My intention when I first saw this question was just to write a short reply but inevitably as I’m keen for a few other people to visit Zakouma it grew somewhat longer than I first anticipated.
@optig Hang on a minute a significant part of the cost of visiting Zakouma is the return charter flights with MAF in this case they are driving so they've dispensed with that cost entirely. They won't have the services of one of Africa's top safari guides for the duration of their stay as you would at Camp Nomade and could possibly also have when staying at Tinga (I assume that would be the case on the safari at Tinga for the price that you mention), they're only at Tinga for 4 nights and I presume not in the best rooms. They also have 3 nights in NDJ but they won’t be staying at either the new Hilton or at what was the Kempinksi now the Ledger Plaza, at best they’d be at a mid range hotel or quite likely a very cheap one. On a Camp Nomade Safari you’d have 7 nights in camp and for any nights in NDJ you would likely be at the Hilton. This trip is very cheap, but to decide whether it is ridiculously cheap or not one would need to compare it to another budget tour, I would have said that’s pretty difficult but fortunately I have in fact found some alternatives.
I didn’t pick up on the fact that they refer to Zakouma National Park Lodge but then it was obvious to me that they could only be staying at Tinga as there’s no other option. Although it is called Campement de Tinga I generally call it Tinga Lodge because I regard it as more of a lodge than a camp and it is really the national park lodge, so I can forgive them for this. But you could perhaps argue that their use of a different name doesn’t reflect that well on them, their other information what little there is of it isn’t exactly accurate either, they say that Zakouma holds the ‘big five’ it doesn’t, as I understand it negotiations between Chad and SA regarding the black rhinos are ongoing so there is still (to my knowledge) no date for their arrival in Zakouma. Some of the articles written about Zakouma in the recent past have pointed out that it will be the nearest ‘big five park’ to Europe, so I can understand where they got the idea that it’s a ‘big five park’ from, even so it doesn’t inspire confidence in them if their info is not entirely correct.
@Sitatunga95’s question was really "should I travel with Lupine Travel"? In my view the answer is yes if you want to visit North Korea, the DPRK as it’s also known seems to be about their most popular destination and you’ll find plenty of positive comments/reviews from people who’ve done their tours there. They are clearly as far as I can see one of the recommended tour operators for the DPRK but since it’s not a country that’s very high on my list of places to go I hadn’t come across Lupine Travel before. Looking at their website they’ve clearly chosen a niche market specialising in low budget tours to unusual destinations that not many other companies go to. I suspect for the people who sign up for these tours there is an element of wanting go to places that no one they know has ever been to, and perhaps also going to places that might be perceived as being somewhat risky even if mostly they’re actually not. Being a little cynical, I might suggest that some of their tours are really aimed at people who like to collect passport stamps. I haven’t really found anything negative about Lupine, not from people who’ve used them, so I think you ought to be okay to travel with them.
The problem with this tour but I think this is the same with the few other budget Zakouma tours is that you only get 3 whole days in the park, personally I would want to have a minimum of 5 days, which is what we had on our first safari (plus a short evening and morning). Of course staying at Tinga you are limited as to how far you can drive and therefore how much of the park you can see and February is not primetime so maybe the 6 game drives you’d get on this trip are enough, I don’t know but I think I would be a bit frustrated by this. Obviously even if you could add an extra couple of days in the park it would still be a budget tour, you wouldn’t be able to visit all of the places that Paolo and I did or do the amazing things that we did on either of our safaris. However more time would increase your chances of seeing the less common or harder to see species. Whether it is possible to find a slightly longer budget tour I’m not sure. If a budget tour is the only way you can ever hope to visit Zakouma and your happy that 3 days in the park is probably as much as you are going to get, then I would say go for it, however not necessarily with Lupine Travel.
To do any kind of budget safari in Zakouma the only option is to drive to the park, I would assume that driving to the park in one go in 12hrs is doable in a reliable vehicle, whether it’s a great idea or not is another matter, I suspect not. I imagine that on the way from NDJ there may be a few interesting things to see, landscapes, villages, people and such like but after a while I guess it would get very monotonous and boring and on the way back it would be even more boring because you’ve seen it all already. They don’t say anywhere what their group size is, but if you scroll down and look at their tweets there’s a photo of their tour to Liberia which shows 12 participants plus tour leader, I would therefore assume their group size is normally up to 12. That’s clearly too many to fit in a single 4x4 so I would want to know how many and what sort of vehicles they use, would you be in several 4x4s or in a minibus? Imagining what Chad’s roads are like I might be a little concerned if it is the latter, I doubt it would be but I want to know. The big risk in driving is the possibility of breaking down, you’d want to be sure that your time in the park isn’t going to end up even shorter because you’ve broken down on the way and ended up having to spend the night on route, and obviously you want to be sure that you will get back to NDJ when you’re supposed to. Having looked at two other budget Zakouma safaris I think that what Lupine are doing is perhaps slightly crazy.
