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Chinzombo: Zambia safari camp wows with luxury and killer leopards

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

Let’s see if we can find a leopard,” invited Abraham, our safari guide.

We’d just finished our gin-and-tonic sundowners and were driving back to Chinzombo camp in the inky darkness, the vehicle’s spotlight shining in the bush.

“Leopards like to hunt at night and this plain is perfect,” said Abraham. “Look at the fringes of the treeline over there.

Sure enough, Abraham spotted a leopard in the distance, slinking along in the grasses.

Spoiler alert! Chinzombo review

Tracking a killer leopard

Chinzombo – The most deluxe Time+Tide camp in South Luangwa

Chinzombo’s tented villas – Private pools! Eco-friendly air-conditioners!

A typical Chinzombo day – Game drives and delicious food

Great guides

What to know – Malaria precautions, how to get to Chinzombo, etc.

Chinzombo is a luxurious safari camp in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park.
Chinzombo is a luxurious safari camp in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park

Tracking a killer leopard at Chinzombo

We moved in closer in the Land Rover.

The leopard stopped and crouched behind a clump of bushes, looking at a herd of impala and puku (antelope).

An impala squealed, letting out a warning cry of danger, and the other antelope froze, making themselves more difficult for the leopard to locate.

leopard at Chinzombo
Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is said to have Africa’s greatest number of leopards

We watched patiently; minutes ticked by slowly. This would be a long wait if we wanted to see the leopard take down its intended prey.

After a while, we drove off, not wishing to linger any longer. But… We left too soon.

Suddenly, a flurry of squeals pierced the air.

Quickly circling back, we came across the leopard, its jaw in the neck of a fallen puku about the same size as the leopard itself.

We’d missed the actual moment the leopard lunged at the puku, but how amazing that we could witness a leopard with its fresh kill!

Leopards are elusive creatures and can be hard to find on safari.

The ultimate hunter?

The hunter didn’t start to eat its prey, however.

It’s assessing the situation, what else could be around,” whispered Abraham.

That’s when a hyena came skulking toward the leopard guarding its fallen puku.

The hyena was small though, and alone – no match for the leopard. When the hyena got close, the leopard reared up and leaped at the hyena, snarling as it chased the hyena off.

Finally, with no competition around, the leopard started to tear into the puku’s soft groin, ripping the juicy innards out.

They start with the good stuff,” explained Abraham. “The liver, the kidneys, the heart and the blood.”

Then the leopard looked up at us, golden eyes glinting in the spotlight, blood smeared on the fur around his mouth and chin. Good for the leopard, we thought – it had won its fight this night.

And so ended our leopard encounter, one of many game-viewing highlights of our stay at Chinzombo…

Chinzombo, Zambia: Wildly luxurious!

Sitting out under the stars at Chinzombo
Sitting out under the stars at Chinzombo

Of the three safari camps we bedded down at on safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, Chinzombo was our favorite.

It’s Time+Tide’s newest camp in this park (re-opened in June, 2013 after many years of closure) – and billed as “wildly luxurious.”

Chinzombo
View of the river from Chinzombo’s dining room deck…

Chinzombo was designed by award-winning Italian-South African architects, Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, who also created the deluxe Makalali Bush Camp in South Africa, Jao Camp in Botswana and Angama Mara Lodge in Kenya.

It’s set on a grassy ridge overlooking the Luangwa River.

To get there, you have to ride in a small aluminum boat across the river, your boat driver taking care not to bump into hippos on the way.

Ooops! A heck of a lot of hippos!

Bush-chic tented villas

Like all Time+Tide’s camps, Chinzombo is intimate – only six “villas,” including a large two-bedroom/two-bathroom family villa.

Each basically consists of a huge gray canvas tent on a platform, with a heavy Zanzibari-style wooden door.

Relaxing poolside by your tent

During the day, the side facing the river is rolled up allowing easy access to your private pool.

Yes, each villa has their own large private pool; you can splash about while watching hippos in the river beyond.

