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South Luangwa Lodge Ratings, As Rated By Mark Nolting in "Africa's Top Wildlife Countries"...

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Apr 6th, 2004, 05:57 PM
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South Luangwa Lodge Ratings, As Rated By Mark Nolting in "Africa's Top Wildlife Countries"...

After thinking about the recent thread about Flatdogs, I did think it would be wasteful for anybody to stay at Flatdogs if staying at a chalet and buying all their meals, laundry service, drinks and game activities from Flatdogs. By the time all that added up, it would be cheaper to stay at a place like Kaingo or Kafunta, if you negotiate the rates. However, if camping, cooking some of your own meals and "roughing it", Flatdogs is still a good alternative.

Anyway, here are the lodges of South Luangwa, as rated by Mark Nolting. I apologize for running out of time at the end and not taking the time to put in the website addresses of each camp, but I will likely do that later.

The ratings are as follows:

MFUWE SECTION

Class A:
Chichele Presidential Lodge (Star Of Africa)

Class A/B:
Chindeni, Bilimungwe and Chamilandu (Class A/B) and Kuyenda (Class B). Each of these belong to The Bushcamp Company.

Nkwali Camp (Class A/B). Robin Pope Safaris.

Kapani Safari Lodge(Class A/B). Norman Carr Safaris.

Mfuwe Lodge (Class A/B). Independent but affiliated with The Bushcamp Company.

Puku Ridge (Class A/B). Star Of Africa. I do think that since the book was published last year that this rating was probably given before the lodge was opened. Looking at pictures of it on Star Of Africa's website, it really looks like the best designed lodge in all of South Luangwa.

Class B:
Kuyenda Bush Camp. The Bushcamp Company. Personally, this looks like a GREAT camp to me, and superior, for example to Kafunta Island Bush Camp. (For whatever reason, Kafunta is excluded from this book, which doesn't make sense since Kafunta has been around a lot longer than Puku Ridge).

Class D/F:
Flatdogs.


NSEFU SECTOR (Northern part of S. Luangwa)

Class A:
Tafika Camp. Remote Africa Safaris. This is the only camp in South Luangwa, and one of the few in Africa that offers microlighting. Although I am not staying at this camp, I am staying nearby and hope to have the opportunity to go microlighting, if I am not too fat!

Class A/B:
Kaingo Camp. Shenton Safaris. I am staying at this camp and its operator, Derek Shenton has an excellent reputation and is 3rd generation in the Luangwa Valley. Although the accomodations are not especially attractive, they do offer great views of the Luangwa River and the activities offered seem second to none, with both a hippo hide and an elephant hide, day and night drives and bush walks. Another added bonus is that alcoholic beverages are included.

Nsefu Camp. Robin Pope Safaris. Rated the same as Kaingo but it is definitely more expensive.

Chibembe Lodge. Independent?

Class B:
Chikoko Bush Camp. Remote Africa.

Crocodile Bush Camp. Remote Africa.

Mwamba Bush Camp. Shenton Safaris (Kaingo). I will spend two nights here since I really enjoyed my time at a bushcamp last year while at Kafunta Island Bush Camp. While I would like to stay more than two nights at a bush camp, out of respect for scaredtodeath, I will not.

Lion Camp. Independent? Very expensive rates of $386 per person sharing listed on www.africanadrenalin.com. Nice looking place but no nicer than any of the others above and with bar and laundry excluded, it looks like a ripoff.

The following also earned Class B ratings but I have little information on them. I may or may not add to them later but I have run out of time for now.

Mchenja Camp.

Nsolo Camp.

Luwi Camp.

Kakuli Camp.

Kasansanya.

Mumbulu.
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Apr 7th, 2004, 10:06 AM
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Roccco....PLEASE!! You do us such a great service when you find these things...then you go off making over the top conclusions that are not warranted by the info or your experience!

This is interesting input, of course, ...but before anyone gets too wrapped up in this, remember that it is extraordinarily difficult to rank "experiences" as opposed to "accomodations". And some of this is just pure "taste".

I, for one, hate "lodges"-- so I'd never stay at Chichele (which I have seen, but never stayed at). That is not to say that someone who likes lodge-type accomodations wouldn't love this one. And I have stayed both at Chendeni and at Kuyenda, run by BushCamp company. Really nice tents and/or reed chalets...but you must be committed to walking, primarily, because that is what these camps do. Walks are great, and I want to do them...when I want to do them! But I am an avid photographer, and this is better done from a vehicle. So for this reason, RPS gets major extra credti points, because they always have enough guides and vehicles to offer each guest what they want (walk or drive), when they want it. BushCamp company doesn't do this-- you all walk, or you all drive.

