After a delayed flight from Nelspruit Airport (due to heavy mist), we arrive at Livingstone Airport a few hours later than scheduled. This is the only place during our African trip where we have to buy a tourist visa upon arrival. There are 2 different types of visa, and not really feeling sure of which one we need, we choose the most expensive one, thinking it must cover the most. It’s US$ 50 per person and allows us to travel into Zambia and Zimbabwe. In retrospect, I think we got the wrong one.It’s about an hour’s drive through the city of Livingstone to Royal Chundu, which is located in Zambia on the banks of the Zambezi River. Our driver is also a tour guide, so along the way he tells us about Livingstone, the history and culture of Zambia, etc., which makes the drive seem much shorter.
Finally, as the sun goes down and darkness falls, we arrive at Royal Chundu River Lodge, which literally feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere! We’re greeted by Hessah Silwebbe, who is the General Manager – and such an incredibly nice person! He has a smile and a presence that just makes you feel instantly comfortable and relaxed. This place by far a luxury experience in Zambia.
Our first night, there’s not much to do except check-in, get settled into our room and have dinner. I love the chicken tikka masala with rice and naan bread that I have for dinner the first night. Mr. A has the braised oxtail in a red wine reduction with veggies that he says is very good.
Hessah also gives us a personalized “activity itinerary” of our 2-night stay, which is printed on the Royal Chundu letterhead. It might seem redundant given that our stay is so short, but it’s one of the small details that add up. In my opinion, it’s exactly that kind of attention to details that makes a place even more special.
Our room is located along a wooden pier above the river. It’s a single bungalow (on stilts) overlooking the Zambezi River. There are only 10 rooms in total, and ours has a closet area by the entrance, separate toilet – shower (with double showers) and vanity areas, a king size bed with mosquito nets, a small sitting area, and a large deck with table and chairs and a view of the river in front. The decor is very chic with lots of natural elements and lots of bold colors.
In one of the closets there’s a “secret” hatch where they bring us our early morning coffee, juice and snacks. The waiter open the door from the outside, puts the tray in the hatch and rings the bell to let us know that it’s time to wake up – and that coffee has been served. Quite unique and something I’ve never seen before.
On our first day, we’re up early as we have a fishing trip planned. Mr. A has been dying to go fishing for Tiger Fish, so naturally that’s #1 on the list of activities for these days.
We get a private boat with captain and head out at sunrise. On the boat, the waiters have placed a tray with coffee and rolls and we also have water with us. We fish for a few hours and both catch a Tiger Fish (I get the first and biggest one!).
When we get back to the lodge there’s already a table set up for us and we enjoy a large breakfast from the breakfast buffet and eggs, etc., which we order from the menu. Before we eat, one of the ladies from the spa offers us a complimentary neck and shoulder massage…just a few minutes to help us relax.
Hessah has scheduled a Village Tour for us in the afternoon. The nearby Community Village is supposedly a real village and not just set up for tourists. It’s just a short boat ride away and when we get there, we’re met by a few kids and a lovely lady, Edith, who will be our tour guide.
She takes us on a tour of the village to see how they live, cook their food, and their market place…where they’ve conveniently set up handmade crafts (souvenirs) for us to see – and buy. It feels a little like a tourist trap, because obviously, we’re not going to say that we don’t want to buy anything…given the fact that we’re staying in a luxury hotel where one night costs more than what people in this area make a month (I’m guessing).
So, we’re trapped – and without money. Well, there’s a solution for everything. The good they’re selling are actually quite nice and we select a few wooden bowls and masks, which we’ll have to pay for later (we send the money with the boat captain), and Edith says it’s all right.
Tourist trap or not, we’re actually happy that we visited the village and that we bought these souvenirs. Edith is so nice that we end up paying her US$ 50 even though our bill was only US$ 30.
When we return to the lodge, lunch is ready for us and we have a simple meal al fresco in the little patch of lawn, underneath the trees by the swimming pool.
Later that afternoon we go sailing again on the same boat and with the same captain. Only this time we have a waiter with us, as well as a well-stocked bar and delicious snacks. It’s actually supposed to be a sunset cruise, but of course my hubby isn’t going to pass on the opportunity to fish…so that’s what he does.
I fish some, but decide that enjoying the delicious white wine (which the waiter seems more than happy to serve me), the snacks and the incredible views of the sunset are a more enjoyable use of my time. So that’s what I do. And we have a great time, except there are no fish. I don’t even thing he gets a single bite.
For dinner that night we’re treated to a 4-course private Zambian tasting dinner, which is served in the (upstairs) wine “cellar”. It’s really just a private room where they store their wines, but not nearly enough bottles to characterize it as a wine cellar (in my opinion).
The menu is very interesting and different. We have…
A Chibwantu welcome cocktail (served in a seashell).
I have the chicken liver mousse with wild spinach velouté, tomato chutney and cassava bread. Mr. A has the freshwater crayfish with bean velouté.
