Botswana in May - lodge recommendations

Old Aug 4th, 2009, 10:55 AM
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Botswana in May - lodge recommendations

As a reasonably experienced traveller to Africa (10 visits - Tan, Ken, SA, Zam, Moz) I am considering a trip to Bots for the first time in May next year. I've found it really hard to pin down where to stay (much harder than other countries I've visited), partly beacuse there is just so much advice out there (and some strong opinions!), and partly because of the prices (high!). The thread titled 'My thoughts on Botwana safaris - part 1' has been helpful and interesting (understatement!), so, I thought, I would hijack numbers' request in that thread for advice on a Bots trip, with a bit of a tweak to suit my personal circumstances. Numbers asked:


"This is a great thread, and has a lot of interesting information, but let's cut to the chase for this newbie. I'm planning to go in early September 2011. Assume 3 locations, 3 nights each, anywhere in Botswana. Quality of wildlife viewing is my one and only priority (which includes quality of the guides, of course). That said, I'd love it if all of the experts here would provide what they believe is the ideal itinerary. Keep in mind, quality of wildlife viewing only. Thanks!"

I'm after exactly the same as numbers except it will be May. I will be a single traveller and reckon I can afford $600-700 per night for accommodation.

What , if anything, will that get me? What do you guys recommend?

Numbers - apologies for stealing your request.

Thanks
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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 11:18 AM
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Delta, Linyanti/Savute and Delta/Moremi would be fine.

Now that I have suggested the areas it's becoming difficult to make the choice regarding the camps.

As your budget is rather high for May which isn't peak season you might be able to negotiate any single surcharge to be dismissed.

If I were you I would do a research on the camps in question and wait until Feb 2010.

If economy doesn't come back by then you most probably will be able to negotiate or at least take advantage of "specials"

Have a look at

www.kwando.com for Lebala and/or Lagoon plus Kwara

or www.andbeyond.com for Sandibe/Okavango
andBeyond doesn't charge single surcharge for the aircraft nor the camp (mostly!)

or the unavoidable Wilderness camps http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/country/botswana/
But be aware WS charges single surcharge for plane seat and camps.

Study the camps and make a rough choice.
Then I would open another thread asking specific questions regarding your selection of camps.

SV
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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 11:35 AM
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SV,

Thanks for getting me started. One of the things I probably should have mentioned is that I hear that the wildlife viewing in the Delta can vary enourmously depending on the part of the Delta that you are in. I'd actually picked out Sandibe on the basis that andbeyond do not charge a single supplement but I'd also heard that the game in that concession is not that great (can't remember where - might have got confused with somewhere else). So I was then back to stage one. I'm also slightly put off kwando because I understand they put three in a row in their vehicles. I hate that.

Which are the best areas of Delta for wildlife viewing in May?
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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 12:36 PM
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Africa_fan,

We stayed at Sandibe in Sept. 2007 (obviously not in May) and the wildlife viewing was excellent. Sandibe is in the Chitabe concession (I believe) and I understand that Wilderness Chitabe Camp also has a good reputation for sightings. We saw our only kill happen at Sandibe (this was only our 3rd trip....and first to Botswana) and saw honey badgers for the first time (2 different ones in one night). Elephants were often on the property and the concentration of elephants in the concession was amazing. We didn't see a cheetah or wild dogs (although they do have wild dogs in the concession, but saw lions and leopards. Overall, except for fairly mediocre food (not up to other &Beyond properties where we've stayed), we were very pleased with Sandibe and &beyond has always done a great job for us. You've probably already done this, but Wildwatch (the &beyond newsletter) has sightings by camp/lodge and this might be helpful. We particularly enjoyed the staff at Sandibe and had an excellent guide - Tsavo. I'm sorry I can't provide any help about what it would be like in May, but check out Wildwatch for May. Have fun.
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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 01:20 PM
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Africa_fan
oops - I understand.
You are right regarding the Kwando seating policy. That's what I hate as well.
I think Hari is a frequent Kwando guest and he migt inform how likely it is to end up in that figuration. But of course whatever he says - it might be different when you visit.

