Infomercial...DO IT YOURSELF AND SAVE!!!

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Apr 26th, 2004, 04:58 PM
  #1
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Infomercial...DO IT YOURSELF AND SAVE!!!

-Reminder, nobody is making you read this!!!

Okay, as a way of showing other Fodorites just how much you can save by doing the legwork yourself and booking direct, when possible, here is my itinerary and related costs.

Sure, I have spent enormous time on putting this altogether, but that is really half the fun and just makes it all the more enjoyable when d-day (departure day) finally arrives!

These appear to be the final figures for my upcoming trip to Zambia and Italy.

-Round trip economy class air from LAX-London-Rome. $900 per person. www.travelocity.com

-Round trip business class air from London-Johannesburg-Lusaka. $120 per person + 80,000 ff miles.
www.americanexpress.com

-10 night Insight "Best Of Italy Tour." 4 nights in Rome, 2 nights in Tuscany, 1 night in Venice, 1 night in Assisi, 2 nights in Naples. $1625 per person.
www.affordabletours.com

-4 nights at Lower Kulefu Tented Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia.
$800 per person. ($200 pppns)
www.star-of-africa.com (direct booking)

-2 nights at Kaingo in honeymoon suite with private outdoor heated jacuzzi, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. $300 per person ($150 pppns)
www.kaingo.com (direct booking)

-2 nights at Mwamba, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. $280 per person ($140 pppns)
www.kaingo.com (direct booking)

-2 nights at Puku Ridge, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. $400 per person ($200 pppns)
www.star-of-africa.com (direct booking)

-1 night at Chichele Presidential Lodge, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. $200 per person ($200 pppns).
www.star-of-africa.com (direct booking)

-Zambian Air Transfers. Lusaka to Jeki, Jeki to Lusaka, Lusaka to Mfuwe, Mfuwe to Lusaka. $475 per person.
www.star-of-africa.com (I would have never have been able to handle the Zambian air transfers by myself and was very pleased that Star Of Africa volunteered to handle this for me without even having to be asked)

-Very comprehensive travel insurance through Access America. $83.50 per person.
www.accessamerica.com or toll free number for USA 800-756-2639

-One year membership to www.awardplanner.com
$50 per person ($99 for family membership)
Without Award Planner I may not have been able to find my desired flight from London-Johannesburg-Lusaka. At a minimum, I would have paid for the JNB-Lusaka flight myself, and paid $325 per person in economy class instead of free business class air.

-Wire transfer fees, Wells Fargo. $42 per person (2 transfers at $42 each).
Do yourself a favor and go to Moneygram or Western Union instead!

-Grand Total = $5,250 per person ($250 per person per night, and in "high season", no less, doorstep to doorstep). Cheaper than living in Los Angeles!

Fodorites on a budget, stop throwing your money out the window and start booking your own adventures! I estimate that this trip would have cost me a minimum of $2,000 per person extra just for my Zambian lodging and transfers if I booked through an agent.

There would be no Africa this year had I gone through a travel agent. As somebody famous once said, "the mother of invention is necessity". And, it was only through such necessity was this trip invented on a budget.

Imagine how much we may save if others started going direct and would share the wealth (of information). I realize that there are some very well-to-do Fodorites, but there are others like myself that are not (YET!) so accomplished and really need to find the best prices wherever and whenever possible! I do hope that my public exploits have led to savings for many others, as well.
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Apr 27th, 2004, 11:06 AM
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Thanks, I'm of the same mindset. My first safari was to Kenya (Masai Mara and Ambosel) and Tanzania (Crater and Serengeti) in August 1999. I was very green, so I ordered the brochure form Abercrombie & Kent, but their quote, which didn't include airfare, was outrageous (I don't remember what it was but it would have cost us more than $10,000 for that trip).

So, I called the Kenya Consulate in NY, and went over for a visit. They were very helpful and they put me in touch with some recommended Nairobi operators. I sent them the identical itinerary to the one in the A&K brochure, and their quote (exact same lodges, but with our own private vehicles instead of shared vehicles) was less than half the A&K quote. We saved over $5,000.

