First Safari Trip

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Jul 10th, 2004, 11:28 AM
  #1
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First Safari Trip

After having read the most recent 35 threads here at Fodors and having sorted through many websites and tour brochures, I'm confused and would like to ask a few pointed questions to get me going on the right track for my research:

1) Though we're open minded, we have two primary goals for an upcoming trip to Africa: seeing Victoria Falls and the best animal sightings. When and where are the best animal sightings likely to be? (Please limit it to the country for now. I'll research more detailed info later.)

2) We're allowing 7 - 10 days total travel time from Washington, DC. If the best animal sightings are a good distance away from Victoria Falls, do you recommend that we not attempt seeing both in the same trip?

Thanks in advance for beginning help.

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Jul 10th, 2004, 05:03 PM
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South Africa, MalaMala safari camp is a short hop to the Falls.
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Jul 10th, 2004, 05:53 PM
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Mike,

With only 7 - 10 days, I would concentrate on a single country. Last time I checked, Victoria Falls was in Zambia and Zimbabwe, but with Zimbabwe's political strife and human tragedy unfolding, Zambia would be the better choice.

If you are only interested in seeing the falls, and have no interest in whitewater rafting, bungee jumping or other activities, then I would suggest a limited stay of 2 nights in Livingstone, Zambia.

From there, I would suggest a flight to South Luangwa, Zambia for about six nights, spending three nights in the northern (Nsefu) part of the park, and three nights in the central (Mfuwe) part of the park.

There are a couple ways to start out in Victoria Falls (Livingstone). You may either fly on a British Airways flight direct from London or the other option would be to fly into Joburg and then backtrack two hours back to Livingstone.

Once complete in Livingstone, you would likely fly into Lusaka, about 90 minutes away, or it may be possible for about a 3 hour charter flight directly into South Luangwa.

While the masses are choosing the Sabi Sand, it is more commercialized, more expensive and less visually stimulating than the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

I suggest that you compare the prices of Zambian lodges such as Puku Ridge, Chichele Presidential Lodge, Luangwa River Lodge, Kaingo, Nkwali and Tena Tena with prices of lodges in the Sabi Sand and you will likely find that the prices in South Africa are at least 50% higher. Don't let the high prices kill your opportunity of a lenthy safari. Too often, new visitors are forced to limit their time on safari to 3 or 4 nights because the lodges are so expensive. I know, I've been there.

Check out some of these Zambian lodges websites:

www.star-of-africa.com
www.kaingo.com
www.robinpopesafaris.com
www.luangwariverlodge.com
www.luangwa.com

To compare to South African game lodges, here are a couple very good websites:

www.e-gnu.com
www.safarinow.com

If you need a top travel agent specializing in South Africa, I suggest www.tagasafaris.co.za. They will be able to help you secure the best price no matter the destination you choose.

While it is true that you will likely see more leopards in the Sabi Sand, and the chance to see white rhinos, you will be missing out so much on magical natural landscapes, walking safaris and even the possibility of canoeing safaris, should you choose to add the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia to your schedule. If that is the case, all it would take is an extra $180 pp round trip from Lusaka to Jeki.

Besides canoeing, if you go to the Lower Zambezi in August - November, fishing for the tigerfish is at its best during this time. The tigerfish is the big cousin to the piranha. Of course, besides canoeing and tigerfishing, there is also the possibility for gamewalks and morning & night game drives, as well.

For the ultimate 10 night safari in Zambia, I would suggest the following:

Day 1 - Victoria Falls, Sussi Lodge.
Day 2 - Victoria Falls, Sussi Lodge.
Day 3 - Lower Zambezi, Sausage Tree Camp or Kasaka River Lodge.
Day 4 - Lower Zambezi, Sausage Tree Camp or Kasaka River Lodge.
Day 5 - Lower Zambezi, Sausage Tree Camp.
Day 6 - Lower Zambezi, Sausage Tree Camp.
Day 7 - South Luangwa National Park, Chichele Presidential Lodge.
Day 8 - South Luangwa National Park, Chichele Presidential Lodge.
Day 9 - South Luangwa, Chichele Presidential Lodge.
Day 10 - South Luangwa, Chichele Presidential Lodge.