I have never been to BOT in May - only in Oct and Nov.

A friend of ours stayed at Sandibe in Jan and she was happy with the sightings. She is pretty particular - does 3 to 4 safaris/year.

May is right after the rains so expect the grass to be high and dense.

So let's wait until the real experts chime in!

Yes www.wildwatch.com is a good source for the andBeyond sightings.

Sorry for being not really of help

SV
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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 02:30 PM
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Africa_fan,

As there is still plenty of time, I'll be posting my advice next month as I am quite busy at the moment. But I am sure other people can share their ideas right now.

Greetz,

Johan
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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 05:25 PM
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SV,

It all depends on the camp occupancy rates during one's visit.

I have been to Bots early June in a dry year - but, unlikely that I will travel that time of the year again ........ I will either go in the green season (to Kwara) or towards the end of the dry season (to the Linyanti/kwando/kwara) ....
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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 05:53 PM
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What will be the best camps for your safari?

These threads are often misleading, as people will recommend you to go here,there and everywhere. Often based on a single experience at completely different times of the year.

Like going to Kenya in February and being diappointed on missing out on the migration.

Rather than launch in by recommending every operator under the sun, I would suggest asking yourself the following questions. You have been on safari before, so it is not as if the experience is completely new.

1) Do you have a primary interest or specific animal that you would like to see?

For example;

- Certain areas in Botswana have become famous for the high probablility of seeing wild dogs.

- Keen birders are sometimes better suited to the water camps where general game viewing is lower.

- Are you simply looking for good general game?

There is no one size fits all.

2) What type of activities are you looking for?

- Botswana's diverse ecosystems offer you four main activities;

- Normal Game drives
- Walking safaris
- Mokoro
- Motor Boat Safari

- You will see most general game on a game drive, though the other activities allow you to appreciate other aspects of the Delta.

- Boating tends to be better for Birders, though offers great game viewing in the dry season along the Chobe river and some other areas.

- Mokoro tends more to be about the experience than game viewing

3) How important are the safari luxuries to you?

- Could you handle sleeping in a smaller mobile style tent? It can make your trip more cost effective, allowing you to spend a private vehicle for example.

4) Are you an Avid photographer?

- You could be better off choosing a mobile operator and getting a private vehicle for the same price as sharing at a lodge.

- If you do choose a lodge, check the seating arrangements in a vehicle

5) How much value to do you place on being able to offroad and be on a private concession (a more Wilderness experience of having minmal vehicles from only one operator in an area)?

- A good mobile guide will can guide you easily away from the more crowded area of in the National parks

- Many people though, are attracted to the solitude of Botswanas expensive and remote camps.

- Offroading allows you to follow and get closer to the wildlife.

- I have had excellent sightings in both National Parks and private concessions, though the latter comes with a higher price premium. There is always an element of luck, whether you pay $150 or $2000 per night.

As you are travelling in May, your sightings will depend heavily on the rainfall and timing of the rainy season, not only in Botswana (also the catchment areas for the river systems in Angola). In a dry year, and wildlife will not be highly dispersed. Giving you better than average game viewing for that time of year.

Heavy rainfall(as the weaher patterns over the last two years have been), the wildlife will remain dispersed, in smaller concentrations, the higher grasses can make spotting wildlife more difficult, or the an early flood which can reduce the amount of drivable area.

May can be a risky time to visit. Though by addressing the questions above, camps or mobile safaris can be recommended that focus on your requirements, whilst hopefully mitigating the seasonal effects.

As for when to book it, I would wait for the specials to be announced in Feb/March of next year. Your budget could strect a lot further.

