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We are a well traveled family of 5 from Chicagoland. Our goal for this June 2014 vacation is do a stopover in Europe as we travel both directions (to spend time in Vienna, Prague and Chartes, France).on our way to see Victoria Falls and safari nearby.

My questions are 1(does anyone have good advice on where to stopoever in Europe? What is the most economic way to do so and what cities have the best service to South Africa? How should we best arrange it? What airline?

Question 2) How much time to do Victoria Falls and a safari justice? Is a week about right? What is our best choice for a safari near Victoria Falls?

Question 3),. Is it possible/safe etc to rent a car and drive in Africa or are we better off flying?

Thank you!

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    Sorry - one more question:

    Before I invest some time writing a lengthy post with recommendations that may be meaningless.... What is your preliminary budget (not including flights to Africa)? I only ask this upfront because you mention a rental car which, to me, means you are looking to do this trip on a lower budget than typical users of this forum. I do not recommend a self-drive safari for your first trip especially in Botswana, Zambia, or Zimbabwe. It is almost impossible at any comfort level in the later two. If you do want to self-drive a first-time safari then South Africa may be a good option.

    Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

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    No I am not wedded to any particular airline, Craig. We have enough neutral miles to provide for one ticket on any carrier so it does not matter. Moving 5 around by air is expensive, so I am open to other considerations like a driver for part of the trip- river cruise, etc. We do not have a budget per se, just looking to be wise with 3 kids to get through college, etc.

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    Hi Dineroguru. With regards to safaris and Victoria Falls, “nearby” is a relative term. You also used the word “economical” and mentioned sending your kids to college sometime in the near future. My answer will try to take both of these factors (cost and distance) into account.

    Coming from Chicago there are many decent flight options to get to Southern Africa via Europe. I have flown from Chicago to Amsterdam/AMS on KLM and they have a daily flight from AMS to Johannesburg/JNB and several flights per week from AMS to Lusaka/LUN Zambia and Harare/HRE Zimbabwe. Air France also has service from Chicago to Paris and then you can fly Air France to JNB. United has daily flights to London and Frankfurt and you can fly from both those cities to South Africa on South African Airways as they are in the Star Alliance with United.

    Since cost is a concern, I strongly encourage you to look at the costs of this stopover before you commit to the safari. I think breaking up the flight is going to cost you quite a bit more than a continuous flight to South Africa from the USA. I have spent time in London & Amsterdam with my kids in the winter of 2005. We spent the first week of July 2013 in Paris and the last week of August 2013 in Dublin. My girls were 15 & 17 last summer. To be honest, they loved all these places. None of them are cheap… Luckily I have friends with homes in central Paris and central Dublin.

    Victoria Falls is very convenient to visit if you are beginning or ending a safari in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. For Zimbabwe, you would have to pay more to NOT go through Victoria Falls on the way to/from Hwange National Park which is one of the prime wildlife viewing spots in the country. It is only a small bit more money to begin or end a Botswana or Zambia safari at Victoria Falls. I usually do not recommend a side-trip from a South Africa safari to see Victoria Falls unless a safari is experienced nearby. With the cost of airfare, a two day side-trip to Vic Falls from South Africa is at least $800 per person and much more to stay at a nicer hotel.

    You can have a complete and fulfilling big four or possibly even big five safari in Zambia only, Zimbabwe only, or Botswana only. For a first time safari with kids, I recommend 6-9 days total visiting 2-3 safari lodges for 2 or 3 days each. Ten days might be a bit too much with kids (this is based on experience with my own kids on two safaris and also on booking many families on safari). Five days would be too few and you may feel shortchanged given the investment in time and money to get there.

    The cheapest good safari would be one that uses no light aircrafts but still offers diversity in wildlife and geography. You could use Vic Falls as a hub and spend four nights on safari in Zimbabwe at a lodge in Hwange National Park. The Hide and Davisons Camp offer good value and both have family rooms. Both are 4-5 hours by road from Vic Falls. After that, you could go back to Vic Falls for one night and then go into Botswana for four more days in the Chobe National Park ecosystem. Check-out Muchenje or Ngoma as possible options. They are 2-3 hours by road from Vic Falls.