The above safari, for a couple sharing, would depend on the month you visited. If you visit prior to mid-July, it may be possible to get very good deals, but would kill your chances of tigerfishing and would limit your gameviewing, especially in the Lower Zambezi. South Luangwa would still be very good.

If you wait until true high season, August - October, the above itinerary would likely cost, excluding international flights, about $4,500 pp sharing.

There are other very good lodges that would help cut down on the cost. An alternate in South Luangwa would be Kaingo, which is about 40% less expensive than Chichele. However, personally, I liked Chichele even more than I liked Singita in the Sabi Sand. Singita, as far as I know, is the most expensive game lodge in South Africa at about $2,100 USD per room per night, and possibly second only to Abu's Camp in Botswana which offers elephant back safaris. Chichele, on the other hand, retails for only $900 USD per room per night.

I cannot suggest an alternate, in good faith, in the Lower Zambezi, other than Kasaka River Lodge, which will still set you back about $700 USD per room per night, only about $100 per night less than Sausage Tree Camp.

Flying from Washington DC, I would suggest that it may be worth your while to fly into London, and then directly to Lusaka on British Airways. Otherwise, you will require a flight to NYC or Atlanta to join a flight to Joburg.

Ultimately, the safe thing that a first-timer will do is stick to South Africa. However, if you want to skip a level and go straight to the big leagues, I strongly suggest Zambia, where game walks and canoeing will add much further to your gameviewing experience.

In the Sabi Sand, you will likely see everything by the third night, and then what? Repeat, repeat, repeat. At least in Zambia, you are given a choice. Mr. (and Mrs.?) Buckley, would you like to go on a game drive tomorrow morning, or would you prefer a bushwalk, a canoeing expedition or perhaps try your hand at some tigerfishing?

Good luck and hope this helps.
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Jul 10th, 2004, 05:55 PM
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Correction...I meant to suggest staying the full four nights at the same lodge in the Lower Zambezi, rather than suggesting 2 nights at Sausage Tree Camp, and 2 nights at Kasaka River Lodge.
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Jul 10th, 2004, 09:04 PM
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There are no direct flights out of DC/Baltimore -- we flew British Air to London (7hrs) then London to Cape Town (12) and there's about 8hrs on the ground between flights. You'd probably fly into J'burg, rather than Cape Town. But that pretty much takes two days and the start and two days at the end of your trip...You can fly direct from NY or Atlanta on South African Airlines, but it's still about 15 hrs round trip. SO you are left with about 6 days for safari. I'd probably plan for 2 days in Victoria Falls and the rest at a camp in Zambia or Botswana.

I would recommend you try to work with an Africa-based company -- ccafrica is who we used, but I remember checking out several to see who offered me what I wanted at the best price.
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Jul 11th, 2004, 06:20 AM
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Mike

I would also suggest South Africa and the Mala Mala Game Reserve.I have been on sixty game drives in this magnificent game reserve and will return yearly.

Although I saw leopards everyday on my last 10 day visit there I never got tired of viewing these magnificent cats.It's not about ''repeat,repeat,repeat''but rather about seeing them hunt,mate,marking territory,interact with other predators and looking after their cubs.If you see leopards once during your stay I doubt if you will see all of the above mentioned.

You can have bush walks daily at Mala Mala and believe me it's not over- commercialized.

The only problem is that by making Mala Mala your first safari trip you will probably return yearly and never get to the ''big league''ie Zambia.
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Jul 11th, 2004, 07:47 AM
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Safarinut,

Perhaps Mala Mala is in a league all its own when it comes to Sabi Sand lodges, but a little variety is a good thing. Once you spend three or four nights at Mala Mala, then what? For the next lodge does a person go to Londolozi? Singita? Simbambili?

Besides the relative bargain of Mala Mala at $1,000 per night for a couple and each of the other lodges only goes up from there. I would imagine that even Chitwa Chitwa, Inyati and other acceptable Sabi Sand lodges are now upward of $1,000 per room per couple.

