Botswana Safari: Any comments on these camps?


Jun 3rd, 2012, 09:44 AM
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Botswana Safari: Any comments on these camps?

We are starting to think about our next trip to Africa. Our last was to Sourthern Tanzania - Ruaha and Selous. We loved the solitude and the luxury of the camps. My trip report on those camps (Jongomero, Mwagusi, Selous Safari and Sand Rivers) is posted here.

The current suggestion for a trip to Botswana - with a minor jaunt in to Zimbabwe, is as follows:

Linyanti - Lagoon Camp
Linyanti - Lebala Camp
Okavango - Kwara Camp
Central Kalahari - Tau Pan Camp
Zimbabwe - Imbabala Camp

4 nights in each place - travel in January. Budget $20,000 for two travelers.

My priorities are as follows:
Quality of camp experience -
-camp standards ala Selous Safari
-a good mix of camps - diversity of terrain, style of camp, staff personality
-better than average food.
Vehicles -
-low passenger to vehicle ratio (no more than 4)
-canvas canopy of some sort for sun protection
-well maintained vehicles - no repeated breakdowns
Guides -
-dedicated camp guides that really know the area
-maturity of guides
-no walking safaris
Diversity and quantity of sightings - (all our favorites)
cats (leopard & cheetah especially this time out - really missed these in TZ)
rhino would be amazing - sanctuary somewhere?
birds, birds, birds.

What are your opinions on the comparison of these camps/locations to the trip we made to Southern Tanzania in terms of the stated priorities? Thanks.
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Jun 3rd, 2012, 07:36 PM
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Lots of my pics in the link above are from the Kwando camps - The web link also has pics from Kenya, Tigers in India etc etc., but most of the Bots pics would be from the Kwando camps ...... the Cheetah sightings will speak for themselves.

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Jun 3rd, 2012, 07:40 PM
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I've stayed at Kwara and Lebala - both are great. The guides and philosophy of these two camps are wonderful. And the food is good.

Be aware you will probably not see rhino although you will see the rest of the Big Five.

Enjoy your time in Botswana. It is magical.
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Jun 4th, 2012, 09:02 AM
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Hari, Your photos are outstanding! Thank you for sharing. Was Botswana and Kenya on the same trip? If yes, where did you go on the Mara? Are the cheetah of Lagoon always around -- ie. quite easy to find? What of the leopard? Was that at Lagoon or another camp? Your photos are dated February. Was that your travel time period? And if so, how was the heat?

Thanks for any help. Really enjoyed the photos.
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Jun 4th, 2012, 09:59 AM
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I'll be staying in Imbabala later this year. I've read nice things about it on Trip Advisor, but I really don't know anyone who has been. It looks nicely located.
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Jun 4th, 2012, 10:18 AM
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A South Africa tour operator I know raves about Imbabala and takes his groups there... should be good.
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Jun 4th, 2012, 10:39 AM
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Personally I would tinker with your itinerary slightly, as game viewing at that time of year is not too great in the Lagoon & Lebala area. (A lot of hit and miss, especially without a Private vehicle)

Personally I would add more days to Kwara, and perhaps do a 3 +3 combination at Lagoon/Lebala. Last November I spent 12 nights purely at LK, as I don't rate the Lebala/Lagoon viewing after the rains have arrived.

I have been to Kwando on numerous occasions, and have always championed them as my Botswana option. However, I would also look at the WS green season offers, as I think they will be available next year, and are of similar pricing, and generally better overall standards.

My wife and I had quite a miserable stay last November at Little Kwara, to the point where we almost left early. Game viewing was great, though service left a lot to be desired. Will not go into the detail here, though it ranged from camp management (main issue) to just the combination of generally poor service from Kwando.

Having spent close to 90 nights in Kwando camps since 2005, it was sad to reach a point where my wife has refused to return. Hopefully this was just a blip, though standards have certainly fallen in the last 3/4 years and the cost cutting a little too evident.

In spite of the above, I do have some great memories/images, from fantastic areas. So on the balance of it, would probably recommend going, especially at 5 rivers pricing.

Just be don't be shocked about a few bumps in the experience.

Quality of camp experience

1) In all honesty, the quality of some of the Kwando camps is seriously lacking. If it were not for the 5 rivers pricing, which I assume you are going for, they would not be worth the price.

