parks to choose from


Feb 18th, 2005, 05:01 PM
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parks to choose from

I was thinking of going to Kafue, Lower Zambezt and South Luangwe but I wondered if it was important to see all three or if just two would give us all the variety there is. We are interested in about 12 days and are not interested in Victoria Falls. If we go to two parks, then we save some in airfare and perhaps can stay at nicer lodges than going to all three. However, if going to all 3 is important then we want to consider that also.

Also, when we fly up from Capetown, I thought we might overnight ins Lusaka -- is this safe? -- and go to the camps in the morning. I thought it would be less expensive and give us some time to get over jet lag before going to see the wildlife. But I need to know if we would be safe in Lusaka.

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Feb 18th, 2005, 05:42 PM
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Although I am dying to visit Kafue NP, I would say that of the three, it would still be my first choice to skip, in favor of spending an adequate amount of time in South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi.

I am not too happy with the arrangements at Kafue NP. One company, Busanga Trails, has a mandatory 6 night stay that includes overland transfers from Lusaka for about $1,750 per person. Their lodges look a bit run down to me, in all honesty.

The other company, Africa Experience, runs Lunga River Lodge and Busanga Bush Camp. While this company is supposed to be very good, they also get you for about a 6 night minimum, with the first couple nights at Lunga River Lodge, then with a half day road transfer to Busanga Bush Camp, and then they get you again with a parting night at Lunga River Lodge.

I have ZERO interest in Lunga River Lodge and only want to see Busanga Plains, yet this is not possible with Africa Experience. I mean HOW HARD WOULD IT BE to make an airstrip in Busanga Plains so guests would be able to fly in and out?

Instead, by the time Africa Experience gets ahold of you for six nights, you are likely looking at $2,500 per person! Worst of all, you are likely only spending half the time in the place that you really came to see...BUSANGA PLAINS!

I will probably hold off on Kafue National Park until there are more choices in lodging, and possibly until an airstrip is put in. Perhaps I am just being paranoid and need some med's, but I do think there is a conspiracy to keep guests longer in Kafue NP.

Go to South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi where you will have a lot more choices. The game will be more plentiful overall in each Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa. While it is true that you will not see cheetah, as you may very well see in Busanga Plains, you will probably see 5x as many elephants in each place, and overall much more game.

With 12 nights, you can have an incredible time in South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi. Furthermore, you would even have time visit North Luangwa, if you chose to do so.

But, for a first trip, I would definitely concentrate on South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi.

Unless you absolutely love canoeing, I would suggest 8 nights in South Luangwa and 4 nights in Lower Zambezi. However, if you love canoeing, fishing, sundowner cruises, etc., in addition to game drives, then I would suggest an even split of 6 nights in South Luangwa and 6 nights in Lower Zambezi. Either way, I would end with Lower Zambezi, if possible, because I just think that the Zambezi River is magical and would be a nice lasting memory for the long ride home.

Lastly, forget about overnighting in Lusaka...just a waste of a night. It will take me 40+ hours to get to my first game lodge, Kasaka River Lodge, but I would not even consider giving up a night even in Joburg, yet less in Lusaka.

Flying up from Cape Town will be a piece of cake. As long as you are in Joburg by 10:30AM, you will have no problem jumping on the SAA 11:40AM flight to Lusaka, arriving in Lusaka at 1:40PM, taking a 2:30PM flight to Mfuwe, arriving in Mfuwe by 3:40PM and driving through the smoky haze of Mfuwe for 40 minutes before passing into the national park, likely arriving at your game lodge within about 30 minutes afterward...plenty of time for a short break before your night game drive.

The adventure begins once you get to Lusaka and you should not be at all tired or bored on any part of the ride to South Luangwa.

Anyway, here are a couple suggested itineraries:

Luangwa River Lodge (4) This is a good lodge to start with since it is near the entrance of the park, although located just outside the park.

From here you must make a decision whether or not you prefer to go north about a 2 hour drive to Kaingo or Tafika or if you prefer to go south about a 45 minute drive to Chichele or Puku Ridge.

Kaingo and Tafika will be more rustic but will likely offer a more solid gameviewing experience.

Tafika features a microlight, the only game lodge I know of that has a microlight, and the price for the microlight ride is about half what is charged in Victoria Falls (it is an optional extra but very fairly priced).

Kaingo's strong point is its position on the Luangwa River, as right outside your chalet you will see dozens of hippos and crocs, just down the steep embankment. Furthermore, they have an awesome "Hippo Hide", where you will be able to get very close to the hippos and take some wonderful photographs, as well as just having a beer or a drink and sitting back enjoying the show the hippos put on. This activity is in addition to your morning and night activity.

