Southern Africa Itinerary Planning

Sep 26th, 2009, 11:39 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2009
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Southern Africa Itinerary Planning

I'm starting to plan a trip to Southern Africa for August/September 2010 and could use some help and advice on where to go. This is my second trip to Africa and based on my experiences the first time (Kenya and Tanzania), I prefer small camps in non-crowded areas. I enjoy varied landscapes and different ecosystems. I'm looking for more activities than just game drives this time, so I would like to include walking and canoeing this time. I've got around 3 weeks (plus or minus a couple of days). I'm not as concerned about the specific lodges or camps at this point, just trying to narrow down the options.

I'm pretty much sold on Zimbabwe with 3 nights in Hwange, 3 nights Mana Pools (canoe safari). and 2 nights in Vic Falls, but the rest of the trip is open. That's where I could use some help. I'm thinking I could 2 of the 3 following options:

Botswana - 3 nights Okavango Delta; 3 nights Linyati
Zambia - 3 nights North or South Luangwa; 3 nights Kafue
Namibia - 7 day package - (Namib, Skeleton Coast, Etosha)

Will I see something different in Zambia than in Zimbabwe? Are there other parks I should visit in any of these countries? Do I need more time at any of these locations. I'm trying to narrow down the locations and then I can start looking at camps/lodges.

Any help anyone could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thoughts?
safariwannabe is offline  
Sep 26th, 2009, 01:29 PM
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South Luangawa is excellent for Walking safaris with If you are more into activities - then a walking safari should be considered.

Regarding Zimbabwe - there are rumours that due to the political situation poaching is on the increase tremendously so I would do some more research on ZIM before I commit.

The BOT combo is excellent with the Delta and Linyanti. Here you have a water experience plus a semi-arid area. You might have a look at which has good camps in the north-western part of the country offering excellent game viewing. They also have got 2 camps in the Delta.

Regarding the Namibia package and if budget is no concern and you are after some outstanding landscape experiences - have a look at wilderness safari's Serra Cafema camp (opposite Angola/Kunene River (2 nights is fine here for quad biking in an environment which is pretty much unique on Earth, plus Skeleton Coast park and Sossusvlei.
Skeleton Coast camp might be difficult to fit in as they have a min stay of 3 nights depending on the routing/day of travel. At least it was the case when we visited in 2004 (ages ago ;-) ).
Have a look at a recent thread on Namibia here.

Namibia is a destination which cannot be done in one week - even on a fly-in safari you should have at least 10 days to cover the most interesting destinations - which you mentioned. Maybe you find it worthwhile to re-think the itinerary. Or I would leave Namibia out this time and focus on to ZAM/ZIM/BOT.

spassvogel is offline  
Sep 26th, 2009, 02:10 PM
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Hi SafariWannabe,

It sounds like you are already off to a good start. I really can’t think of anything much better to do in August or September than Zimbabwe and especially Mana Pools. I am going to Zambia in two weeks, but unfortunately I will be in Lower Zambezi (and Kafue and South Luangwe) across the river from Mana Pools! There is a new border crossing open at Kariba so you can go strait from Mana Pools to Lusaka and onward to Kafue or South Luangwe from there if you wanted.

From a logistical standpoint, it will be easier to visit Zambia and Botswana. A trip to Namibia will require an overnight in Johannesburg. There are flights from Maun to Windhoek and Air Namibia even operates a flight from Victoria Falls to Windhoek (with a stop in Maun), but I do not recommend these flights. I have had too many clients get stranded when Air Namibia cancels the flight and reschedules for the next day. You are better off making a plan that will work which involved an overnight in Johannesburg. I also agree that seven days in Namibia is cutting it close. In my opinion, the three most unique things in Namibia are Sossusvlei, Skeleton Coast, and Serra Cafema. Yes – Serra Cafema is only a camp but it is the most remote place I have ever visited on the planet. Also, you can get an actual cultural experience with the Himba people. Although there are no people left in Southern Africa living like they did before Europeans arrived, the Himbas are the closest to this condition.

