Baines' River Camp

As part of our active safaris story, we spoke to Linda Fisher from Baines' River Camp about paddling on the legendary Zambezi River, what guests to this area of Africa can expect, and about what makes the Lower Zambezi a special place to go on safari.

With the Zambezi escarpment framing the valley, birdlife in abundance, and the most jaw-dropping sunsets you have ever seen
An elephant with white tusks grazing in the bush around the pool and lodge at Baines’ River Camp, Lower Zambezi, Zambia

What do you love most about the Zambezi?
The Lower Zambezi is an area which is still very wild and untouched. We are extremely proud that there are no fences between our National Park, the Game Management Area, and our local communities. The wildlife is free to roam and explore - as it was meant to be! With the Zambezi escarpment framing the valley, birdlife in abundance, and the most jaw dropping sunsets you have ever seen, the Lower Zambezi and the mighty Zambezi River are a force to be reckoned with! Combining water and land-based safari activities, there is so much more to experience in this unique wilderness area. On the banks of the Zambezi River is Baines’ River Camp and we want to take you on an adventure of a lifetime.

What makes it a special place for paddling - and what makes paddling African rivers so special to you?
This is without a doubt the most relaxing and most popular safari activity we offer. Seeing the elephants come down to the water to drink or watching as a sleeping hippo pops his head up from under the water, there is so much to take in and experience whilst quietly drifting down the channel. Becoming one with nature has never felt so invigorating!

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Zambia. What drew you there? What has made your passion for these places so enduring?
Born in Lusaka, our head guide, Leonard Kalio, has exciting stories of visiting his grandmother when he was a child. His grandmother lived in the Chiawa area or the Chiawa Chiefdom in the Lower Zambezi. During the school holidays, Leonard would beg his mother to let him go to the river and stay with his grandmother.

Launching their dugout canoes into the river, Leonard and his cousins would spend days on end drifting down the Zambezi and paddling back up river again. Unbeknown to Leonard, these innocent, childish games that they played would be the defining moments of his life and would

View of the riverine trees, pool, and lodge at dusk, lit by hurricane lamps and overlooking the river at Baines’ River Camp

spark his love for the Lower Zambezi, canoeing, and wildlife. Ultimately, these moments would shape his career as a safari guide and Teveta Certified Examiner.

After finishing school, Leonard moved to the Lower Zambezi and joined a company which operated canoe safaris and fly camps on the Zambian side of the river. He started out by setting up the tents and organising the camp in time for the guests' arrival every afternoon. At the time, this was the only company offering canoe safaris on the Zambian side of the river. The trips would start in Chirundu and end at the gorge near Cahora Bassa and each trip lasted for 10 days.

Leonard’s manager, who was a qualified safari guide, heard that Leonard knew how to paddle a canoe and asked him if he would like to commit to proper training in order to become a guide. Leonard laughs when he tells me this story as he thought his manager had said "guard - as in he wanted to train me to become a security guard". At this point in his life, Leonard had never heard the term "guide" before. Within a year, Leonard was steering his own canoe, with guests on board. Leonard was the first local Zambian canoe guide to take guests down the Zambezi River.

25 years have passed since then and Leonard’s love for canoeing has never dwindled. He is passionate about exposing and educating our guests to this beautiful place that he calls home. In his spare time, he trains aspiring guides and, furthermore, in 2016, Leonard became a certified TEVETA Examiner for the countrywide Safari Guides Examinations.

The sun is setting. Tea, G&T, or beer?
The choice is yours - all activities include a fully-packed cooler box with your favourite tipple inside.

