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Zambia/Bots/Simbambili safari advice - am I trying to do too much.

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I've been reading this board for quite a few months now and I need some help with a Sept 2006 trip. Rocco has raised my interest for Zambia (decided against Zimbabwe due to current political situation) and canoeing on the Zambezi river. (I just loved his description "I cannot tell how much of a rush it is to go canoing in the Zambezi - often going through walls of hippos and seeing crocs jump in the water... while enjoying the incredible landscape"). After that experience we'd head on down to Botswana and finish up at Sambambili to see the leopards. The itinerary I am thinking of is starting in Victoria Falls for 1 night, then down to Sausage Tree Camp (2 nights) then to Savuti (for a land camp - 3 nights) then to Mombo (my husband's only request - thank you Matt Lauer)for 3 nights, then to Simbambili (3 nights) and finish up in Cape Town for 3 nights. My question is am I traveling too long of a distance by adding in Simbambili instead of another Botswana camp and secondly is the distance of going down to Sausage Tree camp on the lower Zambezi too far and then we'll be back tracking - would it better to do the Matesi Water Lodge for canoeing and seeing Victoria Falls. Hope this doesn't sound confusing but I'd love some input.

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    While I have been a proponent of Matetsi Water Lodge as an alternative to other Victoria Falls lodging, I am definitely an opponent of Matetsi Water Lodge when you compare it to the Lower Zambezi.

    The area that Matetsi Water Lodge is located is just one wide river. However, in Lower Zambezi, if the same holds true for Sausage Tree as it did for Kulefu (Star Of Africa's Lower Zambezi entry), then there is really no comparison. While it would have been exciting to encounter hippos in the middle of the Zambezi, it would have been much tamer in the middle of the river. The real adrenalin rush came when we were in narrow channels, and this afforded us the opportunity for amazing birding, close encounters with hippos AND Nile Crocodiles, waterbucks, buffalo and more.

    Plus, chances are that you will not see any leopards or lions at Matetsi while you should see them in September in Lower Zambezi.

    Really, it will not take more than about a 45 minute air transfer from Livingstone to Lower Zambezi, and by flying into Jeki Airstrip, you cannot be looking at more than a 20 minute road transfer.

    Now, I do think you have a much more valid concern with Simbambili. Although I would love to hang out with you while I am there on the nights of the 17th and 18th (and 19th), if I were in your shoes I would also be wondering if I wasn't cheating myself out of something else in Botswana. I have often thought the same thing, as it would have likely opened up Kafue National Park or even Hwange (Makalolo Plains) to me without Simbambili.

    However, my ultimate decision to stick to Simbambili is largely related to two main issues. Most of all, I am certain that Simbambili will offer better photo opportunities than any of my Zambian destinations. Zambia is for the overall experience, but Simbambili is for the leopards and hopefully rhinos (extinct in Zambia).

    My second reason for Simbambili is that I have read many times that Jaco is an EXCELLENT guide, and I will be with Jaco (as will you if you stick to Simbambili). Safarinut, a Fodorite who has gone AWOL but was the true Fodors authority on the Sabi Sand, called Jaco the best guide in the Sabi Sand, and given that he has been to just about every lodge and met so many guides, this is a huge compliment to Jaco.

    This is really a call that you must make for yourself. In putting together my April safari to Botswana, even with 15 nights strictly at game lodges, I cannot fit in all the lodges I wish to visit. It would truly take a minimum of 30 nights, spending 3 nights at about 10 different I do understand your pain! ;)

    Given that it was my statement about canoeing in the Zambezi that led you to Lower Zambezi, please know that this statement is not nearly as applicable to Matetsi as it is to Lower Zambezi. No doubt, Matetsi is a beautiful place in a beautiful area, but other than elephants and giraffe, you may have a hard time seeing other interesting wildlife. The canoeing at Matetsi, while very fun, does not compare to the experience I had in the Lower Zambezi.

    The only way I see to possibly improve your itinerary would be to eliminate the one night in Victoria Falls, and instead spend it at Sausage Tree Camp (for a total of 3 nights at Sausage Tree Camp). I do think that you may be able to spare an hour while transfering to Botswana to visit the falls. That may be enough.

    You do have a hard decision to make with Simbambili. If you are not already struggling enough, you could always substitute 3 nights at Vumbura Plains for Simbambili. :)

    This is Wilderness Safaris newest 6-paw camp and it appears to be nearly on the same level as Singita. :)

    Another good choice, from what I have read, would be Duba Plains for the lion vs. buffalo daily encounters.

    Hey Cindy, I don't know why I am trying to advise you...I have my own problems trying to put together my April Botswana itinerary! ;)

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    Okay, last word from me before I give others a chance to chime in.

    Have a look at the September 2004 report from Chiawa (which neigbors Sausage Tree Camp).

    Is there any remaining doubt that 3 nights at Sausage Tree Camp in September is mandatory?

    In the end, I thought the Lower Zambezi every bit as deserving as South Luangwa, and split my 12 night Zambian safari right down the middle...6 nights in South Luangwa, 6 nights in Lower Zambezi (further splitting the time with 3 nights at 4 different game lodges).

