Cheaper alternative to Okavango?

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Dec 30th, 2012, 05:45 PM
  #1
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Cheaper alternative to Okavango?

This is going to be long and probably not very coherent, because I am only looking for some of your thoughts for a future trip to Africa (our first). Because DH does not want a safari only vacation, we are thinking to combine Cape Town area (5-6 days) with a few (4?) days safari in a private reserve of Kruger Park.

We can spend 14 -16 days all together, and I would like to explore different habitats, so I am looking for a 3rd destination. If money was not an issue, the other place to visit would be the Okavango Delta – but everything there is soooo expensive.

I want to go during wildflower season in the Western Cape, so I think that’s September. I know, high season in Okavango…Is there another option, similar to Okavango, but at a more reasonable price? We do not want to rough it, but we do not need luxury – although private bathrooms and running water are a must. I am looking for water and birds, hippos, and generally diverse wildlife.

We do not have a budget in mind, yet, but realistically we cannot afford more than $4-500/pppn – and that only for a few days.
I guess staying in SA would be the best, financially – would St.Lucia be an option for another 3-4 days? If not, what do you suggest?
Thanks
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Dec 30th, 2012, 06:43 PM
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Sounds like a plan! Be sure to spend a few days in the area around Hermanus as it is one of the most bio-diverse in the world and this will really show in September. Hermanus is about 1h30m from Cape Town.

The below trip should be right about $5,000 per person (round trip from Jo’burg) and would offer good animal and environmental diversity and a virtual guarantee of the big five and several days:

Day 1 Fly South African Airways from JNB-Nelspruit/MQP. Road transfer 2 hours MalaMala Main camp for three nights.

Day 2,3 MalaMala

Day 4 (must be Th or Su). Fly Malatu express to Mashatu in Botswana. Spend three nights at Mashatu Main Camp or tented camp.

Day 5,6 Mashatu

Day 7 Two hour road transfer to Polokwane. Fly SAA from Polokwane to JNB. Continue to Cape Town.

The above trip could be done in reverse.

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
2011/2012 Travel & Leisure A-List agent for Africa
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Dec 31st, 2012, 01:52 PM
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Thanks Craig - Hermanus is definitely part of the trip plan, and I will look into Mashatu. But my first impression is that it is not in the delta, will the habitat be too similar to Kruger? Will we miss all the delta/water birds?
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Jan 1st, 2013, 10:39 AM
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We loved Mashatu and is one of the rare places we will return to someday. Spectacular, and a great value. But if you are into birds and St Lucia is an option for you, I have an off-the-beaten-track alternative. Last year we visited the Zululand Rhino Reserve and were very impressed. It is relatively new, but is backed by WWF as a rhino expansion project. If you are into birds, a new lodge just opened in the reserve that has a particular interest in birding. Just check out the Mavela lodge in this link (under lodges). You may also find the prices more reasonable. Excellent value, and they recently got lions to the reserve. We stayed at the Rhino River Lodge and really enjoyed the layed-back atmosphere and the mostly S African guests. We love safari, but we also like to support the community more than the big marketed lodges so our choices are different (and less expensive) than most. We also visited Tembe Elephant Park north of St Lucia. It's a community-owned lodge in a national park and has been refurbished since our excellent visit. Still reasonably priced as well.

http://www.zululandrhinoreserve.co.za/

Are you driving within S Africa or flying? That may determine your options.
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Jan 1st, 2013, 12:59 PM
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christabir,
Mavela looks like a very interesting alternative. Also, I will look into St.Lucia as an option, because it makes more sense financially. Instead of flying to Botswana, we might afford a couple more days of safari, and that's the real reason for going to Africa.

This would be our first trip to SA, so I don't think we would drive...maybe try to arrange transfers with the lodges. Too early to tell.

Can you recommend a lodge in St.Lucia? Thanks
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Jan 1st, 2013, 04:26 PM
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Well, since you won't be driving, you'll have to fly from Cape Town to Kruger to St Lucia. That's a lot of transit time and money. I would stick to the Kruger area and add another camp there to get more bang for the buck. Shindzela, Arathusa, Elephant Plains and Gomo Gomo are all affordable options. Or do what we did in 2009 and do a Kruger area camp (we chose Arathusa), Pafuri in northern Kruger and Mashatu Tented camp. It was ten days, three different experiences and all easy driver transfers. Click on my name to find the trip report (I'm on an iPad and it's difficult to add the link). It was close to perfect, and a pretty affordable option. We flew from Mashatu to Joburg at the end, but it's a relatively easy driver transfer - and much more interesting to see the area instead of flying over it.