For example, it has recently been announced that Sankuyo (Santawani) have dropped their high season rack rate from $425 to $325 per person per night.
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Old Aug 4th, 2009, 06:34 PM
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Africafan,

FYI at Kwando Lagoon (Nov 2007) we had three people to a row for two game drives, but only 4 people to an entire vehicle the other two days. Depends on how full the camp is. Also, they make sure people change seats on game drives so you never sit in the middle for more than one game drive. I did find the Uri vehicles to be very hard on my back (esp. the back row).

But what's a little pain in exchange for wild dogs, eles, and superb guiding? lbj2 is right, tho, narrow it down by what you specifically you want.
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Old Aug 5th, 2009, 07:18 AM
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In March 2005 I stayed at Sandibe, Savute Safari Lodge and Nxabega. Of the three, Sandibe was the best experience. Game viewing, despite the tall grass, was excellent, with 3 sightings of 2 different wild dog packs (for an account see: http://thesafariadvisor.com/thesafariadvisor_018.htm ) and a herd of elephant that stretched across the entire horizon. Our guide, Sage, was terrific, and like many of the guides out there spotted things we'd never see. As an example, as we were driving he breaked quickly, backed up and told us to look at a section of tall grass. There on a stalk was a foamnest frog, which turns white in the sun (http://thesafariadvisor.com/linked/foamnestfrog.jpg ). How he saw it I'll never know, but that little critter was another of several highlights at Sandibe. As has been mentioned, most %Beyond properties don't charge a single supplement (I most often travel alone so I use AB's properties to avoid getting raked over the coals by single supplements).

Steve
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Old Aug 5th, 2009, 10:39 AM
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I'm grateful for your responses, particularly to ibj2 for giving me a structure to provide some more details on my particular interests, which hopefully will elicit some further ideas.

Here are some answers to the questions ibj2 posed:

1) Do you have a primary interest or specific animal that you would like to see? Just good general game. I'm not a particularly keen birder. Of course I'd like to see lots of predators, and I've never seen wild dogs, but I'd not be disappointed if I went to Bots and didn't see any.

2) What type of activities are you looking for? Mainly drives for better game viewing but some water based activities to experience that element of the Botswana experience maybe 2/3rds - 1/3rd split towards drives.

3) How important are the safari luxuries to you? Not important. Basic comfort and service, yes, but plunge pools and spas are not my thing. I prefer camps that are passionate about the nature experience and work hard to show it to their guests. I'm normally the one who wants to be out earliest and stay out longest. I'm not at all against a mobile camp type experience although I admit I've not really looked at that side of things. Who are the best operators for such trips?


4) Are you an Avid photographer? Yes (which shouldn't be confused with being good at it). The opportunity to take lots of pics has a significant impact on my overall enjoyment of a trip.


5) How much value to do you place on being able to offroad and be on a private concession (a more Wilderness experience of having minimal vehicles from only one operator in an area)? Great if I can that greater privacy but might it break the bank? Again, getting off road to get closer to the game is great if it doesn't break my budget.

Sandibe seems a reasonable option and this year's May prices are ok even without Specials - accepting they may go up next year. I really worry about the 3 in a row policy at Kwando, and I'm still bewildered about the divided opinions about WS, although their single supplement might put their camps out of my range unless I can negotiate it out or take advantage of a Special.

Any other thoughts appreciated.
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Old Aug 5th, 2009, 11:17 AM
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sdb2 seems to have taken the exact trip we had for our May 2004 trip. It was simply extraordinary. Sandibe was our favorite camp, possibly because on the wonderful guide (his name is Boyce) and that we saw a leopard on our first game drive. The weather was comfortable and the food in the two AndBeyond camps (Sandibe & Nxabega) was fabulous.

We're headed back, with a small tour group in October, to other places in Botswana as well as Victoria Falls & Zimbabwe. I don't expect it will be as "deluxe" as that first trip, but I know we will have a great time.
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Old Aug 5th, 2009, 07:36 PM
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hi africa_fan

I was just in Botswana for my first safari in May/June.

