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South Africa in June

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My family and I are thinking about going to South Africa for my graduation trip in June for around 2 weeks. We have a budget of around 25,000 USD and have no idea where to start. I know this is a late time to start planning the trip, but we had to wait a while to see when my dad would get time off from work. Can anyone recommend any good safari experiences in South Africa? We would be looking for luxurious tent accommodations. Someone also recommended looking into a travel specialist, so recommendations regarding that are also helpful:)

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    For the benefit of others viewing, I've taken the liberty to link your other two threads here, as each contains information that might help posters not repeat themselves or prevent stepping all over each other. ;)

    http://www.fodors.com/community/travel-tips-trip-ideas/grad-trip-african-safari-vs-europe.cfm
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/grad-trip-african-safari-vs-europe-634797-2.cfm

    $25K is a lot of money, especially if you can get passes or reduced flight costs. However, it would be useful to know how many people are traveling; if you have six people in your party the budget will be different than if just three of you are traveling.

    I wanted to comment on a couple of things you said on the other threads. First,

    Also, because I know this is always asked on this forum, I am strongly interested in history, which would make Europe the obvious choice.

    I would strongly urge you to study up on South Africa's history, which is remarkable, and like history all over the world, is a source of shame, pride and wonder. Cape Town in particular is a very old city, and still shows strong evidence of its multicultural heritage, from the terrific Bo-Kapp district and wonderful Cape Malay population, to its British colonial heritage, and, of course, the incredible story of the city's role in the fight against apartheid and the emergence of majority rule in South Africa.

    As for the actual visit, I'd keep my options open on tent v. other types of lodgings. You might also look at getting a car in Johannesburg and using it to drive to one of the game reserves near Kruger Park (or alternatively west to Madikwe on the Botswana border) as this would give you the opportunity to see more of a cross-section of the country than staying in a bubble of flights and transfers to game lodges.

    For example, if you chose a reserve like Sabi Sand on the southern edge of Kruger NP, you could drive in an easy day to a village on the Panorama Route, an incredibly scenic mountains-and-canyons area just to the west of the park. See some iconic sites like God's Window or the Three Rondavels or the Blyde Canyon, before driving a couple of hours to the lodge of your choice.

    Or consider a few days' drive from Port Elizabeth on the Indian Ocean coast through Addo Elephant National Park, then down the Garden Route to Cape Town, perhaps with whale watching or other activities on the way.

    The point being, SA is a terrific country for self-guided touring; there's something breathtaking around every bend in the road.

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    Hi!

    Thank you for the wonderfully detailed response. We are a party of four. My brother and I are both under 18, which seems to provide discounts at a couple of resorts. I know a little bit about the history of South Africa, and am interested in it, but I've always been interested in Versailles and ancient Rome, hence the desire to go to those places. But right now I'm figuring I can probably get to them fairly easily on a study abroad program; South Africa, not so much.

    So, just to clarify, would you recommend against a travel specialist and instead recommend that we rent a car and drive to the private game reserves ourselves? I looked into going on a Micato trip, but it is slightly too expensive for our budget. We're probably looking to do one step down from that. I've researched Sanctuary Lodges and the Sabi Sands Lodges--both seem to be around where we fall, budget-wise. I also researched African Odyssey, go2Africa, and Wilderness Africa, among others.

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    As I said in both threads linked above:

    time is of the essence now. You are very late to the game. Things book up far in advance.

    We stayed at Arathusa in Sabi Sands and it was wonderful. We also did flights to other places. I did the trip over 6 months out but still had a hard time coordinating which lodges has availability on which days, flights which aren't always daily, and other logistics.

    As far using a specialist, I recommend Darren Humphrys. He was very helpful and knowledgeable:

    http://compassodyssey.net

    At this point in time, I wouldn't try doing this on your own.

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    I've been to Cape Town several times and don't think I have ever booked anything very much in advance, even at Christmas. I'm not a big planner or advance booker and June is not exactly peak time to go. You might find certain restaurants booked up and maybe your first choice of accommodation but I doubt it will be all booked up.

    I can't see why you can't do some of this on your own without a travel specialist, you don't need one to see Cape Town, renting a car and driving along some of the scenic routes is very easy and leave the more complex things eg safari/tents etc to the travel specialists.

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    Whether you go through a planner or agent (I've always done my own booking) you're going to need to be flexible on dates when it comes to safari nights. It is indeed quite late to be starting, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're out of luck, only that you need to get on the stick.

    Most safari lodges don't list their inventory online; they require either an exchange of emails or phone contact. This is obviously quite time consuming if it ends up they're sold out for your days; you feel like you're chasing your tail after a while.

    Instead, I'd look at some candidate lodges and use Skype or some other VOIP method to phone them (Skype runs around 5c - 8c per minute depending on whether it's a land line or a mobile phone you're calling.) Remember that SA time is 9 hours ahead of Pacific time, 6 hours ahead of Eastern time.

    Build your itinerary around availability in the lodges; you won't have any problems with accommodation anywhere else in the country.

    Prices for safari lodges are usually per person per night, with the budget range ones I looked at - Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand reserve, Pondoro in the Balule reserve, and Buffalo Ridge in Madikwe - all running around ZAR 3000 - 4500 per person per night, or around US$220 - $350. Considering that includes very luxurious accommodations, two game drives daily and a bush walk, and all meals, this is actually terrific value. Some lodges might have family units where the price might be lower on a per person basis.

    (We've stayed at all of the above, more than once in one case - Buffalo Ridge. Although Madikwe isn't as famous as the Sabi Sand area, the wildlife viewing is fabulous - "big five" of course, but also wild dogs, not common in the Kruger complex. And Buffalo Creek is owned by the local villagers, which in my book is a real plus. http://www.buffaloridgesafari.com/ )

    People vary, but I'd probably spend three nights at one of these lodges, after which you could move on. Thus coming back to your budget, while the nights in the lodges are expensive, they're not back breakers considering the value received, and your other costs - transport, food, lodging in other areas - will feel like real bargains with the strong Dollar v. weak Rand.

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    Tourist seasons vary considerably in SA. Summer is approx December to March, winter is June to August. The Western Cape (Cape Town and surrounds) is dry in summer but has a lot of rain in July-August. Most of the rest of the country has rain in summer with dry winters.
    Busiest time at the coast (eg. Cape Town, Durban, Garden Route) is from early December to mid January when SA schools have their summer holidays. AVOID visiting at this time!
    Easter is also busy (mid April in 2017).
    For game viewing the best time is the dry season (meaning winter). Most game parks are in the summer rainfall zone so June is a good time for that. But make sure you avoid the SA school holidays, when game parks are full - in 2017 that will be 1 July - 23 July.
    Best time for coastal visits is February - that's when the weather is very good and local tourists have gone home.

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