Logistically, your trip needs to be planned right to minimize travel time. There are many ways to waste time in airports or on unnecessary charter flights on a trip to Zim, Zam, and Bots if you don’t plan it right. Here is what I suggest if you want to go to Zimbabwe first:
Arrive in Johannesburg and fly to Harare (HRE). The charter flight with Wilderness Safaris to Mana Pools costs the least from Harare and because it is the capital of Zim, the commercial ticket from JNB to HRE is less than JNB-VFA. After three days in Mana Pools (at Ruckomechi?) fly to Hwange and Little Makalolo. From there you can fly to Vic Falls. I recommend one night at the Vic Falls hotel and then cross the River to Toka Leya or the River Club for one more night. You need to time the trip to work with the non-daily flights to Kafue from Livingstone. The flight from LVI to the Kafue is at 0700 so you cannot start the morning in Zimbabwe with the border crossings.

In the Kafue, I would visit Lufupa Tented Camp and then two or three more nights at Busanga Bush, Shumba, or Kapinga. After this, you can fly back to Livingstone or continue on to South Luangwe. Getting from South Luangwe back to Livingstone is a bit expensive, so if you are going to Botswana, you may consider going from Kafue to Livingstone. You will be forced to spend one more night before Botswana unless you charter a private plane (or go to Lusaka and fly to Johannesburg for onward flight to JNB and Namibia).

In Botswana, I recommend three nights in the Linyanti at Duma Tau or Savuti. From there go to Kwetsani or Little Vumbura for two nights then Chitabe for three nights. Take the 1500 flight from Maun to JNB and end your safari in Johannesburg. If you want premier camps I suggest Kings Pool, Vumbura Plains, & Mombo instead.

There is a whole basket of specials available from Wilderness Safaris right now. None of them will impact the time you are traveling except their offer to extend low season Zimbabwe prices into high season if you book by November 30. If you happen to arrive in Johannesburg on One World Alliance (BA or Iberian) you can book strait through to Harare on BA the same morning. If you are on SAA, you can do the same from the JFK flight. I am really pushing the Harare idea on you since there are more options if your flight to Africa is delayed. There are only two reliable flights per day to Vic Falls from JNB (BA and SAA). I do not recommend Air Zim. There also is a special for combining Mana Pools and Lufupa. Your agent should have more details if they are working directly with Wilderness.

Hope this helps.

Here is feedback from a client of mine that got back from Zim/Zam two weeks ago:
Begin quotes
…Both Zimbabwe and Zambia were worries about safety ever, incredible wildlife, spectacular camps, helpful and knowledgeable staff at every camp, flights were on time...I could go on and on. And every place we went was perfect in its own way:

Ruckomechi -- Amazing Zambezi River views, hippos, crocodiles, canoeing, crew (esp. Sibs and Tendayi), and our "tent"
Little Makalolo -- A pangolin (!!!), Lions, elephants, leopard, Cape buffalo by the hundreds, hyena, jackals, crew (esp. Charles and Angie), and our "tent"
Victoria Falls -- Historically incredible Victoria Falls Hotel, and, of course, the majestic beauty of the falls!
Toka Leya -- Incredible camp...our "tent" was fabulous, sunset boat trip on the Zambezi
Lufupa River -- Boating on the Lufupa River, birdlife, leopard, crew (esp. Boyd and Kawanga)
Shumba -- Beautiful camp...and again our "tent" was outstanding, lions, hippos, elephants, birdlife, serval cats.
End quotes

Craig Beal
Safari_Craig is offline  
Sep 26th, 2009, 06:05 PM
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You've already been, you're a wannabe, and you've got a 2nd trip in the works. That makes me think you'll have another shot at Namibia in the future when you can devote more than 7 days. As mentioned above, more time is better for Namibia.

I'll continue with the assumption that two trips to Africa will not be your life's grand total. You also stated you want activities like walking and canoeing.

With that in mind, I'd concentrate on Zambia and Zimbabwe for this trip and put all your days to work on safari instead of traveling between places. Those two countries have more than enough to offer for 3 weeks, especially in prime wildlife viewing months of Aug or Sept.

Mentioned above are places I agree would offer great safari options to fit your wishes.

