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Last Minute Help Kruger /Vic Falls / Capetown

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Hello everyone,

I need some help. My wife and I piggyback last week on a good airline deal to Africa. We always planned to go this year but we couldn't figure out a good time.

Either way, we are going for 11 days in Late Aug/early Sep, which looks like is not enough but we'll have to hustle through it.

Our plan is to arrive in J'Burg and spend:
J'Burg (1 night)
V.Falls (2 nights)
Kruger (4 nights)
Capetown (5 nights)

my biggest question is regarding the J'Burg / Kruger area I have seen some people say is easier to just go with some tours others to drive (is it safe?). And then what are recommendations for lodges to stay since we are booking late I'm obviously scared we may get scraps. We have a medium size budget.
If you have any other advice, we will appreciate it.

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    Here is the map of the Kruger area lodges. Senalala and Shindzela (both recommended) are missing.

    http://skukuzaairport.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Greater-Kruger-Map.pdf

    Check for availability at any that interest you. I don't recommend Thornybush lodges as they are fenced from Kruger. Klaserie, Timbavati and Sabi Sand lodges will all be good. This year is very busy and availability is very tight so if it's scraps you get, scraps it will be. But it will exceed your expectations. Medium budget is too vague to give recommendations, so Google lodges and see if anything interests you. If nDzuti, nThambo, Arathusa, Shindzela or Senalala have availability, I would book any of them. They are all more affordable than most.

    If you prefer to self drive, which I love combined with private reserves, check SanParks.org for availability. The accommodations are surprisingly nice. Book in a main rest camp if you prefer restaurants to cooking on your own.

    The drive from Joberg to Kruger is easy enough - it takes about 6-7 hours on good roads. Don't drive at night because roads aren't lit and rural areas can be difficult with wildlife and livestock on the roads. If you fly, fly to the nearest airport to the lodge you book. Rent a car or get a road transfer to the lodge.

    That is a tough time to visit VF - and it's in a terrible drought this year so water flow will be very low. In normal years it's low in September, this year will be barely a trickle. It's expensive and time consuming to get there, including visas required for both Zimbabwe and Zambia - maybe add time elsewhere instead. If you do go, see the falls from the Zim side or all you will see is rock walls. I would stay in Chobe and do day trips to VF for a better value.

    Since safari is the highlight of any S Africa visit, I prefer it last.

    No matter what you do you will love it. Have fun planning.

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    First of all, you are going to be totally fine and you will be able to find a suitable safari plan. My first suggestion is to put Cape Town in the middle of the trip as it will avoid a possible forced overnight in Jo’burg mid-trip. There is a flight several times per week from the Zambia side of Victoria Falls (LVI) to the Kruger area (Nelspruit/MQP) but this flight introduces a few challenges. The flight also operates Kruger to Vic Falls on the same days (same plane flies there and back). Here are some of the challenges:

    1. There is a slim chance it is sold out. Since you are already locked-in to commercial flights the odds of this are higher.
    2. The flight lands in the mid-afternoon and you miss your afternoon game drive at your safari lodge on the day of arrival because of the late arrival time.
    3. The flight leaves from the Livingstone, Zambia side of the Falls which may be bone-dry (no water flowing) the later you go in August. You should be considering the Zimbabwe side if you want to see water flowing. August is late in Southern Africa’s dry season. It will not have rained in the Zambezi catchment since March.
    4. If your lodge is in the mid to northern Kruger area like the Manyaleti, Ngala, or Timbavati reserves, you will need to charter a private plane to get to the lodges before dark from the MQP airport.

    With that said, as long as you overnight in Jo’burg on arrival (unless your flight arrives before 830am) you can go to Kruger or Vic Falls the next day. After that, you can fly from Kruger or Vic Falls to Cape Town and after Cape Town fly to Vic Falls or Kruger for the last part of the trip. Ideally, I would end on safari but that is a personal taste developed for a trip of this duration over my 38 lifetime trips to Africa and planning safaris full time for the past 11 years.

    There are non-stop flights in each direction once per day between Cape Town and three major commercial airports servicing the Kruger ecosystem (MQP, SZK, and HDS). The choice of safari lodge will determine which airport you use.

    I have no idea what a medium size budget means to you. I don’t plan safaris that cost less than roughly $400 per person per night unless specials like stay4pay3 reduce this per diem number. Below this price point the safari experience simply becomes too unreliable for most people I deal with's taste. By that, I mean no conversation with a client pre-trip can prepare them for the experience below that price. When you go below that per diem something will be wrong, in their mind, with the food, guiding, room, vehicle quality etc.

    Kruger area lodges like Singita Ebony and Royal Malewane cost almost $2,000 per person per night. So, the range in my World is $400-$2,000 pppn. This does not include transport between the lodge and the nearest airport. Assuming you are looking at the $400-$1,000 "medium" range then you can consider MalaMala Main/Sable/Rattrays, Lion Sands River/Narina/Tinga, Tintswalo, Savanah, Leopard Hills and more. At the lowest end of the price spectrum consider Kambaku, Shindzela, Tanda Tula, Kirkman’s Kamp or Honeyguide. The lowest price ones are under $500 per person per night.