As I said, yes, a person will get your fill of leopards in the Sabi Sand, regardless of the season, but what about hippos? What about birding? Any opportunities for canoeing? Fishing?

Trust me, I would love to visit Mala Mala, but I do not expect nearly the variety of activities or biodiversity of the South Luangwa. Plus, I know it will be an annoyance to sign a receipt everytime I want a drink from the bar and to pay for a transfer if I transfer from another lodge or fly into Hoedspruit or Nelspruit if I am unable to get a flight into Mala Mala.

Really, the pricetag of a quality Zambian safari vs. a quality South African safari should really be a strong consideration for any potential visitors. I would propose that a 6 night Zambian safari consisting of Kaingo (3) and Chichele Presidential Lodge (3), would be every bit as spectacular as a South African safari consisting of Mala Mala (3) and Singita (3). There is, however, a tremendous difference in price.

Joburg - Lusaka - Mfuwe, round trip = $600 pp

Road transfers included (Zambian lodges do not charge extra)

Kaingo (3) = $800 pp (high season)

(free transfer, 2 hours in duration, between Kaingo to Chichele PL)

Chichele (3) = $1,350 pp (high season)

Bar drinks = $0

Total per person sharing = $2,750 USD

Now, for the South African safari:

Joburg - Mala Mala, round trip = $250 pp

Mala Mala (3) = $1,500 pp (low season or high season)

Road transfer from Mala Mala to Singita = $125pp, round trip. If going to Singita Lebombo or Sweni, a flight will likely be required, possibly tripling the transfer cost.

Singita (3) = $3,125 pp (low season or high season)

Total per person sharing = $5,000 pp, excluding drinks.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare Mala Mala to Kaingo, but I do so because I believe both offer excellent game activities with nice accomodations but nothing over the top.

It may also be unfair, however, to compare either Mala Mala or Singita to the Zambian lodges, while the Zambian lodges offer so much more flexibility. Kaingo, for example, offers THREE game activities per day. Chichele, on the other hand, engaged me on a 7 hour game drive one morning, and on a 4.5 hour game walk on another morning. This flexibility may be possible in the Sabi Sand, but the guests are 99% sure to be hit for an extra charge.

I have been to the Sabi Sand twice now, and to the South Luangwa twice now. I have stayed at the best, according to most, that the Sabi Sand has to offer in Singita, and I have stayed at what I feel is better than Singita while staying at Chichele Presidential Lodge. My vote goes to South Luangwa, hands down.

The Sabi Sand is excellent for someone that wishes to stay within the more familiar confines of South Africa, but for a person already going to Zambia to visit Victoria Falls, I just don't think it makes sense to pay nearly double for a similar safari.
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Jul 11th, 2004, 11:18 AM
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Mike,

You are going to find that there are many excellent choices and that you can definitely combine seeing Victoria Falls with amazing wildlife viewing in Botswana, South Africa, Zambia or Zimbabwe. I wanted to do the same trip as you on my first safari and stayed one night in Vic Falls and then had 7 nights in 3 different camps in Botswana which I thought after much research would be the best wildlife experience. It was an amazing trip and I loved it enough that I will be leading a predator safari on virtually the same itinerary at the start of 2005. Others will strongly recommend the areas they have been to, you will have an amazing trip no matter which country you choose. I hope to see all of them in the future. Feel free to e-mail me [email protected] if you have any questions about Botswana.
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Jul 11th, 2004, 12:03 PM
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Roccco

Let me start off by introducing you to a world class wildlife filmaker

Peter Lamberti

Peter started off in wildlife stills and photography in 1983 and moved into video over 10 years ago. In total he has over 18 years filming both on land and underwater. He and his company have won numerous awards for cinematography and his productions have received international acclaim. He has filmed and directed documentaries for both Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

Now for his take on Mala Mala:

''It's the best- and I've seen a lot.
I don't know anywhere in the world where you can see such a variety of game''

If anything Mala Mala has a greater biodiversity than SLNP!

Don't worry there's enough hippos,birds etc if that's your thing.

