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Advice needed: Itinerary change to June trip


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linjudy

Our safari to Zambia is now just 3 weeks away. This trip was originally booked for June 2020, but got deferred to this year. Given all the pandemic disruptions, there are some last minute changes from one of the camp operator, and I would love some advice on the adjustment options offered by our TO!

 

Our original itinerary in South Luangwa was as follows:

- one night half-board at Luangwa River Camp

- 2 nights at Nsefu

- 1 night RPS bush camp out of Nsefu

- 3 nights Mwamba

 

Unfortunately, RPS has decided not to operate Luangwa River and the bush camp until at least July. So, our travel operator has offered the following options:

 

Option #1: 3 nights Nsefu, 4 nights at Mwamba with one night doing the Shenton's version of the camp out. I think this is closest to our original desire of doing a walk out to a fly-camp site and camp for one nite. The only concern is Shenton's version of camp out doesn't use a tent at all. It's just a sleeping mat with a mosquito net. Has anyone done this? It sounds scary. There are 4 reviews on Expert Africa and all 4 mentioned hearing/seeing animals while sleeping. I suppose that is the point, but still.....

 

Option #2: 2 nights Nkwali, 2 nights Nsefu, 3 nights Mwamba, with the option of sleeping out on their Numbu star bed platform thing. This sounds less scary, but less of the walk-camp experience we were looking for.

 

Any thoughts? Advice greatly appreciated! And I promise to write a thorough trip review upon our return :)

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Botswanadreams
16 minutes ago, linjudy said:

It's just a sleeping mat with a mosquito net

 

I personally wouldn't camp this way in an area with lions around. Lions can see through the net. With a bit wind I can imagine that it could make noise that attracts predators. All our trips in Africa were basic camping trips but with canvas ground tents. I'm sure others would like it and would feel free with nature after days in luxury lodges.   

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JayRon

I have camped a few times in unfenced campsites (mainly in Botswana) with my family, I like it a lot. But we always used roof top tents, so at least we had the illusion, that we were a little safer since we were not on the ground. Anyway, I am sure you will have a night you will never forget and I really doubt that Shenton would do it if it was really dangerous. I guess it would be bad for business if they end up with a dead client;) On the other hand, don´t do if you anxiety level is of the chart, then it is not worth it. 

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Botswanadreams

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/13844762/tourist-mauled-lion-slept-tent-wins-payout-safari/

 

Yesterday I couldn't found anything to this accident. If you are in wild Africa you always have to be aware that an accident can happen but for me is minimising the own risk the first priority.   

 

 

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linjudy

Thanks for the responses! After some discussions, I think we've talked ourselves out of camping in this manner. There is suppose to be someone keeping watch all night, but forget about lions, I wouldn't camp this way here in California! What about bugs or snakes on the ground? Also there would be no privacy at all. I've asked if they can set up just a simple portable dome tent, but if no, then I don't think we will do the camp out, but reserve their star bed platform for one night.

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linjudy

So now onto the more mundane question of which camp for how long. Any thoughts on which of the following options are best?

 

#1: 3 nts Nsefu, 4 nights Mwamba

#2: 2 nts Nkwali, 2 nts Nsefu, 3 nights Mwamba

#3: 1 nt Nkwali, 3 nts Nsefu, 3 nights Mwamba

 

I guess the big question is whether the Nkwali area is sufficiently different than Nsefu to merit a 1-2 night stay? Also, I think we will still be pretty tired the first day and may want to just take it easy.

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Biko

Personally I would take option 1 mainly because I prefer to stay a bit longer in a camp. As far as I know Nkwali does not take you into the Nsefu area, they cross the Luangwa river to go into South Lungwa National Park, into an area that is not the same as Mwamba’s.

By the way, I am also booked from June 17 - 30 in the same places you had booked. I have read in RPS’ newsletter that they are doing renovations to Luangwa River Camp. Have not recieved an alternative offer yet.

When are you travelling?

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linjudy

@Biko, we will be there June 19-29, so may run into you!

 

I just heard from our TO last week about Luangwa River Camp and the bush camp being closed. The alternative offer was Nkwali for either 1 or 2 nights. I too prefer a bit longer stays in camp. I feel like 3 days is optimal, though. Maybe we will stay with the original 1-3-3 since Nkwali is closer to the airstrip, and it would be nice to quickly get in to camp on our first day....

