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Well traveled...but not in Africa. Need help with itineraries!

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Hello all!

My husband and I are in the planning stages for a safari in Africa next year for our 25th wedding anniversary. We are experienced travelers, but this will be our first safari. We have set a budget of $25,000, and can travel at any time next year, depending on what is our best option.
We've narrowed our focus on Southern Africa, rather than Kenya/Tanzania. Our primary focus is on wildlife and culture. Both avid photographers, we'd prefer small groups of no more than 6 or even private vehicles. We're also hoping to renew our wedding vows while we're there. We would prefer not to be moving around every 2 days, or spend long hours in vehicles trying to get from one location to the other.

I have received 2 possible itineraries from 2 separate companies. They both look promising. Would love to have more experienced eyes take a look at them and give some input.

Itinerary 1:
* Arrive at the Johannesburg International Airport. Transferred straight to
the Kruger National Park OR fly to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport OR
Skukuza, depending on the time of their arrival at Johannesburg.

* Spend four nights at a private lodge in the Imbali Concession of the
Kruger National Park. This will place the customers centrally in the Kruger National Park. A variety of wildlife is to be found in this area: Frequent lion and big predator sightings, an abundance of birdlife and game. A dedicated guide will be arranged to take the customers on game drives and to be at their service, trying to find and view as many different species of wildlife as is possible. Both day and night game drives will be arranged.

* Fly back to Johannesburg for a connecting flight to preferably Kasane or
Maun in Botswana. Met at the airport and transferred to the Ngoma Safari Lodge, set on the banks of the Chobe River and 5km from the Ngoma Gate entrance to the Chobe National Park. Stay for three nights. A dedicated guide will be arranged to be of service to the customers. Chobe is a pristine wilderness area and is famous for large herds of elephants, zebras and other big game. Lions, leopards, cheetahs etc. are usually sighted in abundance. The Chobe river is rich in birdlife. A boat ride on the Chobe will afford a unique vantage point to view wildlife, including hippos and crocodiles.

* Transferred to Kasane and then to the Victoria Falls Hotel (Zimbabwe).
Stay here for one night.

• Fly to Johannesburg, and then onwards to Zambia.

2 nights Kafunta River Lodge
2 nights Island Bush Camp
1 night Kafunta River Lodge

Itinerary 2:
Day 1 Arrive Johannesburg and transfer to Outlook Lodge for dinner and overnight. (D) Days 2-4 Take a scheduled flight to Hoedspruit and enjoy superb game viewing in the Thornybush Game Reserve (BLD)
Days 5-7 Travel south to the world famous Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve for 3 nights, with day and night game drives and bush walks (BLD)
Days 8-9 A scheduled flight brings you to Livingstone, the Zambian side of the spectacular Victoria Falls, and the idyllic Siankaba Lodge situated on two untouched islands in the mighty Zambezi River – the ideal location for your vow renewal (BLD)
Days 10-12 A road transfer takes you cross border to Botswana where you take a small aircraft flight to the Chobe Enclave, best known for its large populations of elephant and buffalo for a 3-night stay (BLD)
Days 13-15 Today’s charter flight takes you over the awe-inspiring oasis of the Okavango Delta, where you end your safari in the prime location of the Xugana Lagoon (BLD)
Day 16 Board a light aircraft to Maun and connect to your homeward flight.

I thank you in advance for your help!

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Heymo - in order to provide some useful feedback, can you let me know what time of year these trips have been proposed? For example: Zambia (South Luangwa) and Chobe are HIGHLY seasonal so it is really important to know what time of year the agents have itineraries these properties so I can provide useful commentary.

    Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

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    Hello. I have been on safari many, many times in South Africa and once in Botswana. I have also been on safari in Kenya and Tanzania so I can compare the two. Southern Africa is spectacular so you have made a good choice. I would spend some time researching the lodges they suggest in terms of game viewing and reviews by other travelers. Don't be afraid to suggest other options within the concessions they have suggested or others all together. I have had tour companies put together high-end safaris for me and while I have taken many of their suggestions on lodges, I have also made my own choices based on substantial research as well.

    Good luck. You will have an amazing time.

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    Congratulations on 25! We just celebrated ours last year in SA too! It was a much smaller budget than yours, but it was just great! If the US$25,000 does not include airfare, I would upgrade my accomodations. Biz r/t airfare is US$7000 or more, so if your budget includes international airfare, it's much different. I'm with you - no stays less than three nights. Too much travel and expense.

    Here's what I'd do:

    I would go to Cape Town for 3-4 nights, and don't miss Robben Island, Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope (including penguins) and a few nice meals, see the beaches, all good. If you must do a wine tour (they are the same as in the states and you'll get great local wine at all safari camps. You can get most of it locally at home - just ask your liquor store to order what you liked in SA) go for a day trip. It is pretty, but I loved Cape Town and would have skipped wine for more time in town.

    Choose one of many Sabi Sands camps - preferably the ones in the west. Depending on your actual budget and needs, you could choose Londolozi, Singita at the VERY high end, Mala Mala or Kirkmans Kamp mid range and Nottens, Arathusa, Cheetah Plains (and lots of others) in the "affordable" range. Prices for affordable are pretty high, and the high end is painful. All of them can arrange for wedding vows, some do a better job than others. I can't imagine a better spot than in the bush.

    Now there's choices. You could combine Mala Mala with Mashatu in SE Botswana. It so far exceeded my expectations! We loved Mashatu. There is a flight between the two, making it an easy connection. And very different Eco-systems and fantastic people staff the camp.

    Or got to Botswana - there is nowhere that compares to the Okavango Delta. There are so many options there, but it is a very expensive place. Botswana has chosen quality over quantity, so there are fewer people - and very high expense. It also makes it very special. Max in vehicle usually 6.