The new Lion Sands Game Reserve allows a number of activities along the great Sabi River:

Included in the rate:
1)Astronomy
2) Bush Dining (Breakfast & Dinner)
3) Bush Walk
4) Full Moon Walk
5) Game Drives
6) Hippopotamus Tour
7) Picnic Lunch
8) Wildlife Lectures

Excluded from rate:
1) Clay Pigeon Shooting
2) Health Spa

3) Private Game Drive: Bird Watching
4) Private Game Drive: General
5) Private Game Drive: Photography

Excursions:
1) Ballooning
2) Cultural Village
3) Golf
4)Helicopter( Blyde River Canyon & Gods Window)
This must be the most spectacular way of viewing the northern Drakensburg, which is host to some of South Africa's most well known geographical landmarks. Guests are collected from & returned to the Lion Sands helicopter pad. The helicopter flies due west towards the Drakensburg arriving at the Blyde River Canyon were one gets a close-up view of the Three Rondawels & the Blydepoort Dam. Rising out of the canyon the helicopter passes over the Berlin & Lisbon falls on route to a secluded picnic spot next to the Pinnacle. Here our guests will enjoy a delicious picnic with breath taking views stretching out as far as the Kruger National Park in the east. After lunch the helicopter flies past God's Window, Wonder View, Panorama Falls and over the town of Graskop before heading east back to Lion Sands.

See Roccco you have only spent five nights?in the SSGR/Greater KNP and visited two lodges there,hardly enough to characterize a 2 000 000 hectare park.
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Jul 11th, 2004, 01:29 PM
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Thank you, all, for your ideas and helpful suggestions. A couple more questions ...

1) I was a little surprised that nobody mentioned Tanzania or Kenya. Maybe that's because they are too far from Victoria Falls, right? The reason I ask is that there is so much marketing (hype) about seeing the great migration, and wonder if anyone has anything to add about it.

2) In southern Africa, is the high season the high season because of the likelihood of animal sightings, the weather, or both?

Thanks again for all the great help. I hope others will also feel comfortable piping in, whether in agreement or disagreement with the opinions already offered.

--Mike Buckley

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Jul 11th, 2004, 01:30 PM
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Safarinut,

And how much is the new Lion Sand lodge per night? $2,300 USD per couple per night!!! (Although the website says 7,000 ZAR/$1,000 ppspn, it also states that it is subject to the USD/ZAR exchange rate which is now at 6.06 ZAR to 1USD, equalling $1,151.61 pppns, MORE EXPENSIVE THAN SINGITA.

Of all the items included, all of those are also possible at Chichele, with the exception of night dining in the bush. However, if one stays at Sausage Tree Camp, during a full moon, they will set up dinner on a sandbar in the middle of the Zambezi River...doesn't get anymore spectacular than that!

Sausage Tree Camp is $395 pppns while Chichele Presidential Lodge is $450 pppns.

If you want a quality lecture, go to Chichele Presidential Lodge and go on a bushwalk or gamedrive with the manager, Nic Polenakis. He is truly worthy of his own television show and would hold his own next to any current television personalities in terms of knowledge and outgoingness.

Now, as far as hippos go, before the river even has had time to dry out, at Kaingo's hippo hide, there were over 100 hippos in photo range and possibly 50 crocs nearby. The South Luangwa has the highest hippo concentration of any game reserve/national park in Africa.

And for astronomy, I received some very valuable lessons from Ian at Kaingo who would stop his vehicle and point out the constellations.

Now, back to that pricing issue...for the same price as four nights at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge ($9,200 USD), a couple my stay four nights at Chichele Presidential Lodge in South Luangwa ($3,600 USD), four nights at Sausage Tree Camp in the Lower Zambezi ($3,200 USD), cover the additional costs in airfare ($700 USD), and still have enough leftover for 3 nights at a 5* hotel in Cape Town!!! ($1,700 USD).

Hmmmm...Lion Sands for 4 nights

OR

Sausage Tree Camp (4 nights)
Chichele Presidential Lodge (4 nights)
Cape Grace Hotel (4 nights)

Anybody care to vote?
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Jul 11th, 2004, 02:00 PM
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MikeBuckley - You're right as to why no one mentioned Kenya and Tanzania - a bit of a distance from Vic Falls. Not that people don't do this, but it really isn't ideal.

