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First Safari? Time of Year? Where?

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Sorry, yet another first-timer post but we are having a really difficult time even approaching this trip. We are 3 women planning our first trip to Africa, some time in 2014. We will fly from Vancouver or Seattle and want one stopover each leg, for 1 or 2 days, perhaps NYC or London or Rome, depending on carrier (we can handle budgeting and building these add-ons). We've done a bit of reading about Botswana and South Africa and are thoroughly confused. Our criteria:
- not too hot. One of us is sensitive to heat, and would prefer 20 to maybe 25 C max during the day;
- elephants, giraffes, some cats and whatever else we happen to see;
- no Victoria Falls, perhaps a couple of days in Capetown;
- at least one safari with a 3 to 4 star level of comfort. However, we each have a $10 K budget including airfare and hotels in NYC/London (I'm estimating $3K for this) and I haven't found anything yet for the remaining $7K and my friend's comfort level;
- happier flying into camp rather than driving for hours;
- or maybe we should consider other countries as Botswana seems fantastic but expensive...;
- am I right that we would be best served getting a safari packager to assist us?

Thanks in advance for all of your help!

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