Q: Do we explore the area on foot or in a vehicle?
A: This is a walking experience. We explore the wilderness on foot for for the entire trail. There is a vehicle at the camp that will pick us up on the odd occasion when our tracking has led us too far away to make it back to camp on foot.
For those wishing to also have an experience of the wilderness from a safari vehicle, we offer combination packages that adds time at a partner, driving-centred, camp before and/or after your walking trail. Please see our suggestions here.
Q: Are there dangerous animals in this area?
A: The Luangwa Valley is a very rich ecosystem, home to all of Africa’s big five animals. We don’t use the term dangerous for wild animals, but rather potentially threatening. The animals see us as the apex predator (in other words they see us as the dangerous one), and will almost always retreat from our presence. None are interested in us as prey nor do they have any reason to interfere with us. If we put them in a situation in which they feel threatened by us, then we risk triggering a defensive response and they in turn become potentially threatening.
Understanding this relationship helps to keep us and them safe; with the awareness that an animals aggressive display is almost always defensive we are more empowered to diffuse any situation.
Q: Is it dangerous to be amongst these potentially threatening animals on foot?
A: Safety is our highest priority. We conduct ourselves in a sensible and informed manner, making this a very safe experience. Your guide is a trained and experienced professional who is highly respected in his field. We reduce the risks by our situational awareness - understanding animal behavior and being attentive to the signs and to the setting. A good guide knows how to handle most any situation with an animal; a better guide knows how to handle his/her guests in that situation. So, the short answer is that in the company of a trained and responsible professional, this is a very safe activity.
Q: Is there a rifle on all of the walks:
A: Yes. In Zambia only the Zambian Wildlife Authority escort scouts are permitted to carry a rifle in a national park. There is a ZAWA escort scout with a rifle on each and every walk.
Q: If it is safe to walk in these areas, then why do you carry a rifle?
A: The rifle is carried for two reasons:
Firstly, it is there as a last-line safety resort. Your guide is trained and experienced not only in avoiding conflict with animals, but also in handling conflict situations should they arise. It is very rare that ever a shot should need to be fired. However, in that one instance that it is needed, a rifle should always be present in the hands of an experienced handler. Both Brent and your ZAWA scout have undergone extensive weapons handling training, are experienced, proficient and up to date with the necessary skills.
Secondly, by law in Zambia there must be a rifle on all walks carried out in a national park with potentially threatening animals.
Q: Is there an age minimum for walking?
A: Yes, for safety reasons children must be above twelve years of age to join a trail.
Q: Are the walks strenuous? How far do we walk each day?
A: We adjust the pace and distance of the walk according to each group and are always considerate to the slowest member in the group. There is no destination and the point of the walk is to slow down and discover the environment. By nature, this is not a strenuous activity as generally we move slowly and stop often. However, we do cover a fair distance each day and there are times when it is to our advantage to move quicker – like when we are trying to catch up with an animal upon its tracks.
Depending on the season and the heat, we are typically out for somewhere between three and five hours in the morning and two to three hours in the afternoon. Though the distances of course vary, during the morning it is typical that we cover around ten kilometers (six miles) and in the afternoon around five kilometers (three miles). The terrain is flat making these easy and slow kilometers. No one should be put off thinking that this is strenuous - it isn’t. Our participants come in all shapes and sizes and from teenagers to fit eighty year olds. You do not need to be particularly fit, but you should be at least an able walker.
Q: Do the animals react differently to people on foot than they do to people in a vehicle?
A: Yes, animals do react differently to people on foot than they do to a vehicle. Animals do not distinguish the people in a vehicle from the vehicle itself. They see a vehicle as something unexplainable: it moves around the environment so it must be alive, but it doesn’t have legs and it smells like metal and diesel rather than like an animal. They don’t quite know how to classify it. In an area where animals have never seen vehicles they will run from this foreign presence. However, in areas where animals have been habituated to vehicles, and the vehicles have behaved well around them, over time the animals come to see vehicles as something non-threatening.
Safari vehicles can often get very close to animals and be ignored by them. If someone were to step out of the vehicle, then the animals would respond immediately and urgently to the sight of a human at such close range, and because the vehicle is in their fight or flight zone, they would either attack or run away, depending on the situation.
On foot we are recognized as a human and in nature, a human is seen as an apex predator. They recognize us as a predator from our behavior and they know of us as a creature in the system - both in present and genetic memory. We easily forget that we were a part of this system for 99.99% of our evolution. We modern humans have been gone for a mere moment in evolutionary terms. However, humans have never been absent from these systems; indigenous people have hunted these lands throughout history.