The two other safaris that I have looked at are more expensive but compared to Camp Nomade they’re certainly budget safaris, I would guess that their itineraries are very much the same. One is with Spazid’Aventurra that @Paolo already suggested and the other is with a UK company Native Eye, Spazi don’t provide an actual itinerary on their website, but Native Eye do and what little Spazi do say suggests their itinerary is likely pretty similar. I suggested above that driving to Zakouma in one go while possible might not be a great idea, well I assume Native Eye don’t think it is because they stop somewhere along the way and camp for the night. It seems to me that aside from being crazy doing the drive all in one go, stopping for the night means that you arrive at Tinga in the afternoon unless I’ve misunderstood I presume this means you might have at least an hour or two of daylight left after you get to Tinga. You won’t get to go out on a game drive but you would be able to walk over to The Junction Pool to see the northern carmine bee-eaters for example as we did when we arrived in Zakouma on our first safari. Going with Lupine I would assume you must arrive at Tinga well after dark, even without the possibility of having sufficient daylight to go to The Junction Pool, simply being able to check in to Tinga in daylight would be an advantage in my view. You then as with the Lupine tour have 4 nights at Tinga and 3 whole days in the park. Since you would be camping for 1 night on the return drive as well, I guess you wouldn’t necessarily have to race out of Zakouma first thing, so you might have a little bit of time in the morning to see a bit more wildlife.
Even though you are camping on the way rather than driving to Zakouma all in one go it seems to me, if I’m right about arriving in daylight you get very slightly more time in the park with Native Eye (and with Spazi) than with Lupine. Other than the camping the main difference between the itineraries is that with Lupine after you arrive, you stay in NDJ for two nights in order to give you a free day in NDJ and then leave for Zakouma, with Native Eye you only stay one night and then start your drive in the morning. This is where for me Native Eye and I presume Spazi win, a free day in NDJ is in my view a completely unnecessary waste of time, you really don’t need it. While I’m assuming that Spazi’s itinerary is roughly the same as Native Eye’s they say on their website 1 night in hotel, 4 in Lodge, 3 in tents, if they do same and camp overnight on the drive to and from Zakouma, I’m not sure where the third tent night is. The Lupine trip also has another night back in the hotel in NDJ, whereas with Native Eye you just have a day room ahead of your flight.
Here are links to the two tours
Spazid’Aventurra Chad-Zakouma The Animal Kingdom
In case anyone thinks but if I was doing this trip I’d want to do a bit of sightseeing or I’d want to relax after in NDJ after my flights, the reason Lupine’s free day in NDJ is a complete waste time, is that you don’t need a whole day for sightseeing, and you won’t likely need time to relax after your flights either. According to Lupine’s itinerary you arrive and depart on a Sunday this means you have only two flight options Air France or Ethiopian. With AF starting in the UK you fly on Sunday morning to Paris wait a couple of hours and at 15:10 fly on to NDJ this leg is just 5 hours and 40 minutes getting you in at 20:50, assuming no delays or problems at the airport you shouldn’t be very late getting to your hotel and even if you then have dinner you won’t likely be going to bed too late. There’s no time difference between the UK and Chad so you shouldn’t end up particularly tired after your flight, depending perhaps on where in the UK you started from. The departing AF flight leaves NDJ at 23:55 therefore you have a whole day to kill at the end of the tour before heading to the airport, you don’t after all want to be stuck at Hassan Djamous International all day. Unless you are staying at a hotel where the food is awful, I’d imagine whatever you do during the day you’d want have dinner at the hotel and only leave for the airport afterwards when you have to. I’m not quite sure how this would work with what their itinerary says because it says Sunday Feb 11th check out of the hotel and transfer back to the airport for your flight home. You could obviously check out in the morning and just leave your bags at the hotel but given how late the flight is I would have thought you might possibly want a day room if that’s possible. You might want to go out in to NDJ during the day rather than stay by the pool, but you probably wouldn’t want to be out after dark unless perhaps taking a taxi to recommended restaurant.
If you are flying on ET you have to leave the UK on the Saturday and fly overnight to Addis and then wait a few hours before flying on to NDJ mid morning, this second leg is therefore a daytime flight and quite short it gets you into NDJ at 12:00. This means you have the whole of Sunday afternoon in NDJ, plenty of time to relax and recover from your flights if you need to, or to do a little bit of sightseeing if you prefer. At the end of Lupine’s tour you have another night in a hotel and the departing ET flight is at 14:15 so you would have a final morning in NDJ as well. I have to confess that I didn’t do any sightseeing, I only really saw NDJ from the air, but as far as I know I didn’t miss much, the consensus well okay the 2 accounts I’ve read online is that there is nothing really worth seeing at all in NDJ. You could see what few sights there are mostly monuments/statues that sort of thing and maybe the Chari River quite easily in an afternoon with a taxi. The only thing you wouldn’t be able to see on a Sunday, as far as I know is the National Museum because it’s only open on week days, it’s a very small museum not one of the world’s greatest and from what I know it mostly has a small selection of anthropological exhibits. Perhaps its star exhibit is a fossil hominid skull named Toumai that was dug up in northern Chad somewhere and could be a human ancestor, unless you particularly want to see this I see little reason in going to the museum.
