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Melissa5 Dec 4th, 2011 04:41 PM

1st trip to Botswana OR South Africa? I'm PETRIFIED of both!
Please HELP advise me on Botswana & South Africa if you are an experienced traveler. I think I have bitten off more than I can chew! :-O

I bravely gave my husband a unique gift. For his birthday, I gave him MYSELF as his traveling companion...and said that I would accompany him to anyplace in the long as there is a Fodors guidebook for it, and some "Fodors Choice" ratings.

My husband was thrilled! >:D< He knows he can go anyplace in the world without me. I freely let him go. But he WANTS to share this experience WITH me. He says its not the same without me.

Gulp...he has chosen either Botswana or South Africa (southern coast of South Africa.) He says I can choose between those two.

HELP! I have these 2 books so far: Fodors See It South Africa 3rd edition; and Rough Guide to First Time Africa. But every time I try to dive into the info, in guidebooks or on-line, I slam into my fears: malaria? Malaria pills with side affects? Carjackings at gunpoint? :-[

I'm not going to be able to do this without the help of fodorites. I REALLY want to carry through with my promise to give my husband this gift. ((R))

My husband is a biologist and he's been to South Africa once before, although I'm not sure where exactly. South Africa or Botswana are great for him.

BUT for isn't helping that I don't feel any great longing to visit the continent of Africa. It's just not something I have ever dreamed of. Maybe I don't have a clear vision of it.

<b>WHAT is a GREAT 1st-timers trip to Botswana or South AFrica?</b> Ideally, it would be a choice which would be so great for both of us that I would want to return. My husband is willing to fork over some dough for this trip...he knows it's not a cheap trip. But we like being around "real" folk...we don't want to be on a trip where we are stuck with snooty people who need everything to be 5 stars. On the other hand I want to be comfortable, feel safe, and have fun, and meet interesting people.

Maybe it would help if I told you something about myself. I love gorgeous landscapes such as the Alps in Switzerland and the entire south island of New Zealand. I was also nervous going to Costa Rica, my first time in Central or South America, but I loved it and have been twice so far. I don't like the Caribbean because I see so much poverty and discontent there, and many of the locals seem resentful because they aren't benefiting from tourism, which does seem unfair. People seem happier in Costa Rica, to me. I enjoy writing poetry, meeting interesting people, and trying out exotic foods. I enjoy nature walks, but I do have hip and foot problems, so I can't walk as far as I used to. I can walk a few miles each day if I can stop and rest. I can't ride in a car for longer than 6 hours in one day due to my hip. I'm not too ancient yet...we are in our 50's.

THANKS IN ADVANCE! I'm not sure whether to tag this for Botswana or South Africa. I don't have a preference at this point. <b>PLEASE DON'T</b> point out the dangers of the places I have already been...that just INCREASES my overall travel fears.<b> It helps IF YOU SHARE YOUR PASSIONS</b>...the positive stuff. I would also like to hear from anybody like myself who was <b>nervous</b> about their first trip to Africa (or Botswana)...and how did the trip turn out....pros and cons.

ShayTay Dec 4th, 2011 04:46 PM

I think you two would really love Botswana. It's my favorite country in southern Africa. I'd suggest contacting Bill Given at "The Wild Source". He's a wildlife biologist who is also a safari planner and is a specialist in Botswana.

Femi Dec 4th, 2011 04:54 PM

I would recommend South Africa for your first trip.

a) Different enough to be interesting, but similar enough to the US so that it is somewhat familiar.

b) Southern part of South Africa ( Western Cape and Eastern Cape) are malaria free, so you won't have to worry about malaria prophylaxis. Other parts of the country can be low risk depending on the season

c) South Africa has a fantastic range of options for accommodations with something that would suit the budget and style of just about every traveler. Also a wide range of activities including cultural, wildlife, gastronomic, etc

d) I feel that South Africans genuinely care about you enjoying your time in their country. Even those in the industry that must see tons of tourists do not seem to be jaded.

