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More Zambia !-June/July -Assistance Pls!

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My husband and I are planning a trip to next Africa for sometime between the last week in June through early July (14 days roundtrip. Read Dennis' trip report (and Rocco's) and it further confirmed my feeling that Zambia will be an amazing choice! We don't have leeway to choose another time to travel and I am not certain if Zambia is the best choice for this time (as much as would love to go!) Has anyone worked with Geographic Expeditions on a trip to Africa? They helped with a trip to Tibet in September but not sure of the African expertise and I know they don't send many people to Zambia although they recommended it based on our interests (day and night drives, walking safaris, maybe canoeing, wanting to be more private without a lot of people).

GeoEx sent me the following itinerary which is standard for them in Zambia. (it is not a group trip, just what they recommend) I am not certain of whether the itinerary makes sense given the time of year and whether the accomodations will be the best choice also for the time of year. While Zambia is a top choice we would consider other countries if the time of year isn't the greatest.

Would appreciate any recommendations or referrals to other groups that can help put together the trip with us. The itinerary is for 16 days so I would have to cut out somewhere.

- Days 1&2: fly from USA to Johannesburg

- Day 3: fly to Livingstone. Transfer to Tongabezi

- Day 4: Victoria Falls & Environs (Tongabezi)

- Day 5: Fly to Kafue. Game Drive Transfer to Busanga Bush Camp

- Day 6: Busanga Plains. (Busanga Bush Camp)

- Day 7: Drive to Lunga River. Game drive transfer to Lunga River Lodge, Kafue Nat'l Park

- Day 8: Lunga River. Walking safaris, day & night drives. (Lunga River Lodge)

- Day 9: Fly to Mfuwe via Lusaka to So. Luangwa Valley. Nsefu Lodge

- Days 10 & 11. Luangwa National Park. Walking safaris, day and night drives. Nsefu Lodge

- Day 12: fly to Lower Zambezi and Chiawa.

- Days 13 & 14: Lower Zambezi (game drives, canoeing, etc.) Chiawa.

- Day 15 - fly to Livingston and onward.


Again any thoughts would be appreciated. This seems like an awful lot of movement to me and we have never been to Africa before. Some of the places to stay I have seen mentioned before, such as Chiawa. Not sure of Nsefu vs. Tena Tena or whether Busanga Bush Camp is not such a good idea. The description from GeoEx says the en suite bathroom is "under an open sky."

Thanks in advance!
Lauren

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    Laurenaf,

    I do think that it is great that you want to see so much of Zambia in such a short time. However, I do think that from a gameviewing perspective, that Kafue will not measure up to South Luangwa and that you may be spending too much time transferring between parks.

    Just another suggestion, but something like this would also work out well:

    Tongabezi or Royal Livingstone (2)
    Royal Livingstone is the closest of any luxury accomodation to the falls, but Tongabezi will have more of an Africa feel to it while Royal Livingstone is more of a luxury colonial type place.

    Kaingo or Tafika, South Luangwa (3)
    These would be in place of Nsefu. Kaingo is a wonderful lodge that puts a real emphasis on the gameviewing experience, offering THREE game activities per day and really has very good gameviewing right from camp where you literally look down onto large hippo pods and crocodiles in the Luangwa River. Plus the guiding at Kaingo is fantastic.

    Tafika, on the other hand, is the only place I know of out of any photosafari lodge/camp in Africa, where it is possible to go microlighting. I have never done this before, but it is like a hangglider with an engine and the owner, John Coppinger, takes his guests up for 15-20 minute flights over the wildlife. I have seen many people say this was one of the highlights of their safari.

    www.kaingo.com
    www.remoteafrica.com

    Next, I would suggest a place in the Mfuwe area of the park.

