Eastern Africa VS. Southern Africa Safaris?

Old Mar 30th, 2007, 06:45 AM
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Eastern Africa VS. Southern Africa Safaris?

Hi Everyone - This is a follow up post to one I posted a couple of weeks ago. I am trying to decide between a Kenya/Tanzania safari OR a Botswana/South Africa and possibly Zimbabwe safari. I am having SUCH a difficult time deciding.

Can someone tell me what the real difference is between these areas. I have read all about the different parks - Serengetti, Masai Mara, Amboseli, Arusha, Okavango Delta, Kruger, Sabi Sands, etc. They all sound wonderful (and in some ways similar when I read about them). Here is what I have been told by some of the travel specialists I have spoken with (some of it is conflicting):

Kenya/Tanzania - good game viewing (particularly if you want to see the migration), more cultural opportunities to interact with native tribes, more touristy, less expensive (relative), mid-range accommodations famous for overbooking, one travel agency told me she thought East Africa was overrated (but, she was a Southern African specialist

Botswana - More remote, more diverse landscape than the plains of Kenya/Tanzania, luxury safaris, more expensive, great game viewing, not as many herds as Kenya/Tanzania, less touristy

South Africa - Best opportunity to see Big 5, (on the flip side, one East Africa specialty company told me that when she went to Kruger, she felt that she really had to "work" to see the wildlife and that is why she likes East Africa better?)

Zimbabwe - Beautiful, but very remote and difficult to get to, also, political situation is something to be careful of...

This is my first safari and I am so excited (but so confused) as to which region I should travel to. My travel dates are very flexible and I will let the location dictate when I travel...(best time to go to Southern Africa, Kenya, etc. I will visit during that time) I would like to travel this year, but if availability becomes an issue, I will defer to next year...

Any advice?

As far as our interests, we are looking for excellent game viewing (lions, cheetahs, hippos, elephants, buffalo, etc. - probably the usual in terms of what most people want to see), excellent guides (possibly private), we like the idea of a mix of smaller lodges with possibly mobile tented camps, we would like to have some interaction (maybe a day or so) with a local tribe. We are on the fence about canoeing and/or walking safaris due to safety concerns, but it would be nice to have one or both of those as optional...

I am hoping to decide which region to focus on by the end of the weekend so that I can then focus on mapping out my itinerary. Either way, I'm sure I can't go wrong - it is Africa!!!

Thanks a lot everyone! - Laura
lmavolio is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 07:23 AM
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While the sheer numbers of animals may be greater in Kenya and Tanzania, I much prefer South Africa. In South Africa in the private reserves, the vehicles are wide open, they go off road and do night drives. In Kenya, specifically the national parks, you may not have the same flexibility. I also found the rangers in South Africa to be more knowledgeable. My experiences in South Africa include Lion Sands and Londolozzi both in Sabi area, Ngala and Phinda. I can recommend them all but Lion Sands is by far my favorite. You also may find South Africa to be more expensive, but worth it. In the Sabi area, you are likely to see the big 5. At Lion Sands, I have seen all 5 on the same day. I hope this helps, please ask specific questions if you need more information. I am sure there will be lots of help and opinions here! Mike
mytmoss is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 07:58 AM
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Hi Mike!

As not too many people have posted about their stay at Ngala, I was excited to read that you have stayed there and recommend it! As part of a 2 week trip to South Africa this Fall, (very late Sept. into Oct.), we will be staying at Ngala Main Lodge and Mala Mala. Many people have posted about MM, and so I am certain it is an excellent choice. I would really appreciate any info and descriptions you are able to provide about Ngala. Perhaps it would also help many other readers. I am beginning to wonder why hardly anyone has stayed there (or at least not reported about it ). Thank you in advance for your feedback.

wkwb42a is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 08:02 AM
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Laura the following website rates the African safari options for each country on 9 criteria including such things as overall quality of the guides and overall wilderness experience. This helped me to clarify and weigh my own criteria when I selected a region for my first safari.

I have no doubt with careful planning you can identify outstanding options in each region.

GreenDrake is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 08:59 AM
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Hi Carole, of the places I have stayed in South Africa, Ngala tented camp rates the lowest. This does mean I didn't like it, I just liked everything else better. The tents are well constructed and the facilities are excellent which is what you would expect from any CCAfrica run site. However because they are tents, wind and monkeys running on them make for a very noisy living situation. One of the tents (not mine) also had electrical issues (power went out at night). The ranger I had while good, I felt was less experienced than others I have had. We did hit the jackpot and found wild dog there and I must say that was a great experience! We also saw leopard there which is not seen at all camps. Below is a link to some pictures I shot at Ngala. You can also scroll to shots taken at Lion Sands and Phinda on the same and other trips. I hope this helps.
mytmoss is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 12:28 PM
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What are your MM dates, I am there for three nights in late sept?

napamatt is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 12:50 PM
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GreenDrake -

UltimateAfrica site is interesting, but the the information is a bit dated (by 4/years, as of 2003), and showing airfares from 2004/05.
sandi is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 12:55 PM
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Hi Mike!

