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Zambia HELP!

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Too big a decision for a poor old chook, lol
In '17 we're going to Zambia for the first and last time, so, where does one go.
So far it's been suggested Flatdogs and Lion Camp, and I've found Chichele as well as many others of course.
We are particularly interested in big grey things as well as antelope.
We'd do the usual 3 nights in each camp or perhaps 4 in one camp.
Walking safaris are out as well.
Thanks in advance.

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    Hi Sallysaab,

    Zambia is a phenomenal destination; arguably my favorite in southern Africa. It’s sense of wild/remoteness is authentic and you’ve got some phenomenally productive game viewing coupled with some of the strongest guides/hosts/management in the safari industry.

    For me, much of Zambia’s appeal lies in two unique factors in addition to the strong game viewing. 1) access to walking and canoeing safaris. For purists, being on safari sans vehicle noise and exhaust fumes is a major draw. I understand that walking safaris is not of interest to you, thus you need to focus on camps that have enough flexibility and guides on staff to accommodate non-walkers (most go to South Luangwa National Park [SLNP] to enjoy walking safaris to some degree]). 2) access to owner operated, hosted and guided camps. Although more “corporate” lodge chains exist in Zambia, there remains a relatively high density of owner operated camps which has a sense of passion and integrity that’s rare to find.

    Now, you’ve mentioned three camps by name: Flatdogs, Lion Camp and Chichele Presidential Lodge. I will give you my two cents on all three of these products.

    First and foremost, you’ve indicated 3 “value” properties – all of which I truly enjoy. I have a soft spot in my heart for Flatdogs as I used to camp there during overland trips and have very fond memories. Years later, I have quite a different take on Flatdogs and the whole of the Mfuwe sector. Flatdogs is a lovely camp and I use the Jackalberry House for parties of 4 who are traveling on a bit of a budget. It includes a private vehicle/guide with the “house” which will give you the flexibility you will be seeking. If you are only a party of 2, they will not guarantee the private vehicle (private vehicle is only allocated for a party of 4). You’ve also got your mix of tented rooms and chalets with overland camping area designated to the far eastern side of the camp. This is “mix” of accommodation from very budget overland campers to semi-luxury units may be this “camps” biggest draw back. It’s a fun experience, but perhaps not quite as refined as Lion Camp or Chichele. Furthermore, it’s located in the busy Mfuwe sector where all traffic enters the park. As the interior of the park doesn’t have any public camp sites (only permanent camps/lodges), overland campers and budget travelers don’t have enough time to access the remote sectors of the park whilst overnighting in the Mfuwe sector. Meaning, all day trippers into the park are game driving in this area. It can get quite busy. I use the Mfuwe sector infrequently as a staging area to get into the park as getting from Lusaka (LUN) to Mfuwe (MFU) to a camp in the heart of the park can be a long/daunting logistical day for some.

    Lion Camp is perhaps the best value “luxury” camp in the interior of the park. I believe it’s owned by a woman from Texas and offers stunning value for money. Lion Camp is also less “bush camp” and more of a permanent structure. It’s got 9 rooms/tents which is actually on the slightly larger side of properties in the interior of the park. This camps gets heaps of business for driving a quality experience for significantly less money than their neighboring camps. You’ve chosen a winner here! If this is also your first time on safari, it will be a relatively softer introduction compared to some of the other options out there.

    Chichele Presidential Lodge is a unique oddity. As the name implies, it’s a former retreat for Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda. Thus, the property feels very much like a homestead in the middle of the park (doesn’t feel like a safari camp/lodge). It’s lack of bush authenticity is made up by its great value and great location. It’s owned by Sanctuary whose parent company is Abercrombie & Kent. Although A&K/Sanctuary have lovely product with exceptional service, it’s lacking the uniqueness factor of a Zambian owned/operated camp. It’s great value, but it wouldn’t be my first pick. I think Sanctuary shines more in places like Botswana or Tanzania. The big pro to a Flatdogs, Lion Camp, Chichele combo is that you’ve got a huge diversity in experience and accommodation. You certainly won’t feel like “more of the same” as you move from camp to camp.

