Chongwe River House is spectacularly designed!
Chongwe River House: Our full report
Chongwe River House is a four-bedroomed house overlooking the Chongwe River, a tributary of the great Zambezi River and the western boundary of the Lower Zambezi National Park. Booked out exclusively by only one party of travellers at a time, it was designed with originality, space and luxury in mind, and has created quite an impression since it opened in 2006.
It’s a short distance from Chongwe River Camp, but Chongwe River House is fully self-contained and staffed. The host and hostess, your guide, the chef and the housekeeping team will be on hand to help you tailor your days and set your own schedule: get up when you like, eat when it suits you – and enjoy the safari activities for as long, or as short, as you like. This flexibility is particularly well-suited to family safaris with children, but is also great for groups of friends who are travelling together.
The house itself has nary a straight line; indeed,if you can picture something out of the Flintstones, you could be close to imagining Chongwe River House. You walk straight into the large open-plan lounge, bar and dining area, which has a very organic, flowing feel. The sturdy dining table and bar have been beautifully carved out of wood, as have the coffee table and ‘couches’, which we’re told came from a single fallen winterthorn tree, while squashy cushions provide plenty of comfort
There’s no wall to the front, so this area extends seamlessly to a wooden deck where you’ll find a reasonable-sized swimming pool and sunloungers. Down a grassy pathway, directly in front of the house, is the jetty, where guests start their water activities.
The bedrooms at Chongwe River House are enormous, and really quite grand, yet with lots of natural materials and wood used in their contruction, they have a real earthy feel. There are two bedrooms on the ground floor, and two upstairs. All are largely open to the front to make the most of the views, but at night the housekeepers erect a rope lattice over the open section of the ground-floor rooms.
Each room has a super king-size bed on a moulded, permanent base, although these can be made into side-by-side twins on request. Large walk-in mosquito nets are lowered over the beds in the evenings. Within the bedroom space is also a bathtub, similarly moulded into the frame of the house, and a couple of chairs and a small table can be positioned as you will, to take in the best views. All the rooms are en suite with twin handbasins carved out of wood, a flushing loo and ‘waterfall’ showers.
Guests at Chongwe River House have their own privately guided activities, allowing them to set their own schedule. Choose from walking safaris, canoe and boat trips, 4WD game safaris and night drives – all led by your own resident expert safari guide. Walking safaris are also accompanied by an armed game ranger. It’s important to note that, for safety reasons, children under the age of 12 are not allowed to participate in walking or canoe safaris, but the team at Chongwe will be more than delighted to help with arranging alternative activities for younger visitors.
If you're planning a family safari in Zambia, then in addition to Chongwe River House you might also consider other houses that have been designed with families in mind. In the South Luangwa National Park, Robin Pope Safaris run the Robin's House and the Luangwa Safari House – both of which work very well for families or small groups.
For something completely different, families can have the old stately home at Shiwa Ng'andu largely to themselves – and a whole range of activities from game drives and horseriding to farm visits and archaeology projects are possible there, too.
Another very separate entity, on the banks of the Zambezi near Livingstone, Tangala House is a lovely family home that can also be hired out for exclusive use – complete with toys, books, kitchen equipment and pretty well everything that you'd normally find in a family home. It is connected to the excellent nearby Tongabezi Lodge.
Our viewChongwe River House is certainly unusual in its design, but there’s no doubting that it is both luxurious and unique. The staff here aim to be flexible, and go out of their way to accommodate the individual interests and needs of each group. The house is perfectly suited to a group of friends or a family looking for exclusivity and flexibility.
Ideal length of stay: Groups of friends or families often stay here for a week or even two. There’s plenty to do and having the place to yourselves means that you can really tailor each day to suit you. Note that it is often booked up far in advance, especially during school-holiday periods – so we recommend that you book as far in advance as you can.