Norman Carr, Coppingers, Robin Pope, Shenton Safaris all offer exciting walking opportunities in South Luangwa. If you extend beyond the 3 nights you stated you want, you can do both walking from remote bush camp to bush camp (where there almost no other people)plus walking at some of their permanent tented camps. Afternoon and/or evening game drives are standard as part of the walking safaris, for a better opportunity to view and photograph animals, especially predators.

You might want to consider North Luangwa for a very remote walking experience. Kutandala is my favorite camp, located in N. Luangwa. There are some other camps in N. Luangwa as well, but I'd bet you see no one else during your entire North Luangwa stay. I'll copy some of my report on N. Luangwa and Kutandala in the next post.

If you add Kafue, I'd put that as late in your itinerary as possible. The unique antelope found in Kafue, such as roan and sable are more easily viewed then. The lions are more likely to be climbing into the trees the later and hotter it gets, too. Kafue would offer you a chance to see cheetah in Zambia. I saw four in a five night stay in Kafue. Plus I saw 3 servals. This is a good place for pangolin, too, but that's always a real long shot.

The ease of going between Mana Pools and Lower Zambezi would make me want to take advantage of both places. My visit to Mana Pools was before Zim's problems but I recall it being a little more picturesque and wildlife-abundant than LZ. (A comparison of 4 nts in each place, so luck was also a factor)

I did a day long canoe trip in LZ that was a highlight of all my Africa travels. It was a transfer from Sausage Tree to Old Mondoro (go there, go there!) on the Chifungulu Channel. The channel was fairly narrow and winding with animals on the banks and flocks of birds flying ahead of us. Absolutely magical! I think you'd love this and you end up at the wonderful Old Mondoro Bush camp from which you do walks, night drives (maybe day drives), and I believe more canoeing if you want. I only walked and did night drives.

Ruckomechi has always intrigued me and might be a nice option along with a mobile walking or canoeing trip in Mana Pools. I did a Mana Pools mobile with Natureways that was outstanding. This suggestion would mirror the South Luangwa suggestion of walking from bush camp to bush camp, then staying put and walking from a permanent tented camp.

Then you could visit Botswana on another trip and spend a little more time and perhaps include a very comfortable mobile camping trip that is much more affordable than the Botswana permanent tented camps. Or do a combo. I'll stop planning trip #3 since you requested info on #2.
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 26th, 2009, 06:13 PM
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I'll just put in the link to the report and you can scroll down or Control & F to Kutandala.
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 01:44 AM
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It sounds to me that you want to visit all the highlights in too less time.

Zambia: I would skip this part if you are going to Zimbabwe.

Kafue: Lufupa (it they haven't sprayed it's tse tse fly paradise). The Busunga plains are a magnificent area to visit although there are some disadvantages (if it's still too wet, you get easily stuck in the black-cotton soil - if too dry and the wind starts picking up, it's extremely dusty). Bear also in mind, that game numbers are still recovering due to poaching in the past. Don't think nowadays off-roading is allowed there?! Wasn't the case when I was there.

If Southern Africa is experiencing good rains, I would try to go as late as possible to Botswana as some areas will just be impassable due to the high floods. Skip the wetter parts, unless you are a keen birder. The Vumbura area will be much affected and Kwetsani (Jacana/Jao/Tubu tree) have never been known for delivering good mammal sightings on a regular basis. Although the later you go in the season, the higher the chance of experiencing haziness due to bush fires.

Your best bet will probably be Chitabe (in the delta) and Lagoon or Savuti up north. Normally, you should be able to see all four major predators if you visit these areas.

If going to Namibia: my choice would be

- Wolvedans in the Namibrand (better alternative than one of the lodges near Sossusvlei (too crowded as everyone wants to visit Dead vlei and Sossusvlei);
- Desert rhino camp (tracking black rhino on foot);
- Serra cafema (I have to agree, it's a stunning place with a good variety of activities on offer).


skimmer is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 05:25 AM
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if you did want to combine lower zambezi and mana pools as suggested by lynn, then here is what i would do:

jnb-hre-mana pools: ruckomechi

ruckomechi-lower zambezi: sausage tree

LZ-south laungwe. in south luangwe: if you want walking safaris, go to robben pope. if you want game drives then use sanctuary or wilderness. there is a good craft village in mfuwe i will be visiting.