    Based on peak season pricing, Lion Camp is $645/person/night. Chichele is $490/person/night. You won’t find a better value combo in the park, but I’d also encourage you to consider some other camps that will highlight the more unique aspects of a Zambian owned/operated/managed/hosted/guided camp. Kafunta is another good value option with one lodge in the Mfuwe sector, another in the remote southern sector alongside Bushcamp Company product. Their Island Camp is a great bush experience, but more centered around walking. Their main lodge in the Mfuwe sector can cater more to you needs. Check out some of the other “higher cost” options like Remote Africa Safaris (John Coppinger is a phenomenal), Shentons (Dereck Shenton is also a legend), Robin Pope Safaris, and Norman Carr Safaris. These guys are quite a bit higher in cost, but offer tremendous safari experiences. As non-walkers, I suggest you stay away from the Bushcamp Company portfolio as they focus mainly on walking. Within the other portfolios I mentioned, some camps are more geared towards walking than others. Robin Pope Camps always have enough guides on staff to accommodate any activity – this may be a good option for you to explore.

    You’ve also focused your entire trip in SLNP. You’ve got some other amazing areas in Zambia to explore like Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP) and Kafue National Park (KNP); especially if you travel in August/September. Going to these two parks, especially LZNP, will give you tremendous diversity in scenery and activity for your trip to Zambia. LZNP is fed by the Zambezi affording you the opportunity for canoeing and motorboat activities in addition to your game drive and walks. If you like the concept of being away from crowds and staying in the heart of the park, look at camps serviced by the JEKI airstrip. Camps serviced by Royal will be more or less the same concept/drawback of Mfuwe. JEKI is a dirt strip in the heart of the park, Royal is a tarmac airport outside of the park. You get the idea . My favorites in the interior of the park include Sausage Tree (each tent has private vehicle/guide), Potato Bush, Anabezi, Old Mondoro and Chiawa. If you are more budget conscious, you will have to heard to the area serviced by Royal and look into camps like Chongwe or Kasaka. Although outside of the park, both camps afford great safari opportunities.

    KNP, especially the northern Busanga Plains area is extremely productive in August/September time frame. Reminiscent of East Africa’s vast open savannas, Busanga Plains will produce stunning game viewing with some unique species you won’t find in SLNP or LZNP. It’s worth a gander. Busanga Camp and the ultra-luxury Shumba Camp are both in the area and owned by Wilderness Safaris.

    In terms of big grey animals, you will be missing the rhino unless you do a relatively canned experience in Livingstone.

    I hope that this was helpful. Have a wonderful time in Zambia! It’s a remarkable place!

    Kota Tabuchi – Managing Director: Africa – Travel Beyond

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    There are lots of great camps in South Luangwa, it's just a question of picking the ones that suit you and your budget, and provide a nice balance of areas and styles of camp.

    Flatdogs and Lion Camp will be a very good value choice, and it combines the central area of the park (Flatdogs) with a more remote park (Lion Camp). So it's a good combination of areas. Flatdogs is nice but quite a busy camp. However, if you switch it for anything else it will push the budget up. Within that central area, Chichele would be an option. Personally, I don't like the style of it much- it is the old President's lodge and it's got these white painted buildings you can see from a mile off. It all looks a bit "colonial" to me, not very "bush". I would look at Kafunta as a reasonably priced option that is a step up from Flatdogs.

    It would be nice to have a proper bush camp in there, one in the Zambian style with reed chalets but since walking is a no no it's a bit tricky to suggest one, as often these camps are small and do not have enough guides to guarantee that you always have a free choice of walk/drive. Or they are in areas where walking is the main activity due to limited roads. Tafika or Mwamba would be the ones that spring to mind, and they are in the north so would probably be a substitute for Lion Camp but they would push your budget up a lot. If you could handle a bit of walking, then Kuyenda instead of Flatdogs but again that would increase the budget.

    For non walkers, Robin Pope are a good option as all their camps have enough guides to be fully flexible, and you could combine Nsefu and/or Tena Tena with Nkwali. But again, that would be more expensive than Lion Camp/Flatdogs.

    Probably I think the best 2 combinations to take a look at would be Kafunta/Lion Camp and Nkwali/Tena Tena(or Nsefu). That is assuming walking is completely out.

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    You have already gotten some input from two people who are way more qualified to give it than I am, but I booked a similar trip for this upcoming september and I'll just tell you what I decided on and why!

    A bit of background on us though, we don't mind a bit of walking, and we really were on a budget. Don't get me wrong, this is still an incredibly expensive trip by any standards, but unless camping and self driving, I think this is almost as budget as you can go.

    We would have loved to visit Lower Zambezi as well, but unfortunately the flight there and back really pushed up the budget too much and in LZ there really aren't any budget option (I don't consider Kasaka really a budget option).

    So here's our trip:

    We're starting at a rather unkown camp that I found after reading advice on Zambia on another well known safari forum: Zikomo. It is rather low cost for the area, and what appealed to me is that it's owner run (and she's very hands on and communicative!) and it's located in the Nsefu sector, a bit away from Mfuwe. I'm not convinced about the decor of the camp and rooms from looking at pictures, but to be honest, that's not why we go on safari. We're taking a bit of a risk I suppose by not going with one of the better known outfitters, and no TA would book it, but at this stage we just cannot afford a Robin Pope or Norman Carr unfortunately. No real walking here.