Also I note that Tena Tena isn't even on this list...don't know why. It was my favorite camp. I like the site and the "feel" of this camp. It felt the most like "old Africa" to me (to those who know Jack's Camp in Botswana, you might know what I mean).

I have a feeling that tents on the ground may get marked down versus "tents on platforms"...and that is not always valid! I much preferred Tena Tena to Chendeni, even though I thought Chendeni's tents were more modern and "stylish".

Finally-- as the only person here who has stayed at Flatdogs! And I will stay there again. It is NOT the same as the other camps. It was built to accomodate overlanders and self-drive folks (mostly from South Africa). But it is cheap, and lots of fun. If you are travelling with a family it will be cheaper. If you are travelling with your own car, it will be cheaper. If you want to do cultural activities, as opposed to wildlife activities (visits to local schools, local villages, Chipembele Wildlife Education Center), it will be more convenient and cheaper. If you want to just take a couple days to sleep in, veg out, and catch up on your journalling by the pool or by the bar, it is great.-- and cheap. It has the only hangout in the Valley where you can meet locals and guides from all the other camps. (this is great for planning your next trip, and for getting a feel for local life). Also, if you are travelling during the high season, you won't get really cheap rates at some of the less popular places...so the difference in prices becomes very large.
Finally, I've had some superb game drives at Flatdogs-- better than at the Bushcamp company places (except with Phil Berry at Kuyenda, who is fab). For example, we saw one or more leopards EVERY SINGLE NIGHT while I was a Flatdogs-- and I think you mentioned that you didn't see one during your last visit to the Valley. Of course, you always get the luck of the draw with animals...but part of having a great safari is staying in an area long enough for things to play out. And if staying at Flatdogs (or Wildlife Camp, the other low-end place in the Valley) allows you to do this....well having that option is a big plus!

Honestly-- there is no place that completely dominates the scene in terms of place, experience or price!! There is just a complex equation of what you like and prefer, what you don't like, how much time you have, and what you can (or are willing) to pay. So collect all the info and make your choices.

A safari is a little like an investment portfolio: a little diversification goes a long way to ensuring a satisfactory experience. (especially on your first trip to a new area).

Sorry for the rant...and keep digging up and posting this info for us. Thanks again....

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Apr 7th, 2004, 05:09 PM
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Tashak,

Sorry for the accidental exclusion of Tena Tena. It is listed as "Class A" in the Nsefu Sector, joining Tafika as the only other Class A lodge in Nsefu and only one of three in the entire South Luangwa (with Chichele Presidential Lodge being the other).

I know what you are saying about Chichele Presidential Lodge. Initially, I had no interest in this lodge, and really I got bumped for my final night from Puku Ridge to Chichele (they are both Star Of Africa lodges).
However, I think it is a blessing because Chichele really is as elegant as a lodge can get, other than a place like Singita. I will welcome being in almost a 5* hotel setting, with fine spirits and even quality cigars included. I don't smoke, but, hey, on my last night in Africa, I will gladly partake in a Cognac on my balcony while enjoying a good cigar.

About Flatdogs, it fits the needs of overlanders, but really, anybody that would consider staying in a chalet, buying all their meals at Flatdogs, having their laundry done at Flatdogs, and paying for game activities at Flatdogs, would be far better served in going to a lodge like Kaingo or Kafunta, where they will get superior accomodations, more exclusivity and ultimately pay LESS than paying at Flatdogs with all of the other costs that will be tacked on.

Possibly this attitude has come from a bad experience I had at Hosteria Las Torres (www.lastorres.com) in Torres Del Paine, Chile. I had the choice of staying there or at the much more exclusive Explora (www.explora.com), but I thought that the $550 per night, all-inclusive rate, was too expensive at Explora and opted for $200 per night at Las Torres. However, by the time I paid $50 per day for two lunches, about $80 per day for two dinners, and $150 per day for excursions, I was already nearly up to $500 per night anyway and the rooms were only slightly bigger than a walk-in closet. With each additional charge, it just got worse and worse to deal with and that is no way to spend a vacation, which is why I would highly recommend a place like Kaingo or Star of Africa's lodges where it truly is all-inclusive. I am not sure whether or not Robin Pope Safaris or Bushcamp Company includes alcoholic beverages in their tariff or not.