My trip report is posted. I did primarily the WS camps, but I also did 2 nights in the Makgadikgadi Pans which I would recommend as a contrast to the other areas of Botswana.

If I was to go back again, I would still do the Pans, but leave out the "water" camp. If going for "experiences" as others have noted, I think the Pans a far better one then the Mokoro (which i totally enjoyed) in the delta.

Happy planning

amy
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Old Aug 5th, 2009, 09:33 PM
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Africa-Fan,

I am busy today, though based on your initial perferences, I would quickly comment on the following.

- This is based on a 3 camp, 3 location safari.

1) Avoid the pure water/walking camps, they will not suit you your priorities. It is possible to find camps where you can get game drives in addition to water activiities.

2) By choosing a mixed camp, you can split your safari time as follows;

16 game drives, 1 Mokoro and one Motor boat excursion.

The water activities may not be in the best location for the Delta, but they offer you a good experience without compromising on your game drives.

3) A mobile safari could be a good option for you, your budget would not stretch to a private vehicle, so being out early and back late would depend on your vehicle mates.

- Kwando safaris is the one operator who style their safaris on your way of thinking.

There numerous companies based in Maun. I will quickly name a couple to give you an idea - Masson Safaris, Capture Africa, or individual guide like Alwyn Myburgh.

I am not au fait with all the rates at various camps, so my numbers could quite easily be off when recommending where to go within your budget.

Will post more in a couple of days.
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Old Aug 5th, 2009, 09:37 PM
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*The numerous companies in Maun - they a mobile operators who will create custom itineries around you.
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Old Aug 8th, 2009, 09:47 AM
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hi africa_fan,

i have been to botswana in april, may, and june of various years. i have been to the moremi, okavanga, linyanti, and chobe (savute) during these trips.

i think may is a good time to go as you will get good value based on your budget. may is the last month of low season rates. i have four recomendations that will all fall into your budget:
Wilderness Safaris: book before August 31 and the price will be right around your budget. They MAY raise their rates by removing the stay7pay6 special at the end of this month. I don't know. Here is what I suggest:
Duba Plains - 3 nt (see the lion/buffalo interation).
Chitabe - 2 nt. this camp is in the same place as Sandibe. they are about five miles apart and share an air-strip. Great chance for wild dog.
Little Vumbura/Kwetsani/Tubu Tree/Jacana for 2 nt. These are all camps with water activities. Choose 1.

Option 2: Substitute Savuti or Dum Tau for Duba Plains. Do these two camps as late as possible as the game viewing will be improving daily in May.

Option 3: Wilderness Safaris migrations route exploration. 10 day/9 night. $4,150 for 2010 with no single supplment. This non-participatory camping trip visits all the major ecosystems (Vic Falls, Chobe, Linyanti, Delta). You do not have to work (tent, food, etc).

Other consideration: Desert and Delta - Camp Moremi X 3, Xugana X 2, Savute Safari Lodge (SSL) X 2. Although I have not been to Desert & Delta lodges, I have been to the exact location of SSL on my first safari. There used to be a camp called Harry and Bettys right on the Savute channel terminus in the Western Chobe. My first trip to Botswana in 1985 as a 14 year-old was to this camp. SSL is within a few hundred yards of the location I visited. This was in early June '85 and game viewing was fantastic. I just had the old 8mm turned into a DVD. After SSL we went into the Moremi very close to the location of Camp Moremi.

I suggest sticking with one lodge operation chain to save money.

Craig Beal
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Old Aug 8th, 2009, 09:52 AM
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i just found this detailed trip report on the wilderness safaris migrations route on trip advisor:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic...-Botswana.html

craig beal
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Old Aug 8th, 2009, 10:17 AM
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desert and delta has no single supplemnet in low season.

craig beal
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Old Aug 8th, 2009, 03:37 PM
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Africa_Fan,

I am currently in transit home, so will post in a couple of days time.