Lagoon is on the verge being OTT, if you consider the company ethos is meant to focus on game viewing. It is a beautiful lodge however.

Lebala - Not bad....

Kwara - Run down, or very rustic, should have been rebuilt long ago.

2) A good mix of camps - I would say that you will get a good mix of terrain, though in my experience, Lagoon and Lebala may feel slightly repetitive.

3) Food - Certainly not going to set your world on fire. For the price you pay, I would expect a lot more.

Vehicles (assuming URIs are still used at Lagoon/Lebala)

1) Vehicle Ratio

Unless you have a private vehicle, you could easily be in a vehicle of 6 with a 3 x 2 configuration. Many people dislike the middle seat, and understandably so.

At Kwara, they use 3 x 3 with three in the vehicle.

2) canvas canopy of some sort for sun protection

Canvas canopy can be put on the Kwara/LK/Nxai and Tau. At Kwara, they are normally off, and you would have to negotiate them to be put on. Easier if you have a PV

The URIs at Lagoon and Lebala do not have canopies.

3) Well maintained vehicles - no repeated breakdowns

New vehicles are really good. Though the URIs (Lagoon & Lebala) can be known for their lack of reliability. I had no issues with them in November, with three PVs for a group.


1) Generally good, though 'great' often depends on personalities. There are some guides I would rather avoid that other guests rave about.....

Many of the older guides that gave a the company its great rep left after 2006, though there are some good young guides at the camps.

2) Walking is an option, as are boat trips at Kwara. Without a PV in the Delta, you may also have to participate in other activities like Mekoro & Boating depening on guide availability.

Diversity and quantity of sightings - (all our favorites)

Will give you an overview of game in Jan and General (you can offroad at Lagoon,Lebala and Kwara, making high quality viewing)

Lagoon -

This is certainly a dry season destination, and once the rainy season comes, you will face some really tough game viewing. In November, we could spend an hour driving without seeing an impala!

The Cats in this area are hit and miss. There are three cheetah boys who move between here and Lebala. Lion wise, no real resident pride that I have seen in the last few years, and very few sightings.

A couple of relaxed leopards are in the area.

This area is great of the Dogs, though in Jan, they can go missing for weeks at a time.

General game is lacking, and you will not see huge elephant herds at this time of year, most will move into the Mopane.


This place used to be one of my favourites, though current water levels have reduced a lot of the open plains. The grass can get quite tall in the green season, and the area can really be hit or miss.

If you expect some quiet drives, you should be ok.

Generally more game than Lagoon, though the green season will see a lot of game move to the woodlands.


Great lions, Cheetah and good shot at leopard.

Plains game will be good as the floods recede, particularly zebra on the drying out Tsum Tsum plains. Larger herds will have dispersed.

I spent 12 nights here in November and had a good time. The floods have affected the game viewing compared to 3/4 years ago, though I would still recommend it.

Birding is excellent here.

Tau Pan

Have never been to the camp though a now people who have, and guides that operate in the area. One of the main issues is the vastness of the Kalahari, and game viewing can be very localised. Some valleys may not receive rain, whilst others do and are brimming with wildlife.

It means that Tau may not be at its peak. The distances between pans can be large, for example, a trip to deception valley would involve a 150km round trip.

It is something to think about. If you want to do the Kalahari, my recommendation would be to 1 night Tau, then 3/4 night mobile, then back to Tau - a great combination.
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Jun 4th, 2012, 11:01 AM
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lbj2: Wow! Thank you for such an amazing in-depth reply. I truly appreciate your insight.

This is the first attempt at an itinerary from our agent in the UK. I am already questioning if it is an itinerary that would make us happy, so your insight is extremely welcome.

As I stated, we have been to Africa twice before and are looking to return. We are completely flexible with timing and location. Our budget is fixed at about $20,000. Botswana has been on the bucket list, but the pricing is rather high. We've recently been looking at Zambia as an alternative, but the season is quite short there. We prefer (although its not essential) to get away from home during our winter months in N.America. That, unfortunately, isn't the best timing for Zambia, so our agent is proposing the above mentioned itinerary.

