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SA Travel Vets - Anyone mind critiquing my itinerary?

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Hello all!

My husband and I are planning a trip to South Africa for late March/early April 2016. We are young professionals and thus have a moderate budget but very short on time (8 days in, 11 days total). For our accommodations, we usually stay in B&Bs and boutique hotels (not luxury, just clean, comfortable, centrally located). Currently focusing on Sabi Sands and Cape Town - I know there is so much more to SA than these two areas, but with 8 days, I don't want to over-do it.

This will be our first time in Africa and I'm not currently planning on using a tour operator, so a critical eye would be much appreciated!

Day One: Travel: outgoing pm flight from ATL to JHB
Day Two: Travel: arrive in JHB at 5:00 local time; overnight at B&B or small hotel (possibly Ginnegaap or Blue Mango Lodge?)
Day Three: Travel OR Tambo to Skukuza via the morning Airlink flight;
land transfer from Skukuza to Sabi Sands lodge (currently deciding between Notten's, Kirkman's, and Lion Sands River Lodge - thoughts?)
Day Four: Sabi Sands
Day Five: Sabi Sands
Day Six: Depart Sabi Sands; land transfer to Skukuza and travel via 13:30 flight to CPT; arrive around 18:00, pick up rental car; exploring Cape Town
Day Seven: Cape Town: 1/2 day trip: Winelands/Franschoek Wine Tram OR Robben's Island
Day Eight: Cape Town: AM - Kirstenboesch Botanical Gardens + Table Mountain (likely we would just take the cable car up and back, though we have discussed hiking one way, weather permitting)
PM - Bo-Kaap exploring (shops and salon, Bo-Kaap Museum, dinner in Bo-Kaap)
Day Nine: Cape Town: day trip: drive to the Cape of Good Hope, Boulder's Beach; leisurely exploring
Day Ten: Cape Town: flea market, waterfront area; visit any misc. shops; late check out, drop off rental car, and late evening flight out from CPT
Day Eleven: Travel, ctd. to our final destination

I know many folks prefer to end with safari.. however, we usually buy books as our souvenirs which I imagine will significantly weigh down our bags for the AirLInk flights.

Feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, experiences, recommendations! Thanks in advance!

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    Hi Lemiller,

    I have been to all the places you mentioned and done all these experiences. It sounds like you have a pretty solid plan.

    Comments: The number of days on safari is, in my opinion, low for a first-timer. I find most people wish they had at least 6 nights on safari for their first trip (spread between at least 2 safari lodges far apart). You are only planning on 3 and this may leave you wanting more animals! If you went with Lion Sands you may consider adding three more days at their Madikwe properties or Marataba. If you go with Kirkmans you may consider adding three more days at Phinda or Ngala. Both these decisions would lower your per diem for the entire six day safari. You should also consider Lion Sands Narina (10 minutes from Skukuza). This is a great property for milestone trips like yours.

    Alas, I do understand your time constraints so perhaps at least consider spending four nights on safari. With Kirkmans Kamp this would put you in the 15% discount rate category (retroactive to day one) so the fourth night would effectively be 60% off.

    If you do end up staying at a MORE property (Lion Sands River/Narina) then you should definitely take advantage of the SeeMORE special where you get two nights free at their boutique hotels in Cape Town for a three night stay at their safari lodges. They own More Quarters and Cape Cadogan. Both are boutique in the real sense of the word.

    I see you are from Atlanta. I am a ’96 GA Tech grad (MS Nuclear Engineering). You should consider timing your departure so that you fly KLM from Cape Town to AMS and connect from AMS to ATL on Delta. This will be cheaper and more convenient than flying to Jo’burg to catch the Delta flight.

    I can’t go into specifics on the open forum but at some of the places you mentioned you will be paying more if you book direct. I know this may not make sense.

    Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond

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    Although 8 nights is short, you will love your stay. Our shortest was 11 nights and it was great.

