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Itinerary help please-Zambia, Botswana, South Africa

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I am in the early stages of planning our second trip to Africa in Sept.-Oct., 2011. I have been reading this forum for some time and taking notes. What a wealth of info and so many experts who are generous with their time and information! By way of background, my partner and I loved our first trip several years ago where we started independently on the Zambian side of Vic Falls (Royal Livingstone-beautiful but a bit much for us with the butler, etc.!), continued to South Luangwa (South Luangwa River Lodge) and then joined a Tauck tour through Tanzania and Kenya. It was a perfect first trip as we enjoyed our time alone and also greatly enjoyed the social part of the Tauck tour. On Tauck, we mainly stayed at Serena lodges but our favorite was the tented camp at Masai Mara Safari Club which had more of an African feel to it.

We are returning with two friends who have not been to Africa. We are thinking of a 3-week trip in late Sept., early Oct. We want to return to South Luangwa River Lodge as we just loved it there. So we are planning on starting in Vic Falls and staying for 2 nights, possibly at the Zambezi Sun as we really enjoyed being within walking distance of the falls. We would then go back to South Luangwa for 3 nights before transferring to Botswana for 5 or 6 nights. We would then transfer to South Africa, spending 4 or 5 nights at the reserves before ending in Capetown for 2 days.

I think we fall in the middle in terms of accommodations. We do not want a hotel or large lodge atmosphere (other than perhaps in Vic Falls) but are not interested in a mobile safari or anything involving a "bucket shower"! We would like to experience the different landscapes in Botswana and SA. I am thinking of a budget of between $350 and $400 pp per night. We would enjoy a scenic small lodge or tented camp with good guiding, a variety of wildlife, and good food. We would be o.k. with a small group tour in Botswana-SA if it included the areas that we are interested in and nice accommodations, particularly if the cost of an independent tour would greatly exceed our budget.

So far, I have been unable to narrow down the tour operators, the best areas to explore in Botswana and SA given our time there, or the lodges/camps and would so much appreciate some guidance from the experts to get me moving from a catatonic state! I don't know that some of us will ever return to Africa and really want this trip to be as great as our first. We are in our 40's-50's and fairly active. We did the ultra-light flight over Vic Falls and plan on taking our friends this time.

We live in Pennsylvania and will probably be flying from Dulles to JoBurg.

Thank you so much!

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    Hi There,

    What an awesome plan!

    Can you clarify the budget? I assume the $400 pp is prorated and includes the time at the Falls and the time in Cape Town? The reason I ask is that just about every PERMANENT lodge in Botswana (not tents) start around $700 per person per night this coming high season (Jul-Oct 2010). They will be more next year. The least expensive is Desert & Delta at around $700 pppn. The most expensive is Mombo (Wilderness) or Chief's Camp or Orient Express all around $1,400pp-$1,600 pp.

    You will have to spend much less money per day outside Botswana to keep the average price around $400 pppd. I suggest upping the budget by about $200 pppd if you want to keep Botswana and South Luangwe. The flights to South Luangwe via Mfuwe can also add some layers of cost.

    On your budget, I think you should seriously consider replacing Botswana with Zimbabwe. Consider this for a logistical plan:

    day 1 Depart USA from IAD.
    day 2 Arrive JNB and overnight near the airport.
    day 3 Fly to Lusaka on SAA. Book this ticket in conjunction with the trans-Atlantic flight to save. Connect on Proflight to Mfuwe and go to South Luangwe.
    day 4 South Luangwe.
    day 5 South Luangwe.
    day 6 Fly to Lower Zambezi. Perhaps spend two nights at Sausage Tree or Chiawa or Kulefu.
    Day 7 Lower Zambezi
    Day 8 Cross border into Mana Pools and go to Ruckomechi. This is the top rates lodge in Zimbabwe on trip advisor.
    Day 9,10 Ruckomechi.
    Day 11 Fly to Hwange National Park for three nights at Little Makalolo.
    Day 12,13 Little Makalolo. The other top rates lodge!
    Day 14 Transfer by road to Victoria Falls and cross the bridge to Livingstone. Stay at Zambezi Sun for two nights.
    Day 15 Zambezi Sun.
    Day 16 Fly to Cape Town for four days. Be sure to visit Hermanus to see the Southern Right Whales which can be seen calving from the shore Jul-Oct.
    Day 17,18,19 Cape Town
    Day 20 Fly to Nelspruit and transfer to MalaMala, Lion Sands, or another lodge in the Sabi Sands for a grand finale.
    Day 21,22 Safari
    Day 23 Fly home!

