Thorntree River Lodge: Our full report
Following a complete rebuild under new ownership, Thorntree River Lodge opened its doors to guests in May 2017.The lodge sits on the banks of the Zambezi River inside Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, and has been re-built with a focus on the environment, combining contemporary ideas with African-style structures.
Thorntree River Lodge is owned and run by the respected African Bush Camps (ABC). It has been designed to complement its surroundings, with wooden decks encompassing the trees, and built right up to the banks of the mighty Zambezi. There is plenty of glass, stone, copper, canvas and wood, with designs drawing inspiration from the local culture and customs
Thorntree is a sister camp to Somalisa Camp in Zimbabwe and Linyanti Bush Camp and Khwai Tented Camp in Botswana. It is the newest addition to ABC’s Zambia portfolio – with no expenses spared! We spent two nights here in early June 2017, and although construction wasn’t quite complete, it was looking beautiful. The building work had finished by our last visit in September 2017, and though we didn't have the chance to stay overnight, we enjoyed our visit and lunch at this stylish addition to Livingstone's accommodation options.
The lodge has a total of ten suites made up of eight double or twin suites and two family suites. All are identical in style and design, but the family units have an inter-leading passageway that joins the two bedrooms – ideal for families with young children in a park where wild animals do roam around at night. It will take some time for landscaping to be complete and for the foliage to grow up between the suites, but for now they’ve done a good job of erecting wooden screens to give the suites privacy from each other.
Each suite is built on a wooden deck, raised slightly off the ground, and has solid walls with a canvas roof that still gives a slightly tented feel. You enter from the back, through a chunky teak wood door, made from old railway sleepers. The interior is very elegant, decorated in neutral tones with plenty of light wood, copper and steel, and fabrics of blues and white. The narrow entrance hall has a slim bar counter with a kettle and coffee plunger, a bar fridge stocked with water, beers and soft drinks, and a drinks trolley with a bottle of wine, Amarula liquor and whisky. Drinks can be stocked on request, and all local brands are included in your stay.
Along with either a king-size bed or twin beds under a four-poster mosquito net, you’ll find a cosy seating area in a little enclave off to the side. The front wall is all glass with sliding doors that lead outside to a private deck and plunge pool overlooking the Zambezi River. Behind the bedroom is a very spacious open-plan bathroom with a dressing room complete with plenty of storage space, dressing gown and slippers, a digital safe, hairdryer and universal plug points. The vanity area has porcelain twin basins with a modern steel-drum base and complimentary amenities. The deep bath has views outside and from the large walk-in shower there are glass doors to a second, outdoor shower. The toilet is separate, behind a frosted glass, pivoting door.
At the heart of the new Thorntree, the main area has two large circus-style tents with stone walls at the back and frameless glass stacking doors to the front, leading out onto an expansive deck overlooking the river. The lounge has four separate seating areas with an array of comfortable chairs, sofas and beanbags, a central fireplace and bar (with a fantastic cappuccino machine!) and a medley of contemporary and more rustic lights hanging from the reed ceiling.
In the separate dining room, there’s a configuration of either group or individual tables, and a mismatch of chairs which all add to the very clever combination of textures and design. The focal point here is the wine cellar, set behind glass doors in a temperature-controlled room.
The outside deck has plenty of comfortable seating areas and more dining options – all with fantastic views. The U-shaped boma has a safari camp feel with a sandy floor, and solid brick benches topped with soft cushions. It surrounds a magnificent steel sculptured firepit which is host to pre- and post-dinner drinks. The infinity pool is another focal point, with four sunloungers lying in shallow water at the edge of the pool. The tall palm tree and rim-flow pool definitely give this side of the lodge a very Mediterranean feel.
Behind the main area is a separate library with a small lounge with DSTV and (intermittent) WiFi. You’ll also find a separate spa and a small gym built in two adjoining structures, designed to look like traditional Zambian Lozi huts, and to give a sense of a traditional Zambian village. Both face towards the back of camp, where plenty of landscaping is still taking place. We’ve been told that it’s going to have water channels and lots of indigenous foliage: a refreshing change to the river view from the rest of the camp. We even got to plant our very own sausage tree!
Thorntree River Lodge is only 12km upstream from the Victoria Falls, and your stay here includes a guided tour of the Zambian side of the Falls, plus a myriad of other activities. These range from rhino trekking on foot and game drives in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, to a visit to one of the local villages to learn about the customs, heritage and daily life of the local communities, a sunset river cruise (in their private boats,) fishing and a visit to the Livingstone Museum. You’ll need a minimum of three nights here to enjoy all of this!
The rebuilt Thorntree River Lodge is arguably Livingstone’s finest lodge within the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. It’s luxurious, comfortable and stylish, offering attentive service and a wonderful connection to the bush – with a passionate landscaper who is hard at work planting plenty of trees and shrubbery. We couldn’t fault it!
