Flatdogs Camp: Our full report
Just outside the gates into South Luangwa National Park, Flatdogs Camp has come a long way since its early days.It was once known as an excellent backpackers' option and a really low-cost base for visiting the area. Since then, while trying hard to retain its focus on value, it has improved its standards considerably, and it is now a comfortable safari camp that should appeal to a range of travellers.
Reflecting its backpacker past, Flatdogs is a larger camp then most in the South Luangwa, accommodating up to 40 guests. Guests here are expected to have a certain level of autonomy, and in keeping with this style, meals are taken independently rather than communally with a guide or a manager. That said, the cheerful owners Jess and Ade were often around during our last visit in June 2017, greeting guests off vehicles and joining us for afternoon tea. They were more than happy to listen to requests, and they help to give the camp its own personality.
While Flatdogs’ standards have improved beyond those of most other budget and mid-range places in the Mfuwe area, it still represents fantastic value, and it still offers a room-only rate. This allows travellers to purchase activities one at a time, dine in the restaurant only when they choose, 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 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-sided area has several high wooden stools around a well-stocked bar as well as a couple of comfy sofas adjacent to some tables. Both the bar and the restaurant are open to non-residents of the lodge and are sociable areas to share a drink and swap stories with your fellow travellers. Rest assured, though: the camp doesn’t get as lively as it did in its backpacker days.
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 item 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 in each is a twin or triple room (which has 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 with a natural pebblestone finish.
A further family chalet has a twin and a double bedroom downstairs, both en suite, and a loft room for an additional two people upstairs, reached by a wrought-iron staircase. From the loft there is access onto a shady balcony with a table and chairs. This 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 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, so lets in lots of natural light. The bathrooms are also 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'!
- Three standard tents are substantially smaller and much simpler in design than the 'luxury' tents, and lack the views and the comfort. They have zipped canvas access to both the front of the tents and the open-air bathrooms at the back, and twin beds covered by mosquito nets. We consider them best 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 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 (although do be aware, this can attract the vervet monkeys, who are certainly not shy of trying their luck!), or can eat at the main lodge if they prefer.
- Opened in 2015, a couple of minutes’ drive from the camp, the Crocs Nest is an exclusive tented chalet, perfect for families or small groups. Two large en-suite rooms, one twin and one double, are separated by a spacious lounge containing several comfortable sofas, a polished wooden dining table, a minibar, and a bookshelf with a selection of novels and guidebooks. A scattering of rugs and colourful art helps to bring some character into the space. Each bathroom has a toilet, washbasin and shower, with canvas walls that don’t quite reach the ceiling, giving an open- air, breezy feel. The front of the chalet is made up of several folding screen doors that open up onto a tiered wooden deck extending towards the river. In addition to some outdoor seating, there is also a small private pool, just large enough to swim lengths in. Private meals can be served on the deck or in the lounge, making the Crocs Nest very self-contained, although guests are of course welcome to use the camp’s communal facilities.
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 to be very good. Our guide in September 2017 was very knowledgeable, predicting a leopard's moves perfectly so that we were in just the right place for an exciting chase and kill!
We have visited Flatdogs many times over the years and, while it’s large by South Luangwa standards, its design avoids any feeling of overcrowding, and the presence of owners Jess and Ade ensures the camp retains its character. Offering competitive prices and good value for money, Flatdogs has evolved to bridge the gap between the budget and high-end camps in the area. Guests are not hosted here, so it’s likely to appeal to more independently minded travellers looking for good guiding and a relaxed atmosphere.
- South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
- 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 very good guide and some fantastic wildlife sightings, we were happy to end our trip to the Luangwa there.
- 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.
- Accessible by
- Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Flatdogs Camp prides itself on being very flexible. Its catering 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 September 2017, 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, a variety of wraps, nachos, or one of the fresh salads and baguettes. On our last visit we had a tasty sweet and sour chicken wrap with a very fresh, locally grown side salad.
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 fish curry, chilli fish, potato and aubergine curry and chicken stir-fry. On a previous visit 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
- Further dining info, including room service
- There is no room service.
- Drinks included
- Drinks are not included at Flatdogs. You can expect to pay around US$2.50 for a local beer and US$12–35 for a bottle of wine.
The water is filtered and is OK to drink straight from the tap, although bottled water is also readily available.
- Family holidays
- Flatdogs is an affordable, mid-range camp with a large pool, flexible dining and a selection of family chalets perfect for a relaxed family holiday in Zambia. Room-only bookings are possible, and it has no age restrictions, although we recommend it to children 10+.
- See ideas for Family holidays
- 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.
- Special activities & services
- Flatdogs will try their best to keep families with children in their own vehicle to avoid conflict with other guests. If there are several groups with children in camp at the same time it’s likely that they will be in the same vehicle.
- 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.
- 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.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Flatdogs Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Flatdogs Camp 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
- The camp has 24-hour electricity, with charging points in all of the rooms. There is a back-up generator in case of a power outage.
- 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
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- All the rooms are plumbed in with washbasins, showers and flush toilets. Hot water is available 24 hours a day.
Empowering the women in Luangwa
Flatdogs Camp is one of the founders of Project Luangwa - a charity organisation which coordinates activities to help the local communities. Guests of Flatdogs contribute towards the success of the project as a percentage of their final bill covers the costs of running the charity.
The project focuses on education and community development and aims to instil a passion for education in children and to train people in the skills required to fulfil the needs of local employers or to enable them start and sustain their own small business. Social issues are also considered and topics such as gender inequality, domestic violence or early marriage are being tackled.
In 2013 Project Luangwa started a ‘pilot project’ called Girls’ Club at Mfuwe Day Secondary School for the girls under the school sponsorship scheme. This gender support programme includes boarding opportunities, the development of washable and reusable female hygiene products, and the provision of female toilets with adequate cleaning facilities. All of these measures encourage girls to attend school and give girls the space to chat, make their voice heard and ask questions. Most meetings are aimed to help enhance self-esteem and confidence.
Flatdogs Camp also sponsors the salary of a teacher at a small preschool, set up by local people, and has facilitated the upgrade of the local church where the preschool is based.
See more great sustainability projects in Zambia
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- 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, and 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 by the main areas at Flatdogs.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry is included in the full-board rate at Flatdogs. For guests staying on a room-only basis, laundry costs around US$1 per item. All laundry is handwashed and dried, then ironed.
- Flatdogs can exchange small amounts of US dollars, euros, South African rand or pounds sterling into Zambian kwacha, using the Zambian bank 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.
Other lodges in South Luangwa National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.