Would you mind if I sent you a private email with a few more questions regarding your favorite places? gratitude for your time and effort.
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Jun 4th, 2012, 11:08 AM
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Sure, you can drop me a line at russel[email protected]
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Jun 4th, 2012, 11:11 AM
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(Great advice above!. BTW, I've stayed at Mwagusi and a coule of Selous camps, as well as Lagoon).

I would question whether January is the best time for your trip. We had great sightings of the aforementioned cheetah a couple of years ago, but no leopard. However it was for the Dogs we went and we were not disappointed!

I'm not sure if you want or don't want Walking safaris? If so, I would say Zambia would be brilliant, but again, probably later in the year, eg October.
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Jun 4th, 2012, 07:41 PM
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Thanks for your kind comments. Glad you liked the images......

To answer your questions, the Mara images are from a recent visit (Feb, 2012). I enjoyed the Mara in the off-season without the crowds and great game viewing. Cheetah is what I'm obsessed about and I wasn't disappointed. Stayed at an amazing camp called, Mara Plains Camp - it's in a private conservancy where you have several advantages in terms of low crowds etc etc., and amazing sightings to add.......

Now to the Cheetah questions from Kwando. I have Kwando safari number 12 round the corner (only a couple months to wait for) ....... So, I'm pretty obsessed about the coalition of brothers that hang out in the Kwando concession. I've seen them in both the Winter months and the green season. If you plan to visit the concession, I highly recommend you book a private vehicle and put in the effort to try and track them down. To answer your question, while they are around - they cover incredible distances trying to scent mark and defend their territory that you really need to put in the work.

I've been lucky enough to see them make several kills by investing time in the sightings. The boys specialize in big prey species. Seen them take down an adult female Tsesebe, huge male Lechwe Ram (pics are there from Feb 2011), a couple of big impala too ........ I've had the privilege of following them since they took dominance over the territory from the previous coalition and hope to follow them down the road!

As Russell says, Kwara is definitely better for the Green Season months. I've had some good luck at Lagoon and Lebala too in the Green season. For one, due to more permanent water nowadays, some Elephant herds are more resident and don't disperse off into the woodlands at the sign of the first rains. This was evident when i was there Feb 2011.

Heat - I've been there across several seasons, both summer and winter. The heat can be pretty bad (especially in October). The game viewing can be good too ........ In Feb last year, yes it was brutally hot on a couple of days.

Leopard you ask - I've always had some good sightings at both Lagoon and Lebala. In the link I provided, you might find some images of the big guy, fondly called "the magician".

Hope this helps!

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Jun 4th, 2012, 07:43 PM
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I've put in the word for Kwando, Mara Plains ........ while I'm at it, may as well add "Tiger Trails" in Tadoba Reserve for Tiger viewing (should anyone be interested) ....... hehehe.
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Jun 11th, 2012, 03:59 AM
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I have recently done 2 Botswana trips using the various Green Season offers around-
1) December Duma Tau/Tubu Tree/Kwara
2) April Duba Plains/Selinda/Tau Pan

Duma Tau, Tubu Tree, Duba and Selinda were all in the Wilderness special although out of these camps only Duma Tau is actually owned and operated by Wilderness. The others are owned by other companies (Ngamiland Adventure Safaris and Great Plains Conservation) but marketed by Wilderness.

I have also visited Lagoon and lebala but in the dry season (July).

Reports for both these green season trips are over on tripadvisor, and a more detailed version with photos from the Dec trip is on Safaritalk.

I generally agree with everything Russell has said above about Kwando and based on your requirements I am not sure these camps would suit you. An announcement is expected in the next month on Wilderness's green season specials for next year so if I were you I would wait for this as I think their camps would be a much better match for your requirements.

Firstly, the Kwando service levels and food were not in the same league as the Wilderness Camps (I found the two Great Plains camps to be the best). On the special offers, the pricing is very similar.

Secondly, you might have an issue with roofs on the vehicles- there are none at Lagoon/Lebala and I don't think it's possible to put them on. When I arrived at Kwara the roofs were off, but we had some fairly heavy rain and they did put them on. However, the company's general policy is to keep the roofs off and the staff in camp had to get permission from Maun to put them on and only when a number of people complained. The desert camps have roofs all the time. In contrast, Wilderness seem to keep the roofs on, except at Duba Plains.