And, yes, when we left the lodge in the morning and got into our own private landrover, we saw the A&K trucks being loaded with 5 to 6 guests. Our only tradeoff was that we didn't get the A&K safari hat, but I'm sure if I really wanted one I could find it on ebay for less than the $5,000 we saved.

So, to this day, I have booked each of my four other safaris using an Africa based operator.

Its a little more leg work, but its worth it, and I find that you really learn a lot more about the available lodges and what distinguishes the different lodges.

Prior to the internet becoming widespread it would have been difficult to book with a local operator, but with email, its just as easy to deal with someone in Nairobi or Johannesburg as to deal with someone in NY or LA.
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Apr 27th, 2004, 06:33 PM
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Thit Cho,

That was pretty ingenius of you to go to the Kenyan Embassy! Glad to see that they were able to help you, as in 1999 I imagine it would have been a lot harder to put together on the internet while many were probably still not yet on the internet.

Isn't it a great feeling to see others doing the exact same thing as you are but knowing that you paid half the price?! Let them have their little hats!

Just got my 2004/2005 Micato brochure in the mail a couple days ago. It will be nice coffee table fodder!

Clock is ticking Thit Cho...where will be the winning destination for you this year? Seems like just about anywhere will be a repeat destination, although I don't know if that makes your decision easier or more difficult.

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Apr 28th, 2004, 11:52 AM
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Rocco, thank you for your informative posts on your Zambian experiences. I was in midst of planning a Zambian trip, and had a few questions about your do-it-yourself methods.

- How and with whom did you book your your inter-camp transfers? (I know you mentioned Star did your in country flights, but I am referring to car transfers.)

- I will be traveling by myself and was wondering if this will seriously diminish my ability to bargain directly? Any insights?

- I am planning to travel in June 2005. What would you suggest be the "optimum time" prior to my trip to make direct contact?

- Lastly and probably most importantly, this will be my first trip to Africa. Fairly experienced traveler and prefer to arrange my own travel. The cost savings you have obtained are truly impressive, but other that spending a bit more time and leg work, what is the down side of doing this yourself (especially if one has not been to this area)?
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Apr 28th, 2004, 12:07 PM
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Green Drake,

Excellent questions.

Travelling alone, you may expect to pay more per night than I am, but still should be able to save if you go in very early June, before the camps start filling up. Some camps are full no matter when you go (Sausage Tree Camp in Lower Zambezi was already full four months ago for June 01st - June 15th) but many will just be opening up for the season in both Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa.

The intercamp transfers are provided by the lodges. There is an unwritten rule, at least in South Luangwa, that the lodge that you last stayed at will be responsible for providing your transfer to the next camp. For example, I am beginning my South Luangwa stay at Kaingo and then they will drive me nearly two hours over to Puku Ridge. Road transfers are complimentary (!) in Zambia, making it an even greater value when you consider that road transfers in South Africa are sometimes $50 per person from the nearest airport of from another lodge in the area.

As far as lead time goes before making contact, I would wait until at least January 2005, so that you still have plenty of time to shop around but so that the lodges will have had time to be empty for a couple months and not so fat off the high season which ends in about October.

As far as the down side of booking direct goes, I just don't see too many negatives. Perhaps the fact that I cannot charge the fees to my American Express is a negative, but well worth the savings. Also, it was a bit inconvenient to wire transfer the payment, but in reality, all it took was 15 minutes at my banking institution.

There are however tremendous benefits. Immediate answers from the lodge is the best benefit besides the great pricing. There is no middleman (agent) to have to go through on everything.

I highly encourage you to book anything and everything that you can, directly. There are some lodges that will make you go through an agent, but then you are free to say "no thank you", and go to the next lodge.

Good luck and you have any other questions, I will be happy to help.
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Apr 28th, 2004, 12:21 PM
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Roccco,

Thank you very much for the feedback! That really helps clarify some of the questions I had in regards to strategy and logistics.