    If you were visiting in June or even July I would say that perhaps giving up Lower Zambezi would not be so bad...BUT, to give up a September visit...nuh uh, no way! I expect my 6 Lower Zambezi September nights to possibly be the best I have yet experienced on safari. :)

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    Hi Rocco - Thanks for the great input. I will definitely skip the Matesi Water Lodge for staying on the lower Zambezi. (Wow - I checked out the Chiawa Camp website - looks like an incredible area -PLUS wild dog sighting!!). The only reason I was going to do a night in Victoria Falls was for a little flight recovery time from LAX over to Africa - I don't have flights figured out yet but I am imagining I'd get from LAX via some connecting city to Johannesburg?? then up to Victoria Falls. Is that realistic or the best idea?
    Also from what you say about Simbabilli and Rochat's just posted comments I don't think we can pass on that camp. Thanks again for the input. Cindy

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    You could always do what I am direct to Europe on an overnight flight, spend the day exploring London or Paris or Madrid or wherever it is that you are able to find a direct flight to Joburg, take your overnight flight from Europe to Joburg, and then proceed directly into your safari. It sounds a lot worse than it actually is.

    What part of L.A. are you in? (I am in the Pasadena area)

    I also got excited after reading Rochat's Simbambili report. While I expect to see plenty of leopards in Zambia (it does have the most leopards of any country in the world), it is only until I reach Simbambili that I expect to have dramatic close-up encounters with the leopards, day and night.

    When exploring your LAX - Europe? - Joburg flights, make sure that you are getting yourself into Joburg early enough for an early flight to Victoria Falls, or better yet, to Livingstone. Also, if you don't mind flying in and out of different cities (it may add a little to the price of your ticket), you may be better off flying into Lusaka and then out of Maun. This may require a couple one-way tickets, however.

    Once you are in Lusaka, getting to Lower Zambezi is a piece of cake. I recommend you use Airwaves Airlink as your light air transfer company. They will meet you as you deboard your flight in Lusaka, and may very well usher you through customs right to your awaiting light air transfer. Transfer time from Lusaka to Lower Zambezi is a mere 25 minutes. I have had only the best experiences with Airwaves Airlink.

    The light air transfer should only be $90 per person from Lusaka to Lower Zambezi. Then, once you are done in Lower Zambezi, Airwaves will get you from Lower Zamezi to Livingstone for about $120 per person. Give them an e-mail and see what their schedule is on your requested dates. If you don't mind spending the money, I believe they could also fly you to Botswana on a chartered flight. Since they often fly 4 passenger planes, it may not be as expensive as you think...doesn't hurt to ask.

    Cindy, just do me one favor should we spend time at Simbambili together...LIE TO ME...tell me how HORRIBLE your time at Mombo was and that I did not miss a thing! ;)

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    Hi Rocco - Thanks once again for the info. I think we'll be booking through a tour operator and wouldn't they book the internal flights also?? It seems like you got the system down for booking your camps and flights directly but it feels a little daunting to do right now. But I will definitely look into the flight to Europe city - stay a night and then go to Joburg and on to Livingstone or Luska.
    By the way - I am a So Cal girl :-)- grew up in Westwood (spent many a day in Pasadena) but have relocated to Ariz and still fly out of LAX for these type of destinations.

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    I am confusing you for another Cindy who is also going to Simbambili, cindymac...Simbambili sure is popular amongst you cindy's! ;)

    She is also visiting Simbambili in September, but now that I read it closer, it is September 2005 that she is visiting, hence the reason I thought we were going to be at Simbambili at the same time.

    About the tour operator, only a very good tour operator will be able to help you put this altogether without subcontracting it out to Zambian operators, which will cause your trip to be more expensive.

    Which tour operator are you thinking about using? If you would like a couple recommendations from me, please feel free to e-mail me. With this being my 3rd visit to Zambia, I do agree that I do have the system pretty locked down, yet I have also found a couple agents that are as capable as I am, all while paying nothing extra but taking the headache out of it all. :)

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    Victoria Falls for 1 night--good plan
    I like doing this up front to relax and recover from the flights. Here is a thought on where to stay. Since Wilderness offers a discount for 7 nights in their properties, you could consider the River Club in Zambia for 1 night, a Wilderness property. With your 3 nights in Savuti (assuming a Wilderness property) and 3 at Mombo, that’s 7. I’ve never stayed in Zambia at Vic Falls, but here is a link that discusses accommodations there.

    The thread is entitled Botswana – Linyanti vs. Okavango, and the Zambia part occurs several posts into the thread.

    then down to Sausage Tree Camp (2 nights--Having stayed there in 2003, I can strongly recommend it. I think there are less expensive options on the Lower Zambezi though. If you could add any days, they would be well spent here since there are so many activities: day and night drives, walks, canoeing, small motor boat safaris, fishing.

    Also I did a day long leisurely canoe trip from Sausage Tree to Old Mondoro (a wonderful walking camp) that was the most amazing canoeing ever. Not just my opinion, another poster emailed me and said he and his wife took the same channel in 2004 and he saw more elephants here than on 3 previous canoe trips combined. But to do Sausage Tree and Old Mondoro would require 3-4 days in the Lower Zambezi.

    then to Savuti (for a land camp - 3 nights) Sounds good

    then to Mombo (my husband's only request)-3 nights--Great that you are making a 3-night stay here. Nice combo with Savuti. I'll mention that you do not have a water camp in the Okavango where you can experience the delta from a mekoro. But Savuti and Mombo would offer stronger game than a water camp.

    then to Simbambili (3 nights)--Should be great from what I've read here, no personal experience.

    and finish up in Cape Town for 3 nights. This will give a nice South Africa experience.

    I think your trip flows nicely and offers a good variety of environments and activities.

    Have a great trip and please post your itinerary as it develops!

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    atravelynn - thanks for the input. I had figured I had included the experience of a "water" camp with the Lower Zambezi and canoeing etc. But maybe I shouldn't miss out on the Okavango Delta and doing a water camp there...I probably would drop Simbambili to include the Delta. Would it be a good trade off?? and something that should not be missed? - Cindy

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