Now at Chichele and Puku Ridge, you are much more inland and away from the river, and this may be more desirable, as at most places in South Luangwa and all places in Lower Zambezi, you are going to be right on the river. Puku Ridge overlooks a very nice plain where there are plenty of animals. It is not uncommon for elephants to walk right through the camp. Puku Ridge, in my opinion, is a beautiful lodge with kind of this masculine chic thing going on.

Although I enjoyed Chichele last year, I would definitely vote for Puku Ridge as it is more in touch with the surrounding environment, while Chichele is a bit too colonial in decor and by being atop Chichele Hill, it really takes away from gameviewing opportunities from the lodge, while Puku Ridge's location seems to exploit the game viewing opportunities by seemingly being right in the animals path!

So, I would strongly suggest 4 nights in Puku Ridge, but as a runner up, I would suggest Kaingo if you don't want to miss out on the hippos.

Puku Ridge (4)

From there, I would suggest four nights at Kasaka River Lodge in Lower Zambezi. At about $285 per person per night sharing, it is 50% less expensive than Sausage Tree Camp and Chiawa Camp. Yet, Kasaka River Lodge seems to be at the same level. I briefly met half of the managing couple in Hugo, and he seems like a great guy...probably the only fatter person in the entire Lower Zambezi than me at the time! But, he attributes that to his wife's fine cooking, and I have no qualms about eating well while on holiday, so that is a good thing.

The vehicles at Kasaka River Lodge are in tip-top shape and are Land Rovers rather than Land Cruisers. Plus, the seating seemed to be very comfortable (something which is not always the case).

Lastly, Kasaka River Lodge is a very convenient 10 minute drive away from the Royal Zambezi landing strip, and this should make your trip home a lot easier. Or, if you wish to start with Lower Zambezi, something I am forced to do this year due to the availability of the lodges, it does make for a much easier arrival than starting with South Luangwa.


Luangwa River Lodge (4)
Puku Ridge or Kaingo (4)
Kasaka River Lodge (4)

If you were to choose Kaingo over Puku Ridge, I would strongly advise you to do it the opposite direction, as Kaingo's lodging may be a bit of a letdown after staying at Luangwa River Lodge.

Now, for the canoeing/fishing/sundowner cruise lover:

Luangwa River Lodge (3)
Puku Ridge or Kaingo (3)
Kasaka River Lodge (3)
Sausage Tree Camp (3)

Just remember that there are NO giraffes in the Lower Zambezi, so if you love giraffes, you may want to stay longer in South Luangwa where there are plenty of the endemic Thornicroft Giraffes.

Save Kafue National Park for another time and have a wonderful time in South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi.

Hope this helps.
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Feb 19th, 2005, 01:55 PM
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I'd agree with Rocco if you are considering two parks in Zambia, make them S. Luangwa and L. Zambezi, even though I had an enjoyable stay at Busanga Bush Camp and Lunga River.

There are night drives and walking at all 3 parks. Kafue walking is done only at Lunga. Lunga has canoeing and boating, but so does Lower Zambezi. Kafue does have a pride of resident lions that are present most days and herds of interesting antelope like Sable and Roan. The antelope are pretty shy and not easily spotted in abundance until well into the dry season like September. I saw some in July.

Kafue's real draw is its vastness and remoteness (especially Busanga). In Zambia it is also the only place you will see cheetah. I saw 2 in Lunga and 2 in Busanga, interestingly both at night.

I've wondered the same thing that Rocco pointed out about the single Kafue airstrip. From Lunga to Busanga it is quite a haul that could be covered more easily by plane. The ride is ok, but is not an enchanting game drive.

I've written very positive reviews on Kafue here, but in 12 days, you may just enjoy fully appreciating South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi.

Here's another comment you had not solicited but I'll mention. It is not hard at all to get to North Luangwa from South Luangwa. You might consider a 4 night stay at Kutandala. It is my favorite camp anywhere. You do all walking at this exceptional camp. You'd find remote and vast here for sure. It is only open in the dry season.

Is Lusaka safe? An airport hotel would be fine. Lilayi is a game farm not that far from the airport that I stayed at once.

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Feb 19th, 2005, 03:33 PM
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Wow...seems like you have been to half the places on my wish list for Zambia!

Which package did you do at Exprerience Africa? Lunga (2), Busanga (3), Lunga (1)?

Did you have a chance to go canoeing while at Lunga River Lodge, and if you did, how did it compare to canoeing in the Lower Zambezi (that is if you have been canoeing in the LZ)?