Whilst Craig has mentioned the deals that are currently available, I would be in no rush to book them up. Operators like Kwando have already extended their low season to June, giving you a 30% reduction in price. I am sure other offers will be in the pipeline.

I would avoid any of the following Kwetsani/Tubu Tree/Jacana as a camp with mixed activities. This in year in May, the Jao concession was heavily inudated with heavy and early floods, restricing numerous game drive routes. Not ideal if your main focus is game drives and general wildlife viewing.

A perfect example of why waiting unitl February will not only give the chance to probably get much better offers, but judge whether there has been above average rainfall, either locally or in the Okavango's catchment area, that would significantly impact on these camps.

Chitabe is a good option, and would go well in combination with Little Vumbura, water experience, though good game drive area. I wouldn't really recommend the Linyanti Camps of Savuti and DT at that time of year. If you were going to choose one, I would go with Savuti. I have visited this area of Botswana in April, May, July, September, October, November and December, in rainfall years. I found the area to be hit or miss during low seasons.

Personally, I would select another Delta camp if you were going to pay $$$ at one the high end lodges.

Duba Plains can be quite one dimensional with its focus on lions and buffalo. Again, an area that is susceptible to high floods.

Avoid Craig's recommended Desert and Delta intinerary. You would not enjoy two nights at Xuguna, it is a water camp that focuses on water activities and walking. The walking is of a much higher standard at its sister Camp Okavango (I have worked at both). You would miss out on game drives by choosing this option, rather than a mixed camp.

Your final game drive at Camp Moremi would probably be a longish boat transfer.

If you are going to select the Desert and Delta option, you may as well look at the mobile options. For a full private safari, vehicle to yourself, in exactly the same areas mentioned, you would expect to pay around $500 with a company like Ewan Masson. You leave when you want to etc etc

For boating activities, your guides can use those available at the Mboma boat station.

This is cheaper than the Wilderness option, which although on private concessions, is not a private safari.

I would recommend Kwando, though noticed you were worried about their seating policy. They are my company of personal choice, though book the more expensive private vehicle option.

An interesting idea would be to mix somewhere like Sandibe, for a water/drive experience, then fly to Xaxanaka (same area as Camp Moremi) and spend 6/7 days driving up to Savuti.
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Old Aug 8th, 2009, 04:02 PM
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lbj2 has some good ideas. wilderness safaris has also extended their low season to june 15, 2010. desert and delta has not. when i said the savuti area game viewing (savuti camp/duma tau) was improving daily a corolary would be that extending your vacation into june could be significant. everything will depend on the rain. this year was almost a record high so i would not count on a repeat performance.

the jao concession (tubu tree, jacana, kwetsani) can be pretty waterlogged in may. may 2007 was my last visit to this area and the water was breaking over the hood of the land rover sometimes. i liked the experience but i do think little vumbura is the best mixed activity camp.

regarding xugana: if you go with a desert & delta itinerary, they only have water activites at camps that have no land activites. basically, if you want water activities you have to go to xugana or camp okavanga. you may get bored with two days of no land game drives but you can enjoy the delta and simply relax.

if you want to go in may, i do not advice waiting to book. i don't think prices are going to come down and availability of camps will certainly not improve with time. this is only my opinion and take it with a grain of salt, but i am a travel agent and selling safaris to southern africa is all i do for a living. you can book now and secure your space then, depending on rain, you can change your reservation in february/march to a different camp (based on availability). this is quite common and there is no penalty for doing it.

i recommend you contact an agent with access to wilderness safaris inventory and have them send you a screen capture of the may 2010 camp availability so you can judge for yourself. about 10% of the may 2010 inventory has sold in the past two months. your agent should also be able to send you a screen shot of desert & delta availability as well.

price protection: if you are worried about the price dropping later, simply tell you agent that it is a condition of booking to pass on any future rate reductions to you. any major safari travel agent with some clout can give you this guarantee if you ask them for it.

craig beal
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