Reviews of Chongwe River Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
Chongwe River Camp review
A wonderful location, elephants seem to be in camp about half the time.
We enjoyed the opportunity to do a variety of activities including canoeing and the walking safari
We saw less game than in South Luangwa but we didn't do the long drive in which might have revealed more.
The staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming
One improvement would be to use refillable water bottles rather than relying on a constant supply of new bottles which must generate a lot of plastic waste.
Highlight was seeing 2 porcupines on a couple of occasions by our tent!
Lovely River Location
A really lovely location-we had a view of both the Chongwe river and beyond that the lower Zambezi. The leg of flight from Jeki over the river was spectacular.
We were not so impressed with the tents. The bathroom lacked privacy and there was just a silly little screen around the WC.
Our first night we were only four guests (and we never set eyes on the other two) and we were well looked after. There was a problem, however with the wine. It had been decanted (from a box ?) into a jug that was stored in the chiller cabinet. It was virtually undrinkable. However, at dinner bottles were produced which were fine. So next time the jug appeared we made it clear that in our view they were letting themselves down badly by serving such rubbish. After that they made a point of serving us out of bottles.
The next day a party of fourteen arrived. Although the staff tried to look after us, seating us at our own table etc.., some of the atmosphere was lost. However, we had a lovely private dinner by the pool.
That evening we opted for a canoe trip. We found ourselves with a party of three other canoes with people not even from our camp. They included adults who tried incompetently to paddle themselves and children in different boats who chattered to one another. We were tail end charlies at the rear. So the peace and tranquillity of gliding through the water was lost and some of the wildlife didn't hang around.. So, taking your advice, we made our feelings known and the next evening we enjoyed a canoe trip just for ourselves. Lovely!!
Expert Africa comments
We forwarded these travellers comments to Chongwe River Camp and received a response from Chris Liebenberg, the camp’s owner. He explained that sourcing good wine in Africa is a problem, especially with a 300% import duty plus VAT. They also tell us that they tend to use “box” wine rather than bottled, as it keeps better. Bottled wine is often corked or oxidized by the time it reaches camp. However when these travellers commented on the quality of the wine they were offered bottled wine for the rest of their stay.
July is peak safari season in Zambia when most of the camps tend to be full. These travellers were very fortunate to have only two other guests in camp for the first night, offering a very personalized service. However the next day a group arrived and this made the camp quite full.
These travellers went on a shared canoe safari with guests staying at one of Chongwe’s other properties. Chris explained that it is considered a bit safer to have groups of canoes travelling together, rather than lots of individual canoes travelling separately, as there is less disturbance to the pods of hippos in the river channels. However on request, these travellers were offered a private canoe trip, which we understand they were very happy with. We are pleased to see that these travellers did take our advice and speak to the management whilst in camp, as it is much easier to rectify any problems there and then, rather than to wait until you get home and then it is too late!
Wonderful location by the Zambezi river.
A very comfortable, well-appointed safari camp with a superb location at the confluence of the Chongwe and Zambezi rivers - so all lodges have lovely views onto the waterfront and ample opportunities for animal and bird-spotting .Lodges are also very comfortable with good showers and a spacious sitting area by the river bank although we never got around to reading our books because there was so much to see and enjoy in our surroundings.
Safari drives and walks were well-conducted and very informative as the guides had both knowledge and enthusiasm for their task....we felt they wanted us to enjoy our time with them in Lower Zambezi NP. We had a particularly memorable bird-watching trip on the 2 rivers, and 2 canoe trips which were idyllic.
Food and service were both of good standard and we appreciated the birthday treats which were arranged for us.
Chongwe River Camp review
Exellent location. The staff were friendly and accommodated all our needs. The tents were comfortable.
We very much enjoyed the river cruise as well as the canoeing. We saw a wide variety of game and even saw a pride of lions feeding on a kill.
Our guide, Sam, always asked what we wanted and always did his best to show us what we wanted to see.
The visit to the village was a unique experience, enhanced by conversations with the local councilman, the head teacher, and the local nurse/midwife. We gained a perspective that otherwise we would have missed.
Everything Great at Chongwe
You will not want to miss Chongwe River Camp. All management and staff top notch. Great location with many different activities.
We enjoyed Michael so much. He took care of us in camp so well -- far beyond any expectations we might have had!
Our guide, George, took us on whatever activity we requested -- fishing, game drives, walks, canoeing. He was extremely knowledgeable and a joy to spend our vacation days with.
Great variety with boat and car based drives
Interesting camp. Everything about the technical analysis said it should have been great but there were a few issues that let down the overall experience.
On the positive side the variety offered by boat based trips and vehicles based trips was brilliant and we loved the location on the river bank. The guides Patrick and Victor were both very knowledgeable and passionate abput their subject.
One the negative side,
The rooms were beautiful but balancing the hot and cold water to deliver a shower of an acceptable temperature proved impossible. It was either far too hot or cold. Luckily cold was acceptable most of the time given th temperature!
