African Safaris--Do you really get what you pay for?

Jul 9th, 2008, 08:13 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2008
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African Safaris--Do you really get what you pay for?

Hi All,

I am in the beginning stages of planning a safari to South Africa or Botswana (leaning towards Botswana) and I have found that there is a huge price differential between the different companies (most of which have been mentioned here). Aside from 'luxury lodging', does an expensive safari(ex:Ambercrombie and Kent--$15,000 for 10 days, albeit private)really make for a 'better' safari experience?

The sgenda/schedule and length are also driving my decision--I'm looking to stay between 16 - 20 days

I have been into contact with OAT, Wild LifeStyles Adventure Safari, A &K, Ultimate African Safari, Out of Africa, CC Africa).

My priorities are: seeing the Big 5, great scenery and great photographic opportunities (I've heard that if the group gets too big, it can be hard to get a good photo of the wildlife).

I am definitely sticking to a group safari as I am traveling alone.

wicz is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 10:30 AM
Join Date: Feb 2005
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No -- spending more does not make for a better experience. Most of the camps are very good.

Some people who are very interested in photography take a provate vehicle for one or more days -- this costs extra but can be arranged.

I would say most of the people posting here decide what camps they want to stay in and book either directly or using an agent. When you are in the camp, you will be in a vehicle with others (unless you booked a private vehicle) but you will not stay with the same people from camp to camp as you would with a group tour.

I would encourage you to read trip reports and itineraries here -- search for Botswana. There are lots of posters very familiar with the various camps and areas and they can help you figure out where you want to go and stay. You could then get a price for that from an agent and compare that itinerary with the group tours to determine what is important to you.

I am not a tour person but I do enjoy meeting others in the camps and getting to know them. On the other hand, sometimes there have been people in the camps that I have been glad I did not have to spend 2 weeks with.

I just encourage you to do a bit of research before committing to something. If, after the research, you want a group tour, then go for it. But planning an individualized tour is not necessarily more expensive (and may be less than the group) or more difficult. Search for agents here -- and look for atravelynn's remarks as she has a lot of very good information to share.
mpkp is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 10:57 AM
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make sure every passenger is entitled to a so called "window seat" as that is essential!
cc africa does great mobile safaris with only 6 people, walk in tents (16qm), adjacent bathroom tent and 4x4 safari vehicles. a crew drives ahead, gets the tents etc. done while the guests are slowly following.
one safari starts in maun end ends up in vic falls; their motswiri is also a great opportunity to extend your safari.
rate was about 3.300$ for 10nts/11 days.
great product and very good value for money!

a+k is a dmc and works with reliable companies but doesn't do any itself as far as i know.

1 agree: it's not mandatory that a more costly product must be better. pricetag and experiences is not compulsory.

especially when it comes to safaris it lives and dies with the guide! of course if the whole safari is done for 2 people then it's becoming expensive.

15.000 is quite a number.
but a one-pax safari means you are the director and the film is shot at your pace and location - almost.
it's depending on your taste whether you feel great all by yourself or the company of another 4 or 5 people....

divine54 is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 11:23 AM
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My priorities are: seeing the Big 5, great scenery and great photographic opportunities

You can definitely pay too much ... what you describe as your priorities are pretty much a sure thing on almost all safaris (maybe tough to see rhino and leopard in some places but we've always seen them in Tanzania and Kenya) ... people paying a lot more are paying for luxurious accomodations (do you need a plunge pool or spa?) or having fewer people around or similar extraneous items.

To some people these are worth the extra $$ but based on your 'priorites' you can have a good value trip for less than half what the expensive ones are going for.
Bill_H is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 01:09 PM
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I would urge you to investigate the cost of using an in-country operator; from what I have heard (here and from people I met in Southern Africa last year) A&K is very overpriced. WE compared prices with someone we met who was using them and she had paid much more than we had, and we were on a custom, private trip.

