Located deep inside Zambia’s incredible South Luangwa National Park, Puku Ridge is a completely reimagined tented camp, which combines the perfect blend of wilderness, luxury and responsibility. Opening in September 2019, the camp and its eight tented suites offer another level of comfort and design with custom-built, near-silent air-conditioning, rooftop starbeds and private plunge pools.
The camp is a collaboration between Chiawa Safaris – which owns Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro – and Chichele Safaris, who purchased Puku Ridge and Chichele Presidential Lodge (Chichele is expected to reopen late 2020) from Sanctuary Retreats in 2018. For guests this partnership means the same highest levels of hospitality, awesome location, fabulous game viewing, inspired and competent guiding, and responsible interaction with the local community, as Chiawa Safari’s celebrated Lower Zambezi camps.
Positioned on one of the South Luangwa National Park’s prime secluded sites, Puku Ridge blends in beautifully with its natural surroundings and overlooks a wildlife-rich floodplain and waterhole, where there’s always something to see. When venturing out of the camp, guests will enjoy the area’s varied landscape and its spectacular wildlife including leopards, lions, elephants, buffalos, hippos, wild dogs, the endemic Thornicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest, genet cats, various mongooses, civets and honey badgers.
When not on drives or exploring the area on foot, guests will be looked after by Jason and Kayla Johnstone (who managed Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro for five years) and can spend time in the photography hide, relaxing in the elegant lounge and terrace areas, dining on international cuisine with local influences, sharing safari stories around the fire pit, and stargazing from the star terrace with its telescope. For a little more privacy, each suite has a private deck, complete with sun loungers and plunge pool. One of the suites’ other key features is the rooftop, four poster star bed, where guests can sleep under the stars to the sounds of the bush (whilst still having all the comforts of their suite downstairs).
Throughout the camp, aesthetics, function and comfort were the priority in Chiawa Safari’s vision, which has been brought to life by Luxury Frontiers, who are international experts in the design and development of experiential resorts and lodges. The aim was to rebuild the camp yet with a lighter footprint, which has seen more than 2,420 tons of old cement slabs having already been removed from the Park and many of the old materials are being repurposed. Elements from the Luangwa bush camps of old have been combined with natural materials and a palette of earthy tones. Authentic, local art works complement contemporary design elements and crucial creature comforts.
Puku Ridge also demonstrates how luxury and conservation can co-exist, based very much on the philosophy of Chiawa Safaris, the first carbon neutral safari business in the world and the first in Africa with Silver status, which means even guests’ domestic air travel is offset. In addition Puku Ridge will contribute to existing conservation, education and social charities already operating effectively in the area including; Conservation South Luangwa; Zambia Carnivore Project; Chipembele wildlife education project; Biocarbon Partners. And, just like at Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro, red filters on night safaris will be employed and guides will guide sympathetically and professionally.
These sister properties, and combining with any of the Luangwa’s existing bushcamps, allow guests to create a really well-rounded trip to Zambia taking in the country’s different geographies and wildlife. Attractive packages combining Chiawa Camp and/or Old Mondoro with Puku Ridge offer some of the best value for safari experience in Zambia if location, guiding, personalised service and wildlife feature high in priorities.
Chiawa Safaris is run by Grant and Lynsey Cumings. Grant, who was born and raised in Zambia, was taken into the bush at an early age by his father, himself an explorer/guide/judoka, who helped develop his appreciation for wilderness, adventure and conservation. Grant remembers being charged, as a child, by a black rhino in the South Luangwa with the pioneer of walking safaris Norman Carr. He also remembers walking through the bush at night during a rain storm, after getting irretrievably stuck in the mud in a Land Rover, along the Kafue River with renowned guide Cecil Evans whilst being taught the value of insects to the planet. These lessons and experiences had a lasting impression on him so that, after successfully completing a business degree in the USA, he returned to Zambia to not only help run the family transport company but also to establish a safari business.
Rather than following others into the Luangwa and Kafue, the family – following its pioneering roots – instead opted for the Lower Zambezi, knowing that although this was the longer and more difficult venture, the natural beauty of the Lower Zambezi was unique and would ultimately provide a quality and attractive safari tourism experience. And so in 1989 Chiawa Camp opened its tent flaps to its first guests. Based on the Cumings’ recognised expertise in this field, Chichele Safaris, invited Grant to collaborate with them in rehabilitating and running these two acquisitions to the standards Chiawa Safaris has become world-renowned.