First Safari? Time of Year? Where?


Oct 12th, 2012, 03:08 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
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At Maramboi Camp near Tarangire NP in Tanzania, we had three beds in our HUGE tent (on a platform, too.) You might find accommodations like that elsewhere. Or, find that 4th person. Hmmm... when are you going?
ShayTay is offline  
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Oct 12th, 2012, 08:37 PM
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"I' d say $2,0000 is too low an estimate, ESPECIALLY with stopovers. Each stopover, esp'lly if it is London LHR, will add its airport taxes."

I forgot about the stopovers. Then $2K is too low.
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Oct 12th, 2012, 08:42 PM
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"re bottled water--i 'd mistakenly thought it's always included. Is that only on private safaris?"

It depends. Sometimes it is included only in the vehicle. Sometimes the guide buys a bunch at a discount at the start of the trip and everybody shares the cost. Sometimes the guide buys the first case, but then any additional water you pay for.

Sometimes there is one free bottle in the room/tent or free boiled filtered water, then you buy any additional.
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Oct 13th, 2012, 09:36 AM
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All properties provide small bottles of water in the bathroom for teeth brushing... do use this. And, when showering keep your mouth closed so no local water is swallowed.

Once out on safari, depending on property/cost of same, water is included for meals and during game drives at no additional cost. For most others (there are many more), you pay extra for water at meals and even during game drives.

However, if on 'private' tour, most all tour operators will provide at minimum, 1/large bottle of water for each pax/ per day. And, as mentioned above... you can on departing Arusha, stop at the Safeway for a case of water (rather inexpensive), sodas, munchies, etc. Most safari vehicles have a refrigerator, so cold can be kept cold.
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Oct 13th, 2012, 12:11 PM
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Thanks, everyone, for your additional comments. Still have my head down re work (unexpected) but hopefully will grab some time next week to thoroughly read the links and TRs.

Sandi - "a family room/tent or even cottage": great news.

I almost hesitate to raise this issue: be kind, everyone. Our group is not faint of heart but the Canadian govt's travel warnings website has this comment re Kenya: "Canadians are advised to exercise a high degree of caution because of the increasing number of terrorist acts, kidnappings and incidents of crime targeting Westerners throughout Kenya." US also has a travel warning... obviously none of you were concerned enough to not travel to Kenya. You just used common sense and crossed your finger?
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Oct 13th, 2012, 04:06 PM
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Well, I confess I haven't read every word of each of the 40-something posts above, but I'll give you our perspective.

We've been going to South Africa fairly regularly for the past seven or eight years, and have gotten to know the place pretty well (as visitors, of course. It would take a lifetime or longer to really "know" someplace as big, diverse, perplexing and wonderful as SA.)

My wife is also a fairly regular visitor to Kenya and Uganda, and occasionally Tanzania, where a charity she founded is working to fight a particular type of pediatric cancer that's 50 times more common in East Africa than in Europe or the US.

We've also visited (briefly) Botswana and Zimbabwe, but I'll focus mainly on South Africa v. Kenya.

For a first-time visitor with your criteria - climate, cost, etc., I would vote for South Africa without even thinking very hard. Here are my reasons:

The South African tourist infrastructure is much more highly developed than in Kenya. There's a vast range of accommodations, good roads, lots of great restaurants, telecommunications, etc.

In SA there are so many options on the safari front that it's frankly a bit bewildering - numerous different national parks and reserves with unique fauna, different micro- and macro-climates, some distant, some close, each with a range of accommodations ranging from incredible luxury down to self-catering cottages or tented camps, in all price ranges.

There are huge areas where the landscape is the star, not the animals - the Garden Route, Panoramic Route, Drakensberg mountains, the Cape Peninsula, the West Coast...

There are fabulous towns and villages - from Cape Town to Zulu villages in the shadow of high peaks, to Paternoster on the Atlantic coast, with its brightly painted fishing boats beached below whitewashed thatched cottages.

In short, it's all there.

Now, there's no denying that something like the Masai Mara migration is unique in the world, and worth some real sacrifices to see. But for first-timers, the issue with Kenya, it seems to me, has to do with what you'll be doing when you're not on safari.

Put bluntly (and others are free to disagree) Nairobi is intimidating and rightly so. It's a huge city where many tourists feel secure only when they're in their hotels or in very limited other zones. It's congested, polluted, noisy and confusing to many visitors; many tourists who've come to safari just pass through Nairobi, or else go on quick tours to the Sheldrick orphanage or to Karen Blixen's house or to the giraffe sanctuary, then they bug out. All fine, but the name of the game is insulation. The hotels are big and expensive, and yes, the political situation in Kenya is not entirely stable, although it's unlikely you'd be in any danger. Nairobi is full of life - incredibly full, and it's vibrant, artistic, and all over the map in terms of culture and politics. But will you get a chance to experience that? Frankly, probably not very much.

For my money, if you're coming that far, it would seem to me that leveraging your dollar and time investment with some variety would be a good thing, and South Africa provides that variety without even blinking.

