Africa, closer than ever before?

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May 11th, 2015, 01:21 PM
  #1
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Africa, closer than ever before?

During the course of our early planning for a 2016 trip back to Japan (been there once already) and Australia (this would be a third visit), Africa surfaced onto our radar. We’ve had on-again, off-again discussions about a “dream trip” to Africa, but have put it off due to the perceived inaccessibility financially. Like many first-timers to the continent, I suppose, a visit would include the obligatory wildlife safaris. We would like a safari experience that pulls out all the stops: comfortable accommodations at a place of character, good food, diversity of animals. And we want to experience safaris in a couple of different landscapes (e.g. Kruger and the Okavango Delta). We’re also drawn to Cape Town and Victoria Falls, which help us narrow down our geographic focus. With the U.S. dollar at historic highs against the South African rand, we think this may be our best chance. While we’ve not made a final decision, we’re inclined towards Africa in 2016. We’re looking at early-to-mid April, possibly spilling over into May.

Taking a look at the notes from previous planning attempts and doing some additional research, we’re thinking about an itinerary close to the following:

Cape Town, 5 nights

Cape Winelands, 2 nights – We’re looking at both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. We would probably see both, but what are the pros and cons of each as a home base? May be helpful to share that we would be relying on taxis and public transport.

Greater Kruger, 3 nights – Our budget is around 4200-4800 ZAR per person per night. In the past, we’ve looked at Notten’s, Nkorho, and Elephant Plains, each appealing in its own way.
Victoria Falls, 3 nights – Our thinking is that 3 nights would give us 2 full days, one for the Zambian side and the other for the Zimbabwean side. We allocated a similar amount of time to our visit to Iguazu Falls last year, and it was perfect for us.

Chobe, 2 nights

Impalila Island or Zambezi Cruise, 2 nights – On previous occasions, we’ve looked into the Okavango Delta, our first choice, but could not find something that fits into our budget of about US$400 per person per night. It seems like even increasing it to US$500 would not make much of a difference. After some research, we were attracted to Impalila for some similarities with Okavango in terms of environment. Do folks here have any experience with Impalila? We also came across information about overnight cruises on the Zambezi, which is interesting to us as well. Any experiences here?

Johannesburg, 3 nights

Any feedback or advice would be appreciated. Thank you.
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May 11th, 2015, 02:57 PM
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I'm going to address two topics raised in your post, one of which might be completely off the mark, but my personal mania regarding travel planning renders me powerless to resist it.

First, specifically regarding your plans as stated, and offering some very personal opinions at no charge (maybe what they're worth.)

Stellenbosch or Franschhoek - Pick 'em. I personally like Stellenbosch slightly more as it's a bigger place and has a more dynamic vibe. Not surrounded by the glorious scenery that Franschhoek offers, but, maybe more variety. You can't go wrong either way.

Victoria Falls - I have to admit we were underwhelmed by the falls themselves, and frankly the vibe on the Zim side was pretty grim. I don't like to let politics influence my travels, but Zimbabwe was simply not a happy place, for us. I guess I would say that travel is all about choice - how you spend your time and money - and since southern Africa offers such a stunning range of landscapes and options, well...

Nottens/Nkhoro/EP - We've stayed at both Nkhoro and Elephant Plains and would happily return to EP, less so to Nkhoro. Really had to do with the mood - Nkhoro very "old school" to our eyes, if you get my meaning in a South African context. Frankly if I were returning to the SSGR I'd probably return to Chitwa Chitwa, where I'd say we had our best overall experience, in the moderate-budget category. Can't speak to Nottens. Just for the exercise, however, have a look at Pondoro in the Balule reserve, north of Sabi Sand.

South Africa general - I'd really consider getting a car, both for the winelands and Kruger areas. For example, an hour or two from the Sabi Sand lodges is the Panoramic Route, around the Blyde River Canyon and other stunning mountain sights in the northern Drakensberg mountains. Amazing scenery, a couple of very nice little towns in Graskop and Pilgrims Rest, and amazingly close to the Kruger complex. But without a car it's inaccessible.

Okavango - Can't speak to it, haven't been there. Again, look at some alternatives, such as Hluhluwe and St Lucia Bay on the KwaZulu Natal coast for distinctively different environmental zones. Or look at Addo Elephant NP in the Eastern Cape, easily combined with a tour of the Garden Route from Cape Town. Again, very different landscapes (each one more gorgeous than the last) compared to the north and Kruger area.

Okay, second (uninvited) point.

During the course of our early planning for a 2016 trip back to Japan (been there once already) and Australia (this would be a third visit), Africa surfaced onto our radar.

