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robin pope safaris (Zambia) in may?

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Can anyone tell me about their experiences with Robin Pope safaris? I am considering spending 4 nights in Nkwali and 4 nights in Tena Tena for my honeymoon at the end of May (May 24-June 1).

Any information, opinions appreciated. We are also considering the Okovango Delta in Botswana if anyone has any thougts on comparisons.
Thanks!!

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    stefandsara,

    I was at Tena Tena (and Nsefu) in July 2003 and was very happy with my stay. 4 nights at each location is a good combination without too much rushing. Great area for walking and seeing game on foot, in addition to driving, and night drives.

    South Luangwa and and the Okavango are a great combination. You can decide if you want more of a water camp or a land-based activities camp in the Delta, or both. How many days are you planning on in Botswana?

    Unless you are planning real active, walking safaris in Botswana, I'd do that after Zambia, so you end on a more relaxing note. Just my preference.

    Have fun planning your wedding as well as your honeymoon.

    Lynn

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    Stefandsara,

    Not to take anything away from Robin Pope Safaris (they have a very good reputation), but here are some other alternatives in South Luangwa that are worth looking into.

    www.kaingo.com - This is a great camp. Three game activities per day are included and the guides here are excellent.

    www.luangwariverlodge.com - This is a new camp but I have heard excellent reports about it. It may be more ideal for your honeymoon than Nkwali, as it appears to be more luxurious.

    www.star-of-africa.com - They have two excellent places in South Luangwa, Chichele Presidential Lodge and Puku Ridge. Each place is within a couple miles of the other, so there is no sense in staying at both. Chichele has a hilltop location that provides views for as far as the eye can see in every direction.

    www.remoteafrica.com - This is the website for Tafika. While this camp is more on the rustic side, it is the only camp that I am aware of in all of Africa that offers "microlighting" as one of its activities. A microlight is like a hang-glider but with an engine, allowing you to fly with the pilot for an exhilirating "game drive" from the sky.

    There are other places as well, just none that I would recommend for a honeymoon:

    www.normancarrsafaris.com
    www.bushcampcompany.com
    www.luamfwa.com
    www.luangwa.com
    www.flatdogscamp.com

    For an excellent website covering all of Zambia, have a look at www.zambiatourism.com

    Congratulations on your approaching wedding. Wherever you decide to go in Zambia, you should have an amazing time! :)

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    stefandsara,

    While I have yet to visit Botswana, I believe that by May it will be getting very chilly. Others may not agree with me, but the last thing I want while I am on safari is to have cold weather!

    South Luangwa is further north than Botswana and by May it should be very nice during the day (around 80 degrees) while at night, I would doubt if it dropped under 60 degrees.

    I have twice been there in June, and despite it being the coldest month for South Luangwa, and I have never found it to be uncomfortably cold.

    From a pricing standpoint, in late May, you may still be able to get some great prices in Zambia.

    South Luangwa should be incredibly beautiful in late May. Each time I visited, it was at the beginning of June and everything was still nice and green, yet the bush was forgiving enough to allow very good gameviewing.

    The only thing about late May is you should not count on doing any walking safaris. The bush may still be too high, making it too dangerous for walking safaris.

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    Dear Stef and Sara,
    As part of our honeymoon in 2000 we went to Zambia for 10 nights and stayed at Tongabezi (nr Vic Falls), Sausage Tree (Lower Zambezi Park), and Robin Pope's Tena Tena and Nsefu in Luagwa.

    While we enjoyed the game at Tena Tena and Nsefu we didn't find either property as romatic as Sausage Tree or Tongabezi, where, for example, they were much more ready to prepare a special meal for us that we could have privately.

    We enjoyed the game sightings at Sausage Tree which were excellent, a leopard came right thro the camp! Also the setting on the Zambezi was spectacular.

    Have you considered a combination of the lower Zambezi National Park and Luangwa...this would also give you some variety in the landscape.

    We booked through africansafari.co.za and they were able to get us an excellent end of season rate.

    Good luck with the planning, hope this helps!

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    Thanks for the replies. I was just thinking this morning about doing the first part of the trip in the Lower Zambezi, and the going up to South Luangwa.

