Luangwa River Camp: Our full report
Luangwa River Camp was built by a young English couple, Barry and Tara, who arrived in Zambia in 2001 with ...... a host of ideas and huge enthusiasm. Their experiences were chronicled by the BBC TV programme ‘No Going Back’, which followed their day-to-day lives as they designed, built and furnished the lodge. The result, set under shady trees on the banks of the Luangwa River, was the contemporary Luangwa River Lodge. In April 2011 the management was taken over by Robin Pope Safaris, and the lodge renamed Luangwa River Camp.
The Moroccan villa-style main building, complete with water features, banana trees and enormous red earthen plaster pillars, is fairly unusual for a camp in the South Luangwa and may not appeal to the traditionalist, but these features of Luangwa River Camp do give the building an air of luxury.
At one end is a large wooden bar lined with tall bar stools, balanced at the other end by Luangwa River Camp’s dining area. To the front of the bar, with an equally good view towards the river, white armchairs and sofas scattered with lovely blue-and-white cushions really brighten up the space. A variety of reference and photographic books are usually scattered across the table, and further books of interest can be found in a small library at the back.
A double-level infinity pool is sunk into the tiered wooden deck that runs along the front of the lodge, overlooking a large manicured lawn dotted with sausage and African ebony trees, and the Luangwa River beyond. On our most recent visit in June 2017, we could imagine spending many a happy hour during siesta relaxing on the sunloungers under elegant ‘hanging’ umbrellas, whilst watching elephants crossing the river and puku grazing on the lawns.
Luangwa River Camp has five spacious chalets built of brick and thatch, shaded by evergreen Natal mahogany trees. Inside are twin beds or a large double beneath a capacious walk-in mosquito net; behind you’ll find some shelving and hanging space for clothes. There’s also a sitting area with a daybed which we think is perfectly designed for napping or reading – we tested it! Adding a touch of style are some unusual fittings and furniture designs, such as the beautifully carved coffee table and bedside tables.
To the side of each room is an enormous bathroom with a flush toilet, twin handbasins, a huge open-sided shower and a bath. In some of the chalets there are vast sunken baths, which certainly look impressive, but can take over an hour to fill; a problem if you want a hot bath. Others now have more traditional claw-foot baths instead, and there are plans to replace the rest in time. If the ceiling fans aren’t enough to keep you cool during the day, louvred doors from both the bathroom and the bedroom open out onto a wooden deck, looking out over the Luangwa.
Activities from Luangwa River Camp include both walks and 4WD day and night drives. The lodge is situated in a game management area (GMA) across the Luangwa River from South Luangwa National Park. Most of the guided walks take place in the GMA, under the tall canopy of a pretty grove of African ebony trees behind the lodge, where herds of elephant, bushbuck, the odd leopard and various other animals are often seen, but some take place within the park itself.
In the earlier part of the season, drives and walks in South Luangwa National Park start with a short boat trip across the river, while later, when it’s drier, you’ll be driven straight across the river. Luangwa River Camp utilises an area of the park renowned for its game numbers and amazing wildlife sightings. The flip side is that it is also one of the busiest. However, because the lodge has its own private entrance to the park, guests here have a head start, though there will still be occasions when you might see three or four vehicles at one time.
Luangwa River Camp is one of the few lodges in South Luangwa National Park that is open during part of the 'green season', also known as the ‘emerald season’ in Zambia. Although drives at that time of year are limited to areas of the park with ‘all-season’ gravel roads, boat trips on the flooded Luangwa River become possible as the river levels rise – and are often a highlight at this time of year.
Luangwa River Camp is an attractive safari camp with a high degree of design and style. It is set in a fantastic location and there is often plenty to see without having to leave camp. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth venturing out on game activities into a part of the park that is known to offer some great wildlife viewing – though you may share some of your sightings with other vehicles in this busier area near to Mfuwe.
- South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
- Ideal length of stay
- If you plan Luangwa River Camp to be your only destination in the Luangwa Valley we recommend a three- or four-night stay. If you visit the lodge as part of a longer visit, to include some of the park’s more remote bushcamps, we recommend a shorter stay of two nights here at the beginning of your safari.
- From Mfuwe Airport, it’s a slow, 90-minute meandering drive through South Luangwa National Park to the crossing point on the Luangwa Wafwa lagoon. From here, you’ll have a quick boat or vehicle transfer across the river, depending on the water levels.
- Accessible by
- Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Meals at Luangwa River Camp are varied, tasty and of a high standard, and we have always enjoyed the food here on previous visits, and our stay in June 2017 was no exception. The team at the camp are more than happy to cater for special diets if advised in advance.
Breakfast is usually served as a buffet in the dining room before the morning activity. This might include cereals, fruit, muffins, hot porridge and toast. For guests who decide to sleep in or who are transferring to an early flight this might include a cooked option with eggs made to order.
Upon returning from the morning walk or drive there is a little time to freshen up before lunch. Served as a buffet, dishes often include a variety of salads, freshly baked bread and a meat option.