You might want to have a look at using some synergies available to global travelers by use of round-the-world air tickets. This is something of an obsession of mine, so forgive my inner geek.

RTW tickets (at least those sold by members of the big airline alliances) offer one-price packages of up to 16 flights, good for a year, that require you to go around the world - either westbound or eastbound, crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans in the same direction.

One of the most striking features of RTW tickets is that they're priced VERY differently depending on where the ticket is bought and started/ended, with differences sometimes as great as 100%.

So my reason for mentioning this is that for the moment, Japan is one of the cheaper (in strong US dollar terms) origin points for RTW tickets sold by Oneworld alliance members, such as American Airlines, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways et al.

So you're going to Japan, but are also thinking about Australia and Africa. So how about this route over the space of a year? http://tinyurl.com/oy3yryl

Bought in the US, in economy class this ticket would cost $6100 plus taxes. Bought in Japan, $3630. But in business class (first class on domestic flights in the USA) the US price of $12,300 would be $7490. If you skipped Australia, the price would be lessened by around $600 for coach and almost $1000 for business class.

Buy the ticket in Japan and use it to fly to Oz. (Or if this is a separate trip, just use it to fly back to the US.) Then over the next few months, use it to fly around North America (including the Caribbean and Central America.) Then when the time's right, over to Europe and down to Africa, maybe via the Middle East. Visit southern Africa, then end by flying from Joburg to Hong Kong, then back to Japan.

In addition to a lot of flying (around $375 - $450 per business/first class flight, hard to beat) you'd also earn many thousand frequent flyer miles in the process, potentially enough for another business- or first class trip overseas the following year.

Now this isn't for everyone, and I admit it's a mania, but it sounds like you might be keen international travelers, so consider it as a data point for further investigation. If interested, have a look at a wee "primer" I did on these tickets over at TripAdvisor - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic...ir_Travel.html

So sorry for the length and diversion, and happy planning!
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May 11th, 2015, 07:46 PM
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Safari is "obligatory"?

Check out Arathusa in Sabi Sand. We liked it a lot - there is a waterhole in camp that we spent a lot of time watching the animals come to us right from our front deck. www.sabisand.co.za has all the lodges in SS and from there you can check prices, too. We didn't drive the Panorama Route - we hired a car and driver. It worked out well to be driven around on our first S Africa trip.

We did the winelands on a day trip from Cape Town using a driver. Public transportation is not easy. There is so much to do in the city, three days is barely enough, plus the Cape of Good Hope and the penguins (again with a driver) take a whole day. Table Mtn, Robben Island, Kirstenbosch are all great. We used the hop-on/hop-off bus and liked being able to hop off any time we saw something fun.

Three nights in Vic Falls is way too much. It's not like Iguassu. The view from the Zim side is much better. I agree with Gardyloo, and add a night or two in Chobe.

Our two favorite trips were (add Cape Town to both) with three-four nights per lodge:

Arathusa, Outpost in northern Kruger, Mashatu Tented (you might be more comfortable in main camp, but tented was perfect for us) in SE Botswana. We flew a scheduled charter to Arathusa, got driven to Outpost and Mashatu, then a charter/commercial to JNB. It was almost perfect.

A lodge similar to Arathusa, then south to Zululand Rhino Reserve in KwaZulu Natal (we stayed at Rhino River Lodge and arranged for a rhino conservation project - best experience we've ever had) and St Lucia (iSimangaliso Wetland Park) for kayaking with crocs and hippos and horseback riding on the beach or safari, snorkeling and whale watching. Getting from Sabi Sand to ZRR, if flying, requires a flight through JNB to Richards Bay. But arrangements are easy for getting everywhere. If you want to add private beach time, Rocktail and Thonga are nearby. Or just enjoy the beaches and many activities in St Lucia!

Both are great fun and very varied Eco-systems. The second one is very affordable. I'm pretty excited to go back to Zululand Rhino Reserve because just last week they released a pack of wild dogs. There is a great video on their Facebook page.

June-Sept is the best time for wildlife viewing. If you decide to visit Vic Falls, check into the water volume - too high and the spray makes seeing the falls difficult and too low, a little dull.

Have fun planning!
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May 11th, 2015, 08:13 PM
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Gardyloo, wow! Thank you for the wealth of information you've provided here. Your feedback of the places we're looking at along with the additional destinations you're recommend give us a lot to think about. Your suggestion of the RTW ticket offers a lot of food for thought.

