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zambia/botswana in May/June

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Oct 5th, 2006, 11:02 AM
  #1
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Join Date: Oct 2006
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zambia/botswana in May/June

Hi. I'm planning a luxury but authentic walking/4wd/boating safari with Explore Africa, 14 nights starting late May. I liked their online Zambia/Botswana itinerary and asked them to customize by upgrading since it is a very special trip for me.

They are recommending
-3 nights Joa and
-3 nights Labala in Botswana,
-2 nights near victoria falls in Zambia,
-3 nights in a bush camp in the Luanga Valley and
-3 nights at Sausage tree in Lower Zambia (or a combination of Chobe River/Mombashie).

My Questions (cost not an issue):

1. They seem unclear about whether Botswana/Zambia is a good itinerary for late May/Early June. By reading, it seems Zambia is fine, Botswana shoulder. Thoughts?

2. Does anyone think this is too much travel in-between?

3. The other thought in Botswana was Chiefs with Joa or Stanley vs. Labala and Joa. Thoughts on which combo is better then?

4. Anyone with experience working with Explore Africa? I got their name from Conde Naste Traveler. They want a $500 non refundable feel to work on the customized itinerary, to be applied to the cost of the trip. I have no problem with this other than I can't actually book the trip until late November due to free points program tickets, and want to be sure they can book me in the small, private camps I've discussed with them before I commit and that they can make an efficient internal travel plan from the locations discussed. Oh, and that their prices are competitive/fair-- it is hard to pay a fee toward the cost of a trip when you have no idea what the total cost is since it is customized.

5. Does this itinerary seem good for a first trip to Africa for active people who like nontouristy places?

Thanks for any feedback!

deedeeg
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Oct 5th, 2006, 12:51 PM
  #2
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 2,501
Hello,

Personally, I would NEVER pay a 'consulting fee' to a travel company -- that request (not to mention the amount) is outrageous IMO. There are plenty of excellent companies offering tailormade trips to Southern Africa who will not try to lock you into booking with them before they even present you with an itinerary. To me, this demand is a red flag that screams 'Find another agent!' -- particularly if you feel that they don't seem to know much about your destination (e.g. when is the best time to go).

If you can, I'd recommend travelling later in the year, which will enable you to catch the large elephant and buffalo herds that only start gathering once the pans in the woods have dried up. If you read my trip report, you'll get a flavour for what it would be like in May/early June -- though I travelled at the end of June, the conditions were very 'May-like' due to the late rains according to the guides.

July or August would be ideal, though availability is getting very tight.

Regarding the itinerary -- if you're active and like non-touristy things, I'd add on three nights at Jack's Camp in the Makgadikgadi Pans. Jack's is a very special camp, unlike any other camp in Botswana. I visited it on my last trip -- you can read about it in my trip report (scroll down to the end). I topped it for you on Fodors but you can also follow this link:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34844345

Right now you have one Delta camp (Jao) and one Linyanti camp (Lebala), which gives you a wider range of environments than two Delta camps (Chief's and Jao). However, Chief's does have very good gameviewing, and if you do travel in May will probably offer better viewing than the Linyanti at that time of year.

For the ultimate in game-viewing, you may want to consider Mombo:

http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/ca...53&method=menu

I spent five days at Mombo on my trip and had brilliant game-viewing. It's not inexpensive by any means, but the experience is unforgettable.

I also stayed at Lebala on my trip, and if you stay with the Delta-Linyanti split and want Jao-type luxury I'd definitely recommend another camp. Lebala is comfortable but not as luxurious as some of the other camps in that area, particularly King's Pool, which is also a 6-paw camp (same luxury level as Jao).

KING'S POOL
http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/ca...28&method=menu

Duma Tau and Selinda are not as luxurious as King's Pool but are more luxurious than Lebala.

DUMA TAU
http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/ca...27&method=menu

SELINDA
http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/ca...20&method=menu

Since you've mentioned an interest in walking, I'd recommend Selinda -- it's one of the few camps in Botswana with a serious walking safari programme. You might enjoy spending four nights there, with three in camp and one on the Selinda Walking Trails option.

Unless you plan to do activities like bungee jumping, white water rafting, etc, one night is enough for Vic Falls.

I assume you're in South Luangwa for your Luangwa Valley stay - do you know which camp you're in?

For Lower Zambezi, I'd recommend taking a look at Chiawa -- this is a wonderful camp which has hosted many people on these boards and has received rave reviews.

http://www.chiawa.com/

I'd definitely go with Chiawa over your other option.