    Or you could do something that few others do. Last year we did a rhino conservation outing as an anniversary gift. We got to arrange for a rhino to be darted, micro-chipped, DNA taken and ear notched for ID. And we got to go watch and "help"!!! It was one of our best days ever! Because it is an outing for ten and it was just the two of us, we arranged for local tribe leaders to join us - we can't save the rhino without the local people. Just thinking about it, I get this goofy grin on my face. :) We did this at the Zululand Rhino Reserve in KwaZulu Natal. It's an easy flight from the Kruger area. ZRR is not as established as many of the older reserves, it was started with WWF to expand the black rhino habitat just about 15 years ago. They have been incredibly good at protecting the MANY rhinos they have. They have the big five, lion babies, LOTS of cheetah babies last year (nine in two groups!) and the most exciting news I just heard - they just released Wild Dogs on the property!! It is a very affordable place, so you could arrange for private vehicles and private walks every day. We stay at (and love) Rhino River Lodge - there are other lodges including Leopard Mountain. Although I love ZRR, the much more popular Phinda is just a few miles away. I don't think I've ever read a negative review. If you want to add beach time on the warm Indian Ocean, Rocktail and Thonga are nearby, as well as the beach towns north of Durban and (where I'm retiring to!) St Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park for fun and sun.

    I know - too many options! I would not choose Imbali or Thornybush. The "best" time for wildlife viewing is May-September as it's dry and the grass is lower, and the animals stay near water sources. It can get chilly (or downright cold!) though. For me, that's better than hot. Any good safari agent can arrange the exact safari you want - check out Classic Africa and A&K for itineraries that you might also be interested in and then use an outfitter to get the trip you want. Also check out &Beyond for some good combination specials - free nights with minimum stays in Sabi Sand, Bots, Phinda. For USD25000 you should be able to do a very nice safari! (Our anniversary trip was just over USD5000, using FF miles for flights for two weeks. I know, not everyone's idea of a special trip, but it was fantastic, especially the smiley rhino outing).

    In short:
    CT - Mala Mala - Mashatu
    CT - Kirkmans or other Sabi Sand Lodge - ZRR (and maybe Phinda)
    CT - Sabi Sand lodge - Botswana

    Enjoy your planning. Don't sweat it too much. You can't really make a bad trip and you'll go back to see the stuff you miss. Southern Africa is incredibly special.

  • Report Abuse

    There are quite a lot of things about itinerary 1 that don't make sense.

    It says fly to Kasane or Maun for Ngoma which is in Chobe. I don't think Maun makes sense- Kasane would be ideal but I don't think the flights from JNB are every day. The alternative would be Livingstone or Vic Falls.

    You then go to the Zim side of the falls for 1 night.

    Then to get to South Luangwa in Zambia, you go back via Johannesburg- this will mean a flight to JNB, then to Lusaka, then to Mfuwe, then a road transfer to Kafunta. I'm not sure if the connections will work to make that even possible in a day, and if it is it would mean leaving very early from VF and arriving late at Kafunta. Which, with one night at the falls doesn't really give you any time to see anything there, and you will arrive at Kafunta tired, missing your afternoon drive and with only a 2 night stop ahead. And it requires international flights with immigration and having to be there 2 hours before, and transiting JNB............

    Much more sensible would be to stay on the Zambian side of the Falls, then get a Proflight flight from Livingstone to Mfuwe (will go via Lusaka but just a stop, probably not even a change of planes). Domestic flights, small planes, no immigration or transiting big airports...........

    Basically, with itinerary 1 the routings are so weird it makes me think whoever put this together doesn't have much experience.

    Itinerary 2 seems logistically more sensible although it's very non specific about the camps in Botswana and I can't comment on the choice of camp in South Africa.

    I think you need to do a bit of research and narrow down where you want to go. I see you say you can go anytime in the year, so I assume that will be chosen based on where you want to go. Personally I would be looking at making the itinerary a bit more compact with less travelling around and fewer countries- I would stick to either Zambia (maybe South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and the Falls) or Botswana plus the Falls. Adding Sabi Sands to Botswana could work as per itinerary 2 (although personally I wouldn't) but I wouldn't try and add it to Zambia. If Zambia, I'd probably choose Aug or Sept, for Botswana I would probably try and go shoulder/low season as Botswana is expensive and in shoulder season your budget will go further- so May/June or November.

    I'm not sure if your budget includes international flights or not. If it doesn't, it's a pretty healthy budget for a Zambia trip, and you should be able to have your pick of places even in high season. For Botswana, your budget would probably limit your choices in high season which is why I'd suggest shoulder or low season.

  • Report Abuse

    Hello all. Thanks for all your wonderful insight.

    Travel beyond- I believe the 2nd itinerary is proposed for dry season.

    I can clarify where we would be staying with the 2nd proposal. at Thornybush we'd be staying at Chapungu Luxury Tented Camp, at Sabi Sand we'd be staying at Notten's Bush camp, at Livingstone we'd be staying at Islands of Siankaba Lodge, at Chobe we'd be staying at Linyanti Bush camp, and at the Okavango Delta we'd be staying at Xugana Island Lodge.

    For this trip we've decided not to go to Capetown as we'd like to focus our time on wildlife. Our initial thoughts were for SA and possibly Zambia, but we both wanted to see the falls so that folded in to the plan as well.

    Stokeygirl- thank you for pointing out some flaws in the first proposal. It was a rough sketch I believe, because we didn't like the first one they sent us. I'm hoping a new, more detailed itinerary will be arriving in my email today. I looked at all the lodges they proposed and all looked nice. I will address your questions to the travel company. (I have purposely left out the names of the companies because I thought it would be rude- should I post the names? Is that helpful?)

    Also- I have a question about small planes and weight restrictions. Being photographers, we'll have camera gear, battery chargers, laptops, etc. in addition to our luggage. I know some of the small plane have very strict weight restrictions ( something like 44 lbs. pp) How do you deal with that? Do camps, lodges, etc. have laundry service that you only bring like 3 changes of clothes and have them washed all the time?

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Beth,

    Sounds like a fun plan. So it looks like you never did the Kenya trip that you were planning for your 20th. That’s too bad! Do you still run a photography business? I really think that photography should be a primary factor for this discussion. Your budget is “healthy” and for a nine night safari + other ancillary logistics it will only preclude a peak season Botswana safari or a five star South Africa itinerary. I suggest peak season but leave Botswana out of it.

