Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Africa & the Middle East (
-   -   Botswana/South Africa - Travel Advice Needed (First Trip to the Region) (

rjphoto13 May 27th, 2007 11:30 PM

Botswana/South Africa - Travel Advice Needed (First Trip to the Region)
Hi All,

I came across this site while doing preliminary research for a family safari next summer (2008). This safari is a graduation gift from my parents for getting through college. They, however, let me know because they want me to plan it. I am looking for advice on botswana and south africa, but other areas of southern africa are not out of the question. Here is what I know so far:

My parents would like to spend two weeks on the ground in Africa (excluding travel to/from). Price is not an overriding concern at the moment. I would like to spend plenty of time at each location, so maybe 2-4 locations. So here are my questions:

1. Which parks do you recommend for game viewing? I like seeing all the different animals, but would like the chance to see all the big cats (my mom loves cats). Also, I am an avid amateur photographer, and I would love the chance to photograph animal interaction (hunting, water holes, youngsters) and scenary.

2. What type of safari is best for a photographer? (mobile or fly between camps). I think my parents would appreciate camps, but I have one concern. Can you get your own guide for camps in Bostwana? (from early research it seems like there are guides for the whole camp). If there is a cheetah hunting, I wouldn't mind watching for hours, but if I am sharing a vehichle that may not be a popular choice. So, if possible, I would like the option to have a guide just for me and my family.

3. What are the best times of year to visit? Summer is easiest because I will have time off, but going later or earlier is not out of the question.

4. What are some good tour companies to contact for a safari in this area?

Thanks for any help you can provide. I really appreciate it!

-R.J. Sindelar

bigcountry May 28th, 2007 03:07 AM

there is lots of info already posted on this site so do some searches but for quick and dirty answers here's my 2 cents. For my first trip and given your tastes, I would combine Sabi Sands in South Africa, Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Kwando/Linyanti area. For 2 weeks on safari you could easily visit 3, if not 4 camps altogether. And in terms of private guides, you have the option to either get a private vehicle at each camp which would mean also getting different local guides at each camp or get a private guide as well who will travel between camps with you. I personally would choose the former option because in my experience local guides know the terrain better. Summer is prime time for game viewing in Southern Africa (July, Aug, Sept), although photography is best in the rainy season because grass is greener and birdlife is at its best. If money were not an issue and my primary goal was to see cats I would choose, Mala Mala, Mombo and Kwando Lebala. Mala Mala has arguably the best leopard viewing in the world. Mombo has great overall game and phenomenal lion viewing (currently 2 prides reside there with over 20+ members each) and Lebala has great cheetah, wild dog and hyena sightings. Other great camps are Selinda/Zib, Savuti, Duba Plains, Londolozi. Zib and Savuti have great waterhole activity. Duba Plains gives you the best lion hunting behavior during the day but as a first trip general game may not be as diverse as you are looking for however it is my second favorite all time camp. And Londolozi is right tehre with Mala Mala for leopard sightings.

hope this helps

atravelynn May 28th, 2007 06:34 AM

You must have done very well in college or have very giving parents (or maybe both) to get a safari graduation gift! Good thing you are planning early because many spots in Africa are fully booked 6 months out. Making reservations a year in advance is common.

All of the suggestions will assume you would wish to photograph as well as view the animals.

1. Big Cats: For the elusive leopard (that you can easily not see in a 2 week safari) there is no better place than the Sabi Sands reserves, next to Kruger, in South Africa. There are many lodges in many price ranges, all with good game viewing. One of the most legendary for abundant game is Mala Mala. It has several levels of comfort and pricing in accommodations. The Sabi Sands also has excellent lion activity and even some cheetah sightings. I am going to Mala Mala in June.

Fortunately lions are fairly well dispersed and prevalent many places. There is one place in Botswana that I must mention, though, since you included “hunting” in your list of wants. Duba Plains in the Okavango delta was the subject of the documentary Relentless Enemies, capturing the lion and buffalo interactions. It is one of the few places you can see lions routinely hunt in the day. The current males of the pride that is most often observed (the Duba Boys) are old and I don’t know what the pride situation will be next summer. But there are competing prides in the area and males from the Skimmer pride may come in and continue the tradition. When you mentioned cats and water holes, Duba is a very wet environment, so it common to see the cats in water. In addition to lion activity, I saw great small canines—aardwolves, bat eared fox, golden jackals. And small cats—servals.
To get the most out of Duba you may want a private vehicle for just your family so you can stay out all day with the lions and wait for them to hunt. It is the only place I’ve ever paid for a private vehicle and the cost (which I saw is a hefty $500 extra a day next year) was worth it. For Duba, I'd go as late as you can in the season because then the water levels go down and you can get to more areas.

