Kafunta River Lodge overlooks the Luangwa River beyond a floodplain.
Kafunta River Lodge: Our full report
The well-established Kafunta River Lodge lies just outside the South Luangwa National Park, beside a large floodplain and watering hole, with the Luangwa River beyond. It's about 9km from the main road that stretches from Mfuwe Airport to the main bridge into South Luangwa National Park, yet because it has its own crossing points into the park, guests have relatively quick access for their activities.
One of the few remaining owner-run camps in South Luangwa, Kafunta was established by Ron and Anke Cowan, who came to the area in 1990 as part of a long trip through Africa. The Cowans were captivated by South Luangwa and decided to settle here. With the help of a dedicated team – many of whom are still with them – they opened Kafunta River Lodge to its first guests in 1998.
We have visited Kafunta a number of times over the years, and have watched it go from strength to strength. Now it is a smart camp, with good food and service, and a very reasonable price tag.
Kafunta's central area is impressively built around a wild mango tree overlooking the floodplain to the river beyond. Reclaimed tree trunks hold up the huge thatched roof and natural tones are used throughout. The effect is a pleasant safari feel: not too fancy, but stylish in its simplicity.
One half of this structure houses a bar-lounge, with high wooden stools propped up at the bar and a fridge stocked with soft and alcoholic drinks. The other side is where meals are taken, when it is too hot (or cold!) to be outside. There's lots of space at the front, too, furnished with armchairs and tables, while adjacent is a small swimming pool. A particularly quirky feature is a natural hot tub supplied by water from a local hot spring.
Extending out over the floodplain, a vast wooden deck makes a lovely spot for breakfast or for dining out under the stars, weather permitting. Rather more unexpected, however, is Kafunta's hide, secreted beneath the deck and overlooking the plain, which is floodlit at night. There's a second viewing deck, too, high up in a tree looking across to the river, a perfect spot for watching wildlife during the day or – on request – for a private meal. And if you're just after some rest and relaxation, the camp has its own spa, a simple rondavel where massages are on offer.
Like the main area, Kafunta's ten chalets overlook the lagoon.
- Eight standard chalets are constructed of wood, with thatched roofs and interiors of stone and wood. Each is set on stilts about a metre off the ground.
Redecorated in 2014, these chalets have cool grey stone walls, highly polished stone floors and paned windows set into each of the walls, letting in plenty of natural light. At the front of each chalet is a large pair of double metal doors that look like a spider’s web; covered in mesh, they allow a breeze to pass through while helping to keep insects at bay. The doors lead out to a private veranda with views across the floodplains.
Each chalet is furnished with two three-quarter beds under a large walk-in mosquito net that incorporates a ceiling fan. The rooms also have bucket armchairs and built-in wardrobe space. Minibar/fridges and coffee makers, powered by mains electricity, are standard.
Built on to the corner of each chalet is an en-suite bathroom painted in the same cool grey, with moulded stone walls separating out a shower with hot and cold water, twin washbasins and a flushing toilet. Toiletries are provided, and a bright laundry bag hanging from a wooden peg adds a dash of colour.
- Two ‘luxury’ chalets, although decorated and furnished in a similar way to the standard chalets, are constructed of stone on two levels, and are much more spacious. The bathrooms are also much larger and include a free-standing bath. From the bedroom, stairs lead up to a viewing platform on a veranda nestled in the roof. With a couple of day beds here, it’s a pleasant place to spend the afternoon watching wildlife on the valley floor. And should you wish to spend the night up here, the beds can be covered by mosquito nets, too.
Activities from Kafunta River Lodge centre around 4WD game drives (day and night) and walking safaris, all led by excellent guides. Although the camp is about 30 minutes’ drive from the main Mfuwe Bridge, it benefits from access to the park via the Nkwali pontoon, which is just 1.5km away. The pontoon is exclusive to safari operators’ vehicles, meaning you can avoid the morning rush at the main gate.
