After having my arm twisted to leave my computer and my family behind…I accepted the invitation to visit the Islands of Siankaba, a lovely lodge set on a sand island in the Zambezi River just upstream from the Victoria Falls in Zambia. Here are my travel notes and impressions.
I flew directly from breezy Cape Town to Livingstone. October and November are known as suicide months due to the high temperature build up prior to the rainy season. On arrival the heat hit me like a brick wall. It was just on 40’C on the tarmac for sure. A total shock to my English rose system! But thank goodness for charming, smiling Joanah (my Islands of Siankaba driver), who met me with a bottle of iced water and an air-conditioned vehicle.
The road north out of Livingstone is terrible for the first 2 kms (road works and stop go’s) and then it’s great and has been recently re-surfaced all the way to the Siankaba turn off.
Islands of Siankaba is located further north than most of the other Victoria Falls lodges and the journey up to Siankaba definitely adds to feeling of having travelled to a remote destination. Then add the little boat trip from the mainland to the island which on first impressions reminded me of what it might be like on a river in the Mekong or even a mini mini version of the Amazon – big trees overhanging and dipping into the water, reeds, that warm river water smell, birdsong, dragonflies, cicadas and other big sounding insects!
The boat from the mainland (where there is little reception area) is a motorized pontoon with deck chairs. I was given a large black umbrella for shade. I felt like Mrs Livingstone!
On the approach the tented chalets look very alluring and romantic from the water. The main lodge is on one sand island and the chalets on another. And so to access them, I had to walk along a series of boardwalks raised on stilts and a very cool swing rope bridge which again was reminiscent of a rope bridge I’d seen in Southeast Asia. Seeing local fishermen gliding by in their dug out canoes in the distance made me feel as though I’d been transported to a much further away exotic tropical destination.
The tented chalets are nice with a romantic tree house feel and it must be impressive during high water season with river literally flowing beneath the deck and hippos grunting not far away. The honeymoon suite with private sala furthest away is amazing. It also has best view of golden red sunrise.
Compared to the peace and quiet of leafy southern suburbs of Cape Town, it was really noisy at night. The bull frog chorus was loud and I was woken up by assorted ‘wild things’ sounds which included screeching, crunching, splashes and even some weird knocking which I discovered was a bird eating insects that were attracted to the outside lights beneath the chalet.
Islands of Siankaba is great for honeymooners – from the paradise island feel to the tented chalet on stilts tucked away in the trees to the double bed lounger at the pool, the quaint little spa. There are also lots of options for private activities and meals.
The staff were charming and eager to please. 85 % are from the local village. At meals a few things did tend to get lost in translation, but nothing serious.
The sundowner cruise on the same pontoon was beautiful. A slow putt putt up river past the hippos to a little sand island for drinks and then a slow zig zag back again. It was fun being in the middle of the mighty Zambezi River between two countries.
A nice unexpected surprise was wifi (albeit slow) on the island. In public areas only.
The following morning I went on the Village Walk tour with young guide called Sydney who is from the village. I think that because the village is so obviously connected to the lodge, guests would (should) feel an obligation to visit to the village out of respect. Seeing the school is the best part of the tour as it’s there that you see all the results of sponsors and funding. A neat, well-equipped set up with lovely enthusiastic teacher, Malindi, who is one of Siankaba’s success stories. Kids are in 2 classes of 3 and 4 year olds and 5 and 6 year olds. All in uniforms and shoes sponsored by the lodge and sewn by the village tailor.
Malindi hosted dinner at the lodge one of the evenings. The idea being that guests can ask him lots of personal, village and education questions. But he doesn’t force it upon the guests, which was a good thing.
I did the Nature Walk with same guide – a 45 minute walk around the island learning about the trees, their medicinal uses and local beliefs. It is best done in the early morning when the birds are more active.
I went on an afternoon Mokoro Ride with Sector and loved it! Sector poled us up onto some rocks in the middle of the Zambezi for the occasion of pouring my gin & tonic! The birdlife was amazing, there were hippos in the distance and he had some interesting local stories to tell me about the river.
After a very early morning wake up call (which wasn’t unpleasant as it was beautiful to sip my coffee and watch the sunrise over the river) we drove back to Livingstone in time for Livingstone Island tour which included a dip in The Devil’s Pool. The Devils Pool swim was awesome – just like the zillions of photos and YouTube clips that I’d seen.
I did the tour of the Falls on the Zambian side with Joanah. It took about an hour and a bit. Admittedly there was not much water but it was interesting to see into the rocky skeleton of the Falls and to imagine how impressive it must be awesome in the high water season.
When I got back to what now felt like MY island, a swim in the very pretty pool was a prerequisite. I’d learnt by now that in the heat of the late afternoon, the coolest place was near the river, under trees as opposed to in my sweltering suite. Plus the pool area has Wifi!
I was treated to a complimentary neck and shoulders massage by the resident therapist, Memory. She was very sweet and her little spa next to the pool is fresh and light and airy.
A highlight was a Birding Mokoro excursion. Sector poled me off downstream and in and out the quiet water channels, looking for birds. Then he parked the mokoro and took me tip toeing through a little riverine woodland of Fever Trees. We must have seen over 25 species of birds in 25 minutes. I was in my element! Plus Sector had some great myths and stories to tell me about the common resident ones.
And then, sadly, it was time to say goodbye and thank you to all the delightful people at Islands of Siankaba and head back to Cape Town. By the way, being at Livingstone Airport for the required 2 hours before the international flight as not too bad at all as it was air-conditioned with excellent Wifi.