Chongwe Camp on the Lower Zambezi

Treat of all treats! As we were home for Christmas last year, I fancied, and Erik needed, a quick break early in December.  I wasted no time in snapping up a resident special at Time & Tides Chongwe Camp.

Due to the recent rains and how they wreck the roads, we needed to leave our car at another lodge further upriver and get a boat transfer to the lodge. We enjoyed a cappuccino on what appeared to be a lovely sunny morning, and only as we climbed onto the boat, we noticed the darkness looming up ahead.  It was not long before we were caught in a hectic storm; heavy rain drops pelting us, thunder rumbling and lightening crashing all around. We could barely see through the haze we were speeding into, the boat smashing against the rushing river.  I’m going to be honest here, I prayed, I prayed hard! We were slightly freaked out and as we saw what felt like the safety net that is the jetty of Royal Zambezi, we turned around and asked (I mean to say, yelled, in order to be heard) to the driver if we would stop and wait for it to pass. There we were, cowering under our ponchos, barely able to open our eyes for the rain drops and wind, and there he was short sleeve shirt, sunglasses and cap, oblivious to what on earth we were concerned about. We arrived at the lodge, like drowned rats, drowned! I think there were many chuckles.  Fair enough though, we were admittedly quite a pathetic pair, and I had to have a chuckle myself. We dried off in minutes and sat down to a delicious lunch.

Chongwe Camp is situated on the confluence of the Chongwe and Zambezi River, with huge sweeping mountains to your left, the banks of the national park directly opposite you and the mightily vast Zambezi to the right looking across to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.  Location location location!

We spent our first night in one of the tented rooms, which are beautifully decorated and equipped. The only downfall – if it is raining and wet, there is no room to sit inside the tent, and no covered area outside. So you need to be in the large communal area if you want to be sheltered, which is perfectly fine, but being just the two of us, we just wanted our own space.

We had a sneaky upgrade for the last two nights to the Albida Suite, which was fantastic. And would be perfect for a family or two couples.  There is a large cream canvas draping roof, flanked by two rooms each with their own outdoor bathrooms.  The lounge is pure comfort with low soft seating, coffee table with games and books, and a refreshment area almost within an arms reach. The only difficulty is trying to decide whether to laze facing the river, or the other way looking up into the Winterthorns.  If you bag the right chair, you could do both! There is a plunge pool and campfire area to the front, overlooking the river. I did find the exercise bike slightly offensive and nearly covered it in a sarong! You also have your own private dining area, with tea and coffee set out on a gorgeous wooden dresser, and your own butler; I am serious. We felt thoroughly spoilt, it was magnificent.  By the third day, when a boat came by I was almost demanding to know what they were doing on my estate. Clearly time to return to reality! 

We did a couple of game drives but did not see a great deal in terms of animals; but that is luck of the draw – it’s not a zoo.  We still had a fantastic time as we just enjoy being in the bush, whether we see animals or not. The landscape is beautiful with the backdrop of the mountains.

The amount of birds we saw in the overhanging Winterthorn trees, from the couches in the Albida Suite was rather incredible.  During one of our naps, we woke up to a hippo munching the grass alongside the pool! The Albida suite is the perfect place to just relax and take in the surroundings.

Back to the birds: we hit 99 and the bulk of those were in camp. 

Special sightings: Eastern Nicator, Yellow Bellied-Greenbul (special, because that is forever the bird of Chris McBride), Western Osprey.

Lifers: Dwarf Bittern and Shelleys Sunbird, Black Cuckoo and Common Greenshank.

This spot is absolutely incredible, if your budget can stretch, just book and go. It’s been decided that the suites at Chongwe Camp are currently in second place on our top Zambian trips list.

Which is your favourite lodge or camping spot in Zambia?

Resident specials are an absolute fraction of the advertised rates!

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