We stayed at this Wilderness Safaris Camp during our trip to Livingstone Zambia largely because tour companies had booked all the rooms at the Zambezi Sun due to the World Cup. Even months ahead, we could not secure a room there, so our agent suggested Toka Leya. I was so glad she did! While most of our trip was safari in Botswana, we had planned to see Victoria Falls and participate in some of the many “tourist” activities here before moving into the bush where the main activity would be game watching and tourists would be rare!
By staying here, it felt like we had already started our safari. It was fun to stay in tents (that are appointed like a hotel room!) and participate in the activities that were guided by WS guides and therefore much more intimate and personalized than a group arranged by tour desk at a large lodge or hotel. For instance we were able to tour Simonga Village (a village where WS has participated in development projects) have a game drive in Mosi Oa Tunya National park, tour the Victoria Falls on foot and visit the Livingstone museum, with our own vehicle and guide. (these activities were included in the price of the camp)
While all these activities can be arranged while staying at any lodging in Livingstone, our experience with one Toka Leya activity illustrates the difference. We went on a “Sunset River Cruise” on the Zambei River on our first afternoon after arriving. We went with our on guide (and other guests stating at TL) on small boats that seated only 6 people. The part of the Zambezi where TL is located was serene and wild, we noticed very little development, only the birds, hippos, elephants and crocs! However, as we cruised closer to the falls, nearer to sunset, we noticed large “booze cruises” filled with dozens of people, loud music blaring, camera flashes popping, drinks flowing. Any real wildlife in the area was moving away quickly- we did too! Our party looked at each other and immediately thanked our lucky stars we had participated in this activity with the TL camp rather than booking a “sunset cruise” elsewhere, as we would have been very unhappy with that scene!
The Toka Leya driver also happily drove us (and shared cultural commentary and answered every question along the way!) to other “additional cost” activities we had selected, so if there is something in Livingstone you’d like to do, it was cheerfully accommodated. We did the “Flight of Angels” helicopter flight and an elephant back safari, both of which were scheduled at our convenience and extra cost.
Location: This camp is located right on the banks of the Zambezi (iconic moment: having a hot river stone massage while listening to a hippo grunting!) in a quiet area about a 15-20 minute drive from the airport and the center of Livingstone. It is adjoining the Mosi Oa Tunya National Park, so river cruises and game drives start right at the camp. It never felt too far to fit in the many activities that are offered by other outfitters in Livingstone. Everything seemed to be about a 20 minute ride and we strung together a few activities that were located in the same area ( for example Flight of Angels and Livingstone museum on one morning and a tour of Victoria Falls and a visit to the Simonga Village on another morning)
Service: One thing about staying at a Wilderness Camp, is that absolutely everything is done for you, and you can really ask for absolutely anything you could need or want and it will be cheerfully granted. We are not particularly demanding, but we didn’t make a request they couldn’t accommodate! Most of our requests were around trying to fit an awful lot into a day, because this is how we travel, and the guides and managers here made it all happen just the way we wanted it! We spent less time in camp here because of the many activities, but the housekeeping, restaurant and bar staff are also very friendly, warm and accommodating. The managers, Bus, Susanna, and Dani, engaged us and shared stories and in the case f Bus and Susanna, being new to Zambia and Wilderness, their sense of wonder with us. It was a delightful. Our guide Amon, was attentive and worked hard to make our teens first experiences with wildlife in Africa exciting. My spa attendant was also very good, and helped me feel comfortable and relaxed.
Common Areas and Theme: This camp is beautiful; rustic in a very elegant way. Witness the capiz shell chandeliers and furniture made from “found” objects that looks like fine art! The set up is breathtaking, raised walkways wending past tents, curio shop onto a huge covered dining deck, further on to the covered outdoor lounge and bar area, beyond in one direction to the pool deck and in the other down to the star deck, fire circle and waterfront. All with fabulous views of the Zambezi River, and the sound of hippos snorting and birds calling. If you look up “idyllic” in the dictionary you may find a photo of this camp!!
Dining: <Disclaimer: I am probably not the best person to review food, as I am a food for fuel person, but we had a diverse group; a vegetarian, 2 “foodie” adults, one a Brit, and 3 teens, one not so adventurous, and the food was positively reviewed by everyone in our group, and everyone found plenty to enjoy at every meal!>
While this camp is rated by Wilderness as one of their “Classic“ camps, which usually means buffet style meals, at this camp the food was plated and we found it to be excellent. There was a nice variety of options at lunch and breakfast (breakfast is a buffet style with eggs cooked to order and brought to your table). At dinner there were at least a few options and so many appetizers and sides that even the pickiest eater would be hard pressed not to like something! One thing that was great for my teens ( and my DH) was pizza offered at lunch.
