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Hello. I wrote back in April about a exploring a safari option. I am still looking at some things and have had new ideas presented by a company or two. I value the feedback here and am looking for thoughts. The company working with is very reputable from information I gathered. They have put together something that really works well in our budget and would allow maybe an extra night/activity add on. The areas they suggest are probably not the most "popular" areas but seem to get some good reviews and I am looking for more thoughts. It would have us spend 4 nights at Mashatu Tented Camp in the Tuli enclave in Botswana. Then, we would have 3-4 nights in the Timbavati at Tunda Tula Safari Camp (but we could also do their bush camp). Our main goal is wildlife viewing, not concerned with city visits, VF, village visits etc. I hear that Timbavati is solid and getting better but still not quite Mala Mala or another possible reserve. We'd like to see the 5 but major goals are elephants and cats. I hear the Mala and others there can be sort of a "factory" search for the 5. I don't mind "searching" for them but definitely would like to see. Am I better off looking at another reserve outside Kruger? I hear great things about Mashatu. It is a bit different than the Delta, Linyanti or Chobe I guess but I like the quieter/less traveled aspect. Again, as long as we get to see the game. We plan to travel in June which I gather is pretty good for either area and a bit less crowded which we like. We want open vehicles, ability to go off-road and also to do night drives. Any thoughts would be welcome and appreciated!!!! One more thing....they also have one that works with similarities but using Hwange in Zimbabwe...thoughts on that area??

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    I am currently planning our 5th safari and I am having trouble because we don't have time to visit Kruger. I still can't imagine it, even though it is our fifth.

    There have been a few posts lately concerned about crowds/resort feel/factory. I'm not sure where this started, but once you leave the lodge, you are out in the bush looking for wildlife. If you have a good guide, you'll have no idea that you are "in line" waiting for others to leave a sighting. Good guides will make it all seem very natural - and there are many good and great guides. Botswana has fewer visitors by design - they have quality over quantity by mandating fewer beds and charging a lot more money than many of us can afford. It's a great business model for a small country that relies on tourism.

    I love Mashatu, especially tented camp. Great staff. No rhinos (very few in all of Botswana) or buffalo. Since you left out some details, I checked your post from April. If you still plan travel in June, there is a pay three/stay four at Mashatu through June. You don't say how long you can stay, but combining The Outpost in northern Kruger and a camp in southern Kruger combine very well with driver transfers between camps. There are so many lodges in the private reserves around Kruger. There is something for everyone, in all price ranges. Sabi Sand has the best reputation for up close and personal and prolific animal viewing. Check out sabisand.co.za for all lodges. In other reserves, nThambo, Africa on Foot, Shindzela might give you a more "authentic" experience that you seem to be looking for. Not knowing your budget, I have been suggesting Djuma. With the current exchange rate, it might fall in your budget - and you get the whole place to yourself! It might be the best value in SS. Gomo Gomo and nDzuti are on my short list for the future. We stayed at Arathusa in SS and thought it was wonderful with the waterhole and animals that come to you during the day.

    Hwange and Chobe are usually combined with Victoria Falls. Since the Falls aren't important, I would stick to the original plan. I would do four nights Mashatu Tented (get the deal), two-three nights at The Outpost and three-four nights in one of the camps around Kruger, with driver connections between camps. If you have less time and budget is an issue (charters are pricey), just do two camps near Kruger like Shindzela and Arathusa (or any combo you are comfortable with). Mashatu and Mala Mala would be my dream trip if budget was not an issue. Keep in mind both of them publish their rates in USD, so the current great exchange rate of over R12.5/USD doesn't help you.

    I am currently enamored with KwaZulu Natal, south of Kruger on the Indian Ocean. Very good wildlife reserves, much more affordable than other areas. Zululand Rhino Reserve and the town of St Lucia with its horseback and kayak safaris and great beaches are particularly fun. Just in case you want something different. But still lots of wildlife.

    We have found the camps that can't afford to market to the big agents in the U.S. to be "better" (less hoity-toity, more relaxed, more fun) than the expensive, well marketed camps. They are harder to find, but they are out there on the internet.

    Enjoy your planning. Don't overthink it too much. You will have an excellent experience and love every second no matter what you decide. We just keep going back to "make it perfect"! Sorry, I went on too long again.

    "Elephants never forget. What they don't tell you is you'll never forget your first elephant" - Bill Murray

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    I REALLY appreciate your time and feedback!! Thanks. We'd like to do the trip $10,000-$15,000 without air. Hearing the positives about Mashatu help a lot, seems like a good place and yes, they did promote that special which would allow us to stretch the trip. I think we could do that and Hwange but not sure if that is a better call than Mala. Some seem to think it can be just as good but less crowded. The Timba Tula looks to be CLOSE to Gomo Gomo so would think that is good if you think that area is strong, a bit west of Kruger and in northern Sabi Sands. Just not right west. I laughed when you wrote about "not overthinking too much" Wife says what you do, "it will be great whatever we do"...I am always like you say....doing it perfect!!

