“It’s one of the few places in Africa where you can still step back in time,” said Victoria Wallace with genuine emotion in her voice. “There’s a feeling you get of the wildness that’s rare. It really is one of the last truly wild places in Africa.”
After chatting with Victoria for just a few minutes, it’s impossible not to become a believer too.
Victoria was referring to South Luangwa National Park in the Luangwa Valley in eastern Zambia and the area immediately around it, which now includes the Zikomo Safari Camp, a lodging she and her family opened in 2012 for visitors who wish to experience the wild landscapes and hundreds of different species of wild animals and exotic birds nearby. Avid world travelers for decades—and people who had already seen much of Africa—Victoria, husband David, and son Demian fell in love with the area several years ago, acquired the land from a local chief, and pushed forward with their “dream” project.
By safari camp standards, Zikomo (which means “thank you” in one of the local dialects) provides lots of amenities including comfortable lodging (with hot and cold running water, showers, toilets, and nice beds with mosquito netting), good food, a bar, a workout facility, a swimming pool, and even an onsite registered nurse—all, according to Victoria, for a very affordable price. Currently, it has four chalets and a large lodge for guests, and four more chalets are in the works. But, Victoria noted that the family wants to keep the camp small, with a capacity for only about 16 guests, in order to maintain high standards. “We’re much more remote than most of the safari camps in the area,” she added. “This really helps to give people a true wild experience.” And currently, the camp is only open between May 15 and September 15, but the near-term plan is to become a year-round operation.
Some of the activities the camp offers are guided bush walks, game drives, and night drives. Other options are a day trip to nearby Chichele Hot Springs, where visitors can watch large herds of Cape buffalo and other game congregate, or a visit to the Kawaza Cultural Center for some traditional song and dance.
Normally, visitors will stay at Zikomo for three or four days. And, if they want to have other Safari experiences elsewhere in Africa, the Wallaces can make arrangements for them with a variety of partner organizations in other countries.
When visitors think of taking a photo safari in Africa, Victoria noted that Zambia usually isn’t the country that comes to mind first. In fact, she added that many people have to look at a map of Africa just to see where Zambia is in relation to more popular destinations such as Kenya or South Africa. Yet, as someone who has traveled throughout Africa, she emphasized that Zambia can’t be topped for the numbers and diversity of its animals and birds, its peaceful history, its stable democratic government, and the fact that (as part of a former British possession) almost everyone speaks English. An added bonus is that Zikomo is relatively accessible, only about 45 minutes from Zambia’s Mfuwe International Airport.
While the Wallaces like to point out how Zikomo Safari Camp is distinctive among photo safari operations, one similarity all safari companies share is a travel insurance requirement. This is more for the guests than for the camp hosts, Victoria noted. Since many people plan safari trips in groups, one couple cancelling at the last minute, for example, can create extra costs for those still planning to take the trip. Since safari camps can also be in remote places, a medical evacuation can become extremely expensive. “It just makes good sense,” she said. “And we’re pleased to be teaming up with TripInsurance.com to provide travelers with both the coverage and the confidence to take a safari in Africa.”
As she might readily agree: what’s special about Africa in general and Zambia’s Luangwa Valley in particular is not only on her boots but also in her bones.
Whether you are a veteran traveler to the African wild or someone curious about going on photo safari for the first time, Zikomo Safari would definitely be an organization to check out. For more information—and lots of wonderful photos and videos—of what the camp is like and what kinds of birds and animals you’ll see, visit zikomosafari.com.
(The photographs in this blog are all from the Luangwa Valley and were taken by Scott Bennion.)