Snacks are served with sundowner drinks whilst out on activities and then dinner is taken at a communal table at around 8.00pm. This is usually a set three-course meal, though on our last visit we enjoyed a delicious braai, served under the stars.
- Dining style
- Group Meals
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Drinks included
- All drinks are included with the exception of premium brands such as malt whiskies or bottled wines. Bottled water is provided, though Luangwa River Camp also has its own bore hole and can provide plenty of safe drinking water.
- Solo Travel
- Meals and activities are communal at Luangwa River Camp, but secluded chalets provide quiet spots to watch elephants crossing the river. As with all Robin Pope Safari’s lodges there is no single supplement, making it perfect for solo travellers in Zambia.
- See ideas for Solo Travel
- Luangwa River Camp is a wonderful spot to be pampered. The secluded chalets have a romantic feel to them, and the team are excellent at making people feel special on their Zambian honeymoon. Treats such as private suppers can be arranged.
- See ideas for Honeymoons
- Luangwa River Camp stands on a bend in the Luangwa River near several lagoons. These varied environments are within easy reach, making this a great camp for birdwatching in Zambia. There are numerous species including spoonbills, raptors, bee-eaters and rollers.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Wildlife safaris
- South Luangwa is one of Africa’s top big-game destinations, and high densities of wildlife make Luangwa River Camp a good option for wildlife safaris in Zambia. Night drives make sightings of lion and leopard particularly common.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- South Luangwa is one of Africa’s best parks for walking safaris. Luangwa River Camp offers these in the game management area, in the park, and between camps in the area, making this a great camp for walking safaris in Zambia.
- See ideas for Walking
- Attitude towards children
- Luangwa River Lodge welcomes children over the age of seven.
- Property’s age restrictions
- The minimum age limit is seven years but due to park regulations, children under the age of 12 years are not allowed to walk in the South Luangwa.
- Special activities & services
- An extra bed could be added into any of the chalets, allowing a child to share with the parents, but this would make it a bit of a squash.
- Generally recommended for children
- While the brick-and-thatch chalets are likely to make children (and their parents) feel a bit more secure than a tented camp, Luangwa River Camp has a very adult atmosphere. We'd recommend it for sensible children over the age of about ten years, although we think that Robin's House or Luangwa Safari House are better suited for families with children. Each of these has its own chef, guide and vehicle, so families have greater flexibility with meals, mealtimes and activities than they’d have at Luangwa River Camp.
- The lodge is unfenced, so dangerous animals do roam through the camp. The pool is also unfenced. Children must remain under parental supervision throughout their stay.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Luangwa River Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Luangwa River 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
- Three-pin UK style plugs are provided in the chalets. (Adaptors are available on request.)
- Telephone, email and internet are available for guests to use. The lodge also has mobile reception although guests are requested to set their mobile phones to silent when in communal areas and phones must be switched off during all game drives and walks.
- TV & radio
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Tap water is from a borehole and we are advised that it is safe for drinking, although for those who prefer it, bottled water is also available. The chalets all have flushing toilets, as well as hot and cold running water for the handbasins, bath and shower.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- The operators in the South Luangwa have grouped together to sponsor a doctor who is constantly on call.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- There are two watchmen at that patrol at night and escort guests to their room. Each of the rooms has lockboxes where guests can store any cash of valuables.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in the rooms and in the bar, kitchen and workshop.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- A full laundry service is Included at Luangwa River Camp. Washing powder is available on request if guests prefer to hand wash delicate items.
- Each of the chalets has a small lock-box for valuables. The camp does not offer currency-exchange facilities.
- Accepted payment on location
- Payment for all extras can be made either by Visa credit card or in cash; Zambian kwacha, US dollars, euros and pounds sterling are accepted.
Room types at Luangwa River Camp
The rooms at Luangwa River Lodge are large and comfortable. Each is dominated by a double or twin beds with a large walk in mosquito net.
The doors at the front of the rooms are large and made from gauze – they open out onto the private balconies and allow great views towards the river. The beds can be made up as twin or double, and have bedside tables with stylish electric lamps.
The furniture in the rooms is individually designed and beautiful – wooden chairs or loungers are placed at the front of each room and behind the bed is a long low chest of drawers and a wardrobe with hanging space and shelves.
Each room is individually designed, which is reflected in the names they have been given.
The bathrooms in the rooms are absolutely stunning. Polished copper double basins lead to a set of steps, up which is a sunken bath with a view, and a large open shower. The bathrooms are decorated in muted colours, giving a relaxed and tranquil feel, and the sunken baths are big enough to swim laps in!
For added pampering, the staff will fill your bathtub for you during dinner so it is ready and waiting for you when you return to your chalet. Shampoo, moisturizer and soap are provided for you.
Other lodges in South Luangwa National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.
One of the best camps in Zambia, Tafika is naturally built, combining excellent service and food with top guiding skills for a superb wildlife experience.
On the banks of the Luangwa River, with its own access to the national park, the intimate Nkwali is open year round.
Small and owner-run, the riverside Kaingo occupies a a quiet but excellent game area, with a series of wildlife hides and a focus on photography.