We both have the pan-fried Zambezi bream (fish) followed by a palate cleanser of mango, lime and mint sorbet.
As main course, we get a Zambian bush feast with beef fillet served on creamed horseradish pearl barley accompanied by braised oxtail tortellini, fried Bondwe (a green plant similar to spinach), wild Zambian mushrooms and Lusala (I forget what it is). The portion is really small for being a main course and Mr. A is still pretty hungry, so he “complains” politely and we each get a second serving.
We end our dinner with a banana parfait with peanut ice cream and a millet porridge with oat crumble and vanilla ice cream.
Overall, the food is really good and what I especially like is that they use fresh supplies from within a 3-4-kilometer radius of the lodge in order to support the local community – not just for this particular dinner, but for all the meals served.
It’s our last day at Royal Chundu and Hessah has arranged for us to go on a 2-hour morning canoeing trip with a surprise that he says we’ll love. Mr. A is dreading it and really wants to skip it, but he goes along as Hessah kindly insists.
We drive up (or is it down?) the Zambezi River for about 20 minutes until we get to our starting point. Our fishing captain is with us and we’re met by another guy who’s waiting for us with 2 canoes – one for each of us so we can go with our own “captain”.
It’s been years since I’ve gone canoeing, so I’m somewhat nervous but also super excited. We set off and for the first part of the trip, the river is active and flowing quite nicely, so it feels like a mini river rafting tour. I paddle like an idiot, but I make the effort to help out my guide so we don’t fall completely behind Mr. A and his guide who are way ahead of us the whole time.
All of a sudden, we sail into an opening on the side of the river, which looks almost like a beach. “We’ll take a break,” our guides tell us and when we get ashore and look up, it’s like paradise!!!
Right there, in the middle of absolutely nowhere…there’s an outdoor kitchen and a chef preparing a humongous breakfast – just for the two of us. A waiter greets us and serves mimosas from a silver (?) tray, and there’s a beautiful table set up for us, picnic rugs laid out (real rugs) with pillows and blankets and hammocks swaying ever so gently in the wind.
Mr. A is all over the place! His mood just sky-rockets as this is probably the coolest thing we’ve ever been treated to.
The food just smells amazing and there’s so much food – fresh fruits, muffins, croissants, mini pies with baked fish inside, skewers with sausage and mushrooms, a frittata, a pizza (!) with meat, eggs and cheese baking in a pizza oven.
There’s fresh juices, coffee, champagne and wine…so, Mr. A has a glass of wine at like 9 am and asks me to snap a photo of him
This is absolute heaven.
While we wait for the food to get ready, we try out the hammock (I seriously want one!), relax on the picnic rug and take a million photos… And just when we think that things can’t get more “al fresco”, Mr. A rips his pants as he sits down on the rug! Oh well, it’s just us and the others have a friendly laugh and so we laugh too. Who cares? We’re in heaven!
So, breakfast is amazing. Honestly, there’s too much food and we eat too much food because it’s all so delicious. It doesn’t take long before we have visitors as a group of curious (and probably hungry) Vervet monkeys come running towards us from the woods just behind us. They surround us in the trees but never really get close, so there’s nothing for us to worry about. If anything, they’re probably more interested in the food than in us, so we just sit and watch them watching us …while we eat.
The trip back to the lodge is a lot harder as the river is completely calm (so we have to paddle harder) and we’re completely stuffed. When we can finally see the lodge, I’m so relieved because my arms and shoulders are really tired. Hessah is waiting for us with a big smile on his face…and we have to give him a lot of thanks and credit for insisting that we do the canoeing trip. It was the best experience and so worth it.
We head back to our room to pack and about an hour later, it’s time to go… off to another African adventure and our last 2 nights on the Zambezi Queen!
We both agreed that a 2-night stay is too short (especially because we were delayed upon arrival) and that 3 nights would have been perfect, as we would have had more time to really unwind and relax…perhaps spend a few hours by the pool or get a massage at the spa (although the spa is very expensive at Royal Chundu!).
We felt that the level of service wasn’t as excellent as we’d experienced in South Africa. It was still good, but not as good as in e.g. Johannesburg or the other places.
One thing which was definitely not good was the WIFI! Royal Chundu offers complimentary WIFI, but it was so slow and practically not working during our stay. We couldn’t even download or send an email. The staff were very understanding and really tried to help us (I think they re-set the modem at least a hundred times during our stay!), but there was no change. The explanation was that Royal Chundu is located in a very remote place, so the internet speed isn’t always great. In my opinion, if you’re a luxury hotel (member of Relais & Chateaux) and you offer WIFI (free or not), it has to work. If it doesn’t or it’s too slow, it’s better not to have it – period.
Other than this minor issue, we definitely loved staying at Royal Chundu.
We stayed at Royal Chundu River Lodge from April 15 – 17, 2017.