed potatoes and veggies, finished off with banana custard cake for dessert. But the best part was when a massive bull elephant came by merely 15 feet away from the dining table.
After dinner, I ordered a bucket shower and set my activity for tomorrow morning (which I decided to do a game drive to get a lay of the land)
Kutali Camp in Detail
The tents at Kutali are very comfortable. It is simple, yet highly functional, with everything you need inside the tent. The bathroom is open air, with a large bucket shower, no running water (there is a large water container with a tap for washing hands) and flush toilet. There’s no safe or closets, but there are hangers to hang your clothes and an area to unpack your clothes. There’s drinking water on reusable bottles, solar lamps, and a radio for safety. No electrical plugs, but there is a charging station in the main area. No wifi. No cell signal.
The main area has a long communal dining table, fire pit overlooking the Zambezi river as well as a sitting area with loungers and safari books. What makes this camp special is the setting that it’s in. Kutali is on an island with amazing views of the river and the backdrop of winterthorn trees. It is one of the most photogenic camps that I’ve ever stayed in.
For a video tour of Kutali tents, click here
Day 3: Game Drive & Canoeing at Kutali
Wake up call was at 5:30 and breakfast was set for 6 am. The sun was up rather early and it was getting hot quite fast in the Lower Zambezi during this time of the year. Breakfast was toast over the fire, porridge, coffee, yoghurt, pancakes and some eggs by the fire.
We were set to look for the wild dogs on this game drive, but to no avail. Although we didn’t see the dogs, we saw a lot of elephants, antelopes and birds including the Southern Carmine Bee-eater. Kyle was very good at explaining everything, super knowledgeable. From insects like the antlions, to topography of Lower Zambezi, to the different animal behaviours. We had a coffee stop by the lagoon filled with hippos, crocs and wading birds. The only vehicles we saw in the traversing area were Chiawa/Old Mondhorro and Anabezi, which is the furthest camp from Jeki.
Kyle has numerous years experience in Lower Zambezi under his belt as one of the top guides at Sausage Tree Camp. Previously, he worked with &Beyond where he started his guiding career. He also help write the new curriculum for Zambia’s National Guide Training program. Kyle purposely hired younger guides so he can take them under his wing and teach them the way he wants them to guide and to give the younger generation of guides an opportunity to be part of the best Zambian guiding team.
Lunch was served communal style once again; meat pie, couscous and balsamic vinegar dressed salad.
In the afternoon, we headed out for a canoe safari on the Kulefu channel, which only Chula and Kutali camps use regularly. We took a speed boat out to get to one of the islands where the canoes were already in place. The canoe safari was incredibly relaxing, but at the same time had a lot of tense moments navigating through pods of hippos and families of elephants on the river. Our canoe guide was Richmond, who has years of experience as a canoe expedition guide. We used Canadian style canoes that fit 2 passengers + the guide. The current was a bit strong, and since we were drifting for most of the time, the paddling was quite minimal. The skills of Richmond and the crew were put to test when the group wanted to take a photograph of the sun setting. So Richmond turned the canoe around and paddled against the current to keep the canoes stable/ This is incredibly difficult and took a lot of skill! The canoe was great for birding photography and wildlife along the banks of the Zambezi.
We got back to camp just in time for drinks by the fire. Dinner was fish curry, ratatouille salad and carrot cake – once again, incredibly delicious!
In my conversations with one of the guides, Josh, he mentioned that he started from the bottom and he’s been with Kyle and Luke since that start. He helped clear the site when they were building the camp, then moved to back of house staff, cleaning tents, then now guiding. There seems to be a strong sense of pride having been there since the start. Excellent personality, young and very ambitious. This goes to show the camp culture that Classic Zambia wants to create.
Day 4: Walking Safari + Transfer to Chula Camp
In the morning, we did a walking safari with Kyle and most of the people staying at camp. Our walk centred around Kutali Island, which was incredibly picturesque.
