Travellers the world over are discovering that decades of ignoring a country has its benefits. This is particularly true where Zambia is concerned. The raw material is beyond compare – vast tracts of wild, untamed Africa.
Like the proverbial iceberg, tourists have for the past decade tripped over the tip of Zambia’s potential, namely Livingstone – home of the Victoria Falls. But the truth is that Zambia is so much more than Livingstone.
The country has several hidden assets. There’s the Kafue National Park – all 40 000km² of it. With a handful of lodges and bush camps, it guarantees exclusivity. And what about the Lower Zambezi National Park? At just more than 4 000km² – and another 6 000km² that fall under the control of bordering game management areas – and with a selection of top-class lodges, there is little to compare with this piece of paradise.
The Kafue and Lower Zambezi may be the jewels in Zambia’s crown, but are far from the only ones. There are other treasures such as the Kasanka National Park, where each November millions of straw-coloured fruit bats gather on an annual migration rivalling that of their Mexican free-tailed cousins. And the Bangweulu wetlands – a magical place whose name means ”where the water meets the sky” – is the home of the almost mythical shoe-bill stork, the holy grail of twitchers the world over and an ornithological ”tick” of note.
Here are a couple of hot deals when it comes to where to stay.
Lower Zambezi National Park
Royal Zambezi Lodge: It’s bush chic and perfect for a special occasion, romantic sojourn or a spot of pampering.
The Royal has it all – and more: enormous enamelled bathtubs and plush armchairs to sink into, a wooden deck that reaches out over the waters of the mighty Zambezi, and the ubiquitous rim-flow pool and spa to boot.
The lodge is draped along the banks of the Zambezi like a string of African beads. Its 14 chalets are designed to make the most of the stunning sunsets, with huge windows opening on to private stoeps. Four deluxe rooms have their own plunge pools and salas.
”We don’t mind our guests putting their feet up and curling up after a hard day’s game viewing in the park or on the river,” says general manager Tony Fouché. ”We may be luxury, but we’re definitely not snobs.”
Royal Zambezi Lodge is a 25-minute flight from Lusaka. Royal Air offers scheduled and charter flights. More information is available at www.royalzambezilodge.com.
Kafue National Park
Hippo Lodge: A simple, rustic camp on the banks of the Kafue River where hospitality and relaxation mean more than the thread-count of your duvet cover.
Hippo offers four comfortable houses, from the six-sleeper self-catering Stony House to a pretty, riverside honeymoon suite with a fabulous natural stone bathtub, a ”floating” queen-sized bed and a 180° view of the water. Food is wholesome and home-cooked and the service top-notch.
Owner/manager Bruce Whitfield is a sterling safari guide and guests accompanying him on game activities get the chance to see rare endemic species such as the sitatunga and De Fasser’s waterbuck, as well as the Pels fishing owl, the half-collared kingfisher and the African finfoot. Islands in the river double as picnic spots where lunch is caught fresh and served al-fresco. Coming soon is a fly camp at the confluence of the Kafue and Lunga rivers.
But Hippo has a unique feature that puts it head-and-shoulders above the other lodges in the park: its own hot spring. This natural geo-thermal wonder offers guests the chance to sip sundowners in warm, bubbling, fresh water in the middle of pristine bush.
Hippo Lodge is a five-hour drive from Lusaka and transfers can be arranged as can charter flights. More information is available at www.hippolodge.com.