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Honest reviews of four hotels and lodges plus ten restaurants we went to in Zambia

“Zambia. Now where exactly is that?”


This was the initial response we got from many people when we told them of our plans to take a two and a half week trip to Zambia. We explained it is a landlocked country in southern Africa, and that we have family there we’ve been wanting to go visit. Invariably, the next response was a wide-eyed,


“You have family there?”


Yes. My husband’s sister married a man from Zambia. All of his family is still there, and they were anxious for us to come for a visit. We jumped at the chance. Much of the visit was centered around treating my brother-in-law’s oldest sister (who raised him like a son) to her first-ever vacation—a chance to visit the scenic places in her own country she had never seen. We pulled out all the stops and treated her to the trip of a lifetime. It was not at all the way Andy and I usually travel (we are shoestring budget-types who thrive on rebranding “cheap” and calling it “adventurous” instead), but because the trip was designed to honor a well-respected elder, we took everything up a notch.


The following is a series of honest reviews of four hotels and lodges, plus ten restaurants we patronized while we were there.


 

LODGING:


Lusaka – Holiday Inn/Hotel Intercontinental

Honestly, this is the nicest Holiday Inn I have ever experienced. It is located very close to Embassy Row in the capital city and caters to the international business and political community. The staff is exceptional in every way. During our initial two-night stay and subsequent one night stay, we felt like honored guests at every turn, and it seemed they went out of their way to meet any possible need that could possibly arise. They even made a special dessert and sang to me when one of my travel partners confided I was celebrating my birthday.


Upon entering, the main lobby of the facility itself feels modern and inviting by our western standards. It is safe, spotless, and graciously appointed, with clean marble floors, attractive art, and a light and airy feel. The rooms are spacious, contemporary, and lack nothing. The beds are extremely comfortable with high-end linens; the fancy showers have excellent water pressure and endless hot water; the closets and dressers provide more than ample storage, as well as a handy personal safe. Everything is in excellent repair. Nothing requires maintenance or needs updating.


With all of us being fitness-minded, we were happy to have complimentary guest access to a nice local gym with a large outdoor lap pool, only a short walk from the hotel. We made use of that facility first thing each morning.


Four people, two dark skinned, two light, engaged in conversation at a modern-looking wooden table strewn with assorted coffee and tea service, all bathed in early morning sunlight. Behind them is a large breakfast buffet.
Lingering in the breakfast room of the Holiday Inn, Lusaka

Then there is the breakfast. While it was not complimentary with the rate we paid, it was well worth adding. In fact, after the first of the three mornings at the Lusaka Holiday Inn, we intentionally arranged our morning schedule so we would have ample time to linger over breakfast—at least an hour. The buffet consists of a massive spread of hot and cold options, arranged attractively at several different stations, featuring all the favorite breakfast foods of several nations, plus a full-service omelet bar and a large selection of artful and delicious baked goods. Truly, a person could fill several plates at that breakfast buffet and eat until they are overly stuffed, and they still will not do justice to all the options available.


Though separate businesses, the Holiday Inn shares its facility with the four-star Hotel Intercontinental, whose entrance is accessed from the opposite side of the building. We walked around the corner to the Intercontinental one evening and were impressed with the understated opulence of its lobby, a decided step up in presentation. We enjoyed a lovely patio dinner there at their fine indoor/outdoor restaurant, which is set in a lushly landscaped courtyard, overlooking the pool.


Livingstone – Radisson Blu Mosi-oa-Tunya

Wow. This property, only six months old at the time of our June 2023 visit, is easily the nicest place Andy and I have ever stayed. Mosi-oa-Tunya is the more commonly used indigenous name for Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Directly translated, the name means “The Smoke that Thunders”—entirely appropriate, since the roaring falls are partially shrouded in a thick cloud of mist when the water is high.


Located directly on the banks of the Zambezi River, which serves as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the new Radisson Blu is close enough to Mosi-oa-Tunya to see the “smoke,” the heavy cloud of mist where the land suddenly drops off. In the quiet of the evenings, guests can hear the soft roar of the waterfall in the distance—a most pleasant white noise.


Very modern looking building with multiple levels and architectural details in multiple different textures, with a paving stone driveway, all set against a cloudless blue sky.
Front entrance of Radisson Blu Mosi-oa-Tunya in Livingstone

The hotel is located just outside the town of Livingstone, within the boundaries of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. As a fiercely protected wildlife reserve, the land surrounding the resort is wild. Elephants roam freely, as do crocodiles. There are electrified fences surrounding the immediate confines of the hotel itself, but there are warning signs posted everywhere—the animals have the right of way here, not the humans. It felt to us a little like Jurassic Park. On numerous occasions, we had the privilege of watching wild elephants right from our room’s balcony, or from one of the outdoor patios. Also from the patio, we could watch a local pod of hippos directly across the river. The location is truly amazing.


