We divide the Lower Zambezi River into 3 canoeing stretches
Kariba to Chirundu – the tamer stretch
- The first is a 3 day leg of about 56km from Kariba to Chirundu run only on the Zimbabwean shore. This safari takes you through a very scenic stretch in the Kariba Gorge.
- The game is not extensive. With the exception of hippos and crocodiles the chance of seeing elephant, buffalo, cats etc. is slim.
- There’s a very interesting historical aspect to this section with the discovery of the Ingombe Ilede archaeological site in 1960. General literature is thin on the subject but it’s well worth the research. Birdlife is very good with Black Eagle nests in the gorge. We’ve had a few sketchy reports of Taita Falcon sightings near Nyamasowa through the years.
- The first day is spent canoeing through the gorge, and with the exception of birdlife and sounds from a few fishing villages en route, it’s often a very eerie experience. The second and third days we see the Zambian and Zimbabwean escarpments recede as the floodplain widens on both sides of the Zambezi. We encounter pods of hippo pods shortly after we pass through the gorge.
- If you’re short on time and keen for a taste of canoeing the Zambezi River then this is an excellent “camping” option. The overnight sites are on islands in the middle of the river. Departure dates are unfortunately limited on the Gorge Safari.
Chirundu to Mana Pools – most popular
- The second canoe stretch is a 4 day leg of about 70km from Chirundu to Mana Pools. This is the most popular “full participation” stretch on the lower Zambezi River. We run it on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean shorelines. The game is superb (hippo pods will be encountered within about 10 minutes of launch) especially in the dry season. Birdlife is good year round but best in the wet season from November to April. On the camping trips, overnight stops are on both the mainland and on islands. One of the Zambian outfits offers a unique “cultural” extension to this safari.
- The safari passes along the Urungwe Safari Area and goes into the Mana Pools World Heritage Site on the Zimbabwean bank. Here we encounter the most game and birdlife on the entire Zambezi River from source to sea.
- Mana Pools is essentially closed from November to April with most of the outlying roads completely impassable so the only way to viably experience the area in the wet season is by canoe.
- The Mana Pools shoreline from Ruckomechi down to Chikwenya on the Zimbabwean bank offers the best game viewing. The best way to explore this section exclusively is on one of the deluxe canoe safaris over four days. They’re “backed up” trips with a full camp crew in attendance.
Mana Pools to Kanyemba – the wilder stretch
- The third canoe stretch is a 6 day “full participation” safari of about 120km from Mana Pools to Kanyemba on the Mozambican border. Game around Mana Pools is excellent but thins out downstream especially when we reach the Mupata Gorge. Scenery is dramatic and the rare Taita Falcon can be found here.
- The trip runs through the Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas within the World Heritage Site. On to Kanyemba and the upstream side of Caborra Bassa dam and the border with Mozambique.
- In reality only four and a half days is spent canoeing and the last day is a 7 hour (hot and dusty) drive back into Kariba. This stretch will appeal if you enjoy a real taste for adventure in a true wilderness area. You get to experience the full diversity of the lower Zambezi River from the open flood plains of Mana Pools and Sapi to the confines of Mupata Gorge and the Chewore Safari Area.
Best time for Lower Zambezi canoe safaris…
- lower Zambezi canoe safaris from Kariba to Chirundu and Chirundu to Mana are available throughout the year
- the lower reaches from Mana through Sapi and Chewore are only accessed during the dry months from late May to October
- May and June – mildest weather and clearest skies – our “Champagne Months”
- July to September – high season – book well in advance especially if you’re planning on a group trip. We take a maximum of 8 guests per trip.
- October and November – devilishly hot, the game is at it’s very best and the migrant birds are in the Valley – our “suicide months”
- November to March – wet season. Road access to the lower stretches of the Zambezi is nigh impossible. The only option is to run the Kariba and Chirundu to Mana “participation” trips.