I actually am one of those people that enjoy the planning, logistics and putting the puzzle together, so I found your posts great!

Zambia for many reasons appealed to me before I came upon your posts, but I must say they have added to the anticipation and excitement of this adventure. Hearing about this "unwritten" agreement about camp transfers just adds to my desire to make Zambia my destination of choice.

Have a great trip to Italy and Zambia and I look forward to reading about your trip!!

Thanks again,

GreenDrake(Fred)
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Apr 28th, 2004, 01:20 PM
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Roccco, I know the clock is ticking and times-a-wasting for my 2005 safari. Up until recently, I thought my streak would mirror Lou Gehrig's (or should I now say Cal Ripken's) and that I'd get to Africa for safari each year. My streak so far:

August 1999 -- Kenya (Masai Mara and Amboseli) and Tanzania (Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti)

June 2000 -- Kruger NP and private reserves

August 2000 -- Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin (not a safari, but a fun trip to a different part of Afric) [sidenote -- I was very lucky in 2000; BA had a promotion that gave you 2 tix anywhere in the world if you took one transatlantic business class trip with them, so I had work pay for a biz trip to Europe, and I snagged a free ticket to Johannesburg and then to Accra)

August 2001 -- Botswana (Chitabe, Savuti and Chobe Game Lodge), Zimbabwe (Vic Falls Hotel), Zambia (Kafunta) and Malawi (Livingstonia Beach Hotel)

August 2002 -- Swaziland (Mkyaha Reserve), Mozambique (few days in Maputo) and Namibia (Ongava, three camps in Etosha and Sossosvlei)

August 2003 -- Uganda (Queen Elizabeth NP and Bwindi), Rwanda (PNV) and Kenya (Samburu).

December 2003 -- Galapagos (not a safari, but a great wildlife experience)

So, I've hit the major safari countries, and now I need to decide where to go. I was thinking of visiting Gabon (Lope Park to see gorillas), but that may be a little difficult and I understand the game is difficult to see.

So, if I go, I'm leaning towards another trip to Masai Mara (the migration was still the most amazing safari experience, with its huge herds of ungulates and large numbers of predators).

Or, I may venture elsewhere. One problem is that I have a new client and we have several meetings in Poland in mid-August, which is when I usually try to go on safari, so I may end up tacking a vacation on to a trip to Europe. I've been to Europe at least 100 times in the last several years, but I haven't taken a long European vacation since 1994, so maybe its time for a couple of weeks in Europe.

In any event, I had better make up my mind soon.
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Apr 28th, 2004, 03:24 PM
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Sorry to butt in--- Roccco is the expert on booking direct. I have done some of it, but also have and use very good travel agents. I have also travelled alone, and faced the dreaded single supplements...
1) One downside of doing it yourself is that there are places who simply will not deal direct. Period. Wilderness Safaris in Botswana...Robin Pope Safaris in Zambia. Basically, if these folks have lots of business, it is just simpler for them to deal with high volume specialist travel agents instead of single travellers. So if you are insistent on do-it-yourself, you will be limited to the universe of places that are willing to deal. There are wonderful camps that are willing to deal direct (until they get really popular) but if your heart is set on certain camps...or your time is limited and your budget less so, you really might consider a specialist travel agent for your first trips to a country or region.
2)My travel agent was able to avoid
single supplements with these places and I was travelling in August and September! It all depends on the booking situation and the travel agent relationship. So my agent got me into the places I really wanted, and earned their commissions by avoided single supplements. A fair trade, I think...

3) The other trade off is that doing it yourself takes ALOT of time. More than I thought it would. On a short, compact trip where you are staying at a small number of places, it is not so bad. Roccco talks about doing one wire transfer. On my latest trip, I will either have to make arrangements for payment with 5 or 6 different operators, and that gets to be a hassle, and the wire fees do add up. If you are lucky, they will let you pay when you arrive...but now you are carrying lots of cash. Not comfortable these days...