The hosting at dinner - after the sheer professionalism of Nkwali and Tafica this was terrible. Daniel (Maintenance Manager) did not understand the concept of coaxing the guests to talk to one another - preferring to hold court on subjects that he clearly knew little about having only been in Africa 6 months. It proved a viscious circle. The more he talked the less the guests talked so the more he talked to fill the silence. As he also answered all the questions that the local people should have answered, we also felt that the team was not entirely happy. Two of the guides left dinner early when (we suspect) they felt surplus to requirements or at least left out of the monologue. I think Daniel's intentions were of the best but the end result was a bad expereince for both the guests and for the locally based team.
Without this issue, the overall experience would have rated excellent.
Expert Africa comments
Chongwe were sorry that these guests had such a personality clash with Daniel, who otherwise had received good feedback during the season. That said Daniel has chosen to move on for next season and so Chongwe will soon be appointing a new team member to take his place. So we hope feedback like this won't reoccur. Thankfully the delightful Flossy is still a permanent fixture as manageress at the camp.
Chongwe River Camp
The guiding at Chongwe was excellent. Victor was a knowledgeable and sensitive guide, who helped us overcome our fears following unfortunate canoeing/walking experiences on a previous trip to Lower Zambeze (at another camp). Young Daniel was also very knowledgeable and has a nice manner.
The game was very good and we had some great sightings, although it is fair to say that the animals seemed more spaced out than in South Luangwa. Do try the full range of activities e.g. the gentle canoe trip down a channel off the Zambeze.
The Tetse flies were quite an issue for us here, particularly on one overcast morning. This was in spite of deet and peaceful night sprays; they bite through clothes, including thick socks. Not sure what to suggest (the guides say elephant dung lit in the 4 x 4 helps!), except I would recommend bringing some antihistamine cream and tablets.
Chongwe is in a very pretty spot with a nice outlook and the rooms were good. However, it was not really our sort of safari experience. One immediate disappointment was to see guests huddled over their phones and iPads in the reception area - this really does change the atmosphere and lands you straight back into the stressful 'civilised' world. If people have to have internet access on a safari holiday, how about giving them the equivalent of a smokers' room so they can do it away from other guests who want to continue their 'away from it all' experience. Chongwe also has some pretentions that did not feel appropriate e.g. towel-agami and a poem at bedtime - a bit naff really.
The food was good, lunches better than supper, with nice salads. But the house wine was absolutely appalling, worse than the cheapest plonk you might get on a student ski trip. It is served out of a decanter, but when my husband asked to see the bottle, he was shown a white sauvignon blanc bottle, with red wine inside! Sure, you can buy a better quality bottle of wine, but this is embarrassing and inappropriate with communal dining and at the price charged pn, should not be necessary
We had a mix up with our laundry - clothes were delivered to the wrong guests, suggesting that their systems need looking at.
This was not a restful camp. Even at breakfast, the set up lent itself to constant engagement in small talk. We are not anti-social people, but there are times when you just want to chill out and soak up the remoteness of the scenery. Many camps have an area where the seating allows this, but the Chongwe set up does not. To some extent, the atmosphere at camp is set by the hosts and whilst those at Chongwe were pleasant, they did not seem very at ease with themselves, the guests or indeed the bush. It somehow felt that we had arrived at a UK dinner party in Africa, which is not at all what we wanted. Perhaps it is just that this size and style and camp is not for us, we prefer a more restful, remote experience, also with hosts who have a more in depth knowledge and experience of the bush.
Bucket List Destination!
Chongwe River Camp is just the right amount of luxury yet keeping a feel that you are very much a part of the surrounding environment. The customer service of the staff and guides could not be better. They were all highly trained in the wildlife that you see on your safari drives as well as just sitting outside your tent in the camp! If you are looking for a place where the focus is on the wildlife viewing, then this is the place to be! Not only do you not even need to leave the camp to see lots of wildlife (including crocodiles, hippos, elephants, bee eaters, and many more) but often times you have a sleep mate outside your tent at night! (totally safe and an incredible experience)
Believe me when I say that the food quality is not compromised by the fact that you are in the middle of the wilderness! Our meals were all fantastic and varied. You are never without options for food as well. Even if you eat at a different time than the rest of the camp. The staff are extremely accommodating.
Put this place on your Bucket List and you will be glad you did!
Unbeatable Beginning to our Safari at Chongwe
Chongwe River Camp was our first camp on our first safari, setting the standard so high it would be difficult to surpass. The camp has a idyllic setting along the river warmed by the early morning sun, with the escarpment and 'Never Again' mountain acting as a stunning back drop. Though a relatively large camp, Flossie seemed everywhere, always relaxed and smiling, making sure our every need was met. Having a large number of guests, from many parts of the world, made for enjoyable and entertaining dinner conversations. My dirty laundry has never, before or since, been returned so clean and tightly folded.
We loved the elephants who frequently wandered through camp, entertaining us with their antics. It was a real treasure to watch their greeting rituals up close and personal, and to observe a variety of their eating habits, again very close.