The tented villas are very bush chic in decor.

chinzombo zambia
The exclusive Chinzombo safari camp is shaded by leafy leadwood and ebony trees

There are hanging copper lamps and woven sisal rugs on the floor.

A metal trunk serves as the coffee table; closet shelves are made of leather.

The enormous open-plan bathroom has a free-standing white stone tub, and luxuriant thick towels are folded on rods hanging from jute rope.

The color scheme is a soothing gray and greige.

And virtually unheard of for a safari “tent,” an eco-friendly air conditioner cools the air above your king-size bed (especially welcome during afternoon siesta).

The six Chinzombo tented "villas" are cocoons of bush-chic luxury
The six Chinzombo tented “villas” are cocoons of bush-chic luxury

A typical Chinzombo day

Days at Chinzombo usually start with a wake-up call at 5:30 am.

We’d join fellow guests for a full English breakfast by the river around 6:00 am.

Breakfast at Chinzombo by the Luangwa River
Breakfast at Chinzombo by the Luangwa River

Sitting on camp chairs overlooking the river, we’d wake up over steaming Zambian coffee.

Eggs and bacon were cooked on frying pans around an open campfire.

Bowls of fresh fruit and thick yogurt, along with crepes and jam (passion fruit and mango), were also available.

A morning game drive - and there are lions!
A morning game drive – and there are lions!

Then we’d venture off on our morning game drive. And to perk us up mid-morning, we always stopped about 9:00 am for tea, coffee and cookies or biscotti.

At Chinzombo, you get a special treat after your first morning’s game drive – a complimentary foot massage.

The spa therapist was waiting for us at our villa with a large copper bowl of water with lime slices. She scrubbed our feet with rock salt first, then performed a skillful foot and calf massage.

Our travel-weary feet were very grateful!

Lunch – delightfully light and delicious – follows your morning game drive and is offered at noon.

Chinzombo lunch
Cheese biscuits on the buffet table for lunch

There were always lots of salads – rocket salad, potato salad, lentil salad, tomato and cheese salad, and so on. (The aubergine, rocket lettuce and many of the other vegetables are organic, grown at the estate where Norman Carr retired and lived out his last years.)

The buffet table might also include a vegetarian thin-crust pizza and freshly caught Nile perch. And a chilled glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc was always welcome.

Dessert was homemade ice-cream, served in a sugar crisp cup with a sprig of mint.

Chinzombo - homemade icecream
A perfect little scoop of homemade vanilla ice-cream for dessert!

And then it was time for a well-earned nap…

Afternoon tea was at 3:30 pm, as the heat of the day waned.

A freshly baked cake (perhaps a chocolate torte or creamy vanilla cupcakes) would tempt us.

Chinzombo camp South Luangwa - afternoon tea
What do we have here? Vanilla cupcakes for afternoon tea?

And then we’d head out for the afternoon game drive.

Sundowners around 6:00 pm were always a highlight.

Our guide would set up drinks complete with an ice bucket on the front grille of the vehicle and haul out snacks from a cooler.

Gin-and-tonics taste extra special when sipped in the African bush, hearing the occasional trumpet of an elephant in the distance!

Chinzombo - sundowners
Whoever invented the safari tradition of sundowners in the bush was brilliant!

On the way back to Chinzombo, we’d enjoy a night drive in the dark, keeping an eye out for night animals like genets – and leopards.

For dinner, Chinzombo offers a three-course meal, served at private tables in different settings.

It’s a white tablecloth affair.

One evening, we sat on the grassy lawn under the stars, dining by candlelight. Another evening, we had a table on the deck by the dining room’s pool.

Vintage photos of safari-pioneer Norman Carr decorate the wall behind the bar at Chinzombo.
Vintage photos of safari-pioneer Norman Carr decorate the wall behind the bar

(If you’re thinking a safari is as much about food as it is about game viewing, you’re right! But it’s surprising how hungry the fresh air and all the excitement over seeing lions and leopards and wild elephants makes you.)

