Any experience at Belmond Safaris in Botswana?

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Jan 21st, 2016, 12:56 AM
  #1
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Any experience at Belmond Safaris in Botswana?

Hi - Has anyone stayed at any of the three Belmond lodges in Botswana? The current "Flight on Us" offer is quite attractive. I can't seem to find any Fodors review about the company, other than that Khwai River Lodge is one of Foders' top 100. Thanks!
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Jan 21st, 2016, 01:35 AM
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I don't have any experience of them, but I'm aware of them and their locations and I've always ruled them out for various reasons, mainly location. They're located in pretty busy areas- Savute is in Chobe national park, so there's also no off roading, but it's a high traffic area with several lodges, plus mobile operators and self drivers. Khwai is a community concession so you can off road, but it's still a busy area with several lodges, and campsites for mobile operators and self drivers. Then they have a delta camp- I haven't visited that area but I understand it's not a prime concession for game viewing.

They are very luxurious lodges, and justify their prices by a high comfort level but in my view the safari experience in these areas isn't worth the high prices (and I've been to both the Khwai and Savute areas). Also, their idea of luxury includes things like air conditioning which to me is somewhat incongruous in the bush and in such remote areas where fuel for generators has to be trucked in for long distances, it's not exactly eco friendly.

Reviews for their camps often seem to come from people who have just booked a package and probably haven't researched the alternatives or spoken to a knowedgable specialist tour operator.

The flights on us deal just seems to give you your inter camp transfers free, and it's valid for Jan to March (green season). Given the nightly price of the lodges, I don't really think this is a huge saving. There are other similarly good offers around in green season- I would look at Wilderness Safaris 6 countries special or Kwando Safaris 5 rivers special. Or talk to a specialist Africa tour operator- I am sure there are plenty of other green season specials around.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 02:19 AM
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Thanks Stokeygirl! So you'd rule out http://cdn1.buuteeq.com/upload/18138...ct-sheet-1.pdf for the same reasons?
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Jan 21st, 2016, 03:19 AM
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The prices too are astronomical andbeyond.I would look at a lodge/camp with proximity to prime game viewing experience than for the luxury they have to offer.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 05:20 AM
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I'd be interested to know the pricing on the AndBeyond trip.

I have been to the busier areas like Khwai, Savute, Chobe and Moremi on a luxury mobile safari (I did mine with Letaka) and personally think it's the best value way to see those areas. But I'm not sure how AndBeyond's pricing compares. I'd certainly prefer that style of camp to an air conditioned luxury lodge, provided it's not overpriced for what it is.

Also- I wouldn't completely rule out visiting those areas but I'd go in high season when the private concessions are astronomically expensive. The game viewing can still be excellent, and the inability to off road is less of an issue in dry season when visibility is good as the vegetation is low, and there is more wildlife around. It just can be a bit crowded, with lots of vehicles jostling for space at sighting.

Green season is a different story, as there are so many great deals around that the private concessions become much more affordable. At the same time, the ability to go off road in the private concessions really helps a lot more in the green season when the vegetation is thicker so you can't see as far- it means the guides can track the predators which, in the soft Kalahari sand is easy (well, easy for them anyway!).

So whilst I'd consider areas like Khwai, Savute, Moremi in the dry season, in the green season I'd definitely try and stick with private concessions.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 08:04 AM
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What great info from Stokeygirl!

I didn't find any pricing on the AndBeyond mobile in the attached. Seeing it runs from Feb to Dec, prices probably change for high/dry season and low/green season.

A word on luxury: Even if you forego blatant "luxury," when you travel with a reputable company you are probably still going to be surprised at how very nice everything is, such as:
-ensuite faciltities, with a mirror
-hot water available
-comfortable beds and bedding
-spots to hang/place your clothes and belongings
-completely waterproof dwelling
-likely raised off the ground if a permanent tent or if a mobile, completely enclosed with double zippers, etc.
-adequate to lovely furniture
-if permanent, nice natural decorations and sometimes even a few little decorations if mobile
-excellent staff
-wonderful, memorable food

Unless choosing the fanciest place you can find is a high priority for you--over wildlife and the bush experience--definitely don't seek out unnecessary luxury in Botswana.

In addition to Wilderness which is mentioned above (which I've used for a great Bots mobile) consider these 2 companies:
Masson Safaris & Unlimited Tours & Safaris. I am.

If the price was right and locations suited you, AndBeyond is a superb company. I've been impressed with AndBeyond when I have stayed with them, though have not done a mobile with them. AndBeyond actually borders on being "extra super over-the-top luxurious & fancy" but they also have exceptional, outstanding locations for wildlife, which is why I have gone with them. They're also really good in conservation and involving local communities.

One final thought on green season travel. I have seen really good accounts of wildlife in March (and other green season months) at Kwando (permanent) camps in Botswana, especially their Kwara Camp.

