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Botswana - Kwara or Victoria Falls/Chobe (after 9 nights around Kruger)

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Hi,

My husband and I are planning a June 2015 safari to South Africa with a side trip to Botswana. In South Africa, we are heading to the private reserves outside of Kruger - nine days at three reserves (nThambo in Klaserie, Shindzela in Timbavati and Arathusa in Sabi Sand). As you probably can tell, we are at the lower end of the private reserve camps in South Africa.

My first idea was to also spend three nights in Botswana (maybe four). Initially my choice was the Okavanga Delta, specifically Kwara. Kwara was chosen because: 1. It's in a private reserve thus allowing off-road and night game drives, 2. It's both a land and water camp and 3. June is mid-season for Kwara whereas some of the other Delta camps switch to high season rates in June.

Now the overall price I have been quoted is doable, but when I realize that the 25% of our total time that would be spent in Botswana would account for 40% (or more) of the total cost, I start to wonder - is it really worth it? Am I getting the best "bang for our buck"?

As an alternative, we could go to Victoria Falls and then to a lodge near Chobe (Elephant Valley? Muchenje? nGoma?). The cost would be less but I have some concerns of the quality of experience in Chobe - long drives to get to an overcrowded park; rushing to leave park before gates close, too many vehicles at every sighting. After doing game drives in the private reserves around Kruger, will the game drives in Chobe suffer by comparison? From the reviews I have read, the water excursions at the Chobe camp seem to be the highlights, but that is just a two to two and half hour experience sandwiched between the game drives.

The quality of the game viewing is the most important consideration. I am not looking for air-conditioning, five course meals, premium liquors or spas. Decent food and comfortable basic accommodations are just fine with us.

I would appreciate any insights / thoughts and/or opinions you could share regarding the two alternatives. And if you care to comment on our South Africa portion, please feel free to do so.

Thanks, Pamela

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    Pamela,

    That is an awfully long time in the Kruger ecosystem and there is RELATIEVLEY little diversity between the first three camps you mentioned vs. moving around a bit more and getting more diversity in flora, fauna, and landscape. I like all the suggested camps but I would drop two of them. Take a look at this plan and perhaps have your agent price it out. Do you mind telling me how you came up with the original plan?

    Day 1-3 3 nights at Muchenje in Botswana before rates go up (sometimes June 16)!
    Day 4 Vic Falls
    Day 5-7 The Hide in Hwange National Park
    Day 8 Jo’burg
    Day 9-12 4 nights at ONE lodge either Shindzela or Kambaku or Tanda Tula in Timbavati (Kruger area)
    Day 13-15 Mashatu Tented Camp (perfect weather in June) Botswana!
    *you may need an overnight in Jo’burg before Mashatu or just go to Cape Town inetween!

    Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
    2011-2013 Travel & Leisure A-List Agent for Botswana, Zambia, ZImbabwe

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    How we got to where we are (or were):

    1. We are using miles to fly into Johannesburg, the dates will be determined in later July when the "miles" flight calendar becomes available.

    2. DH wants to stay at least 2 weeks, but not longer than 3 weeks. He doesn't do the research.

    3. FYI: In late May of this year DH got sent to SA for a week for work. I arranged a 4 day, 3 night safari at nThambo for him before he started his assignment. He had a wonderful time and saw most everything, rhino, hippo, civet, leopard..... except lions; he even saw plenty of wild dogs. It was rather cost-effective.

    4. While we might stay at one camp that's $500 ppn, that can't be all the properties. For 12 safari nights, $12,000 is my budget including transportation so we were trying to avoid flying as much as possible.

    5. We considered trying to go to Kgalagadi Transfrontier as well as Krueger but were told bad time of year and logistically difficult to get there. Logistically difficult is usually time consuming and expensive so we abandoned this thought.

    6. Another FYI: While I have always wanted to go on safari in Africa, I am our travel planner / researcher and the multitude of options made my head spin, so many countries, so many properties, so expensive. I had "paralysis by analysis" or rather "paralysis due to the fear of the magnitude of analysis". My husband's last minute trip to SA forced me into action in May.

    7. Read some reviews on Fodor's and this Kruger itinerary was mentioned by one of the posters who seemed to have a similar view on game viewing.

    8. When Transfrontier was eliminated, the Okavanga at one of the low end properties got suggested as a possibility. Looked at it and it seemed attractive, except the low end are in the park, more crowded area, no off-road, no night drive, no bush walking. Saw Kwara as an expensive, yet possibly doable alternative with the low average cost of the Kruger portion.

    9. My original post explains my concern of 40% or more of budget for 25% of safari, so started to look at other options - mentioned Vic Falls as an alternative to Okavanga (yes not wildlife oriented but a natural wonder is of interest) to travel consultant and waiting on quote.

    10. My head has started to spin once more and I remember why I never planned this trip before.

    FYI, I would really hope to see rhino, hippo, leopard, lion, cheetah and wild dogs on this trip. I expect to see a lot more but the ones I mention would be of most interest.

    I will have my travel consultant price out the above itinerary and see if it falls within our budget (which has a little flexibility, say 10% or so)

    Thank you for your input. Additional comments / suggestions welcome

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    I understand your feeling bewildered. The planning can be daunting.

    I too would suggest trimming the SA portion and giving a bit more time to Botswana/Vic Falls. The delta region's ecosystem is worlds apart from Kruger. Without going into details, you could spend time in the Kruger region, then head to Botswana (you'll likely overnight at Jo'burg on the way), finish with a night in VF, then catch a flight from VFA to JNB for your homeward flights. If your award is with United/SAA remember that you can have your reward ticket include your way back,i.e., USA to JNB, VFA to USA. That will save you $ on fares.

