Somalisa Camp: Our full report
Set beneath a grove of acacia trees in a private concession on the eastern side of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National ...... Park, Somalisa Camp underwent a complete rebuild in 2015. Gone is the simple, rustic property, to be replaced by a smart new set up with a much more luxurious style. The camp is fronted by an ancient dried-up watercourse known as the Sumamalisa Vlei, and this, along with the attendant waterhole, provides a great place to view the large herds of elephants for which Hwange is famous.
For every living tree used in the reincarnation of Somalisa, another 20 were planted, underpinning the camp’s claim to be a leading example of eco-friendly safari camps. The new structure incorporates recycled building materials in a very creative way, a solar-power farm generates all the electricity, and a purity system allows the camp to recycle 80% of the water used. Even the old tents were reused to create a fantastic new sister camp, Somalisa Expeditions. Clearly a lot of thought went into the camp's design, but the basics weren't forgotten, and you can also expect a focus on the safari experience, excellent guiding and great service.
Somalisa as a whole is divided into two independently run camps in close proximity: Somalisa Camp and the smaller Somalisa Acacia, within the concession they share with Somalisa Expeditions. Somalisa Camp consists of seven tented rooms, whereas Somalisa Acacia has two standard tents and two family-sized tents – although this set up is flexible, allowing the camps to cater for larger groups if needed. The main area is almost identical in both camps, but each operates with its own staff, kitchen and guides.
Somalisa’s Bedouin-style tented rooms are spread out in a large arc under the shady canopy of acacia and camelthorn trees. Far from the boy-scout image of a “tent”, each is built on low teak decking, with solid wooden frames providing support for the stretched sail canvas walls and roof.
Floor-to-ceiling gauze sliding doors, which lead out onto a private shaded deck with a sitting area, offer a view over the vlei, and allow for a breeze to circulate in the rooms. The tent interior is furnished with twin or queen-size beds curtained by mosquito nets in an open-plan bedroom. A low partition separates the bed from a substantial storage area with a safe and charging points, and to one side is a small lounge with comfortable soft furniture. Additions such as a wood burner for colder winter nights, a fan for warmer weather and a cast-iron safe add practicality to the rooms, as well as a characterful, old-world style. The practical side even runs to a sliding wooden hatch, where the camp staff can leave your morning tea or coffee without having to enter your room. The en-suite bathrooms are equally well designed with twin basins, a bath, a separate shower and a toilet, as well as an outdoor shower.
To add to the adventure, Somalisa also has a raised sleep-out platform away from the camp, and overlooking a waterhole. There's a toilet at ground level and the “bedroom” is set up on the platform, while a guide stays in a tent a discreet distance away. If this appeals to you, do give us a call to find out more.
Sandy paths through the woodland connect almost all the rooms to the heart of Somalisa, although from room 1 there is a flat wooden walkway, allowing for wheelchair access access.
The open-sided main area is built on split-level wooden decks with full views of the dry riverbed and the waterhole in front of camp. This waterhole is a huge draw for wildlife, while the pods from the acacia and camelthorn trees that shade the tents are particularly favoured by giraffes and elephants, so you can often get some superb wildlife viewing around the camp itself; just be sure to stay alert when walking to and from your tent. The shady canopy is also a haven for birdlife, with a variety of species making this their home.
Back in the main area, the upper deck hosts the dining room, bar, lounge and curio shop, while the lower levels form the firepit and sundeck. Meals at Somalisa are generally communal, although if you prefer to dine privately, you need only ask. The dining table is sheltered under the canvas roof of the main area and, while technically “indoors”, has open views down to the waterhole and beyond. In the shop, along with a selection of clothing, you’ll find various craft items, some of them made by the community initiatives supported by the camp.
Technically the camp has swimming pools on both levels, though the original lower pool was such a draw for the local elephant population in search of clean water that it has now been formally declared a drinking trough for the wildlife. For a refreshing dip, today’s guests use the upper infinity pool instead.
Guests at the Somalisa camps have exclusive use of the private concession, which extends to about 150km2 within Hwange National Park. As part of its extensive conservation work, the camp pumps six waterholes in this area, ensuring a year-round water supply for wildlife – and thus excellent year-round wildlife viewing. There is also the option of game drives within the national park itself.
These activities, along with walking safaris, are conducted in the morning and late afternoon. All are led by knowledgeable and highly qualified guides, who are enthusiastic about the area's flora and fauna: guiding in Zimbabwe is some of the best in Africa, and some of the best guides are based at Somalisa.
The new Somalisa has a much more luxurious style than its predecessor, with comfortable furnishings and top service. Yet although the transformation has been substantial, much of the original character of the camp has been maintained. If you are looking for a classy tented camp with excellent wildlife watching opportunities and superb guiding, then Somalisa would be a great choice.
Country manager: Zimbabwe
- Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
- Ideal length of stay
- A three- or four-night stay at Somalisa is ideal for most visitors, and this combines well with a stay in Victoria Falls town. Some visitors combine Somalisa with one or more of its sister camps, which include Kanga Bushcamp and Zambezi Expeditions in Mana Pools or Linyanti Tented Camp and Khwai Tented Camp in Botswana.