4) The ease with which you can do-it-yourself probably varies by region, too. As Roccco says, in Zambia the camps handle transfers really well...and will book local charter flights for you. (You just can't do this yourself-- there is no way to contact these folks.) But I'm not sure this holds in other regions of Africa.

5) A really good travel agent can suggest things that you might not have thought about. For example, my agent arranged a car and driver/guide to take me through the Drakensberg mountains, staying at quaint local inns for several nights instead of flying from the Kruger area back to Joburg. It was surprisingly affordable (at pre 2003 exchange rates!) and a fabulous intro to South AFrica, and I could dictate exactly what we did and for how long. Much better than driving myself (which I wouldn't have done) or just flying back. Without a trusted travel agent, I wouldn't have been willing to arrange this.

So Roccco is right-- you can have a great holiday and save, if you are willing to do the work and follow the deals. And if you are the type of person that enjoys all the research, communication and logistics of trip planning. I know Roccco enjoys this all the time...I enjoy it some (but not all!) of the time...and for some people it would not be a good idea at all. But you have already started your research here...keep digging, decide what you really want to do, what you are willing to invest and see where your preference fall...


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Apr 28th, 2004, 03:43 PM
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Interesting thread --- and very informative. Thanks so much for sharing the "do it yourself" info.

We are just beginning to look into making our first trip to Africa and wow - there is alot to consider. For those of you have been to several locations - where would you recommend going on your first trip? We are in our mid-40's. We're major animal lovers and a trip to Africa has always been on my list.

Any direction you could give would be helpful!
Thanks so much!
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Apr 28th, 2004, 06:10 PM
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This post is not practical info...it is an "emotional" approach to thinking about a first trip to Africa, I'd actually recommend beginning by reading things are are not necessarily about travel and travel planning. Visit the local library, and see what you can find. Read books and wildlife magazines-- for a real treat subscribe to Africa Geographic, the most beautiful and enticing magazine in the world! National Geographic...historical books and novels-- Peter Matthiessen (The Tree Where Man Was Born, Sand Rivers), Iain-Douglas Hamilton : Among the Elephants, Jane Goodall (lots of titles), Owens' Cry of the Kalahari-- all about the natural environment and wildlife. Or novels-- Isak Dinesen, Norman Rush-- there is a thread here somewhere about books and movies about Africa. For a powerful but less attractive view of the continent, try Paul Theroux Dark Star Safari (it's not about wildlife safaris...and actually I'd recommend it only to people who already love AFrica).
See what captures your fancy and your fantasy.
Then begin to look into a trip that would take you to those places...
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Apr 28th, 2004, 09:24 PM
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Tashak,

As a point of clarification, Robin Pope Safaris will, to my superior knowlege (and I don't use that as a snobbish statement, it is just a statement used in engineering/construction meaning that I have knowledge on a subject that others may not), will accept direct bookings, although in the case I refer to, it was enough people to fill up the camp. I don't know if they will accept a direct booking for a smaller party.
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Apr 28th, 2004, 09:45 PM
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Well this was just my experience (with RPS re direct booking)... I did a full itinerary with them one year. Contacted them directly the next year about a return stay in one of their camps. Made a point of saying "I'm not using a travel agent for this trip as I am staying at local places that don't deal with agents)" They still said "please go through your travel agent. We don't accept direct bookings."
So one can always try (and I may, again, in the future) but that's what they told me...And as you point out, there may be one story in the low season and another response in the high season.

By the way, a friend of mine did a mobile safari with RPS through an outfit called Wilderness Travel in Berkeley. Wilderness runs set departures, RPS handles all on-the-ground arrangements. Includes stays at their camps at either end with the mobile in the middle. These looked like super itineraries, and she had a spectacular time. Looked like a good value too, if you can deal with set dates, this was a very high quality mobile (no shared tasks) at a group-type price. So there are interesting options on this front too...
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Apr 28th, 2004, 11:14 PM
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In general I'm very concerned by value and I understand that if you enjoy the planning organizing a trip can be great fun.

