On the 'Zanzibar, Zambezi and the Falls' (YDF) trip, Sarah from the Dragoman Operations department spends three epic weeks travelling overland from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe through Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania before reaching Zanzibar.
Victoria Falls (Days 1 & 2)
I arrived in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe with a bag that was too big for me and a lot of excitement in my stomach. Emerging from the airport I met two of my fellow travellers and we shared a transfer, chatting away to easily break the ice. Approaching Vic Falls Rest Camp, I immediately spotted the big orange truck I’ve had my eyes peeled for, Florence.
With a bit of extra time I met the group that have also recently arrived from the previous leg of the journey, travelling north from Cape Town, and listening to their tales of highlights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. I smiled through my first evening here with the brilliant Drago crew, Helen and Adam, as we enjoyed a toast to being in Africa whilst watching the sun set, and I glimpsed sight of my first elephant family at a nearby watering hole.
The next day the rest of our group joined us and we were introduced to Florence, our trusty truck, and Denford, our fantastic Chef for the next 3 weeks. The group are excited to head off to explore the mighty Falls, also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya or The Smoke That Thunders. Although it’s dry season, it was an incredible sight as the Falls bellowed whilst we tried to take photos through the mist!
We also had some decisions to make today about which of the adrenaline-fuelled activities we were going to do whilst here; lots of my group went to do the white water rafting, returning to camp with great stories and huge smiles. I decided to do the bungee swing and despite the excessive screaming I loved every second. We enjoyed our first group meal together in Vic Falls, all animated for the next 3 weeks together as we travel towards Zanzibar.
Livingstone & the Zambezi River (Days 3 - 6)
The next day I was eager to get going on the truck and to properly start our journey! Although not an overly long drive, we all settled on to Florence to head across the border from Zimbabwe in to Zambia, where we reached the town of Livingstone (named after Scottish explorer David Livingstone). We camped here for the night, bonding over the first of many campfires to come.
We had an early start from here, ready for a truck appreciation day driving with Florence. We had the windows down and enjoyed the journey through remote Zambian villages until we reached the banks of the Lower Zambezi River. After a quick and welcome refresh in the cold pool we had our first briefing for our canoeing excursion which will take us along the Zambezi for the following two days. All excited and having packed our day bags we were treated to a camp roast dinner from Denford. This night stands out particularly as the first time I realised how noisy the wildlife is at night: hippos grunting, elephants rustling the trees nearby and lions roaring in the distance (we found out the next morning the sound of their roar can carry up to 8km, especially over water!). It's safe to say I didn't get much sleep in my tent but was happy and exhilarated to be surrounded by it all.
The next morning I was up and out of my tent early, ready to watch the sun rise over the river. The sky temporarily turned all shades of pink and purple as the river lapped below the jetty. I didn’t have too much time to waste though as we packed up everything we needed for the next two nights onto our canoes and waved goodbye to Denford and Florence, who were staying at the camp while we took to the water.
We pretty quickly realised how incredible the next couple of days were going to be, as we were sharing the river with so many hippos and crocodiles whilst also admiring animals on the nearby banks; elephants, buffalo, baboons and kudu to name a few. We canoed through the morning, stopping for an extended lunch break in the heat of the day. We then canoed for a few more hours before reaching the island we were to be making home for the night. I pitched my tent in the sand, smiling to myself as it was surrounded by elephant poo. Sure enough, as the cook group I was in were preparing a chilli con carne for dinner, we see the elephants not far away. The next day saw us pack up from this island and canoe further down the river for hours that seemed to fly by until we reached a second island, again creating our camp. There were hippo footprints in the sand, elephants taking a dip in the river nearby and fish eagles flying above. Tonight could possibly have been the loudest, this time adding hyena into the mix! It's safe to say canoeing and camping on islands in the Zambezi was a real pinch-me experience.
It was another early start as we bade farewell to our canoes to take a boat back to camp and with not much time to spare were back on the road. Today we drove through Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and on through very remote villages. I spent the majority of the time with the window down trying to soak it all in.
South Luangwa National Park (Days 7 - 9)
The next day we continued our drive to reach South Luangwa National Park, where we were immediately greeted by a giraffe and a family of elephants at the truck! We set up our tents at Croc Valley, a great campsite with an amazing view over the river (although this had an almost canyon-like effect due to us being at the height of the dry season!). Nevertheless our friends the hippos weren't far away. We protected our food from the pesky baboons and had an early night, ready for our drives into the park tomorrow.
Waking early, we met our jeep that took us on our first safari drive. South Luangwa National Park is a wildlife haven spanning 9,050 km2 and the Luangwa River winding through it supports one of the greatest concentrations of animals in Africa.