    The above trip would be in the 400-450 range pp and may be slightly over given the flights to Mfuwe.

    If you are near Philadelphia, I suggest you contact Julian Harrison. He is a friend of mine and a VERY GOOD competitor. He owns Premier Tours and literally writes the Fodors travel book for South Africa (under contract). He is also a top safari expert for the past eight years according to Conde Nast. Also in Philadelphia is Natasha Smith at Swain Tours. I know her too and they are a good company. If you are not going to meet someone face to face then I guess that opens the consideration set!

    Good luck

    Craig Beal

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    one more idea. since you have already been there, and given your budget, i think you should consider dropping south luangwe and go strait from lusaka to lower zambezi. this can be done in an easy 2.5 hour road transfer. the four flights involved in getting from lusaka to mfuwe to south luangwe to mfuwe to lower zambezi/livingstone will cost over $700 pp (approx).

    for botswana - if you went to the camps i mentioned in zimbabwe and added three nights in the chobe after stopping in vic falls you can have the botswana experience (less the delta) with no charter flights. muchenje or chobe game lodge would be excellent lodges that you can reach by road transfer from vic falls.

    craig beal

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    Since you've been to Africa once, and are planning a return, is it a fair bet you'll be back again? If so, I'd make this into 2 trips. In fact, I see Craig omitted Botswana, but did suggest including a Chobe stop along with Vic Falls. Chobe is not as expensive as the other Botswana camps and would keep your budget in check. You'd be in Chobe at the perfect time of year.

    If the camps in Zim and Zam went well, maybe you'd even consider a mobile in the future, which makes Botswana more affordable. They are very nice, not roughing it. Let's hope the Botswana gov't does not can the mobiles in the meantime.

    I see Craig added more than 2 days in Cape Town also. Two days really is not enough time, unless there was just one or two things you wished to see there.

    I put in a link to weather so you can see the high temps where you are headed in Sept. and Oct.
    http://www.africa-adventure.com/best_time_to_go

    If you do proceed with your original plan of Zambia, Botswana, & SA, be sure to have all the transport times included so you are well of how much time you are spending going to and from places vs. being there.



    Good luck!

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    Hi Craig and atravelynn: Just two of those I was hoping would reply! Thank you for your time. I have ordered Julian's book to be released in April. I was basically trying to decide which two areas in Botswana and SA we should go to. I am interested in places that contrast with Zambia and with each other in terms of the landscape and activities. If we have to "splurge" for the 6 or so nights in Botswana, we will do so if it is really as special as those who have been there seem to believe. How does it compare to Zimbabwe? I really enjoyed starting our last trip in Vic Falls as it gave us a few days to relax and recover from the flight. Ideally, a package including reserves in Botswana and SA would be great as we can do the Vic Falls, Zambia, and Capetown part of the trip independently other than the flights. Perhaps if there is a common owner of suitable camps, we could get a "free" night? Although I hope to return to Africa, I'm not sure my friends will such that I am trying to include Capetown. Based upon your comments, I will plan on spending at least 3 days there.
    When do you recommend that I be prepared to book dates for Sept., 2011? Thank you so much!

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    No problem helping you!

    Before Europeans arrived in southern Africa, the ecosystem along the entire Zambezi River basin (and its tributaries) would have been similar to the Chobe/Linyanti/Kwando. Mana Pools and Lower Zambezi are not much different from the Chobe/Linyanti in terms of how animals react to the rainy and dry season. The Matetsi area of Zimbabwe would also be the same effect. (Matetsi and Chobe share a border with some civilization in-between).

