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Traveller reviews

Travel reviews by Ms N from San Francisco

Review Distribution

Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Terrible

Total number of trips

1

Countries visited

2

Lodges stayed in

6

Excursions taken

0

My Aug 2014 trip

Zambia and 1 other country between 19 Aug 2014 and 6 Sep 2014

Trip rating: Excellent
"Expert Africa and Maruska created a wonderful first safari experience for me. I would totally use Expert Africa again and recommend them to others. She really listened to all my interests, priorities, concerns before making any recommendations. She would offer straw men ideas, explaining the rationale behind each selection and the benefits and drawbacks of that particular itinerary. She knows the camps and area very well such that she could answer even the most esoteric questions I would throw at her and demonstrated amazing levels of patience with my ever changing itinerary and indecisiveness. Even though Maruska was across the world from me, her responsiveness and availability by both email and phone made Expert Africa feel like a local agency.

Furthermore, when Maruska went on maternity leave, the transition was seemless and Megan did a great job of finalizing the outstanding details.

Following are some compare and contrast notes I took in case they are helpful. My notes were more thorough in Zambia though...

Atmosphere
Nkwali wins on warmth and community. Very good for a single traveller. Feels very homey. It has the best sunrises of the 3 Zambia lodges and probably Botswana too.The open veranda to the river and layout makes you feel like you are with the animal life vs looking at it from a distance. There are so many elephants etc that were constantly wandering within the lodge grounds in and around the rooms.
Puku wins on views. The ridge location just gives you a broader vantage point and that combined with the design of its common area is really quite striking. One wants to hang out on their deck in the swinging chairs or round chair all day long.
Puku feels the most appropriate for a honeymooning couple or family since it is more individual, they offer more flexibility with meals and the rooms are the most private.the ambiance is the most upscale from the way the staff interacts with guests to the room decor.
Lions camp has a striking architectural design which is as beautiful as the setting it is situated in. Hard to pin down the atmosphere. They do the communal thing like nkwali but it doesn't have the same vibe. Nkwali is really good at creating connections between disparate guests and guests with their guides that lions camp doesn't quite do. Nkwali had white foreigners tending to the guests but there was more of a camaraderie between them and the Zambian black staff. At lions camp, one senses more of a hierarchy with the white foreigners playing more of a central role in the stay and the local people relegated to the backdrop. Also the clientele was all over 60 and actually changed clothes for dinner.
In Botswana, Shinde was my least favorite. The rooms and walk to them just lacks any charm. It is also quite big.
Scenery wise, I liked the variation across the three sites.

Btw, Maruska's briefings were amazing? They all knew to take special care in the rooms for me with respect to bugs. They also all seemed to bear room preference in mind.

Animal life
Nkwali and puku pretty much focus on the same area so animal life is the same. Saw pretty much everything with an abundance of impala and elephants. Even saw several sightings of leopards and some wild dogs. Not sure it really made sense to do both but not sure which I would choose. I preferred nkwali for ambiance and my guide but preferred the room (fewer bugs) and food options at puku. It Is the puku room and common area that make it a difficult choice.
Lions camp-the access to lions is incredible. Lion sightings at the others were achieved but tougher and with more vehicles. Also the prides were much smaller and no males. My buffalo sighting was also great.
In Botswana, Lebala had by far the best animal life. Sandibe was hurt by having only one jeep out on drives so might not be fair to judge them. As far as wet camps go, based on talking to others, there might be better animal/bird life on the water at lodges other than Shinde. Also, they don't seem keen on night drives.

Staff
Puku ridge probably has the most memorable staff as they really kiss butt. Very attentive to detail, very accommodating, very friendly, very professional. It's like the 4 seasons staff on safari. I like the fact that everyone is Zambian and black including the main guest host/lodge manager. Evidence, the manager, disappointed on the drives portion but was bending over backwards otherwise.
Nkwali was very casual compared to the others perhaps in some ways too casual for the money being spent. The rooms were missing mammal and bird checklists and apparently they didn't have anymore. Interactions were professional but relaxed. All the staff was very warm and friendly...and skilled at fostering a sense of warmth and community within the camp.

Lions camp is more exacting than nkwali. As I said earlier, they try to create this communal thing but it doesn't entirely work like it does in nkwali. And it feels fake..at nkwali they seemed to remember everyone. Here, I asked them about a couple who I met at nkwali who was just at lions camp within the week before my arrival and they clearly had no recall.