    Luangwa River Lodge (3)

    You will not find a more luxurious lodge than LRL, yet the luxury does nothing to take away from your Zambian experience. Barry & Tara are a hard act to beat and they get it right in every single respect from the food, to the game drives, to the staff to the accomodations. Most owner operated lodges are very good but I have not come across a better owner operated lodge yet than Luangwa River Lodge.

    From here, I would suggest finishing with the Lower Zambezi. This is truly a beautiful park and by going in late June/early July you will see it in all its beauty before it gets too dry.

    I, too, would recommend Chiawa Camp over all others. I suggest 4 nights, but if you do stay a fifth night, you do get about a 15% discount over your entire stay. Therefore, a 5 night stay is only a little bit more than a 4 night stay.

    This would be the itinerary that I, personally, would suggest:

    Royal Livingstone, Victoria Falls (2)
    Kaingo, South Luangwa (3)
    Luangwa River Lodge, South Luangwa (3)
    Chiawa, Lower Zambezi (4 or 5)

    Also, be careful with bigger tour operators like GeoEx. While they have beautiful brochures, they end up using the same ground operators as the smaller operators. With a smaller operator, you will be able to get a much better price and exactly the same final product. Moreover, with a smaller operator, I believe that you have a better likelihood of dealing with an individual agent that really knows the area rather than an agent who may have crammed in a visit to Zambia and every other African wildlife country.

    If you are not 100% insistent on going to Kafue, I suggest saving it for another time. Your best gameviewing will take place in South Luangwa and the beauty of the Lower Zambezi in June/July is indescribable. As Dennis mentioned in his trip report, and as I saw during my own recent trip, the nights are fireflies, lions roaring, hippos grunting and you will have the advantage of being there before it gets too dusty and this will translate into millions of stars in crystal clear skies.

    I just wouldn't send a client on such a fragmented itinerary but would rather they really be allowed to settle into a particular area to really absorb all of its wonders. With the timeframe that you are working with, I cannot imagine a better itinerary than the one I suggested above.

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    GeoEx is a fine company & does many "specialized" trips in other parts of the world (particularly in Asia, they do things that one could not otherside arrange) BUT their experience is Zambia is less than many specialized travel agents...and less than many individuals on this board. You are correct, this is a pretty "standard" itinerary and also correct, in that this itinerary has a fair amount of jumping around, though it does have the advantage of sampling the 4 major parks in Zambia (Vic Falls/Livingstone area, Kafue, S. Luangwa and Lower Zam). If you feel that now, you will definitely feel that way once you are there. The beauty of Zambia unfolds more slowly than some destinations, and deserves more time per stop. The alternative would be to drop one of the three regions, and spend some extra time in the other two. You have plenty of time for Vic Falls, Livingstone, so do not add the extra days there. The one place you should NOT drop is South Luangwa...it deserves more time in a first trip to Zambia.

    BTW, June/July is an excellent time to visit this area. And both Nsefu & Tena Tena are good choices & I've had excellent experiences at both. Since most camps/lodges in Zambia are not tented, I think I'd recommend Tena Tena, as it is a tented camp, and that is a nice variation on the other places you will stay. (And an excellent choice in any case.)

    As is sound like you are in the SF Bay area, I would highly recommend Next Adventure in Berkeley, a small but extremely specialized agency that focuses only on Africa. They provided me with excellent advice & services when I began my travels in Zambia (and indeed, for trips all over Africa)-- highly personalized service for custom trips (as you are planning) and I think you will find their prices lower than Geo Ex and many of the larger agencies. Also more responsive, attentive service.

    Yes, you can try to arrange things on your own (as many people on this board do), but many of the outfitters there will not deal direct (Tena Tena or Nsefu, for example) and most will not discount during high season (when you are contemplating) even if you deal direct...so why go thru the time & hassle? Especially for a first trip, the services of a good travel agent are valuable. (And this DOES take alot of time to do well. Many people here actually LOVE that part of arranging & planning a trip...but I don't.)