Cheers,
Julian

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Oct 5th, 2006, 12:58 PM
  #3
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
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Hi Deedee,

Sorry, pressed send too soon..

Your itinerary with my suggestions might end up looking something like this, assuming you only have 14 days:

Jack's Camp x3
Jao x3
Selinda x4 (3 nights in camp, 1 on walking trail)
Victoria Falls x1
Chiawa x3

Given what you've said about your interests, I'd advocate Jack's Camp over the Luangwa bush camp.

Alternatively, you could easily spend all 14 nights in Botswana, and explore the Delta in greater depth:

Jack's Camp x3
Mombo x3
Jao x3
Selinda x4 (3 nights in camp, 1 on walking trail)
Victoria Falls x1

You'd end up trading the river activities in the Lower Zambezi for what many people believe is the best game-viewing in Southern Africa at Mombo -- personally, that's a trade-off I'd be happy to make, particularly as it means more time on safari and less time transiting between countries.

Cheers,
Julian
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Oct 5th, 2006, 05:35 PM
  #4
 
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Posts: 600
Hi deedee -
I'd agree with Julian. I LOVE Zambia, but I am not sure it would be worth the hassle to fly from Bots to there for three nights. Of course, that is your choice, just another 2 cents worth!

And if you go to Lower Zambezi, yes, I would choose Chiawa. Or Old Mondoro, Chiawa's bush camp. It's a lovely camp and great for walks.

BTW: If it's cool for me to advertise, Julian can put together a great trip for you - without a fee.

Good luck!
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Oct 5th, 2006, 05:48 PM
  #5
 
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deedee,

As you've listed walking first, it seems a most important part of your plans. I can't recommend more highly the walking trails available at Selinda, but I'd go further than Julian and suggest you look into their standard option, which I've experienced. This is two nights on the trail. For somebody really interested in walking, one night is skimming the surface. There are two walking camps, Mokoba on Selinda's northern plains and Tshwene near the spillway, and the standard itinerary has you walking from Selinda main camp to Mokoba on day one, Mokoba to Tshwene on day two, and Tshwene to Zibalianja (Selinda's little sister camp) on day three...or the reverse. We stayed a few nights at Selinda, then did the walking, and finished with another few nights at Zibalianja, but your combination could be 1-2-1. You'd get game drives in open vehicles at the two main camps. Walking between camps takes up a whole morning, and you can spend the afternoons at Mokoba and Tshwene either relaxing or doing further walks with your armed guide and tracker in the camp vicinity until sunset.

Take a look at Selinda's own website www.linyanti.com . You'll find camp descriptions and a map showing their locations as well as a lot of other 'horse's mouth' information.

John

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Oct 5th, 2006, 06:22 PM
  #6
 
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Posts: 14,440
1. One reason to go in this shoulder season is to save money, but that's not your goal.

There have been some fabulous reports here on trips at this time of year, but later in the season is usually better for game. About a month later would be good for walking before it gets too hot.

2. It's not too much travel in my opinion if Zambia and Botswana are you where you want to go.

3. Jao & Lebala would be a good combo. Jao for water activities in the delta and if you want something "very special" without being worried about cost Jao is that. Lebala is an excellent game camp.

Chiefs and Jao as a combo is good too. Chiefs has an excellent game reputation.

Chiefs and Stanleys are both operated by the same company (Sanctuary) and are nicely paired. Stanley's is a water camp with water activities (like Jao) and it offers walks with elephants!! Now, in my book that's special!! The reports on the ele walks have all been very positive. Jao is a fancier, more luxurious camp than Stanley's.

Since you have mentioned combos. My choice out of the camps you listed would be Stanley's for the water activities and elephant walk and Lebala for the game.

Not to confuse you, but have you heard of Mombo? It has some of the most abundant game anywhere at any time. Julian mentioned it too. I can attest that the reputation is deserved. It is very expensive, but most people feel it's worth it. Then, along the lines of Stanley's which has water activities and elephants, there is Abu's. While the cost is about $5000 for 3 nights, you ride elephants in the delta at this world renowned top of the line camp. Mombo and Abu's is a combo unlike anything else and even goes beyond very special. But that may be taking it too far even if cost is not an issue.

4. I also agree with Julian about the $500 up front fee being unacceptable. I've never paid any itinerary creation fee for an Africa trip.

There are many Southern Africa agents that have been used successfully by Fodorites. Explore Africa is not one I've ever seen. Here are some agents mentioned frequently and used recently.

Africa Adventure
Africa Travel Resource
Destiny Africa
Eyes on Africa

What you have listed is a typical and well planned itinerary that could be put together by many agents.