We stayed in the chalet furthest from the camp's central area and the Zambezi River, but closest to a floodplain along the Chongwe River. We enjoyed the near constant wildlife activity: impalas sparring; warthogs kneeling to eat between wheeling bouts, running off with tails straight up; baboons with their young clinging to bellies or backsides; cattle egrets by the hundreds; the early morning and evening procession of hippos to and from their nighttime grazing; countless variety of birds; and occasional bush or water buck, monitor lizard, frogs, etc. to keep us highly entertained. The pathways were raked frequently, allowing easy observation of tracks. I found it fascinating to learn what all was walking through camp.
I liked the screen netting of the tents, which allows a breeze and sounds to enter, but also allows one to see out (there are drapes pulled for privacy at night). Looking out paid off one morning as we had a hippo grazing next to our chalet, so I was able to move around and make a little noise, encouraging the hippo down into the river before I ventured out to sit under the awning, watching and listening to the day beginning as the sky gradually lightened. Coffee or tea was brought with the morning's wake-up call.
There is not the same density and variety of wildlife at Chongwe, as can be found deeper within the Lower Zambezi National Park, or especially as compared to the South Luangwa NP. But the close encounters with relaxed elephant was unrivaled in all other of our camps. The opportunity to sit in a boat near a pod of hippos, watching and photographing their interactions during the warm light of the setting sun, delivered us the best hippo experience of our entire trip. When Flossie became aware of our photographic desires, she turned our care over to guide Patrick, for the most part to ourselves, spoiling us early in our trip.
We spent an entire (12-hour) day in the park watching--a group of lions with cubs resting and playing, then unexpectedly giving chase to a kudu; the dynamics of baboons, birds, and antelope sharing the ripe fruit of a fig tree; a group of bad-boy elephants gather, then encircle a tree, bent on destruction; elephants, hippos, baboons, impala, waterbuck, kudu--a field of water lilies, termite mounds, erosional features where a town once was, always Patrick had us there with the best light, patiently explaining and answering our questions. Passing other camp's vehicles filled with 9-passengers, we were very appreciative of Chongwe's flexibility and willingness to help us attain our desires.
The bird life along the Chongwe and Zambezi Rivers is very abundant and diverse. The islands, banks, floodplains, and trees offer a wide range of habitat, so is filled with innumerable species. We very much enjoyed both our boat excursions, on both the Chongwe and the Zambezi, but the highlight of our stay was the canoe trip. The afternoon light was spectacular, gliding quietly through the water relaxing, with sounds breaking the silence enlightening. Sitting low in the water, it is very impressive looking up to buffalo, and having elephant mock charge. We eased for close up views of monitor lizards, butterflies, and birds. If I'd had any idea how thoroughly we'd enjoy the canoe trip, I would certainly have opted for more than one such outing.
I cannot recommend Chongwe River Camp highly enough for their varied water activities, elephant encounters, hippo viewing, and abundant birdlife.
Wow factor location in the Lower Zambezi
Super location at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chongwe rivers, camp is well laid out along the river front with spacious and stylish communal dining, bar and lounge lounge (small shop and charging facilities too) in the middle of the tents which are top quality pitched on concrete bases with thatched roof and an open air en suite, they also have a nice sitting area directly in front of the tents on the river front where you can watch the wildlife at leisure.
Be prepared for close encounters, frequent visitors to the camp included elephant, kudu, impala and baboons, you are escorted back to your tents after dark!! The camp is very well run by Chongwe's General Manager, Flossie who spends a lot of time at the camp despite managing the other Chongwe operations in the area, Flossie is very ably supported by her husband and co-manager Allan, what a great couple! Food is excellent, Chongwe is blessed with a fantastic chef! Three meals a day with nibbles on activities and afternoon tea, a particular highlight were the dinners, superb! Special mention to Wilson the barman, attentive and always there!
Activities were flexible based on what you wanted to do but included drives, walks, boat trips, kayaking and fishing, all of which we did! Guides are top quality, very knowledgeable and friendly, many thanks to Richman for his great guiding. Although the end of the dry season during our stay there was still plenty of water about compared to South Luangwa and so wildlife was more dispersed, drives in to the Lower Zambezi NP were longer and generally game was less prolific than South Luangwa, it was good to spend time in a different location though. Activities on the water were particular highlights.
As with Kaingo the camp enjoyed a multinational set of guests during our stay which we enjoyed, the camp has a much more relaxed and laid back feel to it than many other camps I have stayed at, the more informal approach certainly provides for a very friendly and welcoming camp, there was a lot of laughter! The downside (only a small one) is that at times the small details can be overlooked or forgotten and time can slip away when you are wanting to get out and about. We had the opportunity to see the Albida suite, a 2 tented suite with private dining and lounge, this looks superb and would be fabulous for a family or group of friends.
Overall a great stay at a well run, superbly located camp with good guides and camp staff, I would definitely consider returning as part of another trip to Zambia.