From September to November 2021, SafariBookings’ Zambia expert Philip Briggs spent two months revisiting Zambia and exploring its national parks on a self-drive safari. We asked him to describe some of the best lodges and camps he visited during this extended trip.

 

Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, Livingstone

Treehouse with elevated wooden walkway

This fabulous stilted lodge stands on the bank of the Zambezi 12km/7mi upriver of Victoria Falls. It comprises a dozen luxurious thatched tree houses, all with air-conditioning and a riverfront viewing deck. Because it lies in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, wildlife is plentiful: bushbuck and warthog maintain a permanent presence, and elephants pass through with some regularity. Elevated wooden walkways offer a useful vantage point for canopy bird watching in the riverside forest; interesting species we saw included Schalow’s turaco, trumpeter hornbill, Livingstone’s flycatcher and grey-headed bush-shrike. We were impressed by the superb food and friendly service at this all-inclusive lodge. We also enjoyed the guided activities: a fun river cruise (lots of hippos and birds), a game drive in Mosi-oa-Tunya (where we saw the country's only white rhinos) and the obligatory visit to Victoria Falls.

Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma Tours

 

Sindabezi Island, Livingstone

Tent with riverview

Sindabezi is the stuff of desert island fantasies. The more rustic of Green Safaris’ two Livingstone lodges, it comprises just five tented units on a sandy forested island in the middle of the Zambezi River. A very ecofriendly set-up, it is built almost entirely from canvas, wood, thatch and other organic materials, and powered by solar energy. Sindabezi is the very epitome of barefoot luxury, and is aimed more at travelers who want to chill out in an off-grid setting than at those seeking an active itinerary. That said, it also has a strong safari component: hippos wallow in the river, elephants and buffalo drink at the opposite bank, and after dark you might well hear lions roar or hyenas whoop across the water.

Sindabezi Island Tours

 

Chundukwa River Lodge, Livingstone

Bath in the spacious room

There’s a real home-away-from-home feel to Chundukwa River Lodge. Owned and managed by a welcoming Zambia-born couple, this small lodge consists of five spacious cottages with thatched roofs, wooden floors and adobe-style walls. This organic feel is enhanced by the generous use of warm African fabrics and intimate views over the Zambezi. The main attraction in this part of Zambia is of course the mighty Victoria Falls, which lies 25km/15mi upriver. Chundukwa also operates the largest and oldest stable in Livingstone, which makes it a popular base for horseback outings. The farm-like property is also great for walking and running. As for wildlife, hippos feed in the garden at night, monitor lizards crash through the undergrowth, and an otter family is resident in one of the ponds.

Chundukwa River Lodge Tours

 

Kiambi, Lower Zambezi

View from main lodge

Situated in a Game Management Area bordering the Lower Zambezi National Park, Kiambi is a popular base for safaris thanks to its mellow vibe and budget-friendly rates. We stayed in a very comfortable stilted wood-and-thatch chalet overlooking the river, but other options include family cottages and a large campsite. Kiambi is a great base for tiger fishing, canoeing and boat cruises, and the inhouse birding is superb. If you're planning on self-driving into the national park, it's a bit far from the gate to be convenient. Better to join one of the lodge’s guided game drives, since they’ll take you to the park boundary by river, a thoroughly worthwhile experience in itself.

 

 

Anabezi, Lower Zambezi

Room with view

It would be difficult to heap too much praise on this wonderful lodge set in the heart of Lower Zambezi National Park’s prime game-viewing area. The accommodation is the last word in bush chic: glass-and-canvas open-plan suites that incorporate a walk-in net larger than the average hotel room, and a private wooden deck with a plunge pool. The rooms are widely spaced along an 800m/2,500ft stilted wooden walkway, which overlooks a stretch of the Zambezi and associated floodplain teeming with wildlife. Game drives here are truly superb. We enjoyed our best ever encounters with African wild dogs (a pack of more than 30 individuals), and also got close to leopards and lions. Even if you're unlucky on the carnivore front, you’re bound to see plenty of elephants in the surrounding winter-thorn forest, and boat or canoe trips on the Zambezi are a delight.