    I would split it 4/4. Cape Town is great, but safari is better. Have you considered Mala Mala? The game viewing might be the best in the area, and it's in your price range (I think). There are scheduled charters - get in touch with Angela at MM and she can help you. Kirkmans would be my top choice of your options - it's luxurious, but not over the top and excellent area for game viewing. Definitely ask &Beyond if they have specials or flight inclusions or extra nights in CT. I didn't check the website, but those deals are pretty common. You could also contact Wild Wings or Sun Safaris if you want to use a local agent. I would not try to go to more than one lodge in your short stay. Keep it simple. You'll be back!

    I honestly don't think a few books will prevent you from flying. I would do safari last and just deal with the heavy bag (how many books?!?!). They aren't very strict when going to Sabi Sand. Take fewer clothes - they do your laundry at all of those camps so you don't need much. You can also check a bag at JNB. It's cheap and safe. I have also ordered books through Netbooks.co.za.

    I would fly to CT, do everything you are planning for four nights. Don't miss Robben Island. It was a highlight for us - and we went late in the day so our return was during sunset over Cape Town. Stunning. Then fly to Mala Mala or Kirkmans for four nights. Then fly home through JNB. I would stay at the Southern Sun, Sun Intercontinental or City Lodge near JNB, if needed. All very convenient to the airport - the Intercontinental is most expensive but right across the street.

    Have fun - you have really done your homework. I like your simple, yet excellent, plan.

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    @Safari_Craig

    Hi! Thanks for your input! We, too, would love to go on safari for 6 nights. However, with only eight days in the country, I want to make sure that we're not spreading ourselves too thin. Adding an extra day of safari is do-able, but any more than that might be pushing it. Over the course of trip planning, I have an alternate travel itinerary that allows us to focus the eastern portion of the country, ala Phinda and iSimangaliso, at a later date.

    I'll definitely be looking into the special offers you recommended, along with flying CPT to AMS via KLM! That could be really great for us.

    I do understand that some of my quoted rates could be cheaper if we work through a tour operator. That said, I haven't been thoroughly impressed with any of the proposals I've received. I think for us, using a tour operator may make more sense for us on another trip - perhaps for a trip of greater length, greater detail, or to a country that isn't as readily accessible as South Africa. Just my two cents...

    @christabir
    Thanks for the rec! If we can snag the availability, adding an extra day in a lodge could be great! And I loved Mala Mala's reviews and everything looked fabulous. Originally, I'd been planning our trip for May (rather than March). So by the time I checked on March availability, MM was already booked solid.

    As for the books... my husband collects, so we usually buy quite a few volumes :) Granted, I haven't tried loading and weighing my go-to bag - it may be lighter than I expect. Definitely not planning on packing a lot. In fact, I was planning on packing what I need in a carry on.

    Also, what's your opinion on bag security at the Joburg airport? If we do CPT first, we would be flying out of OR Tambo with our gear and souvenirs... Would I be safe with basic TSA locks or should we plan to have the bags shrink wrapped? (Of course, if I keep my packing limited to a carry-on and personal item, this is moot concern.) Thanks for your feedback!!

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    Geez - I've planned safaris in March for May and gotten availability. I can't believe they are sold out for next March already! Keep trying - there will be cancellations. You might have better luck using an agent - I used Classic Africa (www.classicafrica.com) for a U.S. based agent. They did my first, very expensive safari and my second much less expensive safari. They will arrange anything you want, in lodges/hotels you prefer, and will make it stress free. Our two were flawless, with flights, transfers, drivers, tours in CT. They are based in Connecticut and we did everything by email. I'm gobsmacked that MM is full. I arranged a MM- Mashatu trip in April 2013 for June 2013 and they were able to accommodate two couples, including charters. (We didn't take that trip, such a bummer). I'm really surprised.