The majority of game drives from Kafunta take place in the Mfuwe area of the park, which has fantastic wildlife – especially in the drier months from June to October. On our last visit in June 2015 we were lucky enough to see a pack of 14 wild dog, as well as some of the more usual elephants, buffalo and plenty of puku. That said, there are a number of camps in this area, so good sightings can get slightly busy with other vehicles. If you are keen for a more exclusive safari experience as well you could combine Kafunta with its remote sister camp, Island Bush Camp, in the southern part of the park.
Our viewKafunta is an affordable, friendly lodge, with dedicated staff, many of whom have been there a long time. The food is good, the guiding excellent and the location very attractive. Its recent upgrade has also smartened the main areas and rooms quite significantly. As a result we now consider it very good value for money.
Ideal length of stay: 2 - 3 nights
Directions: South Luangwa is an hour's flight from Lusaka and Kafunta River Lodge is about a 45-minute drive from the airport through the bustling villages of the Mfuwe area.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Ron and Anke Cowan.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The food at Kafunta on our last visit in June 2015 was very good and certainly of good restaurant standard. The menus were imaginative, tasty and very well presented, and dietary requirements can be accommodated. Children's meals can be prepared on request.
Breakfast is a buffet of fruits, cereals, fresh bread and pastries, with tea, coffee and a cooked breakfast served to your table.
Lunch at Kafunta is usually served as a buffet. We enjoyed a chicken curry and rice, vegetable spring rolls, a variety of cold salads and freshly baked bread.
We were also able to experience their four course dinner, with vegetable soup as a starter followed by leek and onion quiche. The main course was a very tender beef fillet served with rice and green beans. Dessert was a very light and tasty chocolate mousse.
Dining style: Mixture of group dining and individual tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Most drinks are included, apart from Champagne and specially imported wines and spirits. The borehole water at Kafunta is considered safe to drink, as it comes from a deep well 60m below ground, but there is bottled water available as well.
Further dining info: Kafunta can do room service but this needs to be pre-arranged, as there are no phones in the chalets.
Attitude towards children: There are no specific age limits for the lodge, but children under 7 are allowed only at the manager’s discretion. Park rules state that children under the age of 12 are not permitted to go on walking safaris.
Property’s age restrictions: There are no specific age restrictions at Kafunta, but children under 7 are allowed only at the manager’s discretion.
Special activities & services: Families staying at Kafunta are allocated their own vehicle so as not to disturb other guests. The camp is very flexible on mealtimes and can prepare children's meals, too.
Equipment: Kafunta has baby cots and high chairs.
Generally recommended for children: We would recommend Kafunta for families, due to its laid-back nature, nice pool area and relaxed team.
Notes: Kafunta is not fenced with big game often wandering through. Parents must supervise their children at all times.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: The power at Kafunta is on all the time, with a back-up generator in case of power outages. There are charging points in the chalets and there is a converter for different plugs that guests may borrow.
Communications: Kafunta has WiFi in the reception/shop area for guests to use, and can lend guests a laptop should they need one. The cellphone signal is very good all around the camp.
TV & radio: No.
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: The showers and handbasins are plumbed in with hot and cold water, and each chalet has a flushing toilet. Water from the handbasins is filtered and safe for drinking, but bottled water is also freely available.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: For medical issues, Kafunta uses the doctor based in the Mfuwe area, which is just a few kilometres down the road. There is a first-aid kit on site, and all the guides are trained in first aid. For emergencies Kafunta has links to a flying doctor service.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Kafunta has guards on the property as well as ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority) scouts.
Fire safety: Kafunta has fire extinguishers in all the lodge’s chalets and main areas, and they conduct regular fire training.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is available. Clothes are machine washed and line dried.
Money: There are safes in the chalets. Kafunta cannot offer any kind of currency exchange.
Accepted payment on location: Kafunta accepts Visa and Mastercard, but they pass on a 5% surcharge. They cannot take Amex. Cash payments may be made in Zambian kwacha or US dollars.