The only way to get to my bungalow is via a series of raised rope bridges. Like everything on these islands in the Zambezi River, it is on stilts. As I walk over the wooden planks and bounce lightly across the bridge, I feel like I’m in a scene straight out of Robinson Crusoe. On one side of this little archipelago is Zambia, on the other is Zimbabwe. On one side is a village, on the other a national park teeming with wildlife. I am on the Islands of Siankaba, and they are my own adventurous paradise.
Just hearing the name—the Islands of Siankaba—makes me want to travel here. It sounds exotic, like something out of Arabian Nights or an ancient myth. Its location right between Livingstone and the point in Africa where Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia meet means that it is easy to get to after my safari in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and before my safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The lodge offers me a complimentary two-night stay, and I arrive with my friend ready to be transported into another world.
And transported we are. After checking in on the mainland near the little village of Siankaba, we board a small boat and head out on the Zambezi. A few minutes later, we pull up to a dock on one of the islands and are given a warm welcome to this dream-like paradise.
We walk to our bungalow across the series of bridges that connect the two islands, excited to stay in this unique, secluded place. Ours is one of only a handful bungalows, and it is a beautiful peak-roofed chalet. It has an open bathroom with all the luxurious fittings, and beds with starched white linens and gauzy canopy nets. Outside is a deck with two lounge chairs that look perfect for watching life on the river.
But we aren’t there to watch life on the river. We are there to experience it firsthand. After dropping off our bags, we are back out at the lodge to board a boat for a sunset safari on the Zambezi. As our guide navigates the low waters of the river, we spot crocodiles and hippos on the Zimbabwean shore. Just before sunset, we pull up to a tiny sand strip in the middle of the river, settle into camp chairs, and sip sundowners.
Then we watch the sun sink below the Zambezi in a riot of red and orange. I don’t think sunsets can get more beautiful, but the following night we take a mokoro canoe safari and see an even more colorful one from a rock outcropping above some gentle rapids. It is an amazing feeling to be in this place watching this stunning scene.
Back on the Islands of Siankaba, my friend and I fill our days with poolside lounging, a guided nature walk with a delicious picnic lunch among the trees, and meals on the terrace overlooking the river. My friend gets a massage, and I visit the local village with one of the staff members to learn about life there. They even have WiFi so we can stay connected with the non-dream world.
In the evenings, we have more great food for dinner at a big table with the other guests, most of whom have taken day trips to Victoria Falls. On our final night, the staff surprises us with a private dinner in a candlelit tent on the river. It is the perfect finishing touch to a travel experience so unique that even after 94 countries I can refreshingly say that I’ve never encountered anything like it anywhere else in the world.
On the last morning, I wake up early and look longingly out on the sunrise over the Zambezi, wishing I could stay forever (maybe I will channel my inner Robinson Crusoe and hide in the tees with the monkeys or team up with a hippo and build a fort on the water…anything to be able to remain here).
But back on the boat to the mainland I go, waving good-bye to the rope bridges and raised bungalows peeping out of the trees. Playing Robinson Crusoe for two days has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While the Islands of Siankaba may not come from Arabian Nights or an ancient myth, they will live long in my memory as something even more magical.