    In Vic Falls I like Elephant Camp and Victoria Falls River Lodge on the Zimbabwe side for safari lodge style accommodations. For hotels, Victoria Falls Hotel and Ilala are fine. VF River is $550 per person per night and the most expensive of the four but it is all-inclusive and in a national park with no crowds.

    For the Cape Town portion, be sure to spend a day in the Hermanus area to see Southern Right Whales. They will be up from Antarctica calving and spending the winter away from the frigid arctic.

    You asked for other suggestions. Since you just joined today, I can’t tell where you are from. If you let me know where you live and you are American or Canadian, I may be able to suggest a great safari specialist agent you can meet face to face to get the plans in motion. If you are in contact with a good agent tomorrow you should be able to have a solid plan (or two) on hold by Friday for your consideration. I know at least 50+ agents in Canada/US that know Africa well and contract with all the upscale safari lodges ($400+) in Southern Africa. I would be happy to recommend one to you.

    Please don’t go on a tour. You will waste a lot of money even if you can find a suitable one. The industry is designed to be most cost effective for the individual couple to go to a safari lodge on their own. That is what the website rates of the lodges I mentioned above assume. All the lodges are easily accessed from Cape Town or Jo’burg with commercial flights or scheduled small planes from nearby airports.

    Although I have driven from Jo’burg to the Kruger many times in my life, it is easy and just as cheap for two people to fly. I have always felt safe in South Africa but I practice common sense safety (like not driving at night). South Africa has a high crime rate especially in major cities comparable to several major US cities.

    Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond

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    thank you so much for your responses it really helped us out a lot

    I am doing additional research based on the info that you have provided.

    unfortunately, we cant leave the safari for last because our flight back to the US is out of Capetown so we will have to do it in between.

    I live in the Dallas area so if you have some reccomendation for an agent I will consider it as I have been doing research I keep coming up with questions.

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    We just got back from a terrific time in SA. There were 4 of us, so we spent our first night near the airport in J'berg, and drove to Kruger the next morning. I wish we'd just flown - and we probably would have had it only been the 2 of us. But it wasn't a difficult drive. Just long-ish.

    I used Wild-wings-safaris.com to plan our trip, and by taking advantages of pay 3, stay 4, we got a wonderful trip with amazing animal viewing in both Kruger and Hluhluwe/iMfolozi, plus a lot more. However with your schedule, I would still highly recommend you try to reserve space at Rhino Post in Kruger's Sabi Sands region. We stayed 3 nights and it was exactly the kind of safari experience we enjoy the most. Comfortable tent-like lodging, nice lounge and dining areas and viewing deck, and a surprise: fantastic chef with wonderful meals at a huge table with other guests, and camp staff. We even got a lovely brai out in the bush one night around a camp fire with torches all around. Totally cool. And the wildlife viewing was OUTSTANDING.

    I agree that you may want to skip Vic Falls as water levels will be very low. You might want to spend those 2 extra nights at Rhino Post's sister lodge, Rhino Plains. There you will do walking safaris, and have an opportunity to sleep out under the stars one night on an elevated deck. I know that combo is what I am recommending my daughter and her fiance consider for their honeymoon :-)

    Then fly to Cape Town for another fantastic experience in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You might want to schedule a wine tour, spending one of your nights in Franschoek.

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    I second the recommendation of Wild Wings. They have arranged many happy clients' safaris and will work in any budget, not just $400 pppn or more. Since they have local offices in S Africa they have relationships with more of the lodges, not just the mass marketed ones. Just remember if you fly, you need to arrange transportation to the lodge you choose or rent a car. When you choose the lodge, arrange a flight to the nearest airport - Hoedspruit, Nelspruit (sometimes referred to as KMIA) or Skukuza. Phalaborwa, too, but much less likely. If you rent a car, you can stay in a private lodge and then add a few nights self driving in Kruger NP. Yup, they let us drive around with lions and elephants! So fun.

    We try to visit at least one excellent site. Highly recommended are the Cradle of Humankind and the caves, Apartheid Museum and the Hop On Hop Off bus. Stay at the Maropeng Hotel for the CoH for convenience and good specials. You'll need a car for the day as the museum and caves are not adjacent and no transportation between them. The Apartheid Museum is very well done. Take note the Mandela section is closed but we didn't miss it as there are many heroes who deserve recognition. The HOHO bus is good because you can get off any time you see something interesting. It's a nice overview. If you or your wife are into horses and you are in town on Sunday morning, don't miss the Lippizaner show. It's very good - my favorite of the three recognized breeding/training facilities worldwide.

