What do you do when you get invited on a four-day sojourn to visit The Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara? You pack with lightning speed and wait at the airport, passport in hand. Heléne Ramackers was fortunate to visit one of the shiniest jewels on the Anantara crown.
I’ve always wondered what all the fuss is about whenever someone waxes lyrical about the Victoria Falls. Seen one waterfall, seen them all … When the opportunity presented itself to go and see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, I didn’t hesitate. Thanks to Minor Hotels, my trip was arranged in record time and I set off for the heart of Africa.
My flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg connected me onto Harry Mwaangwa Nkumbula International Airport, where the sweltering heat engulfs you when you step off the plane. A long line through customs and passport control has you thanking your lucky stars that there is some form of ventilation in the airport building. “Welcome to Zambia” a friendly customs official announces as he stamps my passport and I point myself in the direction of the luggage carousel. I have little hope that my suitcase has winged its way to my final point of arrival as the plane had a technical problem in Cape Town and we got bumped onto an already full flight. How they managed to identify my luggage and put in on the correct flight is a miracle in itself but there it is – my suitcase!
Filled with elation, I am met by the very friendly Catherine from Bushtracks Africa, a key partner of The Royal Livingstone by Anantara, who discusses my itinerary with me while my driver Aston loads my luggage into the waiting vehicle. He drives me through the historic town of Livingstone and drops me off at the jetty where a refreshing juice and my transport to the hotel await my arrival. I am loaded onto my water taxi by Mathew and Miyanda and they careen down the great Zambezi River, expertly getting us through the rapids. We dock riverside adjacent to the sundeck and I am welcomed by Joyce Sikabbubba, Public Relations Manager and Naji Esta, Hotel Manager, both at The Royal Livingstone Hotel. After some refreshing iced tea, a spa therapist appears to treat me to a relaxing hand massage.
I am taken to my impressive Deluxe Corner Suite where my butler, Kennedy is at hand to cater to my every whim. My room is everything I hoped for, and more. The King sized bed is covered in the finest white linen and at night, the mosquito net is elegantly draped to keep any pesky buzzers out. I have the luxury of all the comforts that make me feel right at home – Wifi, air conditioning, tea and coffee-making facilities, a mini bar, satellite television and a laundry service. The bathroom is equipped with an inviting tub, but my favorite is the rain shower where I wash the day away with the wonderful fragrant complimentary Molton Brown shower gel.
Even though there are 169 rooms and 4 suites, the layout of the site is so cleverly designed that you hardly ever encounter your neighbor. I quickly unpack and drink in my surroundings – I look up and there’s a zebra grazing right in front of my patio and to his right an impala is nibbling on some grass. To my left is the crystal clear pool where you have unparalleled views of the Zambezi River and in the distance, you can see the smoke rising from the Victoria Falls.
A big drawcard to visiting Zambia is the Victoria Falls and at The Royal Livingstone by Anantara, I am just ten minutes away from unlimited access to this magnificence. It is impossible to describe the magnitude and the beauty of ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. It is something you have to experience at least once in your life. With a drop of 108 meters down the sheer rockface and a width of 1,700 meters, the multitude of water cascading can be heard from afar when approaching The Falls. I stand there, mesmerized by something so extraordinary that it takes my breath away.
The evening sunsets are so jaw-dropping that you will linger long after the sun has disappeared. Dinner is served in the Dining Room and I order the slow braised lamb with parmesan and garden pea nshima cake and rosemary jus. Meals at The Royal Livingstone by Anantara are well-thought through and come with the freshest ingredients. Executive chef John Easingwood changes the menu every three days so you should never have the same meal twice. There is definitely something for every palate.
