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1st African Safari - Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, combo?

botswana zimbabwe south africa victoria falls 1st time wildlife elephants giraffe

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#1 tg_travels

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 02:57 AM

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.

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#2 michael-ibk

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 09:33 AM

Welcome to Safaritalk, and have fun with the trip planning - one of the best parts! :)

 

Botswana will be tricky with that budget. USD 5,000,-- for 14 nights gives you USD 357 per day. High Season is impossible with that, and even Green Season (late November till March) won´t work in the private concessions.

 

I guess Kwando´s Five Rivers offer would be the most affordable option (Nov.15th to March 31st), and I think the recommended rack rate of operators is USD 495,-- for the 2017/2018 season, though I am sure some operators will offer it below that price. Internal flights between camps are not included in that price. Green Season can be very rewarding, you would see lots of animals. Lots of us here have done Green Season safaris in Botswana, just check out the Trip Reports in the Botswana sector. It´s the best time for the Kalahari-based camps, the Delta is always great, Linyanti you need a bit of luck.

 

Boat and mokoro outings are done in all the concessions, that would fit your requirements. The Boat trips in Chobe also are popular. Canoeing is more a Zambezi thing, can be done in Mana Pools. Walking - most camps offer this, but less so in the Green Season (because of the high grass), and the best walking trips (where you get really close to wildlife) are offered in Zimbabwe and also Zambia, not really in Botswana. But having a stroll around the camp can probably be done, especially in the early Green Season.

 

There are more affordable camps in Chobe and Moremi (both of which are busier with tourists) but I do not believe you would get small, familiar camps for USD 350,--, rather bigger lodges. Small camps are generally more expensive than lodges but much more enjoyable - sleeping in a tent is much more "Africa" than a room in a lodge. And even though comfort levels vary, all tents are comfortable with good beds, shower and flush toilet, so no worries there. I´d expect the smaller camps would probably also cater better to you celicacy requirements.

 

Kruger is generally much more affordable.

 

Zimbabwe is cheaper than Botwana, but again, I don´t think doable in high season for the budget you´ve indicated. Mana Pools is not really a Green Season destination, Hwange probably a better idea.

 

About your animals: Elephants, Lions and Zebras are not a problem, these you will see everywhere. Monkeys, there are Baboons and Vervets (often in camp, they can be a nuisance), no other species in Southern Africa. If you are interested in Gorillas and Chimps, those can be found in East Africa. You can´t expect to see Rhinos in Botswana or Zimbabwe (except for a place calles Matobos Hills which is not a good first-timers destination), easy though in Kruger. Leopard and Cheetah is possible, but you need to have a bit of luck for those. Antelope (Kudu, Waterbuck, Impala, Tsessebe, Wildebeest, Lechwe and many others, also Oryx and Springbok in the Kalahari) and Buffalo are plentiful also Giraffes are easy to see.

 

I´d recommend picking one operator for the whole thing. Chalo Africa and Expert Africa are used by many people here and enjoy a good reputation, just to start with some names.

 

Hope that helps a bit.


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#3 Tdgraves

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 10:29 AM

With your budget, you'd be better sticking to one country to minimise days lost to travel (although chobe/vic falls/hwange are all close together), this would also reduce cost of visas. Also internal flights between reserves are very expensive, so if there was a way of road transfers, this would also lower your costs. August/sept are high season in Southern Africa and smaller lodges book up fast. Walking is common in Zambia and Zimbabwe and can be done elsewhere, as more of an aside. I think you will need to alter some of your prerequisites to get anything like as long as 15 days on your budget. I would look at a Safari website at a costed itinerary and this will give you some idea of how far out you are on cost vs. expectations.
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#4 pomkiwi

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 01:26 PM

@tg_travels Welcome to Safaritalk.

I am assuming that your budget of $5000 is for 2 of you and not per person.  If so then I think you will really struggle to get the sort of itinerary you are describing. I would suggest something rather different and maybe stick with South Africa.

 

You could spend several days in a lodge in the greater Kruger (Timbavati or Klasserie or possibly Nottens in the Sabi Sands) and this will get you sightings of all the animals you describe without huge pressure of other vehicles. For the rest of the time you could spend a few days self-driving in the Kruger itself or engage a guide to drive you, alternatively if you spent a few days in Cape Town you can drive into the National Park where you are able to see very different animals and can walk wherever you want - there are some beautiful coastal paths.