We used a safari agent to handle our arrangements and transfers. It was flawless. Let me know if you'd like their info.

St Lucia isn't really a "safari" destination. We didn't stay there. We went to ZRR instead, thinking we would do a day trip - we chose to stay put.
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Jan 2nd, 2013, 12:47 AM
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This one is not as easy as it looks. TS wants an alternative to the Delta, and consequently names 2 things that wetlands tend to have a lot hippos and birds.

If it had been for "just" the big 5, the answer would have been easy; go to Kruger's private reserves. Plenty of options there, also within the budget limits of the TS (400-500$ pppn). Just stay away from the expensive places like Singita, Mala Mala, Londolozi, Lion Sands, etc...

But the thing is; in September it's almost the end of the dry season in Kruger. So when it comes to birds you get none of the summer migrants. Compared to wetlands, birding may be a bit of a disappointment in Krugers private reserves, certainly at that time of the year. Although you will still see predators, rollers, drongos, etc... and an owl or two.

So it all depends on how important that bird life is for you, xyz99. If you're OK with the above (I'd say "normal bird life" instead of "amazing bird life of a wetland"), then maybe you should opt for the Kruger private reserves anyway. Just make sure you take a lodge that's close to a lot of water.

A few lodges that come to mind;
- Simbavati River Lodge in Timbavati Reserve (the river is dammed in front of the lodge). About 350$pppn
- The Honeyguide camps in Manyeleti Reserve (Mantobeni, Khoka Moya). This reserve has a big lake. About 415$pppn.
- Some of the lodges in the western block of Sabi Sands reserve; they all traverse so you can get to the river (and thus to the hippos). Some lodges will be out of budget range (like Ulusaba), but some may be in range. To sum them all up; Inyati, Exeter Dulini, Exeter Leadwood, Leopard Hills, Idube, Savanna. You'll have to google for their prices I'm too lazy LOL.

A few lodges that are NOT the right choices imho:
- lodges in the east of Klaserie Reserve. Too dry for hippo. I like those lodges most of all, but I wold not recommend them in this case. Not even Gomo Gomo which has a big dam in front of the lodge; lots of times it does not have any hippos in it.
- lodges in the northern section of Sabi Sands reserve. Too dry, no permanent rivers.
- expensive lodges in Sabi Sands close to the river, as the are all far out of budget range (as mentioned in the beginning of my reply)

Clickable map of all Kruger reserves here:
http://www.sunsafaris.com/south-afri...uger-reserves/
Hover over it to see traverse rights of all lodges.

An alternative to the Kruger private reserves is perhaps Phinda reserve near (and partly in) the wetlands of northeast South Africa. But what you gain in hippos/birdlife you may lose in big 5 sightings. Plus to get there from Durban is far more time- and money-consuming than getting from Hoespruit or Nelspruit airports to the Kruger reserves.

Ciao,

J.
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Jan 2nd, 2013, 01:07 AM
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Lalapanzi is a budget B&B in St Lucia - around $50 per single. Kwalucia is more upmarket and somewhere I would be interested to stay.

Kian Barker of Shakabarker Tours does reasonably priced transfers between St Lucia and Richards Bay or Durban. He also does tours of the area surrounding area and offers B&B accommodation at Hornbill House. I can recommend a trip into Isimangaliso Wetland Park for both birds and animals, oh and crocs too. There are more details of the 3 days we spent in St Lucia and surrounding areas in my trip report at http://safaritalk.net/topic/9372-saf...and-elsewhere/

I would second Christabir's recommendation of Mashatu, the Tented Camp is a wonderful experience. I also agree with the advice to limit travel time by staying for longer in the same area - I can recommend both Shindzela and Umkumbe. Details of our visit to these camps are available here, http://safaritalk.net/topic/7275-ele...e-and-mashatu/

Happy planning,


Pol
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Jan 2nd, 2013, 07:52 AM
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Great ideas here, I am so grateful...thank you all.
We will definitely have 3-4 days at a Kruger private reserve and maybe 6-7 days in Cape Town and Western Cape. I was thinking of adding another 3-4 days in a different habitat, where water animals and birds would be the main focus. Pixelpower nailed it.

