I'm sipping bubbly from a crystal flute on Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel's terrace. The sun is pleasantly warming my face, and that sweet summery scent of blossoming flowers and freshly cut grass is in the air. The extensive upstairs terrace overlooks a flawlessly manicured lawn with flower beds and towering trees. And then, almost abruptly, it ends where the land is left to its own devices, growing wild and free. I'm watching baboons scale a massive tree, particularly a little one failing miserably. He keeps plummeting to the ground. But then he just gets right back up and tries again. Other than the comedic baboons, I can see a couple of zebras, kudu, impala, a lone giraffe, and a flurry of bird species. You can hear them, too, each species adding its own note to the symphony of the bush. This African Eden was already delivering, and we've only just arrived...
Big 5 Safari in a Private Game Reserve
I'm visiting Zimbabwe with my colleague Kadda, and we've been looking forward to staying at Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel. In particular, because it's on the only Big 5 reserve in the area.
When we arrive, we immediately notice how quiet this boutique hotel is when compared to Victoria Falls town. It's a little bit further away from the Falls, which some might see as a downside. However, it's not at all, as this means you don't have to listen to the repetitive whirring noises of the daily helicopter tours overhead. Plus, it's still close enough for a quick visit as it's a short 15-minute drive to the Falls.
Birdsong and the occasional wildlife calls enhance the peaceful setting. The impala's fighting call is particularly attention-grabbing as I keep mistaking it for a lion's roar!
Stanley & Livingstone's Facelift
We meet the manager, Alan, and his passion for the hotel, Zimbabwean tourism, wildlife, and local communities is very evident. After complimenting the hotel's interior design that has kept Kadda and myself ooh-ing and aah-ing as soon as we stepped through the front doors, Alan explains how the hotel got a significant facelift just before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. After waiting so long to show off her new looks, I can attest it's worth the wait.
I could peruse the hotel for hours. There are many antique treasures, book-lined nooks, historical paintings and photographs, and just stunning modern design mixed in with the original colonial design and antiques.
The walls feature hand-drawn black and white wallpaper and wood panelling. And the touchable textures, from leather to plush materials, make it feel utterly inviting and luxurious. The fireplace always seems to be lit, the welcoming flicker and soft background music making you feel right at home.
I wander around the halls, inspecting the paintings and antiques and flipping through the books. One of my favourite parts of the hotel is a little reading nook with a grand divan in a bold flowery print. This sunny corner with windows overlooking the lush gardens is something I would pay serious money to have in my own home!
When we finally pull ourselves away from admiring the safari views, we make our way to our room. The gardens at Stanley & Livingstone are really something special. You can see that they put a lot of effort into it. It suddenly fondly reminds me of my grandmother's garden, always plucked and pruned to perfection. The Eden-like gardens suddenly hit me with unexpected nostalgia. My grandmother would've loved this place.
Home Sweet Home
We follow the scenic paved path to our room. The rooms look like traditional safari homesteads from the outside, with low-hanging thatched roofs and face brick walls. It might look unassuming from the outside, but that makes the interior much more impactful when you swing open the front door.
The same bold wallpaper, pops of colour and textures we saw in the main areas are mirrored in our room. The bathroom is very spacious with a generous shower and twin basins. Then there's the freestanding clawfoot bath, the main attraction (to me anyway!) in the room. The emerald green wood panelling and gleaming gold finishes make this a tranquil space that I'm excited to enjoy before bed.
But First, Let's Go Swimming
The weather is fantastic in Victoria Falls, and Kadda and I are excited to take a dip in the pool. Back home, Cape Town is already proving why it's called the "Cape of Storms", so getting to step back into summer is heavenly.
We wander through the gardens in the direction the manager Alan pointed us in earlier to look for the pool. We keep stopping, however, getting distracted by some bird or animal we can spot along the way.
The pool is further away from the guest accommodation and dining areas, offering you a bit more privacy. It also feels a bit like a spa because it's so hidden away. The water is refreshingly cool, even though it has been baking in the sun all day. It's just the perfect way to refresh before our next activity.
Celebrating Africa Day
When our transfer driver, Jacob, walks us to the sundowner cruise, we can hear music blaring from somewhere. It's upbeat, sounding like someone's having a jolly good party. We ask Jacob where the music is coming from.
"Oh, it's just locals celebrating Africa Day!" he responds. I feel the warmth of pride washing over me. Born and bred in Africa, I love the idea of us also celebrating this day on the Zambezi River, one of her most magnificent treasures.
We step onboard, the crew greeting us warmly. It's true what they say about Zimbabwe. The warm hospitality you experience here is just on another level.