Travelers will do Egypt with East Africa, but for a few nights at Vic Falls and then having to do East Africa - a long distance.

Yes, the Migration is the big sell in East Africa (July-Oct), but with the exception of the "long rains" (April & May*) travel to East Africa is ideal year-round. There are always herds in the Serengeti that do not migration to Kenya. There is a smaller migration in Tarangire, Tanzania (June-Oct) as well as the wildebeest calving season in the So.Eastern corner of the Serengeti during Jan-Feb. And the Ngorongoro Crater can be visited year-round. But that is only the Northern Circuit of parks. There are still the parks in the Southern/Western Circuits that don't get near the amount of tourists - The Selous, Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale. As well as the islands off the coast - Zanzibar, Pemba, Mnemba and Mafia.

In Kenya you have as many diverse areas in addition to the Masai Mara with as many different activities. Amboseli, known for the elephants; Tsavo the largest park with surprisingly less tourists, but great viewing. Heading north there is Samburu with animals distinctly found here and nowhere else - Reticulated giraffe, Gerenuks and further north camelback safaris with the Samburu people; Meru Park of Born Free fame and "Elsa" the lioness; the Lakes areas famous for the flamingos, but offer the opportunity for horseback riding and even golfing at many of the country club-type of accommodations which includes the world-famous Mt.Kenya Safari Club. And, of course, the Masai Mara with the wide open savannahs and a wealth of animal sightings everywhere.

For more adventurous and those on their second or third visits, are the areas in Laikipia and the Northern Frontier where you have the opportunity to visit at private ranches that have accommodations where you're more a house=guest, then a tourist. Elephant Watch Camp offers an alternative to Amboseli with their own elephant conservation program. There are conservations programs for rhino and chimps - and still way to much at other camps that I could go on forever. And lest we not forget the coastal town of Mombasa with great beaches and the offshore islands of Malindi and Lamu.

* Even the "long rains" don't mean rain daily, though more than usual, but best of all, there are special reduced prices at this time.

I believe it's best that one concentrate in one area at a time, so when you're visiting Vic Falls, you also consider Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana or South Africa, maybe even Namibia. When visiting East Africa, you concentrate on Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

So you see, all the more reason that people return to Africa again and again. In the end it's your decision.
 
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Jul 11th, 2004, 02:03 PM
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Mike: Distance from Vic Falls is the main reason I did not mention Tanzania or Kenya. You could certainly do those but I believe it would cost more for flying and you would lose a lot of time. To do Botswana for instance you drive about 1 1/2 hours from Vic Falls and then you can catch a 45 minute flight and be at your camp in the Linyanti for exceptional wildlife. If you only have 7-10 days you don't want to have to cover huge distances and lose your time.

Secondly, for me Southern Africa had more appeal due to using open sided vehicles and exclusive camps where there may be less than 10 guests on an an entire concession area of more than 50,000 acres. I really liked the idea of being the only vehicle in the area around my viewing and the open sided vehicles make for better photography and more intimate viewing. There are certain areas in East Africa such as the Selous in southern Tanzanai that may offer similar experience but they are the norm throughout much of Botswana and other southern countries. I imagine you will hear from some who favor east Africa. I would love to see the migration and plan to do so but if you are intent with Vic Falls then southern Africa is probably best and many believe it is the absolute best for wildlife anyway.
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Jul 11th, 2004, 02:43 PM
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Roccco

I thought we were having a discussion on activities offered and biodiversity!Not once did I say it's cheap to visit the SSGR but remember the SSGR is a big five destination unlike Zambia which only offers four.

This nonsense of Zambia being the ''real Africa'' is actually laughable because the last time I checked the ''real Africa'' was known for it's ''five most dangerous animals to hunt''!


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Jul 11th, 2004, 06:10 PM
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If you only have 7-10 days and want to see Vic Fall and wildlife, I think you will want to stay in Southern Africa, and not try to fly to Eastern Africa. You'll have to go through Joburg to get to East Africa from Vic Falls, and that will be a 1 1/2-2hr flight to Joburg, and something like 4.5 hours to east Africa...so you'll lose a day (and pay alot) to do this.

