Chinzombo is the most luxurious lodge in South Luangwa.
Chinzombo: Our full report
Opened in early June 2013, the stylish and very contemporary Chinzombo spans an expansive curve of the Luangwa River, overlooking South Luangwa National Park. The camp is a 'first' for Zambia in terms of its sheer opulence and very clean lines. 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.
Chinzombo's site, on 0.6km2 of private land just west of one of its sister camps, Kapani, was originally used by Norman Carr Safaris as far back as the 1970s. One of the Expert Africa team first visited the site 20 years ago but the all-new Chinzombo is very, very different. Indeed, having visited it a few times now, we find it quite unlike any other camp currently operating in the Luangwa Valley, or indeed Zambia.
Chinzombo was designed by top safari-camp designers/architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, who count top Botswana camps like Jao and Mombo among their credits, as well as the iconic North Island in the Seychelles. Perhaps that is why Chinzombo reminds us much more of a Botswana safari camp than a Zambian one.
Set on white-washed decking, the contemporary open-plan main area has been cleverly built around the trees, which not only provide shade but also create a striking feature. To one side, an inviting crescent-shaped couch and enormous squashy beanbag face the river, making the most of Chinzombo’s lovely views. Just behind is a well-stocked bar complete with Nespresso coffee machine, and a small library of reference books. Dotted around are numerous photographs of the legendary Norman Carr, and of some of his longest-serving and most experienced guides, including Abraham and Shadrak (or 'Abes' and 'Shaddy' as they're affectionately known). Memories go back a long way here, and you're likely to meet a member of the team who either worked with Norman themselves, or whose parents or grandparents did.
At the other end of the main area is a covered dining area, although more often than not guests at Chinzombo will find themselves, as we have done, enjoying the excellent food in the shade of a tree or under the stars.
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 with uninterrupted views over the river.
Chinzombo has a curio shop as well as a wine cellar. In addition, we understand that they will be training up local ladies to run a small spa.
Chinzombo has just six spacious villas, all highly contemporary in their construction and fittings and one with two bedrooms, suitable for a family. Each has a very comfortable king-size bed, or twins, with good reading lights, surrounded by mosquito nets and cooled by an air-con unit which we found worked quietly and effectively, even in such an open environment. It doesn't cool the whole room, however, but is backed up by a free-standing fan in the bedroom as well as 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, 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.
The team at Chinzombo aims to tailor each guest's activities to suit them, rather than asking them to fit around a specific 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.
When we last stayed at Chinzombo, in September 2014, we enjoyed the gentle humour of our experienced guide, Abraham, and his knowledge about the area was practically encyclopedic. We didn't get to see the well-known resident leopard, which we were told has adapted to hunting quite successfully during the day, but we did spot a snake eagle making a meal of an unfortunate frog, an abundance of hippo beached on the sandy beaches of the river, and plenty of plains game grazing, seemingly quite relaxed and unperturbed by our presence.
Chinzombo is just a short, and often shallow, boat trip across the river from the South Luangwa National Park. Guests are usually signed into the park when they arrive – and thereafter they use the camp's own direct, private access across the river to the park for drives and walks.
Despite this direct access, Chinzombo’s game drives take place in the central area of the park, known for its prolific and relaxed wildlife – but also for its relatively high density of other vehicles. For this reason, we often 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 a first stop in the most luxurious camp in the park, you'll need to prepare yourself not to be disappointed when your second camp is much, much simpler.
Conversely, ending a trip to the Luangwa with high levels of comfort for a few days at Chinzombo could work really well – provided that moving to an area where there are more vehicles doesn't spoil your safari experience.
Or perhaps just come to Chinzombo for a four–six-night stand-alone section of your trip, if you're using this as your first taste of a Zambian safari. 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 when combined with its sister camps in the South Luangwa: 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 first visit to Chinzombo, just after the camp opened in 2013, the food was of an excellent standard and variety. Standards were just as high on our most recent visit, in September 2014 when we stopped for lunch. Special dietary requirements can be catered for with advance notice.
Before heading out on the morning's activity, Chinzombo serves a substantial breakfast. In 2013 this consisted of toast, cereal, fresh fruit, freshly baked pastries, porridge and eggs cooked to order, along with tea, coffee and juice.
Lunch is served at around midday. The tomato and pesto tart was delicious, with a perfectly crunchy pastry base – we just had to have seconds! This was served with four different salads, as well as freshly baked bread rolls. We could also have chosen from homemade garlic-, rosemary- or even chilli-infused oils, as well as a chilli or sweet caramelised onion salsa. We loved the homemade salted caramel ice cream, which rounded our meal off perfectly.
Afternoon tea – tea, coffee and often a freshly baked cake – is offered at around 3.30pm before the afternoon activity.
At dinner there is a choice of two dishes per course. Of the twice- baked cheese soufflé and the 'ravioli done three ways', we opted to start with the ravioli. It was beautifully presented and each of the three handmade ravioli came with its own sauce. For the main course, there was a choice of chicken stuffed with pesto and parmesan, or pork – which was very tender – with apple, served with a creamy mash. Dessert was a very sweet but melt-in-the-mouth white-chocolate and passion-fruit cheesecake. For those with a more savoury tooth, the alternative was a cheese plate.
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
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.