Royal Chundu is one of those places that captures your heart the moment you arrive. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot over the past 7 or 8 years, and with each new place I visit (or each old place that I revisit) I can’t help but leave a little bit of myself there in exchange for a little piece of the destination – the result being that my spirit is made up of all the hundreds of places that I’ve fallen in love with. With Royal Chundu, the piece of me I left behind felt big enough to be one of my limbs.
Nestled on the banks of the Zambezi (with a private stretch of river not shared with any other lodges – you can’t feel more removed from the big city), the beauty of Royal Chundu is undeniable. The sunset cruises, lush forest, sparkling pools, and INCREDIBLE rooms are all breathtaking, to say the least. But what really made this luxury five-star lodge stand out for me was its phenomenal people. If you’ve been to Zambia, I’d be willing to bet that you fell a bit in love with its people.
Arriving at Livingstone Airport (though if you’re staying at Royal Chundu, you can also fly into Kasane Airport in Botswana) we were greeted by an incredible young Zambian driver, who loaded us, our bags, and the bags of some other guests into a van – they’d opted to fly into Zambia and then catch a helicopter straight from the airport to the lodge. At this point, I started to feel a little worried that we were out of our depth. I mean, other guests were catching helicopters – would it be painfully obvious that we weren’t particularly fancy? That we were actually imposters, and shouldn’t have been staying at a beautiful 5-star resort with some of the greatest food I’ve ever eaten?
As our little van trundled the hour-long journey to the lodge, I couldn’t help but wonder if Ant and I would stick out like sore thumbs. But the thing about Royal Chundu is that they never let you think you are anything but 100% at home with them – whether you’ve saved all your pennies for a once-in-a-lifetime weekend there, or if you’re clearly loaded (previous guests include Bear Grylls and Bill Gates), you’re welcomed with open arms and treated like royalty. The second we arrived at the lodge (after a beautiful drive through some small Zambian towns, and a national park, our driver chatting to us and making us laugh the whole way) my fears melted away – partly because it was about a million degrees, but mostly because our hosts immediately made us feel at home.
Later this week, I’ll be sharing a little more about ‘The Royal Chundu Experience’ – but for now, let’s chat about the lodge itself.
Royal Chundu is made up of two sections – the River lodge, which is made up of 10 riverfront suites, and the Island lodge, which is slightly smaller with just four villas. We stepped out of the van and were greeted at the River Lodge by one of our two hosts for the weekend – Hessah. Hessah is one of those guys that you immediately wanna fall in love with – don’t worry, Ant agreed with me. Friendly, funny, and incredibly well informed, Hessah is MADE for hospitality. Within 5 minutes, he had us sharing stories of learning to swim (he learnt in Devil’s Pool, go figure) well two ladies massaged our shoulders (traveling is HARD, guys) and we sipped our welcome cocktails. At this point, I was basically ready to move in and never ever leave.
Ant and I had originally been scheduled to stay at the River Lodge – with a giant infinity pool, its own bar, a library, 2 lounges and stunning rooms with decks overlooking the river, I would have been more than happy there. But Hessah informed us that we’d been upgraded to the Island Lodge, which was a short boat trip away. I gotta admit, I was a little worried. Why were we leaving this incredible spot to go somewhere else? I mean, surely nothing can be better than this.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong in my life. The Island Lodge was like something out of a movie – the kind of movie where everything is beautiful and lovely and perfect and everyone is beautiful and lovely and perfect. Pulling up at the jetty, we were greeted by our second host for the weekend, Aggie. If we thought we were in love with Hessah, that’s only because we hadn’t yet been victim to Aggie’s charm – but don’t worry guys, I’ve got enough love to go around. Aggie lead us through the reception area to the deck outside where we would be having all our meals so that we could get straight into lunch – accompanied by Zambian beer, I already felt completely relaxed.
The rooms at Royal Chundu’s Island Lodge pretty much need to been seen to be believed. Each suite consists of an open plan bedroom/lounge, leading onto a giant bathroom with an open air double shower, enclosed toilet, and large changing area. The bed, which is easily the biggest I’ve ever slept in, was endlessly comfortable and shrouded in netting, to ensure that mosquitos don’t bother you at night – though there’s no malaria in this area, by the way. Aircon, fans, a fully-stocked bar fridge and an ample supply of bird books complete the vibe of these fully secluded suites – when you’re in your room overlooking your private stretch of river, you’re never even aware that anyone else is staying at the lodge.
But the crowning jewel of the Island Lodge suites is the balcony. Each suite is lined along an entire side by a massive deck over the river, complete with a dining area, loungers, umbrellas, and the GREATEST BATH THAT HAS EVER EXISTED. Someone please sponsor my staying in this place forever and ever.
If you’re staying at the lodge, you can arrange for your meals to be served on your private deck. Or if you’re feeling up for a little bit of indulgence, you can also have a massage right on the deck. All of the doors onto the deck open completely, which means you can make your room (including the shower) totally open to the river. It was bliss.
You don’t get yourself a 5-star rating (and win big at The World Travel Awards for 6 years in a row) without serving up some incredible food. At no point on our trip were we allowed to get even a little peckish. The team at Royal Chundu really strive to serve food that you can’t find anywhere else – which means distinctly Zambian flavours and incredible regional flavours. My favourite part of the food, though, was the fact that all of their fresh supplied come from a 3km radius of the lodge, minimizing their carbon footprint, providing income for the local community, and ensuring that everything is incredible fresh – and you can taste it with each bite. When you’re dining at Royal Chundu, it’s not so much eating as it is experiencing, and it’s an experience I would gladly repeat every day of my life until I’m so large that I have to be rolled around like some kind of Zorb ball.
The Whole Package
Staying at Royal Chundu is not cheap – but that can hardly come as a surprise. You can view their full rate card here, which is set until the end of 2017 and varies depending on whether you choose the River or Island Lodge, and whether you are booking the Classic or Luxury package. But I can tell you in absolute certainty that it’s worth each and every penny. Personalised service, unforgettable food, and experiences that make you feel like most important people in the world are standard at Royal Chundu, and I would gladly spend my savings a million times over to get to go back there every year. The great thing is that, once you’re there, almost everything is included – from your airport transfers to your meals and the complimentary daily sunset cruise, you can easily pay for your trip and then not spend another cent.
Royal Chundu is a special place – the kind of place you’ll have a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. Royal Chundu is built for engagements, honeymoons, anniversaries, and birthdays, so if you’re looking for somewhere unforgettable to celebrate something special, look no further. If you’re not short on cash, by all means, head over there on any and very weekend, but if you’re looking for somewhere to celebrate your honeymoon, you won’t be more welcome anywhere else.
As you can imagine, I’m already saving my pennies for my next trip to Royal Chundu – or maybe I’ll just apply for a job there and make my love for this place official.
Stay tuned for more on Royal Chundu in the next few days.
Thank you to Royal Chundu’s Tina and her team for the most incredible weekend – you’ll be seeing my face again very soon.
Get in contact with the team:
View their website here, follow them on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.
Tel: +27 13 751 1038
Check Royal Chundu out on Tripadvisor here.