 

There is no reeason that you couldn't put this together yourself and you have plenty of time if planning for later in 2018. Alternatively I can let you have the details of a local agent who could suggest an itinerary for you and could pull all of the local arrangements together.

 

Have fun planning!


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#5 tg_travels

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 04:11 PM

@tg_travels Welcome to Safaritalk.

I am assuming that your budget of $5000 is for 2 of you and not per person.

 

 

@pomkiwi - Thank you for the welcome.  Actually the budget is per person.  We would prefer to not to go over 6-7K per person for the total costs to each of us. That being said, we also would consider needing to spend more if we felt it would really enhance the experience.  As the trip from California to South Africa is so long, we really prefer to stay 14-15 nights rather than shorten the trip.  We are approaching this as our one and only African Safari.  We have to save to take one international trip every 2-4 years and there are so many places in this world we want to see. 



#6 pomkiwi

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 04:25 PM

@tg_travels A total budget of $8-10k is much easier!  You might want to look at Doug Macdonald for a range of safaris based out of Zimbabwe. He is currently offering some special safari deals for ST members in November 2018 (although it will be pretty warm).


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#7 tg_travels

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 04:27 PM

Welcome to Safaritalk, and have fun with the trip planning - one of the best parts! :)

 

Hope that helps a bit.

 

@michael-ibk - Thank you for the welcome and for all the advice. This is very helpful I will try to spend some time today reading more of the trip reports  If we pick the green season, is it better to go in November or in February or does the actual month not make a difference? 

 

While I really prefer to stay 14-15 nights since the travel to southern Africa takes us so long, this is where I am trying to figure out if we need to compromise.  Would it be better to stay less nights but go to a smaller, more expensive camp in Zimbabwe or Botswana or to spend more nights in Krueger?  Or, do we need to seriously increase our budget because what we would get for a little more would increase the safari experience?



#8 tg_travels

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Posted 19 February 2017 - 06:02 PM

Should I have put this topic under Africa and not the general trip planning?  If so, can I move it or does the site admin need to?



#9 michael-ibk

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Posted 19 February 2017 - 06:55 PM

I was in Botswana in March and had a really fantastic time there. As mentioned before the Kalahari camps are at their best then. Generally the advice for the Delta and Linyanti, though, is to go as early as possible in the green season because the grass will be shorter - and visibility better. Whether you should do Botswana, Zim or Kruger, that is really a question nobody can answer for you, all up to your own personal preferences and what has the greatest appeal for you. The good news is that you cannot do much wrong, whatever you decide on, I´m very confident you will be blown away by the experience and love it, wherever you go.

 

I´ve never been to Kruger, but what I´ve seen from reports here, wildlife is fantastic, and the private reserves like Sabi Sands are rightly famous for their excellent Big Cat sightings. Detractors say it does not feel as "wild" as other places, but Kruger fans are adamant that´s just safari snobism. South Africa in general is excellent value for money.

 

The Okavango Delta, OTOH, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world, that scenery is really very hard to top. And Vic Falls is of course an excellent add-on, and actually more impressive in the Green Season.

 

Zimbabwe´s Mana Pools is the favourite of many ST members, but to do it right you need to do this as a walking safari, and for that you should go with an excellent guide (like DougMacDonald, who has probably guided more Safaritalkers than any other guide in Africa). I´m not completely sure how suitable a trip like that is for a first-timer because you really have no idea how comfortable you will feel getting very, very close to Big Game on foot.


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#10 mtanenbaum

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 05:56 PM

Hi, I'm also here in California (Claremont) and would be happy to talk to you about my two trips to Africa. I think for your budget you'll get the best value in South Africa, and since it's your first time, you'll see all the animals and you won't have anything to compare it to. I've done safaris and both Botswana and South Africa and South Africa is about half the price. You won't be able to do Botswana for your budget. I used a South African travel agent called Rhino Africa which I found on the web and they were excellent and worked well within my budget. There is some feeling that because the reserves in South Africa are fenced it is more zoo-like, but having done both I would have to say I liked Botswana better but if it's your first safari you'll love South Africa as well and you will save tons of money. I'd be happy to give you more details of where we stayed in you're interested, also.

