Zambia is famous for its utterly charming bush camps that are traditional in the best sense of the word – think grass walls and minimal mod-cons, unfussy interiors and the kind of outdoor-indoor living that makes you want to rise with the sparrows every morning. But if you like the sound of a solid roof over your head or are looking to splash out on something suitably glitzy, Zambia can help with that too. We’ve dug deep into the archives and put together our all-time favourite lodges, camps and tents for this article to help you decide. So, here goes with the best lodges in Zambia.
Time and Tide Luwi Bush Camp
Frequently voted the best small camp in Africa (and definitely one of the best lodges in Zambia in our opinion) Luwi Bush Camp is Zambia down to a T. Located mere metres away from the bleached sand of the dry Luwi riverbed in the very heart of the South Luangwa, the reed-and-thatch chalets blend perfectly into the tangled vines – so much so in some cases that the trees and branches form part of the simple architecture. Spend your days roaming the woodlands on foot and watching happy hippo snort and snuff in the nearby lagoon, and return to camp in the evening to dinner cooked over the open fire and a multitude of twinkling paraffin lanterns. Our top tip? Book a night at sister camp, Time and Tide Nsolo, and walk between the two, spending a night sleeping under the stars in between.
Livingstone, Victoria Falls
Zambia certainly doesn’t do flashy, but it does do subtle glam, chic interiors and some of the best service on the continent – and nowhere more so than Royal Chundu, the second on our list of best lodges in Zambia. You’ve got two choices here: the first is older sibling, River Lodge, with its 10 riverside suites that peer across the tumbling currents of the Zambezi and into neighbouring Zimbabwe. The second is Island Lodge, a private island retreat with only four uber-spacious villas and maximum privacy. It doesn’t really matter which you choose, however, for both offer a staggering array of water- and land-based activities, sumptuous picnics to devour in secret spots, top-notch food and the cherry on top – fabulous visits to the iconic Victoria Falls.
Tusk & Mane Mobile Safaris
For a long time, South Luangwa was the only place to go in Zambia for walking expeditions of the adventurous kind – until the arrival of Tusk & Mane in the Lower Zambezi. The dream of Luke Evans and Kyle Branch, two heartily enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable Africa aficionados, Tusk & Mane is an old-school fly camp that moves between some of the park’s most beautiful areas. A safari usually involves a combination of the different locations, plenty of Hemingway-esque walking adventures and a sprinkling of something different: think canoeing down reed-fringed channels, boat cruises alongside yawning crocs, and lazy afternoons on the water, rod in hand. Back at base, it’s all about feasts cooked over an open flame, dinner under a wide African sky and stories late into the night. Totally unfussy and absolutely fabulous.
Time and Tide Chinzombo Safari Camp
If you love the idea of being out in the wild, stars twinkling and lions roaring, canvas walls and a gentle breeze lulling you to sleep, but also like a soft bed, linen sheets and a good choice of gin for your evening sharpener, then South Luangwa’s Chinzombo is the place for you. The sleek suites come with enormous rain showers, plunging bath tubs, private pools and plenty of shady lounging spots, all with views of the Lion King worthy parade of animals across the Luangwa River. A sophisticated menu with a distinctly Zambian touch is on offer in the evening and there’s a roaming masseuse should you be in need of a spot of R&R. But it’s also totally down to earth, staffed by the friendliest bunch of people you’ll ever meet, and when it comes to game drives, up there with best of the best. And that’s what makes it one of the best lodges in Zambia.
Ila Safari Lodge
Our first Kafue accommodation on the list of best lodges in Zambia, Ila Safari Lodge certainly doesn’t disappoint, especially if you’re hot on your eco credentials. Here, there’s a solar-powered boat to cruise you down the river and an electric “e-Landy” to get you up close and personal to the wildlife that wiggles its way across the vast landscapes. At the lodge, the multi-coloured veggies served up at lunch come from the sponsored garden on the outskirts of the park and the delightful staff are all local villagers, trained and taught on site. And all of this doesn’t come at the price of shabby accommodation either: the 10 tents are a lesson in safari-chic, decked out in shades of cream and khaki and home to enormous, extra-length beds and alfresco showers.