The agency we used, who I liked very much, was this one, but I believe that there are posters here who could also set you up. You will be with people at each of the lodges, at meals, in the vehicles, etc, so you do not need to also be in a group to get from places to place..
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 01:14 PM
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<<I am definitely sticking to a group safari as I am traveling alone.>>

I have been on several safaris, always alone, and I have never taken a group safari, which to me defeats the purpose of traveling alone. If I wanted a group, I'd bring friends or family, but I prefer the solitude. And, a private safari can cost far less than many group safaris.
thit_cho is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 02:33 PM
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My husband and I are going on an escorted trip to South Africa with our travel agent and about 20 other people: (She also books Botswana trips.)

Our agent, Ngaire Keene, has been wonderful and she books both escorted group tours and private safaris. Visit her site; there's a lot of good information about various lodges.

She also books package tours from Ker & Downey and A&K.

And, of course, search this forum. There are recommendations for a lot of reputable tour providers and I'm sure you'll find the one that's a good fit for you.

Enjoy the trip!
LuxuryCruiseBible is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 03:36 PM
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wicz - Good question, much like the one I had before my first safari in 2005.

"traveling alone", you may fly alone between safari camps but in camp you will be with "jeep" mates for the game drives and meals. But if you want to be with the same group of people for the entire safari then an A&K type arrangement might work best. I/we in doing four safaris to Africa (5th coming in Sep) have ever time done the fly to a camp, join the camp group thing.

Now, just to add perhaps a bit of direction to this discussion, here is what I would specifically recommend, FWIW . Seven nights at the Little Governors Camp in Kenya followed by seven nights at MalaMala in South Africa. In Kenya (Masai Mara) you have the classic African plains landscape like you probably imagine. But you might not see leopard and you will not see rhino (right anyone, no wild rhino in Kenya?). In South Africa, around Kruger and MalaMala (Sabi Sand Reserve) the landscape is more bushy and you will see rhino and many leopard (plus lots of the other big 5).

So, ok guys, now (gently) rip into me

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 04:48 PM
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I travel alone, and have only once traveled with a group. I prefer solo travel. As others mentioned, you aren't really alone. You will be in the vehicle with others and will have meals with others. There are some camps that seat people only with the party with whom they are traveling, so if you don't like to eat alone, avoid those camps.

I prefer to choose my camps/locations rather than signing up for a group/canned itinerary. I also prefer solo travel because if I don't like the people in the group that I am with then I don't have to be with them the entire trip. You are correct, the smaller the group the better. However, depending on the size of the group, it's entirely possible for everyone else in the group to be friends/family members with you being the outsider. That happened to me in Namibia (my one and only group trip). The family I was with had children that misbehaved the entire time, and there was no way to avoid them. That was an isolated incident, and you don't hear about things like that very often, but if you do decide on a group trip see if you can find anything out about others that have signed up for the trip.

As others have mentioned, a higher priced safari does not necessarily mean a better safari. Go for the locations good for wildlife and good guides and save money on accommodations. I think it is easier to piece something like that together, based on your preferences, if you work with a TA on a custom itinerary rather than group travel.
Dana_M is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 05:28 PM
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In Kenya (Masai Mara) you have the classic African plains landscape like you probably imagine. But you might not see leopard and you will not see rhino (right anyone, no wild rhino in Kenya?).

Good chance of leopards in the Mara (we had two great sightings the only two days we looked for them, including one stalking and just missing a dik-dik) ... there are a few black rhinos in the Mara, one of the jeeps at Intrepids found one near camp while we were there but we didn't go over to look at it ...

At Lake Nakuru there are close to 70 white rhinos and we saw 12 - 20 of these every game drive, often at near-touching range (they are not as aggressive as black rhinos), so there are still a few wild rhinos in Kenya (I guess Nakuru qualifies as 'wild' even though there are a million people living nearby).

Bill_H is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 06:24 PM
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I was at the Mara last month - was lucky to have seen both Black Rhino and Leopard.

If you are fixated on seeing the Big 5 - I don't think Botswana is the place to go to! Might I suggest the Sabi Sands in South Africa for you ------- you get a variety of options ranging across the price range and a near guarantee of seeing the Big 5. Infact, quite possibly on every drive!