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Caracal

It's a long time since I last visited South Luangwa but I've stayed in all 3 camps and like @BikoI would choose option 1.

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ElenaH

hi @linjudy

we've been in SLNP last year as self-drivers visiting main Park and Nsefu. Here is the map:

image.png.cd7d219e6e4ae8d770e1a5884d89d3ec.png

All three places are in a different areas. I assume, Nkwali will drive in a main park (area 1). The place is beautiful, many sightings, many cats used to vehicles but it can be also more cars (well.. probably not yet because of pandemic restrictions and fewer visitors). But on the other hand there is a great communication between operators and almost guarantee you will see leopards and lions. If not Nkwali-guides then the others will find them and inform.

Nsefu will cover area 2 and beyond: stunning landscapes, excellent sighting as well, very few vehicles. The few vehicles mean also fewer guides, fewer pairs of eyes and less sighting-opportunities. Last year we did see leopards in Nsefu Sector but couldn't find lions however, we were staying in the Explorers Camp and made the guided drives (no self-driving).

 

Mwamba is almost in a private concession, I assume (?). I think what they meant with "camp out" is probably something like this:

https://www.shentonsafaris.com/camps/mwamba/numbu-star-bed/

If it is really this then it is OK. I was sleeping in a such platform without a net (it was under construction in Khwai area) but I asked my friend to sleep closer to exit .. :lol:

Normally the animals don't climb such man-made constructions... Well.. normally. Animals defend their territory which are trees and ground. And such a construction is definitely a human-territory. So, I think, you wil be safe.

Personally, I would never sleep on the ground in other than a proper canvas-tent! The nylon-tents or net-tents are not safe IMO.

 

I see that Mwamba has also hides what makes it a good photographic location!

So, if you want to see the main park (option #2) then take 2N in Nkwali. I think, 1N doesn't make any sense because it will be too stressful. Or take an option #1 with 3N in Nsefu and 4N in Mwamba. 

If it would be my first trip to South Luangwa NP then I would take #2 to see different locations. Actually, I would take #2 in any case becasue I know I would have 4 game drives with Nkwali guides (one after arrival, two next day and one morning drive before departure to Nsefu) That will give me an opportunity to photograph: elephants crossing the river (they do it every day in the same place) and bathing with sand (again a known place), resident lions-pride and resident leopards, bee-eaters etc..The chance is very high for all those sightings becasue the guides from other lodges know where the animals are and I think, the guides from Nkwali will know it as well. Perhaps, you can see wild dogs becasue they are located more to the South. 

 

If there are only a few camps/lodges and no guests then there are no game-drives and guides don't know where the animals are (that was the case last year ...). 

You also need to take in consideration the road transfers. If you take Nkwali as the first you will be able to take an evening drive because it is close to Mfuwe airport. If you take Nsefu then perhaps, your transfer will be a game-drive. It will take about 1,5hrs from airport to Nsefu. I think, it will be drive+boat to Mwamba.

 

Ref. walking experience. In one of my Africa-trips I made a walking-safari through the Hwange NP (100km in 4 days) and I would never do it again. The problem is that the animals smell and hear you far ahead and run away. So, you cannot come close and make any nice photos. It is more walking experience than wilderness experience and I was rather dissapointed and very very tired. If you bump to lions and they attack then they will be shoot. So, I was happy we didn't bump into lions during our walking in Hwange.

 

The best walking opportunities are in Mana Pools becasue there is everybody walking, not only the guides. Animals are used to walking people and you can come close. I think, it is the best place for walking safaris. South Luangwa is famous for leopard-sightings. So, don't be upset if you won't walk, enjoy the leopard-sightings! :-)

 

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inyathi

@linjudy

 

Although you seem to have made your minds up, about the camp out, I thought I'd comment anyway.