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    Again, I'm not sure where the crowd problem comes from. Yes, you might see other vehicles while out on safari, but not crowds. If you don't want a full vehicle, use lodges that limit the number of people in the vehicle (you will pay more for that) or arrange for a private vehicle (you will pay more for that). But there aren't ten cars around a lion, no matter where you go in SA private reserves. I really don't understand.

    Check on Hwange - it might not be open in April. If you want to do that, then combine with other Zimbabwe parks like Mana Pools. There are a few others. You are trying to do too much if you do Mashatu and Zim.

    Two trips that I love are Mashatu - The Outpost in N Kruger - a lodge in Sabi Sand or other reserve adjacent to Kruger with driver transfers between (or Mala Mala - Mashatu with the charter transfer if time is short). The other is Kirkmans Kamp (or any lodge near Kruger) and Phinda in KwaZulu Natal (or other, less expensive KZN options) with commercial flight or driving transfer. There are some specials for the Kirkmans- Phinda trip at the &Beyond website, and they quote rates in Rand, which saves a lot of money.

    Gomo Gomo is in Klaserie, Thanda Tula is in Timbavati, Mala Mala is its own reserve and Kirkmans is in Sabi Sand. Sabi Sand is famous for their wildlife, but all are adjacent to Kruger and the animals roam freely between the reserves. I enjoyed Arathusa in SS, which we combined with The Outpost and Mashatu Tented. That was a great trip - three distinct ecosystems and relatively affordable. Our last two safaris have been to the Kruger area and KZN.

    I have used travel agents in the past, and I would for my first safari, just for the peace of mind. But just know that they won't send you to places I might suggest. But they should be willing to arrange any trip, at any lodges you prefer.

    Trying to do too many areas means you spend more time and money on transfers instead of spending time and money on safari. Both options I suggest are excellent, and I will do both again. They both likely fit your budget.

    No matter what, there are no guarantees. We've been on over 100 game drives and sometimes we see nothing. Other drives are too good. You never know what will be around the next bend.

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    Hi Wineman,

    2 days ago I just booked Mashatu/Mala Mala for June 2016. This will be our 6th safari and we have been to a few different places in Southern Africa (Bots, Zim, Zam, S.A. plus Tanzania), some of which you mention. With the budget you set, you definitely have a lot of options available.

    Combining Mashatu and Zim would cause you to lose a day somewhere in transit. I had looked at Hwange for this trip, and would have combined it with Lower Zambezi instead. No crowds. But I switched gears and will save that for another trip.

    Our interest is photography, quality of game and guiding, and avoiding crowds, so we chose Mashatu because they have a photography program and hides. After discussion with my travel agent, we decided to take the package with Mala Mala because the game viewing and guiding will be outstanding. I'm not big on over the top luxury or camps with a heavy build, so this trip compromises a bit on that but I think the pay off on the wildlife will be so worth it. We did book private vehicles to make sure we can have flexibility and really explore the reserves.

    As Christabir suggests, there are lots of great options around Kruger. A number of years ago we stayed at Gomo Gomo and Simbambili and had a great time with great sightings. No complaints about the quality of the guiding or game viewing. I will admit that we did see more vehicles than I was used to seeing in Bots/Zam/Zim, but it is nothing like what it is in Tanzania. I don't think you should worry about that too much.

    We went to Mashatu about 10 years ago, and stayed at tented camp, which we really enjoyed. I love the scenery there, it is very different than other places we have been to. The wildlife was good as well, and we had great elephant, lion and leopard sightings.

    With your budget, I think you can have a fantastic game viewing trip. Maybe we'll see you at Mashatu/Mala Mala!

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    Hi wineman!

    Given your budget and your focus on wildlife viewing, I think you should give more thought to doing the Mashatu - MalaMala combo package. It will give you two distinct ecohabits and the game viewing is incredible in MalaMala. The traversing area is huge and will feel private and special.

    There's a huge advantage to the M-M package because they minimize the time it takes transferring from one place to another. A transfer between these places otherwise could incur an overnight stay in JNB. I always recommend to my clients to streamline their travel as much as possible (budget-permitting, of course) so that they have more time game watching in the bush and not people watching in airports. Often what seems like less money ends up being around the same amount of money by the time you add in the transfer costs, extra hotel in transit, not to mention time lost in the bush!

    If you wanted to extend the trip, you could inquire as to the possibility of adding on an extra night! Adding on an extra night as well as the cost of the internal flights in/out of JNB to/from these lodges should still work fine with your budget.

    Your trip will be incredible no matter what you decide and you'll surely want to go back!

    Best
    Dianne
    Africa Direct USA

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