Nsefu: Our full report
On a wide bend of the Luangwa River, Nsefu Camp lies in the remote and game-rich Nsefu Sector of the South Luangwa.The national park's oldest camp, it was originally built in the 1950s, and retains a reputation as a high-quality camp with a strong focus on guiding. It is run by Robin Pope Safaris, and lies a meandering few hours' game drive from the main RPS base at Nkwali.
Nsefu Camp was built in 1951 by Norman Carr, the great pioneer of photographic and walking safaris in the Luangwa Valley, and was based around raised brick rondavels with a few steps up to the door. It moved to its current site in 1953. When one of the Expert Africa team first visited Nsefu in 1995, it was run by a company called Wilderness Trails (who no longer exist), and it wasn't in a great state of repair. Shortly after that, in 1998, it was taken over and completely redesigned and refurbished by Robin Pope Safaris.
Nsefu Camp is sufficiently important historically that when it was being rebuilt and refurbished in 1998, the authorities insisted on keeping the original rondavels in their original locations. This does mean that by modern safari standards the rooms at Nsefu may feel a bit small and close together, but it also creates an intimate and historic feel to the camp, and we feel that these flaws can easily be forgiven.
There are six of these brick-and-stone thatched rondavels, each with a shady veranda at the front and a couple of directors' chairs. The rooms are simply furnished, with minimal furniture, painted stone floors, whitewashed walls and pale fabric on the beds. New in 2014 were the 'evening breeze beds', with very gentle and quiet air conditioning that operates within the mosquito net covering each bed. These were much appreciated during the heat of a previous visit in October.
The listed status of the rondavels led to their current innovative design, with a partly-open en-suite bathroom at the back of each, separated from the bedroom by a curtain and a couple of steps down. Here, you'll find a flush toilet, washbasin and large walk-in shower, with constant hot water provided by a log burner. Toiletries and bathrobes are supplied and there are shelves and hanging space for your clothes.
The open-sided communal area, or chitenge, at Nsefu sits beside a huge termite mound and commands a spectacular view of the Luangwa River, where the sun rises upstream and sets downstream. It houses the simple bar and seating area and is a great spot to watch wildlife coming to drink from the river. The rough brick floor, old black-and-white pictures, small refernce bookshelf and simple but comfortable furniture have a rustic, old-school charm that is in keeping with a remote safari camp steeped in history. Everything is understated and modest in style.
Nsefu's small, reed hide, located just to the side of camp next to the communal area overlooks a man-made lagoon where we spent a very enjoyable afternoon with a cold drink watching golden weavers, bushbuck, families of warthog, waterbuck and elephant coming down for a drink. No need to leave the camp for some quality game viewing and some great pictures!
At the opposite end of the camp is a thatched, open-sided dining room where lunch and dinner are usually served. However, when the weather is good, meals are often enjoyed under a shady tree or beneath the stars.
Nsefu offers a choice of activities: either walking safaris or day and night game drives. Typically there are two activities per day, each lasting around 3–4 hours and led by their excellent guides. We were treated to multiple leopard sightings during the day, and were able to witness a hippo charging a couple of lionesses as he came out of the river for his night-time grazing.
Walking safaris are a staple at Nsefu, always accompanied by an armed game ranger as well as a fully qualified guide. Exclusive to Nsefu is the 'sunrise safari', when guests leave camp at about 5.00am in order to be in the bush at sunrise. Your guide will cook you a full English breakfast over a fire, while you enjoy the sunrise with a mug of tea or coffee. The morning game drive then continues after breakfast. Guests at Nsefu can also book in advance to venture out for a night or two on a bushcamp trip.
During the 'emerald' season, when the Luangwa River is in flood, Nsefu opens for a few weeks of ‘River Journeys’ in March. At this time of year, the landscape around Nsefu is transformed, and land-based activities are curtailed; instead, the camp offers boating safaris, affording visitors a very different perspective of the South Luangwa.
Nsefu combines naturally with its sister camps, Nkwali Camp and Tena Tena, as well as sometimes being part of the itinerary for RPS walking mobiles. It's also a very natural complement to trips to Kawaza Village – which was originally set up with the help of Robin Pope Safaris.
For families and small groups, Robin Pope Safaris also run Robin's House and the Luangwa Safari House – two 'houses', with two and four bedrooms respectively. Close to Nkwali, each comes with its own chef, expert guide and private safari vehicle, and both are ideal for families or small groups travelling together.
Nsefu is a simple, popular, slightly old-fashioned little bushcamp, and our travellers love staying here. It is both laid back and intimate, with some of the best guiding we have come across in the South Luangwa. Over the years we have visited Nsefu many times and always felt instantly welcome and at ease. We can recommend it without hesitation.
- South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
- Ideal length of stay
- We usually suggest a minimum stay at Nsefu of three nights, although many repeat visitors choose to stay longer. In the dry season, from June to October, we suggest 2–3 nights at Nsefu's sister camp, Nkwali , before heading north to Nsefu and/or Tena Tena for a further 2–4 nights.
- It’s approximately a one-hour flight from Lusaka to Mfuwe Airport, followed by an approximate one- to two-hour road transfer to camp. Transfers from the sister camp, Nkwali, generally take the form of a game drive, taking 2–4 hours.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Nsefu has always offered high-quality food, a standard that was maintained during our last visit in August 2022.
Breakfast is usually set around the campfire, overlooking the Luangwa River, at around 5.30–6.00am before heading out on the morning activity. Hot porridge, cereal, fruit, and toast cooked on the fire are available, alongside tea, coffee and juice.