I also recommend looking at the deals local travel agents may offer. On a recent trip to Iran we had a similar experience to Thit cho's in Kenya.

I contacted several local agents and paid 1/3rd of the US advertised prices. The local agents we spoke to were the very same ones who organize and run the trips for US specialty travel firms. We paid 1/3rd and we were on a personalized private tour. (We only went on a tour because it was necessary to get a visa.

The last trip I took to Africa was several years ago...in nine weeks we visted West Africa (Mali and Senegal), Southern Africa and travelled overland from Malawi to Zanzibar. We used a combination of a travel agent's package for the safari, backpacking and direct booking...eg Quatier Francias ans some other places in South Africa...

I agree that direct bookings are an important tool but sometimes an agent can provide an excellent package that you can't match on your own. I found this was especially true when booking in the off season.

It's the very posssibility of bundling the services together that can provide the discount through the agent(although I'm not saying this is generally true). The careful shopper assesses all the possibilities.

For example we paid $2,500pp (with Jo'burg based Pulse Africa) for a Zambian trip staying at highly rated and generally expensive camps - Tongabezi (2 nights) Sausage Tree (three nights) and Robin Pope (Tena Tena and Nsefu for 5 nights) a total of ten nights INCLUDING all tax and chartered (not scheduled Air Zambia flights) air transfers...Vic Falls-Jeki, Jeki-Mfuwe and Mfuwe-Lusaka...we paid an extra $50 and changed the last leg to Mfuwe-Lilongwe.

Anyone who has planned a trip to places where you're looking at small plane charter transfers knows that the per night safari cost can dramatically esculate when you add in these flights...I have never been able to equal this deal.

I would not have been able to put together this trip independently. Incredibly all of the charter flights where private, just myself my husband and the pilot. He even flew over the Falls for us coming out of Livingston.

My conclusion, do what works for you.

Different techniques suit different people...none of this makes your trip more or less authentic.
Sometimes a travel agent can offer the best value, but is it the package for you?

I agree that a healthy scepticism and shopping around is vital to feeling one has found good value. But it just depends on what you value...planning may be fun for me but some people don't have the time or the inclination.

That's my two cents!
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Apr 28th, 2004, 11:51 PM
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Welltraveledbrit,

I am not playing a game of one-upmanship by any means, but I do think I received an equivalently great priced package on my own, as the one you received from Pulse Africa.

While my Zambian safari only includes two destinations, instead of three destinations, it does inlcude one extra night, and this is a few years after your trip, if I read your posting correct. I paid Star Of Africa $3,744 and Kaingo $1,120 ($960 upfront and an additional $160 to be paid onsite for national park fees and difference in price between honeymoon suite and standard chalet).

So, for $2,433 per person, I have an 11 night safari to South Luangwa and Zambia, including all transfers. While Kaingo and Mwamba are less expensive than the other lodges, Kaingo/Mwamba only account for four of my days, while the much more expensive Puku Ridge, Chichele Presidential Lodge and Kulefu Tented Camp all account for the remaining seven nights.

Rack rates - Puku Ridge ($400 pppns), Chichele Presidential Lodge ($400 pppns), Kulefu Tented Camp ($385 pppns).

I did visit Pulse Africa and the only Zambia package on offer is:

2 nights at Nkwali
3 nights walking trail
2 nights at Nsefu

Total price is $2,540 pppns (about $363 pppns), and these camps are no better than possibly Kaingo / Mwamba where I am staying for $150 pppns and $140 pppns.

I just have not seen any packages that will compare to what I received for the beginning of 2004 high season, otherwise I really would not waste my time.

I do believe that the same package that you bought for $2,500 pps would now be a minimum of $3,500 pps, now that Sausage Tree Camp and Chiawa are better known. Conde Nast Traveler recognized Chiawa as one of the top ten safari camps in Zambia, the only lodge to be included on the list. Once Conde Nast Traveler mentions a lodge, it seems like they raise their rates immediately.