Directions: A light aircraft flight of approximately 35 minutes from Lusaka takes guests to Royal airstrip. From there it is a 20-minute road transfer to camp.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Privately Owned
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Although we’ve visited Chongwe River House many times, we haven’t travelled as part of a family or a group, so we haven’t had a chance to sample the food. But if its sister camp, Chongwe River Camp, is anything to go by, then we would rate the food really highly.
Meals will generally follow the format of most safari camps, with a light breakfast being served before the morning activity, followed by brunch after you return from your morning’s adventure. Save space for afternoon tea and then dinner is served on return from the evening game drive.
However, because Chongwe River House is booked out solely by you, meals and mealtimes can be tailored to suit you.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are included, except for champagne and premium imported wines and spirits.
Further dining info: None
Family holidays: The spectacular Chongwe River House was made for family safaris. Very stylish and totally original, it centres around a vast lounge-dining area, and a large outdoor deck and swimming pool. With four large en-suite bedrooms, it's one of Africa's best family safari camps – perfect for a group travelling together – and comes with its own chef and safari guide.See more ideas for Family holidays in Zambia
Birdwatching: You'll find good safari guides at Chongwe River House and a superb location. From the foothills of the escarpment in one direction, to the great Zambezi River in the other – you'll find quite a range of different environments, and some very prolific birdlife. It's a top destination for keen birdwatchers.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Zambia
Wildlife safaris: Chongwe River House comes with a private expert safari guide who is fully qualified to lead walking safaris, boat trips and 4WD safaris – and Zambia’s park rules allow night drives and some off-road driving. Hence you can expect a first-class wildlife safari experience in one of the best areas of the Lower Zambezi Valley.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Zambia
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of 7 years are warmly welcomed at Chongwe River House.
Property’s age restrictions: There is a minimum age of 7 years, although younger children may be accepted by prior arrangement. However, walking and canoeing activities are only possible for children aged 12 and above. The decision on whether youngsters aged between 12 and 16 may join walking or canoeing activities will always be at the discretion of your guide and hosts.
Special activities & services: The house is always booked exclusively for one group of friends or family at a time, so activities and mealtimes are totally flexible. The chef will be happy to take into account the likes and dislikes of children when it comes to preparing their meals. There are board games in the lounge and if children prefer to stay at the house rather than go out on an activity, they could play games with the hostess, help out in the kitchen or even visit the main camp for a change of scenery.
Equipment: No special equipment is provided.
Generally recommended for children: We think that the flexibility of the daily schedule make Chongwe River House ideal for children and their parents.
Notes: Chongwe River House is unfenced and wildlife can wander by at any time. The pool is also unfenced and the camp is open to the river (complete with crocodiles and hippos). The rooms on the upper floor are open to the front and there are no railings, so children are not allowed to play upstairs. Children must be under the supervision of their parents at all times.
Power supply: Generator
Power supply notes: The generator is usually run when guests are out on activities, although guests who choose to stay behind may be aware of a background hum as the generator needs to be run in order to charge the inverters. There are plug points in the rooms for charging camera batteries.
Communications: Limited email facilities are available for guests in the manager's office. There is no cellphone reception around Chongwe River House.
TV & radio: None
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: Water is pumped from the river and so it’s not recommended to drink water straight from the taps; filtered drinking water is provided. Showers, bathtubs and handbasins are plumbed in and each room has an en-suite flushing toilet.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The guides at Chongwe are trained in first aid. In a medical emergency, you would generally be evacuated by air to Lusaka, or Johannesburg.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: It’s unusual for guests to leave the house at night, but should that occur you’d be escorted by a member of the team.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers strategically placed through the house.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included. This excludes ladies’ underwear due to cultural reasons, so washing powder is provided in each bathroom for this purpose. Laundry placed in the hamper before the morning activity will usually be returned the same day, but this is weather dependent.
Money: There is a safe in the main office at Chongwe River Lodge for storing any valuables. The lodge does not offer a currency-exchange facility.
Accepted payment on location: Payments in cash in US dollars and the local currency, kwacha, are preferred, but you can also use Visa, Amex and MasterCard with a 5% surcharge. Travellers' cheques are not accepted.