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First Timer--Botswana, Zambia, or Something Else?

Botswana Zambia First Safari

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#1 bluebird

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Posted 31 August 2016 - 07:44 PM

I am planning my first safari for August/September 2018 to celebrate my 40th birthday, and I'm a little lost about where to go. I'd like to bring my dad along with me. He is a wildlife biologist from rural, Western United States, so he's a little picky about big crowds muddying a true "wild" experience. So, I'd like to avoid crowded safari locations with lots of traffic and competing vehicles/outfitters. I assume I'd prefer camps over lodges. My dream trip would be excellent walking safaris, blinds, smaller groups and game drives, and less human-caused noise.

Interests: Mammals (they'll all be new!), birding

 

Time: 10-16 days

 

Budget: $8,000 USD-$15,000 USD per person, excluding airfare (is this reasonable?)

 

Currently considering, but absolutely open to other ideas:

  • Shenton Safaris in South Luangwa, Zambia
  • Norman Carr Safaris in South Luangwa, Zambia
  • Many places in Botswana, but I've done less research there. Many of these trips/locales from Safari Specialists look appealing: http://www.safarispe...ari-specialist/

Other: I'm open to staying in one general area for most of the trip or moving every few days; any recommendations about this would be great.

 

Any help is much appreciated!


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#2 marg

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Posted 31 August 2016 - 09:23 PM

@bluebird...please also take a look at the Bushcamp Company. They have several small (four tent) camps in South Luangwa.  We have been VERY happy with the guiding and the game experiences as well as the camps.


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#3 bluebird

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Posted 31 August 2016 - 09:37 PM

@bluebird...please also take a look at the Bushcamp Company. They have several small (four tent) camps in South Luangwa.  We have been VERY happy with the guiding and the game experiences as well as the camps.

@marg, thanks very much for the advice. Small sounds great. I will look them up now!


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#4 ld1

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Posted 31 August 2016 - 09:45 PM

@bluebird I loved Botswana but after visiting Zimbabwe On a privately guided trip to Mana Pools in 2014. My preference is privacy over exclusive concession and luxury camps. If you want to do some serious walking then Zimbabwe is a dream. We are heading back there next year, again on a privately guided mobile safari taking in Hwange and Mana Pools (with a couple of nights at the awesome Chitake Springs) over 9 nights, plus two in Vic Falls.

As a general rule I'd say take a look at some of the trip reports here on ST for the places you are interested in. I found the private guide Doug MacDonald via other Safaritalker's trip reports and I doubt I'd have found him without picking up info from reports on here. I am sure you will find lots of details on Zambia and Botswana if you dig around the trip reports.
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#5 ld1

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Posted 31 August 2016 - 09:49 PM

@bluebird I forgot to say, your budget is pretty healthy. We are paying less than that per person for our trip next year, but that is for 3 people. So when you add on extra if it's just two people then a privately guided trip should be within your budget, at least within Zambia or Zim I imagine.
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#6 soleson

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Posted 31 August 2016 - 11:01 PM

@bluebird I'm not an expert at any means but I did visit South Luangwa in August two years ago and just returned from Hwange/Mana Pools in Zimbabwe a few months ago.  Both are wonderful for the "wild" experience you are looking for.  South Luangwa was simply magical but I would avoid the area around the Mfuwe gate which seemed to get pretty busy that time of year.  There are a lot of nice camps there including the ones mentioned by @marg.   I was going to go back this year to South Luangwa but opted for Mana Pools and Hwange instead.  In South Luangwa, we used a guide that worked for Flatdogs or Lion Camp back then but he also works independently.  He is British but lived in Zambia for a number of years.  I really enjoyed his guiding because he is also a photographer and knew exactly where to position us for the "best" shots.  His website is EdwardSelfephotography.com if you want to look him up. 

 

I also loved Mana Pools and Hwange but given it over again I would wait until a little later in the season (August/Sept like you are planning) and if I could afford it use a private guide like mentioned by ld1 above, I certainly would.  While we ended up with a vehicle all by ourselves they tended to want to stick to a set schedule which sometimes meant leaving a sighting sooner than I would have liked.  Again, there are some nice camps.  AfricanBushCamps (ABC) has a couple of nice camps in Mana and Hwange that we enjoyed.  That time of year, the ABC camp in Kanga might be ideal as the wildlife comes to you.  We stayed on the banks of the Zambezi at the ABC Lifesytles camp because we wanted the option of canoeing. 