Rooms/tents: The 12 tents are set along a board walk, all with views of the Zambezi from a huge private deck with a pair of lounge chairs, a table and chairs (and a neat old dugout canoe!) WS bills itself as a conservation company and therefore the views are not “clearcut” to the river; the view includes some native vegetation along the river banks. It is a tent only in that there is actual canvas on the roof, but the door is a sliding glass door and the sides of the structure are made of wood. Inside the floors are hardwood and there is a dividing wall that separates the bedroom, with a big comfy king (or made up as twins set close together under one mosquito net), and the bath which has a toilet compartment, twin sinks and separate shower. There is also an outdoor shower with a view of the river accessible from the indoor shower. With screening and placement of furniture, you feel totally alone and private while on your deck even though the tents are not very far away from one another.
Activities and Game: There are all the activities I mentioned above plus more than I can detail here. Note to planners: we had considered 2 nights and then opted for 3, we were so very glad we did. There are so many wonderful activities, unless you want to just check out the Falls and move on, you’ll need 2 days! The River Cruise was excellent, with nice surprises (I won’t spoil it for you here) and beautiful scenery. The game drive in the National Park had very varied game and most of it was very near to the road, so even though off road is prohibited, you will have no trouble seeing the animals. There are no large cats or other predators here, so we saw many antelope (we saw lots of species - impala, giraffe, Cape buffalo, waterbuck) and elephant, warthogs, croc, water monitor lizard and hippos. Because the park is small it has the feel of being a safari park, or open style zoo. But the animals are free to roam and it’s thrill to see them in the wild interacting. As this was our first stop, it was exciting because everything was new to us!
There are also two small spa rooms and the ladies come around with the spa menu if you want to plan a treatment during the day, they will be ready for you.
The visit to Simonga village was a must for our teens. A local guide (the shopkeeper) took us through his traditional village and shared information on the many development projects that have been done by international organizations you have probably supported in the past. It was nice to see a village full of cheerful, friendly people benefiting, but also just living their lives, this did not feel like people putting on a show. This felt like a village that had a relationship with the people of WS. Our Toka Leya guide brought photos from another previous guest, and the people were thrilled to see him and their photos! We brought many of those stretchy elastic wrist bands that the kids all trade and our only mistake was giving them to the children too early, and like all preschoolers, they pestered us the rest of the tour to practice their English and give them more bracelets, and we couldn’t hear the guide talking about the projects. You don’t need to bring gifts, this is one of those things that some people really debate, for us, it was a matter of our kids bringing something to break the ice with other kids! But the kids were delightful; my daughter who sings in her local church choir was able to sing with the village church choir who were practicing under a tree.
Of course you come here for the Falls, and our guide did an excellent job taking us on a walking tour of the Falls. This a major international tourist destination, with major amounts of international tourists and having a local guide knowledgeable about the place and people, and preparing everything (rain ponchos etc) for our little group made it very special!
Our “pay on your own” activities were the Elephant back safari with Safari Par Excellence, and it was fun. One of my teens had riding an elephant on her wish list . After a safety briefing, we were introduced to our elephant and driver (2 people per ellie, you’ll be matched if you are not paired) and we boarded (from a platform) and headed into the bush in the National Park. There are animals to see, including a wild bull who mock charged our group -very exciting! Though we were never in danger due to the advance guide with a warning rifle, he did not need to use! But the most exciting animals were the ones we were riding. What a thrill to be part of the social network that is the elephant herd. The tiny baby marching along side her mother, the adolescents wandering off or stopping to eat and needing to be prodded along, the seemingly magical way the whole herd of enormous animals moves along silently and in unison! After we returned, we got to reward our elephants with a little bag of feed, pose for photos, have drinks and snacks and wait for it…(the digital age has arrived) there was an opportunity to view and purchase the video.
Another, extra for our group was the “Flight of Angels”, again this is the money shot…if you are coming all this way to see the Falls, find a way to splurge and see them from the air somehow. We did the helicopter, it was very short, but breathtaking and made for a nice “orientation” before our walking tour of the Falls. Snacks were extra, but there is a beautiful spot for non fliers to wait, with distant views of the Falls steam. Video is available here too.
There are some wonderful entertainment and other surprises that are part of the stay at Toka Leya, I was delighted that I hadn’t heard about all of them before I left, so I’ll leave it at that…if you must know…you can send me a PM!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.