Shumba Camp is built on a tree island in the middle of the Busanga Plains.
Shumba Camp: Our full report
Situated on Kafue National Park's Busanga Plains, Shumba Camp was originally a basic bushcamp run by Busanga Trails. We've known this camp since 1995, when we first visited ... although it's changed out of all recognition since then. In 2007 it was almost completely rebuilt by its new owners, Wilderness Safaris, and reopened as one of their 'premier' (high-spec) safari camps.
The surrounding terrain might be better compared to Serengeti's open plains than any of Zambia's usual bush landscape, which makes the Busanga Plains a worthwhile and contrasting inclusion on any safari to this country.
Standing on an island of large, majestic fig trees, Shumba overlooks the floodplains in all directions. Built high off the ground and linked by wooden walkways, it is quite spread out, yet well camouflaged, with grass roofs helping it to blend into its surroundings. From various vantage points around the camp you can often see antelope, typically puku and red lechwe, grazing the lush grasses below.
Shumba Camp has six tented rooms, including one larger room that can be used as a family unit. Each is a substantial wood-and-canvas structure built up on a raised platform about 2m off the ground. Every room has two large queen-sized beds, an en-suite bathroom with a flush toilet, and an indoor and outdoor shower. (Read more about the rooms at Shumba Camp …)
The central area at Shumba is also elevated, built around three giant fig trees and positioned to give a great view of the sunrise, yet largely shaded during the hotter afternoons. A well-stocked bar, comfortable lounge with a small reference library and dining area are all under cover in the main building. Folding glass doors slide back to give this area a very open feel but can be closed in times of windy or wet weather. There are several places to relax around the vast, split-level wooden deck, whose lower level incorporates a sunken area with cushioned bench seating around a campfire, and a pool surrounded by loungers. To the left of the main building is a small curio shop selling safari clothing and various souvenirs, and adjoining the bar is a small room used as a well-stocked wine cellar.
Shumba is owned and run by Wilderness Safaris, and it is in their top category of camp in terms of luxury and style. The rooms and communal areas are certainly very spacious, but it was the little extras that appealed to us: a mohair blanket laid out on our chair, the sherry available in our room, the filter coffee brought with the wake-up call and the marshmallows offered for toasting whilst sipping liqueurs around the campfire.
Shumba Camp has (in common with most of Wilderness' other camps) also introduced personal water bottles for each guest, an idea which we particularly liked. These are similar to sports drinking bottles and can be filled from the water filter at the bar. A great way to reduce the waste of small plastic bottles often produced by safari camps.
Activities from Shumba Camp centre around exploring the vast Busanga Plains on day and night 4WD safari drives. Shumba also has an aluminum swamp boat with a specially adapted motor allowing it to travel through as little as six inches (15cm) of water. Thus, during the early months of the season (May–June), when many of the surrounding roads will be impassable, activities will often include boat trips and very short guided walks of 30–40 minutes.
New for 2010 was the introduction of hot-air-balloon safaris. These take off at dawn so you can enjoy the sunrise, and fly low for wildlife viewing. Flights usually last between 40 minutes and an hour, and are followed by a champagne breakfast in the bush.
The flora and fauna in this unique area can be amazing. For the first part of the year – typically from about mid-November to late-June – the plains are largely under water. This verdant, marshy environment attracts a wide variety of birdlife, with many herons, ducks and other waders, often including goliath herons, wattled cranes and saddle-billed storks.
Boat trips during these early months can be short sorties into the surrounding flood plains or full-day trips. One such trip takes you to see a breeding colony of open-billed storks, some way south-east of the camp, and includes a lovely picnic lunch. Although the landscape is very marshy during this time, wildlife can still be found here including hippo, crocodiles and buffalo, as well as the ever-present puku antelope and large herds of red lechwe.
As the surface water dissipates, from around mid-June onwards, the remaining grasses stay nutritious for much of the year. Dry-country animals are increasingly attracted onto the grasslands, most notably herds of blue wildebeest and zebra. This increases the variety of wildlife that can be seen on the Busanga Plains as the months pass - and means that the late dry season is generally much more productive for game sightings than earlier.
Throughout recent years, at least two prides of lion are resident here; they are not put off by the water. Instead they have adapted to hunting puku and lechwe through the shallower waters during the months when the variety of prey is more limited.
As the grasslands dry out, other large predators can be found here including cheetah and wild dog. Cheetah are largely absent from most of Zambia's national parks and the Busanga Plains offer visitors the best chance of seeing these cats – though they remain uncommon, even here. Northern Kafue is also a good area to keep a look out for wild dogs as they regularly hunt on the plains and may then stay around for some days. Similarly, the Busanga Plains attract several other uncommon and highly localized species. In particular we saw numerous sightings of the small and enchanting oribi antelope and a large herd of roan which were very relaxed, allowing us to spend a long time viewing and photographing this usually shy antelope.