south luangwe to kafue via lusaka: lufupa tented PLUS kapinga/shumba/busanga bush.
**matt in my office worked at shumba in 2006. the tse tse flies became a problem in the bushlines on the busanga plains but not until october. i will let you know what i experience after my first trip next month (october).

kafue-livingston: vic fall

livingston-victoria falls-hwange: little makalolo

after LM, spend one more night at the vic falls hotel and go home from there.

if you really want three more days, go into the chobe and then do the rest of botswana later.

with the chobe, this should be 22 days in africa.

craig beal
Safari_Craig is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 05:36 AM
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I was there in early September and tse-tse flies were horrible around Lufupa. The same applies for Lunga ...

The main problem at the Busanga plains (Shumba, ...) is the black cotton soil.

I am always amazed that you recommend areas or camps you haven't visited yourself.


skimmer is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 06:14 AM
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We visited SLNP (Puku ridge camp) last Nov. The Tse-Tse marks are still visible

spassvogel is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 06:36 AM
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johan - thanks for the latest info on tse tse flies. were you at lunga this september because it is shut down right now i thought?

i really don't think too many people mind me recommending camps i have not visited as long as i clearly state that up front (which i always do). i can't go everywhere althought i am sure trying! i think the logistical aspect of my advice is what is missing in other people's comments. i get many private emails from readers thanking me for this aspect of my advice.

people count on you and SV and lynn to give the advice on the actual camps as your diversity in experience is indeed greater than mine. i often fill in the gaps with how to get from a-b in the most time/cost effective manner. you and i make a pretty good 1/2 punch. i am sure anyone with $20,000 to spare is smart enough to take my advice with a grain of salt.

Safari_Craig is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 07:32 AM
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Oh yes, the tse tses at Kafue. Funny how your mind blocks out the past negatives. I simply forgot about them, but that is a consideration.

Here was my experience in late July, when they probably were not as bad as Sept. But my game viewing was probably not as good either, though I saw both sable and roan and spent enough time with the resident lion pride to become a charter member.

I stayed at Busanga Plains and Lunga River Lodge. Around those accommodations, the tse tses weren't bad at all. There were some drives we did away from Busanga Plains near forests where we encountered many tse tses. As long as we were moving in the open vehicle they weren't that bad, but when we stopped, they were bad. Another time, I'd consider Buzz Off type clothing that I wear in the North Woods of the US for mosquito protection.

Busanga Plains Bush Camp is not there anymore, I don't think, but you could ask your agent about the tse tse situation where you will be staying. Busanga Plains Bush Camp might even have opened with a new name as a Wilderness Safari camp. You can be sure Wilderness would take into consideration where the tse tses are least troublesome and most troublesome and stick a camp where they are least.

I found some more stuff I had posted here on Kafue in the past. I see my mind had also blocked out the wall of flames experience. But don't let that dissuade you. Let's ask Skimmer if he drove through any fires. Perhaps my inferno incident was a fluke.

Skimmer (or anybody else), did you have to drive through any fires when you were in Kafue?

From the past:
"I had heard that Busanga Plains is the new Wilderness camp, but even if it is not, this might apply if the ground near camp is still soaked. (Though it may not be by Aug/Sept as it was in July)

After 3 hours of a fast paced drive from Lunga River Lodge through burning forests and short walls of flames (I'm not exaggerating) we neared Busanga Plains Bushcamp at last. I could see the camp vehicle driven by the manager about 200 meters away. My transport vehicle stopped in front of a mekoro and I was told to board the mekoro for a ride to the vehicle. I was not in the mood for what I thought was a Disney-like touch for the final leg of what had been a somewhat grueling 3-hour road journey, and prior to that 3 plane rides with the first takeoff before 7:00 am. "Just let me walk to the vehicle or have it come pick me up and dispense with this silly little boat ride," I thought to myself. But since the polers were so cheerful and good natured I thought I'd go along with the game.

As it turned out I am so glad I kept those thoughts of protest to myself. Even for that short distance a mekoro was necessary due to the water saturation of the soil and vegetation. It was not a cute stunt by any means.