Enjoy Botswana if that's where you choose to go!
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Jan 21st, 2016, 08:50 AM
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I have seen pricing on an AndBeyond mobile before- a slightly longer one, they used to call it the Botswana Explorer I think, and I seem to remember it being quite a decent deal for high season. But I've found in general that the gap between high and low season pricing for mobiles is a lot less, whereas for private concession pricing, like the Kwando camps Lyn mentions, the difference between high and low can be huge with green season pricing half or less than high season pricing. And if you travel solo, it's an even bigger difference as the green season specials have no single supplement. Some itineraries I've done in green season would probably be triple the price in high season, taking into account single supplements. There really are some great deals around.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 05:06 PM
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This is a long post ... please bear with me!

Thank you so very much for the info and comments! My husband and I have wanted a Botswana safari for several years and each time, the high price tag has stopped us. Now that we have somewhat covered our other must-see safari countries (SA, Zambia, Namibia, Tanzania, India), we are considering Botswana again.

Timing wise, we have some vacation days that we need to clear by March 31. I understand it's the wet season and it's not ideal, but we went to Zambia during the wet season and enjoyed it. Also, I read somewhere else on Fodors that El Nino has affected the rains a bit?

We don't care for luxury accommodation and always put quality game viewing and guiding over plunge pools and butlers. But, with no idea on where we want to go, I just started looking at companies I know.

We've stayed at &Beyond's Exeter Lodge in Sabi Sand and liked the company, which is how I ended up looking at the 6-night Mini Explorer. Until May 31, the per-person rate for the entire safari is US$3870. I was attracted because the length is perfect for us and I thought the rate was reasonable; plus we've always wanted to do a mobile camping trip. Unfortunately, &Beyond has responded saying the Botswana Mini Explorer is completed full for March. But I gathered from your comments that if there was availability, the itinerary wouldn't be too bad a choice for a mobile camping trip through Chobe, Savute and Okavango? What do you think of the price?

I looked at the Belmond itinerary because I was literally at my desk planning this trip when the mailman rang my doorbell to deliver the Africa Geographic 2015 Yearbook. And I found the Belmond ad as I flipped through the book. For my preferred dates for the "Flight on Us" offer, the total price ranges from US$4429 to US$4529 per room depending on which two or three lodges I choose. This price is for TWO people. I heard from Belmond that "the Belmond Khwai River Lodge is located on a private concession and we do offer evening game drives at the lodge. Our Belmond Savute Lodge is located in the Chobe National Park with strict rules with regards game drives - sunrise to sunset and stay on path, and lastly the Belmond Eagle Island Lodge is located on an island in the Delta, and we only offer 'game/bush' drives in the dry season, in the wet season, game drives are not possible, so we offer a variety of water activities and a helicopter safari." So maybe it's not ideal even with the lower price tag?

Lastly, I contacted ATR because they arranged our fantastic Tanzania trip. For a six-night itinerary (2 nights in Tau Pan Camp in Central Kalahari and 4 nights in Kwara Camp in Okavango), the per-person rate is US$3523, which includes Maun-Kalahari-Okavango-Maun flights. To upgrade to Little Kwara Camp, the price goes up to US$3834 per person. I understand this itinerary is totally different from the previous two in that I replace Chobe and Savute with Central Kalahari. My reasoning is: 1. Chobe seemed very busy when we did a day-long trip there from Zambia. 2. Wouldn't Savute be similar to the Okavango Delta? 3. We are intrigued by the Kalahari and according to ATR, March is actually a good time to visit. Of course, ATR can't confirm any of these until I give them confirmed dates.

So may I ask for your expertise and comments? Thank you so much in advance!!
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Jan 21st, 2016, 06:09 PM
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*Sorry, regarding the ATR itinerary, I meant to say "Wouldn't Savute be similar to CHOBE?"
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Jan 21st, 2016, 07:48 PM
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Youve gotten great advice. Last minute planning! I do that, too.

Green season in Botswana is great. I have yet to hear of anyone being disappointed. Try these specials. Maybe there's availability! They are all great deals! Contact any safari agent as WS doesn't do direct bookings. Be flexible and you might get lucky.

http://www.ultimateafrica.com/wilder...safari-season/
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Jan 21st, 2016, 10:05 PM
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It's so much more helpful to have the whole story.
Out of those options, I'd go with the Kwando one. ATR are right, that green season is actually the best time for the Kalahari. With 6 nights you don't have time to do everything, and I think the Kalahari and the delta will make a nice contrast to each other.

And yes, Botswana is having a particularly dry year. I did a last minute trip in late November, using the Wilderness safaris green season special- I had 5 nights at Chitabe, 3 at Little Mombo. The drought wasn't having a great effect at Mombo as it's on an island so the channels either side had shrunk, so the island has got bigger, all the water near the camp had dried up and the game had actually dispersed. We still had some great sightings, but not as good as I'd expected based on Mombo's reputation. As a premier camp, it's also still quite pricey even on the special. But Chitabe, which was the less expensive of the two, was astonishing game viewing. I also heard the Vumbura area (which I've been to before and loved) was doing very well.

I would also ask ATR what they could get for you with the Wilderness special. I think it will be more expensive than the Kwando option, but by how much I'm not sure. If you have 6 nights and could get a combination of Chitabe or Vumbura with something like Savuti, or Duma Tau or Kalahari Plains, I think that would be an awesome option. Or even Chitabe and Vumbura. They it's up to you to weigh up the costs. Vumbura has Vumbura Plains (premier camp so more expensive) and Little Vumbura (less expensive but only 6 rooms so often very hard to get availability).