    Regarding the first two trips, did you get these itineraries from a professional safari planning company with deep experience in Southern Africa? There are many discrepancies with these plans and I suggest ditching both these companies and finding someone more knowledgeable and professional. Key points in making this suggestion:

    Option 1 comments.
    Imabali Lodge is a GREAT choice and I highly endorse it as a low cost option BUT it is approximately 3 hours from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. The closest airport is actually Hoedspruit/HDS. Does dedicated guide mean private guide? There is a huge difference in this subtlety.
    Ngoma is about 2 hours from the Kasane/BBK airport and transfers are included in the rates. Maun is about 12 hours away as Stokeygirl noted and not included in the rates. Ngoma will be a very good place to see elephants in July-November. One of the best spots on earth.
    Please ask the company that crafted option 1 to write in an email in full detail how you will get from Imbali to Ngoma in one day. It will be quite arduous with some severe tradeoffs. First of all, it is not possible to get to Jo’burg from Imbali in time for the morning flight to Kasane without chartering a private plane to fly you to Jo’burg just after sunrise. This is not a workable plane.
    I have no idea why they have you leaving and returning to Kafunta River Lodge!

    Option 2 comments.
    Thornybush - what property?? There are at least 10 properties in Thornybush ranging from the cheap (Waterbuck) to the most expensive safari lodge in South Africa (Royal Malewane). Weird how they would not be specific.
    Sabi Sands – this is the name of a game reserve with about 20 private safari lodges ranging in price from about $400 to $1600 per person per night (Nottens to Singita). Again, no details should be a huge red flag for you.
    Day 8 – you will need to leave your Sabi Sands lodge by 7am to get to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in time for the flight to Livingstone, Zambia on SA Airlink. Again, have them write out all the logistics for this day with departure times and drive times.
    What lodge in the Delta? So many choices at so many price points.

    Once I get more details, I will likely recommend some photographic centered experiences. As a teaser, check out the photgrahpic hides at Shenton’s Camp in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, or possibly the hides at Masahtu Main Camp. All would work well in your budget.

    Your best bet is going to be to fly KLM/Delta out of DTW to JNB via AMS or ATL. Too bad KLM no longer flies into Lusaka, Zambia. When I went for a month in September 2012 I used this flight.

    Good luck. I can’t help but comment based on this post and you Kenya posts that you may be planning this under the misguided notion that it is cheaper to book with a company located in Africa. I don’t think these two companies are doing you any favors…

    Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond

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    20kg (44lbs) is normal for small flights in Botswana. In Zambia, with Proflight I think it is 25kg. These are generous compared to East Africa which often has only 15kg. You just have to be ruthless with your packing. Most safari camps include laundry so you don't need loads of clothes. As for camera gear, again, you either have to be ruthless or pay for an extra seat for each small plane flight, which is what really serious photographers do. As an idea, I have a Canon 7D and 100-400mm lens. I find on a 20kg allowance I can manage that, and an extra body (450D) and a short lens (17-85) and a netbook (weighs about 1.2kg- so not a full sized laptop). If the luggage allowance is only 15kg I have to forget the second body and lens and count on a point and shoot for landscape shots. I also have binoculars.

    But if you have multiple bodies and more than one big heavy zoom lens or big prime lenses, you might have to look at booking an extra seat. Obviously with 2 of you you can spread the equipment between you.

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    "I have no idea why they have you leaving and returning to Kafunta River Lodge!"

    I do. Island Bush Camp is a good 4 hour road transfer from Kafunta, so maybe up to 5 hours from Mfuwe airport. So I don't think it's feasible to either start or end at Island Bush Camp.

  • Report Abuse

    Craig- unfortunately no- our plans for an Africa trip on our 20th ended when our son called and told us he was getting married in Australia that same year- couldn't help pay for the wedding, travel there,spend time and do the safari. Yes, I do still run a photography business, and it is the primary focus our our trip (other than the anniversary of course!) I appreciate you remembering!

    I did post in my reply the places they have us staying with the 2nd interary, but here it is again- at Thornybush they have us at Chapungu Luxury Tented Camp, at Sabi Sands they have us at Notten's Bush camp, at Livingstone we'd be staying at Islands of Siankaba Lodge at Chobe we'd be staying at Linyanti Bush camp, and at the Okavango Delta we'd be staying at Xugana Island Lodge.

    The first itinerary was proposed by a company called Wild Trek Safaris. They are the people who were helping me plan the Kenya trip, and I thought it only fair after they'd gone through all the work previously to contact them again when we started planning once again. They are actually based here in the states, in Colorado. A friend of mine lived in Zambia for awhile, and she has a relationship with Kafunta. I asked her for some advice and she put me in touch with a friend of hers who owns Martin Meyer Safaris, who proposed the second itinerary. I believe they are based in Africa.

    The Kafunta information is from their website, based on a 6 day stay with them. I am not locked into staying at any place in particular, but since I knew people who had stayed there and knew the place well I went on that recommendation.

    Stokeygirl- thanks for the luggage info. I'm sure we'll figure out a way to pare down our gear to make it work.

  • Report Abuse

    The second itinerary actually sounds quite balanced to me although I am not familiar with all the camps. Xugana Island is, as is sounds, on a small island, so the main activities are water based or walking. It wouldn't be my top choice in Botswana, especially for photographers, but then I guess with all the game drive time in South Africa, whoever put this together has given you a very water based camp in Botswana, so overall it balances out. I haven't been to Linyanti Bush Camp but the Linyanti area in general is excellent in the dry season. I am guessing this trip might also come in on budget even in high season as the Botswana camps are a couple of the less expensive options, and budget may well have driven these choices if whoever designed it is trying to stick within budget and stay in high season.

    If you are interested in Zambia then, as I said, I would forget trying to add on Sabi Sands and do, maybe 7 or 8 nights South Luangwa, 4 Lower Zambezi and 2 or 3 at the Falls. I have stayed at Kafunta and Island Bush camp. You realise that IBC is walking only? If you only have limited time in the park and are serious photographers, I am not sure staying at a walking only camp will suit you. I would look at Shentons (mentioned above) who have dedicated photography hides. Also Robin Pope- they have only 4 people per vehicle, and they are fully flexible about whether you walk or drive at all their camps. Tafika is another favourite of mine (also 4 per vehicle). They also have a photography hide at a carmine bee-eater hide which will be active from late Aug (probably best for a Sept visit).