Also I had an interaction that can sort of illustrate differences. I had washed my underwear and socks in the sink as I do at every camp to dry on deck during day. Lions camp has minerals in the water that corrie said would go away within a few minutes. I ran the water for at least 8 minutes and then started feeling bad about wasting so much water so I started to wash them. My white socks turned brown. As I washed, water wasn't getting any better and my clothes looked dirtier than when I started. Having been doing this everyday, I knew they would dry in a matter of hours. I went to Corrie and explained what happened and that I recognized it is 11 (I only arrived at camp at 1030) and they pick up laundry first thing but would there be any way I could give these items to the laundry since they are wet now. She was very resistant.. Reinforced that the water clears up after a few minutes (which i rarely experienced) and that I should just leave it in the laundry basket for the next day. I pushed and she finally acquiesced but said they wouldn't be returned until the next afternoon (clothes picked up in am are returned at night turndown). I said that would be great although both are super quick drying and had been drying in a matter of hours the whole time I was in Zambia. She again said they would need til next afternoon due to drying time. Surprise surprise they were both in my room at night turndown. A better approach would have been to say she would see what she could do but no guarantees before next day since she needs to check with the laundry folks but she will do her best. Just showed her lack of experience. Puku would have said..sure thing. Nkwali's will would have probably said what I just suggested. In fact, I washed my gym pants at nkwali and then couldn't find a good place to hang them outside on my veranda. I mentioned it to will and he offered to grab them and put them on their line for me. Just more accommodating.

In Botswana, the staff at Sandibe was excellent. Like Puku ridge, very attentive to detail. Lebala's manager seemed a bit short staffed but they were all very interested in me having a good trip. Shinde's camp managers and my guides were also very guest oriented.

Guides
Fred at nkwali made for a great 1st experience. He is very jovial and outgoing. He tells you there is an impala as though it is the first time he has seen one and then turns off the jeep to give you time to appreciate it. Never felt rushed. He was great about checking with us on what we wanted to do (stay, move on, look for x or y). Seems like the drives were the longest by at least 30 minutes at nkwali. Night drives went for nearly 4 hours and morning drives went for 5 I think. Btw my first drive was solo. Most other drives had 3 of us; a few drives had 5 of us.

It was tough for puku to follow on the heels of Fred. First Fred and I really bonded and I bonded with the others I was on drives with too and secondly I wasn't feeling well. But puku had some issues. First day, I was ready to go for my drive and no one came for me. 30 min after I should have left (I wasn't anxious bc I was enjoying the view from the swing and on wifi), evidence came over to me to apologize, explain the situation and tell me about the work around he was coordinating. Essentially there was no vehicle for me. Ultimately I was picked up maybe 90 minutes late by a driver from their sister lodge. His name was Elijah. I toured with a guest from that lodge. It was his first drive. Elijah didn't seem to stop for much or really engage much with us. I pointed things out to the other guest and encouraged Elijah to stop at points. The drive seemed like a waste of time in the end, particularly since I wasn't feeling well. The next day I went with Elias for both drives. He was punctual and very good about soliciting input and finding me sightings. It was a solo drive both times. Elias was supposed to be my driver the next morning for my game drive/transfer but he didn't show up for me. I waited maybe 10 minutes to find out from evidence that he needed to send Elias with guests who wanted to see the lions (I saw the night before) and so Elijah was going to take me. He told me I would get to lions camp around noon and that it would be part drive/part transfer. It seemed all transfer except for our fortunate coincidence of passing a pack of hyenas feeding on a baby elephant along the way.

Hendrix of lions camp was good and hard working. Tried hard to accommodate the serious photographers with their huge cameras and also people like me who needed to be closer. there were 3 or 5 of us assigned to the jeep depending on the drive but I had a private drive the first morning bc the couple wanted to chill at lodge.


Rooms
Nkwali: love how it is totally open to the river and the idea of the open shower. Like the rural camp feel. Bed was good, hot water and pressure in shower were also good. My only issue with nkwali is that the setting and architecture means more bugs and creatures in the room. Filled me with anxiety each night.

Puku: huge room with amazing views of the vast plains. Bed was good as was the hot water and pressure in shower. The outdoor shower was the best of the three bc there were fewer bug encounters (actually none) and it has a completely unobstructed view to the animal life/view. Little touches like a multi outlet extension cord, slippers, shower cap in the room were appreciated. Veranda was the most inviting of the 3 rooms (and Botswana too).

Lions camp: I got the honeymoon suite which has two sides of views vs one I think. Warmer feel than puku with the use of wood and bright colors. Bed and hot water/pressure of shower also good. Water comes out of faucets brown at first and depending on the day/hour can take more or less time to clear up. Outdoor shower is a little better than nkwali, as there is some view but it is pretty obstructed bc of how the thatched roof comes down in that corner. There is also no shelf on which to put one's soap, shampoo etc...and there is no shampoo, body wash etc in the outside shower. Lots of ants around the room but no real bug encounters otherwise. The view is very good although I think maybe a little less animal life than the others?? Although I saw a lion stroll through when I went to bed on one of my nights!

