Tongabezi Safari Lodge
If you are looking for a magical safari location with beautiful lodgings featuring sliding glass doors and like the idea of falling asleep to the sounds of an African river, including hippo grunts, you can’t get much better than Tongabezi Safari Lodge.
Tongabezi Lodge is a romantic safari hideaway on the banks of the Zambezi River just upstream of Victoria Falls. Accommodation is in a selection of houses and cottages, each beautifully styled with furniture and embellishments from all over Africa. Guests can dine beside the river or on their private terrace.
Layout: The reception and gift shop sits in the upper area of the Safari Lodge grounds. Lower down the path and just above the river, you will find the dining area, a small bar, and a lounge area. These sections are entirely open to a large two-tiered deck above the river bank. The upper tier contains the fire pit for evening sundowners and the lower tier tables for dining. The swimming pool is located slightly further downriver. Upriver lies the Lookout, a two-story open-air structure where guests can relax and use Wi-Fi. Lodge boats are used for transfers to Sindabezi Island, evening sundowners, and private picnic lunches on sandy riverbanks. The Sampan in the middle of the Zambezi River is perfect for exclusive romantic dinners.
Eat: For dinner, guests are usually directed to the upper deck for drinks and conversation around the fire pit. If you don’t want the company, you can ask to be shown directly to a table. You can dine indoors or outside on the deck overlooking the river. The deck is lit along the edges with lanterns… truly magical.
Sleep: There are six premium Houses with luxurious king beds swathed in mosquito netting, four with sliding doors that guests can choose to leave entirely open, a Tree House that is open to the river, and a Garden House that faces onto a private walled garden. Large verandah-styled decks overlook the Zambezi River, and the bathrooms have large walk-in showers, a vanity with two sinks, and fabulous claw-footed baths offering great Zambezi River views.
Your valet will bring you juice and pressed coffee in the morning and will draw your al fresco bubble bath on the verandah overlooking the river in the evening. There is no telephone or television, but there is an intercom system for communicating with the reception desk in case of emergencies. Mobile coverage is fine here, so making calls and texts is not a problem. Wi-Fi is available from the Lookout.
When booking completely open rooms, insects and animals can be a concern, but fear not, we found neither to be a problem. On the insect side, even late at night, there only seemed to be a couple of moths, even though it was the rainy season. On the animal front, some Vervet monkeys occupied the grounds, and while they sometimes hang out in the commons area, they steer clear of humans and don’t seem to go into the rooms.
The hippos do come out of the river at night and are known to wander along the banks near the lodge. A local hippo named Henry comes out between the River Cottages each night to graze on the grass, returning to the river in the early morning. He is not known to come up on the bungalow deck, but the lodge provides an escort service to and from the rooms at night and in the morning if you are worried.
Activities: Victoria Falls is the ‘must-do’ trip from Tongabezi and is truly spectacular. Tongabezi offers trips that start just downstream from the falls. From there, you can walk onto and across the bridge, you can access the river level, or you can cross over to the Zimbabwe side. There are river cruises to visit the sandy islands, hippos, and crocodiles of the Zambezi River. A final ‘must-do’ is to visit the colorful local town of Livingstone and tour the stalls and the art galleries of the traditional market. Optional extras include Ultralite or helicopter flights over the falls and visits to the famous Livingstone Island, where guests can swim to the edge of the Falls.
It’s worth noting that less than half of the falls are visible from the Zambian side. The views from this side, while very nice, cannot match those you’ll see from the Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe. You can cross over into Zimbabwe and then take the 15-minute stroll up to the British Colonial Style Victoria Falls Hotel for lunch or High Tea. The system of trails gives access to observation points at various sites along with the five segments of the falls. You do not need a guide to enter Zimbabwe, find the park, or wander around the park. But have to exit through Zambian immigration and enter through Zimbabwean customs and immigration, at which point you’ll have to purchase a one-day entry visa. On return, you’ll have to exit Zimbabwean immigration and enter via Zambian customs and immigration. It sounds daunting, but both sides make it very easy. Do your homework concerning what’s going on in Zimbabwe at the time of your visit, but despite the country’s problems, they have kept the Victoria Falls area functioning and reasonably safe for tourists.
If you book, I’d suggest one of the premium Houses with river views. The River Cottages, although perfectly comfortable, are smaller. The bedrooms are fully enclosed, cutting off your unobstructed evening and morning views of the river, and the hippos may keep you in until they move along.
The sunsets are fabulous, and the nights are wonderfully quiet except for the grunting hippos at the river’s edge. Equally wonderful are the sunrises… Wake to the Zambezi cloaked in mists in the morning light and boubou birds singing their hearts out in perfect synchrony. For me, there is little in the world more beautiful.
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