Flatdogs Camp is situated just outside the gates of the South Luangwa National Park.
Flatdogs Camp: Our full report
Located in the Mfuwe area, just outside the gates into South Luangwa National Park, Flatdogs Camp was once known as an excellent backpackers’ option and a really low-cost base for visiting the area. Whilst trying hard to retain its focus on value, its standards have improved considerably over recent years; it is now a comfortable safari camp that should appeal to many different types of traveller.
Flatdogs is a bigger property (taking up to 44 guests) than most of the camps in the South Luangwa area, and guests are not 'hosted' here – so visitors take their meals independently, rather than communally with a guide or manager, and are expected to have a certain level of autonomy. Having said that, we were impressed during our last visit in June 2013 that owners, Jess and Ade, were often around during the day; whether meeting guests off a game drive or chatting over afternoon tea, they made a huge effort to ensure everyone felt at home.
While Flatdogs is now of a higher standard than most of the budget and mid-range places in the Mfuwe area, it still 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.
Set around a central courtyard, the main areas at Flatdogs Camp sport simple wooden furniture, polished stone floors and muted safari tones. What has struck us the most on our last couple of visits here is that everything is well maintained and spotless: Flatdogs is immaculate!
The open-sided restaurant is open throughout the day, with tables under cover or outside beneath shady umbrellas. Both those on a full-board rate and those staying independently select from a varied à la carte menu.
A separate open-side area incorporates the well-stocked bar, which has both high wooden bar stools and a number of comfy sofas. Both the bar and restaurant are open to non-residents of the lodge, but we were assured on our most recent visit that it doesn't get as lively as it once did when the local safari and ex-pat community used to converge here to kick off their weekend!
The large and crystal-clear swimming pool is surrounded by sunloungers and there are various shady spots to sit and read, or take in the sounds of the bush. The pool isn't fenced so if you're going for a dip, be sure to check first for any hippos or crocodiles! Flatdogs Camp also has a small shop stocked with curios, books, the odd piece of clothing and essentials such as suncream and toothpaste. You’ll find a few computers with internet access here, too, and there is WiFi in the courtyard area, both available at extra cost.
Sandy pathways lead from the central area to Flatdogs’ accommodation, which falls broadly into four different types:
- Six regular chalet rooms are housed within three separate two-storey buildings. Upstairs is a twin or triple room with a private bathroom at the bottom of the stairs, then downstairs is an en-suite double. The two rooms share a wrap-around veranda and a communal kitchen for those who wish to self cater. All are similar in design, with the outside walls painted in a burnt orange and the inside a brighter cream, and all are furnished with solid wooden furniture and Tribal Textiles fabrics. The bathrooms have a washbasin, a flushing toilet, and a walk-in shower decorated with a natural pebblestone finish.
- The family chalet has two downstairs bedrooms – a double and a twin – and a loft room, reached by a wrought-iron staircase, for an additional two or three people. From the loft there is access onto a shady balcony with a table and chairs. The chalet also has its own barbecue and a gazebo.
- Seven en-suite ‘luxury’ tents have the best views: six lining the Luangwa River and one overlooking a lagoon. Set under additional shady thatch, all are spacious, with comfortable double or twin beds draped with lovely Tribal Textiles throws, while one double room has an additional single bed. Expect mosquito nets over the beds, a standing fan, bedside tables and lamps, as well as a sitting area and tea/coffee-making facilities.
The walled bathrooms under thatch are located through a door at the back, but the top of the wall is completely open and so lets in lots of natural light. These, too, are spacious, but simply done, with a polished stone floor, flushing toilet, washbasin and hot-and-cold shower. Soap, shampoo and towels are provided, as are mosquito and bug sprays to get rid of any 'nasties'!
- Five standard tents, substantially smaller and much simpler in design than the ‘luxury’ tents; they lack the views and the comfort, and have zipped canvas access to both the front of the tents and the open-air bathrooms at the back. With twin beds and no mosquito nets (but gauze windows), we consider them an option for those travelling on a really tight budget; if you can manage it, the ‘luxury’ tents are well worth the relatively little extra cost.
- The two-roomed Jackalberry Treehouse is a fantastic option for those wanting a more exclusive stay at Flatdogs. Located a few minutes' drive away from the main camp, the Treehouse is built on a wooden deck that’s about two metres off the ground, and wrapped around three stunning ebony (or jackalberry) trees. From the back, through what looks like one long thatched wall, you enter to find that the front is entirely open with views across a lagoon. As well as a double and a twin room, each with en-suite shower, washbasin and flushing toilet, there’s a lounge and dining area, and a minibar fridge. There is a radio at the Treehouse so guests may arrange for private meals here, or can eat at the main lodge if they prefer.
Activities from Flatdogs Camp include day and night safari drives in open-topped Toyota Landcruisers, which seat a maximum of six people in three rows. They also offer walking safaris accompanied by a guide and armed scout, usually during the drier months between about June and October.
As at most safari camps, the morning activity starts at about 6.00am, when the park opens, returning to camp at around 10.00am. Then the afternoon activity leaves after tea at about 4.00pm. With advance notice day trips (with a packed lunch) can be arranged for a minimum of four people.
