Chiawa Camp

Chiawa Camp: Our full report

Rooms
9 Meru-style tents
Traveller's rating
Excellent (96%) From 35 reviews
Open
April to Mid November

The unpretentious, family-owned and run Chiawa Camp is set in the heart of the game-rich Lower Zambezi National Park. Chiawa stands on the grassy banks of the Zambezi River with uninterrupted views across the Zambezi, overlooking Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park. The camp is situated beneath a grove of mahogany trees, which provide plenty of shade on those hot summer days.

Chiawa offers a full range of flexible activities which include game drives (day and night) in open 4WDs, walking safaris, canoeing, boat trips and fishing (catch & release) on fly and conventional tackle with expert guides and custom built pontoon boats. The guides are professional and knowledgeable, and from my recent experience they always seem to go out of their way to fulfill each guest's interests.

On previous visits, the game in the Chiawa area seems to have been by far the best in the Lower Zambezi – with camps further into the park often heading east to game-view in this area, as well as vehicles coming from the GMA to the west.

Expect to see plenty of elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo. If you're lucky you'll see zebra and wild dog, but don't expect giraffe or cheetah, as they're not found in this park. For the keen birdwatcher, Chiawa Camp is a mecca for both water and land birds. Boating, canoeing and walking safaris allow you to get closer to the birds without disturbing them. Great sightings included the giant eagle owl, spurwinged geese, malachite and pied kingfishers and the graceful lilac-breasted rollers. That's not to forget the other species you'll see on the water such as hippos, crocodiles, monitor lizards and if you're lucky, you'll see the elusive terrapin.

Chiawa also has a hide which overlooks the confluence of the dry river bed of the Chowe River (often referred to as the Chiawa River) and the Zambezi River. It's a great spot for watching the animals come down for their midday drink; elephants, buffalo, warthogs, impala and baboons frequent the area.

Chiawa has nine comfortable Meru-style tents, all beautifully furnished in neutral colours and mahogany wood and with en-suite bathrooms. The tents are raised on wooden platforms and have a private deck with table and chairs from which you can enjoy the gorgeous views.

Six of Chiawa's tents are the standard tents which are raised on wooden platforms, large and sturdy, with a proper door. The front of these then opens out onto a private veranda with lounge chairs and a coffee table. Inside, each tent is large and open plan, incorporating the bedroom, bathroom and changing area. There is either a twin, or four poster double bed with a mosquito net, wooden writing desk and two sumptuous armchairs. Behind the bed is a changing area, and the bathroom with twin sinks set into a wooden surface, a free standing bath, flush loo and rain shower; and that's not to forget the Molton Brown toiletries. These tents are bright, breezy and very spacious, with an authentic safari style.

Though if you wanted even more space and an extra dash of luxury you may wish to stay in one of Chiawa's three spectacular superior tents. All three tents overlook the Chowe River; and are the furthest away from the main area. The superior tents are twice the size of the luxury tents, and each has an incredibly comfortable King size bed with a mosquito net, a ceiling and table fan, a spacious lounge area with a very soft and comfortable sofa (good enough for an afternoon siesta) a writing desk, dressing table and private deck with a wooden bench & table. The superior tents all have an en-suite bathroom with an indoor & outdoor shower and a Victorian bath. However, tent # 9 (at the far end of the camp) is slightly different in that its bathroom is outside and is open in the front; although still under canvas and on a raised deck. This tent has also been moved to a new location right up on top of a hill – resulting in even more privacy and stunning elevated views of the river.

Chiawa is a seasonal camp, used only during the dry season. It is mostly built of dark wood, reeds and thatch, giving it a pleasantly rustic air. The main area is a double-storey construction with uninterrupted views across the Zambezi River. Inside you'll find two separate lounge areas with wooden chairs and benches and cane furniture with soft cushions in neutral tones and earthy reds. There's also a small library of books and magazines and a natural-history display table. Upstairs there's a third comfortable seating area and viewing deck with a telescope.

Most meals are taken in the separate dining area which is open to the front, overlooking the river. Dinner is usually by candlelight under the stars, whereas lunch is a movable feast, perhaps out on the lawns or on Chiawa's motorised pontoon, and breakfast is set up around the campfire. In the dining room you'll also find a 'help yourself' tea and coffee table, which is always stocked with freshly baked biscuits.

For those sunny afternoons, Chiawa Camp also has a small, man-made rock pool for swimming. You may also be tempted by a shop stocked with good-quality curios.

Chiawa's team is particularly active in supporting Conservation Lower Zambezi, which is a non-governmental organization which aims to reduce poaching and misuse of resources in Zambia's Lower Zambezi. Expert Africa has also started to help support this worthy charity. (Read more about Conservation Lower Zambezi…)

Our view

We love Chiawa, and think it offers a great safari experience. The camp is homely and welcoming, the service and the food is fantastic and the managers (Steve and Lyn on our last visit) went out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Furthermore, they have a staggering seven guides which means guests will usually get to do what they want, more-or-less whenever they want to do it. So in many ways, we think it's one of the best, and best-run, camps in Africa.

Geographics

Location: Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Ideal length of stay: We recommend a minimum of 3 nights and for a longer stay you could combine Chiawa with its sister camp Old Mondoro.