  • Report Abuse

    Stokeygirl- the budget for the 2nd itinerary came in at $8754 pp plus $857 for flights not included in costs. They estimated an 8% increase for 2016 rates.

    I'd also like to get an idea of what we should plan as far as tipping...

  • Report Abuse

    Stokeygirl - thanks for the info on Kafunta. I have not been there (yet).

    Beth - so odd but your 810am post was not there when I posted my 833am words! That is why some of our information "crossed".

    If you go to the Sabi Sands then Nottens is one of the few camps in the entire reserve without access to the Sand or Sabi River which is prime leopard habitat. Keep that in mind. Best value on the River could be Kirkmans if you want to stay out of the more crowded western sector.

    If you go with the Linyanti Bush Camp option then perhaps consider combining it with Okuti instead. Okuti is owned by Ker & Downey and Linyanti Bush is owned by African Bush Camps. They are in a strategic alliance and you might get a better price. There are no game drive activities at Xugana Island; it is all water activities.

    I really suggest not getting to wrapped up on luggage limits. This is a big trip and if you go over the weight just pay for it so you can get the right photos.

    Tipping - plan for $50/day and you will be ok.

    I think you should consider a different plan than what is offered. You could do some of the Zambia camps and I actually think you should combine with South Africa camps or maybe Sabi Sands + Mashatu for max photography opportunities. Aug 15-Sep 15 best time.

    Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

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    NO worries Craig- those things happen.

    South Africa was our first choice when we started out- it was only after consulting with travel companies that the other countries came into play.

    I'd be very interested in what you would recommend. Should I get in contact with you via your company website?

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Beth,

    That would be fine if you would like to chat. Forum rules do not allow people in the industry to leave their contact details on the open pages. Have a great evening.

    Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

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    My suggestion is to always try and book with a tour operator in the country you planning to visit. If you have found the correct operator you will find most of them have actually visited the destinations they offer you on the itinerary and will be of great help to ensure you have the best experience.

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    How does one narrow down exactly what they want from a safari? We want to see as many of the big 5 as possible, get great pictures, and have a fun experience. If we get to see Victoria Falls? That would be amazing. I'd like to have our vows renewed while we're there- something memorable. Other than that- it's hard to know what to say we want.

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Beth,

    There is no good way to Lusaka on a SKYTEAM carrier since KLM cancelled their flight service last year. You would have to fly to JNB or Nairobi and continue from there. If you are not worried about that you could fly Emirates out of Chicago (or other gateways) and go to Lusaka that way. Sometimes these flights stop in Harare. Ethiopian out of IAD also might work.

    If you are really looking to maximize animal sightings (density and diversity) then in my opinion and experience (over 35 trips to Africa) the greatest animal densities on the continent are in the Sabi Sands private game reserves adjacent to the Kruger (the same densities exists in the Kruger but land use restrictions prevent seeing them all), Chief's Island in Botswana or the Masai Mara private conservancies in Kenya.

    With the continued troubles in Kenya you can get a really good deal there. Naboisho (Asilia owns it) just made peak season stay4pay3 for the first time. This is arguably one of the most game dense places in Africa in July-September during the great migrations when crossings are taking place. From there you can keep heading to South Africa and then combine MalaMala and Mashatu on a six night safari. The whole thing should be within your budget. The only species you would likely miss on this trip would be black rhino but the odds of seeing them at MalaMala are still pretty good.

    For clients wanting a combo trip to East Africa and South Africa on a bit of a budget I have done this before:

    Kichwa Tembo in the Masai Mara.
    Kirkmans in the Sabi Sands.
    Ngala in the Timbavati.
    Phinda in Kwa Zulu Natal.

    You could add a few bucks to the budget and add Sandibe in the Okavango Delta. &beyond passes incredible specials on to their guests via agents for combining their properties like this. Please not Kichwa Temnbo is in the Mara proper and not on a private conservancy but I think this is ok!

    Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

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    I've asked the operator to give us an itinerary that adds South Luangwa and eliminates are the two basic ideas they came up with:

    Option 1:
    1 night Outlook Lodge, Johannesburg
    3 nights Chapungu Camp, Thornybush
    3 nights Nottens Camp, Sabi Sand
    2 nights Siankaba Lodge
    1 night Kafunta River Lodge, South Luangwa
    3 nights Chamilandu, South Luangwa
    2 nights Kaingo Camp, South Luangwa

    Option 2:
    1 night Outlook Lodge, Johannesburg
    3 nights Chapungu Camp, Thornybush
    3 nights Nottens Camp, Sabi Sand
    2 nights Siankaba Lodge
    1 night Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa
    2 nights Island Bush Camp, South Luangwa (with walking safaris as main focus)
    3 nights Kaingo Camp, South Luangwa - including 1 night elephant hide sleep out.

    These run a little more money than the first itinerary they sent me, but they include the Shenton camp. What do you think?

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    I'll just comment on the South Luangwa section.
    I assume they have given you a one night stop at the beginning because you arrive on the last flight into Mfuwe (about 6pm) and don't have time to do a longer transfer to one of the more remote camps. In which case, you will miss your afternoon activity. Have you mixed up the two itineraries? It seems more likely you would do 1 night Mfuwe Lodge, then Chamilandu then Kaingo, or 1 night Kafunta then Island then Kaingo. Mfuwe Lodge and Chamilandu are co-owned, as are Kafunta and Island. It seems odd that you would be mixing them like that.

    Island Bush Camp is very far south and Kaingo very far north. That will be a minimum 5 hour drive between them. Given the short time you have I would forget that.

    With option 1, I think 1 night Mfuwe Lodge, 2 nights Chamilandu and 3 Kaingo would make more sense. Although I would personally switch Chamilandu for Kuyenda which is also owned by the Bushcamp Company.

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    I copied it right from their email- so that's what they wrote. They did suggest staying at Mfuwe or Kafunta because of the late arrival from Victoria Falls.
    Would there be an issue with being able to charge batteries and such at Kuyenda? I don't see anywhere on their site about being able to do that.