A buffet brunch is served in the dining area or under a shady tree on the lawns at around midday, when everyone returns from their morning activity. Tasty spinach quiche with coconut rice, some cold cuts of meat, along with a variety of fresh salads and warm, homemade loaves of bread. There’s always a tempting dessert – we enjoyed lemon curd cheesecake – to set you up for a siesta.
Save space for afternoon tea at 3.30pm though…Nsefu's chocolate-chip biscuits are worth it!
After drinks at the bar a set, 3 course dinner is usually served at 8.00pm. Perhaps a tasty tomato, mozzarella and aubergine salad, followed by garlic chicken served with grilled sweetcorn and pumpkin, and rounded off with a delicious bread-and-butter pudding. Tasty Curry Nights under the stars are a culinary highlight here!
- Dining style
- Group Meals
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Drinks included
- Soft drinks, house wine and local spirits are included at Nsefu, but note that fine wines, champagne and imported spirits and liqueurs are charged as extras.
- Solo Travel
- As a high-quality and intimate bushcamp, Nsefu’s exclusive feel and friendly professional team make everyone feel at home. This social atmosphere and a lack of single supplement make this a great choice for solo travel in Zambia.
- See ideas for Solo Travel
- Beside the river, with bush, open plains and salt pans nearby, Nsefu is a great location for birdwatching in Zambia. Knowledgeable guides, flocks of crowned cranes in the dry season, and yellow-billed storks during the rains are a bonus.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Walking safaris
- The area surrounding Nsefu is open and flat with excellent game and varied vegetation, which makes it a great base for walking safaris in Zambia. Keen walkers might opt to sleep under the stars at a Robin Pope Safaris bushcamp.
- See ideas for Walking safaris
- Wildlife safaris
- On a wide bend of the Luangwa River, where elephants regularly cross, Nsefu is in an area with a high density of game and birdlife – but relatively few visitors. This, along with top-notch guides, results in excellent Zambian wildlife safaris.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Attitude towards children
- Nsefu is happy to accommodate children at the camp.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Children of 12 years and over are welcome at Nsefu
- Special activities & services
- Generally recommended for children
- Nsefu is a remote bushcamp with quite an adult atmosphere so is suited only to older children with a high degree of maturity. Families with children may prefer to stay at Luangwa Safari House or Robin's House, which both offer more privacy and flexibility for family groups.
- Children will need to be constantly supervised by their parents as Nsefu is not fenced in, and game wanders freely throughout.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Nsefu
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Nsefu 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 is run on solar power, with a back-up generator for cloudy days. As well as plugs in the rooms for charging, there is a camera-battery charging station in Nsefu's main area.
- Nsefu is in radio contact with its sister camp, Nkwali, which has a landline phone as well as internet. There is usually no cellphone reception at Nsefu.
- TV & radio
- Nsefu has no televisions or radios.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- The showers and handbasins are plumbed in, and each chalet has a flushing toilet. Tap water from the borehole is safe for drinking, but bottled water is provided at the camp free of charge.
Sponsoring anti-poaching activities
Steeped in history, the six rondavels at Nsefu Camp border the South Luangwa National Park, thus benefiting from views of extensive wildlife. Lions and leopards, antelopes or zebras, all sauntering the valleys in search of fresh water can be spotted from the comfort of guests’ armchairs. However, just like many other wildlife reserves, the South Luangwa National Park was not exempted from the cruelty of poaching activities.
Luckily, as part of Robin Pope Safaris, Nsefu Camp is contributing financially to Conservation South Luangwa (CSL) to help protect South Luangwa's wildlife. As the only body in South Luangwa equipped and skilled to treat and rehabilitate snared and other wounded animals, CSL has saved elephants, lion, hyena, giraffe, wild dog, leopard and many other species.
CSL currently employs 65 trained scouts who can spend up to 20 days in the field conducting anti-poaching patrols to track down and apprehend wildlife perpetrators.
Another aim of the program is to mitigate the Human-Elephant Conflict in the area. The success of CSL’s efforts is testified through the construction of elephant proof granaries and the erection of chilli fences to protect villagers' crops. In an attempt to educate people in local communities, CSL has been advocating for the advantages of growing alternative crops to maize and vegetables which cannot be consumed by animals such as chilli. Fortunately, local people are becoming receptive to the idea and chilli is now even being sold on to Rivonia Farms in Lusaka which produces chilli sauce products, thus improving local incomes and encouraging people to start their own micro-businesses.
See more great sustainability projects in Zambia
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There is a doctor based at a lodge in the Mfuwe area, about an hour’s drive from Nsefu. First-aid kits are provided in the camp and in the vehicles, and all the guides are trained in first aid. Nsefu has links to a flying-doctors service for serious emergencies.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- Guests are escorted between their rooms and the main areas at night – either by a guide or by one of the camp's watchmen. There is a digital safe in each room to lock away valuables.
- Fire safety
- Nsefu has fire extinguishers in the main areas and fire buckets at each room.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- A complimentary laundry service is included, but this does not include ladies’ underwear; soap for this is provided in the rooms. Note that clothes are hand washed and ironed.
- No exchange facilities are provided.
- Accepted payment on location
- Nsefu accepts cash payment for any extras in UK pounds, US dollars, euros and Zambian kwacha. Visa cards are accepted at Nkwali, with a charge of 3.5%, although this is subject to change. They are not able to accept travellers' cheques.
Other lodges in South Luangwa National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.