My gut feeling is to run away from Explore Africa.

5. Yes, a good first or any trip for someone with your goals. Other than Vic Falls, you wont' see lots of people. If you want non-touristy with activity and few people, then Sausage Tree in LZ wins out over Chobe.

Chiawa camp is just a step up from Sausage Tree and I believe smaller. I really enjoyed Sausage Tree and would recommend it, but maybe Chiawa would be better.

Here is one more thought. I'll mention Old Mondoro, as did Cooncat. While it is more rustic than Chiawa or Sausage Tree, it is a marvelous bush camp that is quite remote with few people. Walking is the primary activity here, but you can also do driving and night drives. I canoed there on an all day trip from Sausage Tree on the Chifungulu Channel. That was the best canoe experience I had in Africa.

Good luck with your trip and please post as the itinerary develops.

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Oct 5th, 2006, 06:40 PM
  #7
santharamhari
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DeedeeG,

Everyone have given some good suggestions. I will just add my 2cents. Personally, i think it's too much shuttling around without doing doing justice to any region.

Lebala is a fantastic camp for game-viewing. You can read my trip report here on fodors. The thread is called,"Back home from Kwando (Hari)"

If i were you, i would do Mombo instead of Jao.

Zambia, i have no personal experiences so will refrain from any suggestions. However, i feel there's too much travel in your itinerary.....

Hari
 
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Oct 5th, 2006, 07:24 PM
  #8
santharamhari
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Deedee,

Since you want an active trip....i strongly recommend the white water rafting experience. I did it not in my recent trip, but previous one.

We used Bundu adventures(Zambia side of the falls). I can't remember the name of my guide right this minute, but, he was fantastic!!! That's the best white water rafting experience i have ever had.....

Hari
 
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Oct 5th, 2006, 11:32 PM
  #9
 
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 4
hi, its common that companies charge these fees,my southern african trip was arranged by a company based in miami and they charged me $250, it was so good to be able to phone them at night and over the weekend, it made things easy for my family.their website is www.karell.com, i think the name of the owner id norman, you may want to compare
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Oct 6th, 2006, 12:06 AM
  #10
santharamhari
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No....it's not normal to be charged a ridiculous amount straight off the bat!!! Find another agent........

Hari
 
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Oct 6th, 2006, 12:14 AM
  #11
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,715
deedeeG: lots of good advice here on the camps. One more to consider would be Little Vumbura for boating/mokoro and excellent game or Vumbura Plains if you want the same thing with the highest luxury. I also think Mombo would be the best choice but if its not available I think Vumbura would be better than Jao for game viewing.

I also strongly agree that you should not pay a planning fee. All these agents can book you into the same camps and there are many recommended for their expertise that are not charging any fee and are very responsive and available.
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Dec 27th, 2006, 12:30 PM
  #12
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Hi. Thanks to everyone who replied, I can't tell you how helpful it is. I've been busy on a project and am just now getting to book the trip. Based on the replies, I think I will look at a couple of other travel agents, and see if I can book a bit later in the season.

I'll keep you updated!
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Dec 27th, 2006, 03:15 PM
  #13
 
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Since Ruth and I were at Chiawa, Sausage Tree and Old Mondoro, let me add a note that, while we loved Chiawa, and were absolutely thrilled with Old Mondoro, our experience with Sausage Tree was much less happy than that experienced by atravelynn. I've commented on the series of problems we encountered at Sausage Tree elsewhere on Fodor's so won't elaborate here. While we would love to return to Chiawa and Old Mondoro, we would not consider returning to Sausage Tree unless under new management.


And a second (or third, or fourth) endorsement for not paying an upfront fee. We did use Destiny Africa (no, we are not in the travel business ourselves nor do we get fees or kickbacks), and Rocco (yes, he is/or was a frequent poster here) always answered emails promptly (never had the need to call, but he was available should we have needed to) and never pushed one camp over another but gave the pros and cons of each based on his first hand experiences. He also had no qualms about putting us directly in contact with each of the camps were were planning or thinking of visiting. I have no idea how many hours he spent laying out our trip, but it had to be lots.

Even though I have since found that much of the time one does not get vouchers for verification of payments, visa waivers, or intra-Africa transport ahead of time, this being our first trip to Africa, I wanted peace of mind. I asked, and I received all with no problems.

It sounds like a wonderful trip and since we are starting to plan our next trip to Africa pairing a return to Zambia with Botswana, as you are, we'd love to hear what you finally settle on for an itinerary.
Jim

Jim

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