Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 8 December 2019

Hotel Insider: Mpala Jena, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Having opened earlier this year, this luxury lodge is close to Victoria Falls but sufficiently far upstream that you feel genuinely isolated

Mpala Jena luxury tented lodge. Courtesy Andrew Howard Photo
Mpala Jena luxury tented lodge. Courtesy Andrew Howard Photo

The welcome

It takes an hour and 15 minutes to get here from Victoria Falls International Airport and all transfers are included in the price. The lodge managers will be there to greet you with cooling drinks, and your bags will be spirited away to your chalet tent as you are escorted riverside to enjoy the stupendous views over the Zambezi.

The neighbourhood

Surrounded by sausage, waterberry and rain trees, Mpala Jena is located on the southern (Zimbabwean) bank of the Zambezi River, 20 kilometres upstream from Victoria Falls, in a private concession (meaning only Mpala Jena guests are allowed) of the Zambezi National Park. The lodge offers game drives, walking safaris and boat trips with top-class guides. Intensified anti-poaching patrols have helped to increase wildlife numbers in recent years, so there’s the opportunity to spot large numbers of resident elephants, as well as lion, buffalo, hippo, crocodile, giraffe, zebra and impala.

There are only four guests tents in the camp. Courtesy Andrew Howard Photo
There are only four guests tents in the camp. Courtesy Andrew Howard Photo

The scene

Owned by Great Plains Conservation, which runs equally high quality sister lodges in Kenya and Botswana, Mpala Jena (meaning white impala after a legendary local albino), is part owned by conservationist filmmakers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert. All the lodge’s energy needs are supplied by its solar farm and the wood used in its construction is from recycled hardwoods. The interior design of the main lodge area is extremely elegant with teak and ebony tables, and super-sized canvas prints of Beverly Joubert’s photographs decorating the walls.

The room

Mpala Jena has only four guest tents, all offering panoramic views over the river. Designed in Moroccan style with predominantly neutral colours to blend in with the bush background, the lodge makes full use of locally sourced stone and wood for floors and furniture. Each tent has a chill-out area with a desk, while the en-suite bathroom includes a bath, shower and double basins behind curved stone screens. There is also an exercise bike on hand, should the you feel the need. Outside, overlooking the river, there is a plunge pool and shower. Guests in the two-bedroom family suite can enjoy meals cooked by their own chef and have their own car and driver.

The lodge offers game drives, walking safaris and boat trips with top-class guides. Courtesy Andrew Howard Photo
The lodge offers game drives, walking safaris and boat trips with top-class guides. Courtesy Andrew Howard Photo

The service

The lodge managers have worked in the bush for more than 20 years and understand the secret of running a lodge. The combination of efficient service with genuine warmth helps turn the luxurious surroundings into a truly memorable experience.

The Food

All Great Plains lodges are renowned for their gourmet offerings and Mpala Jena is no exception. The head chef was trained in a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Cape Winelands. The menu includes both delicious fish and meat dishes with an emphasis on the freshest local produce imaginatively served. Guests can eat together around a single table or at separate tables on the deck overlooking the river, before enjoying after-dinner cocktails around the campfire. Private dinners can also be served in the tents.

Loved

Our hugely talented guide, Bulisando (‘Buli’), was a walking encyclopaedia of bird species and was able to mimic most of them.

The lodge is located 20km upstream from Victoria Falls. Courtesy Andrew Howard Photo
The lodge is located 20km upstream from Victoria Falls. Courtesy Andrew Howard Photo

Hated

Knowing we would have to leave.

The Verdict

A top-end lodge experience apart from, but in easy reach, of the busy Victoria Falls area.

The bottom line

Dh3,904 per person including all meals, wildlife viewing and airport transfers.

Updated: November 19, 2019 06:17 PM

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