    I spoke to Kim and they have just built a honeymoon tent at Tena Tena, so I am hopeful about that camp.

    Any other reflections on any of the places you stayed, what to bring, what to expect, etc would be great. Thanks!

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    stefandsara,

    So you are thinking of Zambia OR the Okavango. To compare the areas for the time of year you are going, you can use this link.

    http://www.africa-adventure.com/dsp_besttime.html

    As you will see, the Okavango comes out a little better for game viewing during May, but you are going the end of May, so it's almost June.

    I've never been there in May, but Rocco, who has actually been there when you are going, makes an important point about not counting on walking at that time. If walking safaris were part of your plans that is an important consideration. But so is a new honeymoon tent.

    I think Botswana would be more expensive than Zambia in May. I've only stayed at Wilderness camps. A few very lovely ones in/near the delta you might want to consider are: Vumbura or the less expensive Little Vumbura with day and night drives and water activities; Chitabe or the equally priced Chitabe Trails with day drives and walking; or not in Okavango, but in Linyanti there is Duma Tau with day and night drives, boating, and hides/blinds. Overlooking an active lagoon, I thought it was rather romantic. There might be other camps that are more romantic, but I bookd those camps for their game potential.

    For temperatures, with no firsthand experience in May, I just looked up some temps and found Botswana seemed to average lows in the upper 40s and S. Luangwa had lows in the mid-50s for May. Highs were mid-70s to 80 in both. Little rainfall for both so that's good.

    Those were just some thoughts.

    Lynn


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    I think I'm pretty settled on Zambia. It's so much less expensive that I think we'll be able to stay a little longer. I talked to Chris McIntyre at Sunvil Africa and he was very helpful (and agreed that for first time to Africa, though the Delta is amazing, Zambia has tons to offer, and probably will get more for the $$). Neither he nor the reservations person at Robin Pope said anything about not being able to walk in late May; both talked about the walking parts as though they would be featured. I will check with them again.

    Now I am just trying to work out the best camps....
    Chiawa or Sausage Tree?
    Tena Tena or the Luangwa Valley Lodge?
    Nkwali or somewhere else?

    Also I'm wondering if we should do 4 days in the first came we go to, and then 2 and 3 in the others, since we will take a day to get our bearings, I imagine. Does anyone have thoughts on this? We could possible stretch it to ten nights, and do 4 in the Lower Zambezi, and then 3 each at 2 camps in South Luangwa....

    So many decisions to make from so far away!

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    Stefandsara,

    The Lower Zambezi is, indeed, a beautiful area, but, like the Okavango Delta, it will be a bit chilly at the end of May.

    I spent four nights at the beginning of last June at Kulefu Tented Camp (www.star-of-africa.com) and it was uncomfortably cold at night...I would estimate about 40 degrees each night.

    Also, while the birding was amazing, the gameviewing was poor, and in four nights we did not see a single leopard or lion and only saw a handful of elephants. I was told that favorable gameviewing occurs later in the dry season (August - October).

    But, if you want to enjoy spectacular scenery, while also taking in some canoeing, and don't mind a few cool nights (remember, you are in luxury tents, but they are still, nonetheless, tents) then I would highly recommend the Lower Zambezi. I thought it special enough to plan a return trip this year, although I am waiting until mid-September to visit this time around. However, I may have just been the victim of being in the Lower Zambezi during the full moon, when predators don't really bother to come out and hunt at night.

    And in closing about Lower Zambezi, unless you want to hear the occasional hunting rifle, I suggest that you avoid Kulefu Tented Camp and the little known Ana's Tree Camp. I do think that you will be well insulated from the Zimbabwean hunting areas while at Sausage Tree Camp, Chiawa Camp and Kasaka River Lodge, although I do not know for sure as I have yet to stay at any of these lodges. Remember, Zimbabwe is just a few hundred feet away, right on the other side of the river, so although I am not aware of any hunting going on in this exact part of Zambia, it definitely occurs within earshot of Kulefu and Ana't Tree Camp on the Zim side of the river.