Shinde had a great shower but room and view were nothing memorable.

Lebala has a lot of huge bees near the rooms which can be intimidating when showering. Also it was tough to get water temperature right. Room was amazing though. Probably #2 after Puku.

Food
I can't fully assess the food and drink, as I didn't fully eat bc of my not feeling well. I did eat a bit in each place though. All had good food. Nkwali was the most basic of the 3 in Zambia. Puku was the only one of the 3 to offer hot breakfast beyond the oatmeal and toast option. Puku was also the only one who gave a choice for the starter, main and desert. Puku also had someone at the bar all the time so one could have drinks during off times like siesta if they wanted. Lions camp may have too but I am not sure.

Overall, I think Botswana may actually serve less food than Zambia which isn't necessarily bad:-)

Sandibe had the best food, by far, in Botswana. Shinde was also very good. Lebala's food was good but perhaps a bit less gourmet than the other 2 lodges.

Other
Not sure I get the booking of puku and nkwali since they have 95% overlap in territory. I would send someone to one or the other.
I wanted to do a walking safari but it seemed like I would have almost had to tell them beforehand. Bc puku was in same region as nkwali, I mentioned maybe wanting to do a walking safari next day to a random guide and he intimated that there probably wasn't a guide available for that day.

Hope the above helps. Sorry for any weird typos. Doing this on iPad while I still travel."

Arranged By Maruska Adye-Rowe


Nkwali

Nkwali

"Warm, communal feel with abundant wildlife"

3 nights Arrived 19 Aug 2014
"Nkwali was a great introduction to safari. The staff is very friendly, welcoming and informative.

The architecture fits beautifully into its setting, with thatched roofs and walls made of adobe with wood accents. All rooms open to a panoramic view of the river where birds, hippos and elephants consistently spend their days. Monkeys and baboons play on the grounds, along with frequent warthog and elephants visits within the campgrounds.

Meals are served alongside a little waterway and breakfast alongside the river so one can watch the beautiful sunrise.

Our guide Fred, a jovial, well informed chap, was fantastic and eager to ensure we spent our time on the animal/bird life that held the most interest for us. He happily pursued detours when indications suggested that we could see a more elusive animal such as leopard, lions or wild dogs and allowed us plenty of time to take photos and observe animals. Many animals were quite close to the jeep and we could watch them do their thing for as long as we desired. One night, we watched a leopard for a full hour as he jumped up and down a tree, walked by the jeep, and stalked some puku. Another morning, we watched lion cubs with their mommas.

We saw loads of elephants on every drive--both In and out of water. Giraffes and zebras were more sporadic but generally appeared at some point on a drive, and certainly once every two drives. We also saw plenty of hippos, crocs, impala, puku, monkeys, baboons, water bucks, warthogs and a variety of bird species. The night drives provided us an opportunity to see things like serval and genet.

The atmosphere at nkwali is intimate, relaxed and communal. There are only 6 tents so there are fewer than 12 guests and, for my time, there were 8 of us. Guests are encouraged to interact with each other and the staff. A drum called us to tea time and meals. We then ate together as a group alongside the camp managers and often our guide,
They limit the drives to 6 guests per vehicle so everyone has a "window" seat. My first drive was just me!

As with all my safari camps, food was good and plentiful.

Reasons to stay at nkwali: comfortable yet rustic feel, abundance of animal life within campgrounds, communal, warm, and relaxed atmosphere, Kiki (manager), will (guest services) and Fred (guide).

I stayed in room 5 I think.

Suggestions:
Room didn't have mammal or bird checklists which would have been handy in tracking what we saw.
Room is quite open to the environment. My room had a gecko that didn't seem to have any interest on leaving, a few spiders and flying insects. I am quite skiddish and managed to deal with their presence but it created some anxiety when returning to my room in the evening. Importantly, though, I am way more skiddish about bugs than most."
Good
Location
Excellent
Service
Good
Activities
Excellent
Rooms
Good
Food
Good
Facilities
Good
Puku Ridge

Puku Ridge

"5 star look and feel"

2 nights Arrived 22 Aug 2014
"Beautiful setting against an open plain where puku,impala, elephants, baboons, zebra and giraffes frequently graze and take advantage of the small bit of remaining water. The bar/dining/sitting area is inviting. I particularly loved the wicker swings and circular chaise to curl up and watch animal life. They also have wifi in that main area so it gave me an opportunity to share my experience with friends.