Just a 5-minute flight from Duba (still in Botswana) is Vumbura with Little Vumbura and Vumbura Plains. The lions there also hunt during the day and I saw a lion kill (again buffalo) there too. But again it was a private vehicle (just because the mgmt was nice, I didn’t request it and we waited hours for the kill to happen.) Vumbura does not get as much lion publicity as Duba Plains. There are also leopards and cheetah at Vumbura and good all around game. You can do water activities there like small motor boat safaris and mekoro (long narrow boat poled by an expert poler) rides.

But as mentioned, you do not have to go to these specific places to see lions. I mentioned Vumbura and Duba Plains because of lions hunting during the day.
If you want, I’ll post or email you the link to my last trip report (Aug 2006) that includes Duba and Vumbura. If he still has pictures up, there is a post entitled something like Duba Plains A Visual Image. The only problem with looking at the pix on this site is yours will likely never compare. Not insulting your photographic skills, just stating a fact.

Cheetahs can be hit or miss but there is a South Africa cheetah sanctuary called Phinda. It is a fenced reserve, but it is very big and contains 7 distinct habitats. (Not a paddock but at times you can see the fences.) You can do a whole week’s worth of activities here from rhino tracking on foot to village visits to aerial safaris for marine life. I will be going to Phinda after Mala Mala.

For leopards and lions, and even some cheetah, Mombo or Little Mombo in Botswana is outstanding. It is located on Chief’s Island in the Moremi part of the Okavango Delta. But its game viewing status has resulted in a cost of about $1500/night per person. With the other options out there, I don’t think I would pay that, but Mombo did provide the most diverse and abundant game viewing I’ve had in Botswana. (I went when it was moderately priced.)

There are many more great areas and camps than those I mentioned. But those are what came to mind when you wrote “Big Cats.”

2. You can get your own guide in Botswana or anywhere. Just let your agent know and be prepared to pay up to an extra $500 per day. As to mobile or fly between. Probably flying between gives you more time on the ground for game viewing at the very best locations.

3. North America’s summer and into fall are excellent. See this chart.

4. Here are a few agents that have been used successfully by Fodorites. I would definitely use an Africa specialist and not just a regular travel agent.

Does all of Africa, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I have used them. All was great. Owner Mark Nolting’s book Africa’s Top Wildlife Countries is helpful. As is the Fodor’s Africa book.

Known as ATR . They do all of Africa. Candid and informative website. In the UK.

Specializes in Southern Africa in Chicago, IL. I am using them for upcoming trip. Wonderful.

Mostly Southern Africa, but also East Africa, in Houston, TX Owner Bert is very helpful and sends good information. Never used, but would.

Huge selection. In South Africa. My contacts with them have been prompt and professional. Never traveled with them but would go, especially on a scheduled group trip that is hard to do alone.

Please keep us posted in your planning.

napamatt May 28th, 2007 07:41 AM

With two weeks you can definitely combine SSGR and Botswana.

My own personal trip would look something like this.

Mala Mala 4
Joburg 1 (this can only be avoided if you charter direct to Bots - who knows that may be in the budget)
Kings Pool 3 (Linyanti, but Savuti with the elephant hide is a great alternative)
Duba Plains 3 (Lion / Buffalo interaction)
Mombo 3

End of June, through July to early august would be a great time, because you would have a good chance of catching up with wild dogs somewhere. Alternatively replace Duba with Chitabe, Zib or Selinda to increase dog possibilities. The inclusion of Mombo keeps your Lion qoutient up.

napamatt May 28th, 2007 07:43 AM

I'll recommend my agent

hills27 May 28th, 2007 08:08 AM

RJ, a good place to start is Fodor's African Safari book. It's a pretty slim volume that summarizes all the options, which can help you narrow your focus before reading all the information here (which can be quite overwhelming). It really helped me a lot.

Kyle at Africa Adventure Company just planned at trip to Sabi Sands and Phinda for me. He was great and very patient with my questions and itinerary changes.