 

As for Botswana, I have heard nothing but good things but personally only visited Chobe which I enjoyed for the combination of game drives and river boat safaris which gave a different experience/angle.  Based on my own trip planning, I would say Botswana will definitely be more expensive that time of year than the other two parks for similar type camps but your budget seems reasonable for either or a combination of the options. 

 

Be careful though, once you have been to Africa, you will want to go back often.  For me it was a "once in a lifetime" trip which has nwt been 4 safaris with another one in the planning stages.  I seem to tell my self when I am done that I have had my "fix" for a few years but then within weeks or months start planning again.  Best of luck!!


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#7 lmonmm

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Posted 31 August 2016 - 11:19 PM

@bluebird   How exciting- your first safari- I think I can say with almost 100% assurance, that you are in for a truly life altering experience. There are sooooo many options and I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed with the big question of "where". You will get lots of good advice here. And so, my two cents  :)  A big question is what kind of camp experience you want. I see small (definitely the best). Camps (heck yes- nothing beats lying in bed and hearing a lion roar or a hyena giggle or have "something" walk by your tent- oh so many sounds and don't let that deter you...I don't sleep well at home but despite all the "noise", my best sleep is when I'm in a tent in Africa). Camps can  be extremely luxurious or just the basics- and that is a good thing to think about with your planning. I personally like a little comfort- after all I'm on vacation. Nothing off the chart luxurious (honestly, I say skip Mombo- just not worth the cost), but running water (but bush-showers are fun), laundry done each day (makes for easier packing)- all nice perks. Another thing I look for at camps is how much privacy there is between tents- I'm a flaps-open girl and don't want to scare my neighbors so I like the privacy :)  Many long-time permanently-tented camps have that privacy. Low tourist density- (other ST folks, please correct me if I'm wrong) this is higher season in Southern Africa (Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia) so camps may be fuller. Of course, they are pretty remote so that probably doesn't mean much. You will most likely be sharing  a jeep with a couple other people. I'm usually a solo traveler so I'm always sharing :)  So...where?   I am a huge fan of Botswana. I've seen just about everything there (except rhino and that is changing). It's always a crap shoot on any safari- safari is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you are going to get :)   I like the country's wildlife policies and that is a big draw for me when I plan trips. Unfortunately Wilderness Safaris has a monopoly there. Don't get me wrong, I was a fan of theirs for years. Just lately I've felt like they are becoming "boring". As they renovate each camp, they all start to look the same, routines are mundane and revolve around very soft guiding. I don't know...I've just become a little "puckish" with their camps. They do really good things, from all reports (by the staff) treat their staff really well...it's just a personal thing with me. That being said, they are in some of the best areas (check out Pelo camp- never been there, but it's on my bucket list). So, Botswana has a lot going for itself. I've never been able to afford a private safari as a solo traveler- there are lots of folks here at ST that rave about it, particularly in Zimbabwe. I will admit, I went to Zim very reluctantly (I struggle with their politics and wildlife policies), but it turned out to be one of my most memorable trips. I went to Zambia for my 50th in late Oct/early November- loved Zambia but also learned, at least for me, that is NOT the time to go. Hellishly hot and dry and ugly and animals are stressed due to the lack of water...I could go on forever. I will go back, but definitely not at that time of year. I like green Africa. I'm starting to wander here....sorry. There are just so many choices. Oh...just to throw into the mix....GORILLA TREKKING! Yikes...what an experience. Back...yank me back. If you are into birding, any place that has permanent water is a plus. Namibia is mind-blowing beautiful, but if you are into animals and this is your first safari, not the best choice. I will stop... you are sooo going to love this. And how cool to take your dad. You have lots of time to plan and have fun with that...I love the planning!!!  


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#8 SafariChick

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 01:44 AM

@lmonmm @bluebird it's not only Wilderness Safaris in Botswana - as many ardent fans will tell you, the Kwando camps are renowned for their guiding and wildlife sightings as well! Less fancy but great guiding and wildlife.


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#9 madaboutcheetah

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 02:47 AM

WS certainly don't have the monopoly - infact, in the Linyanti which will be fantastic that time of the year - Kwando and Selinda will be totally amazing!!!  

 

Kwara will be amazing too in the delta - 4 different packs reported in the concession last week  (from their Facebook post).  Although, the Kwando concession will forever remain my absolute favourite safari destination.

 

Don't forget Duba Plains from Great Plains - they are amazing too in the delta.  If you want a great overall experience - be it in the camp; in the bush or whatever you wish to experience Great Plains Conservation sets the bar incredibly high!


