Tafika: Our full report
Home to John and Carol Coppinger, Tafika is a small and apparently fairly rustic camp on the banks of the Luangwa River.Its location, on the northern side of the beautiful Nsefu Sector within in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, makes Tafika – along with its two satellite bushcamps on the other side of the river – the most northerly of South Luangwa's operational safari camps. This allows most activities to be carried out in quiet areas of the park that see very few other visitors.
Our team has visited Tafika regularly since 1995, when John and Carol – the founders of Remote Africa Safaris – first came here. We've seen it gradually evolve during that time but its essential character has not really changed at all.
Tafika has six chalets made to a high standard from locally sourced poles, reed and thatch. These include four doubles or twins, a honeymoon suite and a larger chalet sleeping up to four guests.
- The four double/twin chalets are almost identical in layout, each with two very comfortable queen-size beds made up with quality cotton bedding and colourful local textiles under their own large walk-in mosquito nets. As with everything else here, the rooms are spacious and comfortable, but not flashy or showy – and very much in keeping with the feel of the bush. The floors are polished stone, scattered with locally made reed mats, and the simple hanging rail and shelves are made from wood and reeds. The room is lit by efficient, solar-powered lights and traditional storm lanterns. On our most recent visit, in June 2017, we found that each room now has a solar-powered fan too. Though this wasn’t necessary for us, we’re sure they will be much appreciated in the warmer months.
A small veranda to the front of each chalet has a couple of chairs overlooking the Luangwa River. And a door at the back of the chalet leads to a private and enclosed bathroom that's completely open to the sky. Here, there's a large shower, with piping hot water at the turn of a tap, twin washbasins and, inside a small thatch-roofed hut – a very normal flushing toilet!
- Tafika's honeymoon suite is very similar to the other chalets, but has a double his-and-hers shower and a king-size bed, plus a desk and some extra comfy chairs.
- Tafika's sixth room, which we often call the family chalet is very different. Its reed-and-thatch construction is the same as the other chalets, but it has two adjacent bedrooms, separated by a passageway, making it ideal for a family or two couples travelling together. Each bedroom has a large, walk-in mosquito net covering either a king-size bed or two doubles.
The bedrooms share two bathrooms, both with toilet and shower, one cleverly built around the trunk of a massive Kigelia africana or sausage tree, giving a little more privacy.
Tafika's main area is a large open-sided structure with a high, thatched roof that incorporates a comfortable lounge area, a small but well-stocked bar (which is always open - just help yourself) and a dining area. Meals – served here or outside on the lawn in the shade – are very relaxed. On our last visit, we dined together at a couple of round tables with other guests and some of the team, though private dining is available if guests prefer. When they're in camp, which is usually the case when it’s open, John and Carol, and sometimes one of their (now adult) daughters, usually join everyone for lunch – and occasionally also for dinner.
The standard of cuisine is impressive, and we like the fact that it's served to the table efficiently but without fuss. If you request, one of the staff will be more than happy to take you on a ‘back-of-house’ tour where you’ll see that, despite being largely open, the kitchen is a hive of professional activity, largely explaining the very high quality of Tafika’s food.
The explanation is complete when you see Tafika's own vegetable garden, which is an extensive area surrounded by an electric fence, primarily to keep the elephants out. A second garden was planted in late 2016, and on our last visit it was flourishing, with plentiful fruit and vegetables. Again, it's a major undertaking, professionally run, but it ensures that much produce is home-grown and exceedingly fresh.
Guests may choose what they'd like to do from a range of activities at Tafika; it would be very unusual for them not to be able to arrange your request.
As with many camps in the South Luangwa, activities focus on game drives (day and night) and walking safaris. The drives are generally conducted in purpose-built, open-sided and open-topped 4WD vehicles, which have just two rows of comfortable bench seats. There are rarely more than four guests per vehicle, a real feature of the activities at Tafika. On our last trip in June 2017, we walked from the river crossing near to Tafika up to Chikoko, one of Tafika’s sister camps. The guides were exceptional, getting us as close as safely possible to an immense breeding herd of buffalo, as well as pointing out a plethora of insects, plants and spoor along the way.
Custom-built hides near to the camp provide ideal opportunities to view animals at the waterhole and, in season, the nesting carmine bee-eaters.
On a previous trip to Tafika, in October 2014, we were able to go on a mountain-bike safari with John, who often leads these trips. We started with a gentle ride in the afternoon through the game management area and village of Mkasanga, before cycling into the park and meeting up with a 4WD safari in time for drinks at sunset and a night drive.