If you end up in Southern Africa, I suggest a few days in Capetown and the winelands. I think you'll enjoy photographing the penguins.

rjphoto13 May 28th, 2007 09:14 PM

I just wanted to say thanks for all the advice and recommendations. It is really appreciated! I will keep you all informed of my plans as I contact some of these companies.

One last question, my dad knew of a company called Ker and Downey. Are they worth looking into?

Thanks again!


Dana_M May 28th, 2007 09:37 PM

Search on this forum for Ker and Downey and you'll get some information. I seem to recall that they are now either split up, or franchised, but I really don't know the details.

jcasale May 29th, 2007 11:51 AM

What a wonderful gift!!! I agree with all of the advice given here. I would concentrate on Sabi Sands in South Africa and the Okavanga Delta in Botswana. If you can tack on a few days in Cape Town, it is well worth it. The other possibility would be spending a couple of days in Victoria Falls since you will pretty much fly over them to get from South Africa to Botswana.

We worked with Rikke Williams at She was fabulous and put together a great itinerary for us based on what we wanted, not what she had to sell us. She was also available when we needed to do some quick schedule changing in Cape Town due to weather related problems with our shark diving expedition.

With respect to places to stay - I would highly recommend Elephant Plains in Sabi Sands. They were fabulous and the game viewing was unbelievable. We saw a mom and 2 adolescent cheetah (and followed them for quite a while) as well as 8 leopards (2 of them were 7 week old cubs). In Botswana we stayed at Nxabega which was a great experience. Since we went with my parents there were already 4 of us and so we were often by ourselves anyway, but you wouldn't be able to guarantee that. The one time, though, that the family with us wanted to go after the leopard that had been spotted (our 9th by that point) rather than the lion we had not seen yet, we agreed. We were able to then go back and find the lion (and even found them again the next day) so everyone got what they wanted.

As for time of year, we went in June which turned out to be great. It is winter so there are fewer leaves on the trees which makes game spotting easier. We also discovered that by going to Botswana in June rather than July (we left there to return home on June 30th) we got a better price on the lodging. Their rates went up the next day.

Hope you have a fabulous trip and good luck with senior year of college.

Fabio May 29th, 2007 02:32 PM

price was an issue for me planning my 4 nights in Sabi Sands. At the end, encouraged by all the posts over here, I was lucky and happy to confirm the only two available nights at Mala Mala (trip fixed only one month ago !!) as our target is leopard viewing. The other 2 nights will be at Inyati Lodge, still in Sabi Sands.
rphoto13: I will report on Sabi Sands once back !

Lynn: when will you be in Mala Mala in June ? we are there 13 to 15th !!

atravelynn May 29th, 2007 07:35 PM

Darn, we miss. I don't get there until June 23.

atravelynn May 29th, 2007 07:45 PM

Here are the Botswana Kerr & Downey properties I saw:

Footsteps Across the Delta (this is not a mobile safari, but a camp)

All are in the delta. I've heard about Shinde and the people who most highly recommended it were annual Botswana travelers. Know nothing about the other places. Maybe others do.

I didn't see any South Africa properties.

K&D would probably do a nice job of arranging a safari using other's properties. I just have a feeling you'd be paying a real premium. But you could add them to the mix and compare.

emerald013 May 30th, 2007 05:48 PM

3 years ago my family did a 3-week safari trip... most memorable trip of my life. We started off in Munich (time change/plane connections) before heading to Joburg. From there we did:
1) Jao Camp - AMAZING. most committed guides and we saw many lions, giraffes, etc. plus a baby leopard being devoured by the lions and the mother leopard mourning over her loss.
2) Chitabe - Some of the best game viewing was here; lots of elephants and lion cubs.
3) King's Pool - such luxurious accommodations! There had been a kill of 2 water buffalos when we arrived; the lions were just laying around gorging themselves and crunching on bones (you could hear them easily). We also saw a pack of wild dogs take down an impala at night (WOW!)

I would absolutely finish off the trip with at least 2 days in Capetown, the most glorious city in the world - it's Italy, France, Australia, and everywhere else all rolled into one, with penguins and wine country only a few hours away! So worth it!!

We went during end of June/beginning of July, which was ideal for game viewing. It was the wet season, and freezing cold in the morning (bring lots of fleeces/long underwear!) but warm by midday. Expect lots of hippos and crocodiles in the Okavango. And pack light! The little planes you have to go on don't carry much.