    Since you are flying out of Cape Town, don't miss the penguins! Not a lot of places to see African penguins and areas near CT are lucky enough to have them. Ostriches, too! Robben Island has some penguins, too if you get lucky enough to see them. Try to see some whales, dolphins and sharks off the coast. You might be there during the wildflower bloom. If so, don't miss it! Even if flowers are not your thing, it is absolutely mind blowingly gorgeous. A day trip or overnight can be arranged.

    Rhino Post is on public land in Kruger NP, not the Sabi Sand region. Sabi Sand is private property and has very different land use regulations.

    Have fun!!

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    You're right - Rhino Post "only" shares a long un-fenced border with the Sabi Sands reserve camps (Mala Mala and Londolozi ) but the animals have free traverse between the private properties and Kruger Nat'l Park. As a private lodge within Kruger, you get longer night drives on the park roads when others are not allowed to be driving around, and the concession itself is tucked in an area that is accessable for guests only.

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    Some (possibly disconnected) thoughts, just for your consideration.

    Skip Victoria Falls. Low water levels, not cheap, and IMO the time could be used better elsewhere.

    Drive from Joburg to Pilgrim's Rest (or my fave) Graskop before moving on to a lodge or camp in one of the reserves or in KNP proper. This way you can visit the Panoramic Route around the Blyde canyon - see the Three Rondavels, God's Window, and the other dramatic landscapes. And if you find a lodge in the Sabi Sand reserve, Graskop is close enough that you can drive there in the morning and be there in plenty of time for the evening game drive, thus making the most of your investment.

    I'd then use one of the "saved" VF days to drive up the west coast a couple of hours from Cape Town. In early September if you're in luck, the wildflowers around West Coast National Park - an hour to 90 min. north of Cape Town - will be stunning, e.g. http://gardyloo.us/aug24b%20044s.JPG and http://gardyloo.us/aug24b%20066s.JPG . Spend a night in Paternoster, a very picturesque village on the coast.

    It's my fave time of the year to visit SA.

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    Hi prattsthepooh!

    If you would let us know your dates of travel, it would enable posters to offer suggestions to streamline the logistics of your trip as much as possible. For example, as has been mentioned, there are limited flights out of Livingstone to Kruger (only certain days of the week) so knowing your days would be of help.

    If you aren't able to go to Kruger via LIV and instead have to fly out of VFA, you will be forced to stay a night in JNB airport before catching the flight out the next day to the reserves. If that's the case, then I would suggest you take a day out of Cape Town and reduce your stay from 5 nights to 4 nights. I think 4 nights is still fine. Since it is at the end of your trip, you will not be jet lagged and since you already seem comfortable with an aggressive plan to "hustle" through, then I think it's a fine adjustment to the itinerary. Your other alternative would be to reduce the safari stay from 4 nights to 3 and I would NOT suggest that at all. That would be such a shame.

    If you are dead-set on seeing the Falls, then I'd keep it in the plan but if you are hedging a little, then perhaps removing the Falls might be something to consider. You could apply those 2 nights to either your safari stay or to Cape Town or split between the 2...

    If you were to remove Vic Falls, you might want to consider the drive from JNB to the Greater Kruger area with an overnight stay. The drive is about 6-7 hours and can be done on your own or arranged as a guided tour. Blyde River Canyon, Three Rondavels, Gods Window etc are all beautiful sites and there are some lovely guest houses for your overnight stay that clients have enjoyed. The next morning, you finish the drive and are at the lodge for game drive. Just another thought to put out there...

    If you clarify your budget, we can offer you ideas on lodges etc that would work with your itinerary.

    Happy to help!
    Dianne
    Africa Direct USA

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    Hi Prattsthepooh,

    Sorry for the slow reply. I have company in town for my youngest kids HS graduation today!

    I actually don't know any great safari specialist agent in Dallas. I do know Bert DePlessis in Houston. He owns Fish Eagle safaris and is a competitor and friend. He was born and raised in South Africa. I recommend giving him a call and perhaps 1 or 2 others to see who gives you the best service/initial consultation. You will then have a gut feel of who is best for you to work with.

    I disagree with Chritabir's advice on agents as I think it is best to work with a specialist for the type of trip you are looking for. If you want an upscale trip then I would not try and work with a one-size-fits-all safari agent. She also insinuates the specter of a you being directed to mass market lodges but never defines what she means or gives any examples. I am sure you will have enough sense to know if someone is trying to sell you a bill of goods. Being located in South Africa does not help an agent know lodges any better. If the agent is a full time seller of safaris they need to spend significant time at a desk working and aren't always out in the field.


    Good luck!

    Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

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    hi everyone,

    thanks for the replies we really appreciate it. i had family emergency over the weekend so couldnt do any planning. we will finish our planning next week and let you know in case you have any feedback. Looks though like we will take out VF and add time in JNB & Kruger depending on the availability.

    thanks again!

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