But the facility, the staff, and the food would be worth the visit, no matter where it was located. The hotel itself is a sprawling complex that includes the open air main reception area and the guest room buildings, the villas, the restaurants and bars, the meandering courtyard with multiple levels of patios and observation decks, a campfire ring, pools, meeting facilities, a children’s daycare/activity center (which looked so fun I wanted to be a kid), a state-of-the-art gym, a tennis court, and a mini-golf course. Oh, and their own double-decker riverboat is docked along the shore, ready for scenic cruises. All of it is top-notch, impeccably landscaped with dramatic nighttime lighting, and every bit of it is impossibly clean.


Four people, two dark skinned and two light, engaged in conversation on the patio of a resort at night, surrounded by lush vegetation and interesting architecture, all accentuated by patio lights against a dark sky. Each has a different beverage.
Evening at the Radisson Blue Mosi-oa-Tunya in Livingstone

The staff is beyond friendly and helpful, to a level of service I have never experienced—not even close. It is very obvious the management must treat the employees well, as everyone we met was incredibly gracious. Somehow every member of the team conveys an attitude of being luxuriously relaxed and willing to immediately drop everything to meet a need or do a special favor, while at the same time being completely professional, attentive, and hard-working enough to make sure everything is done at the highest level of precision. It’s an amazing talent they have, to get all the work accomplished while never looking busy and always happy to stop and talk.


The rooms are lovely and well-appointed—no detail overlooked—as modern and stylish as could be expected for a brand-new property. Even a standard room has an attractive balcony containing its own table and chairs—and upgrading to a river view room is worth the meager increase in price. The beds are comfortable, the linens crisp and fresh, the bathroom thoughtfully designed with a wonderful shower. Storage is more than sufficient, with multiple options of dresser drawers, shelves, and closet space, plus a private safe. I did find myself wishing there was a mosquito net available, as a location right on the riverbank does tend to accumulate a few mosquitoes, particularly when the door is open during maid service. The resort provides spray, but I personally would prefer a net. I wrote the management about it and received a very kind, personal reply. They thanked me for my input and said they are considering adding the option of mosquito nets.


The food at Radisson Blu Mosi-oa-Tunya is spectacular. Our first evening there, we had dinner on the patio of the main restaurant. It was a buffet of Zambian classics and quite tasty. The breakfast buffet was amazing all five mornings. I didn’t think anything could top the breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Lusaka, but the Radisson managed to do it. Plan plenty of time to linger, eat slowly, and go back for seconds and thirds. I have never seen a breakfast so full of options and so artfully displayed. It is really quite overwhelming at first, but we were all happy to adjust. We found a rhythm of eating a very large, late breakfast, then skipping lunch. No one was hungry again until dinner time, but we never felt uncomfortably full from heavy food. Everything was delicious and healthful, and the coffee/tea service was spectacular.


Our sunset river cruise was absolutely stunning. They provide “light snacks” that are really enough to suffice as a light meal, even though you are encouraged to order a meal from the restaurant to be ready for you when you disembark. The bar on the boat is well-stocked with anything you could possibly imagine, and there is no limit. The captain and crew are helpful at spotting wildlife and explaining what guests are seeing along the riverbanks. We dressed up for the cruise, and it was a highlight of the trip. The photos from it will be treasured. Don’t miss it.


Kitwe – Sherbourne Hotel (not the Sherbourne Lodge)

It’s not fair, I suppose, to go straight from the Radisson to the Sherbourne. It is a perfectly acceptable hotel in a convenient location in the middle of town, but it would be impossible for it to meet the same standard of excellence. It was never meant to be a four-star facility.


Although the facility itself looks quite fancy from the outside, in the United States, the Sherbourne would be rated 2 stars. The rooms are adequate, but nothing special, and completely inconsistent. Our room, for instance, was fairly small and cramped, with a small bathroom. It looked like it was originally very nice, but had not been well-maintained over the years and felt a little run-down. But the bed—which was unfortunately quite uncomfortable—had a mosquito net, which we appreciated tremendously. There was a room safe, but it didn’t work, so we had to carry all our valuables with us. Another family members’ room, on the other hand, was quite spacious and felt newer. They had a large jetted tub in their attractive bathroom, but although the hooks were on the ceiling, there was no mosquito net provided for the bed, not even when they asked the front desk for one. Their bed was likewise uncomfortable. Both rooms were listed as the same category and booked at the same time for the same rate.


The restaurant at the Sherbourne Hotel is fairly limited. Our dinner the first night was simple, but sufficient—nothing to get excited about. We had arrived quite late and were hungry, so we were grateful the restaurant was still open. The breakfast buffet the next morning was quite limited and simple—again, basically sufficient, but not what I would call “nice.”


