Plan Your Self-Drive Itinerary:
1. Your first step is organizing a suitably-equipped vehicle for your road trip across Zambia. A number of outfits rent 4x4s, and one of the most comprehensive is Safari Drive. Its heavily customized Land Rover Defenders and Toyota Land Cruisers come with a fridge-freezer, gas cooker, satellite phone, satnav and roof rents. They organize bespoke itineraries where guests decide the balance of lodges and rooftop camping.
2. Once you’re fully acquainted with your 4×4, set out from the Zambian capital Lusaka. It takes roughly three hours to drive south to Zambezi Breezers camp near the town of Chirundu, from where canoe trips depart. Canoeing the Zambezi requires no previous experience, and you need only be moderately fit. The excellent River Horse Safaris counts among the operators running trips from March to December. The company offers two- to five-night itineraries, paddling in Canadian canoes by day and camping in the wild at night. Rates include three generous meals per day, use of camping equipment, transfers back upstream and local guides experienced in dodging hippo pods.
3. Once you return from your canoeing trip, follow the same road back to Lusaka. It takes roughly nine hours to drive north-east from here to South Luangwa National Park’s Milyoti Gate. Set close to the gate, in one of the most wildlife-dense parts of the park, Nsefu is the oldest safari lodge in Zambia, with a huddle of circular cabins set by a bend in the Luangwa River. Be sure to spend some time in the well-concealed hide overlooking a small watering hole.
4. One hour’s drive from Nsefu in a remote tract of bush, Kalovia is a community-run campsite for self-drivers. The facilities include a campfire-heated bush shower and toilet.
Close to the camp is the Changwa Channel – home to one of the biggest hippo populations in Africa, reached from the camp via a magnificently-bumpy 45-minute drive.
5. Not far from Kalovia, Chikoko Camp is an excellent base for the walking safaris for which Zambia and South Luangwa National Park are renowned. It’s only accessible on foot, with guests parking their cars, crossing the Luangwa by canoe and taking a 10-minute stroll with porters carrying luggage and supplies. Accommodation takes the form of stilt-houses rebuilt from scratch every year using bamboo and thatch, and visitors take game walks with a guide and armed ranger.
6. Getting to Luangwa River Camp involves some fairly advanced map reading. However, it’s the perfect place at which to spend a last night in the park, with handsome villas, knowledgeable guides and a lawn frequented by mischievous monkeys.
7. As an alternative to returning to Lusaka, there’s the option of a four-and-a-half-hour drive to the Malawian capital of Liongwe, from whose airport there are international connections to India, involving a stopover in Addis Ababa, Johannesburg or Nairobi. Latitude 13° has comfortable, isiosyncratic rooms and is very handy for Lilongwe Airport.