Within the first couple of hours we saw the endemic Thornicroft's giraffe and Crawshay's zebra, as well as elephants, kudu, impala, buffalo and an array of bird species. We returned to camp to have some free time in the middle of the day, most of which was spent making the most of the camp’s pool! Our evening drive began at 4pm and we headed back over the bridge on another drive. This evening didn't disappoint before or after the sunset! We were fortunate enough to see lions sleeping on the river bank (3 brothers having recently enjoyed a feed) as well as a baby zebra learning to walk (it was probably only born a few hours before). The real highlight though had to be the leopard that graced us with his presence. Amazing.
Malawi - Kande Beach and Chitimba (Days 10 - 13)
After the fantastic wildlife experiences we had in Zambia, the next day it was time for Florence, Helen and Adam to take us over the border to Malawi. This was quite simply an awesome drive day and one of my favourites. After a relatively straightforward border crossing, we all gazed out the window at how the landscape changes; higher elevation means more hills that we wound through, admiring the interesting red rock formations with scatterings of lush green that we haven't been used to. Sometimes taking a different turn can end up being the best and as the sun lowered in the sky it was an amazing end to the drive. We reached our home for the next couple of nights, Kande Beach Camp, where we were met with a warm welcome.
Over the next couple of days we had free time to do as much or as little as we liked here on the shores of Lake Malawi. The lake itself is the third largest in the African continent and covers a fifth of the country. We spent the morning in the water, body surfing on the waves. In the afternoon some of us headed to learn the art of wood carving and Adam and I were particularly proud of our efforts for Dragoman!
After a brilliant couple of days at Kande Beach, we continued north around the lake to reach the village of Chitimba. This drive saw us admire the lake from hills above but we reached camp with time to enjoy activities in the afternoon. A few of us walked through the village, making friends and visiting a local Witch Doctor where joining in for a dance was inevitable.
Tanzania - Iringa, Mikumi & Dar Es Salaam (Days 14 - 16)
Our time on the shores of Lake Malawi was great but the next day another border crossing lay ahead of us, this time pushing North-East through to Tanzania and jumping forward an hour on our watches. In Tanzania, we admired more changing landscapes, driving through tea plantations where mist hung over the hills and stopping for a walk amongst the baobab trees. We arrived to our camp in Iringa quite late in the evening but dinner was already arranged and we were treated to a lovely hot meal after a long day, complete with candlesticks and tablecloth!
Our second day in Tanzania was a shorter drive to Mikumi and in the afternoon we had time to give Florence (and ourselves!) some TLC, followed by cooling off in the pool.
The next morning we left early and whilst dozing in the back of the truck I quickly snapped awake to the shout of 'elephant ahead!' We saw another family, as well as giraffes, as we headed through the National Park at sunrise. This drive saw us heading towards Dar Es Salaam, where the rain started to pour as we negotiated bustling city traffic. We stayed at a beach camp where we enjoyed a group meal and got ready to catch the ferry over to the island of Zanzibar in the morning.
We said our parting goodbyes to Denford and Florence, thanking them for the awesome journey we have made over the last two and a half weeks, covering well over 2500km. I know for sure that I will soon be missing truck life!
Zanzibar (Days 17 - 21)
The ferry was a little wavy but we arrived into Stone Town as the clouds were clearing. We were met by Daniel, our guide on Zanzibar, and settled into our hotel. Making the most of our time here, some of us headed straight out on a boat trip in the afternoon. We collected our snorkelling equipment and headed to a reef close by, jumping into the beautiful turquoise waters. Our time underwater whizzed past and we were called back to the boat to continue to our next stop: Prison Island. Here we explored the old buildings that were used as a quarantine centre, and saw giant tortoises, the eldest of which is said to be 190 years old! It was soon time to return to Stone Town for the evening and to explore with Daniel, followed by a rooftop cocktail as the sun was setting. Having built up an appetite, we headed to the night market to try some of the local specialities!
In the morning we learned more about the history of Stone Town and Zanzibar, visiting the old slave market with an extremely humbling exhibition. Following this we headed to the pungent fish market and then began heading North on the island to the spice plantation. Here we saw an array of spices and fruit being grown, sampling and shopping to take gifts home, before being welcomed in to Daniel's house nearby for lunch.
The drive north comes to an end at Nungwi, where we will be staying until we say our goodbyes. The hotel is right on the beach with crystal-clear blue waters and soft white sand. We spent our time in the sunshine, swimming in the Indian Ocean and having fun on a sunset boat trip. It was a short walk to the nearby Nungwi village to explore, peruse the markets and sit and enjoy fresh coconut while watching the fishing boats.
Over these incredible 3 weeks I have been in 4 countries, experiencing pinch-me wildlife moments, diverse culture, changing scenery, and now I find myself in a postcard-worthy scene on the island of Zanzibar. It's time to say goodbye to the group I've been lucky enough to share this trip with, as they either head home or carry on to the next leg of this journey to Nairobi. I have one more peaceful day to myself here to reflect on my travels before taking the flight home.
For now, it's back to Drago HQ for me. Until next time...