The hotel staff did not fill us with confidence and barely acknowledged our comings and goings. There was very little of the overt friendliness we experienced at the Holiday Inn in Lusaka or the Radisson Blu in Livingstone. The wifi was not functional during our entire stay. When we asked the hotel front desk to find us a taxi that could accommodate four people and all of our luggage, they arranged for a minivan that was so dirty and so ramshackle—held together with twine and duct tape—that it barely looked road-worthy. Again, though, it was sufficient.


Perhaps your experience will be different, but after two nights there, we opted to find another location for our remaining nights in Kitwe.


Kitwe – Lunte Lodge (Mpezeni Ave.)

The grounds of the Lunte Lodge are quite lovely. The front gate is secure, staffed all night, and the well-landscaped courtyard is very clean and tidy. The guest rooms are remarkably spacious—the largest we encountered—well-designed with plenty of storage and sitting areas, and very attractive, each with their own nice sitting porch. The location is excellent—close to town and just down the road within easy walking distance of two great restaurants (Magnolia Restaurant at Mukwa Lodge, and Havmore, see below).


Two people, one dark skinned, one light, sit on a wicker sofa on an outdoor patio with a clean brown tile floor. In front of them is a lush green courtyard accentuated with a wide variety of tropical plants and trees, as well as a paving stone walkway.
The peaceful courtyard at the Lunte Lodge in Kitwe

I would love to love this place. Instead, I like it. It’s nice--nicer than the Sherbourne Hotel—but we didn’t love it.


The breakfast consists of eggs, consistently overcooked sausage and bacon, and beans. Cartons of yogurt and a bowl of apples are also available. It is sufficient, but not particularly tasty. If it weren’t included with the price of our rooms, we might have gone elsewhere.


The pool water is noticeably cloudy—not something we were willing to try while we were there. All the equipment in the fitness gym is broken, even though they told us when we checked in that the only thing broken was one of the two treadmills. The gaps around the guest room doorways are significant enough that we stuffed the cracks with fabric in order to keep the critters out. There are no safes in the rooms. And, just like the Sherbourne, the beds are very uncomfortable. The staff is pleasant, but shy. We didn’t have much interaction with anyone. We did stay there three nights, but only because we were busy and didn’t want to have to pack up and move again. I can’t say I would recommend it wholeheartedly—especially if your back needs a decent bed. It was ok, attractive and peaceful even, but not great. A few improvements—notably the beds—would make this a wonderful property.


 

RESTAURANTS:


Lusaka – Nando’s (Lewanika Mall)

Nando’s, a Zambian chain, is one of the best fast-food restaurants I have ever encountered. The chicken is delicious, seasoned to perfection, and the accompanying sides are tasty. The restaurant is clean and the staff efficient. When you just need something quick that will fill everyone up, skip the Hungry Lion if you can find a Nando’s instead.


Lusaka – 1903 - A Harley Davidson Café

This place is likely popular with tourists from the United States. We didn’t choose it, but we were taken there for drinks by our Zambian hosts on our first night in the country. They probably assumed we would feel right at home. It feels very American with Harley Davidson logos and memorabilia everywhere you look. Their menu is also very American, burgers and fries and such, in addition to the beer and cocktails. No complaints, but definitely not something we would choose, as it felt like we were back home, instead of someplace new to explore.


Kafue – Chita Lodge

After a sunset cruise on the Kafue River, our local hosts took us to dinner at the lovely patio restaurant of this expansive lodge. The grounds are truly lovely, and the traditional thatch roofs are quite charming. The restaurant has no problem accommodating large groups and the service is prompt and attentive. The food, mostly traditional fare, was well-received by our crowd. The bream got rave reviews. I opted for the sausage and my jaw dropped when I saw it—it was the largest sausage I have ever seen in my life, coiled onto the plate so it would fit! Needless to say, we needed several take-away boxes. Even if you only come to enjoy a drink, do check out the Chita Lodge, particularly after dark. The atmosphere is enchanting.


Livingstone – Café Zambezi

There is so much more to this place than initially meets the eye out front. After passing through a very plain and simple store front, guests are escorted into a series of open-air courtyards, one of which contains a bar alongside the pool. The walls of the courtyards are painted in bold, brightly colored murals, and trees and landscaping provide some shade and a lush environment. Really, it is a lovely little treasure, hidden behind such a plain storefront entrance. The food did not impress us as anything special, and the impala in my stew was chewy and tough, but the crocodile was tender and delicious. Their selection of traditional staples is broad, and the basics seem to be done well. It is satisfactory, but not impressive. However, the charming environment would tempt me to go back again anyway.