    Next we're off to another unknown camp, again recommended on the beforementioned forum but by another member: Nkonzi camp (run by jackalberry safaris). It's a very rustic real bush camp with tents (but private attached bathroom). It's rather deep in the park itself (as opposed to at the Mfuwe gate). It's again very good value for money. Not cheap in the least if you look at what you can get for that price in say South Africa, but very well priced for South Luangwa. There is 1 scheduled walking safari.

    And then we end our trip at a place that was recommended here as well: Kafunta. We are doing a mix of the lodge and the bush camp, so we'll do a bit of walking there.

    Another place I had first looked at but then decided to substitute with Zikomo was Thornycroft lodge. I think this is probably the cheapest option out there. They offer a 3n safari for 600USD, that's less than you usually pay per night... But it only includes game drives on the full days! So only 4. If you want one on arrival day and/or departure day you have to book that extra (60usdpp). The idea I toyed with here was to arrive here, you lose out on the first evening drive because you arrive too late anyway, and the morning you change camps we could have a sleep in for once to recharge the batteries. Then we'd use a bit of the freed up budget from staying in the low cost place to reserve a private vehicle/guide to be able to go out all day for 1 day (they offer it for 200 usd extra). But I decided for zikomo in the end, mainly on the basis of location. I didn't want to only be in Mfuwe, since we were already limiting ourselves to only 1 park.

    Every TA I spoke to threw flatdogs at me like it was the only option. It started to bug me at some point. I did very much consider it at first, and given how positive everyone is about the camp, I do think it's probably wonderful, but even that would have come out more expensive (unless I would have substituted Kafunta, but I really wanted that one for it's 5n package with their bush camp).

    I don't think your budget is quite as tight as ours was, but I had to work with what I had and this is how it worked out.

    I can let you know end of September how it went ;-)

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    Wow, the head is spinning!

    ecassaer, thanks for your input and yes I'd love to hear how you go.

    stokeygirl and TravelBeyond thank you also, I've printed out your info and will do some investigations.

    Like ecassaer, TA have suggested Flatdogs and Lion Camp.
    But being around a lot of noisy vehicles doesn't do it for us, and we don't do people just animals, terrible attitude I know, lol

    As for walking, when we were at Madikwe a few months ago we weren't allowed to go bush walking, didn't ask why as we were too stunned.

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    "But being around a lot of noisy vehicles doesn't do it for us"

    If you want to avoid the central area of the park altogether, that's possible but would push your budget up. I'd suggest combining Tafika with Lion Camp- these two are geographically close but on opposite sides of the river so you will cover two different areas, but it's a nice quick transfer between the two. Also, bear in mind for timing transfers and connections that both these camps are a good 2-3 hour drive from Mfuwe airport, although Tafika do offer air transfers in their own small plane to the airstrip near the camp (for a charge, obviously).

    However, if you look at a map of South Luangwa, the area just to the south of the main gate, around Chichele camp, is not quite as busy. There is also an entrance to the park down there via a pontoon across the river, near Nkwali and Kafunta camps. I stayed at Puku Ridge (Chichele's sister camp and next door to it) a couple of years ago and I have stayed at Kafunta before, and found that area much better than the part just inside the main gate. So for a camp in the central area I would definitely prefer one of the camps in that part of the park (Chichele, Puku Ridge or Kuyenda) or one with easy access to the pontoon (Nkwali and Kafunta), rather than something near the main gate like Flatdogs. So in that respect, one of those camps would be an improvement in location as well as being a more upmarket camp.

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    I think that if you are only planning 3-4 nights in each, the transfer costs, and time won't be worth it.
    From Lion camp, 2.5 hour drive to Mfuwe.
    Mfuwe-Lusaka flight with Proflight £270, 45 mins but only at certain times (check Proflight's website for the schedule).
    I'm not sure on the timings/cost of flights to Busanga Plains, but overall I think this transfer will take most of the day, meaning you will miss out on game viewing time.

    Also, check connections with international flights on arrival and departure too. If you are only going to South Luangwa for 3-4 nights and connecting from an international flight the chances are you will arrive late evening so miss your afternoon drive, and you will probably not get a proper morning drive on departure either (the transfer to Mfuwe is mostly through the park but you will probably just drive straight).

    If you were going to do this combination, I would probably put a night in Lusaka in between to avoid missing out on game viewing.

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