Camp Reviews: Livingstone, Zambia

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IMG_5782Livingstone Town, named after the famous Victorian missionary explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, was established in 1905.

It was a major European settlement, and its location close to the Zambezi River, crossing over to Southern Rhodesia, made it the capital of Northern Rhodesia in 1911. As the capital, it enjoyed excellent facilities superior to anything else in the country. It’s a sight to see the surviving Edwardian buildings line the city’s main road. Livingstone published the country’s first newspaper. The capital was moved to Lusaka in 1935 and the bustling city has become a quiet town, but still retaining a special charm.

The proximity to the Zambezi River and the spectacular Victoria Falls has led Livingstone to become a base for travelers from all over the world wanting to explore this Wonder of the World. It’s also considered Africa’s “Adventure Capital” as it offers a wide array of adrenaline packed activities from Riverboarding, White water rafting, seasonal dip in the “Devil’s Pool”, canoeing, horse riding trails, Abseiling, as well as Boat cruises, Walks with lions, Elephant back safaris, Quad bikes riding, Kayaking and tours to the Victoria Falls, Mukuni Cultural Village and other places of interest in Livingstone.

River Club

The River Club sits high on the banks of the Zambezi River with expansive views both upstream and towards the Victoria Falls, and across into Zimbabwe. Owned and run by Peter Jones, the lodge is actually a renovated 1940s’ farmhouse which has a distinctly colonial feel to it.

 The River Club may only be a decade and a half old, but visitors could imagine they have stepped back in time to Livingstone’s colonial heyday.

IIMG_5928n the main area of The River Club, known as Zambezi House, there is a large lounge, library and study area stocked with a remarkable array of literature and photography. These catalogue Livingstone’s rapid development over the past century, the town’s events as well as its more eccentric and charismatic residents. Leather chairs and comfortable couches provide a good excuse to just sit and pass the time, and there’s a gigantic fireplace for those chilly winter evenings. Behind the lounge area is a spacious dining hall that can fit  up to 20 people.

A short walk across the croquet lawn brings you to the Summer House, which is decorated with pieces of campaign furniture and old trophies. There is a wide-screen TV as well as a billiard table and chess set. 

 The River Club also has its own tennis courts and even a couple of running tracks which ring the property. Fully inclusive rate include the following activites: Tour of Victoria Falls, Sunset Cruise, African Village Tour, Game Drives at the Mosi-Oa-Tunga Park, and Fishing Trips. Other activities can be arranged at additional cost.

There are just ten chalets at The River Club, each named after a wide range of famous colonial and African figures. The chalets are constructed on stilts and well spread out in fairly dense vegetation above the Zambezi River, giving each a very secluded feel.

Seven standard suites are split level with views of the Zambezi below.

The luxury suite is an air-conditioned family suite, featuring a second twin bedroom, full bathroom, lounge and dining area on the first floor and a spacious master bedroom with its own bathroom on the second floor. It has its own pocket garden and plunge pool.

The family suite on the other hand, is a bungalow featuring two bedrooms in an open layout, two baths with an outdoor shower and plunge pool by the deck. It has not yet been refurbished and they intend to install air conditioning as needed.

Two river suites (Rhodes and Livingstone), suitable for the less agile, are spacious air-conditioned chalets set in private gardens with their own private plunge pools and teak decks.

The River Club is a very good base for exploring the Victoria Falls and the area in and around Livingstone. Easily accessible from both Livingstone Airport and Botswana’s border, it’s situated far enough from town to be secluded but close enough to visit the Falls as often as you like. The refined colonial atmosphere won’t suit everyone, but if old-world luxury, good food, and a wide variety of activities are what you’re looking for, we’d recommend The River Club.

Royal Livingstone


Opened in 2001, the five-star Royal Livingstone Hotel sits on the banks of the Zambezi River, just a 15-minute walk from the Victoria Falls. In fact, mist from the Falls is often visible from the grounds of the hotel.

The Royal Livingstone has a total of 173 rooms and suites decorated in the hotel’s Victorian colonial style. Housed over 17 two-storey buildings, they all have air conditioning, as well as a veranda or balcony facing the Zambezi River. There are currently three types of rooms offered:

  • 169 luxury rooms have either twin or king-size beds and are modest in size, but well appointed. The en-suite bathroom is compact, but has a separate bath and walk-in shower.
  • Three junior suites each of which is about double the size of the ‘luxury’ rooms. Their amenities are similar, but they also have a dressing area and a separate lounge.
  • The Presidential suite at the Royal Livingstone is about 30% larger again than the junior suites.

IMG_5050In contrast to the relatively small rooms, the Royal Livingstone’s formal lounge and bar are rather grand and spacious. Wing-backed chairs, plump couches and wrought-iron chandeliers feature here, while a piano affords the opportunity for occasional live music. No less opulent is the Royal Livingstone’s smart dining room, with its à la carte menu.

Guests may alternatively dine al fresco on the veranda, but be prepared to pay tourist standards.

This place is ideal for families or groups as the culture here is more casual and open.

The rooms at the Royal Livingstone Hotel are smaller than we’d expect for a five-star hotel of this price, but its grounds are really beautiful and its convenient location near the Victoria Falls is what you’re really paying for. Rooms are quoted on B&B basis vs. full board so clients will have to pay for their other meals and activities.