Because there were 4 of us in a group, we generally got our own vehicle and guide (they are so knowledgeable and interesting). When people did end up tagging along, it was never a problem - if you see something, you stick with it; patience is key. The safari-type people never complain.

My dad took some excellent pictures and video, often not even using his telephoto lens, so that should not be an issue.

Hope this helps, and everything works out for you!

sniktawk May 30th, 2007 08:51 PM

Everything depends on what you want to spend and what you want to see. I agrre with the comments that the best way to see aleopard is Mala Mala or Londolozi, but you should remember they are almost tame. In South Africa there is one park where you can see almost everything Madwike, but this is now quite busy over 25 lodges! I would suggest Botswana, preferably Selinda and Kwando most things but no rhino! Have a great trip!

rjphoto13 Jun 1st, 2007 08:46 PM

Hi All,

Once again thanks for the help. Here is the first schedule I have received:

1 night Joburg
3 nights Mala Mala Rattrays
1 night Joburg
3 nights Savuti Camp
3 nights Little Vumbura
3 nights Chitabe Main/Duba Plains
1 night Jo-burg

I have a few questions about this itinerary.

1. Is there a way to get rid of the extra night in Jo-burg? (between Mala Mala and Savuti)

2. We were quoted two different prices one for sharing and one for single (there are three of us going). Is there anyway all three of us can stay in one tent? I would sleep on the floor if it saved money.

3. While the price is not outrageous, could we save alittle money by staying in cheaper lodges in the same area? Im just trying to figure out if these are the more upscale properties. I am more about seeing the game then how nice my tent is.

4. I am thinking about getting rid of one of the locations to have more time at the others. I have a question related to this though. How do the animals tend to behave at some of these camps? For example, if I spend more time at one camp, like Duba Plains, will I be able to track the lions everyday in the chance of seeing them make a kill? Or is it really hit/miss? I really don't mind staying at one camp if I have the chance follow a group of animals (wild dogs, lions, cheetah, etc.) for a few days. But, if things are more random and animals are hard to find again then perhaps it is better to add another camp. I would just like your thoughts/personal experiences on this one. If I do get rid one one, which one would you recommend?

Thanks once again, all of your help has been invaluable!


bigcountry Jun 2nd, 2007 02:48 AM

answers to your questions

1. no unless you charter a plane and with it sounding like you want to reduce costs this will not be an option.

2. typically 3 cant stay in a tent. they have a max number of guests at these camp and so piling into a room with more people is not possible. some camps do have 3 person tents but those are rare and dont save you much money.

3. mala mala rattrays is more expensive than main camp and game viewing is the same so switch to that lodge. all the botswana camps are the cheaper options so not gonna be able to save here.

4. following predators for several days can be hit or miss, although the closest thing to a guarantee would be lions at Duba Plains. The more days you stay there, the likelihood of seeing a kill is as good as it gets. also the other animals that you can follow daily are wild dogs if you are at a camp when they are denning. the problem with banking on this is they may not be denning in the particular concession that year. so for example when we visited kwando in early june, the dogs were denning close by and we got to follow them hunting pretty much on every game drive. however, in a neighboring concession we visited for 3 days, we didnt see dogs at all. If it had been a different year, the sightings could easil have been reversed.

So in conclusion, given it's your first trip, i would go with the mala mala main, savuti, little vumbura, and duba option. you wont be disappointed in your photos when you get home. i guarantee you that. one other way to save money is to make sure the hotel you are staying at in jburg is an inexpensive one. the price ranges there can be fairly wide. of course so can the accomodation but if money is an issue, go for something close to the airport and cheap.

atravelynn Jun 2nd, 2007 09:03 AM

1. Ditto BigCountry. Depending on your flight times, you could use the Joburg stay as an opportunity to visit Soweto. Southern Sun OR Tambo (one big long name) is where I’ve stayed and will again. Very nice, evening wine and cheese welcome, nice breakfast buffet included, a few snacks in the room, free airport shuttle to/from airport about 10 minutes away, grounds to walk around and bird watch, no unnecessary or excessive luxury that pads the bill. There are places that cost even less.