I will close by saying that I have enjoyed dealing directly with the lodges. Even the lodges that turned me down were never (openly) hostile towards my enquiries. I knew exactly where I wanted to stay in South Luangwa so I did not really get a chance to test out the waters, instead only contacting Kaingo and Star Of Africa.
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Apr 28th, 2004, 11:54 PM
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By the way, the $3,744 ($1,872 pp) to Star Of Africa included air from Lusaka - Jeki, Jeki - Lusaka, Lusaka - Mfuwe, Mfuwe - Lusaka, four nights at Kulefu Tented Camp, two nights at Puku Ridge and one night at Chichele Presidential Lodge. That in itself would have made a nice holiday, but throwing in four nights at Kaingo/Mwamba for only $560 pp, will hopefully really make it a nice time.
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Apr 29th, 2004, 06:24 AM
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Here is a decently priced itinerary from Robin Pope Safaris website if you don't mind staying six nights at the same lodge and also one night at Chaminuka, which I believe is about a one hour drive from the Lusaka Airport, making it possible for all those that are flying British Airways enough time to make their 9AM flight the next morning back to London:

GREEN SEASON

Now extended to mid June 2004

details
Dash to the bush for a week

7 Nights.
valid April May 2004
Lusaka/Lusaka Saturday (6 nights Nkwali, 1 night Chaminuka)
Lilongwe/Lilongwe Sunday (7 nights Nkwali)
includes flights to/from Mfuwe
not included ? long haul flights, airport tax
min 2, no single supplement if travelling with a group

GBP 944 per person

---That works out to only $1,675 USD per person (less than $240 USD pppns) and includes flights from Lusaka. Terrific bargain if you ask me and I am glad to see that RPS has recognized that early June is not yet high season.

The return air transfers alone between Lusaka to Mfuwe are worth about $300 pp, so that really makes this package a bargain.

Trust me, South Luangwa is a beautiful place in early June and if you can save $150 pppns by going in early June, it is worth it. It doesn't get nearly as cold as Botswana or the Kruger/Sabi Sand areas.
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Apr 29th, 2004, 06:36 AM
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I just noticed that if a person doesn't want to stay at Chaminuka that it is also possible to stay 7 nights at Nkwali on this package, with return flights from Malawi included. I imagine that it wouldn't be too much more to have RPS break it up with possibly four nights at Nkwali and three nights at their best camp, Tena Tena. That would keep things more interesting, as Nkwali is in the Mfuwe part of the park while Tena Tena is in the Nsefu sector. How much more could it be at Tena Tena, $75 per person per night sharing? Even so, this package would be only $1,900 USD pps, working out to $270 USD pppns and including your flights in and out of Mfuwe.

As a comparison, I am paying about $1,500 USD pps for return flights to Mfuwe, 2 nights Kaingo, 2 nights Mwamba, 2 nights Puku Ridge and 1 night Chichele Presidential Lodge. So, for an extra $400 pps, RPS has offered an excellent opportunity to see their camps, assuming I am correct about being able to split the camps for only an extra $75 pppns at Tena Tena.
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Apr 29th, 2004, 08:36 AM
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Only problem: not sure when in June Nsefu and TenaTena will open! Only Nkwali is open before June. But this is a fabulous package, and IF you could wriggle into a just-opened extra camp, it would be even better.
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Apr 29th, 2004, 08:38 AM
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OOPs...but just for the record, I still don't think they will do this direct!
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Apr 30th, 2004, 12:53 PM
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Tashak thank you very for your "counter-points". No real "right" or wrong" here, but the information Roccco and yourself provide helps me put myself in the "correct" bin in terms of which route to take. As a single traveler I wondered if in certain circumstance the travel agent could help eliminate or reduce single supplements.

Roccco...that is great news about RPS extending their off season into June. (BTW my work colleague went to Kafunta in May and had a terrific stay with great wild life viewing.)
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