Zambia’s Tongabezi Safari Lodge
On the banks of the Zambezi River, just upstream from Zambia’s Victoria Falls, sits the magical Tongabezi Lodge. Voted the #1 Safari Lodge in Zambia by Conde Nast and Most Enchanting Lodge in Zambia by Lux Hospitality Awards, this trip is well worth the journey required to get there.
The Tongabezi Lodge is comprised of six private houses and five river cottages, each one uniquely designed with Zambian elegance and stunning views of the Zambezi River. They accommodate 2-5 guests each. Some units include a fireplace and their own boat & vehicle. Most have folding doors which you can choose to leave open if you want to let the sounds of nature and breezes waft through. Each room has a personal butler that is assigned to look after the needs of its guests while helping to create an unforgettable experience.
Upon arriving, I received a personalized warm welcome by seeing “Wildluxe” written out on my bed in flowers and leaves. I stayed in the “Nut House” (fittingly) which I loved. It was spacious and artistically decorated with textiles from all over the continent. It had its own private infinity plunge pool overlooking the Zambezi and a luxurious bathroom with a large tub and hanging lanterns. After a day out on safari, it was perfect to come back to the comfort of my room, sink into a deep bubble bath and watch the sun spread its warmth over the sky as it set into the shadows.
Tongabezi knows how to do ambience! They enhanced the evening atmosphere with a crackling fire, lanterns hanging from trees and plenty of cozy nooks to relax in. Since the lodge is small you’ll rarely see other guests and will feel like this paradise is all yours. Although there were a few times when I did enjoy the opportunity to mingle with others while chatting around the evening campfires.
There are so many exhilarating adventures to be had during your stay here. The scenery and opportunities to get up close to wildlife are second to none. You are free to create your own itinerary and schedule the activities of your choice with the knowledgeable and experienced Tongabezi guides. The following activities are all included in the price of your stay: guided canoeing, boat ride up the Zambezi River, Maramba local Market trip, expedition to Victoria Falls, guided bush walks, floating dinner (I’ll explain!), game drives, visit to Mukuni Park and Simonga Village, and a museum tour. Non-inclusive activities available include: an elephant back safari, Microlight flight over Victoria Falls, helicopter flights, white water rafting, Chobe National Park day trip, Royal Livingstone Express day trip (a 5-star train ride with dinner), and a Jet Extreme jet boat ride in Batoka Gorge.
No trip should be made to Zambia without a visit to the astounding and majestic Victoria Falls. It has well earned its place as one of the 7 Natural World Wonders and as a Unesco World Heritage site. Over a mile wide, Victoria Falls is the largest curtain of falling water in the world and oh so breathtaking to behold! My Tongabezi guide took me on a trek to Devil’s Pool, a natural pool at the top of the falls that you can swim in. Despite my concerns of being dinner to the local crocs, this was momentous. Here I was swimming in a river in Zambia and peering down 300 feet at Victoria Falls and the beautiful rainbow created by its mists. Pinch me I must be dreaming!
The Zambezi River safari was so different from anything I’d ever experienced before. It was both exhilarating and fascinating. With some concern that I might wind up as an imported delicacy for a hungry lion, or that a protective mama hippo would set her massive jaws into motion on me, my inner sensation was an unusual mixture of fear and the thrill of seeing such stunningly beautiful animals. There were hippos, monkeys, wildebeests, elephants, baboons, zebras, many different kinds of deer, warthogs, and crocodiles… each one remarkable to watch in their natural habitat. Each time we went out, we were the only people on the river.
Another major highlight was going on a game drive in a nearby park. Once again, I think we were the only people there. There were so many beautiful animals, but the most phenomenal experience for me was with the elephants. It started with a single elephant coming out and staring us down for awhile. Then as he began to move on, a few more elephants emerged following him… and then some more… and yet more. Soon there was a whole parade – mama’s, babies, and gigantic daddies. They walked right in front of our vehicle and even stopped to give us the ol’ stink eye for a brief time. It was a whole herd of about 200 – never have I seen anything like it. The feeling of being petrified enough to jump out of my skin (these elephants were HUGE) eventually dissolved into pure awe of their magnificence.
When you stay at Tongabezi, your meals will be included in the cost of the booking. There are four chefs, two pastry chefs and a full kitchen team, all highly skilled to give guests the best in culinary adventures. I am vegetarian and they did a remarkable job creating innovative and delicious dishes. They have an expansive organic garden where they grow all of their own produce, which guests can enjoy a tour of.
Guests can choose to eat their meals wherever they like. I had breakfast on my patio overlooking the river, and my first dinner on the top floor of the Lookout, which was magical. The Lookout has multiple levels and is open to the outdoors on one side. It overlooks the river and I was able to watch the sunset in all its brilliance.
The second night I had dinner on their floating platform which was one of the best dining experiences of my life. They took me out to the platform by boat where there were lanterns and torches. Food was delivered by waiters via rowboat. I requested some authentic Zambian dishes, only to find my taste buds totally enraptured! The sound of the crickets, hippos, and other wildlife was in full volume, as we were floating right through the middle of it all. Surprisingly there weren’t any mosquitos feasting on me as dinner.
My third night with Tongabezi was spent on their private island, Sindabezi, which is an entirely different concept and I’ll be writing about that in a future post.
Doing Good and Giving Back
Tongabezi believes in Green sustainable practices and goes to great lengths to set these in motion. You can read more about them here. They also support the local community in a number of ways, such as donating a percentage of profits to build houses for school teachers and helping raise awareness for HIV.
To top off all of the exceptional experiences that this trip provided, I’d like to leave you with the most meaningful part of my trip, which was found in visiting the school. The owners of Tongabezi opened a small school called Tujatane, which started with a just a few children, and gradually developed into a full school which now serves over 240 underprivileged local children. The children are clothed, fed, and educated through Tujatane. Meeting these children was a true joy. Their precious little faces shined bright with genuine smiles, and they were so intelligent. They presented us with a performance of song and dance, which was the most wonderful thing to witness. These children compete annually in a national competition, and several times over they’ve won the title for Best Traditional Dancers in Zambia; and they’ve also won awards in drama and poetry.
The school is run completely on donations. Anyone can sign up to sponsor a child, which will put them through a year of school while providing clothing and food. If you’d like to know more about Tujatane and how you can sponsor a child, please click here.
I was hosted as a guest of Tongabezi but the opinions expressed in this article are, as always, my own.