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    I don't know about that time of the year in Zambia, but it seems like with this itinerary you are doing an awful lot of flying, which takes up the better part of a day. The internal airlines are not always on time and we were delayed several times on our trip. I'd suggest fewer camps and less travel for the number of days you'll be there. the under the open sky en-suite is actually quite cool, especially when the elephants peek over the fence! i'm seriously considering going back in april for the emerald season. Zambia was great!
    Dennis

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    I don't get involved often with this itinerary stuff, but my football teams are not even rated or worth watching, so I would like to pitch my opinion.

    Consider something along these lines

    Lusaka
    fly to
    Shiwa Ngandu- 1 nite
    fly or drive
    North Luangwa-Kutendala is 6 beds only
    bushwalking mostly-rhino here,
    4nites
    Fly to South Luangwa
    South Luangwa-5 nites
    fly
    Livingstone

    I like the drive from North Luangwa to South Luangwa. about 8-10 hours. Includes crossing through/not over the river. In June the river is still a little high, but would give a story. I like this as it gives the river crossing, going through villages, and plain a different perspective then flying from place to place. But that can be a little tiring for most people, if you don't overnite at like Luambe NP.

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    Laurenaf,

    That's a good time to be in Zambia and I've picked that time frame for travel to Zambia. Usually June-October is considered high season with good viewing and higher prices to match. Aug-Sept or Oct produces the most wildlife sightings as a rule due animals concentrating around scare water sources. But it starts getting really hot for walking so your time is fine.

    I'd cut Kafue based on both your days available and the time of year. Kafue is known for its wide range of interesting antelope species but they are best viewed later in the season, such as Sept or Oct. In July when I was there, there were small herds visible at a distance. So a Kafue visit would not be great timing. Also to fully appreciate Busanga Plains, you really need a three night stay and your itinerary has two.

    With 14 days total, Vic Falls, South Luangwa, and Lower Zambezi would be a great combo.

    In the Lower Zambezi I really enjoyed the all-day canoe transfer on the Chifungulu Channel from Sausage Tree Camp to Old Mondoro Bush Camp. A recent post mentioned that Sept was too hot to spend much time on that channel in a canoe so that's a point in favor of an earlier trip, like yours.

    I'm sure a company with such a good rep as Geographic Expeditions would do a fine job of providing services. But has been mentioned, Africa is not their main focus.

    I'd check with some agents that specialize in Africa and get their recommendations. You can always still go with GeoEx.

    Please keep us posted with your trip development.

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    Your itinerary does not include the South Luangwa National Park. This is the first park I would visit and I agree with Rocco on Kaingo -- it was a great camp and the area was wonderful for game. I had considered Kafue but could not really afford not just monetarily but timewise to fly there also. It takes close to a day to fly from one park to another because you have to go through Lusaka -- or do a charter flight for just your group. There are not as many camps to choose from in Kafue -- tourism is not as developed there as it is in the Lower Zambezi and the South Luangwa.

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    Thanks to everyone for the speedy and informative replies. I feel much more comfortable that you have confirmed my instinct that this was too much running around and not enough time just absorbing and "being" in each location.

    I will check out websites for the other alternatives mentioned for accomdations and remain focused on the Vic Falls, South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi itinerary. That really makes the most sense and sounds terrific. BTW- GeoEx was amazing and personable in help planning my recent trip to Tibet which is why I wanted to contact them first. The person I spoke with regarding Zambia LOVES Zambia and is knowledgable but my preference is really to work with a company that does lots of business in the area. It also worried me that their itinerary was well thought out for me.

    I prefer not to do the planning myself. I am actually based in the NY-Area but certainly will contact Next Adventure in SF. Thanks for that tip and any other suggestions of travel agents.

    The quote given to me by GeoEx was $5,495 through June 30th and then $5,995 from July 1. As there was so much flying around, internal air was expensive at $1,408. For 16 days including medical/evacuation/accident insurance-assistance - how does the $5,995 stack up to all of you based on what they suggested. I am trying to figure out what to expect and what the trip should cost. I know that this will not be inexpensive but any $ to be saved will make it easier in getting my DH to disconnect from his office for two weeks.