    Regarding South Luangwa NP, I have always had better experiences when the owners are onsite. That may or may not be the case with Robin Pope Safaris, but with three camps and their own private house away from the camps, and with Robin Pope away half the time on walking safaris, my guess would be that while you will be in capable hands, you will not be in the same camp as the owners.

    At Luangwa River Lodge, on the other hand, not only will you be in possibly the most luxurious lodge in the South Luangwa, but you will also be hosted by the owners of the lodge, Barry and Tara. While many lodges seemingly force the issue, by having the rangers/guides dine with the guests, Luangwa River Lodge, I have been told, does things a little differently by personally hosting dinner each night with ONLY the guests.

    While I have met many guides that I have enjoyed, quite honestly, once it comes time to an intimate candle-lit dinner in the bush, I would much rather just be with other well-traveled guests and with the owners of the lodge, which in this case are two well-traveled Europeans, he an investment banker or something similar, and she and interior designer, each in their mid-30's.

    When eating with the guides, many of whom are from the local villages, conversation just sometimes seems forced, and unless they are Mr. Personality, for the most part, I prefer to eat with just the managing couple and the other guests, if not alone with my wife if I don't care for the other guests.

    I do think that the most suitable places (i.e., "romantic") for a honeymoon stay would be either at Luangwa River Lodge, Chichele Presidential Lodge or Puku Ridge, but I have not yet visited Tena Tena or Nkwali.

    But, if you are staying at two different lodges in South Luangwa, you may be best off with four nights at Nkwali and three nights at Tena Tena.

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    I think Roccco brings up some excellent points and many of his observations echo my experience.

    We didn't have the best time at Tena Tena because of the quality of the managing couple, Robin Pope was abroad,they were very, very young and in our estimation not suitable for the hosting job. However at Sausage Tree both the guide and the manager were excellent. The other guests also come into play but the difficult is how does one plan for these issues?

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    Thanks for the insights. I think I am heading towards staying in the Luangwa Valley, though we may end up at Tena Tena. Do you remember the name of the couple? I'm hoping maybe they'll have moved on.

    I've been talking extensively with Chris McIntyre of Sunvil Africa, and he has been very helpful, as he's very familiar with all the camps in Zambia. (He has also written the Brandt's books on Zambia and Botswana, which look quite good, though I haven't delved into them deeply yet.)

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    Greetings,

    have you thought about going with the bush camp company? The only operate very small camps that are very rustic. Its another company to possibly throw in the hat. Greendrake went there, so check out his trip report.

    My only other reponse is to Roccco's attitude towards guides sitting in with you at dinner. I can understand that the conversation may differ slightly from what we are used to a westerners, though it if you wish to find out more about the local culture and life it is fantastic. There is one crucial element that i consider when dining with guides. You talk about helping with conservation efforts etc, how about black empowerment. By conversing with guides, you are putting them on a learning curve that will help their hosting skills. This gives them a greater opportunity to enter the management of the lodges. In my experience, there are too few from the host country who are given this chance. I know you have a high regard for star of africa, if more managers like Justice (at sussi) can come through, i believe the whole safari experience will be greatly enhanced. His experience as a black zimbabwean gives you a different perspective, compared to the predominate white management you usually find.

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    stefandsara,

    I dont know whether you have looked at the 'its monday' on the robin pope website, but they are experiencing a hell of a lot of rain. May will be nice and green hopefully for you.

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    Photoholic,

    While I am most appreciative of the guides, the fact of the matter is that individuals with the financial wherewithal to visit luxury lodges will likely not have much in common with local guides. There is plenty of time for interaction during game drives, sundowners, morning and afternoon tea, etc.

    However, once it comes time for dinner, it borders on absurdity for the local guides take part in formal dinners. More often than not, the guides seem uncomfortable at these dinners and would seemingly much rather be back with the other staff enjoying a much more casual dinner.

    I just thought that, especially on a honeymoon, stefandsara may enjoy either dining on their own or with only the other guests and owners of the lodge.

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    Dining with guides--

    You probably can get a feel for what you and the guides would prefer once you are there. Sometimes it builds comraderie to dine together. Guests can further enjoy the guide's expertise and company and the guides can hone their interpersonal skills with clients. At other times, I think the guides like a little down time and prefer not being "on duty" during meals.