Two dark skinned women, one older and one younger, sit at a table looking at menus. Behind them is a brightly painted wall covered with a mural of colorful tribal women carrying baskets on their heads.
Lunch in one of the courtyards of Cafe Zambezi in Livingstone

Livingstone – Sea Spice

We were wandering Lusaka on foot and hungry when we came upon this place, checked out the menu, and decided to give it a try. We are glad we did! This place is a delightfully unexpected treat. For a landlocked country, the seafood is quite fresh, well prepared, and served creatively. Everything we sampled was delicious, the prices are more than fair, and the service is friendly and professional. Our meal on the patio was a lovely end to a long day. We would definitely go back.


Kitwe – Nobotula Lodge

Some friends from Kitwe took us here one night. The lodge is set back in a very quiet residential area of the Parklands neighborhood—everything hidden behind tall security gates so you wouldn’t even know what is there. Pulling into Nobotula’s property is like stepping into another world, a hidden paradise. We opted to eat on the patio of their restaurant and enjoyed several joyful hours of eating and drinking and laughing together. The staff is very attentive and the grounds attractive. The food is wonderful and, all-in-all, we passed a very pleasant evening there. We should have looked into lodging options there, too. Next time, perhaps.


Kitwe – Lisa’s Matebeto

A matebeto restaurant is a unique open-air casual dining experience that ought to be enjoyed at least once during any visit to Zambia. The meal is Zambian food served family style—you select which meat option you prefer, and they bring all the side dishes that accompany it, including plenty of nshima. Everything is shared from the bowls and platters in the middle of the table, and in true Zambian style, no utensils are used. Clean your hands first at the washing station, please. Everything at Lisa’s was delicious and we all ate until we were stuffed.


Three men, one light skinned and two dark skinned, engaged in conversation at a table covered with empty or mostly empty dishes and plates. The building is open air on the sides.
Stuffed after lunch at Lisa's Matebeto restaurant

Kitwe – Marigold Restaurant at Mukwa Lodge (Mpezeni Ave.)

This became our favorite restaurant during our time in Kitwe. We ate there four times! The prices are not cheap, according to Zambian standards, but compared to dinner out in the United States, it is still a great deal. Their menu is vast; everything we tried was absolutely delicious and beautifully served; the staff is friendly and welcoming; and the atmosphere is very pleasant, with options for both indoor and outdoor seating. As an added novelty, the restaurant/lodge has four African gray parrots in an enormous cage next to the restaurant. We found their daytime chatter amusing and seeing them all cuddled up to sleep at night was adorable. I don’t recommend going here if you are in a hurry, as they advertise that after ordering you can expect 30-40 minutes before your meal is served, but we didn’t mind that at all. They prepare everything fresh and that takes time. There are plenty of great options from the bar to enjoy while you wait.


Kitwe – Havmore

Our last night in Kitwe we decided to try something different, not because we were dissatisfied with our meals at Mukwa Lodge, but because this one was right next door and the name, a play on have more, amused us. We were pleasantly surprised to find excellent food here, as well, although the menu is not as broad—almost entirely Indian food. The staff is friendly and accommodating, and the prices are lower than what we paid at Mukwa. If you like authentic Indian food, Havmore is a great option. If you need to pay with a credit card issued by someplace other than one of the local banks, though, be sure to call first to make sure they accept them. We ran into a bit of an issue when it came to pay the bill, as they had a new system that was currently not accepting non-local cards. It will likely be fixed soon.


Kitwe – the bars of Buchi

If you are accompanied by a local host and want to see the Zambian equivalent of the dive bar scene, go to Buchi for a few drinks. One whole narrow dirt road is littered with low-light bars, some with music playing, some quiet; some crowded and some sparsely populated. Everyone has their favorite—the place where everyone knows their name. This is not the most reputable part of town, mind you, and when we told other locals we had gone out for drinks in Buchi, it definitely raised a few eyebrows. While inside a small tavern lit by a blue neon sign, drinking and dancing, our local host slipped outside to one of the street vendors and bought us some grilled goat meat to share, a typical snack to accompany a night of drinking. We couldn’t see what we were eating, but the flavor was good. I do believe there was some tripe (offal) in the mix, too, though I can’t be certain because it was so dark. The Buchi experience would not be my first choice of a way to spend an evening, but our host wanted us to see it, and I’m glad we did.


Two women, both dark skinned, and two men, one light and one dark, are dancing in a darkened bar with rustic African styling. The photo is blurred from the motion in low light.
Drinks and dancing at a bar in Buchi

 

If we were to go back to Zambia on our own, we would likely eat at more matebeto places, small local establishments recommended to us by locals, and sample more street food, as this is more our style of travel, but eating at so many nice restaurants was a real treat for a change. No complaints here!

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