As far as North Luangwa goes, just in case someone was to want to combine a stay only between South and North Luangwa, they would be well advised to consider flying in and out of Lilongwe, Malawi, instead of Lusaka, Zambia. I do believe this would help keep costs down.

Lastly, this is just a bit of trivia, but cheetah may also be found in a Zambian park named Sioma Ngwezi National Park, on the Angola border, but this is WAAAAYYYYYY off the beaten path, so Kafue would offer the best opportunity for cheetah in Zambia.

Last thing, were you able to have any close encounters with the cheetah either while at Lunga River Lodge or while at Busanga Bush Camp?

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Feb 19th, 2005, 03:44 PM
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Well, so much for that...Sioma Ngwezi is not as far off the beaten path as I had expected. Here is a great looking lodge owned by some former professional South African rugby player:

Also, this lodge offers beautiful looking 4 and 7 night packages to Liuwa Plains that I was previously unaware of. Thanks for having me research Sioma Ngwezi further or else I would have never found this.

Liuwa Plains features the biggest Wildebeest Migration in Southern Africa (and 2nd only to the Great Migration in the Mara/Serengeti). Take a look at these packages:

Between the Liuwa Plains Wildebeest Migration in late November and the Kasanka Fruit Bat Migration during the same time period, I know where I will be taking off to Thanksgiving night, 2006!
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Feb 20th, 2005, 08:13 AM
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Thanks for doing the research. Sioma Ngwezi...that's a spot I have not heard of, but the website looks most intriguing. It certainly would offer a nice activity along with the bat migration. I too find that absolutely fascinating, but won't be able to fit it into Thanksgiving plans for several years.

Then I checked out Sioma Ngwezi's Ku-omboka ceremony at the end of March and thought that would be interesting.

One could be make monthly excursions to Zambia with all that's going on there!

Regarding Kafue: I went straight to Busanga from the Lower Zambezi, flying through Luska. So it is entirely possible not to stop in Lunga on the "way up." I was even able to do a full morning activity in the Lower Zambezi and get to Busanga in time to get settled and go for the first night drive.

Then after the 3 night stay in Busanga, I left after lunch for Lunga, arriving in time for their afternoon activity. I then stayed a second night at Lunga. But it would be possible to stay just one night in Lunga. I might even have been able to fly out of the Lunga airstrip that day instead of staying overnight.

But I'm not trying to discourage Lunga. I enjoyed the stay there. While canoeing (or boating in a small boat) we saw no elephants or buffalo at Lunga. The hippo activity was about the same. I saw more baboons and vervets near the river's edge in L. Zambezi but at Lunga saw bushbuck and impala drink from river, a brief otter view (never saw one anywhere else in Africa), a couple of foot-long baby crocs that allowed us to get within a few feet, and a tree hyrax, all from canoe.

The canoe trips, and motorboat trips were shorter at Lunga than some of the canoeing trips I did in the Lower Zambezi. I don't know if you can go fishing in Lunga, which was a big draw in L. Zambezi. Not for me, I don't fish.

The cheetah encounters were at night. In Busanga, we saw a pair walking through tall grass within minutes of the first night drive and followed them about 10 minutes from 15 yards.

In Lunga on the last night drive we saw a pair of cheetah walking out in the open, unbothered by the 2-3 vehicles that were observing. They sat, walked, sat, walked about 15 yards away and we watched for 15 minutes until they went into thick brush.

I met Ed Smyth, of the owners of African Experience Ltd., as I was leaving Busanga. He was an enjoyable gentleman who was actually on safari with his family. He hopes with each year of no poaching that both areas will increase in game.

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Feb 20th, 2005, 03:13 PM
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Thanks for the input. We are thinking of 3-4 nights at Luangwa River Lodge, 3-4 nights at Kaingo, 2 nights at Chiawa and 2 nights at Old Mondoro. I am sorry to not see cheetah though but it does look difficult to do Kafue. What do y'all think about this itinerary?
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Feb 20th, 2005, 04:07 PM
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Your South Luangwa itinerary sounds good based on the amount of time you'll be spending and the reputations of those lodges. I've not stayed at them personally.

That's great you're going to Old Mondoro. It was a highlight of my Zambia trip with frequent elephant visitors watching me from outside the huts and a beautiful area to walk in.

It is the trip TO Old Mondoro that I would like to offer a suggestion on.

I canoed from Sausage Tree to Old Mondoro using a back channel that had been discovered just a week before I arrived in July 2003. I would suspect that channel still exists, although a couple of rainy seasons may have altered it somewhat.

The trip took all day but was easy paddling because we were with the current the whole way. The first two hours or so was on the Zambezi, then we hit the channel. It was much more narrow and winding than the Zambezi so we are much closer to the wildlife--a few elephants, a herd of relaxed buffalo, baboons, vervets, antelope, hippos charging out of the water. No dangerous hippo encounters. And really beautiful scenery on both banks.