- Livingstone & Victoria Falls, Zambia
- Ideal length of stay
- A stay of two to three nights would usually be typical, depending on how many activities in Livingstone and at the Falls you wish to partake in. We recommend three nights here!
- There are daily flights to Livingstone Airport from both Lusaka and Johannesburg, and direct flights from Cape Town and Nairobi on certain days of the week. Then it's an approximate ten-minute drive to Thorntree River Lodge.
Alternatively, it's possible to transfer overland from Botswana and Zimbabwe, or you can connect via a short flight transfer from Hwange National Park to Victoria Falls Airport, followed by a road transfer to the lodge.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- The food that we had at Thorntree River Lodge on our last visit, in June 2017, was excellent. They have a brilliant chef with plenty of years’ experience. With advance notice, those with allergies or other dietary requirements can be catered for.
The day begins with a wake-up call, with the time depending on which morning activity you’ve chosen to do. Breakfast usually includes a small selection of fruit, muesli, yoghurt, freshly squeezed orange juice and croissants straight from the oven, all served to your individual table. A cooked breakfast can be ordered.
Lunch is à la carte and is served on request when guests are back from their activities. On our last visit they had prepared tasty chicken wraps with a small side salad.
Afternoon tea, usually with something sweet and savoury on offer, is served on the main deck overlooking the river.
Dinner is three courses and can be enjoyed inside or out on the deck. When we visited the evenings were cold but we still chose to sit outside and were provided with warm blankets. For starters we had butternut soup and fresh bread rolls, followed by a choice of three mains – beef fillet, crispy coconut-baked bream or vegetarian steaks. Dessert was a tasty chocolate mousse.
For our second night at the lodge we started with tomato soup and baked bread, followed by pork, beef and vegetable espetada, each served separately. This was finished off with pecan nut tart with an orange reduction.
- Attitude towards children
- Children of all ages may stay at Thorntree River Lodge
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- The family suites are ideal for families with children as you can walk between the two bedrooms at night. They are spacious and an extra bed can be added on request.
Babysitting is available on request.
- When we visited in June 2017 their cot beds hadn’t arrived yet. They were expecting them to be delivered within the next 6 weeks.
- Generally recommended for children
- Although families are welcome at Thorntree River Lodge, the lodge is within Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and elephants and hippos do roam through the camp. The swimming pool and plunge pools are unfenced, and the Zambezi River flows in front of the lodge. For these reasons, we consider that it is best suited to older children who understand the importance of safety.
- Be aware that this is a malarial area.
Children need to be under parental supervision at all times.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Thorntree River Lodge
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Thorntree River Lodge have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- At the moment Thorntree River Lodge is on mains electricity, but they are in the process of installing a system that will allow them to switch over to full solar. This means they generally use solar but the mains will be there as a back up.
- There is cellphone reception at the lodge, and WiFi in the library.
- TV & radio
- The lodge has a TV with DSTV in the library.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Water is pumped from the Zambezi River and purified with state of the art equipment using a UV filter system - bio rock filters and treated before being distributed to the whole property.
Architecture inspired by African wilderness
What sets Thorntree River Lodge apart is its environmentally-conscious design, thoughtfully inspired from local customs and cultures. A key requirement Thorntree’s management had when building the lodge was to not only minimize the camp’s footprint on the environment, but to also effortlessly blend it within the surrounding landscape to maintain the feel of an authentic Africa.
Simplistic, yet warm and tranquil, the guest tents are protected by the shade of the riverine vegetation, offering a calm and peaceful ambience that eliminates the need of using air conditioning. Furthermore, fitting the tents with insulated paneling maintains a constant temperature, regardless of the weather conditions. Also, taking into account the location of the lodge on the fragile banks of the Zambezi River, lightweight rigid walls, pre-fabricated bathroom pods and compact fabric elements were used to limit the pressure put on the soil. Moreover, details of the suite interiors and furnishings are sustainably designed and produced by local craftsmen and merchants, which is one of the many examples of how Thorntree is empowering the local communities.
Although Thorntree River Lodge was only opened in 2017, its design in perfect harmony with the world heritage site, as well as the way it combines style with sustainable living has already brought it admiration of world-known publications, being named one of the top luxury hotel openings of 2017 by Travel + Style Magazine.
See more great sustainability projects in Zambia
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- The nearest doctor is in Livingstone, about 30 minutes’ drive away.
- Dangerous animals
- Moderate Risk
- Security measures
- There are guards on site at night to escort you to your suite after dark. Every suite has a digital safe.
- Fire safety
- Fire extinguishers are positioned throughout the lodge and outside every suite.
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- A full laundry service is included, except for ladies’ underwear, for which washing powder is provided in the bathrooms.
- No exchange facilities are offered.
- Accepted payment on location
- Thorntree River Lodge can accept payments by Visa and Mastercard. They can also accept cash payments in USD, PULA, ZAR, EURO, GBP and Zambian’s local ZK.
Other lodges in Livingstone & Victoria Falls
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