2. For young children, the sharing is done without question. For adults, it is not done as readily. Here’s where your agent can help. I think the argument of “not wanting to be alone at night ” carries more weight than “trying to save money.” I don’t know how convincing a strapping young college grad would be claiming fear of being alone. Beyond these comments, ditto BigCountry.

3. Ditto BigCountry. Here is the Mala Mala website so you can compare accommodations and costs.
If you end up at Mala Mala Main camp and require one single room and book early enough, you can get the one room that does not have the single supplement. Not all will agents do this, but I know Eyes on Africa does. I’m in that room. You can also book directly with Mala Mala.

Savuti Camp—I believe the other 5-paw camps in the region are the same cost. Those would be Duma Tau or in the neighboring concession, Zibalianja. I’m intrigued by Savuti’s ele viewing woodpile. Never been there. You already are less expensive than the 6-paw Kings Pool. Now if you use a provider other than Wilderness, I think you could save some. Orient Express has Savuti Elephant Camp, but no night drives there, if I recall correctly. Switching to Kwando camps in the nearby Kwando concession would not save you any money.

Little Vumbura—You’ve already saved lots by choosing this over Vumbura Plains.

It looks like you are considering Chitabe vs. Duba Plains. Chitabe is a bit less in cost. Also if it is lion-buffalo interaction that is your goal and watching the lions hunt, then I think a private vehicle at Duba is important. All the interactions and hunting I saw were the result of waiting patiently alone for hours in midday heat. Two other vehicles did get to see the lions on a kill just moments after the buffalo was taken down, but that was because we called them in when we saw the attack and the vehicles were nearby. So that means Duba becomes even more expensive. I believe an additional $500/day for the private vehicle.

5. Ditto BigCountry. The closer to mid June through August, the better chance of finding a dog den in Savuti or Chitabe. There even were dogs sighted last year in Vumbura, though I don’t think a den was spotted. The closer to late July or early August, the better the chance of seeing wild dog pups. But this is hit or miss depending on pack structure, how successful the breeding was, hardiness of the pups, and sheer luck. Cheetah have no season and are sometimes found at Vumbura, Linyanti (where Savuti is) and Chitabe. You would be very unlikely to see cheetah or wild dogs in Duba Plains. The later in the season, the better for Duba Plains due to the water levels. Lower water means you can get to more places and follow the lions if they decide to head out. With a 4 day stay at Duba and a private vehicle, I would bet money you would see good lion and buffalo interactions if you were there in August or later. Probably even July. There was a good report of a 3-day trip to Duba in June by Raelond. The lion are more predictable than the other species you mentioned and easier to find and follow at Duba, just like BigCountry said.

Adding another camp to deal with randomness of sightings? If adding another camp means you have more time in Africa, then absolutely, do it if it is within the budget. Your selection of camps is great. If adding another camp means less time at the existing ones, then I would not add another one.

All these locations produce amazing results. Regardless of how you mix, match or tweak, you’ll have a wonderful trip.

CarlaM Jun 8th, 2007 08:50 PM

Tagging for the great ideas here. Hills, what were the 3 camps you finally decided on?

rjphoto13 Jun 25th, 2007 07:49 PM

Hi All,

So, after all of the great advice here and talking with all the companies involved; here are the three offers I have. Keeping in mind that I am interested in seeing and photographing as much wildlife as possible, please let me know what you think of each.

1. 3x Mala Mala
1x Vic Falls
3x Savuti Camp
3x Kwetsani Camp
3x Little Vumbura

2. 3x Mala Mala
1x Vic Falls
3x Savuti Camp
3x Little Vumbura
3x Chitabe Main Camp

3. 2x Islands of Siankaba
2x Footsteps Across the Delta
3x Selinda Camp
3x Londolozi Varty Camp
3x Mountain Lodge in Phinda

Based on my research and earlier posts, it seems that I can't really go wrong with 1 or 2. There will be plenty to see at both. 3 seems to focus more on relaxation in the beginning and not wildlife viewing (according to the itinerary that I got). But it does offer different areas compared with the other two. For those who have been to these areas, I would love any insight on what these camps are like, especially the ones in number 3 (1 and 2 where covered in the earlier posts). Once again thanks for all the invaluable advice!


rjphoto13 Jun 26th, 2007 05:57 PM

I am just bumping this to the top. I am really interested to know if anyone has been to either Islands of Siankaba
of Footsteps Across the Delta and what they thought of them.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:35 PM.