Our mindset is translated in our movements and this gives us away as a predator. Prey species tend to meander about the bush, picking here, turning and wandering off there. Predators, on the other hand, move with focused intent, on the most direct path to achieve the goal. As humans, we have an agenda in mind and we move towards it and get it done.
So animals recognise us as the apex predator and they respond to us accordingly. Even lions will flee from us given the opportunity to do so. Nothing wants to get into conflict with us - if they can help it - and it is our job, through our conduct, empathy and awareness of the situation, to help them to feel that they are safe, or are capable of escaping if they choose to do so.
Q: How close will we get to animals on foot?
A: How close we get to an animal depends on each unique situation. While we are out, appreciating our natural surroundings and pointing out the intricacies of the wilderness around us, we are looking for safe opportunities to approach mammals, birds and all varieties of creatures. Where possible our aim is to approach the animal/s without being detected and to leave without having disturbed them.
When we locate an animal, we take into account the setting, the species involved, the individual and its current disposition, their predicament and life factors, to determine the safety of approaching. Winds and environmental factors, available cover, the lay of the land, all influence the appropriate spacing and approach. There are times when we view animals from a distance off, without a good opportunity to move closer, and there are times when we find ourselves in an intimate setting only a few yards off.
Q: If we can get closer to animals in a vehicle, then what are the benefits of being on foot?
A: The privilege of being on foot in the wilderness is that it asks us to be attentive to our surroundings and considerate of our presence. All the subtle details of the wilderness, the sounds, scents, textures and animal behaviours come alive and display themselves through their unique and interlinking intelligence. We experience their predicaments first hand, and each unique encounter teaches us more about who the animals are, on a very subtle level. The response that the animals have to our presence teaches us about ourselves - who we are as a creature amongst creatures. The level of detail that is conveyed by being amongst them on foot is immense. Their is no purer way to full submerse oneself into the wilderness, than to be in the environment, amongst the creatures, as yourself.
Q: Do we sleep in tents?
A: No, we sleep in romantic huts with very comfortable beds, en-suite flush toilets, and an outdoor shower. The huts are built using local building methods and made entirely from indigenous, manually sorced materials such as mopane-tree poles, giant thatching grass and soaked palm leaves. The camps are deep in the wilderness and the buildings are a part of the wilderness itself. The position of the camps is carefully chosen, for vistas, productive game areas, availability of water and shade for each hut.
Q: Are the camps permanent structures?
A: We only operate for six months of the year as this remote area becomes inaccessible during the rainy season. The camps are taken down every year before the rains and we take about a month to build them back up in April/May when we can access the area again.
Q: Is there hot and cold running water?
A: Yes there is. There is no central piping system in the camps, however each day, while we are out walking, the staff manually collect water from the rivers in buckets and fill your large water tank that serves your en-suite, outdoor bathroom. Each evening, water is warmed over a fire and your hot shower is prepared on time for your return from the afternoon walk (and again at any time that you would like a hot shower). In the mornings hot water is brought in a brass pitcher to wash your face.
Q: Is there electricity?
The rooms and bathrooms and the chatengi (eating area) have one small light each that run off of solar energy. There is no generator at the camps. This is a true wilderness experience.
Q: If there is no electricity then how do you cook?
A: All cooking is done over an open fire and all baking and roasts (from bread and rolls to desserts, roasts) is done in a hole dug in the ground. Everything is home made. The high standard of foods that are produced in this manner constantly amazes guests. Our talented chefs, who hail from closest rural village, are trained in house.
Q: What diet types can you cater to?
A: We pride ourselves on providing fresh and healthy foods. We cater to all dietary requirements, whether vegetarian, vegan, gluten or lactose intolerant, kosher, or any other. Please let us know your dietary requirements well in advance and feel free to educate us on your diet type or preferences.
Q: Where does the food come from? How do you get it this far into the wilderness?
A: We grow almost all of our own fruits and vegetables on a plot of land adjacent to the wilderness area. Bought goods such as meats and dry produce are sourced locally where ever possible. The food for the group is flown in with the group. Delicate fresh items such as lettuces and herbs are carefully taken from our vegetable patch and flown in with their roots intact. They are then replanted in a contained potted area to keep them fresh for your stay. We do not have a vegetable patch at the camp as it is in a wilderness area - which we wish to keep exotic seed free.