Later in my stay I mentioned my original take on the mekoro to the manager and he comforted me that several other guests had arrived at that same initially incorrect conclusion.

In the 3 days in Busanga Plains, we spent most of our time hanging out with a pride of about 8 lions. Their unsuccessful hunt under the full moon with all of them thundering past the vehicle in pursuit of a puku was heartstopping. Later the next night at night at dinner we heard them make a kill just outside camp and immediately took off to join THEIR dinner.

Also spotted: a pair of cheetah, 2 separate serval sitings, a honey badger, sable, oribi, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, roan antelope, reedbuck and huge herds of red lechwe.

Some interesting bird sitings were: purple heron, Fulleborn's longclaw, rufous-bellied heron, lesser jacana, numerous watled crane (including a pair feeding their chick), flocks of open billed stork, and black bellied korhan

At Lunga River Lodge we could do walks, day & night drives, plus canoeing and boat rides on the Lunga. Sightings included: tree hyrax, otter, roan antelope (on foot,) a serval (on foot), and 2 cheetah brothers. Other people saw elephant on a game drive. Interesting birds: wattled crane, African finfoot, purple crested lorie.

Interestingly, all 4 cheetahs in Kafue were spotted on night drives."
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 09:36 AM
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I was in Kafue in September 2005. Given the harsh conditions and the fact that the area is still recovering from extensive poaching in the past, I don't find it an ideal place to go on safari for relatively unexperienced (when it comes to safaris) people. Also the fact that you are probably still not allowed to go off-road, is a real disadvantage compared to f.e. NG's in Botswana.

I would either skip Zambia or Zimbabwe on this trip. Namibia certainly deserves another trip but if it's not sure you will return to Southern Africa again, it's not to be missed.


We were lucky not to experience any fires during the entire trip.


skimmer is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 01:31 PM
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I am finding this thread most helpful as I am debating a trip to Zambia in 2011. I had thought of adding Zimbabwe to the itinerary but, like SV, given the current political situation there (and the poaching - always a concern for self-drivers camping in isolation), felt it wasn't wise. Your quotes from clients are very reassuring, Craig and I am now considering adding Zimbabwe to the itinerary. I am curious if safety in Zimbabwe is a concern for you, Safariwannabe?

Has anyone been to visit the bats in Kasanka NP? Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 03:42 PM
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I might have not been particular enough: I would not avoid ZIM because of a safety concern.
When we visited last Nov it was perfectly fine. Beggars yes - but we did expect that.
We were carrying loads of 1 $ bills for give-aways to these poor folks.
I even walked from the vehicle to the craft market (behind Barclays Bank in Vic Falls) and negotiated myself (I got there without money, negotiated with only one person as kind of middleman for all the vendors and told them right from the beginning I would leave if they don't stop pushing me towards their products. That was respected. I went back to the car got the money and then left toward Hwange NP) , finally bought a wonderful basket.

The wildlife was not "prolific" and the poaching even increased into 2009.

If we were due to get back the only thing I would change: I would take loads of used clothes with me for them as they beg for shoes, t-shirts...all sorts of stuff.

spassvogel is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 03:48 PM
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"Has anyone been to visit the bats in Kasanka NP?"

That's a late Nov-early Dec excursion if you want to see the bats. You can add Bangweulu Swamp onto the itinerary too, though I don't know if late Nov-early Dec is the ideal time there. The problem is that the time frame for the bats does not coincide well with other parts of Zambia, though it would be fine in South Africa or other places.

I think I've seen that last week of Oct to third week in Dec is when the bats fly. But with changing weather, who knows?

I'm hoping to go maybe 2012, if one can even state plans so far in advance.

