So where are my top five unexpected private holiday islands in Africa?
This location is Kandahar Island in the middle of the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe. It is tiny, and unlike other ‘tropical beach destinations’, here you do not touch land at all. The Victoria Falls Treehouses are raised high off the ground under a canopy of Ilala and wild date palms, sycamore figs, strangling creeper (Ficus ingens), African mangosteen and waterberry.
This is a lovely and indulgent place to stay, only accessible by boat, with only five wooden chalets that sit over the Zambezi waters. All have panoramic vistas of the ever-changing river. After a hectic morning visiting Victoria Falls, the treehouses make for fabulous escape.
Very often herds of elephant visit the island. When I last stayed here, the mangosteen was in full fruit and so I had a lovely family of nine elephants browsing for food for two hours right beneath and around my room. Looking straight down on their backs was a completely different viewing perspective!
My next private island pick is Likoma, a small island on Lake Malawi, also known as the calendar lake (it measures 365km x 52km). Kaya Mawa is a small and unique lodge on the southern end of the island but it also has a private villa, Ndomo House, with its own private beach.
Each and every room is different style and shape, because all the rooms and private villa are built in and around massive rocks. Each is definitely quirky in a ‘Flintstone’ sort of way, yet with all the luxuries one could want. It truly is both gorgeous and romantic.
Many of the beds and sunken baths are built in and around the rocks on many different levels and some have showers open to the stars at night. Pastel shades abound in furnishings. You can find handmade glass and bean pod light fittings as well as other interesting objet d’art; cushion covers and table runners all hand made locally by Katunda, a recycling workshop on the island.
Nothing is the same, every small part of your room and the main buildings has been thought through and hand crafted. This is real Africa where the local inhabitants helped build the lodge and are super friendly. In turn Kaya Mawa supports the Island charity for children in primary and secondary education.
Kaya Mawa is perfect both for those who want to ‘relax on the beach’ or be active. Activities on offer include diving, kite surfing, kayaking, cycling on the island, snorkelling to see cichlids in the crystal clear fresh water, and enjoying the beach sand and bird life too. It’s the perfect family holiday spot and combines well with a safari to Zambia.
Sindabezi is a small safari camp on a sand island in the middle of the Zambezi River near Livingstone in Zambia. It is also extremely romantic! Accessed from the mainland by banana boat, Sindabezi is approximately 25 minutes upstream from Victoria Falls on the Zambian side of the river.
It is a tranquil haven sleeping just ten guests in open-sided, thatched cottages on the edge of the river. All rooms have wonderful views from under the trees and you can relax on your very own veranda or in the main dining and living room area.
One of the most wonderful aspects is waking each morning to the sunrise which floods into your room and then after a lovely breakfast, exploring each day on guided birding walks (bird specials include trumpeter hornbill, African finfoot, Pel’s fishing owl, pygmy kingfisher, rock pratincole and white-backed night heron), or going out on a guided fishing trip for the elusive Zambezi tigerfish, or taking a sunset river cruise on the mighty Zambezi River.
Of course you will want to visit the Falls too, there is so much to do here that you will need at least a three night stay! The decision is really how energetic and adventurous you want to be, from bungee jumping, white-water rafting (seasonal) and gorge swinging. There are also microlight trips over the waterfalls for a bird’s eye view!
Jao Camp is on an island, of sorts, in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The Delta covers between 15,000 and 22,000 sq km (depending on the season) in the otherwise desert-covered Botswana. The annual flood fills the inland delta transforming it into a haven with thousands of islands.
Jao Camp is supremely luxurious with a contemporary design. The library has a full skeleton of a giraffe! There are riverine forests, mopane forests and floodplains interlaced with the crystal clear Okavango waterways surrounding the islands.
What makes this even more special is the prolific wildlife! Yes, this island comes with elephant, lion, leopard and all sorts water loving wildlife – crocodiles and waders birds. Jao is a place that is dedicated to the conservation of the Okavango Delta’s unique ecosystem – the waters and the dry land along with all the plants, birds and wildlife that call it home.
Xugana (pronounced Koo- ga-na) is another island in the Okavango Delta with just one remote lodge. Xugana sits on the most beautiful horseshoe-shaped lagoon in this water paradise – no other camp in the Delta overlooks such a large lagoon.
The Maunachira River feeds the lagoon which is visited by sitatunga antelope, elephant, hippo and crocodiles and a myriad of birdlife. In fact I would say that if you are keen on birds, then this is the place for you, because Xugana has been here for over 45 years. The local bird and wildlife have grown up around it, and the camp has now has become part of the forest.
Lesser striped swallows return year on year to nest under the eaves of the dining room and whilst you are eating, a soft chirp might be heard overhead from one of the giant kingfishers. The cormorants and colourful gallinule weave around the reed beds. At night you are lulled off to sleep by a sound like tinkling bells - the painted reed frogs and bell frogs are gorgeous and though you want to listen to more, you quickly descend into a deep sleep.
This is a water wonderland – explore the waterways by mokoros (a most relaxing way to enjoy this piece of paradise), and by motorboats whilst discovering the islands on foot, or perhaps further afield in a vehicle adapted to larger, drier islands- where all the amazing wildlife can be seen.
You will be delighted by the experience of staying on any one of these very unexpected and unique Africa private island holiday locations. Consider including them either as a part of your safari to Africa or as a relaxing retreat to end it off.
If you would like any more inspiration for extraordinary, exclusive holidays and safaris across Africa, Asia or Latin America, please do feel free to get in touch. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
Images and video used by kind courtesy of:
Wilderness Safaris Jao Camp, Xugana Island Lodge, Green Safaris Kaya Mawa, Sindabezi Island, Victoria Falls River Lodge.