 

Cheers, Margo


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#11 tonypark

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 09:21 PM

Have you thought about self driving?  If so, I'd do Kruger in a two wheel drive rental car, self catering, and concentrate on the central/northern section if you want a quieter time, and treat yourself to a couple of nights in one of the more affordable lodges inside the park - Imbalai/Hoyo Hoy, or Savanna in the Sabi Sand.

 

You could then either fly to the falls and get a transfer to Elephants Eye or The Hide in Hwange.

 

Or, for the mildly adventurous, from Kruger go back to joburg, pick up a 4x4, drive up through botswana to Kasane (Chobe), cross into Vic Falls, see the falls, drive down to Hwange main camp for a couple of nights, then drive back to Kasane, drop your vehicle off there (I can give you name of a company that allows you to do this), and fly back to joburg and home.


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#12 AmyT

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Posted 23 February 2017 - 10:25 AM

Welcome, @tg_travels! I am also new(ish) to SafariTalk, in the process of booking my first trip to Africa (and I'm from California too, although inland... San Dimas.) 

 

I too came with many questions, don't be afraid to ask! Safari Talk is a snark-free zone (compared to Fodors, my opinion.)   I started out with the idea of Namibia but switched to Kenya in order to include a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an organization that rears milk-dependent elephant calves orphaned due to poaching, etc. https://www.sheldric...dlifetrust.org/

 

We will be staying in conservancies, rather than reserves or parks, which decreases the number of vehicles at a sighting.

 

Enjoy the planning!


Edited by AmyT, 23 February 2017 - 10:27 AM.

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#13 tg_travels

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Posted 25 February 2017 - 02:41 AM

@tonypark - Thank you for the reply.  We don't really want to drive but I will keep that in the back of my mind if we change ours. :)

 

Thank you, everyone, for the helpful advice and warm welcome. 



#14 lmonmm

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Posted 25 February 2017 - 11:01 PM

@tg_travels  Welcome.....lots of advice here and I guess I'll throw my 2 cents in :)    August is the higher cost time period for most of Southern Africa. I have done safari in all but South Africa so I won't be able to speak to that country (other than the overnight in Joburg which I've done numerous times). And, I've done all different times of year. As most of my trips have been solo I've typically gone during the green season. The only drawback is that it is also the warmest time, sometimes brutally so. I've been to Zambia during the Oct/Nov period and will never go again during that time period. Dry, hot, no green anywhere....very unforgiving. I've been to Botswana a couple times in the Feb-April time period- still hot, but green and beautiful.  I've read what your preferences are and many of them are mine as well. So....to start....I must be totally honest, Botswana is my most favorite place on the planet. Yes, expensive, but if this is truly going to be your one and only trip to Africa...I would seriously consider it. Camps are smaller, less congestion, mind blowing wildlife....  Tents are wonderful- comfortable, ensuite bathrooms etc (also my preference). Good downtime to relax and just listen (Africa has the most amazing sounds), but don't be surprised if elephants, mongooses or simians don't come to visit during that downtime. You never know :)     Not a lot of walking in the latter green season (as mentioned) due to high grasses and poor visibility, but I'm sure most camps can come up with something to stretch your legs. I also think most camps can cater to your dietary needs as I've run across this on a couple of occasions during my travels. So, Botswana would have my vote on this one. Zimbabwe- parts of it are closed during the green season. I believe parts of Zambia are also not open during the green season. Namibia is beautiful, but just doesn't have the wildlife that other countries in Southern Africa have so if that is the area you have your heart set on, I guess it would be between SA and Botswana (if you go during the green season). No matter what you choose, you are in for quite the experience.


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#15 wilddog

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Posted 26 February 2017 - 10:46 AM

Agree Botsawana i.e. Okavango Delta area is best option. I went a couple of years at end of March - still green season prices. I gambled the rains might have been petering out, and they were. Only one afternoon of rain in the area over 10 days.

 

Great trip all round. Good luck with your planning


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