But I keep hoping for some details from a visitor prior to that time. Robin, you might be the one!
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 09:11 PM
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I had the opportunity to meet some representatives of a few safari companies last week. Besides being incredibly fun, they were really informative, especially the young man from Zimbabwe. According to him, and I can only take him at his word, the poacher rangers have been doing a great job in Hwange -with help from funding from NGO's and private enterprise. He said the animal population is doing quite well where they are protected and was excited about the sightings they are getting these days. They have also eliminated the Zim$ and have ATM's that spit out US$ and pounds in Vic Falls and Harare. So maybe it's easier to travel there than it has been for quite some time. I also met a woman from S Africa and she had just been to Harare and said it was significantly better than it was two years ago for visitors. She said there is merchandise on the shelves in the shops and food markets - and that's a big change. Getting fuel is still a problem outside the major cities, so I don't know if I'd try to drive, but it sounds like there is a little improvement. A little improvement in ZIM could make a huge difference. I know, this is all biased info, but it's all I can go on. Also, Little Makalo is getting a facelift. We have moved Zim up on our list.

safariwannabe - I wannabe you!! That sounds like an amazing trip. No South Africa? It is amazingly varied from area to area. But all of your options sound great to me. If you are planning on using Wilderness Safaris (canoe safari and nambia package? sounds like WS) they are great at getting you from place to place and they "own" Sefofane - the air charter company they use. I'd get in touch with a TA that works with WS and they can figure it out at the lowest time/travel/cost. If you send an e-mail to WS they will refer you to someone they use. I would have a hard time eliminating any of your options - maybe go back in 2011 or 12 to do what you miss!!

atravelynn - have you been everywhere?!! I bet you're planning at least one great trip. Busanga Plains is back as a WS property.
christabir is offline  
Sep 28th, 2009, 04:28 AM
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As you mention Sefofane and WS I have to agree that WS does a pretty good job in getting clients into their aircrafts and flying them from A to B - serving foremost their yield!

On our way up to Serra Cafema we were kicked out at Palmwag airstrip. The pilot waved us GOOD BYE with the words "your aircraft will pick you up within the next 30 min or so". Okay then - we were quite lucky that there was a fuel lorry coming to fill up the airstrip tanks. These guys walkie-talkied to the lodge which invited us to wait there because they get an information when the next aircraft is coming. It took almost 2 hours before we were re-shovelled back to the airstrip for our ongoing flight up to the Kunene.
Imagine no lorry would have been there - 2 hours in that environment is not fun at all!

Anybody who flies WS/Sefofane should get it straight to the consultant that any such ocurance must be avoided under any circumstances.

At that time (2004) clearly Sefofane came first!

That was not a unique experience. We in Nambia as well as in Botswana experienced quite a bit of criss crossing the countries and waiting time to fit into Sefofane's schedule.

Finally - WS/Sefonane charges a single surcharge for the aircraft seat! Also pretty unique!

spassvogel is offline  
Sep 28th, 2009, 06:53 AM
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I didn't have that experience at all. I hope things have improved since 2004 in Namibia (was SF a WS acquisition in 2004?). I'm pretty sure if you want to go from WS property to WS property there is no other option and in my experience they were very efficient. Sure sounds like a mistake or unforeseen problem on Sefofane's part - I can't imagine that they scheduled that delay, and I can't imagine being left on a "runway" in the middle of nowhere with no one from WS to make sure you were OK - even for a half hour!! I understand your frustration - not really a forgivable incident.

I'm pretty sure all businesses operate for the money. That's why I work, too.

We all travel and it sounds like flying is the worst part, no matter what the country or circumstance.
christabir is offline  
Sep 28th, 2009, 07:34 AM
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Thanks Lynn! The more I read, the more I realize that being in Zambia for the bats will be difficult - they don't arrive until the end of October.

Tsetse flies? Definitely a consideration for me after our experience this past August in Tanzania. Like SV, I have the scars!

Lynn - you mentioned that you have been to Lunga River Lodge - did you fly in? Would it be possible to drive in from Nakusanga Gate? The trips on the river sound great.

Safariwannabe - my apologies - I will start a new thread rather than hijacking yours. Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Sep 28th, 2009, 05:56 PM
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Canadian Robin, I flew from another camp in Zambia to Lunga River Lodge. I don't know about driving there.

Christabir, Next trip is some bears in Alaska in July 2010. The boat holds 7 so feel free to join.

Wannabe, After reading your comment that you are a couch potato (though walking 3 miles a day is impressive) then maybe you don't want all walking and rowing in Zim and Zam. Kafue was only driving while I was there, and being poled a short distance in the mekoro.
atravelynn is offline  

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