This is (Pure) Africa
Stanley & Livingstone booked the sundowner cruise with Pure Africa on the Zambezi Explorer's Signature Deck for us. It's an experience that can be arranged for you. This cruise ship has three levels, with the signature deck being their prime seating area. And that's where we're heading now!
Your drinks and canapés are all included on this excursion. And, of course, this means we have to get something to quench our thirst ASAP! But we don't have to wait long because the radiant crew hands us bubbly when we reach the top level.
Sundowner Cruise on the Zambezi
The boat glides so silently along the Zambezi River that, at first, I don't even realise that we're on the move. The sun's warmth melts into my skin, and the sense of celebration is palpable in the air, with the guests onboard excitedly chattering away. Kadda and I had arrived first and managed to snag the two seats right at the front. So, we definitely have the best seats in the house!
As we make our way along the Zambezi River, we keep our eyes peeled for any wildlife. Crocodiles and hippos in particular! Finally, we see a pod of hippos, only the top of their heads visible. But, suddenly, the one hippo opens its mouth wide! Thank goodness I have my camera slung around my neck, and I quickly snap away to capture the moment.
Finest Show on Earth
Finally, the real show starts as the sun slowly inches toward the horizon. The closer it gets, the more the colours of the sky deepen into a warm glow, resulting in a chorus of cameras clicking away.
For a moment, I just stop and stare, overwhelmed by happiness. Time feels like it slows down. And it could be the chardonnay talking, but I feel something opening like a flower inside of me, releasing any stress, fears, and worries I've been harbouring.
The next moment, the crew gathers and starts singing in Shona, clapping and dancing along. Goosebumps spread across the full surface of my skin as I listen to their voices in this magical setting.
It's a spectacular way to end the cruise. And the perfect way to end our day.
Chasing the Sun on Safari
"Safari is like fishing, you never know what you'll find," our guide, Sikhulu, says when we set off on our game drive the next day. "Let's go see what today will bring!"
Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel is located on the 4,000-hectare Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve. Home to the Big 5, as well as some endangered species and plenty of birdlife, we're very excited to "go fishing"!
A sunset safari is one of the best ways to appreciate the bush and its wild residents. However, it also means you have limited time before it's pitch dark. But, lucky for us, since we're heading out on a private game reserve today, we can stay out after dark, something you can't do in national parks.
I immediately notice that the terrain is different from what we've seen on safari so far, as it's bright red, loose soil. "It's Kalahari sand," Sikhulu explains when I ask him about it. We keep driving over small dunes that look almost like speed bumps, making the safari feel a bit like a rollercoaster ride. A couple of us even raise our hands in the air jokingly.
"These 'speed bumps' are actually there for a reason. They help to avoid soil erosion," Sikhulu says.
The bush is thick, and the trees tower above us. I almost feel like we're driving along a red sandy tongue right into the belly of the bush.
Fool Me Once
After a while, Sikhulu stops the vehicle and points at a tree. "Can you see those nests in the tree? You will see that they're only on one side. Well, you can use them as your GPS in the bush because the nests are only ever built on the western side. The bird that makes these nests is called the wide-browed sparrow weaver. It's a long name for a little animal!" he laughs. "Although you can see many nests up in that tree, only one of them is used for breeding. The others are all decoys to fool the boomslang snake so that it will perceive them all the be empty," he adds.
I think about this for a moment. How utterly fascinating and what a clever ploy by this tiny bird!
After Sikhulu has pointed out various game to us, we head towards where we'll be having our sundowners. At one point, he also stops and picks succulent-like leaves from a tree. "Monkey's fingers," he explains before handing each of us some. The other safari guests on the drive with us seem familiar with the plant and immediately pop it into their mouths. I'm hesitant, but when I do try it, it surprises me by tasting like a gin and tonic!
We continue and, on the way, we see that our invite for the wildlife party must've gone missing in the mail. In front of us, wildlife gather in an opening as the sun sets behind them, most notably giraffes and zebras. It's such a picture-perfect moment that we spend quite some time just marvelling at the scene.
In Search of Favourites
We got so lost in the moment that time for sundowners had almost run out. And, just as we're about to leave again, Sikhulu receives word that one of his colleagues has spotted lions!
Now, Sikhulu had asked us what we really wanted to see before we drove off earlier. And as a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady, I had begged for ANY big cat! On the other hand, my colleague, Kadda wanted to see a rhino. Throughout our game drive, Sikhulu has tried to fulfill both our wishes. We got close to seeing rhinos a couple of times, too, with Skihulu shushing us and listening for any tell-tale signs of rhinos nearby. However, we somehow kept missing them.