Edited by madaboutcheetah, 01 September 2016 - 02:48 AM.

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#10 ZaminOz

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 09:15 AM

@bluebird

If you are considering South Luangwa in Zambia, I would suggest that the following would meet your stated criteria and budget:

 

Kaingo (Shenton Safaris) 4 nights

Mwamba (Shenton Safaris) 4 nights

Chindeni (Bushcamp Company) 4 nights

Kuyenda (Bushcamp Company) 4 nights

 

That gives you 4 very remote small camps, with top notch guides and a great scenic variety within the national park. You may even have enough left in your budget for a private guide/vehicle.


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#11 optig

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 10:16 AM

@bluebird I've been to both Kaingo Camp and Mwamba twice and can recommend them highly enough particularly because you are a photographer.They both have the advantages of having hides so you'll be able to take plenty of amazing photographs. I'm planning to go to South Luangwa again in 2018 when I'll be staying at Kuyenda,Bilingumwe and Mchenja Camps each for four nights. I'm also planning to visit Botswana and Zimbabwe again. I can promise you that you will adore Zambia,Botswana and Zimbabwe. In May and June you can get better rates for Botswana because it's shoulder Season and rain is uncommon during that time. 


Edited by optig, 01 September 2016 - 10:17 AM.

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#12 Tdgraves

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 10:29 AM

There is also robin pope safaris in south luangwa. The advantage of using camps from the same group is that you'll get long stay discounts. Our first safari was to Zambia and we combined south luangwa with lower Zambezi. It was nice to go to the river after the very dry dusty south luangwa and you can still walk there although it is less "wilderness" the lodges are small
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#13 michael-ibk

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 04:48 PM

Another vote for Zimbabwe and Mana Pools from me. If walking is a priority I think it will have to Zim - or Zambia which also has a very good reputation for walking safaris. I don´t think you will get a proper walking safari experience in Botswana - though of course the Delta is a wonderful place. Actually I think in high season it could be difficult to spend 16 days in camps there and don´t blow your budget, even with USD 15,000,--. Bots is very expensive. A mobile safari could also be an option for you. For anything else your budget is absolutely healthy - privately guided in Zim absolutely possible for example. :)

 

Any animals you are particularly interested in? Wherever you go, I´m sure you will have a fantastic time. A very clever idea to celebrate your 40th in Africa. (Of course I am only saying that because I`ll also do that this year. ;))


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#14 egilio

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 04:59 PM

Surprised remoteafrica.com (Tafika) hasn't been mentioned yet. Some nights in the northern area of South Luangwa (Kaingo camps or Lion Camp), then to the Nsefu sector (Robin Pope camps or Tafika) and then a few night to the walking camps of Tafika in South Luangwa (Chikoko trails camps, you won't get it more remote in South Luangwa, accessible by foot only!) or even up to North Luangwa where Tafika operates Mwaleshi camp. 

Or a mobiles trip with Robin Pope Safaris (www.robinpopesafaris.net), combined with some nights at their camps in Nsefu sector. 


Edited by egilio, 01 September 2016 - 04:59 PM.

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#15 bluebird

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 10:20 PM

Another vote for Zimbabwe and Mana Pools from me. If walking is a priority I think it will have to Zim - or Zambia which also has a very good reputation for walking safaris. I don´t think you will get a proper walking safari experience in Botswana - though of course the Delta is a wonderful place. Actually I think in high season it could be difficult to spend 16 days in camps there and don´t blow your budget, even with USD 15,000,--. Bots is very expensive. A mobile safari could also be an option for you. For anything else your budget is absolutely healthy - privately guided in Zim absolutely possible for example. :)

 

Any animals you are particularly interested in? Wherever you go, I´m sure you will have a fantastic time. A very clever idea to celebrate your 40th in Africa. (Of course I am only saying that because I`ll also do that this year. ;))

 

@michael-lbk Happy 40th to you! Thanks for the feedback on budgets and countries. Based on what you and others have said here, I'm definitely going to give Zimbabwe a closer look.

As for animals, I'd have a hard time narrowing it down; they would all be incredible to me at this point. Cheetahs and wild dogs might top the list, but I know both of those are less likely to happen, and I'm OK with that. I don't think there is a bird in Africa I wouldn't be excited to see right now. And I know my dad would be thrilled at every ungulate we came across, especially antelope species.

All of these posts are making me so excited. 2018 cannot come fast enough!


Edited by bluebird, 01 September 2016 - 10:22 PM.