Choose the right canoe safari “style”
We do it 3 ways – fairly tame, adventure style, intrepid…
Fairly tame: A 4 day shoreline trail from Ruckomechi down to Chikwenya. It’s the full Mana Pools stretch in the World Heritage Site. The trip starts from Ruckomechi, the Wilderness Safaris’ 4 star premier lodge with first class hosting. You move onto fairly basic backed up camps for 3 nights. They’re 1 star. Encounters en route, land, water and otherwise are 5 star.
Adventure: We start from Kariba or Chirundu to do 4 or 6 days worth of canoeing. Your 19 foot Canadian canoe is well laden with provisions and camping kit. Your paddle will hold a mosquito net over a warm bedroll en route. In the wet season you’ll even have a small tent to keep you dry. Irrespective of season you probably won’t sleep much! The days are full and active, you’ll see a million stars at night.
Intrepid: We can include premier lodging at the start and end of this bucket list experience but we get back to basics on these canoe safaris. We delight in doing all 230km camping style. The Kariba-Chirundu stretch is epic but quiet. The Chirundu-Mana leg is first-class wildlife. Fewer than 200 souls canoe the remote lower stretches through Sapi and Chewore each year. The full 10 day trip down to Kanyemba is worth a gazillion stars.
- Private lower Zambezi canoe safaris could be arranged for up to 8 people in a party.
- See our Upper Zambezi River canoe safari options on our sister site Victoria Falls Network
Notes on prices
The from price shown is for the green season. See tips and notes below for high season prices.
|Day 1 - Kariba departure for Crocodile Rocks Camp (18km)||Kariba rendezvous 07:30 for a briefing and walk down into the Gorge. Demonstration and paddle to lunch, siesta over the heat of the day, paddle down to Crocodile Rocks Island to overnight camp.|
|Day 2 - Paddle to Twin Logs Island (27km)||Early rise with tea/coffee and biscuits, paddle, then breakfast, setting off again till lunch and a siesta. Paddle on once its cooler to your overnight camp at Twin Logs Island.|
|Day 3 - Paddle to Chirundu and Kakomarara Island (28km)||Early rise, breakfast and paddle to Chirundu for a resupply then paddle on after a light packed lunch to overnight at Kakomarara Island.|
|Day 4 - Paddle to Lone Acacia Island (27km)||Early rise and breakfast before a paddle for a well-earned lunch and siesta before a paddle mid afternoon to overnight camp on Lone Acacia Island.|
|Day 5 - Paddle past Ruchomechi River to Trichelia Island (23km)||Early rise, breakfast and then paddle, lunch, siesta and mid afternoon paddle onto overnight camp on Trichelia Island near Mucheni in Mana Pools.|
|Day 6 - Paddle past Nyamepi to Chikwenya Island (20km)||Early rise, breakfast then paddle, lunch and siesta. The trip passes Mana Pools HQ at Nyamepi, paddle on to overnight camp on Chikwenya Island in Mana Pools.|
|Day 7 - Paddle into Sapi to False Gorge near G Camp (25km)||Early tea/coffee, paddle breakfast en-route to lunch, siesta and paddle on to overnight camp at False Gorge. Near Shamashanga G Camp. That's the old hunting and fishing camp in the Sapi Safari Area.|
|Day 8 - Paddle into Chewore to Mupata Gorge (20km)||Early rise, paddle to breakfast on the river bank en-route to your lunch and siesta. paddle exploring shoreline of Chewore (home of Great Elephant) Overnight camp at Mupata Gorge.|
|Day 9 - Paddle through Mupata Gorge to Red Cliffs (35km)||Today is spent mainly in the austere Mupata Gorge, viewing many endemic species of wildlife, taking in its spectacular geographical features. Night’s campsite will be at towering Red Cliff.|
|Day 10 - Paddle to the take-out point at Kanyemba (7km)||Early rise, breakfast and paddle to the take-out point at Kanyemba. This is the end of the full 10 day canoe trip. A hot and dusty 7 hour drive back to Kariba follows. ETA in Kariba is 16:00|