Kyle was super knowledgeable and explained everything from the topography of the land, the insect biology, and animal behaviour. Done with an armed scout from KPW and in the back is a trainee guide. Safety briefing with Kyle was very formal and informative which made the guests super comfortable. We spent a lot of time looking at birds and even saw a Pearl-spotted Owl, not too far from camp. We also spent time with massive bull elephants and watched it eat from the winterthorn trees. These settings are often associated with Mana Pools, but the Lower Zambezi can give you the same scenarios!
I did a tour of the back of the house and it is very well run and organized. The chef is Sidney and he is able to create amazing meals straight from that kitchen. Everything is run on solar with the exception of the water pump that they turn on a few times to pump water to the tank. Logistics is all managed by the camp manager at Kutali.
The vision for Kutali camp and Chula camp is to keep everything as natural as possible with not as many man-made interactions. It’s important to feel the ground and be surrounded by nature. There is strong emphasis on guiding and Kyle wants CZ to have the best guiding team in Zambia. Activities in Kutali are also top notch. Throughout my stay at Kutali, we only saw 2 other vehicles – one from Old Mondhoro/Chiawa and another transfer vehicle from Anabezi.
After the back of the house site inspection, we headed to Chula Camp by boat, which was about a 15-20 min ride up river.
I was greeted by Charity, the current camp manager and Ryan, one of Kyle and Luke’s long time friend who previously worked with them at Sausage Tree. The guide at camp was Given, who had been with Tusk and Mane since the start. Given has great personality and enthusiasm and the guests that were staying there seemed to really enjoy their time with Given. Charity is actually still in tourism school doing her practicum at Chula camp. She previously worked for DNPW and was responsible for revenue management of South Luangwa as well as Lower Zambezi
Chula Camp in detail.
The tent layout is very similar to Kutali camp which features high quality mattresses, bucket showers, flush toilets, no running water and no electrical sockets in the room, but there are lamps, torches and radio for safety. The main difference at Chula camp is that you do feel more isolated since the only way to access Chula right now is by boat, so it does feel very Robinson Crusoe-esque. The wildlife around the camp is just as good as Kutali with elephants, hippos and antelopes meandering freely in the camp.
For a video tour of tents at Chula camp, click here
In the afternoon, we went for a game drive. It is about a 15 minute boat transfer to get to where the game vehicles are parked (just on the banks of the Zambezi). The steps towards the vehicle are a bit uneven and might be a challenge to those that have mobility issues. The game viewing included many intimate interactions with elephants as well as sighting of buffaloes, zebras, and different antelopes.
NOTE: Chula camp does not offer night game drives since you have to take a boat back to camp and the boats cannot operate in the water once that sun is down.
In my conversations with the guests staying at Chula Camp, they picked this camp because they now specifically wanted a more rustic style camping experience, but not quite to the extent of a mobile safari. Most of the guests have previously stayed in luxurious properties like Singita and Angama Mara, which they all loved, but some of them are now longing for are rustic down to earth safari experience.
Day 5: Morning Game Drive & Tiger Fishing
I did a morning game drive with Ryan, saw tracks of wild dogs, but just missed them. We had incredible up close elephant sightings as well as kudus and other antelopes. Ryan and I got out of the vehicle a couple of times to get some low angle shots of elephants, which were super relaxed!
Then we headed back to camp for lunch and were served curry fish with coconut rice!
In the afternoon, I went fishing with Chula camp’s coxswain, Lewis. He has been navigating the Zambezi river since 1986 and knows it like the back of his hand. He was also a superb fisherman. We anchored the boat on the sand banks, and I drank some cold beers while we casted our rods. Most of the day we were very relaxed and just enjoyed the tranquillity of the river. I ended up catching one tigerfish and one vundu (catfish). This was a great break from going on game drives and walks!
Dinner was beef wellington, which was incredible! New guests arrived as well as guide Adam Parker. He was coming from Musekese where is is usually in charge of guiding the film crew.
The next morning, I flew to Kafue to continue on with this mind blowing Zambian adventure!
To be continued…