Many people ask me, “What’s my favorite trip?”
To a degree, that is hard to answer, but in the end, I prefer trips with wildlife. As a result, I have now been on three safaris. My first was to Tanzania over ten years ago.
At the time, as much as I wanted to go to Africa, I was frozen like a deer in headlights. I asked everyone I knew that had been on safari about their experience and where they went. Each said, “It was the best! You have to go to ____.” Fill in the blank: Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa. I couldn’t pick, and I was so afraid I’d be disappointed with my high expectations and wish to see a kill.
Finally, my friend Ruth called me and said, “I made a reservation for you on American Airlines to go to Tanzania. All you have to do is pay.” Ok, I went and joined the trip she planned through five parks; Arusha, Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti.
I had the time of my life. We saw a kill, a hunt, the wildebeest cross the river, the big five, three of the small five which I didn’t even know existed, cheetah cubs, lion cubs, warthog babies, hyena babies, and the list continues. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better safari, and I was absolutely mind boggled that lions, buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra could all co-exist within yards of one another. It was so good in fact, that when Ruth invited me on other safaris, I said, “No, there is no way I can top that.”
Ten years later, I realized, why deprive myself of what I love? I’ll see what it is like in Kenya, Ruth’s favorite African country. So, a few years ago, I joined her on a trip to Umani Springs and the Masai Mara. I enjoyed it so much, that while in Kenya, we planned a safari to Zambia for something different. Though COVID delayed our 2020 Zambia safari a year, we made it there and enjoyed another fantastic trip!
Kenya vs Zambia
This prologue gets me to the title of my post: Kenya vs Zambia. How come I am not including Tanzania? The reasons are many. It was my first safari, I was naïve, and it was over ten years ago. While it will likely always rank as my favorite because I experienced so many firsts, in ten years, I suspect many things have changed, it wouldn’t be a fair comparison.
On the flip side, I took my Kenya safari and Zambia safari recently, and just two years apart. Additionally, Ruth and I kept noticing several differences between the two. As a result, comparing the two countries, specifically the Masai Mara and South Luangwa National Park, where we spent most our time, seemed like an interesting post.
Not to mention, it gives me an excuse to post more Zambia photos (mostly of lions and leopards) that didn’t make it into my previous articles, Flatdogs and South Luangwa National Park. For Kenya photos, see my posts; Safari in the Masai Mara – Day 1, Safari in the Masai Mara – Day 2, Safari in the Masai Mara – Day 3.
Anyway, the point of my Kenya vs Zambia post is not to say which country or safari is better, but just to say they are different. And as Ruth, who has been on 20+ safaris, will tell you, every safari is DIFFERENT, even in the same country. That’s what keeps her coming back.
As it relates to Kenya vs Zambia some differences include wildlife, topography, food, cleanliness, airports, tribes, and guides. Additionally, whether I like it or not COVID considerations also factor into the mix.
Kenya vs. Zambia Wildlife
Since wildlife is the most interesting of the above list, I will start with it. During our recent trip to Zambia, we found the animals slightly more skittish than those in Kenya. This is partly due to a lack of visitors with COVID restrictions in place and partly due to the fact there are just more tourists in Kenya, and the animals have acclimated to the vehicles.
Fewer visitors to the park in Zambia (especially during COVID), resulted in a more pleasant experience when on a special sighting, as there were never many vehicles around. In fact, many times we were the only ones at a leopard or lion sighting!
Even if it weren’t COVID, the amount of vehicles on a cool encounter would likely still be less in Zambia, as the camps agreed to only radio vehicles within their own camps rather than all the vehicles in the park. Consequently, the masses don’t bombard the animals.
That said, especially during COVID, the exciting wildlife sightings in Zambia were possibly limited as compared to Kenya as there were fewer guests out looking and communicating. Not to mention, in general it seemed like Kenya had more wildlife.
In addition to slightly shyer wildlife, the wildlife is different from Kenya to Zambia. For example, Kenya features thousands of wildebeest, especially during the migration. In Zambia, however, we didn’t see any in South Luangwa National Park. I understand they are farther north, and we did see about five in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, but over all they don’t frequent the area.
Hippos and Crocodiles
While Zambia may not have many wildebeest, the country certainly impresses with a plethora of hippos and crocodiles. They out number those in Kenya by the hundreds. In Kenya, they are generally countable on one, maybe two hands during a week in the savannah. In Zambia, you need a calculator and then good luck.
There also tons of elephants in Zambia. We counted over 100 one day, though I suspect some were duplicates. It is easy to see elephants in Kenya too. But there were quite a few in Zambia. Flatdogs camp should have been called Elephant camp. They came to our treehouse daily.