Anabezi Tours

 

Sungani Lodge, South Luangwa

Directors deck

Possibly the most exclusive lodge anywhere in the Luangwa Valley, Sungani was built by the hands-on Davy family from 2019 to 2021, and we felt privileged to be one of their first guests. Constructed entirely on stilted platforms, the lodge is an absolute stunner, comprising eight massive open-plan tented suites complete with stylish Africa-themed decor and private plunge pool. These overlook a perennial lagoon where you can expect to see elephants, buffalos, hippos and a variety of aquatic birds. Together with its even smaller sister property Kulandila, Sungani is one of only two lodges in the remote Lusangazi sector of South Luangwa National Park, which means it functions almost as a private reserve. Wildlife volumes don't quite compare to more densely touristed parts of South Luangwa, but there's plenty to see – we enjoyed close-up encounters with leopard and lion – and the absence of other vehicles more than compensates.

 

 

Shawa Luangwa, South Luangwa

Tent with river view

Operated by Green Safaris, Shawa is an intimate ecofriendly property set in a magnificent stand of riverine forest on the east bank of the Luangwa. It is a small camp with only five accommodation units: remarkable tepee-like A-frame tents set on tall stilted platforms that look into the forest canopy. Amenities include a plunge pool ideally positioned for enjoying sunsets over the river. Shawa is the first camp in South Luangwa to operate ‘silent safaris’ in electric Land Cruisers that use solar-powered batteries. Expertly guided walking safaris are also on offer. We particularly enjoyed the camp’s immersive wildlife experience. Elephants prune the trees around the tents, turacos and hornbills flap through the canopy, hippos grunt away in the river, and the nocturnal hum of insects and frogs is punctuated by hooting owls and distant carnivores.

 

 

Flatdogs, South Luangwa

Croc Nest sunset around the fire

No need to worry about whether you'll see elephants when you stay at Flatdogs. One of the oldest camps in South Luangwa, Flatdogs has a prime location in large bushy grounds overlooking the Luangwa River at a crossing point used by dozens of elephants daily. Only 1km from the main park entrance gate, it is also ideally positioned for game drives on a circuit famed for its high densities of leopard, lion, African wild dog and other wildlife. The tented and chalet accommodation at Flatdogs is excellent, and there are also two swimming pools. But our favorite feature of this relaxed camp is the chalkboard restaurant, which has plenty of outdoor seating, and a Mediterranean feel reminiscent of the Cape Winelands.

Flatdogs Tours

 

Mayukuyuku Bush Camp, Kafue

Four thatch-shaded tents facing the river

Mayukuyuku means ‘water hitting rocks’, an apt name for this small owner-managed tented camp situated downstream of a set of rapids on the Kafue River. Accommodation is in four thatch-shaded luxury tents with open-air bathrooms at the rear and private terraces facing the forested riverbank. Hippos and antelope regularly stroll through camp, vervet monkeys play in the hammocks in front of each tent, and the varied birdlife includes a resident pair of the eagerly sought African finfoot. Situated in the heart of Kafue National Park, Mayukuyuku is well positioned for game drives on the productive Shishamba Loop and for boat trips on a stretch of the Kafue River favored by elephants.

Mayukuyuku Bush Camp Tours

 

Nanzhila Plains Camp, Kafue

Banda at river

We loved this small family-owned and managed camp in the otherwise little-visited Nanzhila Plains in the south of Kafue National Park. Small and unpretentious, the camp offers airy accommodation in three bandas and three standing tents, all of which face a marsh that attracts a steady stream of antelope. Bird watching is one of the big attractions here, not least because Nanzhila Plains is the most reliable site globally for the rare black-cheeked lovebird, a colorful small parrot endemic to southwest Zambia. Game viewing is excellent too. Cheetahs are something of a Nanzhila specialty, we had a superb sighting of mating lions, and a long roster of antelopes includes sable, roan, eland, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and Africa’s most southerly population of Defassa waterbuck. Best of all, since this is the only camp within a 50km/30mi radius, it has a real wilderness feel and you’re unlikely to see any other tourists during your stay.

