Flatdogs Camp is situated just outside the gates of the South Luangwa National Park
Flatdogs Camp: Our full report
Located just outside the gates into South Luangwa National Park, Flatdogs Camp was once famous for being an excellent backpackers option and a really low cost way of visiting the area. It has certainly retained its desire to offer a great value and affordable safari, but it has increased its standards considerably and is now a very comfortable safari camp that appeals to many different types of traveller.
Flatdogs is of a higher standard than most of the budget and mid-range places in the Mfuwe area, just outside the entrance to South Luangwa National Park, but like most of them it offers a room only rate. This allows travellers to purchase activities one at a time, dine in the restaurant as little or as often as they please and even self cater.
It is a bigger property (maximum capacity up to 44 guests) than most of the camps that we recommend in the area, and guests are not 'hosted' here - so visitors here eat their meals independently, and not communally with a guide or manager. In general, Flatdogs Camp operates more like a lodge where people are expected to have a certain level of autonomy. On a less important note, Flatdogs doesn't offer some of the frills you may find in the top camps, such as mosquito spray and toiletries in the rooms. They can't offer their guests complimentary internet and they don't have binoculars and bird books for people to borrow.
As a result of all of these things, it's costs are lower than most other camps in the area - and it has successfully bridged the gap between the mid-range and the higher end safari camps.
Despite the budget level, we were impressed that the owners Jess and Ade were almost always around; they made a huge effort to ensure everyone felt at home. Though guests were not hosted at dinner, they were still met off every game drive and asked how their day had been.
The main areas at Flatdogs Camp are all furnished simply with wooden furniture, polished stone floors and muted safari tones. What struck us the most when we were last here was how well maintained and spotless everything was. Flatdogs is immaculate and the team clearly try their best to make sure that the camp is always sparklingly clean.
The open-sided restaurant offers a varied a la carte menu throughout the day and guests can also opt to dine outside under shady umbrellas. For those on a full board rate, you simply come and order what you want from the a la carte menu and it is included in the cost of your stay.
The bar is located within a separate open-sided area just next door. There are high wooden bar stools as well as a number of comfy sofas, and a great variety of drinks stocked behind the bar. On the weekends you can expect this to become lively, as the local ex-pat community come down to kick off their weekend.
The large and crystal clear swimming pool has a number if sun loungers doted around it and there are various little shady places to sit and read, or take in the sounds of the bush. Flatdogs Camp also has a shop stocked with curios, books, the odd piece of clothing and essentials such as sun cream and toothpaste
Sandy pathways lead you from these central areas to the various bedrooms, of which there are four different types.
Flatdogs has six regular chalet rooms, housed within three separate two-storey buildings. Upstairs is a twin or triple room with its own private ensuite bathroom just at the bottom of the stairs. Then downstairs is a double room also with its own ensuite. The two rooms share a wrap-around veranda downstairs and a communal kitchen for self caters. All are similar in design, with the outside walls painted in a burnt orange with the inside in a brighter cream and all are furnished with solid wooden furniture and Tribal Textiles fabrics. The en suite bathrooms have a walk-in shower decorated with a natural pebble stone finish, a flush loo and sink.
In addition to the regular chalet rooms there is also a family chalet with two downstairs bedrooms, one of which is a double and one is a twin. A wrought iron staircase takes you upstairs to a loft where an additional two or three people can sleep. Form the loft there is access onto a shady balcony with table and chairs. The chalet also has its own barbeque and a gazebo for relaxing.
Flatdogs also has six luxury tents which are relatively spacious green safari tents set under additional shady thatch. Each has a comfortable double or twin bed drapped in mosquito netting, a standing fan, bedside tables and lamps. The beds have lovely tribal textiles throws and a woven mat covers the floor. Then the ensuite bathroom is located through a door at the back, within thatched walls and a roof. The bathroom is very spacious but simply done, with a polished stone floor, sink and side table, toilet, hot-and-cold shower and a movable partition for added privacy from the bedroom. Soap is provided here but no other toiletries. The luxury tents are all lined along the banks of the Luangwa River and are most certainly the rooms with the best views.
The six standard tents are about two thirds of the size of the luxury tents and slightly simpler in design. They have a normal zip at the front of the tent, and at the back for access into the open-air bathrooms. These are a good option for those travelling on a real budget, but unfortunately they lack the views of the luxury tents and so we recommend that if you can manage the luxury tents it is well worth the extra cost.
For those wanting a much more exclusive stay at Flatdogs then the Jackal-Berry Tree House is a fantastic option. Located a few minutes' drive away from the main camp, the Tree House is built on a wooden deck about six feet off the ground. This deck wraps around three stunning ebony trees. As you enter the Tree House you walk in through the back which looks like one long thatched wall. But once inside, the front is entirely open with views out across a lagoon. The Tree House has two rooms, one of which is a double and one is a twin. Each has their own ensuite bathroom but share a central lounge and dining area. Guests can arrange for private meals here, or they can go to the main lodge if they prefer. There is a radio at the Tree House so that guests are always in communication with the main camp.