    That actually leads me to my next ? - as much as my husband wants this adventure, it is very difficult for him to leave his business for such a long time without being able to communicate via e-mail a few times. (this is one of the reasons we are traveling over the July 4th holiday). Is there e-mail access in any of the places I am looking at?

    Thanks again for all the help. It makes such a difference!
    Lauren

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    Assuming airfare to Zambia is not included, it is a reasonable quote for 16 nights on safari. We were on safari for 13 nights and spent approximately 5,000 per person internal airfare included -- it was about 600 each but we could have done it for 450 or so each had we chosen to.

    Luangwa River Lodge -- and you can find them on the internet at www.luangwariverlodge.com is on main power and probably would let you check the internet -- you can contact Barry and Tara directly there. They are really nice people with a lodge several of us have visited and really enjoyed.

    Are you interested in water activities such as canoeing and fishing for Tiger Fish. If you are, then staying at Kasaka or Chongwe at the Lower Zambezi would be good and save a little money as they are not located in the park. However, the game drives are longer and more tiring as it takes about a half hour to get to the entrance of the park and another half hour to get to where the game usually is. So if you are not interested in water sports you may want to try Chiawa or Sausage Tree as they are located in the park.

    I found 13 days to be a lot of time sitting in a vehicle -- I probably would have felt that 10 or 11 was oerfect. However, there are others that would prefer longer. The time of year you are going is not so hot -- you could mix it up with walking whic gives a completely different perspective.

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    if you have the choice between kasaka and chongwe, go with chongwe. their "tents" are right at waters edge. kasaka's are set back quite a bit from the water. chongwe was a magical place, the activities were excellent, and the staff exceptional. my only complaint was not as much game as south luangwa, especially on night drives which were my favorite! they don't have email access though.

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    Laurenaf,

    Feel free to e-mail me for some suggestions on your upcoming trip.

    I know that if you work this out properly that you will be able to stay at the very best lodges for the ground prices you mentioned, but INCLUDING your internal flights.

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    Hi, just checked out website for Luangwa River Lodge and it looks spectacular. I have read the good reviews from those posting here and it's a good choice for us. (Will check out the internet access directly). In the Lower Zambezi, Chiawa seems right for us. We want to be able to canoe, have a river safari, bush walks, etc and Chiawa fits the bill. Also, staying in the tent lets us have the fun of a mix of accomodations to try out on the trip.

    Rocco - not sure of why we would select Kaingo or Tafika over Nsefu or even Tena Tena?

    thanks for all, lauren

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    For internet access, you can go to Flatdogs in South Luangwa-www.campafrica.com
    In Livingstone-there are a few internet shops in town if your accomodations aren't hooked in.
    In Lusaka, there is the several places. But the internet provider for Zambia is in the yellow pages, and open M-Sat south of city center on Cairo Rd-Kafue Rd.. One shop is also at the mall in Manda Hill shopping center which is on the way out to the airport from city center. If you also decided to go to Shiwa Ngandu, they have internet. And if you also decided to go into North Luangwa Nat'l Pk and stayed at Buffalo Camp when Mark Harvey was there, he has Bushmail(hf radio from Pretoria) where he receives email. He has received mail for others and then can send also. Can't help with Lower Zambezi.

    These should be more than adequate I should think to put your husbands worries about contact with the rest of the world.

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    Rocco - If you can get them 16 nights at the aforementioned camps in high season I wil eat my hat...... My total is more in the $7,000 -plus range, and that's with some nights in May.

    Peace,
    cooncat

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    Laurenaf,

    My experience has been that owner operated lodges are usually better than non-owner operated lodges. There is a 95% chance that Derek and Jules Shenton will be present at Kaingo and the same for John and Carol Coppinger at Tafika. Plus, if you look at a map, Kaingo and Tafika put you further north into the park into the most remote areas.