I will revisit this post either tonight or tomorrow and try to provide e-mail addresses to each place. And although I am trying to resist inciting you further, but I just don't see the reason for any non-overlander to stay at a D/F rated accomodation over an A or A/B accomodation when there truly is not much price difference, for anybody that is not to shy or proud to negotiate the rate. Spend a little more and stay at Tena Tena, Puku Ridge, Chichele Presidential Lodge or any of other great looking places and be happy in knowing that if you were in Botswana or South Africa that the price may be double what you are paying in South Luangwa. That's my take on it, anyway.
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Apr 7th, 2004, 07:24 PM
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Ok-- I agree with your point...if there are discount or green season rates available, Kafunta, Kaingo or RPS all are fabulous buys. I think Nkwali is available for green season rates of about $150 pp all inclusive--Kafunta and Kaingo a bit less ($120 to $140 if memory serves....) Flatdogs would be $30 for lodging, $60 for 2 game drives and park entry fees. You would be really hard pressed to spend more than $20-25 per day on food and drinks...maybe a couple bucks for laundry...so say an extra $30. That gets you up to $120 per day...and you would be hard pressed to spend more. (Beer is $1 at the bar, so how much can you spend on drinks!) So if you can get a special rate, yeah, go for the other options. But if someone is going in August, and these places have enough bookings, these cheap rates won't be available...and Flatdogs and Wildlife Camp will look really cost effective. Of course, it is possible to wait until the last minute, and see if you can negotiate something on the ground in August, and get "local prices." But these may or may not be available...and at that point, Flatdogs and Wildlife Camp could be fully booked in their chalets, too. (They were when I was there in August) Unless you have a tent, you are up the proverbial creek...

Finally, Roccco and I should both say that while we are wild about Zambia's "green season" rates, neither of us have been there at this time of year...so you'll have to wait for our reports to see what wildlife action is like when it is not dry. I am very hopeful that this will be beautiful and exciting...but I have seen my fill of leopards and lions (well, not really...never will) ...but I would be very happy with baby puku, ellies in greenery and great birds. But in truth, wildlife may be easier to find and see later in the season when prices are way higher...stay tuned to hear the results of our experiments!
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Apr 7th, 2004, 08:58 PM
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Tashak,

Keep in mind that it is quite possible to still get "Green Season" rates and even "Green Season LOCAL" rates as late as at least mid-June.

Last year I arrived to Kafunta on June 08th, and although I did NOT get Green Season Local pricing, had I known what I do now, I would have been able to negotiate for such, as I did this year, for my stay beginning on June 05th and going all the way until June 12th. Kaingo did send me an e-mail about two weeks before I left for South Africa offering me what amounted to Green Season Local pricing for my dates in South Luangwa, but by then I had already given Kafunta about a 50% non-refundable deposit.

This year, I reminded Kaingo of this special offer made to me last year, and they honored it which is why I am spending four nights at Kaingo.

I was too intimidated to ask Robin Pope Safaris for a discount, but another Fodorite I know is there RIGHT NOW, enjoying heavily discounted pricing at "Robin's House", a new addition to Nkwali. Of course it is very wet in the South Luangwa right now, but being that the South Luangwa is still pretty empty in early June, it is reasonable to believe that Robin Pope Safaris would also offer significant discounts, rather than have empty beds.

I did get about 40% off at Star Of Africa's lodges (Kulefu Tented Camp, Puku Ridge and Chichele).

While the South Luangwa may offer better gameviewing in August and September, I was satisfied enough with the gameviewing next June, and I do think that the cost savings are worth seeing less game. Otherwise, I may not even be going this year.

Tashak, when are you scheduled to return and where are you staying? I'd like to hear more about what you have planned.

Also, I am wondering how active Robin Pope was at Tena Tena, if at all. How was the staff? How was the food? How about the location? Any interesting bushwalk experiences?

I love the South Luangwa but unfortunately few Fodorites have been there yet. As far as I can remember, only you, Thit Cho and I have been there and I have not yet enjoyed the pleasure of hearing about your experiences there. Anything that you can post on Tena Tena and other lodges (besides Flatdogs) will be appreciated.
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