    One a light note, on my first safari in Kenya, I asked my guide to dine with me at one of the very nice lodges with a delicious and expansive buffet. He filled up his plate and when we sat down to eat, he called over a waiter and said, "Bring me something I can eat. My mother would never allow this in her kitchen." He said the running joke among some of the guides was that they called the chicken that was served to guests "wood" and found it inedible. We ended up getting plates of ugali that night, his preference.

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    Robin Pope is a good operator and their camps are all high quality (Nsefu is my favourite). But they operate in a fairly remote part of the South Luangwa, and the game density isn't great. Given the choice, I would opt for Bushcamps, and particularly if you can get Phil Berry to guide you. Chindeni and Bilimungwe are outstanding in every respect.

    There is no comparison between Zambia and Botswana. Zambia is still fresh and vibrant, and the safaris there take you into some very remote territory. The rawness and the thrill and the solitude are all there. Botswana used to be this way 10 years ago, but Okavango safaris have now become contrived and sterile. The format in most of the Okavango camps is now very tired.

    I would go for Zambia by a mile. If you want to add some variety to your honeymoon safari, go to the Lower Zambesi after the South Luangwa (it's an easy flight from Mfuwe to Royal), and stay at Kasaka River Lodge, which is absolutely fantastic. The Zambesi River adds a whole new dimension - both in terms of game viewing, but also as regards activities (canoeing, tiger fishing in particular).

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    Africa Maven,

    Would you please share more about your experience at Kasaka River Lodge. I toured the lodge for about 10 minutes while I was returning from Kulefu Tented Camp last year, and I was impressed enough by the lodge and by the managing couple (and managing Jack Russell, Vodka), that I booked a short 3 night stay for September (to conclude a 12 night Zambian safari that will also take me to Tafika in South Luangwa, Kutandala in North Luangwa, and Luangwa River Lodge in South Luangwa).

    It is refreshing to find someone that has been to both Botswana and Zambia. While I sometimes feel immense pressure to visit Botswana, instead, I am enjoying my love affair with Zambia, and this year will mark my 3rd consecutive year visiting Zambia. :)

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    Last July, me n' my Fam spent two week in South Laungwa. We used the Bush Camps Co. for our walking safari. We met many people before and after the safari who used Robin Pope's outfit. I never heard any bad infoe. However, sounds like Bushcamps have more and much more varied types of camps to walk from. Each in their own little eco-system. The one advantage that Robin Pope has, is a camp in the more open country in the north part of the park. Also, I highly recommend Mufwe Lodge as a post safari respit. Very nice place. We shared one camp with an Italian honeymooning couple. For some reason, they just wanted to spend all day in camp. Now that I think about it, the Lion roars we heard in the middle of the night had a slight Italian accent to them.

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    We have been to a number of countries in Africa and Zambia remains a favorite. The Robin Pope camps feel like a more "authentic" safari experience than many others -- not so much focus on "the Big Five" and more on experiencing the bush and appreciating everything one sees (rather than chasing after only the fanfare game to check off on a list). Most importantly, the quality of the guides is absolutely top-shelf. Charming tents and honeymoon suites are lovely, but without superb guiding a camp is not tops in our book.

    It all depends on what is important to you and what your style is. We loved Nsefu and found Tongabezi (near Vic Falls) to be over the top for our taste (having a butler assigned to us for the duration of our stay felt uncomfortable and retro-colonial rather than wonderful). Some people love this, however, so you just have to know what you like. (If retro-colonial is your thing, the River Club may be even better for you than Tongabezi).

    We highly recommend Zambia and Robin Pope Safaris -- you can't go wrong with either. Have a wonderful honeymoon!!

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    WinterTravel,

    It would be a pretty futile effort if Robin Pope Safaris did, in fact, concentrate on The Big Five since rhinos have been poached to extinction in Zambia for many years now!

    But, I can appreciate what you are saying about Zambia and Robin Pope Safaris, although in even my third trip to Zambia, I still have not found it necessary to visit Robin Pope's camps with so many other options available. Unfortunately, there have actually been mixed reviews about RPS on this website, although I have friends that visited Nkwali last year and loved it, their first ever safari experience.

