From Kruger we flew to Livingstone, Zambia and were picked up at the airport for an hour’s journey west along the Zambezi River to reach Royal Chundu, a stunning riverside lodge deep in the Zambian countryside. After an exciting time in the bush at Sabi Sabi (and several days of 5am wake up calls), we were ready for the chance to sleep in a bit and relax. Royal Chundu first caught my eye through it’s membership in Relais & Chateaux, and upon exploring their photos on Instagram, I fell in love with their cheerful interiors, tastefully curated by the lodge’s owner Tina Aponte, which featured a variety of bold colors and patterns — which is a signature style of Zambia.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with a warm smile by Aggie, Royal Chundu’s manager, who offered us a delicious iced tea welcome drink and was wearing the most bold and beautiful dress tailored to perfection. (As we’d come to find out, Zambians are an incredibly warm people and we loved chatting with Aggie and the staff throughout our stay.)
The property is made up of two lodges — the main river lodge, where we first entered, as well as the private Island Lodge, a 15 minute boat ride upstream. We stayed in the Island Lodge and on the ride over, we saw several African Fish Eagles (Zambia’s national bird) and a large crocodile eyeing us as our boat glided by! While the Zambezi is incredibly beautiful to behold, it’s also home to some dangerous predators, often hiding just below the surface.
At the Island Lodge, we had a delicious lunch (the menu changes daily, but if you see the pineapple and pork belly salad on offer – order it!), with a curious baboon watching us from his hideout amongst the river reeds. Afterwards, we settled into our suite overlooking a quiet corner of the river for a chance to rest before the evening activities.
Each evening, the signature event at Royal Chundu is the sunset cruise, where guests take a slow meander up and down the Zambezi, watching various wildlife come to the water’s edge while enjoying a wide selection of drinks and hor’s d’ouevres. On our first day, I made an off-hand remark that I enjoy trying local gins and was surprised with a selection of South African gins to try as we boarded our boat that evening. Zimbabwe lies on the opposite side of the river from Royal Chundu and one of it’s wildlife parks runs up to the river. We loved our floating “game drives” and the chance to see some beautiful giraffes, elephants, and groups of monkeys as well as a large variety of birds.
The days are up to guests to fill as they please, whether relaxing in their suites or pools, or choosing from one of many activities the hotel offers, from Zambezi birding safaris to helicopter views of Victoria Falls. We opted to do the “can’t miss” Zambezi canoe journey as well as a local community tour and island walk. The next morning we had breakfast at the at our lodge before joining another couple to visit the local village, a 20 minute boat ride up-stream. We were greeted by Edith, a resident of the village, who gave us a tour of how life works in the village, from their preferred construction materials to explaining Royal Chundu’s collaborative efforts with the village residents. Not only do many of Royal Chundu’s staff come from the village, the lodge buys produce for their restaurants and incorporates local handicrafts such as napkins and placemats in their decor. I’ve had a lot of experience evaluating rural development programs through my time working for charity: water and World Vision, and though development work is challenging, I left the village extremely impressed.
On our final night, we joined guests at the Main Lodge for dinner and an evening performance of local dances, even joining the dancers to learn a few new moves ourselves. I’m not a very good dancer, and am self-conscious when dancing in front of others but they made it really easy and fun dancing around the fire under the stars. The dinner was a tasting menu featuring 5 ingredients common in Zambian cuisine – all delicious and beautifully presented! (Like this cocktail served in a shell on ice!)
It’s rare to visit a hotel that is both completely remote and completely flawless in every aspect – from the food, to the decor, to the service – not to mention Royal Chundu’s investments in their local community through skills training and creating a market for produce and local handicrafts. We only stayed two nights but I’d definitely recommend three and think it’s a perfect place to relax in-between safari lodges. Tina is currently working on opening another lodge soon, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store! Thank you Royal Chundu for an incredible experience and all the good you do!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com.