Activities from Flatdogs includes day and night safari drives, in lovely new Toyota Landcruisers. These seat a maximum of 6 pax in three rows. They also offer walking safaris accompanied by a guide and armed scout. The morning activity usually starts at about 5:30am, returning to camp at around 10am. Then the afternoon activity starts at about 4pm after afternoon tea. When we were last here in April 2011 we thought that the guiding standards were very high. The guide we had was knowledgeable and enthusiastic and certainly tried his level best to ensure that we enjoyed our activities.
Our viewWe have visited Flatdogs many times over the years, but were particularly impressed by our most recent visit. The guiding was very good, the service was extremely friendly and the atmosphere was pleasantly relaxed. For a lower cost safari option, Flatdogs is excellent.
However note that the camp is large by South Luangwa's standards, outside the park, and guests are not 'hosted' here. It assumes that guests have a high level of independence and so it's not for everyone. Those looking for a more social, small-camp experience should look towards many of the other great options in the area.
We find best suits those who want to extend their safari, whilst keeping costs down. Then we often suggest combining Flatdogs with one of the park's smaller camps, as the combination can offer great value. In such a trip, we'd always strongly recommend staying at Flatdogs at the start of such trip, not at the end.
Ideal length of stay: Stay at Flatdogs Camp for around four nights to fully explore the Mfuwe area. Then perhaps for a longer safari, combine it with one of the bushcamps within the park such as Mwamba, Mchenja and Tena Tena.
Directions: Fly for an hour and ten minutes from Lusaka to Mfuwe. It is then about a 45-minute drive from Mfuwe airport to reach Flatdogs Camp, which is located just 1km from the South Luangwa National Park gate.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Flatdogs Camp offers an a la carte menu for all its meals, and there is no set time as such. The camp prides itself on being very flexible and it operates more like a normal restaurant than a safari camp. Those on an accommodation only rate will have to pay for any meals that they have locally. However all meals are included for those booked in on a full board rate.
When we were last here in April we were really impressed with the food. Everything we had was tasty and fresh, the menu was varied but uncomplicated and the presentation of the food on the plate was excellent. Flatdogs also does its best to source food locally in order to support the surrounding community.
A light breakfast is available from 5:30am when cereals, toast, teas and coffee are on offer. Then from 7:30 onwards you are also able to get a variety of cooked breakfasts such as eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes.
Lunch and dinner is ordered off the same a la carte menu which has a variety of options from light bites, to larger meals. Great lunch options include the club sandwich or chicken wrap, nachos or one of the fresh salads and baguettes. For dinner you may want to go all out and have three courses. Some of the starter options include bruschetta, chicken liver pate and smoked fish tartlets. When we were here we had the pate and it was very tasty indeed. Main course options include burgers, chilli con carne and chicken mango curry. We opted to eat something off the specials board and had a delicious fillet steak with crushed new potatoes. Then for pudding we chose the famous Flatdogs chocolate brownies which didn't disappoint.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are not included at Flatdogs. You can expect to pay around $2.50 for a local beer and between $12-35 for a bottle of wine.
Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome at this very relaxed safari camp.
Equipment: Cots are available
Generally recommended for children: Yes. The a la carte menu and flexible dining times works really well for families. The chalets also have the option to interconnect the rooms by walking via the closed in veranda. There is also the very well appointed family chalet. The only room we would not recommend for young children is the Jackal-Berry Tree House because it is set quite high off the ground.
Notes: South Luangwa is quite a wild park, there are no fences and children need constant supervision. Thus it's not high on our list for younger children. That said, Flatdogs is better than most camps in the area for children who are sensible.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: Mobile phone reception is available. There are three computers in the shop with an internet connection, which guests can use. This costs $1.50 for 15 minutes.
TV & radio: There is a TV in the bar.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: The doctor for most of the camps in South Luangwa is based at Flatdogs. They have emergency equipment to stabilize and deal with most medical situations, but also have links to medivac as well
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There are watchmen dotted around the property to escort guests to and from their rooms at night. There is a safe in the main office for valuables and a whistle in every room in case of emergency during the night.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers by each of the chalets and the main areas at Flatdogs.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included in the full board rate at Flatdogs. If guests are staying here on a room only basis then the laundry costs 50 cents per item. All laundry is handwashed washed and dried, then ironed.
Money: Flatdogs can exchange US dollars into Zambian Kwacha and will use the Zambian banks rate of the day. They can also exchange travellers' cheques but this will incur a 5% charge.