Nanzhila Plains Tours

 

Konkamoya Lodge, Kafue

Large standing Tents close at the lake

An attractive feature of Kafue National Park is that it still has space for the sort of small owner-managed lodges that have become increasingly rare elsewhere in Africa. Italian-run Konkamoya, set on the southern shore of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, is probably the most upmarket and stylish of these individualistic lodges. Accommodation is in four large standing tents whose netting walls let in a welcome lake breeze, and the delicious Italian food wouldn't be out of place in a world-class city restaurant. You can't fault the setting either. Lake Itezhi-Tezhi was created in the 1970s following the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Kafue River, and its shallows are studded with a ghost forest of stumps reminiscent of Lake Kariba. Highlights of our visit included a mega-herd of at least 150 elephants on the lake floodplain and an extended nighttime encounter with a fearless leopard. Birding here is excellent too: African fish eagle and western osprey hawk from the dead trees, wading birds are prolific in the shallows, while colorful bush-dwellers include lilac-breasted roller, broad-billed roller and European bee-eater.

 

 

Chisa Busanga, Kafue

Tall stilted treetop units whose oval shapes resembles weaver bird nests

Run by Green Safaris, this small solar-powered lodge boasts a big wow factor. Accommodation is not in tents or rooms, but in nests – tall stilted treetop units whose oval shape and facade of interlocking sticks resemble the neat basket-like constructions built by weaver birds. Each of the four individual nests is open at the front to maximize the bush feel and views, and one even has an elevator for visitors with limited mobility. Chisa Busanga is an absolutely remarkable lodge, but even if it wasn't architecturally unforgettable, the location would make it worth a visit. It stands on the edge of a forested island in the remote Busanga Floodplain, which is justifiably regarded to be the top game-viewing spot in Kafue National Park. Accessible only during the dry season, Busanga is renowned for its dense population of black-maned lions, and it's also a good place to look for cheetah, African wild dog and side striped jackal. Other commonly seen wildlife includes elephant, the localized roan antelope and large herds of the swamp-loving red lechwe. Highlights of the stellar birdlife include wattled crane, grey crowned crane, coppery-tailed coucal and rosy-throated longclaw.

Chisa Busanga Tours

 

Ila Safari Lodge, Kafue

Luxury tent mounted on elevated deck above the Kafue River

Situated in the heart of Zambia's largest national park, Ila Safari Lodge is also operated by Green Safaris, and its attractions complement those of Chisa Busanga, a few hours’ drive or short airplane hop to the north. Ila Safari Lodge has a compelling location on the forested bank of the Kafue River, and the surrounding area supports plenty of wildlife, including large herds of elephant and buffalo (the former often wander through the grounds) and Kafue National Park’s trademark black-maned lions. As with other lodges operated by Green Safaris, it is built from ecofriendly local materials and game drives use solar-powered electric Land Cruisers. The 10 luxury tents, mounted on elevated decks above the Kafue River, are also solar-powered.

Ila Safari Lodge Tours

 

Time + Tide King Lewanika, Liuwa Plain

King Lewanika Luxury Safari Tent

Time + Tide King Lewanika is the only lodge in one of Africa’s last great unsung wilderness destinations. This is Liuwa Plain, a national park so remote that it can only be reached by air or by taking your own 4x4 across the Luanginga River in a hand-pulled pontoon. The lodge is named after the revered Lozi monarch who had the foresight to accord royal protection to Liuwa Plain back in the 1880s. And truly it is a lodge fit for a king. The six open-fronted solar-powered cottages have been built with canvas, wood and other organic materials, and the immense interiors are furnished in vintage safari style. Lewanika is an all-inclusive lodge that offers a variety of expertly guided activities including game drives, bush walks and canoe safaris in the surrounding wilderness. We don't feel that Liuwa is a destination suited to first-time Africa visitors – the only member of the iconic Big Five you’re likely to see is lion – but the wide-open spaces and wilderness atmosphere will appeal to experienced safari connoisseurs. Wildlife highlights include Africa’s second-largest wildebeest migration, the opportunity to watch habituated spotted hyenas interact around their dens, and some amazing bird watching.

 
By Philip Briggs
South Africa ZA

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

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