It is day two and my guide, Mwaka Chilinga collects me in an open Land Cruiser for my game drive. We stop at the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, at 6600 hectares it is the second smallest game park in Zambia. Our first sighting is of a Puku, followed by some warthogs, buffalo and the very graceful Angolian giraffe. After a picnic stop where I am served coffee and muffins, we head to a different part of the park. Mwaka parks our vehicle and gestures that I climb out as we are going to see the rhinos. Hesitant at first, I soon realize that this isn’t your average rhino sighting. We are soon met by Kapoko, alias Kilo and three other guides carrying rifles. I am informed that we will now be walking to the rhinos, on foot, in single file and that we should listen to his commands. He is with them every day and knows when it is not safe to approach them. Under a tree, I am met by the most incredible sighting of a mother and her eight-month old calf. The calf is making dolphin-like sounds, indicating that she wants to nurse. The rest of the rhinos are peacefully resting in the shade. What an honour to be amongst these endangered animals!
Back at the hotel, I indulge in a lovely English breakfast in The Royal Livingstone Dining Room after which I take respite in my air-conditioned room. Next on my agenda is a 15 minute flight over the Falls in a helicopter. We are met at reception and driven to United Air Charter where we are briefed on our flight path and safety measures that we have to follow. Excitement is evident as we make our way to the helicopter which has already been started by the pilot. We get strapped in, handed our headphones and there we go! Nothing prepares you for the ‘flight of angels’, the unbridled scenery and seeing the falls from the sky. This is awe-struck and thunderstruck rolled into one.
High tea is served in The Royal Livingstone Lounge, where you are reminded of the bygone era of colonial splendor when faced with a life-sized painting of Sir David Livingstone. The treats for High tea are impeccably displayed, with a choice of quiches and cakes to delight your taste buds. I opt for the Flourless chocolate cake and the Black Forest offering. I think I’ve died and gone to chocoholic heaven!
Dinner is a candlelit affair under the monkey tree. I am lucky enough to experience the Dining by Design concept, exclusive to Anantara. This is a special dinner created authentically for you, with personal butlers and a chef attending to your every need. I am joined by Joyce and thankful for her side-splitting company. The food is excellent; I order the fillet of beef and complete the meal with some mouth-watering chocolate mousse.
My next morning is spent at leisure and I awake early with a skirmish in the garden. I take a look to see vervet monkeys scavenging for anything to eat. I notice a tiny infant, clutched tightly by its mother.
A visit to Livingstone Island is scheduled for the morning and a flat hull speedboat whisks you over the rapids at high-speed. On Livingstone Island, you are given a guided tour of the falls and can then opt for a swim like no other in the world. The friendly and helpful guides from Tongabezi ensure that you are comfortable and know what you are in for. For your swim, you make your way across the rocks in the Zambezi River and your final destination is a whirling mass of water about one meter from the edge of the Victoria Falls, appropriately called the Devil’s Pool. After this adrenaline filled activity, lunch is served under a gazebo where you indulge in muffins, Eggs Benedict and coffee or tea.
Muli, my Spa therapist is hard at work on my foot ritual. Your feet are softened by the combination of milk and salt crystals, which work wonders as an exfoliation agent. My 60 minute Zambezi massage has me drifting into dreamland it is so relaxing. Muli uses a detox oil containing ginger, juniper and cinnamon.
It is time for dinner on the Royal Livingstone Express Steam Train. Joseph, our Bushtracks bus driver takes us to the train where champagne welcomes your red-carpet arrival. The steam train sets off for the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and on the bridge, you are cajoled to climb off to take a closer look at this beautiful piece of history. Dinner comes with all the trimmings – a six-course meal, starting with cauliflower soup, salmon fishcake, mushroom risotto, lamb shoulder with polenta, lemon tart and the most delicious biscotti, which you can wash down with your beverage of choice.
It is time to pack up and start my journey home. I am suddenly overcome with sadness, thinking I have to leave this magical place. Little did I know, I left a piece of my heart in Africa.
Thank you to Minor Hotels for putting such a wonderful trip together. I would recommend travelers seeking to visit Zambia to visit the iconic Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara.
Note: Views expressed are the author’s own.