Christabir, obligatory for us at least. An African safari has been a dream of ours. Thank you for the suggestions. How many nights do you think is more reasonable for Victoria Falls: 2 nights? Are you suggesting more nights in Chobe in addition to our 2? I could probably add a night or two to Cape Town, but I'm expecting to see everything the region has to offer no matter how much time.
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May 11th, 2015, 08:41 PM
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Typo above: should be "not" expecting.
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May 12th, 2015, 02:43 AM
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See if this helps with the Winelands bit:

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...eed-a-plan.cfm
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May 12th, 2015, 08:48 PM
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I don't like to stay at any safari lodge less than 3 nights. It gives enough time to give you the best chance of experiencing the wildlife in the area.

I know of many people who have done day trips from Chobe to Vic a Falls. Unless you plan some of the adrenaline activities, it's plenty, in my opinion. I know it's one of those "must do's", but it takes a lot of time and money to get there. If there is a drought or flood (or not), it's just not rewarding enough for me to make the investment. Again, it's not Iguassu.

You will barely scratch the surface of Southern Africa in one trip. We are planning our fifth, and have missed a lot more than we've seen. Don't worry - you'll be planning your return trip before you land back home!! So no matter what you decide, it will be great. Or enjoy your RTW trip!

I didn't understand your usage of obligatory: required by a law or rule
: always or often included as a familiar and expected part of something - from Merriam. I misunderstood.

Have fun planning.
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May 12th, 2015, 09:12 PM
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Ekscrunchy, thanks for reminding me of this thread. I remember following it a couple of months ago, when I wasn't considering an Africa trip.

Christabir, thank you again. I do not expect to see "all" of any one city or area let alone a part of a continent on one trip. I hope to get a sample of the variety that Africa offers and come away with a few cool memorable experiences.
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May 13th, 2015, 05:58 AM
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I'll return briefly to the Victoria Falls/Chobe discussion and simply say that we went to both (flew into Livingstone, transferred to Chobe via a rather "interesting" crossing of the Zambezi, road transfer to Victoria Falls, flew back to Joburg from VFA) and in retrospect would have done something else with the days and cost.

The "in retrospect" part is key - had we known what was possible within South Africa we probably would have reallocated those days elsewhere. For example, on a later trip we visited Cathedral Peak in the central Drakensberg mountains, stunning subalpine scenery surrounded by beautiful Zulu villages; one really comes to realize that "people of the sky" is an apt name. Or on a later trip we spent time on the Atlantic coast north of Cape Town - historic whitewashed villages, unimaginable fields of wildflowers in the spring, the litle-visited West Coast National Park - all within an hour or two of Cape Town.

Anyway, just saying... You will be planning a return visit - promise - so spending less time hopping about the continent this time might be a good idea.
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May 13th, 2015, 11:48 AM
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Gardyloo, appreciate the feedback. I do not expect to experience "everything" in 100 visits let alone 1.
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May 16th, 2015, 01:13 PM
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TP - we seem to following each other around as we have planned a trip to SA in February 2016. We have been on Safari (Kenya) a couple of times, so that is not a priority for us but we are doing Cape Town, the Winelands, the Garden Route and a 3-night safari at a private game reserve in the malaria-free south.
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May 16th, 2015, 02:02 PM
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Craig, indeed, and I suppose not surprising given our similar interests and travel styles. This will be our first time and our second safari experience after Sri Lanka. Have you been to SA before?
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May 19th, 2015, 09:08 AM
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I have to agree with others, I can't for the life of me understand why visitors feel compelled to spend so much time at the carnival that is Vic Falls. At the end of the day, its just a waterfall. Everything else is a hodge-podge of hyped up junk intended to part the tourist from his/her cash. If an African "safari" has been a dream of yours, why spend so much time and money doing other things?

In regard to Botswana, we had an amazing 22 days in camps at a cost of about $500 PP/PD. We traveled during the "green season" - Nov/Dec. The cost is approximately 30%-40% less than high season and the wildlife was still outstanding. We used all Wilderness Safari camps. They more than meet your desire for a place that "pulls out all the stops". Consider a combination of Chitabe and Tubu Tree with at least 3 days in each. We stayed 4-5 days in each of 5 camps and would have stayed longer.
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May 19th, 2015, 12:09 PM
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TC, thank you for your suggestions. I took a look at the Wilderness Safari camps and it seems the only one within reach based on pricing is Pelo. Do you have experience with the particular camp? Others in the Okavango region we're looking at are Gunn's and Moremi Crossing.

As an alternative to the Okavango, we're looking at a Zambezi cruise or perhaps Deception Valley Lodge in the Central Kalahari.
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May 19th, 2015, 02:14 PM
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tripplanner, I would suggest you speak with a professional planner. As I posted, we paid $500 pp/pd for our Wilderness Safari experience, which is right in line with what you say you can spend. I don't know where you are looking for cost, but rack rates posted on-line are never the going rate if you use a good planner. Beside, you can't book the camps yourself. You will have to use someone for that purpose, so why not get some good advice along the way?