    Really, the only reason you have first heard of Nsefu and Tena Tena is because Robin Pope Safaris puts its strongest emphasis on marketing. Kaingo, on the other hand, puts its strongest emphasis on its guiding and game activities, relying largely on word of mouth from its past guests.

    This is not to say that Nsefu and Tena Tena are not very good camps, just that there are other options that may be in a position to offer just as good, if not a a better, safari experience.

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    cooncat,

    They have a total of 12 nights on the itinerary that I read. I can get them into the finest places including air for the same or less than their reported ground price with GeoEx.

    Royal Livingstone (2)
    Luangwa River Lodge (5)
    Chiawa Camp (5)

    It does not get any better than that. I don't think anyone would be disappointed in staying 5 nights at either LRL and Chiawa, only disappointed if they chose to split their time with another lodge in the same park, thus reducing their time at Chiawa or Luangwa River Lodge. These are the best that Zambia has to offer and they would measure up well to any lodge in Africa, yet in Zambia they are each under $500pp per night in high season.

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    Lauren~
    I am heading to Zambia in May/June next year, staying at Chiawa and LRL, Tafika and Chamilandu, a bush camp. You'll be able to read my report, but in the meantime I would urge you to get yourself booked. These are popular camps, and I had to juggle my dates even though I started looking into my trip in August. Good luck!

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    Just spotted this stream and wanted to add that I have met Kate Doty who is responsible for their African product selection. She is incredibly knowledgeable leaving without doubt that should you travel with GeoEx, that you are in capable hands.

    The tour they have offered you looks magnificent, although the Lunga/Bungu area could be in flood at that time...you never knoow. The lodges that they have chosen are all quite OK and I suspect have been selected for a variety of reasons, cost being a major factor. I don't know what they are charging you, however would estimate that this tour would be sold at around $7500, which I believe is competitive.

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    I LOVE Kaingo, and Roccco is right, the guiding is superb there. Luangwa RL is beautiful. As is Tafika--probably the prettiest setting in SL, and I have great respect for John Coppinger & his guides.
    The big plus of an RPS is that they have the biggest support team and thus the most flexibility to handle your day to day preferences for doing walks, drives or full day activities. Every day they ask what YOU would like to do today/tomorrow, and they will arrange guides and vehicles accordingly. I don't know of any other operator who can do this every day, even if full! (Others can do it if they are not full...but you can't count on being the only people at a camp, though it is wonderful when it happens.) Because they are also asking everyone daily what they want to do, you will have the flexibility to join travellers that you like on an activity, or consciously avoid travellers who are not simpatico...or to pick the activity that no one else is choosing, and thus have a private activity. This is a really big advantage. It is not really fair to say that RPS puts more emphasis on marketing than on guiding or guest services...it is just that they are a big operation with multiple camps & walking/mobile safaris, so they have the wherewithall to market internationally. They wouldn't keep their reputation long if they didn't deliver. And their marketing helps the other camps and operators in the longrun, because so many people return to the area, and want to see/have a different experience. RPS & Norman Carr safaris literally put South Luangwa on the map, and for that, we should all be grateful. (Though soon we as insiders may rue the day that Zambia became popular.)

    So lots of excellent choices in South Luangwa, for lots of different tastes. Another reason to stay longer there-- you can sample a couple different camps, styles & locations. And if you do this, I would recommend a couple different operators, instead of just moving between a single operators camps.

    Most camps now have email access on a limited basis, if you ask nicely and don't hog their computers or email-- they do need these to run their businesses. So as long as you keep it short, use the computer when the staff doesn't need it and don't ask to check multiple times a day, you can keep in touch. Flatdogs has pay-as-you-go public access-- but finding the time to get there is not easy when you are staying at these other camps. You might ask to stop there on your transfers however.

