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Researching 1st Africa trip

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I'm researching my first trip to Africa. This will be my #1 dream trip coming true. I want to travel sometime during June - Sept of 2006. I'm undecided about where to go - Eastern or Southern Africa. I've completed reading a book about Eastern Africa and about to start a book on Southern Africa. I'm trying to determine how I should book this trip. Do I use a travel agent or book directly though a safari outfitter? If I use an outfitter, how do I choose a reputable one? There are so many available on the Internet. I'd like to spend 2 - 3 weeks over there and include a couple of days of horseback riding amongst the wildlife. My budget is $4000 - $6000. I may be traveling by myself and I wonder if this is a safe thing to do. I’m open to staying in lodges, permanent tents or mobile tents. My main goal of this trip is to see wildlife and it would be a great thrill to be able to ride horse amongst giraffe and other wildlife.

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