Monday, April 1, 2013

Guide to Zambia

After an amazing time relaxing at The Saxon and our phenomenal safari experience at Sabi Sabi, we headed to Livingstone, Zambia.

How to Get There: South African Airways runs multiple flights into Livingstone, Zambia, a city of around 300,000 residents that serves as the region’s economic and cultural hub. We took a flight directly from Kruger National Park in South Africa (Nelspruit Airport). Tongabezi lodge will pick you up from the airport to take you to the property.

Where to Stay: 
Tongabezi is a charming set of six cottages about 20 minutes outside of Livingstone’s airport. On the trip there, you will pass by myriad traditional Zambia villages. After winding down a long dirt road, one arrives at the main Tongabezi lodge (founded 30+ years ago by an English ex-pat), which serves as the home base for several other Tongabezi-managed lodges. 
Every Zambezi River-facing cottage includes a personal valet that anticipates your every need before you even know you have one. We spent one evening in cottage number four with a private deck just feet above the Zambezi.
Sindabezi Island, a 10-minute boat ride away from Tongabezi, itself in “the middle of nowhere,” takes you even further away from it all. 

We spent two nights there, and in my humble opinion, there is no better option to fully experience the sounds and rhythm of nature than to sleep with no walls under a bed shielded by mosquito nets hovering over the mighty Zambezi. 
Each of the island’s five cottages includes a personal valet to assist you with even the smallest of needs. 
The views of the Zambezi are unspeakably amazing and unmolested by even the slightest sign of human activity. The stars are the most numerous and intense I’ve ever seen in my life, and the sounds of hippos, elephants, African birds and the odd lion across the river in Zimbabwe (don’t worry, they can’t swim over to Zambia) are enough to convert even the most jaded city slicker.
Added bonus: showering outside in a secluded area next to your cottage frees one of all pretensions and worry.

Food: Tongbezi and Sindabezi cooked some of the best food we tasted in Africa. You can never go hungry or thirsty. The morning breakfast offers fresh local fruit, homemade oven-warm muffins, yogurt and a selection of hot food to order. The bacon pineapple and cottage cheese pancakes and the sausage frittata with avocado were particular favorites. 
Lunch is served at 1:30 pm and the menu changes daily. All of the produce is locally grown, and most of it comes from Tongabezi’s private on-site garden. 
Sipping a local Mosi Beer to beat the afternoon heat (after the local name for Victoria Falls, Mosi-ou-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders”) as the sun shimmers on the river is a necessary mid-day respite.
The tree house where we had dinner
Dinner can be served overlooking the river, on a floating candle-lit platform buoyed by by multiple canoes, in a tree house high above a roaring bonfire, or in the comfort of your own room. Highlights included a rich lamb tagine, bacon-wrapped tomatoes, and a simple but delicious, tender chicken with local vegetables. The food and service were exceptional. A special thanks to Chefs Pamela and Kenneth.

Service: Tongabezi and Sindabezi’s shared staff is outstanding. We found some of the friendliest, most dedicated people we’ve ever met on our travels there. They constantly make a genuine effort to ensure you have an incredible time. Despite its low-key vibe, it is no wonder the likes of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and the a Prime Minister of the U.K. have stayed at Tongabezi (not that anyone at Tongabezi is bragging – this fact only came out after a long conversation with a driver, who assured us that dignitary and commoner alike receive the exact same treatment). A special thank you to Ronald, Chande, Brian, Brenda, Matron, Joe, Nyambe, Juliet, Pamela, Kenneth and the rest of the staff who made our visit to Tongabezi and Sindabezi so wonderful.

Activities: There are so many activities to choose from at Tongabezi and you can’t go wrong with any of them – the staff won’t allow it! 
During our three nights, we visited Tujatane, the Tongabezi Trust School, which was founded by Tongabezi’s owners to provide local children (many of whom travel from 10+ miles away by foot from rural villages) an option with small class sizes and hands-on learning (check it out at 
We also took two sunset boat rides on the hippo and croc-infested Zambezi; 
jumped off the Victoria Falls Bridge that links Zambia and Zimbabwe in a hair-raising gorge swing; 
had lunch at Livingstone island at the very edge of the Falls and then swam just feet from rapids so strong they can pull over even elephants to a premature end; 
walked with three adolescent lions as they honed their emerging wildlife skills; 
bargained at a traditional art and crafts market; 
and danced over the Falls in a micro-light with an engine a little bigger than a lawnmower’s. 
Oh yeah, and to top it all off, we were chased by a hungry hippo and a mating elephant.

I really cannot say enough great things about Zambia and our experience at Tonga/Sindabezi. If you go, I bet you will fall in love with this special place like we did. 

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