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    In your original post, your focus was wildlife and culture. I see no culture in your plans. Spend a day or two in Joberg and do a Soweto tour and/or the Apartheid Museum.

    With just two weeks my personal feeling is you are trying to do too much. Africa is big - bigger than Europe and the US combined. I wouldn't try to see Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite on a two-week trip. Too much travel. You also mentioned you prefer stays of longer than two nights. We did the same thing on our first southern africa trip - we thought it would be our only opportunity, so we tried to "see it all". If you love it the way so many do, you'll be back. It's exotic, but not so exotic that it is out of reach anymore.

    You will see the big five in three nights in Sabi Sand. It's not a zoo and there are no guarantees, but you are very likely to see those five animals - but there is so much more. Since you seem to want to visit Sabi Sand and Vic Falls (beautiful, but very dependent on water levels. Too low, kind of dull, too high, you can't see much through the spray), I would combine them with Botswana or Zambia, not both.

    Here is an itinerary that you can modify so you stay three nights or more per location and change the order to suit you:

    Please avoid the elephant rides - those elephants are not treated as well as we would like and are leg chained at night.
    I don't see any reason to do two camps in the private reserves near Kruger. Choose one (and maybe stay more nights). The ecosystems are basically the same. Sabi Sand is famous (and expensive) for good reason.
    Do your research to be sure no more than six people per vehicle on your game drives at all of those camps you are considering. That was one of your priorities for good photos.

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    Re battery charging, the situation will be the same at Chamilandu, Kuyenda and Island Bush Camp- there will be no power points in the rooms and battery charging will only be available by giving it to the manager to charge back of house. Even then, electricity may be from solar, so charging a battery may be slow. I always take multiple batteries with me on safari. However, at camps where the main activity is walking, I wouldn't expect to be taking anywhere near the number of photos as you would on game drives.

    If those itineraries are correct then #2 makes no sense. As I said, the IBC-Kaingo transfer is really long, but Mfuwe Lodge to IBC will be too, and I doubt Mfuwe Lodge will drive you all the way to IBC. Chances are they will drop you at Kafunta, and Kafunta will arrange the transfer to IBC. So it would make far more sense to spend the first night at Kafunta, and even then you would probably arrive, miss the afternoon drive, and the next morning transfer to IBC, and the transfer may not be much of a game drive. But even if you switched Mfuwe for Kafunta, I think #2 has too many lengthy transfers in too short a period of time. I haven't visited since 2008, but then we did the transfers from Kafunta to IBC through the GMA (game management area) outside the park and we didn't see much on the way apart from a lot of tsetse flies, and it took 3-4 hours. If they are doing the transfer through the park it might be better (but might be longer).

    I tend to feel the same as christabir, that you are still trying to fit in too much.

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    Thank you both. This was our original issue with the Kenya itineraries- too many places, moving around too much.

    The first travel company I contacted gave me more of a detailed itinerary, but somehow I get the impression this guy is no longer all that interested in helping us. To be fair, apparently he blew out his knee in a skiing accident and has to have surgery. But when I asked for a more detailed itinerary than the one he sent me, I got this:

    Day 1 Arrive at the Johannesburg International Airport. The international flight's arrival time will determine whether a road transfer or flight to the Kruger Park is advised. The ideal will be to fly to Skukuza, but a flight to another nearby airport can be arranged (For example to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport). We use the flight to Skukuza as the preferred option. We will also make contact with Federal Air Charters regarding their flights at the time of the bookings.
    Fly to Skukuza Airport which is located inside the Kruger National Park. There are two direct flights daily, departing at 10:00 and 13:20 respectively. Arrive at Skukuza at 10:50 or at 14:10. Met at Skukuza and transferred to the Imbali Safari Lodge, situated in the Imbali private concession of the Kruger National Park. A private guide and 4 X 4 safari vehicle is at your service. You can spend the rest of the day resting, have an early night, and then rise early for the first game drive, OR you can on the first day already go on a game drive.

    Days 2, 3 and 4: You will spend three full days in the Kruger National Park. The Imbali Concession is strategically situated inside the Kruger National Park and allows you to be relatively near several prime game viewing spots (although it is of course
    impossible to guarantee that certain game will be at a certain location at any given time). The game rangers are however in contact with each other and share game sightings. Your guide/game ranger will do his utmost to ensure that you view as large a variety of game as is humanly possible. Your schedule is completely flexible and you can arrange your daily activities to suit your requirements.
    Imbali overlooks a seasonal river which adds to the diversity of wildlife to be sighted. The Kruger National Park covers a vast area and the game is constantly moving to where the best grazing and hunting opportunities are. Certain areas are however known for regular sightings of for example Rhino and leopards, and this information will be known to your guide/game ranger.
    The best game viewing opportunities are usually at the waterholes, both early in the morning and late afternoons.
    Certain spots are excellent for birding, and will also be known to your game ranger/guide.
    The best strategy will be to rely on your game ranger/guide to cover the area which he is familiar with, and where he knows from experience and updated sightings, the best game viewing opportunities are to be found.
    Refreshments and meals will be arranged to be taken along on the game viewing excursions according to your requirements and daily schedule.

    Day 5 An early breakfast, and then transferred to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport for the flight to Johannesburg.
    Arrive at Johannesburg at 09:15. Depart for Kasane (Botswana) at 11:45 and arrive at 13:25. Met at the airport, and transferred to the Ngoma Safari Lodge.

    Days 6, 7 and 8: The schedule at Ngoma is the same as at Imbali, and can be arranged to suit your requirements. There will be ample opportunity to cover a sizeable area in the Chobe National Park, where your game ranger/guide will try his best to ensure that you are presented with the best possible photographic opportunities. Also included is a boat trip on the Chobe River (Take note that this is not a private excursion).
    Meals and refreshments will be served while on safari.
    Chobe is known for regular sightings of great herds of game and it is trusted that your game ranger will help you to locate these events, which usually present excellent photographic opportunities.
    The game is followed by the big predators, which provide for further photographic opportunities during night game drives.
    Ngoma is situated on the banks of the Chobe River, and is ideally located to view especially giraffe, elephants, zebra and sometimes buffalo - often coming close to the lodge. Chobe River is known for it's prolific birdlife, which provides
    an extra dimension to photographers. This is apart from the crocodiles and hippos which can be sighted from the safety of the boat.