Femi Dec 4th, 2011 05:03 PM

Fly into Cape Town, spend time visiting wineries, Robben Island, Cape Point, Table Mountain.

Lots of scenic walks/areas along the Garden Route of the Western Cape.

Safari with the Big 5 available at a few lodges in the Eastern Cape.

If you're ok with Malaria prophylaxis (fewer side effects with Malarone, generic version may soon be available), you could visit a lodge at Kruger National Park, the quintessential safari destination. There's also Blyde River Canyon nearby.

I love Botswana as well, but think SA would be a better introduction to a first timer.

Are you ok with renting a car and driving? How much time will you have? Budget?

The Fodorites will have you packed and ready to go tonight!

Femi Dec 4th, 2011 05:13 PM

You could (depending on time and budget) visit <b>both</b> South Africa <b>and</b> Botswana!

Marija Dec 4th, 2011 07:34 PM

I understand your concern. I too was pretty apprehensive about going on safari, but loved it:

And the next year we went to Botswana:

Can't wait to return!

lisa Dec 4th, 2011 07:51 PM

I wasn't apprehensive at all before we went, but my mom was, and she LOVED South Africa.

We're planning our 6th trip now, that's how much we loved it. Both South Africa and Botswana are amazing. You will love either/both, for different reasons. SA is vibrant, diverse, electric, changing fast, multicultural, urban,...and Bots is supernatural, laid back, quiet, peaceful...can't explain completely but either way you can't go too wrong.

Hope you relax and enjoy!

Safari_Craig Dec 4th, 2011 08:32 PM


What a great trip! The guide books will probably just add more confusion. When do you want to travel (when is the birthday? What I recommend and the itinerary construction will totally depend on the time of year.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

christabir Dec 4th, 2011 09:23 PM

My mother was nervous (not petrified) to go too. Like Lisa's mom, she loved it!

Botswana is a relatively wealthy, peaceful country. That's why it's never in the news. S Africa is truly a world in one country. I can't visit often enough. Cape Town is a lovely city and the nature reserves are world class. It is beautiful with wide open spaces and gorgeous beaches.

Please share why you are afraid, and we will do our best to reassure you. (if it's the snakes, go June - August when they are dormant). :)

Richard_Trillo Dec 5th, 2011 06:22 AM

As the author of one of the two books in question, I certainly hope (reading Craig Beal's comment) that it doesn't add *more* confusion!

Melissa, if I were you, I would focus on the Western Cape and the Garden Route, which has superlative scenery, good infrastructure and enough wildlife to give a good taste of the extraordinary riches further north - but which also come with greater poverty and contrasts.


Safari_Craig Dec 5th, 2011 06:33 AM

Funny Richard! Julian Harrison also works as a writer for Fodors. He owns Premier Tours in Phili and is a friend of mine. Let me clarify what I wrote above. The books only add to the confusion because there is such a plethora of information. A google search for "Africa Safaris" returns 106 million results! I can't imagine sorting through the options as a first time traveler trying to avoid a bad safari or getting ripped off.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

contem Dec 5th, 2011 08:00 AM

I had some of the same apprehensions and I went to Botswana and now I want to visit all of will love it...going to Tanzania next. Best trip of my life!

atravelynn Dec 5th, 2011 08:25 AM

First of all, please stop being petrified! South Africa and/or Botswana will be a wonderful vacation—perhaps a “best trip of a lifetime.”

I recalled the title of this trip report, which is contained in the link

The “best trip ever” is a very typical comment from a first trip to any of the Eastern or Southern countries in Africa. There are two companies that have lots of properties in South Africa and Botswana (Wilderness Safaris and AndBeyond) whose slogans are: Reawaken Your Soul and Our Journeys Change People’s Lives. Those are not just hype and most people come back re-awakened and a little changed from their first trip—or subsequent trips. I know that’s true for me, based on trips to both Bots and SA, along with other Africa destinations.