Thirdly, I think you will have a problem with numbers in vehicles. None of these camps (Wilderness or Kwando) will guarantee you won't be in a full vehicle, unless you pay for a private vehicle. However, at Wilderness full is 6 people in a a vehicle with 3 rows (no middle seats used) whereas at Kwando some vehicles have only 2 rows which they will also fill with max 6 (so using middle seats). Furthermore, Kwando, in my experience, seemed to pack their vehicles to capacity more than Wilderness even when it isn't necessary and I assume this is a cost cutting measure. For example, at Tau Pan there were only 5 guests in camp- my group of 3 and another couple. Yet they put us in one vehicle, which only had 2 rows of seats so we were 3 to a row. I'd been expecting Land cruisers with 3 rows of seats like at Kwara, which would have been OK, but this vehicle was a Land Cruiser with only 2 rows. On the other hand, the Wilderness camps, and especially Duba and Selinda ,were very generous with vehicles and I rarely saw one full.

In terms of game viewing I agree with russell's comments about the Linyanti region in the green season- I think it is hit and miss. My experience has been more "hit" than "miss" as I had amazing wild dog sightings in both Duma Tau and Selinda, as well as some nice lions at DT and a lovely leopard at Selinda. However, particularly at DT in December, in between the great sightings there was a lot of driving around seeing bugger all, like not even an impala. We also spend quite long periods tracking down our sightings. Some people might find this boring. I have also read reports of Lagoon/Lebala in the green season where people are happy if dogs are around or very disappointed if not. I am not sure if I was super lucky on my two Linyanti visits in the green season, perhaps I am a dog magnet. Or perhaps DT and Selinda are better than the Kwando concession at that time of year. Certainly at DT they didn't seem suprised about the amount of dog sightings we were getting.

So I'd recommend the Linyanti with caution- be prepared to work hard for sightings (lots of tracking and lots of seeing nothing). I certainly wouldn't include 2 Linyanti camps at that time of year unless you are particularly obsessed with seeing dogs and want to hedge your bets.

I don't want to seem too down on Kwando, but in the Linyanti region in green season I would definitely choose the Wilderness/Great Plains Camps. Personally I would return to Kwara because of all the camps I visited it had the most diverse game viewing (cheetah, lion, leopard) and the concession is large with many different areas. However, as russell says, Kwara is now very run down and was definitely the most shabby camp I visited. Apparently the reason it hasn't had a refurb is that their lease on the concession is expiring soon and it is not yet confirmed that it will be renewed. So if I were you I would still consider including it for the game viewing but don't expect too much from the camp! Paying a bit extra to go to Little Kwara rather than Kwara will get you nicer rooms.

It is yet to be announced which camps will be in the Wilderness offer this year. Duma Tau is unlikely as they have a brand new camp opening shortly. However, I've heard rumours of Savuti being included which I've heard is a very high standard camp. I think Selinda, if included, would definitely meet your criteria- they even have a wine cellar in camp. Also, Tubu Tree was a lovely camp with fantastic food and service plus the leopard sightings were great- in 3 days I had 8 sightings of 5 different leopards, and all were very good sightings not glimpses. Game viewing was a bit one dimensional as it was all about the leopards but if that's what you want, that's what you'll get! Duba Plains was actually my favourite camp but with their open vehicles and lion-focussed game viewing it might not suit you. Like Selinda, service and food was fantastic.

With the Wilderness offer it was necessary to do 2 camps for a minimum of 3 days each. I think something like a combo of Selinda or Savuti plus Tubu Tree plus Little Kwara would probably cover quite a lot of what you're after.

As for Tau Pan, according to our guide, late Jan/early Feb is the best time to go. Apparently the herds of Oryx gather in Tau Pan, attracting lions which regularly make kills. Also, our guide said they see cheetah almost daily at that time of year (we saw none in 3 days in April). So I think it would be worth considering at the time you are planning to go. I think the desert game is a nice contrast to the north, with loads of bat eared foxes, ground squirrels, jackals, oryx and springbok plus the impressive Kalahari lions.

