Sampans, Hippos and Victoria Falls at Marvellous Tongabezi

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I have wanted to visit Victoria Falls for a seriously long time.

Years and years ago I had seen pictures of people swimming at the edge of a waterfall, and ever since, taking that same swim had earned a firm place on the list. So, when the opportunity arose to stay with a luxury lodge on the banks of the Zambezi river, it felt like so many dreams were coming true.

That waterfall edge swim ended up being amazing, but as it turned out, our stay at Tongabezi ended up being just as memorable.

Opened in June of 1990, Tongabezi was the first lodge to ever open on the banks of the Zambezi river and though over time many more have opened in both Zambia and Zimbabwe, Tongabezi remains the most luxurious, most beautiful, most environmentally friendly and the lodge taking the most initiative to improve the lives of local people living in the area.

We arrived in the early hours of the afternoon, and after a rather taxing journey, nothing sounded better than chilling out by the river and eating some lunch – which is exactly what we did!

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The food at Tongebezi was such an unexpected delight. I had expected that it would be good (kind of a given in the more upscale hotels and lodges) but not this good! Plus, all of the cuisine was super healthy. I am still not sure how they made ginger and spinach quite so delicious, but I am glad that they did!

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Oh, and our view while eating lunch?

Just some hippos! How amazing is that?!

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tongabezi-zambia-travel-blog-livingstone-victoria-falls-zambezi-solo-travelling-the-world

By the time we had finished lunch our river cottage was ready for us to check in, and it certainly did not disappoint! There are five river cottages at Tongabezi, which are all stunningly situated on the water’s edge. The sunset views (and the hippo views) from these cottages are second to none, and the cottages themselves exude true laidback luxury.

The sense of relaxation and comfort are so strong within the grounds that the lack of locks on doors just feels natural. The only thing you have to fear at Tongabezi is that the monkeys might find a way to break into your box of teas and biscuits!

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The decor and style infuse African textiles and pieces with muted tones in a perfect kind of harmony and balance. Everything feels seamless and organic – like the rooms weren’t designed, instead feeling like they just came to look this way over time.

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The bathrooms are breezy, cool and open, combining wooden pieces with antique gold fixtures. The star of this room however, is the bathtub. Placed in just the right spot to allow for privacy and also panoramic views, this bathtub is so well located that you can enjoy a bubble bath and unhindered sunset views simultaneously.

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Another lovely touch is the hand written welcome note from one of the students at Tujatane School. This school (also referred to as the Tongabezi Trust School) was established by Vanessa Parker, who is the wife of one of Tongabezi’s two founders. What started as a pre school class of just 15 students has grown to a primary school of around 240 students with a reputation for giving students a world class education – something that is pretty amazing for a community that otherwise may not have access to schooling!

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tongabezi-zambia-travel-blog-livingstone-victoria-falls-zambezi-solo-travelling-the-world

In addition to starting a school, Tongabezi also makes a large effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible, to increase HIV awareness and to build good quality accommodation for teachers within the community – to make teaching in this area more attractive to prospective candidates.

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Tongabezi allows you to experience unmatched luxury on the Zambezi whilst also doing good for a Zambian community – does it really get much better than that?

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Tongabezi also has a whole bunch of excursions which are included in your stay. Sunset boat rides, trips to the falls and game drives can all be a part of your Livingstone experience. As we had just come from some truly world class game viewing, we decided to forgo doing anymore, and instead, we wanted to go and see the falls!

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Visiting in the dry season means that the views of Victoria Falls are not anywhere near as grandiose as they are during the rainy months, but they are still undeniably spectacular. Plus, visiting during this time has a little bonus for the adrenaline junkies – but I am saving that for the next blog!

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tongabezi-zambia-travel-blog-livingstone-victoria-falls-zambezi-solo-travelling-the-world

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You can view the falls from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean side, and each view offers something different. The Zimbabwean side definitely offers more in the way of adrenaline! From this side you can bungee jump, zoom down a flying fox or take a leap on a bungee swing.

If you want to do one of these activities, please don’t search ‘victoria falls bungee accident’ on YouTube – you will not want to do it anymore!

The Zambian side keeps things a little bit less scream-inducing, but the benefit of seeing the falls from this perspective is that they are arguably much more beautiful.

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The bridge from which people bungee

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Even at low levels, the falls were undeniably picturesque, and it isn’t hard to see why so many people flock to this region each and every year.

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tongabezi-zambia-travel-blog-livingstone-victoria-falls-zambezi-solo-travelling-the-world

We returned to the lodge later that day and were lucky enough to be treated to a true Tongabezi specialty…

Dinner on the sampan!

The sampan is a kind of floating pontoon that allows you to enjoy a meal whilst floating on the Zambezi – each course is delivered to you by canoe!

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Not only was our meal spectacular, but I am fairly certain that the sound of hippos calling from nearby really does make everything in life better.

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Unfortunately, we only stayed in our river cottage for one night when honestly, I could have probably stayed forever! However, we weren’t really leaving, we were just relocating a little ways down river.

Stay tuned, the hippos are counting on you!

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THE  LOWDOWN

Getting to Livingstone: This airport isn’t the most well connected in the world, you will need to get yourself to either Windhoek, Joburg, Cape Town, Nairobi, Lusaka or Addis Ababa
Tongabezi: One night in a river cottage starts at $655 USD – which includes all meals, drinks, laundry and numerous activities. Click here for more information about Tongabezi Lodge.
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 lenses
Remember: When splurging on a luxury stay, looking for hotels with a social conscience makes your money do a lot of good

Disclaimer: I stayed with Tongabezi Lodge on a complimentary basis, however, this post was not commissioned or sponsored and all thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are honest, unbiased and in no way influenced by the Tongabezi brand, their management or affiliates.

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

6 thoughts on “Sampans, Hippos and Victoria Falls at Marvellous Tongabezi

  1. I love that the Tongabezi founders have a social conscience! The school would certainly be a place I would visit. I need more adjectives for your photos. I am from a country with some of the most beautiful waterfall landscapes; your shots of Victoria Falls take the breath away.

  2. The lodge looks divine. So luxurious whilst also looking blended with its location. What a treat for you. Somehow I just thought Victoria Falls looked the same year round. It never occurred to me it could dry up so much!

  3. Great post, love the photos. Many years ago I had a business trip to nearby Mosi O’Tunya, and like with you, it was the dry season, so the falls weren’t as spectacular as I had hoped, but it was still a memorable trip.

  4. That is just incredible. The lodge looks utterly amazing. Now I can see why you said, “stay forever”. Victoria Falls! Wow! When I was a kid, I used to watch the Tarzan shows, and they had the falls. So beautiful. In real life, it must be beyond description.

    It is also so cool that you were able to find a place that enhances the local culture, rather than taking advantage of it. Beautiful post, Ellen! Thanks again.

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