If we were in your shoes (and we were not that long ago) here's what I'd do:

Come to South Africa at the end of August. Land in Joburg and fly (or drive if you're okay on the left side of the road - it's very easy) up to Hoedsprit or Nelspruit, from which you can be picked up by a safari lodge in the Sabi Sand reserve.

There are all sorts of price points in the SSGR, but to pick one lodge where we've stayed out of the air, Elephant Plains' rate is around $200 - $230 per person. Believe me, that's fantastic value for what you'll receive.

Book three nights there, and you'll be planning on how to come back while you're having breakfast on the second morning. You'll probably see the "big five" in the first day, if that matters. The temperature will get into the seventies F in the day, and it will be quite chilly at night and in the morning. But no rain - it's the dry season, and no mosquitoes either.

Go back to Hoedsprit or Nelspruit and rent a car for a day, and go visit the Panoramic Route and Blyde Canyon, around an 90 min. from the Kruger/Sabi gates. Did you ever see the movie The Gods Must be Crazy? (If not, you should rent it.) Well, God's Window, right off the highway, is where that was filmed in part; or see the "Three Rondavels" and marvel at how the landscape can be so incredibly different than that around the Sabi Sand reserve, but so close. Maybe spend the night at the Graskop Hotel (funky and fun) and eat incredible pancakes next door at Harrie's.

Then fly down to Cape Town and spend three or four days enjoying that marvelous city. Eat Malaysian food, drink amazing South African wines, visit Robben Island, visit the penguins at Simon's Town.

Rent a car and go visit the winelands, then take it (or use the guide services of long time Fodor's poster Selwyn Davidowitz - ) and go up to West Coast National Park, an hour or so up the Atlantic side from downtown Cape Town. Here you'll see antelope in the wildflowers, and... oh, the wildflowers! It's nothing short of stunning. Weather-wise, it will feel just like home. (I'm in Seattle.)

If you have more time you can add more regions.

Obviously you have to make a tough call. Others can well argue the benefits of a more all-inclusive experience in East Africa, and there are indeed some benefits. But you also might discover that things besides the safari have great appeal, too. For that, I'd pick South Africa.

A few photos to illustrate:

Sabi Sand

Nice kitty:

Warning - objects in mirror are closer than they appear:

View from our rondavel, Chitwa Chitwa:

Panoramic Route - Three Rondavels:

Paternoster -

West Coast National Park


Including antelope:

Traveling on the Garden Route:

Spring near Stellenbosch, Winelands:

Bo-Kaap (Malay) neighborhood, Cape Town:
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Oct 13th, 2012, 04:41 PM
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Whether the US or Canadian governments, these are 'warnings' only and NOT 'DO NOT TRAVEL' as there are warnings for travel most everywhere around the world nowadays. Each government has to cover their butt, why these are posted. The US 'warning' has been issued and reissued since the '98 Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. And even during the '07-'08 political upheaval in Kenya, tourists were never targetted or harmed.

Granted NBO isn't Capetown, nothing really is like Capetown, but neither is NBO all scary. For that matter, neither is Johannesburg/JNB a place that visitors stop any longer, if they do, than at NBO.... arv JNB, and onto elsewhere. Besides you're there for safari, so you don't really need more than a day in NBO to visit the sites as mentioned above... hundreds of thousand tourists do so yearly, with no problems reported. Then you're off on safari, whether by road or flights (where to and budget dependent).

In the end, you'll have to decide - group or private, self-drive or driver/vehicle, South Africa or East Africa.

You've got some research still to do.
sandi is offline  
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Oct 13th, 2012, 07:00 PM
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If the warning is upsetting to any of your group members, then pick Tanzania instead of Kenya or go to South Africa. There are US agents that have you sign a waiver that indicates you are aware of the travel warning, and if that might further concern you, just opt for a different location.

You don't want to lose one of your party of 3 because of the warning, and you don't have to.

If that South Africa itinerary of Gardyloo's looks appealing to you, but you don't want to rent a car and drive yourselves, consider Wayne of Take2Tours. Again, with 3 of you, dividing the fixed cost of the vehicle/guide works nicely.

Or pick a Sabi Sands lodge (private concession adjacent to Kruger) and maybe Phinda (cheetah sanctuary) near Richard's Bay and do just safari stuff.

These would definitely meet the needs of your one member holding out for comfort, but it can get pricey. Here are low season rates for Phinda, which correlate well to low season in other parts of South Africa.

01 May - 20 Jun, 1
6 Sep - 10 Oct,
15 Nov - 20 Dec
Rand 3,995

I personally am taking advantage of the early Dec. low season rates at Phinda.
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Oct 14th, 2012, 08:45 PM
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Thanks to everyone for the extra input. Gardyloo, your input was really helpful (and I loved your photos). Lynn, your plans looks great... I'll be back once the three of us have figured out exactly what we want.
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Oct 31st, 2012, 04:58 PM
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ttt bookmarking
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Oct 31st, 2012, 05:32 PM
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I know, from previous posts, that I am in the minority, but I go with South Africa as the best place for a first trip to Africa. Without giving my stamp of approval to every recommendation that Gardyloo has made, I give my general approval to those suggestions. ZZ
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