 

Regarding the fly camping, this is something that you are bound to be a little concerned about, as you've never done it before, I think that your worries are reasonable, but I also think that they're unfounded, I don’t think you need be concerned about either snakes or bugs. I have not done this particular fly camping in Zambia, but I have fly camped elsewhere, most recently in Zakouma NP in Chad, there I slept at two locations just under a mosquito net, but on a camp bed, not the ground. I have also done a lot of mobile camping and on occasion just slept on a mattress on the ground and in various types of tents, I have never had any encounters with snakes, nor really with bugs, Mwamba Bushcamp is described as rustic, so you could just as well have the odd bug in your room at the main camp. I don’t really consider bugs to be an issue, but I wouldn’t expect them to be any more of an issue when fly camping, than just staying in a safari camp. Snakes and bugs are common concerns for first timers and inexperienced safari goers, this fear can easily be cured, just by going on safari more often.:D 

 

Until that lion incident in Ruaha, I didn't have any concerns about fly camping, even knowing about that incident, I wouldn’t be too concerned, as I'd assume that safari operators around Africa, would be aware of what happened and travel agents certainly should be, as it was the travel agent that ended up in court. I’m sure camps that offer fly camping, will have been asked often enough, about the safety aspect, by both guests and travel agents. Thus, I imagine that camps offering this sort of fly camping would be a bit more cautious and will ensure that there is always someone on watch all night. The description of the flycamping on Expert Africa’s website, suggests that your guide and your ZAWA Scout will be on watch all the time, to ensure animals don’t come too close. Also, someone will escort you to and from the bush-loo, so I don’t think you need be at all concerned about wildlife either big or small. I read those reviews on Expert Africa, the one negative review, was from some people, for whom fly camping was clearly a step too far outside of their comfort zone, this sort of very basic simple camping, isn’t for everyone, but it is only one night. They complained that there was no privacy, but I wouldn’t imagine that that is a serious problem, my understanding is that the "camp out" is generally just for two people, so normally a couple, but can be done for four people, if there were four of you doing it, your beds would be positioned far enough apart to ensure adequate privacy. The only other people there when you do it, should be your guide, the scout and camp staff and they whilst close by, should be far enough away not to impinge on your privacy. There is a description of the experience on Shenton’s website, you may have already read it, it says this at the end


Quote

 

Notes: The camp out is an activity that is pre-booked, as logistically there is quite a lot involved, and it is private in the sense that we would not group different guests together. It is intended for 2 people, but we would accept up to 4 people. It is focused on walking and on looking at the little things we usually don’t notice on other game viewing activities. Earlier in the season, when the lagoon is full, it is quite common to see herds of buffalos, which also means the lions are usually not far. Now, as things are getting very dry, there is less game around, although we had our share of interesting sightings.

 

 

It also has photos showing the beds, the mattresses are clearly on ground sheets and they’ve swept the ground underneath before putting them down and the staff will have tucked the mosquito nets under the mattresses to ensure nothing can get in.

 

Camp out at Kampamba Lagoon

 

If lack of privacy was a real issue, I’m sure there would be more complaints about this, likewise if people had had issues with bugs. 

 

To me being properly camped in the bush like this is a magical experience and is quite different to staying back at the main camp, there is something special about sitting by a campfire, out in the wild, in the middle of nowhere with just the sounds of nature around you and an extraordinary canopy of stars overhead, such as you don’t see anymore in the developed world and then waking up in the bush with the birds. A few very minor discomforts, like having a bush-loo is a very small price to pay for this. Shentons want you to have an amazing experience, that you are going to tell all of your friends and family and perhaps the internet about, when you get home, the very last thing they want, is for you to say, whatever you do don’t do the fly camping, it was awful.

 

I would say do it and then if you really enjoy it, you will want to do it again, whenever the opportunity arises on future safaris, if you don’t enjoy it, well then, it was only for one night and you won’t ever have to do it again.

 

I can’t advise on the camps, as I’ve not stayed at any of them.

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linjudy

@ElenaH, thank you so much for the map and the detailed information! It is our first trip to South Luangwa, so it would be nice to see different parts of the park, although we normally avoid 2 nt stays. Note  Shenton offer both the "star bed" platform sleep-out and a fly-camp with net tents (https://www.shentonsafaris.com/activities/camp-outs-in-the-bush/). I'm not scared about the star bed experience at all. In fact that sounds amazing and romantic with the private bush dinner.

 

@inyathi, thank you for sharing your camping experience in so much detail, and the link which has the most complete information I've seen. This is our 4th safari, but I'm not much of a camper, so have not done any fly camping on previous trips. Now that I've finally worked up the nerve, the pandemic threw a wrench into our plans. I thought we had made our decisions, but reading your post, I'm undecided again :). You're totally right it is only for one night, and could very well be an "once in a lifetime" experience....