The room is equally nice. I was in buffalo. The room is huge with amazing views of the plain. The outdoor shower is totally open to the wild life. I was able to watch a group of 8 elephants, a number of baboons and puku close up from my shower on one of my two days. It was the best of the 3 showers across my lodges for its feel and view. The room also has a large tub inside with a similar view but protected by screen. I meant to try it but ran out of time. The decor was inviting. The veranda was also fantastic with similar views to the main area and more or less spanned the entire room. The furniture was comfortable too. A nice plus that the others didn't offer was the shower cap and slippers.

The manager, Evidence, Limbi and the rest of the staff were extremely attentive, warm and professional. I appreciated that the primary guest facing people were local Zambians as the other lodges often seem compelled to hire foreign young white people to tend to the guests. I arrived with a cold and the staff were most accommodating including making me some special concoction of ginger and honey to try to soothe my throat. Unfortunately, as a result of being sick, I didn't get to have as much of their delectable cuisine due to lack of appetite. Unlike other lodges, puku ridge gives guests a choice of starter, main and desert as well as custom ordered hot breakfast. Tea break and sundowners are similar to the others. The food was top notch.

My drives at puku were okay. I had Elias one day and evening. He was very good and tried hard to have me see my priority animals. Elijah took care of me for a night drive and a transfer. While nice, he didn't seem to be as good about soliciting input/questions, finding animals not coincidentally next to the car or stopping for extended periods. It required me being a bit more assertive to ensure a good drive.

Reasons to stay: seeking more flexibility, quality time with a significant other or family (rooms are romantic and meals are not eaten as a group) , good game area, top notch food, romantic setting/room, demand high level of service and personal attention, seeking R&R."
Good
Location
Excellent
Service
Excellent
Activities
Poor
Rooms
Excellent
Food
Excellent
Facilities
Excellent
Lion Camp

Lion Camp

"The place to go for lions"

2 nights Arrived 24 Aug 2014
"This was my 3rd and final lodge in Zambia.

The lodge is beautifully designed with a combination of wood and brightly colored fabrics.
The setting is magnificent with plenty of puku, bush backs, impala, baboons, kudu and elephants wandering about in the landscape just outside the main dining area/room verandas. I even heard a lion during the morning hours last night.
I was put in the honeymoon suite which offers a nice corner view. However, it was probably the smallest of my three lodges and couldn't compete with the Puku Ridge view.

Our guide, Hendrix, knows the area and is eager to please you with your first lion sighting.
No better place for lions. In my first 24 hours, I saw two large prides of lions (more than 10 lions each) and 4 adult males. I also saw a herd of maybe 500 buffalo which offered the opportunity to witness both a pretty intense fight between two of them and a number of lions stalking them in an unsuccessful attempt at a kill. Of course, all the other animals are here as well although much of the focus is on the lions. It seems like there may be somewhat fewer elephants, giraffes and zebra here than further south.

The lodge has a communal orientation with all guests eating together with the hosts and guides at a large dining table in the main veranda and once a week all the guests meet at a common spot on the river for their sundowner. A drum calls guests to meals and tea time, which is a delightful component of "lodge life." The communal feel is different than at Nkwali, however. Nkwali is a bit more relaxed with greater camaraderie across the staff and between the guests. Here, people put on dress shirts for dinner and cross group conversation was more forced.

Why stay: groups of lions doing their thing! Fits image of what a high-end African safari lodge experience would be like

Dislike: Across my entire safari, Most lodges employed white foreigners to serve as host or Camp Manager. Given my orientations, I would have preferred local people to be in senior staff positions. Lion Camp, in particular, felt a bit colonial. There wasn't much camaraderie between the foreign managers and the local staff and, while it is difficult to explain, it felt like the staff held more of a secondary status. This made me a bit uncomfortable."
Good
Location
Excellent
Service
Good
Activities
Excellent
Rooms
Good
Food
Good
Facilities
Excellent
Image alt

Sandibe Mobile Camp

"Really enjoyed the temp tent setup"

3 nights Arrived 29 Aug 2014
"I was pleasantly surprised by Sandibe. Because the lodge remodel was delayed, I was rebooked into a mobile tent camp. I am not a "roughing it" kind of gal and I have a tremendous fear of bugs so I was dreading the stay a bit. It turned out to be a lovely change of pace. It was nice to be immersed in the natural setting, the shower was hot, bed comfortable and the tent was more bug free than anywhere else I stayed (perhaps because the lighting was dimmer :-)). We were awakened each day by G, our guide, singing to our individual tents in Tswana. During siesta one day, I had an elephant come right up to my tent. She shook the palm tree and ate for something like 20 minutes giving me a wonderful, unique viewing experience. A highlight of the trip!

