JUST BACK FROM...ZAMBIA
Earlier this month I packed my bags and headed off to Zambia, a country that has just celebrated its 53rd year of independence, to experience first-hand some of the best camps and lodges on offer. Having previously spent most of my time in Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya I was eager to see the area Alice had fallen in love with during her time working at Norman Carr.
First stop, the Lower Zambezi, where I was eased in to safari life at Chongwe Camp and greeted by Flossie the general manager, one of the friendliest camp managers I have ever met. The tents here are right on the river - at this time of year you're glad of the cooling breeze off the water which breaks the midday heat - with views over buffalos and elephants bathing below.
On the first morning in camp I had a surprise visitor to my tent, the resident ele who wanders back and forth hoovering up the fallen seed pods from the acacia trees. The camp team are on call throughout the day to safely escort guests to and from the main area, so you can watch in wonder from the comfort of your veranda as this guy goes about his business.
The canoe safaris were the standout activity for me here, floating down stream admiring Zambia's incredible and abundant birdlife (white throated bee-eaters nesting on the river banks and even the elusive malachite kingfisher) with no interruption from noisy vehicles etc, allowing me to observe the game peacefully. Chongwe is perfect for seasoned safari-goers looking to benefit from an excellent waterside location and enjoy some great fishing.
Chongwe House is their stand-alone 4-bedroom villa which would be superb base for a family or group of friends wanting a more exclusive safari experience, the only private house in the area. Like Chongwe, it is set across the river from Lower Zambezi National Park in the Game Management area where the game viewing is still excellent - the morning I left a group of guests saw a pack of wild dog and their pups take down an impala just 5 minutes from the lodge.
From here it was a short 30-minute boat ride downstream to Chiawa, where owner Grant was there to wine and dine us (with a floating lunch no less!) and tell us a little more about how his family first came to own and run Chiawa and sister property Ol Mondoro. The guiding here is spectacular, on our first evening drive we came across a great sighting - a leopard up a tree feeding on an impala which was a real highlight. Whilst Chiawa has more of the ‘luxury in the bush’ trappings, it was the more simple and authentic Ol Mondoro that stole my heart with its intimate open-air feel and rustic wooden chalets. Elephant herds constantly take refuge under the umbrella trees in-between each chalet or play in the river just opposite camp which makes for excellent afternoon 'bush TV' viewing (you can hopefully spot the eles in the background of the photo below).
Jumping aboard my trusty boat I ventured further downstream to Anabezi which will appeal to those who are looking for a softer introduction to safari life, a more glamorous offering with luxurious suites and private plunge pools. Owned by the Davies family and run by the lovely Lynn and Paul, it was here we spent a beautiful dusky evening fishing and having sundowners against a stunning mountain backdrop. I also had a chance to pop in to sister-camp Amanzi which is an even more stylish and contemporary offering with just 4 tents, the perfect spot for honeymooners looking for more privacy (the rooms are well spaced) or for a family or group of friends.
Having explored all the top camps in the Lower Zambezi and had my fill of water-based safari activities, I then flew north to Mfuwe to commence my South Luangwa adventure. I had long heard Alice wax lyrical about the South Luangwa where she had worked for Norman Carr in 2006, and so I was excited to finally experience the region for myself. I kicked things off with a bang at their flagship lodge, Chinzombo. I must confess this is a property that for me gets the balance between comfort and style and an authentic safari experience just right, with permanent ‘tented’ rooms all overlooking the river, private plunge pool and large decked areas to relax between game drives. Unusual to many camps in the area, Chinzombo has an air conditioning system called ‘Evening Breeze’ around your bed (the most comfortable beds I have ever slept on) which was welcome given the oppressive heat of late October in to November.
Dipping deeper in to the Norman Carr portfolio, I then stayed at Luwi Camp - which is best known for its walking potential. This was definitely my favourite bush camp of the trip, built of natural materials (one of the chalets is even built around a tree!).Those of you looking to get back to basics will love this place...the game-viewing is phenomenal too.
I also had a chance to stop by other Norman Carr properties Nsolo (another basic bush camp), Mchenja (more luxurious in style on the river) and Kukuli (a key player in Norman Carr's 'Rivers and Rainbows' itinerary for walking and boating between January and April during the 'Secret Season'). You can do a walking circuit between these camps on a longer itinerary, which I have now added to my safari wishlist!
Our clients often begin or end their Zambia trips with time at Victoria Falls and at Kaya Mawa, a gorgeous lakeside beach retreat in Malawi, but on this occasion, a night at Lusaka's bustling Latitude Hotel was the perfect way to end my incredible adventure across Zambia. This hotel has established itself as the thriving hub of the city with stylish design, work space for business travellers and a fabulous collection of contemporary African artwork. Something for everyone, much like Zambia itself.