    There are just so many wonderful options to choose from in South Luangwa, from Robin Pope's camps (Nkwali, Tena Tena and Nsefu), to Star Of Africa's luxury options (Chichele Presidential Lodge and Puku Ridge), to Shenton Safaris camps (Kaingo and Mwamba), to the Bushcamp Company's circuit of various bush camps, to one of the best bargains in all of Southern Africa at Flatdogs Camp, to the new and luxurious Luangwa River Lodge and to the only lodge/camp in all of Africa, to my knowledge, that offers microlighting as an activity, Tafika.

    With so many wonderful options, it would be hard to go wrong with South Luangwa as a safari destination. The park is large enough to easily justify visiting at least two different lodges, if not more.

    As an added bonus to Americans suffering through a bad economy and weak dollar, lodges in South Luangwa and other Zambian wildlife destinations (Lower Zambezi and Kafue) price out their lodges in U.S. Dollars rather than in South African Rand. So, while many South African lodges have nearly doubled in the last 2.5 years, Zambian lodges priced have remained relatively unchanged. Even in high season, it is possible to stay at some great great places for about $350 per person per night sharing, and even for the most luxurious lodges such as Chichele Presidential Lodge and Chiawa Camp, it is no more than about $450 per person per night sharing. Having stayed at Chichele, my experience, overall, was every bit as good as my time at Singita in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa (which is now up to about $1,100 per person per night!). While the rooms were not as big and did not feature their own plunge pool, they were very luxurious and featured amazing postcard-quality views. Furthermore, the game activities were totally unregimented, allowing us on one day to enjoy a SEVEN HOUR game drive and on another day to enjoy a nearly 5 hour bush walk.

    This year I have selected Tafika and Luangwa River Lodge as my destinations of choice (after visiting Kaingo and Chichele Presidential Lodge last year, and Kafunta River Lodge and Kafunta Island Bush Camp the previous year). However, I do hope to visit Nkwali and Tena Tena on a future visit, as well as other camps such as Puku Ridge, Luamfwa Lodge and others. South Luangwa is just such a wonderful park, and the Zambians such a warm and friendly people, that it is hard to go wrong with most anyplace.

    For the very best site featuring South Luangwa and the rest of Zambia, anybody interested should visit www.zambiatourism.com

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    Roccco,

    You asked about my experience at Kasaka River Lodge. We stayed there in August 2003, liked it so much that we went back with friends in August 2004, and are in the early stages of planning another trip later this year.

    As those who (like us) have extensive safari experience in places like Zambia, Botswana and South Africa will know, it is hard to capture exactly what transforms a good lodge into a great one. It is some combination of the hospitality of the managing couple, the capabilities of the guides, the density of the game, the quality of the accommodation and the food, the scenic dimensions and the indefinable ambience. In our judgement, Kasaka is right up there on all these dimensions. Hugo and Esther are an astonishingly able pair, and incredibly warm and hospitable. They really do care about their guests. The Zambesi river adds a lot to Kasaka - partly because it is such a majestic river, partly because the bird life and game that it attracts are mesmerizing, and partly because being on the river itself (either fishing, or game viewing from one of the boats, or simply just watching the sun go down) is a welcome addition to the normal routine of walking and vehicle safaris. Our greatest pleasure has been to take the pontoon boat on a gentle cruise deep into the Lower Zambesi National Park with one of the Kasaka guides in the morning (picking up an armed Zawa scout along the way), having a walking safari in the Park with a picnic lunch, and returning to Kasaka in the evening, timed to enjoy the sunset on the way back. The game in the Lower Zambesi is as good as anywhere - plenty of predators, and more elephant than I've ever encountered. And we've come to really enjoy the tiger fishing, even though neither of us professes to be greatly interested in fishing. The technique used is drift fishing - allowing bait to drift on the river bottom, whilst the pontoon floats silently for miles downstream. It is incredibly peaceful, the game viewing whilst this activity is taking place is magnificent (hippo and crocs all around, elephant on the banks and in the water, waterbuck drinking - and even eland on the Zimbabwe side; plus wonderful bird life, particularly when the carmine beeeaters have come in from Mozambique). And the buzz of adrenalin when a tigerfish takes is something to be experienced. We've even flyfished for tiger, with Hugo, who is something of an afficianado of this esoteric art. Another key attraction of Kasaka is that its airstrip is only 5 minutes from the camp, and the flight to Lusaka is only 30 minutes - making it possible to leave early in the morning and still catch the British Airways flight to London, which leaves at about 8.00am.(It isn't possible to do this from Mfuwe in the South Luangwa - which then necessitates a rather dreary night at the Holiday Inn in Lusaka).