We spent 22 nights in Wilderness Safari camps during the "green season" -- Nov/Dec. Our cost was just slightly over $22,000 for two people (excluding International airfare). We stayed in Tubu Tree, Xigera, Vumbura Plains (a premier camp), Chitabe Lediba, and Savuti. With the right help, your budget will go much farther. Good luck.
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May 19th, 2015, 02:18 PM
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Just a quick reply! I am just starting to plan a second trip to Southern Africa and I noticed your question.We went Botswana and South Africa. Why do you want to go to Johannesberg? I do not think it is at all worthwhile. It is very dangerous and for the most part, if you stay in a nice hotel, you are sequestered off by gates! We stayed in a lovely small hotel in Capetown called African Villa.We stayed in Frankshoek for four nights. It was lovely. To generalize -most of the wineries in Stellenbosch make Cabernet or Bordeaux varietals and Frankshoek there seemed to be more of a variety including some very good Syrahs. We were there about 7 years ago. We made appointments at smaller wineries which was fun.
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May 19th, 2015, 02:24 PM
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TC, thanks again. Who did you use in terms of an agent? I wanted to get some of the basic research done and have a good sense of itinerary, interests, range of costs, etc., in mind before contacting someone.

Zinfanatic, Johannesburg is of interest to me given the recent history (e.g. Soweto). And I figure I had to transit the city regardless.
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May 20th, 2015, 05:27 AM
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tripplanner, I applaud you for doing research in advance. That is exactly what I do so that I have a clear view of what I want before approaching an agent. It's easy to get steamrolled by a bad agent if you don't know what you're doing. I am only suggesting that you not get too hung up on pricing specifics until you talk to an agent. Even then shop your prospective itinerary around. It's surprising the different prices you will get on the same trip.

Our trip to Botswana was the third to Africa and I was clear on what I wanted.....to be in high end camps in the Okavanga for a minimum of 20 nights. I wasn't going to fly 20+ hours to stay a week! Different agents have connections with different camp/lodge organizations. You may therefore see more advantageous pricing from one over another in specific camps. After reading a lot of reviews on TA, I was set on Wilderness Safari camps. I found "Travel Beyond" in Minnesota. The owner, Craig, is very knowledgable ....having been to Africa many, many times.

Re. JNB: yes you will land there, but the airport is far from the city. Have a look at the reality of a JNB city tour and ask yourself if it's really worth the time and money to "drive by" buildings and bridges. I've been on a lot of city tours and find they are usually a fine way to waste a day if you have nothing better to do.

The flight from ATL to JNB (the non-stop) lands at approx. 8PM. The flight out to Maun (The Okavanga Delta) is early the next morning. We stayed at the Intercontiental right on airport property and was glad of it. It's expensive, but we had points. You also save the price of a "meet and greet" and transport, so really not so bad price wise.

Tour:
http://www.viator.com/tours/Johannes...r/d314-2382SJ6

I don't know where you live, but we have toured wineries in CA, France and Australia. While it can be interesting, I sure wouldn't give up a day on safari for it. Just being very honest....seen one winery, seen 'em all. A tasting and then the pressure to purchase. What am I going to do with bottles of wine while traveling around?

My opinion.....wildlife is what sets Africa apart from every other trip you will make in your life. When you return home it will be the lions, elephants, cheetah, hippos that you rave about.....not the wine tastings or the city tour. History is wonderful. I agree that learning about a country is important. Read about it, watch movies, have lengthy conversations with your guides about their life......don't spend too much time driving by buildings.

Again , good luck. Happy to help if you have additional questions.
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May 20th, 2015, 11:33 AM
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TC, appreciate your thoughts and suggestion on a travel agent. I've reached out to Travel Beyond in addition to the half-dozen others I've contacted. While the safari experiences are important to us, we are looking for a more rounded trip that includes other elements. Suppose it comes down to our unique travel styles and preferences.
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May 21st, 2015, 03:36 AM
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TripPLanner: I've taken two trips to Southern Africa. Each was planned down to the last detail by Southern Destinations, a CapeTown-based agency with a new office in the US. (I live in New York)

I've written trip reports about both of the trips; click on my name to find them. I am very well traveled and almost always plan my own trips but for SA/Bots I let an expert handle everything. The person I used at the agency is Liesl Matthews and I recommend her with enthusiasm.

Liesl has also planned what will be my third trip, to SA and Botswana, planned for next spring.

You can phone with a toll-free number, or e-mail.

https://www.southerndestinations.com/
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