Shoebill Island Camp: Our full report
Shoebill Island Camp has recently reopened after management for the camp was taken over by the NGO African ...... Parks and stands on the edge of Zambia's Bangweulu Wetlands - an enormous flooded wilderness of low islands, reed-beds and shallow lagoons. Surrounding this is a wide band of short-grass floodplains, and beyond is forests. The wetlands are home to lots of wildlife and a scattering of local fishing communities. Bangweulu is a unique destination; it is fascinating for wildlife enthusiasts and Africa-philes, but travel here is not always easy, so it's not ideal for a first safari.
Bangweulu's main attraction is its prolific birdlife, including numerous ducks and geese, as well as flamingos, pelicans, spoonbills, storks, herons, kingfishers, ibises, wattled cranes and the amazing shoebill (commonly and incorrectly referred to as the shoebill stork as it isn't part of the stork family) - a huge, prehistoric-looking bird with a strong likeness to the dodo.
Though many visitors come for the birds, Bangweulu's wildlife can also be spectacular. Tens of thousands of black lechwe - an attractive dark sub-species, endemic to the area - mass on the open grass plains, where you'll also find sitatunga, tsessebe, reedbuck, common duiker and plenty of oribi. Elephant and buffalo are also frequently seen, while hyena, leopard and jackal are less common.
There's really only one place to stay: Shoebill Island Camp. On an island in the wetlands, Shoebill Camp has four walk-in tents, raised on wood and reed platforms. The tents are very simply furnished with reed matting on the floors and a double bed, or twin beds, covered by a mosquito net in the corner. Rustic bamboo shelving for storing clothes, and a low table with a candle and box of matches as well as a bottle of drinking water, complete the furnishings in the tent.
The bathroom is accessed through a canvas flap at the back of the tent, and consists of a reed-enclosed bucket shower and a flush toilet. A metal basin on a stand has a cold-water tap and in the morning a member of staff fills your basin with warm water. If a shower is required, hot water is provided on request.
At one end of the camp is the enclosed reed and thatched main area. The lounge is at one end of the room, with a couple of comfy sofas and chairs around a low table. A large dining table dominates the centre of the room. A sideboard acts as bar and library - with a selection of drinks as well as a few books. In a corner is a fridge from which guests can help themselves to soft drinks or beers.
At the other end of the camp is a reed breakfast room with a view over a nearby lagoon.
From May to October game drives on the surrounding plains are possible to view the vast herds of black lechwe and buffalo, whilst getting close to shoebills often requires quite demanding walks over (and through!) the floating reed-beds. Boat trips, in a banana boat or dugout canoe, through the swamps, are also available to view the prolific birdlife in the area - although the best time to see the elusive shoebills is from about May to August.
When members of the Expert Africa team last visited here in April 2011, the area was still very wet and muddy, and walking around parts of the camp was difficult. When we arrived at the camp by boat, we were given wellington boots to wear to walk around the camp, as we were ankle deep in mud!
Shoebill Island Camp is a very simple bushcamp and is not luxurious by any means, however it is the perfect spot for travelers who have done other safaris before and want a completely different, offbeat experience. It is great for serious bird enthusiasts as well as those who wish to see the rare black lechwe and other plains game found in this area. It is usually best visited in combination with the camps in the nearby Kasanka National Park, Wasa Lodge and Luwombwa Lodge.
- Northern Zambia, Zambia
- Ideal length of stay
- Two or three nights will give you enough time to do the activities at Shoebill. Although the camp is open all year, the best time to visit is from April to November when the water levels are lower.
- Although it is possible to drive here in the dry season (5 hours bumpy ride from Kasanka), Shoebill is best accessed by light aircraft. It has its own airstrip one kilometer from camp called Chimbwe.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- When Expert Africa last visited Shoebill Island Camp in April 2011, we found the food here to be simple but tasty. For dinner we had roast chicken with thick cut potato chips, cabbage, green beans and pumpkin. This was followed by fruit flan and custard.
For breakfast we had toast, yoghurts and fresh fruit. A cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon was also available. Unfortunately we had to leave after breakfast so we cannot comment on lunch.
- Shoebill Island Camp is a superb spot for serious birdwatchers who are not afraid of getting their feet wet. There are lots of great birds here, but top of the list are the shoebills.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Wildlife safaris
- The Bangweulu area has not only super birdlife, but some excellent plains game - including the beautiful and endemic black lechwe, oribi, tsessebe and sitatunga.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Attitude towards children
- There is no age limit for children staying at Shoebill Island Camp.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- Generally recommended for children
- Although there is no age limit we do not recommended for children under 12 years. At certain times of the year the camp can be wet and muddy and the accommodation is very basic.
- The camp is linked to the Kasanka main office by radio. There is no cell-phone signal at Shoebill Island.
- TV & radio
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There are two hospitals on the Great North Road at Chilonga and Chitambo. However for more serious emergencies it is possible to arrange a medivac from the airstrip at the camp.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- There are no guards on site
- Fire safety
- There is a fire extinguisher in the kitchen
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry in included. Please note that this is done by hand so no valuable items should be included. For cultural reasons ladies underwear should not be included.
- There is no currency exchange available in camp
- Accepted payment on location
- Cash is accepted in US$ and Zambian kwacha
Other lodges in Northern Zambia
Alternative places to stay in this same area.