The patio at Baines’ River Camp in the evening with camp chairs and lamps around a fire pit overlooking the Zambezi River
Canoeing is the most memorable and epic activity we offer
A table set with a white table cloth, hurricane lamps, and camp chairs for a bush dinner on safari at Baines’ River Camp

What is the first place that comes to mind where you would love to drink it along the route on one of your paddling safaris? Why there?
We recommend that this activity is reserved for the afternoons. The trip itself takes approximately 2 hours. Drifting downstream and mostly eastwards, you will have the sun behind you, offering you better game-viewing and photographic opportunities. We offer our guests a drink at the end of the channel (where the channel joins back into the Zambezi River). Our guides use this as an opportunity to engage with the guests and hear what they saw whilst canoeing and discuss their favourite moments. But the fun doesn’t stop after the canoe trip is over….. Our coxswains will whisk you up river and take you to an island in the middle of the Zambezi. Leaving your shoes on the boat, you can feel the warm Zambezi sand under your feet whilst watching the sun go down behind the mountains, all the while sipping away on an ice cold drink.

What wildlife is Zambia and the Zambezi known for? Is there anything in particular people travel to see? What do you recommend guests to this area should be on the lookout for?
We are very privileged to have massive herds of elephants in this area. However, last year we saw record-breaking numbers of leopards and we were fortunate enough to see two new leopard cubs too. The game-viewing experience that we offer in the Lower Zambezi is uncontrived. Prides of lions sleeping under the trees with bulging bellies, hyena lurking near a kill waiting for their chance to scavenge from the carcass, wild dogs, zebras, kudu, impala, waterbuck, the list goes on and on – there is so much to see and appreciate.

What time of year is best for game-viewing? When is the rainy season? When is it unbearably hot? What is the average summer high and winter low temperatures?
Although our summers are extremely hot (from August to November our temperatures range between 35-48 degrees Celsius), game-viewing and fishing are at their best! With the temperatures rising during these months, the water in the mountains dries up and all the

The interior of the luxury safari lodge at Baines’ River Camp with leather couches, a wooden table, and ethnic décor

animals move down to the river to drink. This means that the wildlife is all on the valley floor and in plain sight. As we are a solid structure camp (no tents or canvas), all of our rooms are equipped with air conditioning. This simple pleasure becomes a necessity when the temperatures are high. We also love the months of April and May as it is still warm and the bush is still green after the rains. Our rainy season usually begins in about November and our last rains normally end by mid to late March. Most people are quite surprised to feel how cold our winter mornings and nights can be. Our temperatures drop to about 7 degrees Celsius in the night and early mornings; however the days are still sunny and warm and you can expect temperatures of about 25 degrees Celsius.

Is there one thing visitors shouldn’t miss?
Canoeing! In our experience, canoeing is the most memorable and epic activity we offer. In saying that, we offer such a wide range of activities that there is something for everyone. Cultural Village tours, game drives, fishing, walking safaris…. There is something for everyone!

Based on your experience, what are the 5 essentials you recommend clients should bring on their paddling safaris?
1. A camera - to capture all the incredible moments you will experience
2. Binoculars - see every detail up close
3. Sunglasses - the sun is bright
4. Sunscreen - a high factor SPF is essential
5. Long sleeve shirts - extra protection from the sun

Is a paddling safari for everyone or do you need to be very fit?
With a guide or paddler in your canoe, you can sit back and enjoy the beauty of the Zambezi. Canoeing is for everyone!

People talking on a wooden platform overlooking the flat Zambezi River on safari at Baines’ River Camp, Lower Zambezi, Zambia

What are your clients' greatest fears on a paddling safari and what information/advice can you give them to avert those fears?
For first-timers, the fear of the unknown and the reality that we are in a wildlife area surrounded by wild animals can make them feel slightly hesitant to commit to an afternoon of canoeing. Our guides and paddlers are extremely experienced and fully-qualified. They would never put their own lives, or our guests' lives, in any unnecessary danger. Our guests' safety is always our number one priority!! In our experience, for first-timers, this slow and tranquil activity, combined with the close proximity to the water and the wild, offers them the chance to become one with nature. Those who might have been apprehensive at first soon find themselves lost in the beauty of the channel. Their minds quickly change and canoeing becomes their favourite safari activity.

Couch cushions in front of the view of the Zambezi River and bush on safari at Baines’ River Camp, Lower Zambezi, Zambia
A single hippo with its head and shoulders out of the water in the Zambezi River on safari at Baines’ River Camp, Zambia

Contact us for more information on going on safari to Baines' River Camp:

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