Mpala Jena

Mpala Jena: Our full report

Rooms
4 suites & 1 family suite
Children
Best for 12+
Open
All year

Small and very exclusive, Mpala Jena opened its doors in February 2019 in Zimbabwe's Zambezi National Park, adjacent to the World Heritage Site of Victoria Falls. The camp is designed to match the style of its sister camps in Botswana, combining impeccable attention to detail with the same high level of service. A stay here includes entrance to the Falls and a range of other activities.

While we have yet to stay at Mpala Jena, we did spend time looking around in October 2019 and were very impressed by what we saw. A month later, this was endorsed by the prestigious Relais & Châteaux organisation when they signed up the lodge as a member, their first in Zimbabwe.

Partly owned by the renowned film-makers, photographers and conservationists Dereck and Beverly Joubert – who have some well established safari camps in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Selinda Reserve, and Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools – this is their latest venture around the Victoria Falls.

Mpala Jena is set in a private concession on the banks of the Zambezi, 16km inside the Zambezi National Park, on the site of the old tented Pioneers Camp. It offers a peaceful safari setting away from the bustling town of Victoria Falls, but still within easy reach of the eponymous waterfall.

In order to ensure as minimal an impact on the environment as possible, it took over a year to complete the camp, and when you see the end result you’ll understand why. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and seemingly flawless: arguably Victoria Falls’ finest safari camp – and one of the most environmentally innovative camps in the area too.

Everywhere you look, the attention to detail is evident – both aesthetically and environmentally: the finest of furnishings; recycled wood and canvas; solar power throughout.

Mpala Jena is small and personal, with just four tented suites and one exclusive family suite. All are slightly raised on wooden decks, facing the river but set back from potential high water levels. Each has its own expansive wooden deck, made from reclaimed railway sleepers, and taking in the river views – from the chairs, from the plunge pool, even from the exercise bike that is here.

The suites themselves have been built to complement the surrounding environment, with lots of wood and canvas, and sedimentary stone pieced together randomly to resemble the Great Zimbabwe ruins – a fine work of art.

Chunky, carved wooden doors imported from India lead inside the tents to a very spacious open-plan area. With Moroccan and southern African influences, they feature polished wooden floors, stretched canvas walls decorated with Beverly’s wildlife photographs, mesh windows spanning the full length of the room, and high ceilings under flowing canvas adorned with a beautiful floral fringe in soft tones of blue.

The lounge area has a comfortable leather sofa, a well-stocked drinks cabinet and minibar, and a writing desk with international plug points. There is no kettle in your suite, but just like a traditional safari camp, tea and coffee will be brought to your room in a flask, along with your morning wake-up call.

Adjacent, under a walk-in mosquito net, is a king-size bed (or twin beds if required) with a wooden headboard made from dense leadwood. A taller wall behind, also made from reclaimed railway sleepers, separates the bed from the dressing area (complete with winter and summer dressing gowns and slippers), and also cleverly houses the “evening breeze” air conditioning – which doubles as a heater in the winter months.

Two shoulder-high stone walls separate the bathroom, with its ball-and-claw bath and indoor shower, from the bedroom. Copper pipes and basins, shiny silver taps and complementary amenities all add to the glamour. The toilet is in a separate room, behind a wooden sliding door. and a second heavy wooden door leads to an outside shower.

The exclusive family suite, or Mpala Jena Suite, is the same in design and décor, but has a central lounge and dining room with a plunge pool, flanked by two en-suite bedrooms. The suite has its own private kitchen (in a separate out-house) and chef, and offers privately guide activities with its own game vehicle.

Raised wooden walkways connect the suites to the main area, and a wooden bridge crosses the Mpala Jena Spillway, an oxbow lake, which, when in flood, runs around the full circumference of the camp. Given that the camp is inside the Zambezi National Park, and wild animals do roam freely, guests must stick to the walkways and be escorted to their rooms after dark.

The main area is also open-plan, under a large canvas tent, completely open to the river views in front, and with a stone wall at the back. Comfortable couches and benches create a central lounge area, while the dining room is dominated by a large wooden dining table for group meals. A smaller and much more cosy lounge is set on a sunken level, with a large fireplace.

A wide wooden counter and bar stools front the interactive kitchen, so guests can sometimes chat to their chef from the dining room while he prepares a tantalising five- or six-course tasting menu. Most evenings, however, guests will dine outside, under the stars, where the wooden deck is a feature in itself. Made from chunky railway sleepers, it leads to a sandy path which takes you down to the edge of the river and jetty. There are wooden tables and chairs outside, and a small firepit surrounded by casual directors’ chairs.

In the wine cellar, a separate, air-conditioned room with an extensive range of South African wines, guests can use the coded map to navigate through the wine racks. Wine tastings are on offer, and you can pair your own choice of wine for dinner.