Sausage Tree Camp
As you might expect, there’s a sausage tree at Sausage Tree Camp. It’s right at the front in fact, its branches providing dappled shade for the 25-metre lap pool and its oblong fruits the perfect addition to your sunset photographs. You’ll probably spend a bit of time here at this front deck, watching ellies splish and splash in the Zambezi River, or enjoying some quiet time in the elegant Bedouin tent. But to enjoy one of the best bits of a stay at Sausage Tree, you need to tear yourself away from such dreamy scenes as every guest is guaranteed a private guide and vehicle. You’ll have complete control of which activities you do – walking safaris, game drives, canoe trips or boat cruises – and when – crack of dawn or a more leisurely late morning sojourn. Rest assured that whatever you pick, your guide will whisk you to the best spots with a smile on his face and a G&T never far away…
The next spot on our list of best lodges in Zambia is Mwaleshi Camp. Small and unpretentious, the four grass walled chalets are located deep in the off-the-grid North Luangwa National Park, the South Luangwa’s wilder little sister. Built from scratch every year, expect soft sand floors, rattan walls and alfresco bathrooms in which nosy monkeys are your only worry. If you’re in North Park, however, you’re probably not here for the accommodation and we’d hazard a guess that it’s got something to do with the superlative walking. The park is one of the most diverse and productive areas to explore on foot anywhere on the continent and the aim at Mwaleshi is to track big game, an expert guide by your side. Sounds terrifying? In some cases, perhaps, but certainly not here where guides have years of experience under their belts and know the trails and tracks like the back of their hand.
Livingstone, Victoria Falls
The main highlight of Victoria Falls is, well, Victoria Falls but if for some reason, the majestic waterfall hasn’t captured your imagination, Tongabezi might just do it. The quirky and superbly-named cottages and houses (the Nut House and the Dog House are definite favourites) are scattered along the banks of the Zambezi and all have something special about them, whether it’s eclectic art adorning the walls or claw-footed bathtubs with the loveliest views across the swirling waters. Private butlers are on hand to make you feel super special and the extra touches that appear at the most surprising of times are magnificent: floating dinners, pop-up bars on sparkling sand banks, and sundowners in a different location every sunset. The list of included activities is impressive and if you’re in the market for a rhino encounter or a microlight flight, it can be organised in a flash.
Chindeni Bush Camp
Operating six bush camps in six unique locations in a remote southern section of the South Luangwa, The Bushcamp Company knows a thing or two when it comes to excellent safaris. One of the highlights is the ability to walk between the bush camps on your very own multi-day walking adventure (you don’t have to worry about luggage either – that’s all discreetly taken care of) and Chindeni is located smack bang in the middle of the circuit. Arrive from Chamilandu, 3 hours north on foot, and depart to Bilimungwe, a 3-and-a-half hour amble along the iconic Luangwa River, past curious warthog and pretty impala. And the best thing about these walks? You never know when you’re going to come across a pizza oven in the heart of the bush, a hidden G&T station or a full English laid out on a picnic blanket…
Time and Tide King Lewanika Lodge
Liuwa Plain is the kind of place that makes you literally giggle in delight when you emerge from the plane, the golden grassy expanses stretching to infinity under a thunderous and mighty sky. Aside from the staggering scenery, the park is also home to one of Africa’s biggest secrets: the second largest wildebeest migration on the continent. The first is of course up in Tanzania’s Serengeti, but there’s something wildly enticing about coming to this forgotten corner to see the strange beasties on their pilgrimage. If you do decide to visit, then you’ll be treated to one of the best lodges in Zambia, King Lewanika Lodge. It’s the only lodge in the park (for now) and a privileged perch from which to take in the sights, but it’s also fabulous – think sleek steel and canvas tents, a plethora of low-slung leather seating, and the finest of linens to bed down in at night. Nice.