    In a very general historical summary, animals would migrate from the open dry land areas to the rivers in the dry season. They would do this as the seasonal water sources caused by rain dryed-up and disappeared starting in March. The peak concentrations of animals on the river systems would occur in July-October. This still happens in the Chobe, Mana Pools, and Lower Zambezi. In the Hwange, the elephants stick around as there are man-made bore holes and water holes to allow them to drink. Also, with hunting in the Matetsi elephants are at risk if the did their historic migration north to the Zambezi River. Therefore, there are over 35,000 elephants in the Hwange year round. The Mana Pools will be similar to the Chobe with massive concentrations along the river in the time of year you will be there. The big advantage of Mana Pools is the remoteness. For example, there are over 800 hotel beds within a ten mile radius of Kasane which causes huge crowds in the Chobe in the peak season.

    The most unique aspect of the Delta is the Okavango Delta! This allows you to do some different water activities. In Mana Pools and lower Zambezi you can get on the river but just no in Makoro canoes. Also, you are on a flowing river and not on an inland Delta. The Delta is magically peaceful. A good cost compromise would be to visit South Luangwe, Mana Pools, Hwange, Vic Falls, then just spend three nights at a water based camp in Botswana in the Delta.

    I am just now looking at the inventory of Wilderness Safari camps in September 2011 on another browser. Chitabe Camp has a lot of bookings and the rest of the camps are less than 10% booked (for the most part). Little Vumbura is about 20% booked with confirmed bookings. Most of the bookings are between the 5th and 15th. This is, in my opinion, the best water camp in Botswana so if you want to go there you may want to book in the next six months. I suggest you book and make deposit by the middle of this summer to be sure and get what you want.

    I did not know Julian had a new edition coming out. I’ll have to see what he has to say!

    There is no need to buy a “packaged” trip. 99% of our clients travel to Southern Africa independently. It really is the way to go. Julian’s company operates just like ours. He contracts directly with the major safari lodge operators and all the independent safari lodge operators (MalaMala, Muchenje, etc). We also all contract directly with the charter companies and the commercial airlines (SAA, BA, Delta, Air Botswana) so the safari is arranged door to door. There is no need to spend extra to go on a group packaged tour and be subjected to the whims of the biggest drinker, loudest dinner talker, and the person that always makes you wait…
    Hope this helps!
    Craig Beal

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    Part of the problem is that every place you mention is special and worth visiting and would give you a nice trip. Logistics can make some combos unreasonable and your budget may prohibit some choices, but there are no duds or poor choices in the mix if you choose reputable places in Zim, Zam, Bots, SA.

    How does Zim compare with Bots?

    Based on 3 and 4 visits, respectively, Zim is less expensive, Mana Pools is unique with its beautiful acaia lined shores and the outstanding walking/canoeing opportunities. Hwange's pans attract huge numbers of eles and offer spectacular sunset viewing, which in my experience differs from viewing elephants at rivers. There seems to be more concentration and better angles at the pans. The sable herds at Hwange were plentiful and lovely. Matoba Hills has a unique rocky setting which offers some of the most exciting rhino tracking on foot I've done, including black rhino. Matusadona (where I have not been) has some interesting rhino activities and water-based lodging, if the lodging is still there.

    In Bots, the whole delta is unique to Botswana, but unique within the unique is Duba Plains where the lions and buffalo interact. What a privilege to see that! Duba is easily incorporated into any Botswana itinerary. And don't forget the Kalahari and neighoring pans in Botswana where meerkats are a highlight and you can learn from San Bushmen.

    All these outstanding places are why so many return several times.

    If you are a flora fan, Sept in South Africa is the peak time for flower viewing, which attracts visitors from around the world.

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    If you are traveling Philadelphia to Johannesburg, and then on to your Botswana camp, seriously consider allowing an extra day in Johannesburg to allow for a missed leg. When we did the trip, our flight from the US to London was delayed enough to miss the London-Jo'burg leg, and that put us 24 hours delayed and we ended up having to privately charter a plane to our Botswana destination(about $900 extra dollars)and pay for a hotel in London (about $300 extra dollars). Please check flights/connection times very carefully when booking your way into Africa. I wouldn't want anyone else to have the troubles we did getting our safari under way.

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