Thanx for your prompt reply to my Ngala questions. Yes, it helps. (We are staying at the main lodge there). I hope that we'll like it. Your photos are beautiful! I enjoyed viewing them! Again, many thanks, Carole.

Hi Matt!

We will be at MM on Oct. 6 and 7.
Ngala dates are Oct. 4 and 5.
We will be in CT prior to that, and Jo'bg and Vic falls afterwards.

wkwb42a is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 01:55 PM
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Sandy noted:

"UltimateAfrica site is interesting, but the the information is a bit dated (by 4/years, as of 2003), and showing airfares from 2004/05"

Sandy - good points as I have never looked at the other information on the website. I was not recommending this outfit -I know nothing about them, but when I read the country assessments they seemed to fit what I had read from numerous other sources and it was an intreresting format.

I did find the country criteria useful when I was assessing options on my first safari in 2004 and those criteria though apparently not updated would probably still apply. It would be interesting to see if people agreed with their assessments. I found their characterization of Zambia to be accurate.
GreenDrake is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 02:12 PM
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Having now been to southern Africa once (South Africa cities and safari in Botswana in 2004) and East Africa once (safari in northern Tanzania and beach on Zanzibar in 2007), I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ll throw in my limited 2 cents’ worth anyway. Both trips were wonderful, but there were obviously some differences. Of course everyone’s preferences are different, and you can and should plan your trip to focus on or experience different things, but these are my general impressions based primarily on what we did.

Things we especially wanted to see (other than the usual game drives):
• Southern Africa – Victoria Falls, Okavango Delta during the flood, and Cape Town and its environs
• East Africa/Tanzania – the Great Migration, Ngorongoro Crater, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Maasai culture

Similarities between SA and EA:
• We planned both of our trips ourselves and had them arranged through safari companies and/or agents. On both of them we traveled by ourselves on “private” safaris, although in SA we shared vehicles at each camp.
• It is about the same time and expense to fly to either SA or EA.
• Much information is readily available (partially due to Fodors).
• Good operators are available to help plan and arrange your trip.
• The cost, in the great scheme of things, is fairly close, but this greatly depends on your choice of accommodations, which can vary enormously. Botswana, where four of the four camps we stayed at were Wilderness Adventures camps, is probably a little more expensive.
• Service was good everywhere, but not surprisingly was better and more personal at the smaller places we stayed.
• Overall, our animal sightings were generally comparable, but of course they can vary greatly from place to place and day to day.
• Both areas offer good variety in topography.
• Food was almost always fine, sometimes better than fine.

Differences in our experiences:
• Getting from camp to camp: SA -- mostly short flights (15 to 45 minutes) on small planes, so little chance to see local communities. EA – mostly driving, often on bumpy roads for 1 to 3 hours, so you get to see local life
• Accommodations: SA – five small tented camps in private reserves. EA – combination of three small tented camps and three large lodges (Serena), usually in or very near national parks
• Guides – all were very good, but: SA – different guide at each camp, so get different viewpoints. EA – same guide almost the entire safari, so you develop a relationship.
• Game drives: SA – mostly open vehicles; usually share vehicle with other people at each camp, so you meet more people and have new conversations; usually could go off road; many places routinely have or allow night drives and/or walking safaris. EA – mostly closed vehicles; it was just us in the vehicle every day, so no chance of getting matched with “bad company”; limited off-roading; night drives and walking safaris only in certain places.
• Water activities while on safari: SA – boating and mokoro trip in Delta. EA -- canoeing in Arusha National Park (although a lot of people have had too much “water” (rain) activity in the last few months).
• Other activities can be arranged in some areas to customize each trip -- night drives, walking safaris, balloon rides, fishing, tours in cities and villages (if you are in any), etc. My experience is too limited to compare and contrast SA versus EA in this regard, but we did some in both areas.
• Exposure to local culture: SA – very little, except on tour of Johannesburg. EA – some, with visit to Maasai boma, brief visit to school, driving through towns and villages.
• I am not aware of anything in East Africa comparable to Cape Town and its environs. Of course southern Africa doesn’t have Zanzibar (although there are certainly beaches in SA) and Stonetown.

Again, this is a narrow view based primarily on our own experience in really only two countries plus the cities of South Africa. When we were trying to decide where to go on our first safari, we faced the same very difficult choice that you are addressing now. The good news is that most people who go on one safari seem to end up going on another one, so whichever you choose now, you can always do the other next time.
hguy47 is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 05:23 PM
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What useful comparative information.

In addition to that helpful quantitative ranking from Ultimate Africa mentioned by GreenDrake, they also do a narrative, shown below.


I agree with what the specialists have told you about Kenya/Tanzania, except for the overrated part. I agree with the Botswana comments and attribute the landscape comments to Botswana's delta and Kalahari. The South Africa comment about working for wildlife sightings would be more true in Kruger than the neighboring private Sabi Sands, where the Big 5 can be seen in hours. Zimbabwe was not difficult to get or to get around in on my two trips. I agree the political situation there is more volatile than elsewhere.