One other option worth considering is &Beyond who have (I understand) very high standard camps. I was looking at other options for next green season, and apparently &Beyond have a very good value offer for a combination of 3 nights Nxabega and 3 nights Sandibe. Now I gather the game viewing at Nxabega isn't awesome but they do have nice leopard sightings. Sandibe is on the same concession as Chitabe which I have heard great things about. I gather the game viewing isn't quite as good as Chitabe- however, the rates are much lower even without the combination offer with Nxabega. I think this area would have the same diversity as Kwara so a combination of Savuti or Selinda plus Tubu plus Sandibe could be nice.

I would probably forget rhino in Botswana, to be honest. If desperate, you could try Leroo La Tau in the Makhadikhadi or add on Hwange maybe? Or even add on a few days in Kruger.
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Jun 11th, 2012, 07:53 AM
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Dear Stokeygirl. Amazing! Thank you so very, very, much for taking the time to write such a detailed reply to my questions. Invaluable!

I wasn't clear in my OP, but wild dogs are not an attraction for us. We had good sightings in Selous the last time out and, I have to say, dogs have never been one of my personal favorits. A camp that offered up mostly dog interaction would, for me, be a disappointment.

With your critique and Russell's, we are beginning to reconsider Botswana as our destination. It just doesn't seem to offer enough of what we want - at the right time - or for the right price. We had originally though that Zambia (with a tad of Botswana in the mix) would be our ticket, but Zambia has such a very short season that its looking doubtful as the winner.

We are now hearing about a few non-touristy areas in Kenya that we might like. Most especially Mara Plains (for the cats) and then Meru. Although we had great lion encounters in Tanzania, we saw no leopard and only one glimpse of cheetah. I, also, love that in Meru the giraffe are reticulated and the zebra are Grevy -- both species different from our last experience in Selous and Ruaha. I would love to see oryx, gerenuk, kudu, eland, hartebeest, topi, roan or sable - none of which were seen in Tanzania. Then there is the amazing addition of the rhino sanctuary in Meru with both black and white, in the wild. Elsa's Kopje and Rhino River Camp look quite nice and a reasonable price.

In addition, I've become intrigued with the idea of Mahale in Tanzania to see chimpanzee. There are two camps -Greystokes (aka Zoe's Camp) being the most expensive, but Nkungwe Camp in almost exactly the same location (and with rave reviews) looks lovely at less than half the price. I've never been much for the gorilla trekking. I don't believe I have the physicality for it. However, I might be able to hike to find the chimpanzee groups. It would be ideale to have lots of cats - giraffe and zebra different than what we've seen previously - larger members of the antelope families - rhino - lake snorkeling - birds, birds, birds - and then chimps - along with all the usual suspects. It sounds heavenly.

I know it will take some serious planning to be in all of these areas at the right time for optimal encounters. Might be that it is impossible. Do you have any experience?

Thank you again for sharing your amazing depth of knowledge. It is greatly appreciate!
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Jun 11th, 2012, 02:18 PM
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Before you give up on Botswana check out my trip report on our recent (February) trip to the Kwara & Duba Plains concessions.

I generally agree with Stokeygirl's comment. We did have a private vehicle at the three camps which made a tremendous difference, and was affordable given the amazing Green Season deal we got. The Kwara concession was amazing and I cannot rave more about our guide. The camp itself was indeed rustic, but Little Kwara next door was not bad, however, both camps are not the best in terms of the soft product, but that was not why we were there.

All-in-all we had a superb trip and I want to go back.

Duba was in a different league in terms of the soft product and is an exceptionally beautiful concession, despite our missing the lion/buffalo action.
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Jun 11th, 2012, 03:23 PM
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AKR1, It was your Safaritalk trip report that got me fired up about Botswana in the first place. Having said that....I am a "bit" of a princess and I do love my nice camp at the end of the day. Not to belabor the point, but I want a good mix. I am not opposed to a little rough around the edges mixed in for the sake of wonderful sightings, but I would be lying if I said that I would want every stop to be that. When we spent our month in Southern Tanzania, we used Jongomero, and Mwagusi in Ruaha. Jongomero was just right for me. Mwagusi was a bit underwhelming - however, worth it for the sterling guides and interaction with the lion prides. We then moved on to Selous, where I got my lux back at Selous Safari Camp and Sand Rivers. Sand Rivers was again, underwhelming -- the "soft product" was lovely, but the animal interaction was nearly nonexistant.

