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Chiawa and Old Mondoro nail safari glamping in Zambia

Please only travel when it’s safe to do so.

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.

Chiawa is one of the best safari camps in Africa
One of the best safari camps in Africa, Chiawa offers unforgettable wildlife viewing

Contents: Safari in Lower Zambezi National Park

About Chiawa

Old Mondoro

Canoeing the Lower Zambezi

Elephants galore

Zambia safaris

Chiawa Camp

Chiawa hugs the banks of the Zambezi River in glorious isolation
Chiawa hugs the banks of the Zambezi River in glorious isolation

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 Cumings 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).

Lower Zambezi accommodation doesn't get any more superb
Lower Zambezi accommodation doesn’t get any more superb

Chiawa tents:

Chiawa is one of the most deluxe of the Lower Zambezi National Park lodges
Chiawa is one of the most deluxe of the Lower Zambezi National Park lodges

Perched on stilts, Chiawa’s nine deluxe permanent tents are made of timber, reeds and canvas.

And they’re all about bush luxury.

After a busy day of game viewing, it was lovely to sink into this king-size bed at night...
After a busy day of game viewing, it was lovely to sink into this king-size bed at night…

Think claw-footed tubs, colonial-style furnishings, plush king-size beds with Egyptian cotton linens and indoor and outdoor showers.

There’s even a pool and WiFi!

No roughing it here! There's even a pool overlooking the Zambezi River
No roughing it here! You can cool off in the pool overlooking the Zambezi River

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, its own private pool and a gazebo.

Chiawa's new Safari Suite has its own pool
Chiawa’s new family Safari Suite has its own pool

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.

How’s this for romantic dining?

Zambezi safari activities:

Watching lions on a game drive in Lower Zambezi National Park
Watching lions on a game drive in Lower Zambezi National Park

As for activities, game drives are mixed up with guided canoeing excursions, where you explore myriad river channels.

Romantic champagne lunch

You can also enjoy a romantic champagne lunch on a small aluminum boat while drifting down the Zambezi, past hundreds of snorting hippos.

Sundowners, anyone? What a great spot to stop for gin-and-tonics while on a small boat excursion
Sundowners, anyone? What a great spot to stop for gin-and-tonics while on a small boat excursion

Old Mondoro

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.

It’s afternoon tea at Old Mondoro!

Think…

An intimate and raw safari experience – a safari on steroids.

But with all the luxuries you expect in the wild.

Old Mondoro is more rustic than Chiawa, but the wildlife viewing is possibly even better
Old Mondoro is more rustic than Chiawa, but the wildlife viewing is possibly even better

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.

Just be aware you might have to jump out of your bathtub if an elephant turns up to drink the bathwater!

Fancy a bubble bath in your Old Mondoro bathroom?
Fancy a bubble bath in your Old Mondoro bathtub

A seasoned safari-goer we met at Old Mondoro – who amazingly had done some 50 safaris all over Africa – raved that Old Mondoro was her favorite place in the whole African continent for a pure, authentic safari escape.

Uh oh, quit gnawing at the furniture!

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.

Ahhh! We're following this canoe on the croc-filled Zambezi River!
Ahhh! We’re following this canoe on the croc-filled Zambezi River!

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.

A large Nile crocodile we spotted while canoeing the Zambezi River
A large Nile crocodile we spotted while canoeing the Zambezi River

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.

A lilac-breasted roller bird in Zambia
Just one of the beautiful birds you see in the Lower Zambezi…

Elephants galore

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 and Old Mondoro.

An elephant bathing in the Lower Zambezi
An elephant bathing in the Lower Zambezi

You might not even have to leave for stupendous sightings.

Big long-tusked bulls are frequent visitors to the unfenced Chiawa and Old Mondoro camps.

Sometimes they wander right by the al fresco dining veranda at breakfast time, almost within touching distance.

Just don’t spill your coffee if they thrust their trunks at you and wave.

A bull elephant at Old Mondoro Camp, Zambia
A bull elephant comes by to say “hello” at Old Mondoro

Zambia safaris

At Chiawa Camp, you may see elephant bulls fighting
Take a small boat excursion from Chiawa Camp, and you may see elephant bulls fighting

We found the “real” Africa we were seeking in Zambia.

We loved it so much that after visiting Chiawa and Old Mondoro, we returned to the country for a second safari.

Off the radar for most tourists, Zambia offers some of the continent’s most authentic and wild safari experiences.

Who’s visiting for breakfast this morning?

You’ll probably sleep in a tent without A/C (albeit a luxurious one).

But the wildlife parks teem with animals, and your up-close-and-personal animal viewing will rival what you see on National Geographic TV shows.

Victoria Falls:

Zambia also boasts majestic Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border.

Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa:

To make the most of your Zambia visit, we suggest combining safaris at two main parks, South Luangwa National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park, along with a stay in the tourist town of Livingstone to explore the Falls.

Time + Tide collection in South Luangwa:

In South Luangwa, we recommend trying a walking safari at the Norman Carr (Time + Tide) camps. Don’t worry, you can also do regular game drives as well.

For pure luxe, be sure to stay at Chinzombo safari camp, where your “tent” comes with a private pool.

Puku Ridge in South Luangwa:

Chiawa also has a new camp in South Luangwa National park, Puku Ridge – a collaboration between the Cumings family (owners of Chiawa and Old Mondoro) and Chichele Safaris.

Puku Ridge (also in the Chiawa collection) has 8 luxury air-conditioned "tents" in South Luangwa
Puku Ridge (in the Chiawa collection) has 8 luxury air-conditioned “tents” in South Luangwa

Staying at Puku Ridge would allow you to create a seamless Zambia itinerary through Chiawa that covers both the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa.

Chiawa Camp, Zambia

See here for more information

Old Mondoro Camp

See here for more information

Experience more of Africa!

Read our posts on:

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Cape Town, South Africa | Hiking up Table Mountain isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But the views are astounding!

Stone Town, Zanzibar | Discover 17 spell-binding things to do in Stone Town.


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Photo credits: 5, 11, 12, 16 to 19 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Other photos courtesy Chiawa


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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Nick

Monday 27th of April 2015

Hahaha.. seems like someone has traveled to the lovely country of Zambia. Forget Karen Blixen, Chiawa Camp looks likes the place to be.

Janice and George

Monday 27th of April 2015

Chiawa is pretty special :-)

Kathryn

Wednesday 25th of June 2014

Imagine waking up to see an elephant strolling past, now that really would be something! Looks a great place, especially the dining by candlight looking out across that river - magic!

Irene S. Levine

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

Looks glorious from sunrise, to sundowner, to sunset!