    If you up the budget a little to include light air transfers (not necessarily the more expensive private charter planes) you could do a 6-8 day safari in Zimbabwe combining Hwange National Park (The Hide, Davisons) and Matusadona National Park (Musango or Changa) and Mana Pools National Park (Vundu or Kanga or Ruckomechi). You could do an eight day safari in Zambia combining four nights each in South Luangwa (Lion Camp or Bushcamp Company properties possibly) with Lower Zambezi National Park (perhaps Potato Bush or Sausage Tree camp witjh their family rooms).

    If you want to really up the budget you could do a 6-8 day safari in Botswana. There are several safari lodge chains to choose from and a few of them have family rooms as well. In the Wilderness Safari chain you could consider Duma Tau, Chitabe Ledibe, & Tubu Tree. There are hundred of possible combinations and a good agent will help you choose. Some lodges in Botswana go into peak season pricing starting on June 1 and others on June 16. Some don’t raise their shoulder season rates until July 1.

    Good luck. Let me know if you need more info. With only a few exceptions I have been to just about every four-star and above safari lodge in Zambia and Zimbabwe and at least 2/3 of the ones in Botswana. There are a lot more in Botswana so it is hard to get to all of them!

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

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    My 2C...

    Since you're going to Vic Falls, you need to get to Jo'burg, as that is the closest international "hub". Best airline deals in EU are with Air France and Lufthansa. These depart from Paris & Frankfurt, respectively. They both have daily flights to/from Jo'burg with an Airbus A380. As these have more seats, prices tend to be lower. The 747's of KLM (holland) and BA (UK) are a bit more expensive. Plus I think KLM only does Cape Town Daily. Idem if you opt for non-economy tickets, by the way; business class seems more expensive with BA. Air France has some sort of inbetween class ("Premium Voyageur") that's actually also very very good.

    We chose Air France mostly, but for two additional reasons;
    - we depart from Brussels, so we need to get to Paris by hi speed train first. But since we have a red-eye flight, AF upgrades our train tickets to first class, even though we just booked economy seats on the plane.
    - there is no hi speed connection from Brussels to Frankfurt; it takes much longer, even with a city hopper plane (train does not need you to be there 2 hours before departure, 15 minutes is enough)

    Note that you also will need to fly to Vic Falls from Jo'burg. But there's a few companies that do this. However, since you asked what your best options are for a safari near Vic Falls; you may first want to decide on that, before booking African flights. For Safari near VF, basically your options are; Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Depending on what country you chose, you may opt NOT to get flights to from Vic/Falls. Just as an example; you may choose Botswana and then fly to Maun, do the Okavango delta, Savuti, Linyanti, Chobe... then cross the border for a short visit to Vic Falls... and then fly back out from Kasane.

    Note as well that for safari options you can also add Kruger area to your list. There's daily flights from Jo'burg to both Hoedspruit and Nelspruit. These are cheaper than bush planes, so the total bill of the safari portion of your trip may even be cheaper than any itinerary in Zam/Zim/Bots, certainly if the latter require bush flights. It may seem a bit silly to fly to VF just to see the falls, without doing a safari, but by now I've seen plenty of people who do the Kruger+Falls combo. Some of them do add a few safari days near VF, but nothing that requires a bush plane. For example; they take a few days in a lodge in or near Kasane, just to see Chobe. Or a lodge in Hwange NP, Zim.

    Ciao,

    J.

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    If your goal is a stopover, then stopover it will be. I can understand wanting to have your family experience something in Europe, along with a safari in Africa to maximize the diversity of your travel experience together. But, as SafariCraig mentions, it is going to cost you.

    Looks like Lufthansa thru Frankfort and KLM thru Amsterdam have best deals from Chicago. Based on routing, nearby attractions, and my own personal experience out of Chicago and in Amsterdam, I'd suggest using KLM so you could stay a couple of days in Amsterdam. Anne Frank's home, canals, windmills, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, The Hague for both the historical and the artistic, Rembrandt's home--this amalgam offers lots of world class history, art, culture packed into a reasonably compact area.

    But only if including something in Europe is very important would I suggest a stopover. Otherwise get thee to Africa ASAP and use the time there.