Here’s a question for you: Were you thinking more of safari activities coupled with some cultural interactions or more diverse activities that cover the spectrum from vineyards to scenic ocean drives to world class attractions in cities?

Whatever your answer, you could consolidate your travels (not sure how much time you have) by just staying in South Africa. South Africa has billed itself as “a whole world in one country,” and I’d agree.

Second question: How comfortable are you driving yourself? That is an option in South Africa, but certainly not a requirement. I don’t do self driving, personally.

Based on what you said about scenery and alps, here is something I’ve thought about, using a driver. You could drive yourself though. The drives are scenic and include mountainous regions.

I would stay 4 nights at Mala Mala (South Africa) and the Mashatu (Botswana) for more relaxation and for better wildlife viewing. If not 4 nights, then 3. But I’d DEFINITELY stay longer than the 2 nights suggested. (FYI, Mala Mala is one of the most famous lodges in Africa with a wildlife reputation to match. While not inexpensive, Mala Mala is not the highest priced, especially if you stay in the rondavels, which I thought were great. Mala Mala is in the Sabi Sands reserve next to Kruger. There are many other great lodges in Sabi Sands as well.)

The above can be booked directly or you can use a travel agent. My experience with Mala Mala is the cost is the same.

If you have time, I’d add the following:

1) Phinda, an AndBeyond sanctuary in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. You fly there round-trip from Johannesburg and the flight is part of the arrangements. Phinda has some nice cultural activities and activities beyond traditional safaris, plus they have 7 distinct habitats that add to the scenic beauty. Phinda is a cheetah sanctuary, so you have a better chance seeing cheetah here than other places. There are 4 places to stay in Phinda. I spent a week at Forest Lodge. You can book direct or use an agent. My experience is the cost is the same either way.

2) 3 or more days in Cape Town. A great local guide that I used was Wayne of Take2Tours. We designed our days just the way I wanted to spend them with lots of input from Wayne. If you used a travel agent to plan the whole trip, they could set up Wayne or use their own local guide.

If you choose to use a travel agent, I’d pick one that specializes in Africa. You can use some that are listed in the Fodors guide. The ones I’ve used for Southern Africa are Eyes on Africa in Chicago and The Africa Adventure Company in Ft. Lauderdale. I’ve had positive contacts and consultations with Fish Eagle in Houston and Go2Africa in Cape Town. There are many agents you can use and I’d contact at least 3 and discuss your options.

There is one thing you should be petrified of when visiting Africa and it happened to me. You will catch the highly contagious disease for which there is no cure: Mal D’Afrique. Symptoms include wanting to go back to Africa and diverting all travel funds to that end.

sandi Dec 5th, 2011 01:26 PM

Great info from all and resources from atravelynn, so contact them and/or others to get the ball rolling.

Next you'll know, will be questions about packing :)

Bye the way... we all have Mal D'Afrique.

Celia Dec 6th, 2011 07:26 AM

Everything Femi says about South Africa is something I would say too.

I went to South Africa 31 years ago, because my husband got a short-term job there. We had no thought of ever going back. How wrong we were! We've been back 13 or 14 times. It's a wonderful place. YOU DON'T NEED TO BE PETRIFIED!


sundowner Dec 6th, 2011 02:32 PM

Mal D'Afrique, indeed. 10 trips to Africa since 2002 for me.

Right now you see this trip as a gift to your husband. I hope after you return you feel you have given yourself a gift, too.

I personally prefer the wildlife viewing and would spend the whole trip on safari. MalaMala and Mashatu is a trip I have done more than once. In 2008, we self drove to both and enjoyed the other sights in the area that I had never seen because of flying between camps. I was really glad that we drove. I've also been mobile camping in Botswana twice which I also greatly enjoyed (non-participatory camping). But others have given several other choices if it's not all about the wildlife.

Of all the trips I've been on to Africa, I've never been scared or worried while there. It's all a big unknown and kind of scary until you get there and discover that you are well taken care of and the details have all been worked out by your travel agent.