    I think the JNB worries are overblown. Maybe we are the only ones, but we have flown/driven/gotten lost all over SA and have not been victims of any crime at all. (Once we put ourselves in a situation we should not have put ourselves into and were a little frightened, but it turned out fine). Just use common sense and don't check electronics or jewelry or anything you think is valuable. They don't want your clothes. We don't check our bags, carry-on only. We have lost bags all over the world and it's so inconvenient so we just take less. Our last trip we did the reverse of you - we used our bag check limit to bring books for a local school in KZN. We have left bags at JNB before our safari leg and it was very convenient - and it was safe (it was our first trip before we learned to pack less).

    To make packing easier, we each use a carry-on approved duffel bag, one of us packs a small wheeled luggage carrier (we have the Brookstone one) so we can wheel our bags around and my husband packs his camera gear in his personal bag and I pack a Sierra Club backpack as my personal item. Generally, we have extra space because we hand wash or have our laundry done every three days and take the least amount of toiletries possible. We also leave clothes, useful items we no longer need for the staff at our last lodge/camp. Bug spray is provided by the lodge, no need to bring. No makeup needed on safari, no hair drier, no fancy jewelry. Luggage carts are free to use in JNB and CT airports.

    One note on flights - the direct Delta flight ATL-JNB is hellish, but very convenient. No long layover and you just get to where you are going. Yes, it was awful being on a flight for so long, but it's to my favorite place, so it's fine. The layovers in Europe are long and with your short time, a total waste.

    Have fun. You'll go back - 8 nights is just enough to make you want to do more! You'll be planning your return before you land at your home airport.

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    @christabir, I was surprised, too. I imagine there may be actual availability but that suites have been earmarked by travel agencies. We've decided to book with Kirkman's and I think that will suit us just fine. I will make note of Classic Africa for our next trip over.

    Glad to know that JHB isn't as bad as others may suggest. With only 8 days in, I think we can easily pack only carry on and go from there. We can revisit if we have an opportunity to take a trip for 2+ weeks in the future.
    Sounds like we do something similar! I use the camera bag as my personal item and my husband takes his backpack. I'm not a big jewelry/makeup/hair appliance kind of gal, so it seems that will work in our favor!

    Thanks so much for all your input! It's much appreciated!

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    You'll love Kirkmans. I've not been, but other andBeyond lodges don't do "communal dining". My husband and I find dinner with fellow safari-goers one of the best parts of our trips, so if given the opportunity to dine with others, I would. If you have a "special event" like a big birthday or anniversary, let them know and they might arrange something special for you. Don't forget to tip - I do $20 equivalent in Rand cash per person per night to ranger, $10 pppn to tracker if you have one or other game drive service person, and $10 pppn to the staff at the high end lodges. More or less by service. I bring thank you notes from home. I get cash at the airport at the atm (notify your bank twice!) and use a bank/credit union that doesn't charge fees overseas. You get the best exchange rates by atm and credit card (notify cc company twice!) If you want to do a game walk instead of a drive, notify them ahead of time. They need to arrange for a ranger that has the certification. It can be disappointing if you want to do one and can't.

    Another way to keep packing to a minimum is to make sure everything goes with everything. I use grey and "safari approved" green as my colors (I'm not a beige type). Since you are doing safari first (unless that changed!) you can have all of your laundry done on the last day so everything is clean for CT. They don't wash smalls - undies and bras - so I wash them in the sink and hang them outside (discretely) during the day and move them into the bathroom if they don't dry. But since Skukuza is Kirkmans airstrip, you don't really need to worry about checking a bag - their weight limits are higher than the charters. One book I wish we had bought was about Jock the dog in Kruger. I have been unable to get any here. We had the opportunity to read some South African fables on our last trip. Some are pretty good - and so different from ours.

    Have fun. Glad it all worked out for you. Nice to hear you are already thinking about going back. We decided not long ago that we would like to retire to SA since we are always planning to go back!

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