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 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, hidden 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 wildlife 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 chalets overlook the lagoon.
- Eight standard chalets are constructed of wood, with thatched roofs and stone and wood interiors. Each is set on stilts about a metre off the ground, with a veranda looking across to the river.
The chalets have been recently redecorated with cool grey stone walls, highly polished stone floors and thatched window shutters. They are furnished with two three-quarter beds under a large, walk-in mosquito net, along with bucket armchairs and built-in wardrobe space. Minibar/fridges, coffee makers and ceiling fans, 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 wooden pegs adds a dash of colour.
- Two ‘luxury’ chalets are a slightly newer addition to Kafunta. Although decorated and furnished in a very similar way to the standard chalets, these are constructed entirely of stone. Stairs in each lead up to a viewing platform from the upper veranda, nestled into the roof. The bathrooms are also much larger and include a free-standing bath.
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 20 minutes’ drive from the main Mfuwe Bridge, it benefits from access to the park south of Mfuwe via the Nkwali pontoon, which is just 1.5km away, and is exclusive to safari operators' vehicles.
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 is about a 45-minute drive from the airport through the bustling villages of 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 September 2014 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.
We didn’t have lunch when we were last at Kafunta, but we understand that it is usually served as a buffet. A variety of cold salads, pasta, meat and vegetarian dishes are on offer along with some freshly baked bread.
However we did have a chance to enjoy the four-course dinner, and it was delicious. We had a starter of tomato soup, followed by smoked beef with parmesan crisps, then a main course of chicken wrapped in Parma ham with beans, sweet potato mash and a smoky paprika sauce. For dessert we had a light and fruity cheesecake.
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.
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: Children of any age are welcomed by the lodge, but under the age of 12 they are not permitted to go on walking safaris.
Property’s age restrictions: There are no age restrictions at Kafunta.
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 and guests can charge batteries whenever they like. 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 borehole water at Kafunta is considered safe to drink, as it comes from a deep well 60 metres below ground, but there is bottled water available as well.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: For medical issues Kafunta uses the doctor at Flatdogs, which is just a few kilometres down the road. There is a first-aid kit on site, and guides are all trained in first aid too. 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.