The staff was dedicated to making our stay the very best with exceptional attention to detail. The food was excellent. I loved Joshua's enthusiasm about his menu and Tess' warm breakfast muffins were to die for.

The biggest drawback was probably the game concentration. Guides had to work hard to find animals and this was clearly exacerbated by only having one jeep running until lodge opening. We would go for long periods without seeing many animals at all, even zebras and giraffes. Chitabe found the two big sightings--cheetah and lions--before us

One other thought...most camps provided water in a medium that minimized use of plastic. The only ones I recall not providing reusable containers were Sandibe and Lions Camp."
Good
Location
Excellent
Service
Excellent
Activities
Average
Rooms
Good
Food
Excellent
Facilities
Average
Shinde Camp

Shinde Camp

"Pleasant staff and wooded feel"

2 nights Arrived 1 Sep 2014
"The lodge and Room
Upon arriving at the lodge, I immediately felt like it was quite a bit larger than the others (too large for my taste) and lacked a certain ambiance. It's main feature is a large wooded deck, which houses the common areas (dining room, sitting area, fire/tea break area). It is covered by trees so I found myself not wanting to hang out there very much as it was very cold that week and the trees obscured the sun. The common area has a computer with dial up internet access, which was much appreciated in a region without cell service.

The walk to the room felt a bit like a KOA campground in the States. There wasn't a charm about it. The room was a tent-based permanent structure with a great shower. The small deck was shaded by trees and didn't offer much of a view. I heard a couple hippo sounds during the night but generally animals were not wandering through the camp, a feature I quite enjoyed in other lodges.

The managers and staff were friendly and meals were eaten as a group, Food was very good.

Wildlife and Guides
Unlike my other lodges, Shinde doesn't limit the jeeps so that everyone gets a "window seat". I skipped the drive on my first day, in part, because I thought the jeep would be too full. Ultimately, I only went on 1 game drive. The landscape is beautiful there. Bee, the guide, seemed very experienced and impressed us all with an outstanding sighting of a leopard. I still don't know how in the world he saw it! Beyond that, though, it didn't seem like there was as much concentration of game there as I had in Zambia. Also, they don't seem as keen about the night drives. They play them down and don't even have a separate person manning the light.

Given that this was my only wet camp, I was quite excited about taking a break from the game drives to do water activities. I did both the speedboat and makoro. It was lovely to be on the water..very tranquil. We didn't see too much..one tree frog, a few cool birds, pretty vegetation, 2 hippos and 1 elephant across the two outings. It was very nice, although in talking to other safari goers at my next lodge, I think there might be other wet camps that offer better bird and animal sightings from their waterways."
Average
Location
Good
Service
Excellent
Activities
Average
Rooms
Average
Food
Good
Facilities
Good
Lebala Camp

Lebala Camp

"Locally managed, relaxed, great wildlife"

3 nights Arrived 3 Sep 2014
"This camp reminded me a bit of Nkwali in its communal feel and animal life. It is relaxed, which made it a favorite of mine, but may not have the sophistication that other people may seek. I also really liked the fact that everyone was local as opposed to having a non-African serve as the lodge face to guests. This was unique across all the lodges with the exception of Puku Ridge.

Lodge and Room
The lodge is located in a fairly open area. Elephants and hippos will occasionally come into camp. More often, a parade of elephants will pass by daily but at a bit of a distance.
There is a fire pit where people hang out and comfortably chit chat with the camp manager and guides.
Meals are eaten communally and were very good.
The rooms are huge with a big bathtub inside and a shower outside. I had a bit of trouble with the shower. It was either scolding hot or freezing cold. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get the adjustments to work. Also, it was unseasonably cold so they didn't have their hot water bottles available. This meant the bed could be quite cold at night. The room and it's view was beautiful though.
This was the only lodge where I couldn't charge my equipment in the room. There were plenty of plugs in the main area though so it wasn't really an inconvenience.

Wildlife and Guide
Wildlife was plentiful, the greatest concentration I experienced in Botswana. We saw leopards, lions, wild dogs as well as the more common animals and birds. The lion prides were in the open with a good number of them (both males and females). The wild dogs had a litter of 13 puppies (across 3 moms) and they were adorable. We even saw ostriches. Roger, our guide, went to great lengths to ensure our drives were successful."
Good
Location
Excellent
Service
Good
Activities
Excellent
Rooms
Good
Food
Good
Facilities
Good

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