Organising a safari
Most visitors who come to Zambia for few weeks' safari stay at some of the small safari camps. Combinations of time in Kafue, the Luangwa Valley, the Lower Zambezi and a few days around the Falls would be typical.
When to book
These trips are not cheap, but nor should they be difficult for a knowledgeable operator to arrange. If you have favourite camps, or a tight schedule, then book as far ahead as you can. Eight to ten months in advance is perfect. Bear in mind that most camps are small, and thus easily filled. They organise their logistics with military precision and so finding space at short notice, especially in the busier months, can be tricky. (The exception to this rule is usually the rainy season.)
If you are looking to travel in the next few months, then one or two of your chosen camps may be full; you'll have to accept alternatives.
Safaris in Zambia are not cheap. Expect to pay US$1,800–3,250/£1,000–1,800 per person sharing per week, plus international airfares. This would include a few of your internal transfers or flights, camp transfers, meals, activities, laundry, park fees and even drinks. It isn't cheap, so you can expect a good level of service from the operator who is arranging it for you. If you don't get it, go elsewhere.
How to book
It's best to arrange everything together, using a reliable, independent tour operator. Many operators sell trips to Zambia, but few know the country well. Insist on dealing directly with someone who does. Zambia is changing fast, so up-to-date local knowledge is vital in putting together a trip that runs smoothly and suits you. Make sure that whoever you book with is bonded, so your money is protected if they go broke. If you're unsure, pay with a credit card. Never book a trip from someone who hasn't spent time there – you are asking for problems. Ask the person you're dealing with specifically, 'Have you been to this camp or place?'
Booking directly with most Zambian camps is easily possible; the camps are the easy bit. Once they are organised, you need to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of transfers, internal flights and stop-overs to link them into your trip. Without local knowledge, this can be tricky – and you will have little recourse if anything goes wrong.
European, US and local operators usually work on commission for the trips that they sell, which is deducted from the basic cost that the visitor pays. Thus you should end up paying the same whether you book through an overseas operator, or talk directly to a camp in Zambia.
Perhaps because of the UK's historical links, or the high number of British safari-goers, there seems to be more competition amongst UK tour operators than elsewhere. Hence they've a reputation for being generally cheaper than US operators for the same trips.
Which tour operator?
Zambia is something of a touchstone for tour operators to southern Africa: those who know Zambia well are the small core of Africa specialists. Most operators can send you to Cape Town with ease. But ask them where to visit in Zambia, and you'll rapidly sort those that know southern Africa from those that haven't got a clue.
Don't let anyone convince you that there are only three first-class safari camps in Zambia, as it's rubbish. If your operator doesn't know most of the camps in this book – and offer a wide choice to suit you – then use one that does.
Here I must, as the author, admit a personal interest in the tour operating business. I run the southern African operations of the UK operator Sunvil Africa (tel: 020 8232 9777; fax: 020 8568 8330; email: email@example.com). We are currently the leading operator to Zambia, and also organise trips for travellers to Africa from all over the world (especially America). Booking your trip with us will always cost you the same as or less than if you contacted Zambia's camps directly – plus you have our independent advice, full financial protection, and experts to make all the arrangements for you.
Sunvil Africa has probably the most comprehensive choice of the best Zambian lodges, camps and destinations available anywhere. In Zambia our safaris are completely flexible, depending on where you want to go. They start at about US$2,800/£1,600 per person for a week, including flights from London, accommodation, meals and game activities. I also believe that Sunvil Africa has the best value programme to Zambia – and will happily send you a detailed colour brochure to demonstrate this. Just call us.
For a fair comparison, African tour operators featuring Zambia include: In the UKAardvark Safaris
RBL House, Ordnance Road, Tidworth, Hants SP9 7QD; tel: 01980 849160; fax: 01980 849161; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.aardvarksafaris.com.
Small, reliable upmarket safari specialist to Africa and Madagascar.Abercrombie & Kent
St George's House, Ambrose St, Cheltenham, Glos GL50 3LG; tel: 01242 547700; fax: 01242 547707; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk. Worldwide holidays for groups and individuals to upmarket destinations with upmarket price tags.Acacia Adventure Holidays
23a Craven Terrace, London W2 3QH; tel: 020 7706 4700; fax: 020 7706 4686: www.acacia-africa.com. Adventure holidays and overland/camping safaris throughout Africa.Africa Explorer
Tel: 020 8987 8742. Tiny but knowledgeable company that has unusual, large six-wheeled self-contained vehicles for hire.Africa Travel Centre
Tel: 0845 450 1520; www.africatravel.co.uk. General operator offering trips across Africa and the Indian Ocean, with emphasis on sport travel, especially golf. Cazenove & Loyd
9 Imperial Studios, 3–11 Imperial Rd, London SW6 2AG; tel: 020 7384 2332; fax: 020 7384 2399; www.caz-loyd.com. Top-end tailor-made specialists to Africa, Indian Ocean Islands, Latin America and the Indian subcontinent. Crusader
57 Church St, Twickenham TW1 3NR; tel: 020 8744 0474; fax: 020 8744 0574; www.crusadertravel.com. Large worldwide operator with a Zambian programme.