One of the Luangwa's oldest camps, Nsefu is a great safari camp in a remote, beautiful and game-rich location with top-rate guiding.
Small, remote and owner-run, Mwamba offers first-class walking, 4WD safari drives and superb hides, with excellent guides and a real bush feel.
One of the Luangwa's best camps, in a beautiful, remote bush location, Tena Tena is very small, exceedingly well-run and has top-rate guiding.
Chikoko Tree Camp
Chikoko Tree Camp is an excellent small, rustic bushcamp that concentrates on walking safaris, and is run by a top-quality operation.
Big Lagoon Camp
Big Lagoon Camp is a great little rustic bushcamp built to high standards that focuses on excellent walking safaris, with the emphasis on top wildlife guides.
Kapani Lodge is now the main office base for Norman Carr Safaris, one of the Luangwa's oldest safari operations.
A relatively big safari camp, Flatdogs offers value for money with great guiding and good food in a comfortable, relaxed setting.
Beside the Luangwa River, Kakuli is a comfortable tented bushcamp offering 4WD safaris and walking safaris – the best of which are camp-to-camp walks linking Kakuli with its nearby sister camps.
Set in a shady ebony grove on the banks of the Luangwa, Mchenja is a smart tented bushcamp. It combines well with Kakuli and Nsolo – its sister camps with a focus on walking safaris.
Nsolo is a small, comfortable bushcamp overlooking one or two pools in the usually dry Luwi riverbed. It concentrates on walking safaris in an interesting and diverse area, led by a knowledgeable guide.
Kafunta River Lodge
Kafunta is a laid-back, friendly and good-value lodge on the outskirts of South Luangwa National Park.
In a remote part of the South Luangwa National Park, Luwi is a rustic bushcamp whose emphasis is on walking safaris with great guiding and a chance of seeing some rarely seen and elusive antelope.
Robin Pope bush-camp
RPS bushcamping in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Lion Camp is an established and comfortable camp with a swimming pool, located near to the game-rich Lion Plain in the northern part of South Luangwa National Park.
Robin Pope mobile
RPS mobile safari camps are at the heart of their set-itinerary walking safaris in South Luangwa National Park, which start and finish at a permanent camp.
In the remote far south of South Luangwa National Park, Kapamba is a small and very comfortable bushcamp offering good walks and game drives.
Puku Ridge is a luxurious designer camp set in a stunning location, high on a hill overlooking a floodplain within South Luangwa. Explore from here on 4WD safaris and walks.
In a game-rich area close to the South Luangwa’s main Mfuwe Gate, Mfuwe Lodge is relatively large by park standards, but it’s stylish, modern and family friendly.
Kuyenda Bushcamp is a classic bushcamp with particularly delightful hosts and offers top-class walking safaris in South Luangwa National Park.
Luangwa Safari House
Luangwa Safari House is a vast and very smart four-bedroom house specifically designed for families and small groups, and offering an exclusive and flexible safari experience.
Opened in early June 2013, Chinzombo offers luxurious and stylish accommodation with very high levels of service and excellent guiding.
A smart bushcamp with four very spacious chalets, Bilimungwe offers interesting walking safaris in pretty riverine woodland, as well as day and night safari drives.
Chindeni Bushcamp is a very modern and minimalist camp, which is a far cry from your traditional bushcamp and unlike most of the other camps in South Luangwa.
Three Rivers Camp
In the remote far south of South Luangwa National Park, Three Rivers Lodge sits at the confluence of three of the valleys rivers.
Kawaza Village – beside the South Luangwa National Park, offers guests the rare opportunity to appreciate local village life. Visit for a few hours or stay overnight.
With your own expert guide, private vehicle, chef and valet, the two-bedroom Robin's House offers an exclusive, flexible safari experience – and is open year round.
Island Bush Camp
Island Bushcamp is a good-value, rustic, walking-only camp, in arguably one of the most remote parts of the South Luangwa, well away from all other camps.
The Mwamba-Camp Out allows you to have an incredibly adventurous night in the bush, sleeping under mosquito nets with activities led by some of the best guides in Zambia.
A comfortable little bushcamp, Chamilandu has a picturesque setting by the Luangwa River, in an area with a range of habitats to explore on foot and by 4WD.
Zungulila is a small, comfortable tented bushcamp with an emphasis on walking safaris, in the remote southern section of the South Luangwa.
Currently undergoing renovations, Chichele Presidential Lodge stands high within the park, with superb views, and is due to reopen in late 2022.
Luwi Riverbed Sleepout
For an adventurous night in South Luangwa National Park, come and sleep out in the bush, around a campfire, with an experienced guide and game scout.
Opened in June 2021, Shawa Luangwa Camp is a small, intimate and rustic camp, with a good location in a remote section of the South Luangwa National Park.
Mapazi Camp is a basic safari camp in the far north of the South Luangwa, with walking safaris led by renowned guide Deb Tittle.
Chikunto Safari Lodge is a more traditional property in the South Luangwa National Park, sitting on a peninsula of land created by the meandering Luangwa River.