Zambia's Newest Safari Lodge Is Within a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and Gets You Closer to the Wildlife Than Ever Before

Opened in June, Lolebezi is located in Zambia's remote Lower Zambezi National Park.

View of Lolebezi Safari Lodge from the water
Photo: Courtesy of African Bush Camps

As I walked along the gravel-covered path to my suite at the new safari lodge Lolebezi, which opened in June 2022 in Zambia's Lower Zambezi National Park, my experienced guide scanned the surrounding bushes and winter thorn trees for any signs of wildlife.

We almost made it to my room incident-free — until we saw a large male elephant casually munching on the vegetation near my front door. So instead of going the easy way (as in, entering through the front door), my guide helped me sneak around the corner and enter my suite via the back patio, leaving the pachyderm to enjoy his meal. My guide left, but my two-ton friend chose to stay with me for a while.

Interior of a public space in Lolebezi Safari Lodge
Courtesy of African Bush Camps

With floor-to-ceiling windows along the entire back wall of my suite, I decided to skip my afternoon nap and admire the mighty creature meandering along the shores of Zambia's Zambezi River.

"We like the land to dictate the pace of life," said Beks Ndlovu, founder and CEO of African Bush Camps (ABC), the safari outfitter that operates Lolebezi. "Ultimately, we believe that if you don't, you'll miss something that nature has to give us as a gift."

Following Nature's Lead

Al Fresco dining under the stars at Lolebezi Safari Lodge
Courtesy of African Bush Camps

Listening to the rhythm of the land meant early morning game drives to spot lions fresh off a kill; taking a detour when a mother elephant and her babies decided to block the road; and changing plans when we spotted wild dogs take down an impala.

Lolebezi's location in Lower Zambezi National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers the unique opportunity to explore a remote region that's teeming with wildlife but few other safari-goers. It's truly wild, in every sense of the word, with no enclosures or fences stopping the animals from roaming freely and allowing us to witness our guides' tracking skills hard at work.

Throughout our daily game drives, we saw waterbucks, hyenas, warthogs, zebras, baboons, impalas by the dozen, and so much more. This region of Zambia is also known for its high population of the ever-elusive leopard, giving guests an increased likelihood of spotting one. Meanwhile, birders can also catch a glimpse of several fascinating species like the vibrant lilac-breasted roller or the bateleur eagle.

Standard game drive vehicles hold up to nine passengers, but at Lolebezi — and the other 16 ABC properties — only six people are seated in each car (unless requested otherwise), so everyone gets close to the action with a window seat. Brave visitors can even embark on walking safaris, a practice that originated in Zambia.

Lounger around a fire pit at Lolebezi Safari Lodge
Courtesy of African Bush Camps

And the action doesn't stop on land. An essential part of letting nature lead the way comes from Lolebezi's most unique asset: direct access to Africa's fourth longest river. While most safari-goers across Africa don't have the opportunity to enjoy water-based activities, they're an integral part of the Lolebezi experience.

Guests can start their day upstream on the Zambezi River, canoe toward the lodge, and stop for brunch on a sandbar, where staff will set up umbrella-shaded tables for a full meal, enjoyed from chairs propped up in ankle-deep water. Fishing enthusiasts can test their skills on a catch-and-release excursion and attempt to reel in the jewel of the Zambezi, the tiger fish, a species that earned its name thanks to its mouthful of surprisingly large and sharp teeth. For a more tranquil water adventure, Lolebezi guides often take guests cruising on the river to enjoy their evening sundowner — a safari tradition where everyone gathers around sunset for pre-dinner snacks and drinks. No matter how guests get on the water, hippos and crocodiles will be there to accompany them from a safe distance.

Honoring Zambia Through Design

The philosophy of "letting the land dictate" the experience places such importance on nature — and that's reflected throughout the design of Lolebezi, with an added emphasis on Zambian culture. Like the forest surrounding it, this luxury lodge seems to sprout from the ground with its various natural materials and a neutral color palette. Notable features include woven reed ceilings, hand-carved wooden doors, a unique calabash curtain in the dining area, plus fish scales, crocodiles, and bird motifs subtly blending into the décor.

View from a suite bathroom at Lolebezi Safari Lodge
Courtesy of African Bush Camps

The attention to detail is especially impressive in the eight suites at Lolebezi, including two designed specifically for families. Suites are divided into two sections, with the bedrooms and sitting areas facing east for stunning sunrise views, while the bathroom and dressing room face west. With floor-to-ceiling windows on the river-facing side of the suite, I could soak up the unobstructed views from the bedroom to the frameless indoor shower to even the loo. These towering windows also serve as sliding doors opening to the outdoor deck, complete with lounge chairs, seating areas, and a private plunge pool. With the doors fully open, the living space becomes an indoor-outdoor living room, immersing you in the idyllic environment.

The thoughtful design continues throughout the property with an outdoor yoga space, a spa, a game room, and a gym, all with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that keep guests connected to the natural beauty of Lower Zambezi at all times. Lolebezi also offers an outdoor dining pavilion and lounge areas, including a fire pit where guests gather for sundowners and an infinity-edge pool overlooking the Zambezi River. It's where I sat as a small herd of elephants crossed the river, and one wandered over to eat the plants just a few feet away.

View from a suite at Lolebezi Safari Lodge
Courtesy of African Bush Camps

"The design element comes into how you experience a place, and ultimately, it facilitates the experience of being amongst wildlife and nature," Ndlovu said. He added that ABC requires a minimum three-night stays at its properties, which reduces the environmental impact of fast travel while allowing guests to fully enjoy the carefully curated amenities at each location.

Serving Guests, Mother Nature, and the Community

"We wanted to create a place that shows the essence of Zambia and offers world-class service," Shahida Yousuf, owner of Lolebezi, said.

With a maximum capacity of 16 guests, visitors are guaranteed to enjoy a truly personalized experience. The high level of service manifested in several ways throughout my stay, from the entire staff knowing me by name, to every game drive where the knowledge guides would teach me something new.

But guests aren't the only ones benefiting from ABC's tourism approach.

More guides and visitors in Lower Zambezi National Park deters poachers, and the Lolebezi staff are working diligently to preserve the natural flora and fauna in the area.

At Lolebezi, eco-friendliness is embedded into the design, but the sustainability-driven economy also prioritizes giving back to the local community. Conscious travelers will appreciate that, for every night a guest spends at any ABC property, $10 is donated to the African Bush Camps Foundation, which spearheads several programs that enrich communities in the surrounding areas with a focus on education, conservation, and community empowerment.

It's all a part of the Lolebezi approach to honor the land, which dictates the entire experience here.

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