The guides were very knowledgeable at Shumba, although at times we found them to be a little uncommunicative in between sightings. However, they were always keen to answer any questions and to embellish further with interesting facts and stories, so we recommend that you make a point of asking plenty of questions as this helps to bring the plains alive – even at times when there seems to be little to see.
The one note of caution that we would sound is that in the last 3-4 years the game sightings on the Busanga Plains has been less reliable than perhaps they used to be – with some travellers returning from really excellent safaris, and others seeing relatively little. In the area's defence, these plains are very open, so if the game is scarce when you're on a vehicle here, then it becomes quickly obvious, with none of the usual game-drive drame of wondering what's around the next bush.
Our viewShumba's a smart, quite luxurious camp in a good location. The food and service we had were very good – but be aware that whilst the game sightings can be great, they're very far from guaranteed.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend a 3-night stay at Shumba Camp combined with one of its sister camps further south in the Kafue National Park such as Musanza bushcamp.
Directions: It is approximately a 90-minute flight from Lusaka or 105 minutes from Livingstone to Busanga Airstrip. From there it's about a 6-minute helicopter flight over the plains to the camp.
Owner: Wilderness Safaris
Staff: Guides: Idos & Lexon Camp chef: Stanley Camp chef: Phinias
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Shumba Camp prides itself on its great food and it doesn't often disappoint. Varied and delicious meals are inventive and well presented. The day will often begin with a light breakfast on the camp's deck whilst watching the sun rise over the plains. As well as the usual cereals and toast there is often fruit salad, mini pancakes, muffins and hot porridge to which you are invited to add a shot of whisky. This is all laid out in a buffet style with tea and filter coffee.
A large brunch is usually served upon returning from your morning activity. Choices of cold platters are available for self-service and might include two or three types of salads, quiches, tasty pastry packets and freshly baked breads. The chef also offers a selection of eggs prepared on his hot plate to order, with sausages, tomatoes and bacon. If you arrive at camp after brunch on your first day you will usually be offered a light lunch instead.
Dinner is three courses, eaten either in the dining room or in the camp's boma under the stars. Often beginning with soup and a freshly baked bread roll, it's followed by a main and dessert. When we visited we began with creamy tomato soup, followed by beef ragout on a bed of vegetables with potato wedges. Dessert was a choice of a wonderfully decadent chocolate mousse with a brandy snap or a cheese board.
The unique sundowners at Shumba are an added treat. Often the afternoon drive is met at a picturesque spot by the camp's outdoor dining manager. While guests enjoy a refreshing drink, he will have a campfire lit and be preparing a light snack such as bacon and vegetable kebabs or spicy nuts flambéed in vodka.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Most drinks are included, although premium brands are extra. The cost of premium wines starts at about US$12 and can go as high as $145 for champagne.
Birdwatching: The birdlife on the Busanga Plains is excellent. May in particular is well worth it for serious birders and Shumba is the only camp open here during this time. Traverse the floodplains by swamp boat in search of herons, ducks, storks and other waders or take a full-day trip to visit a breeding colony of open-billed storks.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Zambia
Wildlife safaris: Shumba stands in the middle of the vast Busanga Plains, which cover a variety of habitats from seasonal and permanent floodplains to tree islands and grasslands, edged with miombo woodland. Various unusual species occur here such as serval, oribi, Lichtenstein's hartebeest and Defassa waterbuck; it is one of the only areas in Zambia where cheetah are regularly seen.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Zambia
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of 9 years are welcome.
Generally recommended for children: As the camp is unfenced and in a wildlife reserve, children will need to be supervised by their parents at all times. However, as the rooms here are built on platforms, above the level of the plains, this camp is safer for young children than most – and it does have a 'family room', which is great.
Notes: Shumba Camp is quite a smart camp, and though it is unpretentious it can feel a little formal – especially in the evenings. It is good for families with older children, but those with younger children may feel ill at ease here.
Communications: The camp uses radio coms between guides and the various camps in Kafue. Satelite phone and email is used to communicate with their main office in Lusaka. There is no cellphone coverage at Shumba Camp.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: All the guides are trained in first aid. Air transfer to Lusaka can be arranged in an emergency.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Each room has a small safe to store valuables. Compressed-air alarms are provided in each room for guests to alert management in the case of an emergency.
Fire safety: Each room has a fire extinguisher which is regularly serviced and the team at Shumba are trained to use them. The camp also has a fire station with fire beaters, sandbags and extinguishers at the ready. Instructions of what to do in case of a fire are posted in each room.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A laundry service is included here; they use a coal iron for pressing, so it's not recommended for anything delicate. Clothes are usually returned within 24 hours. It is possible to do a little handwashing for yourself as washing powder and a clothes line are provided in the tents.