Here’s an account of a day Exploring N’Djamena which has photos of the museum and the Place de la Nation monument, the latter looks quite interesting I’d happily go and look at it if I had nothing else to do, but as they explain their driver told them they couldn’t take photos of it. I would think if you wanted to see this monument you could just ask if it’s possible to be driven past it on the way to or from the airport or just get a taxi to take you there which would presumably take very little time at all, You don’t as I say need a whole day to go sightseeing, as this account suggests if you do go sightseeing because of the high levels of security you may struggle to find anything you’re allowed to photograph.
The Native Eye tour would appear like the Lupine tour to arrive and depart on a Sunday, but on your final night you would be camped somewhere, presumably not too far from NDJ rather than in a hotel, you’d then in the morning drive to a hotel freshen up in a day room and either fly out on ET at 14:15 or on AF at 23:55. So doing the Native Eye tour you would have sufficient time to do a drive around NDJ to look at a few things, either at the start if you came in on ET or at the end. With no itinerary on their website I haven’t entirely managed to work out the Spazi tour because they say it’s 9 days and according to their dates you leave Chad on a Monday which doesn’t work well with the flights as far as I can see. There’s no AF flight leaving NDJ on a Monday, you have to fly Air Cote d’Ivoire leaving at 07:50 going to Douala in Cameroon and then AF to Paris, the only later flights are on ET and depending on the date they leave at 11:55 or 13:50, there aren’t any flights with anyone after that as far as I can see. This doesn’t make much sense because their website suggests you fly Air France. For cost reasons you wouldn’t mix AF and ET flights I certainly thought this was a bad idea when I was booking flights for my last Zakouma safari.
To refresh my memory with regard to flight times I used the flight search website Momondo
The Native Eye tour is the most expensive at £2,299 not including flights, the Spazid’Aventurra tour is slightly cheaper at roughly £2,203 I assume that this does not include flights but they don’t actually say that it doesn’t which I find a bit strange. Assuming that the latter tour does not include flights then maybe Lupine’s tour is ridiculously cheap comparing it to these two budget tours.
I hadn’t come across Native Eye until today, I know no more about their reputation than I know about Lupine’s so I would try and find out as much as you can about them, because I think if you can afford to pay the extra money you should forget Lupine and choose between Native and Spazi. If nothing else both have websites that are far more informative, although Spazi’s doesn’t have an itinerary it does have a good selection of photos taken in Zakouma and a short video on the park, Native Eye only has a couple of photos but does have a detailed and informative itinerary. Lupine’s information isn’t accurate as already mentioned and I don’t think the photo of elephants they've put in the background was even taken in Zakouma. If you knew nothing about Zakouma you would at least learn a bit about the park from Native and Spazi’s websites but not from Lupines. Purely on Chad experience Spazi would win hands down as they have been operating there for a long time and they’re definitely the go to guys if you want to visit Ennedi, all the reviews I have read in the past of Spazi’s Ennedi trips have been very positive. My concern regarding Native Eye is that they are a new company and there’s very little info about them online, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go with them just try to see what you can find out first. At the moment Spazi don’t have any Zakouma tour dates for 2018 but I’m sure they will have tours going then.
There may be other budget Zakouma safaris out there that I haven’t seen but I rather doubt it due in part to the fact that Chad is still subject to lots of travel warnings, however a little while ago I posted the following in another thread
I’ve just comes across this tour with a company called Out of Bounds – Pioneering Travel to New Frontiers.
Chad Uncovered: The Ennedi Region & Zakouma National Park
For €4,975 which is roughly about US$ 5,249.12 or £4,252.43 per person for a 19 day trip that might be a bit long and might not appeal if you don’t want to be part of group of up to 12 but with Zakouma and Ennedi you’d get a double helping of serious wilderness. It is in Feb/March which it's not far away.
This company is a sister company of the South African birdwatching company Rockjumper which is how I came across them, I’ve never actually used Rockjumper but I would very happily do so; I think their reputation is pretty good. This particular trip is clearly an overland type tour albeit entirely within Chad, from the much more detailed itinerary I see you would only in fact have two days in Zakouma that’s certainly not ideal, but for me the rest of the trip would make up for that quite a bit. Obviously this particular trip is next month but I presume they will be offering future Chad tours.
Also if you are a birder then BirdQuest are doing an expedition for 7 people to Chad in December it’s not really in your budget as they give the expedition price as £5990, €7070, $7850 N'Djamena/N'Djamena but then it is 26 days. They don’t give a detailed itinerary at present just an outline of the places they will visit so I don’t how long you get in Zakouma and December is very much the start of the season so not ideal for game viewing, but I assume it must be good a good time for birds. The trip includes visiting Ouadi rime Ouadi Achim which appeals a lot to me as I imagine it might be possible to see some of the scimitar-horned oryx that were reintroduced there last year; I don’t actually know if you would be allowed to look for them, even if not it would still be an amazing place to go
BirdQuest Chad Expedition
Even if 3 days in Zakouma is somewhat short, if a budget safari is your only option, then I hope you do go for it and do one of these tours or even find another better one that I haven't and do make it to Zakouma.
Edited by inyathi, 11 January 2017 - 01:19 AM.