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The pool decorations at The Royal Livingstone kick if you walk too close to them. They’re zebras — live zebras.
In fact, many wild animals roam about the grounds of this five-star resort in Zambia overlooking Victoria Falls, perhaps the world’s most spectacular waterfall. Keep an eye out for cheeky vervet monkeys, which try to snatch cookies and sugar from your room if you do not lock your sliding balcony doors. Regal giraffes pose for tourist photographs near the hotel’s entrance. Shy impalas — those lovely African antelopes with lyre-shaped horns — wander by too. But no lions, thank goodness.
Its unfenced location within Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park — where park animals freely come and go on the hotel’s grounds — is just one reason The Royal Livingstone ranks among the best hotels around Victoria Falls.
A recent facelift is another advantage. The resort completed a $7 million refurbishment in December 2012, and the colonial-style property is simply gorgeous.
The 173 guestrooms are found in 17 river bank residences along the edge of the Zambezi River, and a red-turbaned butler shows guests to their rooms.
Our corner room on the ground floor had a large, mosquito-screened porch with dark wood furniture and a whirring ceiling fan. The bedroom sported a polished concrete floor, ornate gilt-painted lamps and a plush king bed with down duvet, embroidered in white silk thread with The Royal Livingstone logo. In the evenings, we’d return to our room to find a scented candle lit in the bathroom and white rose petals sprinkled on the bed. As part of the renovation, flat screen televisions, mini-reading lights and free Wi-Fi were also installed in all rooms.
The hotel’s main bar and lounge is particularly eye-catching. It is right out of a W. Somerset Maugham novel — complete with an aged rolling bar cart with Waterford crystal glasses, a library of old National Geographic books and vintage suitcases stacked above the shelves of whiskey bottles.
But perhaps the best reason to stay at The Royal Livingstone is that the falls themselves are just a 10-minute walk away. More than a mile across, Victoria Falls is known today as the greatest curtain of falling water in the world. Several times during our three-night stay, we walked along the tree-shaded riverside path from the hotel to different vantage points of the thundering falls. Once, before crossing the narrow Knife Edge Bridge, we donned raincoats to protect ourselves against the drenching spray — it was like walking in pouring rain. Sometimes rainbows painted colorful arcs in the sky — we even spied a double rainbow. And since we were already lodged inside the national park, we didn’t have to pay the park/waterfall entrance fee each time.
For a different excursion, we boarded the Royal Livingstone Express vintage steam train one evening and enjoyed an elegant five-course dinner. The meal was prepared and served by the resort’s staff. As we clackety-clacked past waving children in a shanty town on the edge of Livingstone, and then through the surrounding Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, we ate in a beautifully restored dining carriage, set with table lamps, damask linens and silver cutlery. Though we kept our eyes peeled, we didn’t spot any wildlife — but elephants, warthogs and giraffes have the right of way and, if seen, the train will stop.
The Royal Livingstone put tourism on the map for the town of Livingstone. Built in 2001, it was the first hotel in Livingstone. Today, together with its adjacent sister three-star hotel, Zambezi Sun, it employs 1,000 locals and is the town’s largest employer. It also felt good knowing that its parent company, Sun International, donates 2 percent of after-tax income to its “corporate social investment” program in Zambia. Through this community enrichment program, Sun International also started and supports projects such as orphanages and a communal women’s farm, which supplies produce for the hotel and fresh veggies for the local village.
Not many hotels can boast a winning combination of wildlife at their doorstep, top-notch accommodations, a philanthropy program and up-close views of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. On our last evening, we strolled down the resort’s rolling lawns, past grazing zebras, for sundowners on the deck by the river. Watching the huge clouds of spray from the falls turn gold as the sun set was magical.
The Royal Livingstone is a 10-minute walk from Zambia’s Victoria Falls. // (c) The Royal Livingstone
While guests enjoy a five-star meal, The Royal Livingstone Express travels around the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. // (c) Janice Mucalov
A corner room at The Royal Livingstone // (c) The Royal Livingstone
The Royal Livingstone’s swimming pool // (c) George Mucalov
The bar at The Royal Livingstone // (c) The Royal Livingstone
Zebras, impalas, giraffes and monkeys are common sights at The Royal Livingstone. // (c) The Royal Livingstone
The Royal Livingstone by night // (c) The Royal Livingstone
Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. // (c) The Royal Livingstone
The Zambezi River // (c) Janice Mucalov
The Royal LivingstoneRoyal Livingstone Hotel
The Royal Livingstone ExpressRoyal Livingstone Express