If I read your post correctly, it’s either going in Sept for spring flowers and “normal” birding, or go later in the year for better birding, is that right? I will definitely take a look at the lodges you suggested.

Alternatively, it sounds like a combination of a Kruger private reserve and Phinda might be a good option, considering Phinda’s proximity to wetlands (if I can figure out the transfers).

Treepol, Kwalucia looks great and seems to offer what I’m looking for. Need to really look into this, thanks. And thanks for the links to your trip reports…a picture is truly worth 1000 words.

I guess in the end, I just need to decide what we want to do…can’t do it all. And since this trip is not in 2013, we have enough time to research and change our minds several times. I’ll be back with more questions later. Thanks again
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Jan 3rd, 2013, 12:22 PM
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Please note that the lodges that PixelPower recommended you NOT to visit in the Sabi Sands (i.e. Singita, MalaMala, Lion Sands) all have permanent hippo & crocodile populations. You may indeed want to reconsider and go to one of these three properties. They also have world-class hotel services if you like luxury (especially Singita, Ivory Lodge at Lion Sands, and Rattrays at MalaMala). One reason their rates are higher is because the Sand or Sabi River either flows directly through these properties or forms one of their boundaries (this the reason for the hippos). MalaMala and Singita are also 100% private meaning no other guests from other lodges are driving on their land.

Phinda is a good pairing with the Sabi Sands and so, again, is Mashatu.

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
2011/2012 Travel & Leisure A-List agent for Zimbabwe and Botswana
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Jan 3rd, 2013, 04:30 PM
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Oh, Craig...those properties are out of our budget...but thanks for pointing out that the price is not only for luxury, but for the sighting opportunities. That is what's important, and I will have to evaluate them from that point of view, too.

If this was your first safari, would you choose 2, maybe 3 days in one of these expensive lodges (better animal opportunities), or 4 days somewhere else (let's say, Elephant Plains)?

Considering the overall cost and the time to get to Africa, this might be our only safari ever, so...what would you do?
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Jan 3rd, 2013, 05:40 PM
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From the little I know about you, I would consider MalaMala Main Camp for three nights. The rates are about USD 650 per person per night. After that, go to Mashatu or Phinda. Take a look!

Craig
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Jan 4th, 2013, 03:51 AM
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Hey Craig, I omitted the most expensive lodges in Sabi Sands as they are aboce the TS's budget. But indeed; they can all offer sightings of hippo.

But that still leaves out the birds, or rather; a birdlife comparable to the Delta. IMHO there's no place in Kruger that can rival the Delta in that respect. Although some places might come close during summer.

>> It’s either going in Sept for spring flowers and “normal” birding, or go later in the year for better birding, is that right?

Well the thing is; in Kruger you will only see the summer migrants somewhere between October-November and March-April. So...

What you really need to ask yourself is; how important is the bird life compared to the regular big 5 sightings?

If birds ARE that important, a combo of Phinda & Kriger might indeed be a good idea.

I see Pol has mentioned Umkumbe. While that lodge is located on the Sand River in Sabi Sands, please note that it is absolutely no certainty that they can show you hippos. So I'd still opt for Phinda then. However, they got a lot of resident rhino that are very relaxed with vehicles. Imho that's their biggest drawcard.
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Jan 4th, 2013, 04:04 AM
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Pixelpower - I really think the northern boundary of the Okavango Delta (Shindee, Vumbura, and the Kwando Camp) along with the Jao Flats are offering the absolute best birding in Nov-Feb. I agree that if birds are a must then Botswana should be considered. Thanks for sharing.

Craig
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Jan 4th, 2013, 04:05 AM
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xyz99.

The Okavango Delta is unique so really it does not have a substitute. However there are some really dramatic waterways within South Africa that would satisfy your need for water, birds and hippo and I think balance your budget.

Given the time that you have I would split your time equitably between the Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal. I recommend seven nights in each of the areas.

Instead of Hermanus I would direct you up the West Coast for a couple of reasons; Primarily for the flower displays and secondarily for the birding experiences around Langebaan Lagoon and Lamberts Bay.

I recommend a trip up to KwaZulu Natal for the safari component of your trip: You can fly from Cape Town to Richards Bay. Splitting your time between the tented camp of Mkuze Falls, which in Sept is around $300, and the Lake Sibaya. Staying at Lake Sibaya you could opt for Thonga beach Lodge or the less expensive Kosi Beach Lodge. By the way Lake Sibaya is part of the isiMangaliso Wetland Park system, which includes lake St Lucia.