After checking whether we wanted to skip sundowners and look for the lions instead, we're off again. This time with purpose and speed! I cling to my seat as we bump up and down, left and right. We also duck for branches now and again after fair warning from Sikhulu.
We get right to where the lions allegedly are, and there's another game drive vehicle. The other guests look at us wide-eyed, gesturing to where they saw the lions. However, upon our arrival, they seem to have disappeared like a cloud of smoke.
Suddenly, Sikhulu turns his steering wheel and drives off-road into the bush, twigs audibly breaking as we continue our search for the lions. The sun has set by now, and he's holding a red light high above his head, eagerly looking for a flash of cat eyes reflecting. The heat from the sun is slowly dispersing, some of it still hovering above the soil. However, the cold is quickly creeping in, swallowing any signs of the day.
We keep going, Sikhulu driving with renewed passion. Suddenly, two rhinos run across the road right in front of us! I look over at Kadda, a delighted smile spreading across her face in the near-dark. We finally tracked them down.
Sikhulu continues to try and find the lions, driving around until the darkness has swallowed the bush entirely. So, alas, we have to head back. He's visibly disappointed that he could not fulfil my wish of seeing a big cat.
"But Sikhulu," I say. "That's fishing for you."
Warm Welcome Home
It's our final night at Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel, and we're going all out with a three-course meal. I've selected a Hartenberg Cabernet Sauvignon wine to go with the feast. And as I sip the wine, I feel the warmth spread through my body as Kadda and I recount the game drive we just returned from.
The dining area is delightfully cosy, so much so that, when we first entered, it felt like I walked into a loved one's warm embrace. The fireplace is crackling away, soft music playing in the background, and our stomachs growling in anticipation.
1871 @ Stanley & Livingstone
As a pescatarian, I often feel a bit like an afterthought when dining out. However, the menu at their restaurant, 1871 @ Stanley & Livingstone, impressed me with its variety.
Our waiter, Brutus, is one of the most hands-on servers I've experienced. Before we even realise that our wine glasses are nearing empty, he's filled it up. However, he does not linger and seems to appear from nowhere before you realise you need him.
The Food...Oh, The Food!
I order the rocket and pecorino salad, made with fresh rocket from Stanley & Livingstone's garden, toasted pine kernels, olive oil and sea salt flakes. Brutus even offers that they add some crayfish, and I wholeheartedly accept. On the other hand, Kadda opted for the smoked kudu carpaccio for her starter, served with fresh rocket, parmesan and a drizzle of truffle oil.
For our mains, we both decide to try the grilled salmon, served with lentils, buttery fennel and a yoghurt-lemon-caper sauce. We eat in silence, just sighing with satisfaction every now and again. I'm really blown away by the food here. It's far better than I ever could've imagined.
The Sweetest Ending
I'm not really a sweet tooth, so I'm never overly excited about dessert. And after scanning the dessert menu, I'm not entirely sure what to go for. Of course, Brutus comes to the rescue once again and recommends their signature dessert, the chocolate fondant with Amarula ice cream. Amarula is a classic African liquor, creamy and delicious, and I'm excited to taste the ice cream.
When our desserts arrive, I take a big bite. And, oh my goodness, I am in heaven. The texture of the fondant, filled with the smoothest, gooiest centre, is perfection. In fact, I even groan a little. Every bite of perfect chocolate melted on my tongue with the Amarula ice cream. Seriously, this dessert should be declared royalty, in my opinion.
A Standing Ovation
After dessert, I want to give the chef a standing ovation. I mention this to Brutus. And, mere minutes later, my hero comes to us from the kitchen to introduce himself as Chef Jabulani.
The name "Jabulani" means "rejoice", and he's certainly doing it justice by spreading joy, one bite of flavour at a time.
After breakfast the following morning, we're all packed up and (not) ready to go. We make our way towards reception to say goodbye to the staff who has made our stay so special. Alan, the manager, is also there to bid us farewell.
"Did you see the rhinos out front at the lodge yesterday afternoon?" Alan asks. When we shake our heads, we suddenly realise that it must've been while we were out on safari looking for them. I smile at the irony. All that time, while we were chasing after them on our game drive, the rhinos were right here, grazing peacefully in front of the lodge.
It just shows that you should always expect the unexpected when you "go fishing". And sometimes, the "fish" are right back where you started.
Book Your Stay at Stanley & Livingstone
Whether you're a couple looking for a tranquil hideout within easy reach of Victoria Falls, or a family looking for a safe multi-generational family holiday, Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel will deliver.
Contact our Travel Experts today, and let's start planning!
Plan your future African Safari todayLet's explore Africa
Opens our enquiry form
Based on 3000+ reviews