It’s also possible to have a proper visit to Mkasanga, where you are welcome to visit the school, wander around the village and enjoy the church choir. Although they don’t boast about it, Tafika is very much in touch with its local community, supporting its development and providing considerable training and employment to the people who live there.
What distinguishes Tafika further is that it's virtually the same team of guides every year, including John Coppinger, Bryan Jackson and Isaac Zulu. The least experienced of these has been guiding for more than 20 years – guaranteeing the exceedingly high level of knowledge and experience that draws many of our travellers back to Tafika on a regular basis.
A stay at Tafika combines very naturally into a longer trip including its sister walking camps, Big Lagoon Camp and Chikoko Tree Camp, both of which are situated across the Luangwa River, in a section of the national park set aside exclusively for walking safaris. See the satellite map of the area around Chikoko for a view of these camps. Walkers will note that it's an easy three–four-hour walk between Tafika and Chikoko, or Chikoko and Big Lagoon Camp.
If you want to venture further, then Tafika and its bushcamps combine well into a ten-night trip (or longer!) that includes their more distant sister camps, Mwaleshi Bushcamp and Takwela Camp located in the remote North Luangwa National Park.
Season-dependent, trips from Tafika to Shiwa Ng'andu and Kasanka National Park are also on offer – using a small aircraft that is stationed at Tafika’s airstrip.
Although Tafika's reed-and-thatch rooms give it a deliberately rustic feel, don't be deceived into thinking that this is a basic bushcamp. It is one of the very best camps in Africa, with highly experienced guiding, excellent food and consistently high standards throughout. It is also one of the longest-standing, and last-remaining owner-run camps in Zambia. John and Carol and their children have called Tafika 'home' for more than 20 years, and they remain dedicated to it. You won't find a camp that retains such a genuinely 'bushy' feel, combined with food, furnishing and hospitality of such a high quality.
- South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
- Ideal length of stay
- In the dry season, it's perhaps most popular to start a safari in the South Luangwa at Tafika, staying for three or four nights before heading to the bushcamps – Big Lagoon Camp and Chikoko Tree Camp for a few nights each. Often trips will finish with a night or two at Tafika – although some will finish with a visit to Mwaleshi in the North Luangwa.
To check for space at Tafika see the Availability tab – above right.
- From Mfuwe Airport it's approximately 1½–2 hours by road to Tafika.
A flight transfer from Mfuwe to Lukuzi airstrip (Tafika) takes 12 minutes.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Tafika has always offered high-quality meals, and our last visit in June 2017 was no exception. The head chef, Rona, has been with Tafika for nearly 15 years, and the food has been consistently outstanding.
A buffet breakfast is normally available in the main area before the early-morning activity and guests generally eat on their laps around the campfire. There is a wide choice, from freshly baked bread, sweet or savoury muffins, cereals, fresh fruit salad and yoghurt. Accompanying this one morning, there was a platter of cold meats, cheese, pickles and tomato, with the option of scrambled eggs; while the following day we had a cooked breakfast with bacon, tomato, sausages and poached eggs.
Lunch is served at about midday, when everyone has returned from their morning activity. We enjoyed a starter of refreshing watermelon, followed by a selection of fresh salads, an aubergine and rice bake, tempura vegetables and a beef stew. This was finished off with a delicious fresh fruit pavlova.
Dinner is usually served once everyone has returned from the evening activity, and is eaten around two large round tables, although barbecues are often arranged on the banks of the river near to the camp. Though there is sometimes a buffet option, the kitchen at Tafika often serves a set menu - and they're able to cater to a variety of dietary requests, with advance notice. We started with potato skins and a sweetcorn soup, then moved on to pork chops with mashed potato, carrots and gravy, accompanied by freshly picked spinach from the vegetable garden. Crêpes suzette completed a delicious meal.
- Dining style
- Group Meals
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Drinks included
- Filtered drinking water, soft drinks, house wine and spirits are included in the rates, but fine wines are charged as extras.
- Family holidays
- Tafika offers a family chalet, top guiding and excellent food and service during Zambia family safari holidays. Expect 4WD drives, walks, mountain-bike safaris and village visits! The owners raised their own children here, so under-12s are sometimes accepted.
- See ideas for Family holidays
- Tafika guides are knowledgeable birders. Highlights of the area include flocks of crowned cranes during the dry season, a yellow-billed stork colony May–July, carmine bee-eaters Sep–Oct, and Pel's fishing owl all year round, making this a great spot for birdwatching in Zambia.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Cultural experiences
- The owners at Tafika have excellently integrated the camp into its local community. If you are keen to experience traditional cultures in Zambia you are welcome to visit the village, where you can expect a very warm welcome.