What I want is a really good mix of the two. I think that is why I've now been turned off by the Kwando concession. I have a great fear that a trip (as above) with Lagoon, Lebala, and Kwara would disappoint the "African Queen" in me. One can never control the movement and sightings of animals, but one can control where they stay, how they travel and the way that feels. I try to control what I can.
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Jun 11th, 2012, 05:44 PM
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Nothing wrong with that. A princess should not stay at Kwara, however, I strongly recommend Duba Plains. A small preview on the camp- when you arrived back to camp each evening, both camp managers and at least two other staff were on hand to welcome you and carry all your stuff back to your "tents", while you walked slowly up the oil lantern lit pathway towards the common area- once you reached there two large silver bowls with Brut and Rose champagne chilling over ice with the most exquisite pewter flutes casually laid around. The tables with white linen, crystal and china were waiting as the amazing chef came over and whispered in your ear that he had prepared something special just for you.

This from me, someone who clearly was there for the game and concession but also enjoys the good things in life!!!

Whatever you decide Im sure you will have a great safari.
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Jun 11th, 2012, 07:57 PM
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I think you will love Mara Plains Camp. Camp is getting a make-over after the migration season. The camp management there was the best I've had in all my travels in Africa. The food absolutely fantastic too (including the picnics). Having read your posts, I think that might be a great place for you ...........

Yes, the Mara has more cars compared to Botswana - but, the OOC conservancy where the camp is located is absolutely top notch!
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Jun 12th, 2012, 01:06 AM
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I agree totally with AKR1 about Duba Plains- I didn't push it more as you don't want vehicles with no canopies, plus it doesn't have much in the way of leopard or cheetah. However, the camp experience was the best on my trip in terms of service. Perhaps you could rethink the aversion to canopyless cars- I did that trip with my parents and both my mother and I suffer from vitiligo, so we are both serious "sun dodgers". We were fine with the vehicles without canopies, and we have been to other camps in South Luangwa which have no canopies without problems.

Selinda was a similar high standard to Duba, although the camp has been more recently refurbished so the camp itself is actually more luxurious(though I missed the outdoor showers from Duba). However, if you're not into dogs you might want to skip the Linyanti altogether.

However, I think Tubu Tree would definitely suit you and has leopard galore. Also, what about a water camp? Xigera was in the special offer and is supposed to be a beautiful camp. Then maybe add in Sandibe?

Having said that, Mara Plains is owned by the same people as Duba and Selinda so should be equally great and has a fantastic location. However, if you want to combine with Mahale it would make sense to stick to Tanzania, particularly as the time you are thinking of is the calving season and a good time to visit the Serengeti.
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Jun 12th, 2012, 09:54 AM
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You guys are the very best! I don't know how I will repay your time and energy.

AKR1...Wow! That does sound amazing! Cold champagne. While I am a bit of a princess - that sounds OTT even for me. Not sure how I feel about the chef "whispering in my ear". Hhhmmmm?

Stokeygirl....I have looked at Duba Plains, Tubu Tree, et al from Wilderness Safari. The problem currently is the pricing. Ballparking - using the ATR rack rate sheets, I can put together a 20 night trip with 4 @ Mara Plains, 4 @ Elsa's Kopje, 4 @ Rhino River, 4 @ Chada Katavi, and 4 @ Mahale Nkungwe for a tad over $20,000. That is without discount of any kind. In contrast: 4 @ Duba Plains, 4 @ Tubu Tree, 4 @ Xigera and 4 @ Selinda (16 total) would cost $24,000. Add another 4 to make 20 nights and we are up to $32,000+. The current WS discounts are listed at only 5%.

On top of both would need to be added in country air. I realize that there will be some differences with green season deals. However, I think that WS is too far outside the budget ....even for a "princess".

- Would Elsa's and Rhino River be redundant? Both being in Meru.
- If Tanzania chimps (and therefore Katavi) are out of the picture for reasons of travel cost, what would be a good addition to the rest of the itinerary? Some places to add a missing ingredient and still have the "mid-lux" factor.
- What time frame would be the best for this itin? High season, green season? We have traveled in January previously and really liked it, but could do any time between November (2013) and March (2014).

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
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