Your interests--
Excellent game viewing: A carefully planned safari will provide that in any country or country combination.

Excellent guides: A reputable agent will assist with excellent guides. A private guide is less expensive and more common in Kenya and Tanzania than Southern Africa.

Smaller lodges: Can be done anywhere, but this bumps up the cost of East Africa to make it less of a bargain if you trade lodges for smaller camps.

Mobile: These can be done anywhere, but are most common in Botswana. One reason is because they make Botswana more affordable. You can even do walking mobiles. Zambia is noted for these and also Zimbabwe. But they can be arranged elsewhere.

Day with local tribe: In East Africa most visits are for a few hours. You could arrange a day or a few, but that would be unusual. But visiting with Bushmen in Lake Eyasi has become popular. Zambia has Kawaza Village where you stay in a normal functioning village for as long as you want.

Walking canoeing--You can compromise and do a mekoro where a professional poles you. Those are big in Botswana. Lower Zambezi camps offer walks and canoeing, along with traditional game drives. Lake Manyara in Tanzania and Arusha National Park offer walks and canoeing as options too.

Here are two other considerations. If Vic Falls is something of interest, then Southern Africa moves up in attractiveness. If you are planning on gorilla tracking, then East Africa moves up in attractiveness.

Here is one other consideration. I go back and forth between East and Southern Africa and like them equally well and appreciate each for their unique and wonderful attributes. If you start in East Africa and enjoy all its splendor and experience the sometimes more crowded atmosphere, then a second visit to Southern Africa may seem blissfully secluded. If you start in the more remote Southern Africa, then go to East Africa, the additional visitors may bother you more than if you had experienced them on your first Africa trip with no expectations.

I know there are places in East Africa with far fewer people than Southern Africa, but I am speaking in generalities. I am also contemplating your second trip long before you have any idea where you are going on Trip #1.

Both the problem and and a relief from it can be found in your statement that "I'm sure I can't go wrong."

That's true and with the diversity Africa offers many can't stay away.
atravelynn is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 05:32 PM
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This is a questionnaire that may help with your dilemma and shed some more light on where you want to go.
atravelynn is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2007, 08:19 PM
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In addition to that helpful quantitative ranking from Ultimate Africa mentioned by GreenDrake ...

Maybe it's just me, but when I saw this site rates Zimbabwe well above Kenya and Tanzania I just laughed. No way!

Then I read that the owner went to college in Zimbabwe and they seem to specialize in booking southern Africa, so maybe that explains things.

If you look at their ranking criteria there are several items that aren't that important to most of us. Apply those criteria to the San Diego Wildlife Park and it rates higher than Botswana and Zambia, for example


Bill_H is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2007, 08:28 AM
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It would be interesting to list the criteria from the Ultimate Africa site and have Fodorites do the ranking according to their experience.

atravelynn is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2007, 10:34 AM
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I will try make this quick. In South Africa (especially the Sabi Sands) you will with out a doubt have the best game viewing. The guides are definately the most knowledgeable and professional. I have found guides in East Africa not up to standard. The guides can be very nice people but I think what people must remember is that they are driver guides and not field guides. Their knowledge is based on what they decide to learn personally and not what they are required to learn. One advantage is that you do not share with other people (usually) in East Africa. To me guiding is a very
important part of the safari experience. Some interesting info. for everyone out there. Even in Botswana it is possible to go on a walk through big game country with a guide that has possibly never even fired a rifle in his life. In Southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe mainly) if you walk with a guide he has been put through many a 'test' to be sure he is capable of protecting you! In East Africa as I say driver guides are just that.
I could go on and on about many of the other differences but as I say I think guiding is the most important part to begin with!
jackssid is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2007, 11:53 AM
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I too am trying to decide. I have to include egypt in my visit. Where should I go to see Big 5 in addition to Cape Town, Johanesburg (Pretoria) then Egypt (the usual plus Nile and Luxor, aswan.)

Please help!!! What airline flies from Egyp to SA?

amolinaro is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2007, 01:38 PM
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I think your dilemma is easier solved since you are already spending time in South Africa for non-safari reasons. The answer for you would be the Sabi Sands. There are many accommodations from very expensive to moderate. You could probably accomplish your mission of seeing the Big 5 with a stay of 2 nights, but 3 or 4 would be a more enjoyable and relaxing time, and boost your odds way up.

atravelynn is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2007, 05:45 PM
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Cairo to Johannesburg:
Kenya Air & Egypt Air seem most reasonable

South Africa is getting up there

Luftansa looked way expensive, but with some searching who knows.

Back to East vs. South. I've never heard a comment nor can I recall reading where someone felt they had chosen the wrong region after their first Africa trip and were disappointed. But there is lots of "Botswana and South Africa were great, now I'd like to try to see the migration" or "I loved East Africa and would like to expand my horizons with walking and canoeing in Zambia and Zimbabwe."
atravelynn is offline  
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