It’s like a scene from “Out of Africa.” Except that instead of Karen Blixen’s bush tents in Kenya, Chiawa Camp hugs the Zambezi River in Zambia.
Unforgettable elephants are the big draw at Chiawa. And hippos, crocodiles, Cape buffalo, baboons and even the occasional lion.
But Chiawa also nails the African, luxury-in-the-bush, glamping experience.
It was the first safari camp to open in Lower Zambezi National Park back in 1991.
Today, Chiawa safari camp is still owned and operated by the conservation-minded Cummings family. And it’s the best of the Lower Zambezi lodges for getting your game-viewing fix of river-based wildlife (rated #1 on TripAdvisor).
Perched on stilts, Chiawa’s nine deluxe permanent tents are made of timber, reeds and canvas. And they’re all about bush luxury.
Think claw-footed tubs, colonial-style furnishings, plush king-size beds with Egyptian cotton linens, indoor and outdoor showers, and even WiFi.
One tent, the new Safari Suite, is a family villa.
It has a king bedroom, a living area-cum-lounge that converts into a second bedroom, private pool and gazebo.
Mmm… What’s for dinner?
Dinners are four-course plated meals served by candlelight.
Perhaps potato rosti with smoked salmon, cream cheese and a drizzle of maple syrup to start, followed by cream of broccoli soup, then a choice of chicken stuffed with sun-dried tomato and feta, accompanied by cinnamon rice and beans, or home-made pasta.
And for dessert? Maybe a very decadent caramelized sugar pie.
Zambezi safari activities:
As for activities, game drives are mixed up with guided canoeing excursions, where you explore myriad river channels.
You can also enjoy a romantic champagne lunch on a small aluminum boat while drifting down the Zambezi, past hundreds of snorting hippos.
A one-hour speedboat ride downriver takes you to Old Mondoro, Chiawa’s satellite wilderness camp.
With just four tents, Old Mondoro is one of the last true bush camps in Africa – offering an intimate safari experience, but with all the luxuries you expect in the wild.
The tents are open-sided (the canvas is rolled down at night).
They feature indoor loos plus outdoor showers and splash tubs overlooking the Zambezi River.
Canoeing the Lower Zambezi
“Welcome to canoeing on the Zambezi River, our most dangerous activity at Chiawa,” said Paul, the safari camp’s senior guide, when we showed up for our first activity at Old Mondoro.
“But there’s only been one serious incident with a crocodile in these parts.”
A croc pulled a girl out from the front of a dugout canoe on the other side of the river five years ago.
Hmmm… We passed on the chance to back out, put our faith – and lives – in the supposedly-stable Canadian canoes, and hopped in.
As it turned out, we did see crocs galore. And loads of hippos.
The hippos are actually more dangerous than the crocs, because they can tip canoes.
But we were also treated to a tableaux of amazing birdlife – African jacana, southern ground hornbill, beautiful blue-cheeked bee-eaters, kingfishers and more.
The river scenes were surprisingly peaceful, and the canoeing was a highlight of our Zambezi safari.
And what about those elephants?
About 2,000 pachyderms inhabit the Lower Zambezi National Park – and you’ll see hundreds of them up close when staying at Chiawa safari camp.
You might not even have to leave for a stupendous sighting.
A big long-tusked bull is a frequent visitor to the unfenced camp. Sometimes he wanders right by the al fresco dining veranda at breakfast time, almost within touching distance.
Just don’t spill your coffee if he thrusts his trunk at you and waves.
Photos 7, 8, 13, 14, 18, 19 and 21 are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Other photos courtesy Chiawa
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