    We are confident that by combining the Kruger National Park and Chobe National Park, the total of six full days of dedicated game viewing should provide you with a very high probability to capture most of Africa's wildlife on film.

    Day 9 After breakfast depart to the Victoria Falls. The transfer is by road and will take about two and a half hours. You will stay at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel on the Zimbabwe side of the Falls. There are a huge variety of activities to select from, (Apart from visiting the famous falls!) all to be arranged through the concierge: Sundowner boat cruise on the mighty Zambezi River; walk to and visit the rainforest; evening drumming session and live entertainment; elephant
    back safaris; helicopter and microlight flips over the falls; several adventure activities including zip lining and white water rafting, bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls bridge; visit to a nearby cultural village.

    Day 10 Day at leisure at the Victoria Falls. The Victoria Falls Hotel is the best situated of all to view and experience the Falls.

    Day 11 After breakfast transferred to the Victoria Falls Airport (Zimbabwe) for the flight to Johannesburg. Recommended is the Air Zimbabwe flight which departs at 11:00 and arrives at 12:45. Flights are also available from the nearby
    Livingstone Airport (Zambia) - these however depart after 13:00 and arrive at Johannesburg at 15:00 and 15:15 respectively.

    Then you can travel onto Kafunta and choose either their 6 or 8 day extended safari.

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    So you arrive at Johannesburg at 12:45 and "then you can travel on to Kafunta"?

    From memory, the last Proflight flight from Lusaka to Mfuwe leaves at 16:00. With connection time in Johannesburg and Lusaka, I don't think that is possible. I think you'd need to overnight in Lusaka.

    But going from Vic Falls back via Johannesburg doesn't make any sense to me when you can just go to Livingstone and with Proflight via Lusaka to Mfuwe.

    I see this itinerary now has 2 nights at Vic Falls hotel, whereas originally (original option 1) it was only one.

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    Both of the lodges in kruger and Chobe are in national parks. No off road to get closer to the wildlife and no night drives. I would choose different lodges in private concessions around Kruger and question an agent who would choose these for you. You can fly directly to many camps, so this is not an issue. I'm also not sure how you can have total flexibility in your schedule unless you are arranging for private vehicles for all of your game drives. Same with the meals and refreshments taken with you - that is not common without private vehicles - but still no off road in national parks. I would prefer Kirkman's or Mala Mala with a max group of six with off road and night drives. Or somewhere like Arathusa and arrange for some private drives. I admit to being a bit perplexed without a breakdown of cost or saying that you have private vehicles. We also went to private concessions in Botswana for the same reasons. It's way more expensive, but you do get more opportunity for viewing. We have been on private game drives and game drives on full vehicles. We prefer going with other people - meeting others is half the fun.

    We loved the Vic Falls Hotel. It is grand and safe. You can't stay closer to the falls. I have no idea what the current situation is, but it was struggling under the economics of the terrible government. I wonder if the very fun casino is still open just up the block. If you aren't going to do a lot of the adrenaline junkie activities, one night is plenty. We flew into Vic Falls, had a road transfer to Kasane and onto charters for our Botswana adventure, then Maun to Joberg on our way home.

    There are lots of ways to travel into Zam from Vic Falls. Not many go through Joberg. Like I said before, I would question the agent. A lot.

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    Okay- so I feel like I need to just wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.

    Basics I should keep in mind:

    Plan on about $500-700 pp pn,

    What's the travel distance between locations

    If flights is involved- weight restrictions for luggage

    Difference between dedicated guide and private guide

    Things not included in price.

    Anything else?

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    I've said before, I hate planning trips. :)

    What I would do is something like this trip but in reverse.

    Start at a camp in Botswana - Chobe or Savute area or see if you can do a mobile safari for 6 or 7 days (Masson Safaris has had good reviews) and see one or two areas in Bots (not water camp). Then go to Mashatu for as long as you can (I've stayed 6 nights there and it wasn't too many). Then go to MalaMala for 3 or 4 nights (I've stayed there 6 nights also but when it was cheaper :) ).

    You will have a well rounded safari, 3 totally different experiences, and see a large variety of animals and landscape.

    I haven't been to southern Africa since 2008 but from what I remember, you'll see:
    Elephants - Chobe/Savute and Mashatu.
    Lions - all 3.
    Leopards - Mashatu and MalaMala.
    Cheetahs - Mashatu and chances are good at the other two.
    Hippos - Chobe/Savute.
    Rhino - MM.
    Cape Buffalo - MM
    And know that just because I didn't list elephants at MM doesn't mean they aren't there. The list is what you will leave each place thinking OMG I can't believe I saw so many leopards at MM. Or we saw cheetahs every single day at Mashatu. Or there had to be 500 elephants at the Chobe River that night.

    I like the mobile safaris because you stay with the same staff but travel to different locations. The food is good, it's a private safari, more intimate and you don't feel like you are just another dollar, it's a little rustic but hey, man, you're in AFREEKAH!!! You do have to pack up your suitcase when you move camp but it's a seamless process for you. You game drive to the next camp and the staff does all of the work of moving the camp, cooking, heating water for showers.

    If you are interested in a mobile safari, start there and get that worked out and then add the other camps. One agent can probably do all the planning/logistics. The mobile company may be able to set it all up too.

    Don't be put off by the Nat Geo price on the first safari because I'm sure you can put the same thing together for longer and less $. And I said to go in reverse order because the Chobe area is so beautiful and will give you the OMG I can't believe we are here. WE ARE IN AFRICA!! The second area will give you a different feeling and ending in Sabi Sands will have you saying OMG, after Botswana I didn't think it could get any better and I was so wrong!!

    And I would choose MM or Kirkmans (I haven't been there) over Notten's because of what someone told you up thread about the location.

    I do not know the logistics but a travel agent can do all that for you.