    Time in Vic Falls
    To see and enjoy the falls leisurely, just one night is all you need. But to take in the activities around the falls such as:

    Aerial viewing via helicopter, microlight, etc. (no experience and I don't like that kind of loud stuff)

    Gentle rafting on the Zambezi for a sunset cruise with wine and snacks (very nice, relaxing with wildlife viewing likely)

    Bungee jumping or bungee jumping INTO a raft that goes down Level 5 rapids or JUST the Level 5 raft (never did, never would)

    Or something new I heard about on the Zambian side--you can go on patrol with an anti-poaching unit (I'd love to do that!)

    There is a croc farm on the Zim side with afternoon feedings

    If you stay on Zim side, you can view the falls from the Zam side. And vice versa.

    I can spend a day walking along the falls (been on Zim side only several times) and looking for rainbows in the water, or observing the very relaxed species that inhabit the forest around the falls (mongoose, antelope, monkeys).

    Consider timing your Vic Falls visit with the full moon where you might be able to see night time rainbows in the falls or at least moonlit falls. I never got the timing just right.

    A couple of things I would strongly suggest you avoid in Vic Falls, even though they appear intriguing are the elephant backed safaris due to the questionable and inhumane ways in which the elephants are acquired and trained and the walking with lions tourist attraction due to the connection with canned lion hunts and the danger of entering a caged facility with lions.

    Safari near Vic Falls
    A quick, easy, convenient, and relatively inexpensive option that also happens to be one of the premier water safari activities on the continent is the Chobe River Sunset Wildlife Cruise. You can do a one night stay along the Chobe River in Botswana, departing from Vic Falls. Or you can spend several days in Chobe for both river and land safari activities. It is a 2-3 hour drive (arranged with guide/driver) between Vic Falls and Chobe.

    From Chobe, you could add another destination in Bots, but Bots is a very expensive option. Chobe is reasonable but other perm tented camps tend to be much more. If you opted for a mobile safari in Botswana, the price would be more reasonable and mobiles are an excellent way to go. Accommodations are less fancy but still really, really nice, food is great, guiding is excellent. You can see wildlife along the way as you go from place to place. Usually you want to commit about a week to a mobile. Don't know the ages of your family, but there are limits as to how young participants can be.

    From Chobe, Botswana, you could also head to Hwange in Zim. Or go Vic Falls, Hwange, then Chobe. Hwange allows some walking safaris and has pans of water that draw eles and other animals. Especially picturesque at sunset. A transfer to/from Hwange along with a guided safari can be arranged.

    As mentioned above, you'll be flying in and out of Johannesburg, South Africa most likely, so you could tack on your safari from there. You can self drive in Kruger, offering flexibility which can be especially important with young kids. Or go to one of the many, many Sabi Sands locations (these are the private concessions next to Kruger) for guided safaris. Sabi Sands is the best place in Africa to see the big, popular species, including the endangered rhino, with the least amount of hunting for them. Probably the best place for leopards, also often elusive. You typically fly to the Sabi Sands concessions from Johannesburg.

    Better off renting a car or flying?
    That question would pertain just to South Africa for most people. In Kruger, self drive is typical and offers a safari for less money. In the neighboring Sabi Sands people do drive in and then transfer to the guided vehicle, but flying is more common for international visitors and it saves time. It also depends on how comfortable you are driving on the left side of the road with your family in the car.

    Since you mentioned Chicago, I'll mention that 2x I used Eyes on Africa in Chicago for South Africa arrangements. One of the owners is South African.

    If you include your time available and budget, more specifics can be given.

    Have a wonderful family trip, whatever continents you end up on.

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    Marguerite from our Chicago office used to work for Eyes on Africa and my company belongs to a safari consortium with them (Safari Professionals of the Americas - SPA). I highly recommend Eyes on Africa especially if you want a face-to-face planning meeting.

    Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

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    Thank you all for your great comments. I am inclined to just focus on South Africa and forget about Europe--this time. eThere is so much to see in SA that two weeks will go rushing bye.

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    "I am inclined to just focus on South Africa and forget about Europe--this time. eThere is so much to see in SA that two weeks will go rushing bye."

    Wise choice! :)

    With SA you can self drive if so inclined and cut down on cost.

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