    North Luangwa is a spectacular destination--but probably not the best choice for a first visit when you have limited time AND a husband who wants to stay in contact. N. Luangwa is a place you go to ESCAPE contact (and the people who need to keep in contact with work this way). It's a separate flight, a long trip. And all the activities are walk-only. Amazing...but doesn't fit your criteria I think.

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    Alejandra: I really tried to arrange my trip to have one of those at the end, but didn't work out that way. I wanted to go as late in the "early season" as possible, for better rates, so Chiawa is actually my first stop, for 5 nights, then Old Mondoro for 2 nights, (couldn't get longstay discount with a 4/3 split); on to Chamilandu for 3 nights; LRL for 3 nights; and finishing up at Tafika for 3 nights. So, some luxury, bush camps, more luxury and ending up with Tafika. I think it will be a good mix. I'm a bit paranoid about there not being much game up at Tafika, but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised!
    (Sorry to have taken over your thread, Laureaf!)
    Sharon

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    ddgattina
    Have you been to North Luangwa? Its only a one hours flight from SLNP.And the bushcamps are closer to the airstrips then most the campsites in SLNP. It meets their criteria more then any other by the fact it is private-the probability of seeing another person other than park staff or camp staff is extremely low.
    And the park staff maybe just the game scout. And if 4 days is too much time for one to be without internet access, then her husband should nix the trip.

    And I put Flatdogs as an internet access as it is the only one that is available to the public I know of, and to go to any campsite/lodge in SLNP from the airport it is an extra 3-5 minutes out of the way excluding someplace in the North outside the park like Tafika-then it is maybe an extra 5 minutes. Otherwords, its at the bridge into the park.

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    Hi Luangwablondes,
    Yes, I have been to NL, and do love it...but that one hour flight turns into 3.5 hours with transfers on both ends, and waiting around for the planes. Of course, if you are lucky, part of that transfer might be like a gamedrive. That is not so bad, but the 4 day/night minimum stay...plus the fact that it is walk-only, and much more remote seemed to make it not the best choice for a 1st time visitor with a husband who is worried about internet access. Unless the camps there have gone for sat-access, I'm not sure they will be as happy to allow a visitor to read and send emails (that could be fairly long from his office) on bushmail. Especially if they plan to do attachments on those emails.
    (Unfortunately, I know and have travelled with these business-types. They think it will just be a "quick email", but once they know THAT is possible, it turns into heavier usage.)

    Also, I worry about first-timers to Africa (as Lauren seems to be) going to places that do only walks. I know some folks love this, but I have also had first-timers express the feeling that they didn't see as much as they expected or hoped when they concentrate on walking. I'd hate to have people disappointed by walks, so I think it's better to get your fill of the big sightings by vehicle, THEN enjoy the more subtle pleasures of walking. I can completely understand why a person with your experience would prefer & recommend walks...I just didn't think it matched Laurenaf's needs on this trip. But maybe, I'm wrong...now she has lots of options to consider.

    And of course, you are correct about public access at Flatdogs, but these folks won't have a vehicle, they will have to rely on their camps to take them to Flatdogs to use the internet, and this is not so easy to arrange. I think the camps would rather let him use their email, if he can use it quickly, than arrange a driver and vehicle to take him to Flatdogs. And although you pass right by Flatdogs when you go into/out of the park for gamedrives, I don't think you'll be able to get the vehicle to stop and wait while one person checks their email! The other folks in the vehicle will want to get on their gamedrive, or get back to lunch/dinner. This would of course be different if they had their own private guide/vehicle, but with this itinerary, that won't be the case. The camps are not yet including email/internet stops on their schedules!

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    I spent 5 months in North Luangwa, and had some business types and 1st timers coming into the park. And everyone of those loved the remoteness, the fabulous game viewing bush walks, and didn't miss the email connections as arrangements were made prior or after with the operators assistance. The plane connections taking so long is not the norm and you just had a few bad experiences.But it happens just about anyplace you go. If one is staying at Coppinger camps, its not very often with their own plane.