The flocks of birds were amazing--sacred ibis, open billed storks, spoonbilled storks. They seemed to fly with us. It really offered a different canoe experience than on the Zambezi itself.

My guide had not taken this route before and was quite enchanted with it. In the four days we were together, he was more excited over this than anything else--and there were some other very good sitings and encounters in my opinion.

You cannot canoe to Old Mondoro from Chiawa--it's too far. But it is a perfect all day trip from Sausage Tree.
For this reason I would highly recommend seeing if you can make this day long trip and if so, I'd choose Sausage Tree over Chiawa.

Sausage Tree was a beautiful camp with the same activities as Chiawa. You could even have a hot bath in a bath tub overlooking the Zambezi. I don't know what surprises Chiawa presents its clients, but Sausage Tree had several, one of which was particularly memorable.
They are apparently known for their festive approach to safaris.

Like your itinerary, I did 2 nights Sausage Tree and 2 nights Old Mondoro and found that to work well. I do recall thinking to myself, "If I were into fishing for tiger fish (as most of the other guests were) I'd want three days because a good portion of one day could easily be occupied fishing."

In case you were wondering, lunch on the all day trip was handled like this: While we were on the Zambezi part of the trip another couple canoed with me, in their canoe. Then about lunch time we pulled ashore and a surprise lunch with staff to serve it greeted us. Then the couple went back, as they were not going on to Old Mondoro and we continued our trip.

Please inquire if this day long canoe "transfer" is possible and if it is, I can wholeheartedly encourage you to go for it!
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Feb 20th, 2005, 05:16 PM
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we have never really canoed -- we tried one time and went in circles. Now if we had a guide who could basically do it and we were separated into two canoes, I think we would enjoy it but my husband and me in one canoe is not a good combination.

However, it is almost a toss up between Chiawa and Sausage Tree and on the other end between Luangwa and Puku Ridge. Sitting here looking at the photos of the camp it is hard to tell -- all of them look great. I really wanted to do Kafue becausae of the cheetah but it does seem too difficult to get to and not many places to stay. Traveling there would really eat into our time.

Our plan is to fly from Atlanta to Cape Town by way of Amsterdam ( best for ff miles) and overnight in Cape Town as we arrive at 10pm. The next day we would fly up to Lusaka and I wondered about overnighting there to try to catch up the time but my husband wants to go straight to the camps. So I thought we would go to the southern part of the South Lunagwa and then to the northern part of the park and then to Lower Zambezi, We will then fly to Capetown ans stay there for 4 or 5 nights before we come home.
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Feb 20th, 2005, 05:27 PM
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That sounds like an excellent itinerary. I would suggest that you start with Kaingo first, then move onto Luangwa River Lodge and finish up with Lower Zambezi.

Although you are probably already aware, Sausage Tree Camp is about $450 per person per night, and I believe Old Mondoro is about $350 pppn, for an average of $400 pppn for your 4 nights.

Alternately, you could stay at Kasaka River Lodge for $285 pppn. You could basically stay 3 nights at Kasaka River Lodge for the same as 2 nights at Sausage Tree Camp and still have your 2 nights at Old Mondoro, and have a little money still leftover.

One parting thought...if you did want an overnight in Lusaka to start the trip, then it would be possible if you chose, to have a road & river transfer all the way to Lower Zambezi, spending about 90 minutes on road and about 2 hours on a speedboat. Last year, going to Kulefu Tented Camp in Lower Zambezi, it was about a 90 minute speedboat transfer because we had to use the Royal Zambezi airstrip since the Jeki Airstrip was still not ready for the season (we were there at the start of the season in early June). It was a very pleasant transfer and we saw a lot along the way.

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Feb 21st, 2005, 06:11 AM
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Even if you went to Kafue, there is no guarantee of cheetah. So if that was a prime reason to include it in your itinerary, you are wise to spend more time in the other 2 parks.

If cheetah really are a priority, you could plan a trip with that goal in mind
and most likely be successful.

Your comment about canoeing not playing a major role in your trip makes sense with your increased time in South Luangwa. Then the added expense of Sausage Tree (so that you could canoe to Old Mondoro) would not be wise.

Have a great trip.
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Feb 21st, 2005, 07:00 AM
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Also, without canoeing being a strong consideration in this trip, then a visit to North Luangwa may be more warranted. At that point, flying in and out of Lilongwe (Malawi) would probably be slightly easier than flying in and out of Lusaka.

Kutandala, by far, seems to be the way to go in North Luangwa.
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