Take Malerone for malaria. Plan a good itinerary with help from the Fodorites. Don't overpack. Have fun. That's it!

P_M Dec 7th, 2011 04:28 PM

This is a dream trip for me. Can I go in your place? You can hang with my husband while your husband and I are travelling. :-)

ekscrunchy Dec 9th, 2011 03:19 AM

Both destinations are so fantastic that you will remember this trip in detail for the rest of your life. One thing you might want to consider is that many Botswana trips require flying in tiny planes to reach the camps. If this is a concern, choose SA. You certainly can't go wrong with either, and I say that as someone who ranks a Bots/SA trip at the top of a lifetime of travel.

DMBTraveler Dec 9th, 2011 07:28 AM


All great responses to your post and I hope you have started packing :)

I just got back from touring around SA and some neighboring countries including Botswana and "LOVED IT".

Would recommend Yellow Fever vacation before you go. Although you won't need it if you stay in SA, you will need it if you visit some surrounding countries and then return to SA.

For me, the only side affect from Malarone was the self inflicting headache and grief I gave myself when I realized how silly it was to wait so long to visit South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland!

Here's just a taste of the fun and adventure that awaits you:

Melissa5 Dec 16th, 2011 12:22 AM

WOW thanks everybody! Your replies are exciting, informative, intriguing...and funny as well!

I am currently SWAMPED with family holiday preparations and life... As soon as I'm caught up I'll have lots more questions!

Someone asked WHAT I'm afraid it's not snakes, ha ha...(-: my husband is a biologist/herpetologist so we ruled that one out when we were dating!

I've narrowed it down to 2 terrors...death from malaria and death from violence. It took a lot of deep thought to figure that out!

I know there are anti-malaria drugs you can take...but I'm worried about that because I have a super-sensitive digestive system, and any meds which can affect the digestive system tend to wipe me out totally. I CANNOT take NSAIDS for example...not even motrin, makes me sick. Some antibiotics make me sick as well. So I'm wondering if I can tolerate the side effects of the anti-malaria meds. This worries me a lot.

Violence scares me a lot. I want to feel safe in Africa.

My husband feels that a trip to Botswana would be the trip of a lifetime for us. I think I see his vision in my mind...but not sure if I can get there...with the malaria pills and their side affects being a problem...

The southern coast of South Africa has a lot to offer...and no malaria. I think I might be able to overcome my fears of violence by planning the trip well and researching well. Right now I sense that Botswana is my husband's first choice and South Africa (southern coastal areas) his second choice.

I can't wait to have time, after the holidays, to enjoy your trip reports and the links you have all provided!!!

QUESTION: Is there anyone out there with a DELICATE Digestive SYSTEM...AND HOW DID YOU TOLERATE THE ANTI-MALARIA DRUGS? (Both my stomach and intestines are affected by many meds so that I cannot take many meds).

One of the guidebooks I bought (Rough Guide) is much too scary for me...seems to go into graphic detail about malaria and other unsettling topics.

Can anyone recommend the best guidebook for South Africa which is informative but also motivating instead of petrifying?! I also have a slightly older book...Fodors See It South Africa 3rd edition...but will probably want to get a newer Fodors book.

We tend to budget according to what we think an experience is worth...

We have driven ourselves in Costa Rica...but I'm not sure whether I'm comfortable letting my husband self-drive in Africa. We also had a local driver for 1 day in Costa Rica and it was a relaxing experience and gave us an insiders view of the country.

Regarding flying...I don't like the claustrophobia of being "trapped" in airports and crowded planes...but I was amazed to find I relaxed and enjoyed a Nature Air flight on a 12-seat plane down to the Osa peninsula in Costa Rica...the plane had nice big windows and I think my real fear isn't of flying...its' the smaller plane with big windows was better for me. But I'm willing to tolerate flying the big jets to get to my destination...

We <b>cannot</b> travel between March and May. But we can travel almost any other month...and would like to be in Africa when the season is best in a particular area...

Thanks for listening.

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