HariS is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 06:44 PM
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Divine wrote,"make sure every passenger is entitled to a so called "window seat" as that is essential!" ..... whatever that means!!!
HariS is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 07:46 PM
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Basically agree, South Africa Sabi Sand Reserve and there abouts (Timbavati Reserve) will get you the big five the soonest and most often. However, for a first safari would you recommend someone stay all 16-20 nights there? And not go to Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana?

regards tom
cary999 is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 07:56 PM
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For mobiles in Botswana, as you have listed - you are looking at the upper end of the market with your listing of Wildlifestyles etc etc., and hence they are more expensive. I don't know anything about many of the others. I would think the CCA mobile is a group trip? Not sure that is a good idea in terms of your photographic interests.

There are so many other options - Masson safaris, John Chase safaris, Gametrails etc etc., just so many to choose from!
HariS is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 11:43 PM
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Do you get what you pay for?

It depends on whether you wish to see animals or indulge in wine tasting and "haute" cuisine.
If you pay a lot you may get the latter.

If you want to guarantee seeing the Big 5 (why is always a priority there are so many interesting animals?), then look no further than the Sabi Sands area adjoining the Kruger Park.
Go for the large concessions Mala Mala, Londolozi etc. as you have a far greater traversing area.

I agree with Tom if it is actually Tom?

Jul 9th, 2008, 11:48 PM
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If you agree with Tom, then it must be the actual Tom

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jul 10th, 2008, 01:02 AM
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That's a good point, it would be difficult to agree with the other Tom.
Jul 10th, 2008, 01:32 AM
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Author: HariS
Date: 07/09/2008, 10:44 pm

Divine wrote,"make sure every passenger is entitled to a so called "window seat" as that is essential!" ..... whatever that means!!!

in case you also don't know what i mean - just a short clarification

make sure the safari company doesn't seat 3 people in a row - leaving the seat in the middle empty!

divine54 is offline  
Jul 10th, 2008, 04:11 AM
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I went on the OAT trip to Kenya and Tanzania. When I was researching that trip, I found that the itinerary was very similar to A&K (including many of the same lodges), and the OAT price was about half. A&K included an internal flight, and sundowners, but was definitely charging a lot more. So if that pattern holds true to South Africa or Botswana, if you are looking for better value, you might find other options better.

OAT prices include international airfare and are a good value. Although the Boston office is disorganized and uninformed, the actual trip leaders and ground operations in-country are seamless.

That being said, I've definitely spoken with people who have been very very happy with A&K, so I'm not speaking poorly of the trip experience, merely saying that the value is not that good.

And I agree with the other posters -- for any group trip make sure that every person gets a window seat. Simply reject any operator who won't guarantee this.
ann_nyc is offline  
Jul 10th, 2008, 12:43 PM
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I did an OAT trip (Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe) that was half what you've quoted for A&K (15 days actually on the ground). I would never consider A&K because I've talked to people who were on a high-priced trip like that who were staying in the same places and seeing the same game we were. Of course, I'm not in the A&K price bracket and I don't require luxury. Having said that, even at $7,000 my OAT trip was a luxurious trip for me--my one splurge. We stayed in permanent tents (if you could call them tents--beautiful!) in 2 places and in nice little individual houses in 2 others (3 nights in each) and 3 additional nights in a very nice hotel in Victoria Falls. Great guides, great food. We did NOT see rhinos or cheetahs (no cheetahs was my ownly disappointment), but we saw more elephants than we could count and and at one camp there were two watering holes close enough that when I went to bed at night (I was traveling without a companion) I could hear multiple elephants trumpeting, fighting, greeting each other, whatever they do at watering holes. Thrilling way to settle down in your bed at night! And we flew from each camp to the next one on small planes. So I think I got a pretty good deal. And they take no more than 16 people. We had 15. Nice sized group. When I go to Africa, I like the group experience. To each his own. My previous trip (1 week in Kenya and add-on of 3 days in Cape Town) was less than half that price, with 2Afrika. It was certainly well worth it since we didn't think we could afford anything more and it got us to Africa for safari. We didn't hear the animals as I did on my OAT trip, because of less open accommodations. But if you can only afford $3,000-4,000, it at least gets you there. We had very few complaints about our experience.
travelingtish is offline  

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