To help contain the budget consider hiring a car in the Cape and using B&B's instead of hotels. I have found the hospitality to be outstanding. I would opt for pre aranged transfers to Mkuze Falls and Thonga Beach/Lake Sibaya and Richards Bay.
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Jan 4th, 2013, 10:18 AM
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Craig,
MalaMala and Phinda…that sounds great, actually…I will need to check prices on that. Also, I will need to look into the camps you mentioned on the northern boundary of the Okavango Delta, those are new options for me. In the end, prices and transfer time will be decisive factors.

PixelP,
The major reason to go to Africa is the animal safari, the birds would be a bonus. I am not a true birder, but I love bird (and any wildlife) photography, including insects, reptiles, etc. so that’s where I’m coming from. Wherever we decide to go, there must be something else besides just birds...my husband will not be happy with just that.

mkhonzo,
I appreciate all the alternatives you are mentioning. They are not discussed too much here (or I missed them), so I will have to read more about them. B&Bs sound great, we use them a lot in Europe, and I only heard good words about them in SA.

902,
Thanks for your perspective, but…PP had great suggestions for me (and other newbies here); he took his time to explain options, describe differences and generally help me plan a trip in a land I am not familiar with. I never felt his posts are ads for Sun Safari (which has a very helpful web site, BTW) and I am grateful for his (and others’) time and patience. If you have any other suggestions that would contradict his opinion, please share…
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Jan 4th, 2013, 11:30 AM
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xyz99,

Don't worry about 902. He's just angry at me because of this thread:
http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...i-417947-2.cfm

;-)

It's the first time he calls me names though. Guess that says something about him.

Also, he did notice I linked to a map of Sun Safaris, but failed to see that I did not recommend any of Sun's camps. In fact, in this case I even advised _against_ them as they are in a dryer area (Klaserie).

On topic; if you just have a regular interest in birds, then Kruger might be just the affordable safari you're looking for. Treepol's choices in Kruger are also great, but just keep in mind that Shindzela is a walking camp (walks morning drives afternoon) and Umkumbe has a very small area so it's not the best choice for seeing big cats.

Woops. There I go again, giving advice _against_ a Sun camp!

...sorry. *blush*

Truth be told, Craig's advice on alternatives in the delta are worth looking into as well. There's something out there for everybody! If I may offer yet another alternative suggestion; how about combining nGwesi houseboat with Haina Camp in Kalahari? That way you can combine the bird life of the delta (panhandle) with a "regular big 5 camp", while avoiding the more expensive big 5 camps of the delta. nGwesi costs 625$ per night for the whole boat (4 rooms), plus something like 40$ pppd for all meals. Haina is about 400$ pppn, or 350$ if you stay 4 nights. Both can be easily reached from Maun. Haina is 2hrs away, nGwesi is further (so depending on your budget you may want to opt for a charter flight).

Good luck on your hunt for the right safari!

J.
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Jan 4th, 2013, 04:26 PM
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PP,
I saw the thread you referenced…I have saved it, together with a lot others, to use for my research. It’s true, we all ask similar questions (thank you and a few other regulars here for having the patience to answer them over and over again) and maybe some of the answers are the same. Yes, some of the very expensive lodges seem to get more recommendations than the others, but as this thread is proof, a lot of other options are discussed, too. Most of the options here, I never heard of…need to go back and read more.

I know that when the time comes I will use a TA, but I want to have my homework done, and know what I want. And I won’t know that, unless I know what’s available, how one option is different than the other. Not necessarily better, that’s relative, but where the difference lies. “Africa safari” is such a general term…And then, we all have our priorities…

In my case, the trip needs to meet some general budget limits, allow for some relaxed time, not be on the move all the time, and combine a regular safari experience (for me) with something else (for my husband) - a few days in Cape Town and around it. I know we will both love the trip as a whole, but I’m sure in the end, my #1 thing will be the safari, his probably the coastal scenery around the Cape.

Or maybe we’ll do Botswana and Victoria Falls…so little time, so many places
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Jan 5th, 2013, 01:17 AM
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>> so little time, so many places

You just perfectly described all my trips to Africa so far.

I guess you can see boards such as these as AA meetings. Africaholics Anonymous, that is.
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Jan 5th, 2013, 04:37 AM
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Ha-ha, I like that.

My problem is not only Africa (never been there yet), but the entire world! Better retire soon...and get rich somehow
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