Mpala Jena has a small spa too, with two treatment beds looking out towards the river, offering a range of beauty treatments and massages.

Then there’s the boutique. Worthy of a high-end fashion retailer, it sells his and (mostly) hers safari clothing, locally made jewelry, designer cutlery, and a range of nature and wildlife books.

Activities included in your stay at Mpala Jena range from wildlife viewing by boat, on foot and in a game vehicle to one guided visit of the Victoria Falls.

Impressive anti-poaching activities and an increased number of camps in Zambezi National Park have helped to increase wildlife numbers in recent years, and the park is now a good place to spot hippo, elephant, buffalo and hyena, with lion and wild dog also possibilities. However, wildlife here is still fairly limited compared to Zimbabwe's larger national parks, and for the full safari experience we would suggest looking further afield to Mana Pools or Hwange National Park. Mpala Jena combines very nicely with its sister camps in Mana Pools: Sap Spring and Sap Explorers, and also those in Botswana: Selinda Camp, Selinda Explorers, Duba Plains, Duba Explorers and Zarafa.

Our view

We've been thoroughly impressed over the years with our experiences at Mpala Jena’s sister camps in Botswana, and we are very excited to see them expand into Zimbabwe. We expect this camp to do well, and will be keeping an eye on developments and updating this page as things progress.

Geographics

Location: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Ideal length of stay: A stay of two to three nights at Mpala Jena would give you time to enjoy the activities at the lodge as well spending a day at the Victoria Falls. If you're interested in taking part in more of the activities around the Falls, or just relaxing and enjoying the camp itself, an extra day would be beneficial.

Directions: From your arrival at Victoria Falls airport, Mpala Jena is a drive of approximately an hour and twenty minutes. A portion of this will be on a tarred road, the rest taking the form of a game drive through the national park. We understand there will also be the opportunity to be transferred to the lodge via boat, depending on water levels and camp logistics on the day. A further option, and for an additional cost, is a helicopter flight which will include a flight over the Victoria Falls. Guests are transferred by road to / from Victoria Falls Airport and the Elephant Hills Hotel in town. Note that there is no flying between 12pm-2pm daily. Should guests want to fly direct from / to the Airport and Mpala Jena rather, this can be arranged on a private charter basis.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Great Plains Conservation

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: We have yet to stay at Mpala Jena, but we understand that their menu follows the same ethos as at Beverly and Dereck Joubert’s other safari camps, with as much fresh food as possible: salads, fruit, quinoa, rice, fresh fish – and quality dark chocolate. Their meals are designed to make you feel light and full of energy – with very few carbs. Vegetarians and other dietary requirements can be catered for on request.

Tea or coffee and even a smoothie are brought to your suite, then breakfast is served in the main area. A continental buffet of cereal, yoghurt, muffins, fruit salad and a cheese platter is set out in the dining room, and a cooked breakfast can be ordered.

Lunch is a buffet and always something light. But you won’t go hungry!

Dinner can vary from a four-course set menu, to a five- or six-course tasting menu in the interactive barbecue kitchen. There is always a choice of white meat, red meat and vegetarian dishes for the main course. Dessert, tea and coffee and home-made chocolate complete each meal.

Dining style: Mixture of group dining and individual tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: All drinks are included, except for French champagne. The water here is safe to drink.

Children

Attitude towards children: Children over 6 are welcome.

Property’s age restrictions: The minimum age is 6 years.

Special activities & services: The family suite (Mpala Jena Suite) has two bedrooms and is ideal for families wanting to share.

Equipment: None.

Notes: The camp is on the Zambezi River and is unfenced, so wild animals do roam through; the swimming pools are also unguarded. Children need to be watched at all times.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Power supply notes: The lodge runs fully on solar power, though we understand that back-up generators are in place.

Communications: There is WiFi in the suites.

TV & radio: There are no TVs.

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: The camp has a reverse osmosis machine and purifies its own drinking water.

Sustainability

Aiming for an eco-friendly stay in the Zambezi NP

Built with the intention of being the most environmentally innovative camp within the Zambezi National Park, Mpala Jena Camp is focused on combining a sustainable environment for its guests while working to protect the surrounding environment.

As many of the materials as possible used in building Mpala Jena Camp are “green”, including recycled hardwoods and canvas along with locally sourced materials. Food waste goes into a worm garden, while paper and combustibles are used to power wood heaters. All other waste is sorted at the camp and then sent on for recycling. A state-of-the-art Tesla battery system is in place so the entire camp runs on solar power. The camp is also developing new paths to make its road network more efficient and to eliminate unnecessary driving in order to reduce its environmental footprint.


Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: Management and trained in first aid. The nearest doctor is in Victoria Falls, about a 45 minute drive away.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are positioned throughout the camp.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Included, and there is small bag provided for your smalls.

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