I think the WIlderness special runs to 20 March.

Good luck.

Where did you go in Zambia in the green? I've been to South Luangwa a lot, but only ever in the dry season. I keep thinking I should try the green, especially as I love wild dogs and they seem to see dogs a lot in the green season- did you see any? Did you do boating?
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 05:25 AM
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You are right about El Nino causing Southern Africa to be drier than normal.

The ATR special with Kalahari looks great. As mentioned March is prime time in Kalahari. I'd check Kwando's Kwara Camp Kwando too, but it may even be booked under 90 days out, just like the AndBeyond trip.

But there's something out there that will work for you.

I too am interested in your S. Luangwa in March. Did you do cultural celebration/festivity activities then?
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 07:52 AM
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Bad news ...

Both Kwara and Little Kwara Camp are full for the days I want, which are in late March. Our schedules don't allow much leeway either. With both this and the &Beyond mobile camping itineraries unavailable for the dates we want, I wonder if it's just not meant to be. We decided too late and last-minute didn't work out for us this time.

I do have a provisional booking at Tintswalo Safari and Kapama Buffalo for the same time period. I believe these are in an area we've never been (we've only been in Timbavati and Sabi Sand as well as inside Kurger itself). Do you guys have any thoughts on these camps? But compared to Botswana, it'd be less exciting because we've done four SA safaris already. Should we hold off and try to get to Botswana later this year (is there another low season later in the year with similar rates as now?) or go to SA?

We went to S. Luangwa in Zambia more than 10 years ago. It was either March or April and everything was green and lush. While it was hot, I don't remember it to be particularly rainy the days we were there. (In fact, we had more rain in Etosha!) We went with the mission of seeing wild dogs and were extremely lucky to see them on our first drive. We followed them for a while before they ran off deep into the bush. Even though that was the only sighting, it made the trip for us.

I think we visited a village and met the "king" and saw how people lived. Being wildlife and nature people, we're not particularly interested in any cultural activities. We did love the microflight over Vic Falls. And we visited a textile workshop that employed villagers and bought some beautiful hand-crafted table linens. The guinea fowl design somehow works really well for Thanksgiving!

Thank you for your insight so far and I look forward to hearing what you guys think about my current dilemma.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 10:11 AM
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I don't really know much about those camps in South Africa, so I can't help there. But the Botswana green season specials usually start early to mid Nov (was 10th for Wilderness last year I think). Kwando usually announce theirs early, you can probably book now for November this year. Wilderness keep theirs up their sleeve for a bit longer (maybe about April/May) and then they often don't put some of the more popular camps in until later. Last year I booked in August for the last week of November, and they had just put Chitabe and Little Mombo into the special. Still, I was very surprised to find availability as it was Thanksgiving week (I'm from the UK, but I know Wilderness gets a lot of guests from the US, so I would have thought that week would be popular).

I would also have a play around on ATR's website which is good for checking availability and pricing. For example, I had a look at Shinde which is next door to Kwara and it's showing as about $350 pppn in late March, although availability is patchy. I'd say that's a good alternative to Kwara.

If you are tied to late March that's a bit late for the WIlderness special which currently ends on 20 March, although in the past they have extended it into April, so if you don't book something it's worth keeping an eye out in case they do that again this year.
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Jan 24th, 2016, 06:40 PM
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After much back and forth, we decided to wait until November to go to Botswana. The options available for March that are within our budget are limited and not ideal. We may now take a short trip into the Cardamom mountains in Cambodia or Taman Negara jungle in Malaysia to use up our vacation days. We live in Singapore currently so these places would just be a hop for us. Thank you so much for y'all's help!!
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Jan 24th, 2016, 07:39 PM
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AFAIK, those specials come out in May. It's sometimes hard to do a last minute trip - I think it's a good idea to wait until November. Although still expensive (and hot!) it's best to do green season in Botswana- it's a very expensive destination. Or a mobile serviced camping trip as mentioned above. Have a great time, no matter what/where you choose.
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Jan 25th, 2016, 12:12 AM
  #17
 
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That probably makes sense. It's a shame you couldn't make it before 20 March as I'm sure you would have been able to find some good options with the Wilderness specials.

If you're interested in Kwando, their special came out in Feb last year, so it may be possible to book even now (if not then very soon). It's worth getting in as early as possible for November as that is the most popular part of the green season. I don't think the Wilderness special will be out just yet (May is more likely), but I'm also not 100% sure it will be within your budget as it is a bit more expensive than the Kwando special.

If I were you, I would get someone to price up a theoretical Wilderness itinerary based on this year's prices. If it's too expensive, forget about it and then you don't need to worry about waiting until May (and some of the camps like Chitabe didn't go into the special until August last year). If you have made the decision to go with Kwando, their prices will be out very soon (or maybe already), and for November you can then book something before availability starts to fill up.

I've always booked my Botswana trips through Safari Specialists in Maun and I've found them very helpful and they will have a good idea of when you can expect all the specials to appear.
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