Q: Is the water safe to drink? Do we drink bottled water?
A: We always have refrigerated bottled water on hand for those that prefer to drink bottled water. Our drinking water comes from a deep underground aquifer, accessed by a borehole. The water is carefully filtered. In our opinion it is cleaner and more natural than most bottled water. We promote drinking this water to save on plastics, however respect and cater to everyone's preferences.
Q: What months do you operate in?
A: We operate from June to the end of October. Outside of those months the area is flooded and inaccessible for operations.
Q: What are the seasonal changes in this area?
A: Heavy rains in the form of thunderstorms typically begin in November. The frequency and intensity of the storms peaks in December and January, and tapers through February and March - giving way to the beginning of the dry/drying season, from May to October. The dry lands (as we know them during our months of operation) are transformed: rivers that were dry burst their banks, trees are vibrant green with leaves; oxbow lakes and large pans of water shape it into an unrecognizable landscape. The clay soils become waterlogged, rendering the whole area inaccessible to vehicles, and very difficult to traverse on foot. The only way to access these areas in the wet season, is in a boat: navigating the seasonal rivers, which in the dry season are waterless, sandy riverbeds. The change is spectacular and has to be seen to be believed. This is nature’s way of keeping the area free of permanent development.
From May onwards we are very unlikely to see another rain drop until well into October (though an unexpected sprinkle has happened out of season on occasion and taught us to never say never). During this period the lands dry, rivers recede, grasses die back, and trees begin to loose their leaves.
We operate in the dry season during the Southern Hemisphere Winter and Spring. We use the month of May to build the camp up again from scratch, ready to operate in June. June and July are the coldest months, getting down to nighttime minimums of around 10C (50F) with daytime temperatures a very pleasant 25C (77F). With only three months between the coldest and hottest times of the year, the change in temperatures is very distinct. August is moderately warm, perhaps reaching maximums around 28C (80F). Late in September we will see 35C maximums (95F) and October will reach just above 40C (105F). The relief in October is that we start to see atmospheric change with the build up of rain clouds and eventually, typically around mid month, we will see the first rains, which are light and sporadic, but cooling and reviving. By the end of the month we pack up camp and with luck depart just on time before the large November rains arrive in thunderstorms, to cordon off the area again.
Q: How do these seasonal changes affect the animal movements and game viewing?
A: When the rain falls, seasonal rivers flow and the network of pans means that, in lands far and wide, water is never far away or in short supply. Animals spread out and populate distant territories, which are now blessed with water and nutritious graze and browse. When the rains cease, the air and soils begin to dry. The water soaked into the land sponges out into rivers and is not replaced by further rainfall. As surface water progressively dries, so, little by little, animals begin to congregate around the remaining water sources. In the advanced stages of the dry season, all surface water has dried except what remains of the Luangwa River and its perennial tributaries. At this time of year, buffalo herds, that where separate, spread out entities in the wet season, amalgamate into giant herds, sometimes over one-thousand strong. There is a great thirst to the land and the animals, and energy resources are depleted, weakening life forms to a knife edge of survival. The great strength of life shows through in the stories of fortitude and perseverance that the creatures endure without complaint.
Predators and prey are all contained together, in ever smaller areas alongside the rivers, and the predators take advantage of what, for them, is a time of plenty. With the imminent advance of rainclouds through October, the trees are faced with a dilemma: their energy resources are all but depleted, but in order to replenish them they need to use their remaining energy to grow leaves for photosynthesis; but if they put out leaves too early they risk their remaining water stores through transpiration. Their survival depends on a delicate understanding of atmospheric changes and of their own resource stores. When the green leaves begin to appear, we know that thunderstorms must not be far off. The first sprinklings of rain tell us of the advanced stages of atmospheric build up that in the next weeks will result in almighty downpours. With the first heavy shower, the wait is over. Every tree and grass that has waited with great faith and patience bursts forth in an overwhelming display of vibrant relief as their leaves face up to the sunshine. The animals have endured this time with no less thirst and anticipation. They know that when rain falls water and resources with be spread far and wide and they will be freed from this depleted and congested area. In what feels like an instant, the bush is vibrant green and the animals have dispersed to complete the ebb and flow cycle of this great Luangwa riverine system.
Q: What is the best time of year to do a walking safari?
