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Planning a lower Zambezi Canoe safari



  • Which safari, where and with whom..
    • Safari type
    • Zambia or Zimbabwe
    • Operators and guides
  • When to come on safari...
    • Game, weather, seasons
  • Getting to Kariba (lower Zambezi hub)
  • What to bring on safari


Which safari, where and with whom...

Safari type: Select the type of trip that'll suit your tastes and budget best. 

  • The full participation trips are least expensive and are ideal for fun-loving adventurers of all ages. 
  • The deluxe trips cost more but include a fair bit more comfort - it's like comparing apples with pears. 
  • The canoe trails from the permanent camps are ideal if you don't mind the expense and only want a taste of the Zambezi canoeing experience. 
  • The combination trips offer the best in terms of value for money, time usage, variety and quality of experience. 

Zambia or Zimbabwe

  • Launches from Zimbabwe have more options and flexibility and you can get direct access into Mana Pools. 
  • The Zambian trips on offer are well worthwhile and from time to time in the dry season we run trips down to Mwambashi River Lodge which is in the relatively undeveloped and remote Lower Zambezi National Park.

: Safety and track record is critical. Use the best operators and avoid "budget" trips - the guiding, back up and provisioning simply aren't worth the risk of a spoilt trip (bitter experience has resulted in a local blacklist - available on request). 

We strongly support Shearwater, River Horse Safaris, Classic Africa Safaris, Natureways and Sobek. We do a fair amount of complimentary walking safari business with these companies and offer competitive rates on our combinations to consumers and the travel trade alike.

Guides: The river guides are required to pass stringent proficiency tests and gain extensive experience (the better operations insist on over 1000 hours) before qualifying to run trips. There is a relatively small pool of really competent guides and they are mostly employed by the more reputable outfits. 

An even smaller pool of Professional Guides and Professional Hunters with river guide licences exists. Professional Guides are used on the backed up safaris in Mana Pools and we generally use a Professional Guide for our tailor made trips.



When to come on a canoe safari...

Game conditions: The best game viewing season is in our dry months from late June to mid November. The best birding season is from late October through to April.

Weather conditions

  • October and November in the valley is an uncomfortably hot period (our suicide months) - canoeing is a good activity but take extra sun protection. 
  • The wet season starts in November and ends early in April - most rain tends to fall in January and February. Don't be put off by the rains - the season is warm, the rain pattern is mostly thunderstorms followed by sunshine - it's quiet, the birding is excellent, and a violent African thunderstorm is an experience in itself - pack a poncho for canoeing and keep some dry clothes for camp. 
  • May and June offer the best weather in the valley and the game starts improving on the Zambezi shoreline.

Safari season

  • Things can get busy from July to late September and high season rates apply - as space is restricted, advance booking is essential. 
  • The low season is generally from December to June and special offers pop up at the last minute.



Logistics for a canoe safari... 

Kariba is the hub for all of our canoe safaris - best accessed by private air charter or Air Zimbabwe connections from Harare or Victoria Falls. An option is to connect to Kariba via Lusaka. 

Unless you're on a "combination trip" we recommend an overnight stay at one of the Kariba hotels (Caribbea Bay or Kariba Breezes) the night before a canoe safari because of the early start the following morning. Morning flights from Victoria Falls, Harare and Hwange and the Kariba Ferry connection from Milibizi are too late.  Any hitch in your connection could result in a missed canoe departure - stay in Kariba the night before!

The return from a canoe safari on the Gorge or Chirundu-Mana Pools stretches can be arranged to connect with the afternoon flights. On canoe safaris in Zambia or the lower stretches of the river (Chewore or Kanyemba pull outs) its necessary to overnight in Kariba on return from the river. 

Bear in mind that the first thing that you generally want to do after a canoe safari is to take a shower and relax - we therefore recommend an overnight stay on the last night irrespective of the section arranged.



What to bring on your canoe safari...

Luggage should be limited to 10 kg and should include: 
  • Casual personal clothing: shorts, swimming costume and T-shirts are sufficient - neutral colours preferred (khaki, green, brown, no camouflage). 
  • A long-sleeved shirt and towel or kikoi (lightweight piece of material approximately 1 metre square) is recommended to protect arms and legs from the sun. 
  • Sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat are recommended. 
  • A light fleece, jersey or tracksuit and warm socks are needed during cool evenings from May to August. (Temperatures can drop below 15 degrees C. on the river.) 
  • Comfortable walking shoes and "rafting" sandals. 
  • Towel, personal toiletries and medication. Anti-malarial prophylaxis. Deet-based insect repellent works the best. 
  • The sun is the greatest risk on the river - good Suntan lotion/barrier cream is essential. 
  • Torch, spare batteries, binoculars, fully charged video recorder, camera and spare film. (A water proof container is recommended - sealed plastic bags are a suitable local alternative.) 
  • Fishing tackle for angling enthusiasts. 
  • Rain gear is necessary from November to March - a lightweight poncho works well, make sure that you keep a set of dry clothes for the evening. 
  • A minimal amount of money is required on the trip - you may wish to purchase extra alcohol, sweets etc. en route. The river usage fee on trips in Mana Pools is Z$75, subject to change without notice and applicable to certain trips only. Remember that your passport and visa expenses need to be carried for trips on the Zambian side of the river. 
  • Arrangements can be made for the safe-keeping of passports, credit cards/cash and excess baggage at our offices in Kariba.  
  • If you leave everything else at home, be sure to come armed with a healthy sense of adventure!


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Last update 09 July 2000

UK Head Office
Shilston Barton, Modbury, Devon, PL21 OTW
Tel/Fax: +44 1548 830059

Zimbabwe Head Office
The Heights, PO Box 158, Kariba, Zimbabwe
Tel: +263 61 2532  Fax: +263 61 2291

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