    And ALL trips to and from the airstrips are game viewing in NLNP.

    With the internet access, I have seen quite a few people make arrangements at SLNP to be transferred midday between game drives and before departing on to their next destination. I'm sorry you are not as well organized. Making clients happy in the service industry shouldn't need to be explained, and most of the operators at SLNP will find a way to assist.

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    I am all for North Luangwa, but with only 12 nights availalbe, Laurenaf has some decisions to make. There is no way, IMHO, to comfortably see Victoria Falls, Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa and North Luangwa.

    If someone wanted 12 nights safari from me and absolutely wanted to see SLNP, NLNP and LZNP, I would advise the following itinerary:

    Luangwa River Lodge (4)
    Kutandala (4)
    Chiawa Camp (4)

    Given the budget, I would strongly advise to book the Superior Safari Tent at Chiawa Camp as a grand finale. At only $565 pp per night sharing, the Superior Safari Tent at Chiawa may be the best bargain in luxury travel in Southern Africa:

    http://www.chiawa.com/pages/newsltr-july-04.htm

    The above itinerary, IMHO, is much better than the itinerary suggested by GeoEx and it will likely cost less.

    Kutandala is very well regarded and the food is reputedly excellent as is the guiding. It is the only owner operated lodge where you will be personally hosted and guided by the owners.

    www.kutandala.com

    Look no further than the guest comments to see the gushing reviews left behind by past customers.

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    If you read all the recent trip reports from Zambia, it seems clear that rolling with the punches of changing air schedules seems to be the order of the day. And perhaps if a group has chartered a whole plane, they can specify when the flight takes place, but a couple won't typically have that flexibility. (And given that these planes have a whole list of flights to make that day, even a charter can slip.)

    But the truth is, the flights are not the issue here. If Laurenaf wants to visit NLNP and walk, and her husband is cool being pretty much out of touch for 4 days (it would probably do him good!)-- well there are few places left in Africa that can provide this kind of experience. I loved it and hope to go again soon. Both the Coppingers camp and Kutandala are excellent choices, you really can't go wrong here. I stayed at Kutandala, it is just incredible. But I'm sure the other camps are equally wonderful.

    Laurenaf, does the 14 days you have include your travel time? And are you buying tickets or using miles? I ask because using miles often involved routing (eg via Joburg) that might eat up another day of your time, which you will need to consider as you build your itinerary. Be careful about this when you compare price quotes from various sources because their assumptions may differ and one extra night in a safari camp vs. a city hotel to make flights can change the price quotes
    considerably.

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    Wow - what a bonanza of information and ideas. And I've got to get on the stick here in making decisions. Door-to-door, I have a max of 14 days of travel time. I am aware that if I use miles, I probably will lose travel time. (for example - if I want to use miles from American, I will have to fly via London to Lusaka. This may result in my cutting out Vic Falls. The initial itinerary I posted was based on 16 days from GeoEx including day 1 as flying from the USA and 16 as landing in the USA. I just mentioned that I needed to cut the time back by 2 days.

    The suggestions for a mix of activities are right on target. Some drives, some walking, some water activities (canoeing). Based on what I have learned, we will cut Kafue-Busanga Bush Camp.

    As far as the Internet access - no huge downloads of info. Just checking and sending out e-mails and we don't expect that to be every day. It would be wonderful if my DH could unplug almost entirely but those of you who are in business for yourself (and even those who are not) may understand how hard that can be for 2 weeks. I can see that I would need to make mention of this ahead of time for wherever we stay. Thanks for the ideas on places for public access - you never know, that may come in handy.