    To save some money and make Botswana doable, perhaps consider a couple days self-drive in KNP before going to one of the private reserves. I've done this a couple times before going into Sabi Sand. It's a great adventure spotting your own game and accommodations will be <$150/night. The money you save can there can be spent in Botswana.

    If you decide to include Vic Falls, which makes sense to me, I would suggest Ilala Lodge as a reasonable place to stay. The lodge is in Zimbabwe. Be aware that if you visit the falls in Zambia you face a decision as to whether you get a Yellow Fever shot (roughly $150 in the USA). YF is not endemic at the falls, but SA, at least on paper, requires those visiting Zambia to show proof of the jab. There's no such requirement when it comes to Zimbabwe.

    Good luck planning.

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    Craig,

    Looked at Mashatu Tented Camp and it seems very interesting. I noticed in the pictures on their website that there were black maned lions. Would it be reasonable to expect to see black maned lions if we went there?

    Also I noted that in 2013 and 2014 they had a pay for 3 stay for 4 promotion that ran through June of each year. How (or when) would I find out if they will be doing the same thing for 2015?
    Any advice on that.

    DH is sensitive to spending too much time going back and forth rather than being somewhere. Why, I am not quite sure since he doesn't really have any thoughts as to what to do with our non-safari time in SA and so far has been unimpressed with any of my suggestions. I suppose we could go to Capetown for a few days in between Timbavati and Mashatu, so that we are flying somewhere to do / see something rather than flying somewhere (Jo-berg) just to fly back in the same general direction.

    Question: If we eliminate two of the Kruger properties, why Timbavati as the remaining one? Does it have advantages over the other two?

    sdb2: We will be flying Delta; I will check on what other cities they fly to in Africa. Thanks for the suggestion

    Pamela

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    Hi Pamela,

    If you are considering one of the tiny (5,000 acre) Sabi Sand properties like Arathusa or Elephant Plains vs. a larger property in the Timbavati, I think you will get more value for money in the Timbavati.

    I have been to Mashatu twice and most recently in Feb of 2014 (a few months ago). We saw leopard and lion on every game drive but not the Kalahari Black Maned variant. I don't think they live there.

    Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
    2011-2013 Travel & Leisure A-List Agent for Botswana, Zambia, ZImbabwe

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    Don't try to do too much. You will be traveling too much. Pick two areas for two weeks, maybe three for three weeks. Traveling days are surprisingly expensive and tiring.

    If you were considering Kgalagadi, then how about a few nights self drive in Kruger? It makes the combo of Sabi Sand and Mashatu very doable.
    3-4 nights Sabi Sand lodge
    2 nts mid-Kruger Rest Camp (Satara, Olifants...)
    1-2 nts Punda Maria in the far north of Kruger (or Pafuri for three nts)
    3-4 nts Mashatu

    We did a similar trip in 2009 and it was perfect, although we used Wilderness Safari's Parufi Camp in the north (a private camp I'm Kruger. Check on it, it might reopen in 2015 after flood damage and they continue to do three night walking safaris, which could be great fun if you are that adventurous for R4500 for three nts). Three diverse areas, and pretty affordable! Kruger park is great, and if you stay in main rest camps they have restaurants for all meals. We still do lunch and breakfast (cereal and sandwiches in a small cooler, supplies available in rest camps) on the road so we can get out early and stay out all day. Self drive is easy, and the above itinerary makes for short drives between camps. If using Pafuri, you can get charters and car/driver transfers. We did that in 2009 and it was about $9000 all inclusive without international air for 10 nights. Self drive will be much less than using charters - there are options using commercial flights/drivers, too.

    We have not had good luck in Timbavati - though we liked Shindzela a lot, and nThambo gets great reviews. Arathusa was a much better value for us with a larger shared traversing area and significantly better wildlife viewing. Plus it has a very active waterhole - request a room with a view. Others have different experience than us - like I said, just bad luck.

    Mashatu is in my top three favorite places. The above itinerary makes it not so difficult to reach.

    You can also add a few nights between jnb and Mashatu in Entabeni or Bela Bela to make that drive easier, too. We were pleasantly surprised by the value at Wildside at Entabeni. Fun and affordable! Great golf - if you are interested look into the 19th hole. Crazy (but SO fun).

    You could also combine Greater Kruger with KwaZulu Natal. Tembe Elephant Park and most of the lodges in Zululand Rhino Reserve (we like Rhino River Lodge) are very affordable. Hluhluwe National Park is a gem, and St Lucia, a little town on the coast has tons of fun things to do. Horse riding, kayak with hippos, boat rides, fishing, snorkel/dive, beaches, good restaurants. Very nice B&Bs. We loved it. You can fly into Richards Bay or drive Kruger to KZN with an overnight in Swaziland. The Royal Swazi hotel is super nice. We just got back from doing Kruger-KZN and had a great time, and it was very affordable with wildlife surprises every day. We arranged for a rhino conservation project and it was the most thrilling experience of our lives.

    We used Delta miles and found that flights open up closer to your dates than a year out. In the beginning of May I was able to find two flights in June for 100,000 miles each. Delta is changing their FF program for 2015 (that's why we used them up now), so I don't know how it will work for you. They also removed many of their biz class seats so they are harder to use miles for. Good luck! June is our favorite month in S Africa - long nights so we get more sleep after full days of wildlife viewing and it's not hot (can be quite cold!!)

    Have fun planning.

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