Imagine sitting down on a sweeping verandah, sipping your morning coffee as unknown and exotic birds twitter in the distance. Just as you set down the steaming mug after your first sip, you see it, in the distance, a solitary elephant approaching the water hole a few meters in front of you for a morning drink of his own. Then, off to the right you notice something moving in the brush and suddenly a massive neck attached to a majestic giraffe appears, almost on cue. This isn’t Disney World or a National Geographic documentary; this is what it’s like to stay at the Stanley and Livingstone in Zimbabwe.
As a lover of wildlife experiences, I was thrilled to be invited to experience the ultimate in luxury and animal encounters as a guest at this remarkable resort. The hotel is small, featuring only 16 suites with spacious living and sleeping quarters. While the hotel is nice, very nice actually, the star of the show is the 6,000-acre private reserve known as the “Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve” on which the Stanley and Livingstone is located. That’s right, the hotel is INSIDE a private game reserve. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Lest you worry, the hotel portion is protected by security wires, but they’re completely unobtrusive allowing you to enjoy living amongst the animals. A water hole is situated so that most guests can wake up to animal viewing in their PJs, and even a rogue baboon makes it onto property once in a while to rummage for food. As I said, the hotel is great and I never wanted for anything as a guest. The meals were better than expected and the service recalls an earlier era of pride and professionalism. The proximity to the game reserve though also makes it very easy to embark on several games drives while visiting.
We arrived late in the afternoon, the land crossing from Botswana took longer than expected but we were still eager to start our animal adventures as soon as possible. A sunset game drive was offered, and I soon found myself in the back of a land cruiser listening to an expert guide explain the terrain. That evening we were rewarded with zebras, countless types of deer, Cape Oxen and of course elephants. It was remarkable to be just a few feet away from some of the most exotic and beautiful creatures in the world.
While the game park is absolutely the main draw, the hotel is also located just a few minutes away from the mighty Victoria Falls. Most guests spend a day or two exploring this natural wonder and the many activities nearby.
In the local language the falls go by the name Smokey Thunder, a confusing name until you visit for the first time. The sound is the first thing you hear, even through the dense foliage and then, suddenly, you see the first part of them erupt into view. Walking along the rim path, the smoke or mist becomes a constant, causing cameras and fanny packs to get wet if not well protected. An afternoon or an entire day could easily be spent exploring, or better yet combine some adventure travel for a more memorable experience. Nearby Victoria Falls, over the gorge a variety of adventure activities from bungee to zip lining are offered, adding a special edge to the travel experience.
No matter what you decide to do, be it viewing graceful zebras in the bush or leaping off a bridge secured only by some cord, it is always a treat to return to the gentle embrace of the Stanley and Livingstone. Each night they had hot cocoa prepared to combat the surprisingly chilly evenings, and a long dinner with good friends and plenty of laughter was the proverbial icing on the cake. I couldn’t imagine a better synthesis of luxury and adventure travel, something I look for wherever I go but am not always fortunate enough to find.