A: We operate from June to October. Each of these months has something special about them; spectacular moments happen in any one of these months. Though there are greater game concentrations later in the dry season (Aug, Sep, Oct) , each year we are surprised with exceptional periods of game viewing earlier in the season, and quiet periods of game viewing later in the season. But as a general rule game concentrations are good from June/July, but increase through the very dry month of October and into November - until the first big rains. The temperatures increase in the same pattern, and though we conduct our activities during the coolest daylight hours, it is important to come at a time of year when you will be comfortable – especially on a walking safari. To see a description of climates by month, click here. To speak to us directly and in more detail about the best time of year for you, and the availability at that time, click here.
Q: How many days would you recommend for the walking trail?
A: We recommend the seven day trail for those that wish to slow down and truly immerse themselves in the wilderness. We spend the first four days exploring and interpreting the wild around us. Once you are orientated and have gained a greater understanding of your surroundings, we set aside three days to explore the area in complete silence. This is an experience of the wild like no other.
For those that prefer not to do the days of silence, we also offer a four day trail.
To reserve your place or for any questions or inquiries, please click here
Q: What are the days of silence about on the seven day trail?
A: What will surprise those that undertake the days of silence, is how quickly mental space is freed up, and just how vivid our experience of the world becomes, when we remove our accountability to words, concepts and our social themes.
Words and concepts encapsulate us in the human world of mental attention. Silence frees us to re-enter the world around us and observe the fullness of life on Earth. In the absence of words we join the creatures of the African wilderness in their world and come into a communication with existence. Here life observes life, moving in timeless rhythms, impervious to the fleeting scramble of the modern world.
Q: Is there a limit to the number of people on a trail?
A: Yes, we walk with a maximum of six guests. In rare circumstances, where the trail is booked by one party, the camp can accommodate up to eight guests. For larger groups we run two consecutive trails. Please contact us to discuss the best way to co-ordinate these arrangements.
Q: Why Zambia?
A: Zambia has remained a hidden gem, filled with wild expanses and tremendous ecological beauty. While other countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa have become heavily marketed safari destinations, Zambia remains relatively unscathed by commercialism. Areas like the Luangwa Valley are considered perhaps the wildest and most unaffected wilderness areas in Africa. This is the perfect setting for a walking trail.
The feeling here is authentic. The wilderness areas are vast and unfenced, allowing game to roam freely on their ancient migration routes. The national park boundaries typically follow rivers and streams, allowing animals to exist either side of the gazette park lines. The rural people that live on the edge of the national parks continue to live their lives in and amongst the animals, and are submersed in familiarity with animal behavior. These are your hosts in the bush. Everyone from the chefs and waiters, the housekeepers and camp hands, are at home in this area and with the ways of animals.
Safari goers usually only find Zambia once they have been to all the other safari destinations in Africa. Once they find i however, it becomes their destination of choice and they keep coming back.
Q: Where is Zambia?
A: Zambia is in South-Central Africa and shares a border with eight different countries: Nambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Congo, Angola.
Q: Where is the Luangwa Valley within Zambia?
A: The Luangwa Valley is on the eastern side of Zambia, towards the border with Malawi. The volcanic valley stretches seven-hundred kilometers long and one-hundred kilometers wide, and forms one of the southern tips of the Great Rift Valley (the other being Lake Malawi).
Q: Do you recommend adding on other experiences onto our itinerary?
A: If you have time on your travel schedule then we recommend that we tailor your itinerary to include some days of driving safaris at our partner camps before and/or after the walking trail. The experience of game viewing from a vehicle offers a completely different experience to being on foot in the wild. Driving is great for photographs and getting up close to the animals. On foot we are much more submersed in the details and rhythms of the environment, the sounds, textures and smells. We interpret tracks and observe the behaviors and life factors of everything around us, from insect life to lions. For more details of the difference between walking and driving, click here.
Please contact us for our recommended nine-day journey or twelve-day journey, or allow us to tailor a broader experience for anything longer.
Q: Is Primal Pathways also a safari agent?
A: Yes, Primal Pathways operates as both a walking safari outfit and a safari travel agent. We can help you with bookings to any location in Africa. This is our second decade in the safari industry and the detailed expertise that we have of the various countries, national parks, camps and lodges throughout Sub-Saharan Africa is a great advantage to the traveller. Beyond our extensive knowledge of the operators and products in the industry, it is our detailed understanding of the ecology of the region, including the seasonal variations, that puts us in a league of our own in the guidance we can offer guests. If you would like to use our expertise to recommend an itinerary for your safari trip, click here.