Where to stay
There are two main camps in the Bangweulu area, Shoebill and Nsobe – plus the possibility of a new community camp at Muwele. If you're on an organised trip, or flying in, then you'll be staying at Shoebill, as neither of the others really have the facilities to cater for you.
If you're driving yourself in a self-contained 4wd with all your supplies (there is no other sensible way!) Then your options are wider. Then you can look at Nsobe, Muwele cultural village or possibly even stop at Nakapalayo village on the way to Bangweulu. However, note that shoebill camp is further into the wetlands than the other camps – and so most trips end up there at some stage!Nsobe Safari Camp
(5 twin-bed chalets) (GPS: NSOBE)
Nsobe is the local name for the sitatunga, and Nsobe Camp has long been viewed as one of the few camps in Zambia that is owned, maintained and run by the community. It was probably set up with the help of the WWF, who had been involved in the efforts to preserve these wetlands. However, rumours have cast doubt on who is really benefiting from the camp – alleging a complete lack of financial transparency and suggesting that 'community' revenues were being siphoned off by a powerful local figure, now deceased. Perhaps it's a question to ask if you arrive there…
Nsobe is built right in the middle of the 'termitaria zone' on the edge of the floodplain – with very open mandamanta woodlands all around. When I last visited, each of its five clean and tidy chalets had a thatched roof, grass walls and twin beds with mosquito nets. Each also has a private long-drop toilet and simple bucket shower. There were also two flushing toilets shared between the five chalets. Supplies must be brought with you, but there was a kitchen with a freezer – although this didn't always have gas. There was also an array of remarkably shiny new cutlery and crockery on display – though most recent reports suggest that these vanished, and were replaced with much more basic utensils. The same reports suggest that general standards may have slipped a little.
Booking in advance is difficult here as the camp itself has no communications. The last contacts I had were the Lavushimanda Safari Company, Nsobe Camp, PO Box 450141, Chiundaponde, Mpika – or via WWF Wetlands Project, National Parks & Wildlife, P Bag 1, Chilanga; tel: 01 278231. However, I don't believe that either of these still work. At a push, the team at Kasanka maybe able to help get a message through to them. However, my best advice is for visitors to turn up, talk to whoever is working there, and make a judgement on whether the camp is a pleasant enough place to stay, and if it is helping the community.
Game viewing is possible on foot, by boat or by vehicle, and boats (with two boatmen) can be hired here for about Kw15,000 per day – Nsobe doesn't appear to have any boats or vehicles of its own. Note that the camp is sometimes used by hunters, with whom some visitors may feel uncomfortable.Shoebill Island Camp
(6 twin-bed tents/chalets) contact via Kasanka. (GPS: SHUBIL)
Shoebill Camp stands on a small, permanent island which lies only 2.5km northwest of Chikuni, as the stork flies. During the rains and for a few months afterwards, this is within the wetlands, surrounded by channels and lagoons. Later in the year, it's left high and dry and accessible by 4WD from Chikuni.
Facilities have always been simple in this old-style safari camp. There have always been five walk-in Meru-style tents, which are all now looking old and tired. Each has a private bucket shower (hot water supplied on request) just behind it, and a private long-drop toilet a few metres further away. During 2004 these are gradually being replaced with about six rather larger reed-and-thatch chalets with private flush toilets.
The camp's other buildings are also built with thatched roofs on grass walls, including a bar/dining area and a breakfast-room-cum-lookout point. During your stay, do make the effort to see the camp's best view over the swamps – by climbing the water tower.
Activities from here depend on the time of year; if there isn't enough water to travel through the swamps by canoe, the usual form of water transport, then the guides will take you walking over the floating reed-bed in search of shoebills and other wildlife. Alternatively, drives will take you to the drier areas of the plains, and into the surrounding woodlands.
Shoebill Camp isn't luxurious by modern safari standards, but it is gradually being upgraded and becoming more comfortable. It remains by far the best option in this area, where the environment, flora and fauna are fascinating, and the activities can be excellent. This is a great destination for the adventurous who are keen on their wildlife, but it really needs to be booked in advance.Muwele Cultural Village
Contact via WWF Zambia Education Project, PO Box 50551, Lusaka.
The World Wildlife Fund was recently said to be assisting the local community at Muwele to start a basic 'cultural village' with two two-person chalets, and it was intended that the money raised would go to the school, the local health post and other developments of the community. However, when I last passed through, there was no sign of this, and latest reports suggest that the project may have hit some snags. Keep an eye open for this development though; I'd greatly appreciate any reliable reports of it.