    I feel I've only scratched the surface in my description of what makes Kasaka so enjoyable. But, as is probably clear, I'm a real fan.

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    Africa Maven,

    Thank you so much for that comprehensive reply. I am waffling right now on whether I should stick to Zambia for the 3rd straight year, or whether I should take a year off from Zambia to make my first visit to Botswana. Only for Kwando's camps am I willing to even consider giving up Zambia for a year, as Kwando has an amazing reputation for lions and plenty of other predators, while really making the game drives and other gameviewing activities their focal point.

    I did have a chance to tour Kasaka for about 15 minutes, with Hugo gracious enough to cut short his brunch to give me a tour as I was on the way back from Kulefu Tented Camp. The vehicles seemed in tip-top shape (and were Land Rovers, as opposed to Land Cruisers), I loved Vodka the resident Jack Russell, and I loved the camp, especially the honeymoon suite which I currently have reserved for a 3 night stay in mid September.

    My only concern is seeing predators, especially lion and leopards, at Kasaka, but these may be unfounded concerns. What was your experience with lions and leopards?

    Here is my current itinerary:

    Tafika, South Luangwa NP (3)
    Kutandala, North Luangwa NP (3)
    Luangwa River Lodge, SLNP (3)
    Kasaka River Lodge, LZNP (3)

    I am tempted, however, to change my itinerary, if I stay in Zambia, to the following:

    Luangwa River Lodge (4)
    Kutandala (4)
    Kasaka River Lodge (4)

    Not only does it make for a more comfortable stay, but it adds one night each at lodges that are between $50 - $100 pppns less than Tafika. Honestly, I like Luangwa River Lodge, Kutandala and Kasaka all more than Tafika, and I hope that whatever I miss in the Nsefu part of the SLNP, will be more than made up for at Kutandala in NLNP.

    Which would you choose, my current itinerary or the one with 4 nights at each Luangwa River Lodge, Kutandala and Kasaka River Lodge?

    Last question...did you find the other guests at Kasaka to be well-traveled and veterans of Africa, or were there many first-timers? I much prefer staying at places that have well-traveled guests whom are making repeat visits to Africa. Makes for much more interesting conversation and prevents a lot of stupid questions and conversations, if you know what I mean!

    (No offense to the newbies) :)

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    Rocco

    The 4 nights at 3 camps would be my preference for these reasons.

    1. As you have mentioned in other postings, sticking around awhile gives you a more in depth perspective of the camp, as well as a more relaxing experience. I'm not just giving lip service to this idea, because I too will be doing 3 4-night stays on the next Africa trip.

    2. You will hit 3 excellent regions--S. Luangwa, N. Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi. You are not sacrificing a park, just a camp in a park. Being a real fan of Tafika, still does not change my mind for including it if the tradeoff is shortening the stays.

    4. The Lower Zambezi has so many options with the water activities that 4 days is really necessary to leisurely enjoy the walks, canoeing or boating, and fishing (you mentioned you partake in this sport), in addition to the traditional game drives.

    5. BIGGEST REASON Kutandala just deserves four nights because it is that special and you might feel you have shortchanged yourself with only 3. Also when I was there Rod, the owner, told me that all of the guests that season who had stayed 4+ nights had seen lions at least once on the walks. Those who had spent only 3 nights had not. My experience confirmed that with one on-foot siting of 3 lions during my 4-night stay. However, to put his comment in context, I was there in late July 2003 when there had been heavy rains so it was acting like late June, which is not as good for game as later in the season. September should not require you to "work as hard for your game" as Rod would say, due to fewer sources of water.

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