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Planning trip to South Africa

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Hi Everyone - I really need some advice here, I'm in the early early phases of planning my first ever African safari. It will be me (female early 40's) and my daughter (10 almost 11) at time of trip. I plan on doing Botswana, VF and Cape town in May 2016. Here is my dilemma. I am seeing booking prices all over the map. I have read 100's of reviews - apparently Goliath is one of the top there are... period. We will be flying from US and I've seen the prices will run around 3K for flights. Now here is my big dilemma:

Should I book with a travel agent/ tour operator? Or should I book direct with say a hotel through expedia in Capetown, get additional travel to VF and stay at the hotel there then travel on to mana pools? , then book to Maun and arrange for transfer (land) to one of the lodges in botswana?

Which will be cheaper? I don't have 40K to spend on this trip and my hope is that we will be able to do this again. We're going for 20 days total trip time - any advice, even from tour operators is welcome as I need some more clear insight into what I'm doing here LOL!

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    What a great gift for you both. You'll love it.

    You have chosen the most expensive safari destination. Botswana is great, but also VERY expensive. It's the only place I would suggest a scheduled safari to save money and still have a great experience. Check out and click on African Safaris and Botswana. There are some good values - just double check about kids being allowed. Mana Pools is in Zimbabwe - not sure about land transfers these days. Zim's economy is a mess. Many Botwana itineraries use Kasane instead of Maun when including VF.

    I'm not a big fan of VF - it's an expensive place that takes a lot of time, money and effort to get to for not a lot of reward. Check what the water levels have been in May. If too high, the water spray blocks the view, too low and it's pretty dull.

    I would use a travel agent for peace of mind. Wild Wings and Sun Safaris are local and can arrange any trip in any price range. They both get great reviews.

    For a much more affordable, but still great experience with many different ecosystems, I would suggest an entirely different trip. Go on a mobile safari in Botswana when your daughter is older.

    Cape Town for the number of nights you wish
    Fly to Kruger and stay in one or two of the myriad of lodges in all price ranges for 3 nights minimum each
    Get a road transfer to The Outpost in northern Kruger for two nights minimum
    Get a road transfer to Mashatu in SE Botswana for four nights
    Fly or road transfer to JNB and return home

    It's really a fantastic safari that I would love to do again. Botswana is really pricing itself out of most people's range. We were there ten years ago and prices have doubled - and it was very expensive then! I'd hate to see you stress your budget or only visit Chobe when there are lots of other great options. Others hopefully will chime in with Zim and Zam options that might work, too if you really have your heart set on VF.

    Have fun planning.

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    Hi Poety!

    Victoria Falls is a great add-on if you are planning on Botswana and/or you are really adventure-oriented and want to take advantage of the local adrenalin fun. There's white water rafting, bridge sailing, bungee jumping and more! I think The Elephant Camp is a great camp. Beautiful, highly rated, child-friendly and a great base to explore the area from. They have Meet the Elephants, their resident elephants available for guests to socialize with. There are some other lodges in Zimbabwe and Zambia that could serve as a base to explore the Falls and do some activities but will also give you some game-viewing as well. The Falls are beautiful but your dollars may be best spent elsewhere if you aren't keen on the activities.

    As for Botswana, once June 1 rolls around, prices go up so if you are planning on traveling there, then completing your stay by the end of May is ideal. It is still very pricey though as Christabir points out. Something else to bear in mind is that many camps are not as child-friendly as others and, for children under 12, you may have to book private activities such as a private jeep for the duration of your stay for your game drives. This will definitely add to the cost of traveling there!

    Having said that, there are some very child-friendly camps such as those in the AndBeyond collection. Sandibe is stunning - they just completed a major renovation of the entire camp last fall. It is architecturally designed after the elusive pangolin. Another lovely camp of theirs is Xudum which has a homey and warm feel. Those are just two to point out. AndBeyond offers discounting for long stays and that's great to take advantage of.

    There are actually lots of lodge portfolios to consider but you have to work through the details of what each one offers, pricing, children's policy, and if the camp(s) you are interested in are classified as Dry, Land, and/or Mixed. This way if you stay at 2 camps, you can experience the variety of environments there. You will find as you look at different lodges, that some allow you to book direct while others require you to go through a travel operator/safari consultant.

    As Christabir points out, you could consider a South African trip as an alternative. Currently, you could take advantage of the historically low conversion rate and stretch your dollars with a really incredible trip there.

    A route to consider would be to start in JNB and fly to Cape Town (4-5 nights - there are so many fun things to do there with your daughter!), then head to the reserves where you can split your time 3 nights at one lodge/camp and then transfer to another one for 3 more nights. When you split your time between 2 lodges, you get to experience another style of lodging (ever slept in a luxurious appointed tent?) as well as a new lodge more generally speaking. You could consider some other add-ons to the trip and perhaps adjust the route. One such example would be if you still wanted to go to Victoria Falls (maybe even do a day trip to Chobe as well) but you'd want to do this first then go onward to Cape Town.

    My recommendation would be to work through your first idea of Botswana, crunch some numbers and then make a decision. If it works, go for it! If the planning process is something that you feel would be best to put in the hands of an expert that can guide you and make customized recommendations, then you should contact one who can make the planning fun and less stressful.

    The bush is an incredible place and to see it through the eyes of your child makes it all the more amazing! No matter what you decide as to where you will go, it will be a trip filled with unforgettable memories - that's for sure!

    Africa Direct USA

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    I got really cheap tickets last December for a September trip. I booked the flights for 30 days stay.

    Once I started looking at prices for lodges, air travel between countries and all the costs, I realized that a month would be far too expensive.

    I ended up making the stay only 3 weeks (flying to France for the
    Sat week) and even then had to book a few nights on Jo'burg (which we had wNted to do, regardless) and 9 nights in Capetown to fill the nights without going broke.

    We will be in Sabi Sands for 4 nights, VF for 2 nights and Chobe for 2 nights.

    You might reconsider 20 lessen budget issues and still get to see some/all of what you want.

    One last note, I booked 7 months in advance and found limited availability, so book early for best options.

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    Hi Poety!

    Forgot to mention something else...

    There are many routes to take you to Jo'burg. You can fly direct to JNB out of ATL or JFK but another option would be to do a long lay-over in either London or Paris. Sometimes people prefer to break up the trip because they don't like long haul flights or because they want to make it easier on the kids. During your lay-over, you can have a full day private tour of the sights. They pick you up at the airport, take you around to see the sights and then bring you back to the airport for your overnight flight direct to JNB. A great way to see a city, break up the trip, and then go back to sleep on the plane.

    Just a suggestion to throw out there!

    Africa Direct USA

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