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#16 Atravelynn

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Posted 02 September 2016 - 01:10 AM

Zimbabwe or Zambia will give you a great experience. 

 

The habitat and environment in Mana Pools is enchantingly beautiful and unique--a gorgeous place to walk.  And you can add some canoeing easily to a Mana Pools itinerary.

 

Especially in South Luangwa (but also in Mana Pools) you have the option of walking from camp to camp or basing yourself in a camp (or two or three) and doing walks from there.  The camp-to-camp is fun.  Your gear is transported by vehicle for you.  Doing walks from the camp can offer a little more flexibility because you don't have to arrive at any particular destination at a certain time.

 

If you choose Zimbabwe, consider an excursion to Chishakwe in Save Valley for a good shot at wild dogs.  Aug/Sept, especially Aug is a good time for pups at the den.

http://safaritalk.ne...rare-wild-dogs/

 

You and your Dad may want to spend some time with Zambia and Zimbabwe trip reports.  That might only serve to make you want to spend weeks in each location.


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#17 micmic

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Posted 02 September 2016 - 09:25 AM

I've walked in Zimbabwe and also visited most other safari countries and there's not a single experience I'd rather miss in favor of another. Even the more "civilized" and crowded South Africa has different things to offer. That means that it's pretty much guaranteed you will love whatever you choose. But I have to say, if I had to choose only ONE park for my last safari, that would be the Masai Mara. Mind you, I didn't find it crowded at all (except for the wildebeest crossings, but even those were less crowded that eg the average leopard sighting in Kruger). While in Masai Mara, most of the times I could look over a huge area of savanna without seeing any other vehicles. Also, because some animals are easier to spot there, people won't drool over eg lions as much as they would in some other parks. Overall, the place is much more rough and difficult to approach than I would expect. Perhaps it's because I was self-driving and private-camping there, but it felt more remote than eg Chobe or Hwange.  And it's the iconic image of Africa, even more than Serengeti. Perhaps you could combine this with some other, less well-known destination.


Edited by micmic, 02 September 2016 - 09:26 AM.

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#18 optig

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Posted 02 September 2016 - 10:25 AM

I can't stress enough that your'e in for the most exciting experience of your life no matter what you decide to do. I'm sure that you'd love South Luangwa National Park,especially in the Northern and Southern Sectors where there is little traffic and sightings aren't very crowded.I've stayed at Mwamba twice, Kaingo twice, as well as Tafika twice. I'm also planning to stay at BushCamp safari's camps Kuyenda and Bilingumwe, and Norman Carr's Camp Mchenja on my next trip.

 

Northern Botswana is terribly expensive,but i know that there are some good alternatives to Wilderness Safari's Camps or Great Plains. I know that Sango,and  Machaba camps are supposed to be excellent. Kwando Camps are somewhat less expensive. I hope that I can help you. I know that there are so many excellent choices!!!


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#19 michael-ibk

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Posted 02 September 2016 - 12:35 PM

If Cheetah is a priority, the Mara - or the Serengeti - definitely should be considered, near to impossible to see them in Mana and Luangwa, and only a "maybe" in other Zim/Zambie parks like Hwange or Kafue. Certainly a good possibility in Botswana, but not a given.

 

Mana Pools is good for Wild Dogs on the other hand, and there´s only a very low chance for them in the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem.



#20 Atravelynn

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Posted 03 September 2016 - 01:52 AM

Already, you need more than one trip.  :rolleyes:   There are worse things.

 

You could see if Doug MacDonald (a fav guide on this site, mine too) has any openings in the time frame you want.  If you could do some Zimbabwe time w/Dough in Mana Pools flood plains and Chitake, an active river in Mana Pools, then you could flesh out your trip from there.  If Doug is not available when you are, booking him does not work out, then maybe shift your attention to South Luangwa.  Shenton, Carr, Remote Africa withTafika, Robin Pope are all reputable mainstays and I can attest to each of them with the exception of Shenton, which I have not had the pleasure of using--yet.  Others have mentioned these 4 companies as well.  Either Zimbabwe or Zambia would be a winner.  They have been for me many times over.  Again, check out those trip reports for lots more praise on each destination.

 

As mentioned above, Bots is not a well-known walking destination, though I have enjoyed the Selinda walking trails for several days and a to-and-from Chitabe Walking Trails.  But these walking experiences are not the classic, legendary walks that are the backbone of Mana Pools and South Luangwa activities.

 

Good thing planning is half the fun!


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