On our last few visits, we've found the guiding standards at Flatdogs were very high. Our guide was knowledgeable and interesting, explaining to us, for example, why he thought the injured puku we spotted was most likely an unfortunate result of a crocodile rather than another predator. We were delighted to see a Pel's fishing owl on our night drive, a big tick an many avid birders’ lists, and despite sharing a leopard sighting with a few other vehicles in what is often a relatively busy area of South Luangwa national Park, we watched with rapt attention as it swiftly climbed a tree – keeping well out of reach of the hyena sniffing about below it.
Our viewWe have visited Flatdogs many times over the years and, while it is large by South Luangwa standards, it is competitively priced and offers very good value for money. We think it has evolved to bridge the gap successfully between the area’s more basic and higher-end safari camps. Guests are not 'hosted' here, so it is likely to appeal to the more independent-minded traveller looking for the excellent guiding, friendly service and relaxed atmosphere that we have experienced.
Ideal length of stay: We suggest a stay of around three or four nights to fully explore the Mfuwe area. Including Flatdogs in a longer itinerary with some of the smaller, more remote bushcamps in the South Luangwa can help to keep costs down. We usually recommend Flatdogs at the start of such a trip, although based on our most recent experience, with an excellent guide and some fantastic wildlife sightings, we were happy to end our trip to the Luangwa there.
Directions: After a 70-minute flight from Lusaka to Mfuwe Airport, it is about a 45-minute drive to 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 prides itself on being very flexible and its service operates more like a normal restaurant than a safari camp, with an à la carte menu for all meals, and no set mealtimes. All meals are included for those booked on a full-board rate, but those on an accommodation-only rate pay for their meals locally.
On our most recent stay in June 2013, as on our previous visits over the last few years, we were really impressed with the food: tasty and fresh, with generous portions and excellent presentation. Flatdogs does its best to source food locally in order to support the surrounding community.
A light breakfast of cereals, toast, teas and coffee is available from 5.30am, then from 7.30am onwards you can get a variety of cooked dishes such as eggs, bacon, sausage, or even pancakes and French toast.
Lunch and dinner are ordered off the same à la carte menu, which has a range of choice, from light bites to larger meals. Just note that last orders are generally at around 9.00pm.
Great lunch options include the club sandwich or chicken wrap, nachos or one of the fresh salads and baguettes. Although we were very full after a club sandwich – which was big enough for two of us – we had to try the famous Flatdogs chocolate brownie, which didn't disappoint.
For dinner you may want to go all out and have three courses. Starters included bruschetta, chicken liver paté and smoked-fish tartlets. Standard main courses on the menu take in the normal burgers, chilli con carne, pasta dishes and others, but these are augmented by daily specials, which during our visit included oxtail stew, herb-crusted fish fillets, potato and aubergine curry and chicken stir-fry. We chose the special Flatdogs chicken and mango curry, which was really quite mild and fragrant, then moved on to the apple tart with watermelon sorbet, which was worth the trade off against a starter!
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 US$2.50 for a local beer and between US$12-35 for a bottle of wine.
Family holidays: The relaxed nature of Flatdogs Camp, the à la carte menu, flexible dining times and several possible family-style accommodation options work really well for those with children. However, although the camp has no age restrictions, the high density of big game in this area means that it is best suited to more mature children over the age of ten years.See more ideas for Family holidays in Zambia
Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome at Flatdogs. They have children's menus in the restaurant, safari quizzes that kids can take on game drives, and – for active children – they can also offer nature walks around the camp with a guide and a ranger. Although there are no age restrictions at the camp, park rules mean that children under the age of 12 will not be able to go on walking safaris within the park.
Equipment: Cots are available
Generally recommended for children: The facilities and attitude of the staff at Flatdogs work really well for families, but because of the very high density of big game in this area, it's not high on our list for younger children.
Notes: The area is known for high densities of game that often pass through camp. There are no fences, either around the pool or the camp, and children need to be under the constant supervision of their parents.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: There is cellphone reception at Flatdogs. There are computers for guests’ use in the shop and WiFi is available in the bar and restaurant area, all at extra cost.
TV & radio: None
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The doctor for most of the camps in South Luangwa is based nearby. They have emergency equipment to stabilise and deal with most medical situations, but also have links to medical evacuation in case of emergency.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There are watchmen around the property to escort guests to and from their rooms at night. There is also a whistle in every tent or room to attract attention in case of emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers at each of the chalets and tents, and the main areas at Flatdogs.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included in the full-board rate at Flatdogs. For guests staying on a room-only basis, the laundry costs around US$1 per item. All laundry is handwashed and dried, then ironed.
Money: Flatdogs can exchange small amounts of US dollars, euros, South African rand or pounds sterling into Zambian kwacha, using the Zambian banks’ rate of the day. There is a small safe in each tent or room, as well as a larger one in the main office.
Accepted payment on location: Guests at Flatdogs may settle their bills in cash using US dollars (issued post 2006), Zambian kwacha, euros, South African rand and pounds sterling. MasterCard, Visa and Amex credit cards are also accepted, although any payments will be charged to the card in kwacha.