Leopards and Lions
As it relates to cats, once again, Kenya and Zambia differ. Kenya’s topography, with its expansive savannah, provides an excellent sanctuary for the cheetah. It needs the large open areas to catch its prey. On the contrary, Zambia features a more wooded terrain. Consequently, cheetahs are extinct in South Luangwa National Park, but the leopard population abounds.
In fact, Zambia’s forests, the leopards’ preferred habitat, hosts more leopards than lions. While we still saw more lions than leopards in Zambia, six individual leopard sightings more than doubles the sightings in my previous two safaris in Kenya and Tanzania. And a few of the encounters were very long! That said, it is possible to spot the elusive leopard in both places.
Mama, who left us and went to hunt.
Leopard with kill in tree that we scared off. It waited on the branch farther away for us to leave.
This one was on the hunt, but occasionally rested.
Lions are also found in Kenya and Zambia. We didn’t have any difficulty finding lions in either place, though I got the feeling they were rarer in Zambia. Uniquely, the male’s manes in Zambia were small to non-existent. That was the strangest experience for me.
A mating couple. This male had the nicest mane.
A male and some females resting under a bush, but the male didn’t have grass in front of his face.
Pride of eight: females and cubs
The black rhino, on the contrary, is much harder to find. There are only 30-35 in the Masai Mara and none in South Luangwa National Park. Thus, searching for the big five; elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhino is a tough one.
That said, Kenya has some conservancies that specialize in saving rhinos, and Zambia is reintroducing the rhino as well. It has eight rhinos in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park which we visited while in Livingstone and checking out Victoria Falls.
Giraffe and Zebra
Also interesting about the wildlife in Kenya vs Zambia is the difference in species. They both have giraffe and zebras, but Zambia’s are different. Zambia features the Thornicroft giraffe and the Crawshay’s zebra.
The Thornicroft giraffe may only be found in Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley. It is estimated that there are only 550 left in the wild and none in captivity.
The Crawshay’s zebra is noted for its narrower stripes as compared to other zebras on the plains. Not an expert, I couldn’t tell a huge difference, but I wonder if the narrow stripes is what made the entire zebra look smaller to me than other zebras. Regardless, it is cool to see a subspecies.
Kenya vs Zambia Other Differences
Along with the wildlife, there are several other differences between Kenya and Zambia. I already mentioned the landscape, the savannah vs woodlands and some plains. I also touched on the difference in radioing about exciting encounters. Further, usually parks aren’t open at night, but Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is, so it was the first time I took a night time safari or had sundowners in the bush!
Lots of trees, some plains.
Additionally, I felt like the guides were different too. In both countries, the guides are very accommodating. Of course they want their guests to see everything and have a good time as they work for tips.
But in Zambia, I felt like the guides explained much more from details about animal behavior, and how they were tracking the wildlife. Perhaps they had to since the wildlife population wasn’t as big as in Kenya, or perhaps we just had an inquisitive group. Regardless, I learned a lot! Occasionally, almost too much as we were generally stopped during information briefings, and thus not looking for the elusive leopard!
Also different, are where the safaris begin. In Kenya, we landed in the bush on a dirt strip. The “airport” featured a few thatched huts, one being the dirty bathroom without toilet paper. After paying our park fees, we began our safari from the airport in the bush to the camp.
In Zambia, we actually landed at an airport, all be it small, with clean facilities. In fact, all the airport facilities were also cleaner than Nairobi’s International airport. Perhaps COVID made a difference?
While Zambia may have been cleaner, it was smokier. In particular, by Mfuwe and the main entrance to the park. Apparently, the locals use a certain tree to burn things, and both Kim and I were very sensitive to it. Farther away from town, it wasn’t as noticeable.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the food. Most safari camps offer three course dinner meals with the only choice being vegetarian or not for the main course, unless they have been notified in advance of other food sensitivities. Sometimes there are lunch buffets as well.
We experienced this in Zambia at one camp, but at Flatdogs we got to order a la carte (sadly I have no picture of their amazing meals). And the food at both camps in Zambia was quite tasty. I have to say, it was better than in the Mara. Though our self-catering experience with the chef at Umani Springs in Kenya was very good.
The only other major difference between the two countries that we learned, are that there are several tribes in Zambia, and thus multiple languages and dialects. So many, that they have adopted English as their official language. Further, they don’t speak Swahili. On the contrary, Swahili is the common language in the Mara, though Kenya recognizes Swahili and English as their official language.
Seeing as how these are two different countries in Africa, I suspect I’ve hardly touched on all the differences. I mean, I could come up with a laundry list of things if I compared certain states in the USA. Anyway, the above post just points out some differences between Kenya and Zambia as noted by a tourist. ETB