Gane & Marshall 98 Crescent Rd, New Barnet, Herts EN4 9RJ; tel: 020 8441 9592;
fax: 020 8441 7376; email: email@example.com. Large worldwide operator with a Zambian programme.Hartley Safaris
The Old Chapel, Chapel Lane, Hackthorn, Lincs LN2 3PN; tel: 01673 861600; fax: 01673 861666; www.hartleys-safaris.co.uk. Long-established tailor-made specialists to East and southern Africa and Indian Ocean Islands. Journeys by Design
36 Park Crescent, Brighton BN2 3HB; tel: 01273 623790; fax: 01273 621766; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.journeysbydesign.co.uk. Small tailor-made operator (ground arrangements only) featuring East and southern Africa. Land & Lake Safaris
Tel: 0115 982 1903; fax: 0115 981 9418; email: email@example.comNomad African Travel
Smugglers Cottage, Church Rd, Westbourne, Emsworth, Hants PO10 8UA; tel/fax: 01284 810101; www.nomadafricantravel.co.uk. Small UK operator specialising in set guided tours, with tailor-made options.Okavango Tours & Safaris
Marlborough House, 298 Regents Park Rd, London N3 2TJ; tel: 020 8343 3283; fax: 020 8343 3287; www.okavango.com. Tailor-made specialists to Africa and Indian Ocean Islands, with a good knowledge of Zambia.Safari Consultants
Orchard House, Upper Rd, Little Cornard, Suffolk CO10 0NZ; tel: 01787 228494; fax: 01787 228096; www.safari-consultants.co.uk. Long-established tailor-made specialists to East and southern Africa, and Indian Ocean Islands, with a good knowledge of Zambia.Safari Drive
Tel: 01488 71140; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.safaridrive.com. African operator specialising in self-drive trips in 4WDs; vehicles from Lilongwe can be used in eastern Zambia. Scott Dunn World
12 Fovant Mews, Noyna Rd, London SW17 7PH; tel: 020 8682 5010; fax: 020 8682 5090; www.scottdunn.com. Worldwide coverage (everywhere except North America), with a tailor-made programme to Zambia.Steppes Africa
(formerly Art of Travel) 51 Castle St, Cirencester, Glos GL7 1QD; tel: 01285 650011; fax: 01285 885888; www.steppesafrica.co.uk. Upmarket tailor-made specialists to Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.Sunvil Africa
Upper Square, Old Isleworth, Middx TW7 7BJ; tel: 020 8232 9777; fax: 020 8568 8330; www.sunvil.co.uk/africa. Specialists to East and southern Africa; the UK's main operators to Zambia, with a wide range of more unusual options – run by this book's author. Tim Best Travel
68 Old Brompton Rd, London SW7 3LQ; tel: 020 7591 0300; fax: 020 7591 0301; www.timbesttravel.com. Upmarket holidays to Africa, the Indian Ocean islands and Latin America. Tribes Travel
12 The Business Centre, Earl Soham, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP13 7SA; tel: 01728 685971; fax: 01728 685973; www.tribes.co.uk. Worldwide travel on fair-trade principles; particularly strong on cultural trips.Wildlife Worldwide
Tel: 020 8667 9158; email: email@example.com; www.wildlifeworldwide.com. Worldwide operator offering tailor-made and small-group wildlife holidays to all corners of the globe. Zambezi Safari and Travel Company
Lakemans, Broad St, Modbury, Devon PL21 0PS; tel: 01548 830059; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.luangwa.net. Small operator specialising in southern Africa, based between Zimbabwe and the UK. In the USAAdventure Center
1311 63rd St, Suite 200, Emeryville, CA 94608; tel: 510 654 1879;
fax: 510 654 4200Adventure Travel
Desk (ATD) 308 Commonwealth Rd, Wayland, MA 01778; tel:. 0300 or 508 653 4600; fax: 508 655 5672David Anderson Safaris
4635 Via Vistosa, Santa Barbara, CA 93110; tel: 800 733 1789 or 805 967 1712; fax: 805 964 8285Geographic Expeditions
2627 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94123; tel: 415 922 0448; fax: 415 346 5535; www.geoex.comIn AustraliaThe Classic Safari Company
156 Queen St, Woollahra, Nsw 2025; Tel: 612 9327 0666; Fax: 612 9327 0667African Wildlife Safaris
1st Floor, 259 Coventry St, South Melbourne, Victoria 3205; tel: 03 9696 2899; fax: 03 9696 4937
Warning One or two slippery overseas operators offer apparently inexpensive trips in small groups to Zambia. In their glossy literature, they avoid specifying exactly which camps they use for particular trips, referring simply to 'remote bushcamps' or 'nice comfortable lodges'. They'll avoid specifying camp names, despite the fact that all Zambia's camps do have names (even the smallest bushcamps).
They do this so that they can swap around your trip without your knowledge at the last minute. They'll then bargain down the cost of the camp that they have booked, or even swap your group into a cheaper alternative. It's a shoddy way to do business.
Your group won't then get the best of what's available, and it's a particularly bad way to treat the local operators. The camp that you end up at will then cut corners, perhaps by using less experienced guides or taking you to the less interesting areas. You won't get the quality of service or catering that they'd usually give – and I know of cases where visitors have even been asked to pay extra for night drives.
Usually the operator pockets any savings, and you're left with a poorer trip. It's best to avoid any company doesn't specify (in writing to you) exactly which camps are included in your trip, and how long you are going to stay at each. There's never a good reason why they can't do this.