- Somalisa Camp can be reached by road from Victoria Falls town. This fairly economical option takes about 3½ hours in total: 90 minutes on a tarred road, followed by about two hours on a game-drive vehicle through Hwange National Park (though the second part of the journey may take longer, depending on what you see on route). Alternatively, you can fly into the nearby Manga airstrip, then it's about a 30-minute game drive transfer to camp.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- The food at Somalisa is fresh, and like the camp, well thought out, with light fare during the hotter part of the day and warming dishes in cooler weather.
We didn’t have the opportunity to eat at Somalisa when we stopped by in November 2017, but on our previous visits we've typically begun our day with tea and coffee at sunrise and a continental breakfast by the fire. There's usually a choice of cereals with fresh fruit and a selection of seeds, porridge with fruit compote, toast, muffins, cold meats, cheeses and hard-boiled eggs. Partway through the morning activity you'll break for tea, coffee and soft drinks served with a selection of muffins and biscuits.
On returning from our morning game drive, we have enjoyed a warm brunch during the cooler months of eggs Benedict with mushrooms, tomato wrapped in bacon, roasted butternut squash, chicken Caesar salad, fresh bread and a fruit platter. Later in the year, when the weather was warmer, we were served chicken kebabs with tzatziki, marinated olives, roasted vegetables, couscous, roasted butter beans, green salad and freshly baked bread, followed by Eton mess. At another sitting we made up our own pizzas from a selection of toppings, and these were then cooked in the pizza oven by the chef and served with a salad.
Many people like to retire for an afternoon siesta, but you don't go long between meals on safari, with a selection of sweet and savoury snacks served for afternoon tea. Then, during your second activity, sundowners and savoury snacks are offered.
A full three-course dinner is served on your return to camp. On two occasions, we've tucked into a starter of spicy butternut soup and another of orange, beetroot and feta salad. The main course on both visits happened to be a perfectly cooked beef fillet on butternut purée and courgette rosti, served with butternut and potato crisps or salad. Dessert was a pink grapefruit soufflé on one occasion, and coffee flan on another. All this is accompanied by a selection of local beers and spirits, or your choice of South African wine.
- Somalisa Camp's spacious tents combine old-world, explorer chic with modern comforts. Yet this is still a bushcamp at heart, with excellent guiding and superb wildlife-watching opportunities, making it a perfect place to spoil yourself on a Zimbabwe honeymoon.
- See ideas for Honeymoons
- Wildlife safaris
- Somalisa is in an area rich in wildlife, with healthy populations of elephant, buffalo and lion. These and other animals can be seen on walks and drives, as well as at the waterholes in front of camp, making for a varied wildlife safari in Zimbabwe.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Somalisa Camp offers world-class service and comfortable furnishings whilst managing to retain an authentic bush-feel. Expect spacious tents with rustic-looking décor featuring wood panelling and copper bathtubs.
- See ideas for Luxury
- Attitude towards children
- Somalisa Camp does not accept children below seven years of age. However, there is no age limit at Somalisa Acacia, where children of all ages are welcome.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Minimum age seven years. Children under the age of 16 are not permitted to take part in walking safaris.
- Special activities & services
- Short nature walks around the vicinity of the camp are an interesting and engaging option for children under 16, who may not take part in the usual walking safaris.
- High chairs and cots can be provided with advanced notice.
- Generally recommended for children
- For families with children aged about six and over, Expert Africa recommends Somalisa Acacia. Although Somalisa does accept children aged seven plus, safari activities tend to be too long for them and we consider the open nature of the camp unsuitable.
- Somalisa is a very open safari camp, deep in the bush, with dangerous big animals passing through regularly. Children must be under parental supervision at all times.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Somalisa Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Somalisa 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
- The camp is run entirely on solar power farmed from impressively sized solar panels – the biggest of its kind we’ve seen at a safari camp. There is a back-up generator for the very rare occasions where this doesn't provide enough power. Each tent has a strip of multi-national plug sockets for charging batteries.
- There is no cellphone signal or WiFi at Somalisa, but the camp can communicate by satellite phone in case of emergency.
- TV & radio
- No facilities available.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Water from the borehole is filtered multiple times, to provide clean and fresh-tasting drinking water.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There is a basic first-aid kit on site with both managers and guides trained to use it. The nearest doctor is in Hwange Town, about two hours' drive away. A medical air rescue service (MARS) covering Hwange is available in the event of serious illness/injury.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- Guests are accompanied to and from their tented rooms after dark by a guide. Air horns are provided in each room to attract attention in case of emergency.
- Fire safety
- There is a fire extinguisher outside both the kitchen and each tented room.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- A complimentary laundry service is included, although for cultural reasons, women's underwear isn't accepted. Washing powder is provided in the bathrooms for guests who wish to hand wash these, and any delicates, themselves.
- Each room has a large safe in which to lock valuables.
- Accepted payment on location
- The camp accepts Visa and Mastercard, as well as cash payments in US dollars, British pounds and South African rand.
Other lodges in Hwange National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.