- See ideas for Cultural experiences
- Walking safaris
- Tafika is owned and run by John Coppinger, one of the most experienced guides for walking safaris in Zambia, who helps to monitor guiding standards in the valley. Camp-to-camp walking trails are possible between Tafika and its satellite bushcamps, Crocodile and Chikoko.
- See ideas for Walking safaris
- Wildlife safaris
- Tafika’s excellent guides lead numerous activities, allowing multiple perspectives during a wildlife safari in Zambia. The camp is in the Nsefu Sector of South Luangwa National Park, which is an excellent area for big game including elephant, buffalo, leopard and occasionally wild dog.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Attitude towards children
- John and Carol brought up their two daughters at Tafika, which was their home when they were growing up, so they're very relaxed with children.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Tafika welcomes children of 12 years and older. Younger children may be accepted at Tafika's discretion – depending on the circumstances and season. Talk to us if you're thinking of bringing children here. Note that children must be 12 years or older to participate in walking safaris.
- Special activities & services
- Generally recommended for children
- Although children are welcome, the camp is largely one for older children or adults.We recommend Tafika for mature, well-behaved children over the age of 12.
- Tafika is on the edge of the Luangwa River and is not fenced, so animals roam freely through the camp. Children must be supervised at all times by a parent or guardian.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Tafika
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Tafika 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
- There are no charging points in the chalets, but there is a central charging point that can be used 24 hours a day.
- WiFi is available in the main area of the camp at no extra charge. There is no cellphone reception at Tafika, but in an emergency the camp has access to very good communications facilities.
- TV & radio
- There is no TV or radio.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Basins and showers are plumbed in, and the showers have a 24-hour supply of hot and cold water. There are proper flush toilets in each of the bathrooms.
The Tafika Fund
Through the Tafika Fund, Tafika and its sister camps have committed to support the nearby government operated school, Mkasanga, by providing stationery and text books, desks, teachers' salaries, school renovations and maintenance. The Fund also provides pupils' scholarships, skills training and sewing classes for women with the view to support local industries producing safari clothing and school uniforms.
The people of Mkasanga Village, the local health authority and the Tafika Fund combined efforts to build an outpatient clinic in Mkasanga. Funds for medicines are provided, as well as wages for an assistant to the medical officer throughout the year. They have plans to extend the facilities to include inpatient services and a maternity wing when further funds become available. The opening of this health facility has been of tremendous benefit to all in the area.
These safari camps are situated in a wilderness area far north of the Mfuwe hub and the support provided through the Tafika Fund to the local communities in this area is vital. They provide direct employment in their camps for the local people, as well as seasonal employment to many others, as each of their camps is completely re-built each year using entirely local materials.
The Chikoko Trails bushcamps are situated in an exclusive walking only area where there are almost no roads and the environmental impact is thus greatly reduced. Accommodating a maximum of only six guests in each camp, their staff is mindful of the need to preserve this wilderness and keep any impact as temporary as possible. At Mwaleshi in the North Luangwa, the emphasis again is on walking safaris. All these bushcamp areas revert to pure wilderness for half of the year during the rainy season.
Waste disposal is carefully managed at all of their camps to leave no trace of their presence. Waste from the Chikoko Trails bushcamps is portaged back to Tafika for sorting – all non-biodegradable waste is packaged and sent back to Lusaka for proper disposal. Paper is distributed to the boilers for hot water at the camps; and bio-degradable waste is used to make compost for the vegetable garden at Tafika.
These camps actively support the anti-poaching work of the North Luangwa Conservation Project. They financed the installation of radios at the Chibindi Scout Camp and also provided a boat near Chibindi Camp to enable the anti-poaching patrols to safely cross swollen rivers during the rains. John Coppinger has flown hundreds of microlight hours on anti-poaching surveillance.
The 2010 season saw the introduction of the Luangwa Conservation and Community Fund charge to all bookings. This amount of US$10 per person per night is split equally between the Tafika Fund and conservation projects in both North and South Luangwa.
See more great sustainability projects in Zambia
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There is a doctor in Mfuwe, about an hour's drive away, as well as a local doctor at the clinic closer to Tafika. For medical emergencies, Tafika has links with a flying-doctor service.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- Several nightwatchmen patrol the camp at night
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers and a bucket of sand in each chalet and the main area, as well as a high-pressure water point.
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 chalets. Note that clothes are hand-washed and coal-ironed.
- No exchange facilities are provided
- Accepted payment on location
- Tafika accepts cash payment for any extras in UK pounds, US dollars, euros and Zambian kwacha, as well as Visa and Mastercard payments, which will incur a charge of 4.5%. They cannot accept travellers' cheques.
Other lodges in South Luangwa National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.