Tongabezi, a part of Green Safaris, in all its welcoming and luxurious glory, sits proudly on the banks of the Zambezi river near the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. A family-run operation with true heart and soul, this beautiful lodge beckons any lover of nature, community and luxury to visit. I was a recent guest here and fell in love with not only the place, but the warmth that seems to permeate every corner.
Arriving the lodge is easy, as it is a mere 30 minute drive from Livingstone Airport, one of the main gateways to Victoria Falls. Zambia is a beautiful country with diversity in game parks and rural land, but Victoria Falls is a true icon of the country. Tongabezi is set off the main road and cocoons you in a Swiss Family Robinson-like environment for your stay on the Zambezi river.
You might be in the wilderness, but luxury is never sacrificed. This is important. The property offers a stunning array of villas, pool, gym, dining areas, bars and outdoor areas that are well-manicured and ready for you to plop down and relax when you’re not exploring the local sites.
Upon entering the lodge for the first time, I was met with a glass of champagne and led out to the waterfront deck where check-in took place. What a view of the full river I had while getting familiarized with the property and the way things work at Tongabezi. The sounds of nature were dominant as I heard birds, hippos in the river and monkeys playing overhead. Tongabezi is a place to truly experience nature’s music box – in the most organic of ways.
My villa, appropriately named Nut House, was absolutely stunning. The structure really was its own separate property with a huge welcoming bedroom, living area, dining area and outdoor terrace.
The canopy bed was like a cloud and shrouded in local fabrics, beautiful sheets and mosquito netting for nighttime comfort. The air-conditioned structure was decorated with everything from baskets, paintings, ceramics and fabrics – layering texture and story into the space – making it a real trip for the senses.
Every corner seemed to have an item that would spark conversation and, even after three days here, I was still noticing new objects and art. The details in the room were fabulous, from books to a small mini bar, fresh water and coffee station. The closet was huge and the room truly made me feel like I could move in for a month, and be totally at home.
The bathroom was fit for, well, a king, and featured a lovely soaking tub which was often drawn for me in the evenings with flower petals and a huge open shower, that offered views of the rushing river.
Out every window of Nut House nature was present, which led to deep and restful sleep. I don’t think I’ve slept as well as I did at Tongabezi in a long time.
The staff on-property did all they could to make my stay incredible and made sure that special elements were incorporated into every experience at the lodge.
Each morning, one of the lovely staff members would deliver a beautiful breakfast that I would take on the terrace, near the plunge pool, gazing-out over the river. This was a true meditation moment and one that helped me set my intention for the day. Tongabezi offers many of these moments, and opportunities to just breathe.
Days were spent lounging around by the pool and one day, in particular, was spent at Victoria Falls. Tongabezi will help arrange a tour of the falls, a visit to Livingstone private island for lunch, a visit to a local village and even walking with rhino. They have been in operation for decades and are truly integrated into the local fabric enough to offer their guests experiences that may note be accessible to just anyone.
Of course Tongabezi knows the times to visit the falls where crowds are thin and you feel like you have the entire place to yourself.
I was also lucky to visit Livingstone Island, an incredible experience that takes you by boat to an island off-shore sitting just above the falls.
Here you can have a delicious multi-course lunch, and sit with your feet in the rapids that end up flowing over the edge and into the abyss that is Victoria Falls. There’s no better way to feel the rush and energy of this natural wonder than through this incredibly private and beautiful experience.
The food on the island is both surprising and delicious – each course executed perfectly.
With food in mind, the food at Tongabezi is delicious. The chefs on property are skilled and offer international cuisine with local flavors, and the menus change often.
Dinners were my favorite with each night offering something new and unique – in beautiful environments.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be served in-room, in the dining room, on the terrace – and anywhere else you might want to experience your meals. Dinners are often accompanied by local entertainment, including traditional Zambian dancers.
I don’t think over my three days at Tongabezi there was one meal that I didn’t enjoy. The meat was particularly fresh and the vegetables are locally sourced, some things even grown on-property.
What makes Tongabezi even more special, aside from its physical beauty and integration into nature, is its community efforts. The lodge, founded by Benjamin Parker and William Ruck Keene in 1990, was always a leader in the area for conservation and “firsts” – pioneering responsible tourism in Zambia. Tongabezi spearheads local farming efforts, education and more. Ben’s wife, Vanessa, pushed for a community project that she felt was absolutely essential in terms of giving back to the people and bettering situations of children who might not have particular educational opportunities. With this thought, she founded Tujatane – the Tongabezi Trust School.
The school started small with a simple idea and 15 local children in need of education. Today, it has grown to provide free education to over 300 children who live within walking distance of the school and is supported by donations and tourism dollars from guests at Tongabezi. I visited the school and was given a special vocal performance by the children who all sang some of their favorite local and international songs as a welcome. I was blown away.
I was toured around the school and shown classrooms and explained programs that help local children take a crucial step towards bettering their situations and furthering their education beyond the school and into university.
You can feel the love and energy put into the school, the programs and the kids themselves who are so genuinely happy to be there. What I loved was the integration of the school into the lodge to help show guests just how important responsible tourism is. Tongabezi isn’t just a bubble of luxury where visitors are untouched by the local community, but a multi-layered experience where you leave richer in experience than when you came.
While the kids were performing, I couldn’t help but sit in gratitude for the my time at Tongabezi. Not only was I afforded the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful natural sites in the world, Victoria Falls, but I got to know Zambia on a fundamental level. This, to me, is just as important as the luxury that surrounds this place.
For anyone who is looking to visit one of the most impressive sites in the world, Victoria Falls, all while being wrapped in beauty, nature and luxury – with real heart and a community connection; you cannot do better than Tongabezi. You will leave changed on many levels, this I promise.