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    Destination wishlist

    Africa, Easter Island, Peru, Galapagos, New Zealand

    We have set a budget of $25,000, and can travel at any time next year, depending on what is our best option.

    Our primary focus is on wildlife and culture. Both avid photographers, we'd prefer small groups of no more than 6 or even private vehicles. We're also hoping to renew our wedding vows while we're there. We would prefer not to be moving around every 2 days, or spend long hours in vehicles trying to get from one location to the other.

    Okay- so I feel like I need to just wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.


    I’m coming late to the discussion with some alternative and probably off-the-wall suggestions, but, hey, on Fodor’s you get what you pay for, right? ;)

    I had a look at the above points and also at the “wish list” on your profile, and had a couple of thoughts, based on some travels my late sweetie and I had over the past decade or so.

    First, Africa is addictive. Seriously addictive. You WILL want to come back, you can take that to the bank.

    Second, it is actually possible to overdo the whole safari thing. On one trip to South Africa we took a few years ago, we visited four different national parks and/or game reserves back-to-back over a three week period. With all due respect to the wonderful lodges and trackers and chefs and drivers and… well, it all started to sort of blend together in our heads. I know it sounds silly, but another day of exquisite food, stunning encounters with lions and hyenas and crocodiles and leopards and eagles and elephants… overload.

    And, while the medium-high end safari experience is like nothing else, it’s hard to forget that you’re really in a social and cultural bubble. The southern Africa countries – and here I’m talking mainly about South Africa, but generally applicable – are complex, amazing, diverse places, with dynamic societies living through some remarkable times.

    So let me just lay out an alternate scenario for your trip – and beyond – for you to consider. Just a “thought experiment” as Albert Einstein would say.

    Timing: late August. It’s the dry season, the animals come to water (makes it easier.) No mosquitoes, no need for malaria prophylaxis, low humidity, nice warm sun but chilly at night.

    Skip Botswana and Victoria Falls this time. You’ll be back, no worries.

    Fly into Joburg and spend two days de-jetlagging yourselves. Do a tour of Soweto on one of the days.

    Rent a car and drive to Graskop, around four hours mainly on freeways and near-freeways. Graskop is a nice little town located on the edge of the Panoramic Route, a stunning collection of viewpoints and canyons on the escarpment of the northern Drakensberg mountains (which rise to over 10,000 feet farther south.) Stay at the cute, artsy and surprisingly romantic Graskop Hotel. Eat pancakes (Dutch/Afrikaans style) next door at Harrie’s – OMG.

    Spend the next day touring the Panoramic Route. See the Three Rondavels, visit God’s Window (where the coke bottle was thrown in The Gods Must be Crazy) and other beautiful sights around the Blyde river canyon.

    The next day, drive a couple of hours east to one of the lodges in the Sabi Sand reserve. You can pick the one you want – we’ve stayed at several, and (in my view) they’re all “the same but different” if you get my meaning. Comfortable, even luxurious, good food, most with traversing rights over neighboring lodges’ territories, and – really – all pretty much seeing the same sorts of wildlife on the game drives/walks. All the lodges cooperate, so if one party sees a group of lions or leopards, they report it by radio to all the other groups, and then they take turns, so over a period of two or three days, you’ll probably see most of what there is to see. (Which is not to say you’ll be bored by it – no way.)

    But I would spend maybe four days/nights in the Sabi Sand reserve and move on. There’s so much more to see. By now it’s around the first week of September. Spring.

    I’d drive back to Joburg, drop the car, and fly down to Cape Town. I’d pick up a second car and drive to Stellenbosch, a lovely old historic university town, then through unspeakably beautiful country to Franschoek, in the heart of South Africa’s winelands.

    Map, northern part -
    Southern part -

    Spend a couple of days in one of the higher-end hotels in Franschoek, doing day trips up into the hills or even down to the coast at Hermanus (whale watching, shark encounters.) This might be a good place for your wedding vows to be renewed.

    Then continue northwest up to the village of Paternoster near West Coast National Park on the Atlantic coast. This is a relatively undiscovered (by foreigners) part of the Western Cape, but in the spring… well, you have to see it to believe it. Imagine whitewashed thatched cottages sitting on beaches consisting of millions of mussel shells. Imagine mountains and meadows covered with wildflowers so thick you can barely make out the antelope and zebra laying down in them. Imagine more varieties of birds in one place than anywhere else. and

    Spend a couple of days on the west coast while you eat local fish and fill up your cameras’ memory cards – again – then two hours later you’re back in Cape Town. Spend some time in the Mother City – ride the gondola, visit Robben Island, watch the street performers at the V&A waterfront, maybe go see the penguins at Simons Town…

    But also visit the District 6 museum, visit the Bo-Kaap district (maybe for some Cape Malay food – OMG) and get in touch with the cultural and vibrant human side of this remarkable region.

    Then off you go.

    Driving yourself is really not hard. Yes, you need to get used to being on the “other” side of the road, but the main roads (e.g. the freeway leaving Joburg airport toward Kruger) are very good so you can get used to the drill without worrying about cross traffic or roundabouts. But the main thing is that the car will let you see the country, and the people – as you travel. The car, too, is a bit of a bubble of course, but I suspect you’ll soon feel that you end up knowing more about the land and the people from having seen it at ground level – traveling past the shanty towns and the rural villages, the estates and the orchards and vineyards… it’s pretty terrific.

    Can you do all this on $25,000? Oh hell yes, and with lots left over. Sadly (for them) the USD-ZAR exchange is very favorable at the moment, and you can find perfectly good lodgings in the Sabi Sand reserve for under $500 pppn (for example, a suite at Elephant Plains is around $360 pppn.) South Africa has a vast selection of extremely luxurious B&Bs – all rated by a central and very reliable authority – and prices are very good for the quality.

    Anyway, that’s a pretty different plan than the ones you’ve been working on, submitted just for your consideration.

    Now I mentioned earlier that I had looked at your “wish list” on your profile. Why am I bringing this up? Well, because trips to South Africa and travel bucket lists are compatible on a couple of levels.

