Have you every stayed at a hotel that felt too good to be true? Where life seemed to stand still and everything felt like a page out of a storybook?
Imagine taking a speedboat to your hotel room, but having to stop abruptly on the way to watch and admire a few wild elephants crossing to their water hole. This happened within 5 minutes of my sister and I checking in! If that wasn't enough, we then had the chance for some hippos to come just outside of our room to graze. Talk about a stellar first impression, it was as if they had it all set up as part of our welcome.
I've been lucky to stay at quite a few exceptional properties during my travelings, but my visit to Tongabezi near Victoria Falls in Zambia was something that completely blew me away. From living up to why they were voted the #1 Safari Lodge in Zambia by Conde Nast to investing in eco-friendly practices and empowering their community education and employment opportunities, my stay there had no shortage of "pinch me" moments.
A FEW things to know
Getting There. Because the lodge is nestled cozily along the Zanbezi River near Victoria Falls, it takes a bit of a journey to get there but it's well worth it. I arrived via plane from South Africa (there are direct flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town), where I then took another flight into Livingstone Airport before taking another 30 minute car ride to the lodge.
Tongabezi vs. Sindabezi. While the Tongabezi Lodge is on the mainland and comprised of six private houses and five river cottages, Sindabezi is particularly unique in that it's an exclusive camp on a private island on the Zambezi River. Sindabezi also has only five open-sided thatched cottages, which allows guests to soak up the sights and sounds of the full natural experience in a perfect, luxurious setting. The stunning interior design of both properties is un unabashedly African and gives the lodge a beautifully romantic character that oozes with personality.
Wildlife + Safety. Because the property sits on the Zambezi and is in such close proximity to wildlife, we had to walk with an assigned staff member to/from our rooms to any part of the grounds at night. It can be a little intimidating at first (seeing a hippo a stone's throw is all fine and well until you're confronted with how dangerous and aggressive they can be), but so long as you respect that the animals are wild and listen to the staff, everything will be ok. Something else to be aware of is how many monkeys there are in the surrounding trees. While I'd advise that you make sure that any and all food is kept away so they don't get into your things, hearing and seeing them run around on the roof and eat the fruit in the trees every morning definitely added a certain charm to the experience.
While the rooms at each property had their own unique features, it's safe to say that both were a dream. At Sindabezi, what first stood out to me was the incredible view looking out into the river, followed by the outdoor shower that I couldn't get enough of. I was a little worried at first about mosquitoes and bugs coming in at night, but was happy not to experience any problems thanks to some pretty exceptional turn down service. At Tongabezi, the design and feel of bathroom is what completely stole the show for me. The copper shower, the beautiful tiles, that amazing bathtub...I could have lived there. It was also extremely touching to receive a handwritten welcome note from one of the students at the Tongabezi school, Tujatane, along with a beautiful arrangement of flowers upon arrival.
Every single meal during our stay was FANTASTIC and filled with nothing but fresh and seasonal ingredients. With the option to dine with other guests or at a private table on one of three open air dining decks, we didn't think things could get more luxurious...well, they did. After a almost a week of five star meals, my sister and I ended things with a bang thanks to a floating breakfast like I've never had before. Enter the Sampan breakfast. With a white linen tablecloth draped over an intimate table setting on the river, the waiters hand delivered our breakfast via a canoe, leaving my sister and I completely charmed! It was one of my major highlights of our stay and would highly recommend you actually have the experience for dinner if they have availability.
While the biggest and most popular activity in the region is of course a visit to Victoria Falls, I was pleasantly surprised by all the additional activities Tongabezi had on offer. From coordinating my trip to the Devil's Pool to one of the best sundowners I've ever experienced, there was no shortage of things to do.
A few of my favorites that are also included in the price of the booking are: a visit to the Tujatane School, guided canoeing, boat ride up the Zambezi River, Maramba local Market trip, expedition to Victoria Falls, guided bush walks, Sampan dinner (or breakfast!), game drives, visit to Mukuni Park and Simonga Village, and a museum tour. Non-inclusive activities available include: an elephant back safari, Microlight flight over Victoria Falls, helicopter flights, white water rafting, Chobe National Park day trip, Royal Livingstone Express day trip (a 5-star train ride with dinner), and a Jet Extreme jet boat ride in Batoka Gorge.
GIVING BACK + GOING GREEN
The School. The Tongabezi Trust school, Tujatane, was established in 1996 and has since grown from a pre-school class of 15 children, to a primary school with over 240 students. The school is run completely on donations, so apart from the first classroom which Tongabezi built, the development of the school has been made possible through the sponsorship donors worldwide. I also appreciated how transparent they were in sharing exactly where the donations go, ranging from individual child sponsorship, teacher sponsorship, or help with the food and medical program. Be sure to click here to get more information on how you can be involved if you are interested.
It's Eco-friendly. One of the things I first noticed most about the property was well green (literally and figuratively) it is. Their goal is to create less noise, less emissions and as little upset to the local flora and fauna as possible, and I think it's safe to say they're delivering on that. Sindabezi is powered exclusively by solar energy and all of their soap, shampoo and cleaning products for the rooms and kitchen are biodegradable. They also have an in house garden where they grow organically protected vegetables picked fresh each morning , making each meal prepared that much more special.
All in all, my time at both Tongabezi was a true highlight during my time in Zambia. It was literally what dreams are made of and I loved how impeccably designed and community focused it was. If you're looking for an experience that combines luxury with nature while slowing down time, look no further.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Tongabezi and Sindabezi for a portion of my stay - though all opinions, photography, and words remain my own.
Photography by yours truly
Photos of me by Eplleseed
LIKE IT? PIN IT!
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