And it’s very easy to get addicted to the safari rhythm…

Recommended reading: What’s it like on a walking safari in Zambia?

Great guides

Chinzombo lion
We saw this lioness on the riverbank on one game drive from Chinzombo with Abraham

Some of Time+Tide’s most experienced guides – and the best safari guides in the world – are based at Chinzombo.

We were very lucky to have Abraham.

He trained under and worked for 30 years with the legendary Norman Carr, who set up the first safari camp in South Luangwa back in 1950.

Abraham has also won awards for his work, including the prestigious Zambian Guide of the Year award in 2009 and a Silver in the annual Wanderlust and Daily Telegraph World Guide Awards in 2010.

Zebras, giraffes, elephants, hippos, lions and leopards – we saw them all with Abraham

A fount of knowledge, Abraham knew every bird call we heard and the behavior of every animal we spotted.

Like: “That cooing sound is a green-spotted dove.

Of the beautiful multi-colored bee-eater birds: “They’re called bee-eaters because they have long beaks which can de-sting the bees.

Chinzombo - yellow-billed stork
Our guide knew the name of every bird and animal we saw – and we saw lots! (like this yellow-billed stork)

What about lions? Do they go after the giraffes?

Oh, yes, they’re not high on the lions’ shopping list, but lions occasionally take them down.”

And Abraham knew exactly how to find that killer leopard for us…

What to know about Chinzombo

Comforts:

You’re out in the bush where wild animals roam, but you won’t lack for any creature comforts at Chinzombo.

You have electricity, flush toilets, rain showers and complimentary WiFi. You’ll even find a hair dryer in a hanging leather pouch in your bathroom.

And, as is typical of most luxury safari camps and lodges in Africa, laundry is complimentary (you don’t need to, and shouldn’t, pack much when going on safari).

Precautions:

Zambia is considered to be in a malarial area, so see your doctor or travel clinic about appropriate anti-malarial pills. (We took Malarone.)

The water is safe to drink at Chinzombo (it comes from a borehole), so thermoses of water are left in your villa; you can drink straight from the tap if you like. If you prefer bottled water, just ask.

Getting there:

You fly from Lusaka (Zambia) to Mfuwe (70-minute flight).

At Mfuwe, you’re picked up at the airport in a safari vehicle and taken on a game drive transfer through Mfuwe village and South Luangwa National Park to Chinzombo (about an hour away).

Some of the animals we saw along the way? Three cow elephants and a gazillion hippos in a lagoon.

Time+Tide

The original Norman Carr safari camps were rolled into the Time+Tide collection, a collection of exclusive safaris and adventure lodges in Zambia and Madagascar.

Visit the Time+Tide website for more information.

Experience more of Zambia

Read our posts on:

Lower Zambezi National Park | From canoeing (with crocs!) in the Zambezi River to offering unforgettable elephant encounters, Chiawa and Old Mondoro safari camps nail glamping in Zambia.

Victoria Falls | The pool decorations at The Royal Livingstone Hotel kick if you walk too close. They’re zebras – live zebras.


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Chinzombo

Photo credits: 9 and 14 to 21 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Remaining photos Time+Tide


We stayed at three Time+Tide camps in Zambia as media guests; our story on “Walking Safaris in Zambia” was published in NUVOmagazine.com. (Note: Our words are always our own. As professional travel writers, we don’t accept media invitations in exchange for positive stories.)


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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Dave | Jones Around The World

Saturday 28th of October 2017

Wow this place looks sooo beautiful! I'm dying to get to Africa to do a safari! Great pics :-)

Janice and George

Saturday 28th of October 2017

Going on safari is a bit of a dream trip, right? It was for us :-). But it's possible! Thanks for the note on our photos :-).

irenelevine

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

The Norman Carr experience sure looks "wildly luxurious" --- and I want one of those cupcakes! Pretty as a picture!

Janice and George

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

We've had fabulous safaris both times we've been to Zambia -- great food, luxury accommodations and wild animals all around. Pretty special!