    I’m way out on a limb here, not knowing you, but you seem to be fairly adventurous, and maybe you’re like us and like to “leverage” your travel budget if possible. So here’s the deal: use South Africa as a launch pad for a year’s additional – very comfortable – travel around the world.

    Our first visit to South Africa took place on a “round the world” (RTW) trip we took a decade ago. We used an “RTW” airline ticket that we had purchased in Turkey the previous spring.

    RTW tickets are sold by various parties, including some “do-it-yourself” travel agencies, but the ones I’m talking about are sold my member airlines of the various global alliances. These tickets are good for a year, and allow you to take up to 16 flights using the alliance’s airlines. There are many rules, of course, but the main thing is that you have to cross both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the same direction and end in the same country where you started.

    The other big aspect of these tickets is that their priced very differently from one country to the next. This gets to the “why Turkey?” question. Well, because at the time, a 4-continent business class Oneworld Explorer RTW ticket bought in Turkey was half the cost – $5000 v. $10,000 – of the same ticket bought in the USA.

    On our first RTW we started in Istanbul, traveled home to Seattle, used the same ticket for trips to New York, California and Hawaii, then went to Australia (for the first time) and on to southern Africa (visited Chobe, Victoria Falls, Kruger and Cape Town) before returning to London, then Israel to visit some family, and ending up back in Istanbul months later. We didn’t travel the whole time, to be sure – we had jobs and dogs and a house to worry about, so the NYC trips etc. were done over long weekends etc. during the months between Istanbul and Oz/Africa.

    Well, here it is ten years later. What would the same ticket cost today? Guess what… the same, provided you buy the ticket and start the trip in South Africa.

    Look at this map - - as an example of what you could do with the same type of ticket.

    Start the ticket in Joburg when you return from the Sabi Sand reserve and fly down to Cape Town. After that, use the ticket to blast up to London and over to Paris for R&R. Then home to Detroit. Over the next months, use the ticket for… a trip to Florida? New York?

    Then when it’s time to attack the bucket, down to Dallas and then to Ecuador for the Galapagos. Down to Lima (and flights to Cuzco are pretty cheap if that’s your target in Peru) and on to Santiago.

    Out to Easter Island and back, then over the south Pacific to Auckland. Visit New Zealand, then hop over the Tasman to Sydney, have a pie at Harry’s, then it’s back to South Africa for – another safari? Or maybe you’ve become addicted and just re-up the ticket with another one, and this time maybe head home via Hong Kong or Japan.

    I won’t go into the depths of RTW-lore (I am rather OCD on the subject) but instead will refer you to a little “guide” I put up on TripAdvisor on the subject - which is fully as wordy as this post.

    In my view, your $25K could probably pay for both this trip and a year’s flying around the world after it. And I should also mention that you could earn enough frequent flyer miles in the process that the following year’s travel could be done on the seriously cheap – maybe free.

    So there, I’ve “master planned” your next two or three years of bucket emptying. Cheeky, eh?

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    All I can say is WOW!
    Sorry- been down with the flu for the past week or so, haven't been on here to check if there had been any posts. And what posts I have come back to!
    Sundowner- I will look at the Nat. Geo itinerary. We have received a couple other itinerary suggestions but they were both over budget. So I'm still looking.

    Gardyloo- I'm speechless. I have a fiend who booked one of the RTW fares and loved every minute of it. WE looked at the single continent option a few years ago for South America, which sadly never came to fruition. If I understand the RTW ticket restrictions, you have to travel in the same direction for all the flights, correct? So if we started our journey in Johannesburg we'd either need to continue east or west...

    You've certainly given me something to mull over!

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    If I understand the RTW ticket restrictions, you have to travel in the same direction for all the flights, correct? So if we started our journey in Johannesburg we'd either need to continue east or west...

    The airline industry in its wisdom (LOL) has divided the world into three big regions, named... I, II, and III. How inventive. Area I comprises the Americas, II Europe and Africa, and III Asia and Oceania.

    RTW tickets require that you proceed from one area to the next in order, so 1-2-3, or 2-3-1, or 3-2-1, etc. Basically, the key rule is that you cross both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the same direction, either westbound or eastbound. They also generally - with exceptions - prohibit "backtracking" between continents. But within the continents, you can backtrack and zigzag all you want.

    Like I described above, you could use the ticket to fly home from Africa, use it to travel around North America (which includes the Caribbean and Central America) for a few months, then maybe head down to South America, then over to Europe and back to Africa within the 12 month life of the ticket.

    It might be fun for you to play with the online booking tool at Oneworld - - just to get a feel for the possibilities and a sense of the prices. For the time being, it's hard to beat a Oneworld 4-continent business class ticket starting in South Africa, 16 flights in business or first class for a base price of around US$4800, probably around $5500 after taxes. That's around $350 per flight, okay for Detroit to Miami, killer for Sydney to New York or Chicago to Hong Kong.

    For us at least, travel planning has been a lot of fun, and putting one's bucket list on a calendar is pretty heady stuff. This might be one way to approach it.

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    So you pay one price, as opposed to the single continent pass where you pay by mileage?

    Yes. The Oneworld product that I think is the best is priced according to how many continents you touch or overfly (3-6.) Other RTW products, such as those sold by Star Alliance members, are priced according to how many miles you fly, with "tiers" from 26,000 to 39,000 flown miles. But they're all the same in that you can use up to 16 flights, they're good for a year, and you can make changes relatively easily with much smaller change fees than you'd have with conventional tickets.

    Have a look at the Tripadvisor post I linked above for more details.

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    I think we're going to hold off on the RTW pass- but definitely am going to put it on the back burner for our next adventure. Patiently waiting for the newest itinerary...really hoping this one will do the trick. At this point I'm growing weary of the whole process.

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    So what is everyone's opinions on Zimbabwe? Have an itinerary that would include Rhino Island Safari Camp, Zambezi Life Styles Camp,and Somalisa Camp,in Zimbabwe in addition to beginning the trip with Chapungu, Nottens and Islands of Siankaba.

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    Thank you for all your wonderful suggestions. We've finalized an itinerary,and have sent in the deposit. It's official! Thanks again for all your invaluable assistance!

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