First time poster from California. Planning a first African Safari trip for my mom and I for 2018. We have traveled to Europe a number of times and China once and I always do my own planning, determining the itinerary, booking hotels (used Trip Advisor reviews to help me decide), figuring out where we may need advance reservations, booking flights and trains (although a few times I have used an agency to help with the in country travel or rail pass prior to leaving the USA). We are fairly laid back, love to see natural beauty, experience different cultures, historical sites, architecture, etc. We like to experience different modes of transportation but we don't want to ride any animals. We try our best to learn customs of the country we are going to so we do not unintentionally offend someone. Planning a trip is half the fun for me. We have a list of must-sees based on what we feel is important to us but we also like to have room to "play it by ear" and do things that we learn about once we are in country. We also like to have some down time to just relax and enjoy being where we are. And while on the trip I take lots of photos (Canon SX280 ) and journal almost every day to capture all the sights and emotions of these new places and experiences and make a digital scrapbook when I get home. Budget is always a concern. I don't select the lowest just because it's the lowest but I go for total value of what I am getting for the $$ spent. While we want our lodging to be safe and comfortable, we prefer fun and quirky (especially if it is a part of the cultural experience) over a standard hotel. We grew up camping for our family vacations but are at an age where we prefer to at least have a soft bed and flush toilets en suite (figuring the permanent camps over the mobile camping for us and are okay with a lodge if it's small). I have had to prioritize and compromise knowing that I cannot afford everything I want to do but am blessed with the traveling I have been able to do.
As I have been researching for our trip to Africa, I am feeling a little overwhelmed and very concerned about the costs. Here are some things we do know about what we are looking for and questions we could use some guidance on:
1) Budget is important and we need to be wise in how and where we spend it. Ideally we would like to have 15 nights in Africa and spend no more than $4,000 - 5,000 for lodging/full board/guides/tips assuming it will be another $2,000 or so for international flights and in country travel (total costs around or under 6-7K and the lower the better). We are open to review this if the overall experience is going to be a lot better if we can spend some more. Do we go off season for longer nights or locations that would be out of our budget otherwise? Originally, my thought was 4 nights at 2 reserves, 3 nights at another reserve and 2 or 3 nights at/near Victoria Falls (as we would like to see it - natural beauty). So a total of 14-15 nights as I think we need to stay one night in Johannesburg before heading out on safari. Work-wise, it is better for me to travel either in the month of August or anytime from late September through the end of February but would prefer to avoid being gone over the US Thanksgiving holiday (late November) or over the Christmas holiday.
2) For this trip, wildlife viewing is our number 1 priority with our top 5 being lots of elephants, giraffe, lions, monkeys (any type) and zebra. Next would probably be rhinos, hippos, leopard, cheetah, antelope and buffalo. We enjoy birds too but that is not as big a priority. If we go in the wet season, would we still see a lot of wildlife? Is it just a matter of being more strategic in which locations we stay at? What would you recommend? Originally, I was thinking Botswana and Zimbabwe before I was told that Botswana is very expensive. So, I am trying to decide what's the best places for the viewing and experiences we want.
3) We would like to go to reserves that are not full of large groups of tourists and vehicles. We know these are probably going to be more expensive and eat up our budget both for the full board and the transportation to get there but that is where we could use advice on which ones are worth it and the best time to go to get the wildlife viewing for the best value in costs.
4) We would like some opportunities to get out of the vehicles and be on foot or on the water. We want our camps to be more permanent so not looking to be out all day and overnight camping but want the opportunity to explore the reserves and view wildlife from a vehicle, on foot or from a boat/canoe.
5) We want to sleep in a comfortable bed and want our toilet to be en suite. We don't need fancy or luxury but we do want comfortable and if it has a fun personality or decor, an added bonus. And, great, friendly staff is a huge plus but reading many comments on this site it sounds like that is the norm of the people we will encounter.
6) While my mom will eat most anything offered, I have Celiac and cannot eat anything with gluten or dairy. They make me ill. I will have medications with me to help but would prefer accommodations where they will work with me.
7) We have no problem getting up early or needing to walk a lot as long as we are not trekking uphill for miles. We live near the coast of California so we are used to fairly mild temperatures year round. My home does not have air conditioning as the few days it gets hot enough that you wish you had it, it still cools down at night. Dry heat in the 80s should be fine but hotter or if humid, then I might start wilting.
8) Booking everything - Is it better to use one agency to book everything or try to do it on our own? Or a mixture? We don't want to get in country and have issues that take up time to resolve. For my mom, I think she prefers we use an agency that will handle everything but will that add significantly to our costs? If an agency, would you use one from the USA (where we live) or use one from one of the countries we will be traveling to? Remember, this is our first time to southern Africa (we have been to Marrakech, Morocco but from the airport we had a driver the riad we were staying at arrange to get us to the city center and then we just walked, took a taxi or took a bus).
9) What am I missing? Am I off the mark? Are there other things I should be considering?
10) Itinerary options: Where would you spend 3 nights, where should we try and spend 4 nights?
Option A) 1 reserve in Botswana (Chobe?), 1 reserve in Zimbabwe (Huange or Mana Pools?), in or near Victoria Falls (stay in town or on a reserve?), private reserve in Krueger, South Africa
Option B ) 1 reserve in Botswana (Chobe?), 2 reserves in Zimbabwe (Huange and Mana Pools or ?), in or near Victoria Falls (stay in town or on a reserve?)
Option C) 2 reserves in Zimbabwe (Huange and Mana Pools or ?), in or near Victoria Falls (stay in town or on a reserve?), private reserve in Krueger, South Africa
Option D) Other suggestions from those of you who have traveled to southern Africa
I know this was a lot so I appreciate you reading through and thank you in advance for your advice based on your experiences and understanding what we are looking for.
Edited by tg_travels, 18 February 2017 - 03:45 AM.