    So - now to take all of the information and sit down with my husband and nail down exactly what is best for us based on what we have learned from everyone. I appreciate all of the ideas on big operators vs small and even organizing with an independent agent. There are truly pros and cons on both sides. Of course everyone wants to save $ and I know from my experience with GeoEx in Tibet that I paid a bit more to have the comfort level of knowing that if there was a problem, they would help get me home pronto. The Director for India and Tibet was in constant contact with me while I was in Tibet as there was a problem in Beijing with our guide. That adds a layer of comfort as I have children who will be in camp while I am in Africa.

    So, I have contacted a couple of the operators recommended here and on the boards to compare and contrast.

    Rocco - I truly appreciate that you can shave a thousand dollars off the trip and believe me, I would love to save that $. Just don't know if I can get past the need for a support infrastructure in case of emergency.

    Well, I am off to digest (and maybe to sleep as it is nearly 11:30 pm) and I will write again!

    thanks,
    lauren

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    lauren,

    I appreciate the consideration.

    About the support infrastructure, I would be very surprised if GeoEx used different ground operators than those used by the smaller tour operators. I mean what better ground operators than the owners of the lodges?

    I cannot imagine two better people to count on in an emergency than Barry/Tara at Luangwa River Lodge or Grant Cumings at Chiawa. Plus, whomever you book with, you should have SUPPLEMENTAL medical evacuation insurance such as that offered by www.medjetassistance.com so that you can get all the way home rather than just to the nearest major city, which in the case of Zambia would be Lusaka.

    For $305 per year, a couple would be provided medical evacuation insurance anytime they are more than 150 miles from home.

    Then, it would be in your own best interest to get your own travel insurance through a website like www.insuremytrip.com than to just accept whatever insurance is offered through a higher priced itinerary offered by one of the bigger operators. This way you have more control over your coverage AND you realize a cost savings.

    Also, a final consideration should really be who is able to design the best itinerary for you. Had you accepted that original itinerary by GeoEx, I guarantee you that you would have arrived home very worn out and in need of a vacation.

    Whichever direction you go, you will love Zambia. It is a truly magnificent safari destination.

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    Lauren, I believe that BA still flies from Joburg into Livingstone, so you can do an open jaw itinerary with your AA miles, and fly London-Joburg-Livingstone then local flights...back from Lusaka to London (or vice versa) this should save some time and internal flights if you do decide to spend a couple days in the Livingstone/Vic Falls area. Arrange this with care, since BA doesn't fly these routes every day of the week. (And if there is a plane cancellation or delay, that can be a problem. Another reason to do Livingstone first-- there are more flight alternatives from Joburg to this area...there are no other alternatives to a London-Lusaka flight.

    I prefer Vic Falls at the beginning of the trip, but if you plan serious shopping, it might be better to put it at the end, so you don't have to carry all the stuff along with you for the whole trip.

    Just to be clear, I don't thing ANYONE you will work with in the US has an actual person in Zambia if you need help-- not GeoEx or anyone else. (They may have an associated agent in the Vic Falls area, but I kind of doubt it.) BUT you won't need this kind of assistance, as all of the camps, large or small, are very used to dealing with internal arrangements and changes within Zambia. They can confirm & change air reservations, make hotel reservations if your plans change, coordinate transfers (which the camps do themselves in Zambia, and they do it very well) or help you make arrangements in an emergency. (A friend of mine in visiting Zambia recently got very ill on his visit --malaria, so take those prophylactic precautions seriously!!--and the camp he was at arranged for him to see a doctor and changed reservations to get him into a bigger lodge rather than at a bush camp. Once I decided to make an unplanned trip to Lusaka in the middle of my safari--they handled those arrangements too. Any of the camps mentioned here (and all those not mentioned, including the very cheapest) can and will provide this type of service, and they all do it well. Using a travel agent in the US helps you avoid the hassles of all the inquiries, arrangements, payments (by wire transfer, no credit cards!) and confirmations. But they won't really help you or provide a safety net on the ground in Zambia...not that you will need them to do that.

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