I recently had the chance to see Victoria Falls in a way I never have before, and that I most assuredly never will again – essentially without any other tourists!
A month after Zimbabwe reopened its air borders, I was lucky to visit and spend a few days in the Falls before and after a fantastic safari in Hwange National Park with Imvelo Safari Lodges. New Frontiers arranged for me to stay at three distinctly different properties in the Falls – Ilala Lodge, Victoria Falls Island Lodge and Matetsi River Lodge.
This family-owned lodge is just an eight minute walk to the Falls and is situated on the National Park right at the edge of town, making it the perfect spot for those who might wish to explore a bit on their own. It was my first stop on arrival, and after what was to become the usual protocol of temperature screening and hand sanitization, I was given a warm welcome and shown to my room. I was excited to have external access and ventilation on both sides of the room. I had a lovely view over the park and a view of the Falls’ spray in the distance.
Rooms are lovely and well appointed with coffee stations, lovely linens, mini-fridge, strong wi-fi and more. A variety of room types are available, including a stunning suite (with an outdoor hot tub!) that’s perfect for honeymooners, or that can be combined with a neighboring suite for a family or multi-gen stay. Ilala has two lovely pools, al fresco dining (I enjoyed an absolutely delicious 3-course dinner along with a sumptuous breakfast during my stay), and they can arrange a variety of activities.
I was fortunate to join Ilala’s marketing manager Amy and Bronwyn from New Frontiers for a cruise on Ilala’s boat the Ra-Ikane just a few short hours after my arrival. We took a short vehicle transfer (hands sanitized before boarding, masks on) to the launch point where Ilala is building a new lodge right on the river, The Palms, set to open in 2021. Before boarding the boat, our temperatures were once again checked and hands once again santized and then we settled in for an extraordinary cruise on the Zambezi. The boat accommodates a max of 16 pax, but we had an exclusive cruise for just the three of us. Lots of hippos, birds, crocs and elephants made for a memorable time on the river, as did a spectacular Zimbabwean sunset. Snacks and drinks and wonderful hospitality abounded. Most astonishingly, we only saw one other boat on the river!
Bronwyn and I visited the Falls the next day, which you can read about here. Suffice it to say we had the park to ourselves. It was a bit surreal to see the Falls without a crowd and it will not last!
Victoria Falls Island Lodge
After visiting the Falls with Bronwyn, I was transferred to the launch point for the boat to Victoria Falls Island Lodge. The launch point is undergoing a bit of construction to update the guest facility (waiting facility with seating and bathrooms) and will completed shortly. I was collected by Blessed from the lodge and whisked across the Zambezi River to Kandahar, the private island in the river where the lodge resides. I was warmly greeted by the staff, given a welcome drink and shown to my treehouse suite.
The suites are absolutely stunning. Each suite has a private deck and plunge pool overloooking the river along with a rooftop seating area and star bed! The open plan bathrooms are stunning with huge soaking tubs, twin rain showers, robes and slippers, and stunning views. The large bedroom has a heavenly California King bed, air con, coffee/tea making facilities, mini-fridge, snacks, etc, as well as a spotting scope. As though you could want for more, your stay comes with personalized butler service. I should also mention that the food is nothing short of excellent.
The Island Lodge accommodates two guests per suite, ages 16 and up. It would be an ideal spot for a honeymoon or anniversary couple, but also an incredible and serene retreat for any couple. During my short stay I enjoyed another fantastic cruise on the Zambezi with a couple from Harare who were celebrating an anniversary. We had a fun and lively conversation while enjoying snacks and sundowners. I really couldn’t have enough time on the river, especially with no other boats or helicopters about!
Matetsi River Lodge
My final night in Zim was spent at Matetsi River Lodge. On arrival we had to run into the lodge as a lashing rainstorm moved in. From the shelter of the main area we watched a truly magnificent storm over the Zambezi! Wind, sideways rain, waves on the river…I haven’t seen anything like it!
Despite having had a light snack on the drive out of Hwange, I opted to order a light lunch at the lodge and I’m happy I did! There is a varied menu for every meal at Matetsi that includes a fish and vegetarian choice (in addition to meat) for entrees. I had a super refreshing and delicious deconstructed beet salad. That might not excite everyone, but it’s just what I needed that afternoon. I was then shown to my expansive (1,000 sq ft!) suite, situated along Matetsi’s 15km of private river frontage. With a private veranda and plunge pool, huge soaking tub, indoor and outdoor seating areas, indoor/outdoor rain showers, minibar, private butler service and, and, and (!), one could be quite content just indulging in the luxurious surroundings. Matetsi also has a two-bedroom family suite, as well as a four-bedroom private villa. All embrace the same level of luxury and exclusivity.
Matetsi is worth exploring! Its 136,000 hectare private game reserve is home to myriad wildlife, and on our evening game drive we caught sight of lots of animals including large elephant herds. The reserve is quite scenic and beautiful as well. River cruises, canoeing and Falls visits are also options for guests. One extra-thoughtful touch on the game drive (in addition to cozy blankets, as well as lovely drinks and snacks) were safety goggles for the night drive back. During a night drive, the spotlight can attract insects, so having that extra eye protection was welcomed. We even spotted a genet on the way back to the lodge.
I also had just enough time to make use of the spa. I was excited to see its open-air design – just what I had been hoping for. While we of course wore masks during my treatment, it was reassuring to know that I was surrounded by fresh air. It was also incredibly soothing to hear the birdsong and sounds of the river while enjoying a pedicure.
Victoria Falls has something for everyone, and right now is the most astonishing time to visit in recent history. New Frontiers’ Bronwyn lives in the Falls and will ensure your guests enjoy every moment. With just a bit of information, she can help you design the best experience, from lodging to activities, for your travelers.