 

Hmm... difficult choice, but I'm definitely reaching that point in the safari planning where I'm over thinking things! I'm sure all choices would be great :)

 

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ElenaH

@linjudy, I think, @inyathiis right. you need to try sleep-out! Just think and listen, what your heart tells you. Before going to bed today ask subconscious to give you the answer, the decision.

I am giving advice from my perspective and I had the experience like that Mpayathutlwa and I think I'd not be interested to be watched at night and to be escorted, I prefer to be alone in the camping place with all pros and cons. But people are different and you perhaps don't like camping so, it would be a great opportunity for you to come that close to nature. It may be just a normal sleep or it maybe something very special. But if you don't try you don't know.

I also like to take pictures and see itineraries more practically from that point of view. You can see my TR from 2020 here: First Time in Zambia

You will see main part of South Luangwa NP and Nsefu Sector and have an idea.

Just visualise and decision will come ;-)

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linjudy
Posted (edited)

Wow, @ElenaH, your trip report was fantastic! What stunning photos - esp. the ones with the birds in flight! And OMG, your camping experience! I don't think I would do it again if I heard a lion roar 2 meters away. I have heard one roar one mile away it sounded like it was right there. Can't imagine what it must sounds like so close!

 

Good advice about letting the subconscious decide. However, there are 2 of us who have to decide :).

 

On another topic, what was it like to be in all the empty camps being the only guest? I have a feeling that we may encounter similar situation with travel from the UK still so restricted. We usually really enjoy meeting people from all of the world at these safari camps, and have even made some lasting friends. It will be strange if we were the only guests.

Edited by linjudy
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wilddog

Fly camping is absolute heaven. I would go for it. 😊 

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ElenaH

@linjudyyou will not be alone becasue @Bikowill join you and it will turn to the excellent holidays! So, I don't think there will be no guests but less than usual. You will definitely meet other people. Perhaps, one or two days you will be alone but not longer, I believe. We met other people (residents, SADC) during the hard lockdown. You will definitely meet international guests as well. Zambia and South Luangwa in particular is one of the favourite destinations and people are eager to travel, they have enough of lock-downs, sitting on luggage and waiting for the moment to take off. Many will travel ad-hoc. Don't worry, it will be just perfect as you wish!

 

Fewer guests get more attention but in those exclusive and small lodges you will get a lot of attention anyway.  So, I see the pandemic rather as disadvantage in any aspect: for owners. for personal and for guests.

In our case the biggest problem was that guides were not guiding for a long period of time and had no idea where the animals were. Our guide Simon had the first drive with us in September. His last drive was in February. So, it was half-a-year break in between... It was in the main park and during our first drive the only vehicle was ours... As you could see the animals were comming into the village ;-) However, the village is not small and very noisy! 

During that half-a-year period the dynamic had changed: there were new cubs, other prides and so on.. Guides need time to catch with all changes. Some lodges are doing game-drives without the guests. So, I hope, you will not have the problem of finding animals becasue the lodges are good, the guides are good and they operate alerady.

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ZaminOz
On 5/30/2021 at 2:44 AM, linjudy said:

Our safari to Zambia is now just 3 weeks away. This trip was originally booked for June 2020, but got deferred to this year. Given all the pandemic disruptions, there are some last minute changes from one of the camp operator, and I would love some advice on the adjustment options offered by our TO!

 

Our original itinerary in South Luangwa was as follows:

- one night half-board at Luangwa River Camp

- 2 nights at Nsefu

- 1 night RPS bush camp out of Nsefu

- 3 nights Mwamba

 

Unfortunately, RPS has decided not to operate Luangwa River and the bush camp until at least July. So, our travel operator has offered the following options:

 

Option #1: 3 nights Nsefu, 4 nights at Mwamba with one night doing the Shenton's version of the camp out. I think this is closest to our original desire of doing a walk out to a fly-camp site and camp for one nite. The only concern is Shenton's version of camp out doesn't use a tent at all. It's just a sleeping mat with a mosquito net. Has anyone done this? It sounds scary. There are 4 reviews on Expert Africa and all 4 mentioned hearing/seeing animals while sleeping. I suppose that is the point, but still.....

 

Option #2: 2 nights Nkwali, 2 nights Nsefu, 3 nights Mwamba, with the option of sleeping out on their Numbu star bed platform thing. This sounds less scary, but less of the walk-camp experience we were looking for.

 

Any thoughts? Advice greatly appreciated! And I promise to write a thorough trip review upon our return :)

I would pick option #1 without blinking.

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