The place is constantly busy as there will always be a turnover of new guests. The ambiance felt like I was in Los Angeles as the lobby was busy with mostly American and European tourists. Some people find comfort in this kind of fiasco while others despise the crowd. Don’t expect tranquil areas unless you’re in the spa.

Zambezi Sun

IMG_5747The Royal Livingstone shares its sprawling property with its slightly larger sister hotel, the three-star, sprawling Zambezi Sun. A shuttle operates between the two at regular intervals during the day, or it’s a straightforward ten-minute walk.

The hotel has a total of 212 rooms. Built over two levels, they’re either pool or garden facing. The ground floor rooms having a sliding door that opens up directly onto the grounds, while the first floor rooms each have a balcony.

With walls painted in funky, geometric designs, most of the 208 standard rooms have either either twin or double beds. There are also rooms with two doubles, suitable for families with young children. The en-suite bathroom has a bathtub, separate shower, toilet and washbasin.

The four suites are similar to the standard rooms, but have an extension to a separate lounge (with sleeper couch) and an additional bathroom with a shower, toilet and washbasin.

At the centre of the hotel is a huge, curving swimming pool with sun loungers and umbrellas dotted about on the grass. Adjacent to the pool is an al fresco café and bar, with the main restaurant just beyond. 

There is also the Falls Entertainment Centre where you’ll find an informal a la carte restaurant, a small café, a few craft and souvenir shops. The activity centre hosts many activities such as white water rafting.

The orange clay-like buildings look prehistoric but stepping into the lobby transports you to a reception area with pebble wash counters and animal mosaics as wall backdrops – quirky and colorful. This is a place where “class” is not required and tacky is in.

It is a popular hotel for conferences and big events.  It was really made as a venue for big groups given that their grand ballroom can accommodate up to 400. Business meetings are also regularly held in their boardrooms (converted smaller rooms from the main ballroom). That said, it is a large hotel with many rooms to attend to, so don’t expect personalized service here. In fact, I actually found the officer who assisted me kind of irate that I was doing a SI.

But the benefit of this place is its superb location and relatively inexpensive cost. A big plus is that entrance to the Falls is included for guests staying here and you can visit as often as you like. There are also three nature trails on the property – and don’t be surprised to come across zebras, giraffe or even impala.

Toka Leya

IMG_5912Toka Leya Camp is located in the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park in an excellent location right beside the Zambezi River, about 6km upstream from the Victoria Falls (or 12km by road).

There are 12 spacious safari-style tents – comprising of nine twin/double rooms and three family rooms. All the tents are raised on wooden decks and have beautiful views over the Zambezi River. 

Each tent at Toka Leya has a large deck that leads into a stylish air-conditioned open-plan lounge area and bedroom. The bathroom is separated by a wall covered in wooden tiles (inventive and very effective.). Each has twin basins with two large mirrors, a separate toilet, and an indoor and outdoor shower.IMG_5910 Toka Leya’s family tents are exactly the same as the twin/double tents, but they have an extra bedroom at the back of the tent.

The camp’s tents are beautifully decorated and very comfortable, but some are quite open and don’t have much privacy from the neighboring tents. They’re trying to resolve the problem by planting plenty of trees between the tents.

Toka Leya’s rates include all meals, local drinks, laundry, and two activities a day – which include a river cruise on their boats, a game drive into the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, a tour to the Zambian side of the Falls, a tour of Livingstone town and Museum, and a visit to a nearby village and local curio shops. The lodge would be happy to arrange other activities in Livingstone, such as white water rafting, bungee jumping, microlight flights etc.

It’s a beautiful camp with a superb location in the heart of Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, and it’s very well run. It’s also a good camp for children over six years old as they have three family tents. A popular side attraction for the kids is their resident hippo which likes to hangout by the foot of the main lounge regularly.


IMG_5973Set on the steep banks of the Zambezi River, about 18km upstream from the Victoria Falls, Tongabezi was founded in 1990. It’s still owned and run by one of its original founders, and has continually re-invented itself over the years.

At the heart of Tongabezi’s is the Main Lodge, a substantial, open-sided building under thatch that overlooks the river. Here guests will find both a dining area with long table and a lounge area with comfortable seating. In fine weather, meals at Tongabezi are taken on wooden decking which is just out over the river. While breakfast and lunch are served at individual tables, dinner is usually taken in a group with your guide or the manager. That said, one of the beauties of Tongabezi is its flexibility – dinner can be served privately in a variety of locations around the lodge.

IMG_5956Close to the water’s edge, there is a firepit where guests can share stories of the day’s adventures. Nearby is the lodge’s main swimming pool, partially set into the rock and complete with its own waterfall.   There is also a spa at Tongabezi with a qualified masseuse offering Shiatsu and reflexology.

The Lookout is a multi-level wooden structure built right over the river and housing a couple of breezy lounges as well as a computer room complete with internet connectivity. Guests can request a private dinner on one of the platforms or simply relax in the comfort of a gigantic sofa.

The lodge has Five smaller River Cottages which all share the same design and footprint, plus six individual, separate ‘houses’, each with its own style, character and often a quirky name:

Whilst at Tongabezi, you’ll be looked after by your own attendant, or ‘valet’, who will take care of you throughout your stay, organizing meals and activities, and making sure that your stay runs as smoothly as possible. The River Cottages are wonderful, but the themed houses are the defining feature of the camp. My personal favorite is the Nut House, as I’m partial to Moroccan design, but the other houses are just as interesting.

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