Chinzombo is the most luxurious lodge in the Luangwa Valley…
Chinzombo: Our full report
Opened in early June 2013, Chinzombo is a brand-new camp on an old site that spans an expansive curve of the Luangwa River overlooking South Luangwa National Park. Designed by two of the safari industry’s leading designer/architects, this camp is a ‘first’ for Zambia in terms of its sheer opulence and very clean, contemporary style. The best news is that this shiny new camp comes from Norman Carr Safaris, which is probably Zambia’s oldest photographic safari company – with a track record of running first-class safari camps.
Chinzombo’s site, on 0.6km2 of private land just west of one of its sister camps, Kapani, was originally used as far back as the 1970s by Norman Carr Safaris. One of the expert Africa team visited this in 1995 – when it was being run by Chinzombo Safaris, and it closed a few years later.
The all-new Chinzombo has been designed by the top safari camp designers/architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens – who count top Botswana camps like Jao and Mombo amongst their credits, as well as the iconic North Island in the Seychelles – and perhaps that results in it reminding us much more of a Botswana safari camp, like Vumbura Plains, than a Zambian one. We visited this latest incarnation of the camp within a few days of opening, in June 2013 and, as promised, it is quite unlike any other camp currently operating in the Luangwa Valley, or indeed Zambia.
The very contemporary open-plan main area sits on white-washed decking and has been cleverly built around the existing trees, which not only provide shade but also create a striking feature. Off to one side is the covered dining area, although more often than not guests at Chinzombo may find themselves enjoying the excellent food under the shade of a tree or under the stars, as we did. Positioned at the other end of the main area, the crescent shaped couch and enormous squashy beanbag are inviting, and face out towards to the river to make the most of the lovely views. Just behind these is well-stocked bar complete with a Nespresso coffee machine, and a small library of reference books.
Dotted around are numerous pictures of the legendary Norman Carr, along with some of the company’s longest-serving and most experienced guides, including Abraham and Shadrak (or ‘Abes’ and ‘Shaddy’ as they're affectionately known), who were guiding during our stay. You're likely to meet a member of the team who either worked with Norman themselves, or whose parents or grandparents did. Memories go back a long way here.
The firepit is a great place to exchange stories after dinner, and it's also here that breakfast is usually served, with eggs cooked to order over an open fire; a fantastic spot to start the day with uninterrupted views over the river.
Although the team has done a great job with the landscaping, making it hard to believe that the camp has only recently been built, there are still a few finishing touches to be added. It was unusually windy when we visited in June 2013, and with the very open aspect of the main area, they weren't quite prepared for it. However, we are told that they are in the process of making ‘Mauritian’ blinds of strong canvas, which can be rolled down and clipped firmly in place in case of inclement weather. They were nearing completion of a 'loo with a view' for the main area, and there are plans to build a curio shop as well as a wine cellar. We also understand that they will be training up local ladies and building a small spa.
Chinzombo has just six spacious villas, all highly contemporary in their construction and fittings; one of these is a family unit with two bedrooms. Each has very comfortable king-size or twin beds with good reading lights, surrounded by mosquito nets and cooled by an air-con unit which we found worked quietly and effectively, even in such an open environment. It doesn't cool the whole room, however, but is backed up by a free-standing fan in the bedroom as well as a ceiling fan in the bathroom. The amenities are excellent and include a minibar, tea- and coffee-making station, and a WiFi unit on the writing desk.
The open-plan bathroom is enormous, and separated from the bedroom by a curtain which can be drawn for greater privacy. There is a shower, his-and-hers washbasins and a free-standing bathtub big enough for two – bubbles optional! Set behind additional tent flaps within the bathroom, the flushing toilet is furthest from the bedroom. Fluffy towels, bathrobes, soap, shampoo and conditioner are all provided.
Floor-to-ceiling gauze panels run the length of the front of the villa and give a feeling of light and space. These can be rolled up during the day, but there are also additional canvas flaps that can be rolled down in the evening if you wish. The villas all have their own large deck with a good-size plunge pool and a sunken lounge.
The team at Chinzombo aims to tailor each guest's activities to suit them, rather than fitting around a specific camp schedule. Options include guided day and night 4WD game drives, and walking in the park accompanied by one of the expert guides and an armed scout.
We enjoyed the gentle humour of our experienced guide, Abraham, and his knowledge about the area was practically encyclopedic. We didn't get to see the well-known resident leopard, which we were told has adapted to hunting quite successfully during the day, but we did spot a snake eagle making a meal of an unfortunate frog, an abundance of hippo beached on the sandy beaches of the river, and plenty of plains game grazing, seemingly quite relaxed and unperturbed by our presence.