Directions: Fly in from either Lusaka (40 minutes) or Livingstone (approx. 1 hr 10 minutes if direct; more when flying via Lusaka) to Royal (the closest airstrip – just west of the park) then an approx. 25-minute road transfer followed by a 20-minute boat ride to camp.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Owned and run by Grant Cumings and his family.

Staff: Camp/Lodge Manager: Lyn & Steve; John is assistant manager Guide: Paul, Daniel, Boeze, Dispenser, Wallace, John and Sebastian Guide: Paul, Daniel & Boeze – walking guides Guide: Paul, Daniel, Dispenser, Wallace, John and Sebastian – canoe guides Chef: There are 3 chefs – Joe, Amos and Dakwa

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: Expert Africa team members have visited Chiawa Camp many times, first in 1995! On our most recent visit, in June 2010, the food was typically very good and the portions were very generous.

You'll be woken just before sunrise with a “knock knock" and there will be tea or coffee waiting for you by the door to the tent. Once dressed and ready for your morning game activity, meet around the campfire for breakfast. Breakfast usually consists of toast, muffins or banana bread, cereal, yoghurt and Amarula porridge. Though you can order eggs as well if you wish.

Lunch is served once you're back from your morning game activity and have had some time to freshen up; it's usually around 12h30. On our last trip we had lunch in various places around the camp in the cool shade of trees. Though on previous visits we have also been able to enjoy one of Chiawa's special lunches on their motorised pontoon! We anchored at the mouth of the Chowe River and watched huge herds of elephants come down for their midday drink. Lunch is usually quite a light main meal such as spicy burritos with homemade guacamole or fresh tilapia on pasta in white wine sauce, followed by a cheese board with fruit and coffee.

Tea is served at about 15h30 and is always accompanied by something both sweet and savory. Then you're off on your afternoon activity.

Dinner is then a four course meal (so save space) served by candlelight under the stars. Whilst there I had a delicious mushroom, aubergine, forest ham and cream cheese stack, followed by vegetable & sweet corn soup. The main course was a choice of either mushroom taglietelle or chicken in lemon sauce served with vegetables. On previous visits we have been offered a choice of beef strips or fish accompanied by vegetables. Desert was Amarula cheese cake… which was delicious.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits, and a selection of South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and cellar wines are excluded.

Further dining info: No

Special interests

Solo Travel: In the heart of the Lower Zambezi, Chiawa is a great base for exploring this game-rich area from 4WDs, boat or on a walking safari. It’s a very social and professionally-hosted camp, and though never cheap, solo travellers appreciate that there’s no single supplement.

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Honeymoons: Chiawa's vast superior tents are very luxurious; perfect for Zambia honeymooners. You can dine in the privacy of your own room, or romantic dinners can be arranged on the pontoon. The bathtubs are big enough for two, and an outdoor shower under the stars adds to the romance.

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Birdwatching: Chiawa is a good choice for water and land birds, and excellent birding guides. Boating, canoeing, walks and their game-hide allow you to get close to birds without disturbing them which could form an interesting part of a Zambia birdwatching break.

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Photographic: Chiawa Camp uses open 4WD vehicles for safaris, ideal for photography. In addition, boating and canoeing can give great opportunities for bird photography, as does the hide, which overlooks a popular drinking spot for much game – so a tripod and a very long lens works well here.

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Walking safaris: Chiawa Camp has professional and experienced guides who offer walking safaris of a high caliber. Walks usually last two to four hours, depending entirely the wants of the group, and are a great way to learn about the smaller things in the bush.

See more ideas for Walking safaris in Zambia

Wildlife safaris: The Chiawa area has the best game in the Lower Zambezi National Park. As well as excellent birding, the variety of game here was impressive, including lion, buffalo, hyena, leopard, elephant, waterbuck and bushbuck. Nocturnal sightings including porcupines, elephant shrews, banded mongeese, civets, large spotted genets and even African wildcat.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Zambia

Children

Attitude towards children: Chiawa will gladly welcome mature and responsible children over the age of 8 years.

Property’s age restrictions: Minimum age of children visiting is 8 years, however walking and canoeing has a minimum age of 12.

Equipment: An extra bed could be made up in the tents and Chiawa do have a bunk bed they can add at a squeeze. Alternatively, tents 1 and 2 are the closest together, and would work for a family with older children only – as nobody is allowed to walk around alone after dark.

Notes: Chiawa Camp is an unfenced camp and dangerous wildlife wanders through the camp often. There is an open river bank, which is steep in parts, and the swimming pool is unfenced and deep (and very green when we last visited!).

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

Communications: There is no direct phone line – although the camp does have satellite communications for emergencies. There is no mobile reception.

TV & radio: No

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: The camp managers and guides are trained in first-aid. The closest doctor is in the village 1½ hours away by boat. In severe emergencies, you would be evacuated to Lusaka and then to Johannesburg.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Chiawa is an unfenced camp, on the edge of the Zambezi River. Dangerous animals roam through the camp, especially at night. Guests are escorted to their tents after dark and a safety radio is provided in each tent. The managers and guides tents are spread out throughout the camp; so there is always someone nearby to assist if need be.

Fire safety: There are fire buckets with water at all the tents and behind all the thatched buildings. There's also a fire blanket and fire extinguishers in the kitchen.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included, except for underwear, for which washing powder is provided in the bathrooms.

Accepted payment on location: Any extras such as purchases from the shops, need to be settled in cash and preferably in US dollars or Zambian Kwacha.