Chinzombo is the most luxurious lodge in South Luangwa.
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.
Taking its name from one of the valley’s first safari camps, long closed due to river erosion, Chinzombo is located on a 0.6km2 area of private land, just across the river from the national park.
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. Perhaps that is why it reminds us much more of a Botswana safari camp, such as Vumbura Plains, than a Zambian one. Our most recent visit to this latest incarnation of the camp was in June 2014, after it had been open for a year, and it remains quite unlike any other camp currently operating in the Luangwa Valley.
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, facing the river, the crescent-shaped couch and enormous squashy beanbag are inviting, and make the most of the lovely views. Just behind these is a well-stocked bar complete with Nespresso coffee machine, and a small library of reference books.
To the edge of the main area is a ‘loo with a view’, whose open front reveals the winding stretch of river in front of camp. Its proximity to the main area saves you trekking back to your room should you need to use the bathroom during dinner.
Dotted around the camp 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, where you can often spot wildlife even before you head out on a morning activity.
Chinzombo has just six spacious villas, one a family unit with two bedrooms, and all highly contemporary in their construction and fittings. Each has a very comfortable king-size bed, or twins, with good reading lights, surrounded by mosquito nets. Each bed is fitted with its own air-con unit, which very gently and quietly cools the surrounding air. This works well to help you sleep during the hotter months, and while it doesn’t cool the entirety of the large, open room, it is backed up by a free-standing fan next to the beds, and 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.
Private guiding for each group is standard at Chinzombo, which means that the team here is well able 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.
Chinzombo is just a short distance across the river from the South Luangwa National Park. Guests take the short trip across the river in one of the camp’s own boats before meeting the game-viewing vehicles on the other side, giving them private access to the park for drives and walks. Both take place in the game-rich Mfuwe area of the park, where on our last visit we saw an unfortunate grey heron being attacked by two harrier hawks, as well as plenty of plains game completely unperturbed by our presence. This wildlife viewing was enhanced by the gently humour of experienced guide Abraham, whose knowledge of the area was practically encyclopedic.
Although this central area of the park is excellent for game viewing, it is also near the main entrance of the park where there is a high concentration of lodges. So although you can get some great sightings, such as the pride of lions who had brought down a hippo that we were lucky enough to see on our last visit, you will probably have to share such sightings with a number 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 your first stop in this, the most luxurious camp in the park, you'll need to prepare yourself not to be disappointed when your second camp in the park is much, much simpler.
In addition to safari activities, Chinzombo offers in-camp spa treatments in the privacy of your own villa. Ladies from the local community are trained in a range of options, from manicures and massages to body treatments and facials. A complimentary half-hour foot massage is included for all guests at Chinzombo, with other treatments available at additional cost, payable locally. This, combined with the already high levels of comfort and luxury at Chinzombo, make for a very relaxing camp. It’s a perfect place to take it easy for a few nights after a safari in more remote areas; you just need to be sure that moving to an area where there are more vehicles won’t spoil your safari experience.
Better still, if this is your first taste of a Zambian safari, perhaps come to Chinzombo for a 4–6 night stand-alone section of your trip. 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 camps in South Luangwa, and at least a little more costly, too. However, its food and guides are 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.
Ideal length of stay: 2–3 nights. Chinzombo makes a good start or end to a longer stay, combining well with its sister camps within the park: Luwi Bushcamp, Nsolo Bushcamp, Kakuli Bushcamp and Mchenja Camp.
Directions: About 45 minutes’ drive from Mfuwe Airport.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Norman Carr Safaris
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: On our most recent visit to Chinzombo in June 2015, 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 usually a buffet, served around midday. We particularly enjoyed the chicken strips with homemade chilli sauce, although the roast pepper tart, selection of four green salads, and freshly baked bread were also delicious. We could also have sampled homemade garlic, rosemary or even chilli infused oils, as well as a chilli or sweet caramelised onion salsa. The fresh fruit salad worked well as a dessert, not being too heavy after a large lunch.
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. We opted for the arincini (Italian rice balls stuffed with cheese and fried) with chilli sauce and a salad to start, followed by pan-fried duck with a mustard sauce, served with dauphinoise potatoes and assorted vegetables. Dessert was a chocolate mousse, but 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.
Further dining info: There is no room service as such, but with enough notice meals can be arranged in the villas at the usual mealtimes.
Honeymoons: For an extremely luxurious, stylish and very well-run safari honeymoon to Zambia, Chinzombo is a great choice. Designed by top safari camp architects, Chinzombo is highly contemporary and very elegant. Enjoy excellent guiding, delicious food and a lovely bath big enough for two.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Zambia
Wellbeing: The villas at Chinzombo all have their own private plunge pool, and a range of quality spa treatments is available in the privacy of your own room. Offering massages, manicures and facials, the spa employs local people but is run to international standards.See more ideas for Wellbeing in Zambia
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.
Special activities & services: Chinzombo 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.
Generally recommended for children: Chinzombo has a comfortable two-bedroom villa that would work well for families with older children, who will respect the sophisticated and slightly adult atmosphere of the camp.
Notes: Children are the responsibility of their parents at all times.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: Power is available at all times and there are charging points in the villas.
Communications: There is WiFi available in the villas at Chinzombo, and good cellphone coverage all around the camp.
TV & radio: No
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: The rooms have running water for showers, sinks, baths, and flush toilets.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is a doctor in Mfuwe who can be called out if necessary. The guides at the camp are first-aid trained and there is a first-aid kit for minor injuries. Chinzombo has links to flying doctors for serious emergencies.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There are security guards on site as well as an armed ZAWA scout.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers dotted around the lodge and the staff are trained in their use.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included at Chinzombo. It is machine washed, line dried and ironed.
Money: There are safes in each villa.
Accepted payment on location: Guests can settle their bills in US dollars or Zambian kwacha cash, or by using a Visa or MasterCard, for which there is a 5% charge.