Chinzombo is just a short, and often shallow, boat trip across the river from the South Luangwa National Park. Guests are usually signed into the park when they arrive – and thereafter they use the camp’s own direct, private access across the river to access the park for drives and walks.
Despite this direct access, their game drives take place in the central area of the park, known for its prolific and relaxed wildlife – but also for its relatively high density of other vehicles.
For this reason, we normally suggest staying in a camp in this area at the start of a trip, before moving on to the less busy areas of the park further north. However, if you have a first stop in the most luxurious camp in the park, and you’ll need to prepare yourself not to be disappointed when your second camp in the park is much, much simpler.
Conversely, ending a trip to the Luangwa with high levels of comfort for a few days at Chinzombo could work really well – provided that moving to an area where there are more vehicles doesn’t spoil your safari experience.
Better still – perhaps just come to Chinzombo for a 4-6 night stand-alone section of your trip, if you’re using this as your first taste of a Zambian safari. If you’ve been used to high-end safaris in Botswana and want to dip your toe into another area, this could be just the right camp for you.
Our ViewHowever you look at it, Chinzombo is not a typical Zambian camp. It’s a step more luxurious and more contemporary than any of the other camp in South Luangwa, and at least a little more costly also. However, it’s food and guides and very good indeed – at the top end of Zambia’s normally high standards – so if luxury is your priority, then it’s perhaps worth the extra cost.
Directions: About 45 minutes’ drive from Mfuwe Airport.
Owner: Norman Carr Safaris
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: On our first visit to Chinzombo in June 2013, the food was of an excellent standard and variety.
Before heading out on the morning's activity, the camp serves a substantial breakfast of toast, cereal, fresh fruit, freshly baked pastries, porridge and eggs cooked to order, along with tea, coffee and juice.
Lunch is served at around midday. The tomato and pesto tart was delicious, with a perfectly crunchy pastry base – we just had to have seconds! This was served with four different salads, as well as freshly baked bread rolls. We could also have chosen from homemade garlic, rosemary or even chilli infused oils, as well as a chilli or sweet caramelised onion salsa. We loved the homemade salted caramel ice cream, which rounded the meal off perfectly.
Afternoon tea – tea, coffee and often a freshly baked cake – is served at around 3.30pm before the afternoon activity.
At dinner there is a choice of two dishes per course. Of the twice- baked cheese soufflé and the 'ravioli done three ways', we opted to start with the ravioli. It was beautifully presented and each of the three handmade ravioli came with its own sauce. For the main course, there was a choice of chicken stuffed with pesto and parmesan, or pork – which was very tender – with apple, served with a creamy mash. Dessert was a very sweet but melt-in-the-mouth white-chocolate and passion-fruit cheesecake. For those with a more savoury tooth, the alternative was a cheese plate.
With advance notice, special dietary requirements can be catered for.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are included, apart from champagne and specially imported wines and spirits.
Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome by prior arrangement, although private activities will usually need to be booked at extra cost. The camp offers a children's programme, which includes the option to visit a local village, an 'art safari' to Tribal Textiles at nearby Mfuwe, and short walks with a guide and scout in the area around the camp. Note that children under the age of 12 may not do walking safaris in the South Luangwa National Park.
Equipment: There is one family villa.
Generally recommended for children: We'd recommend Chinzombo for children over the age of 10, with a keen interest in wildlife and nature.
Notes: The camp is unfenced and wildlife, including hippo and elephant, does wander through. The plunge pools at each villa are unfenced and the camp is open to the river in front of the camp – sometimes with steep drops. Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents at all times.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: There is cellphone reception. WiFi is available in the main area, as well as in each of the villas.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The guides have basic first-aid training. The nearest doctor is about 20 minutes’ drive from the camp. In serious emergencies, guests would be flown to Lusaka or Johannesburg.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Watchmen are on duty both day and night. There is an air horn in each villa to alert the staff in case of an emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers at each of the villas and in the main area, as well a fire hose and wheel centrally located within the camp.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included. Items are usually returned the same day, as long as the weather permits.
Money: There is an electronic safe in each room. There are no currency exchange facilities.
Accepted payment on location: MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted. Because of new currency rules in 2013, cash payments may be made only in Zambian kwacha. However, tips are acceptable in US dollars.