Ask yourself: when do I want to travel and travel how much do I want to spend? If your budget is not the limiting factor, then ask : is is more important to see the big 5, and have a very high probability of seeing the charismatic predators (lions/leopard/cheetah) OR would I be disappointed if I didn't get out in the bush in a remote, undeveloped safari camp? SA's lodges-- Mala Mala, Singita, Londolozi, UluSaba-- are more likely to deliver the big 5 experience, and they are more likely to do it quickly. (And with only 7-10 day minus travel time and minus time at the FAlls, you will need to do it fairly quickly.) But they are lodges-- fabulous resorts really, that happen to be in an area rich in African wildlife. But you are not in a wilderness...if you want more of a rustic (but very comfortable) bush camp experience, pick Botswana. Both are easy to add to a Vic Falls itinerary.

I dearly love Zambia, but if money isn't the limiting factor, it will be easier to do Botswana in this time than Zambia...

If budget is a limitation, there are great alternatives in Zambia (depending on the time of year). And many of them are fabulous destinations in their own right...but they require more time to get to and to reveal their wildlife splendors.

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Jul 11th, 2004, 07:22 PM
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And in the end, it's like going anywhere -- you won't see it all in one trip. We saw four of the Big 5 on our first full game drive in Botswana! (We never did see a rhino). But every activity over the course of the rest of the week, in 3 different camps, was rewarding and totally amazing regardless. I am still unable to even think about planning next year's vacation. We are still just grooving off of this last one! (We did Botswana, bracketed by time in Cape Town and the Western Cape.) Have fun planning! I can't believe it took me so long to even THINK about going there!
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Jul 11th, 2004, 08:36 PM
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You folks have done a SUPERB job of getting me going on the right track (no pun intended) to plan my first safari trip. Thanks to all of you, I'm confident that I understand the fundamentals regarding the best times to go, the best countries to go to, and how to get the most out of my time and budget.

I'll no doubt be back in touch once I finally get around to narrowing down further details. If seeing Victoria Falls remains a high priority, the earliest we'll take our trip will be a year from now. Plenty of time to plan.

Thanks again! I'll continue peeking in to see if anyone has any other ideas to offer.
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Jul 11th, 2004, 09:29 PM
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Safarinut,

OK...even sticking to the biodiversity, Zambia has so many beautiful Baobab Trees, Sausage Trees, Winterthorn Trees, giant termite mounds, the Zambezi River for canoeing and fishing, and Zambia specializes in bush walks. Oh yeah, there is that one little waterfall in Zambia, as well, whatchamacallit...oh yeah, Victoria Falls!

I guess the fact that all these things are available at less than half the price than the Sabi Sand is just an added bonus.

True, I have spent minimal time in the Sabi Sand, but remind me...how much time have you spent in South Luangwa???

Anyway, you have your favorite and I have my favorite. I don't think we are making any progress in this debate, so let us agree to disagree and hopefully we have helped the original poster instead of further confusing him!
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Jul 12th, 2004, 03:37 AM
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It's great hearing advice based on different peoples' preferences and favourites.

One thing I would find useful though is that, when folks propose a certain establishment (lodge, camp, tour operator) or destination they let us know whether or not they have actually stayed there or are basing their opinions solely on what they have read on the web/ heard about it.

I'm still interested in their opinions even if they haven't stayed there but would prefer that the distinction be made.

But maybe that's just me?

Mike, your budget will also play a large part in the more detailed recommendations people offer. Can you give us a ball park figure?
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Jul 12th, 2004, 05:34 AM
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Roccco

We can agree to disagree.I haven't been to the SLNP and that's why I am not in the position to advise posters where to stay etc.My purpose in this debate was however to help you get your facts straight on the SSGR/Greater KNP.

As far as bush walks RSA also specializes in bush walks done in SSGR and Timbavati(CCA),KNP(more than seven different trails covering five ecosystems)

We also have trees in RSA,but not a big waterfall.

Anyway, good luck Mike!
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