First time in Africa on safari

Aug 5th, 2014, 08:21 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 221
First time in Africa on safari

I've been lurking in this forum for about a week, trying to wrap my head around a trip to Africa to see the wildlife.

Basic information: We are a couple with college aged kids. I work for a school district; therefore, the summer is really my only time to travel extensively. I have to be back to work by the third week in August. Number in the party would be either 2 or 3; depending on whether daughter's schedule permits it. We will be traveling from Los Angeles (long flight.) I'd love to go in 2015, but a trip to Japan over spring break 2015 may push this trip to 2016. Three weeks including travel time would probably be the max that we could get away.

The $1k per person per night properties sound fabulous but that's just way outside of our budget. I have noticed some people in the know suggesting locations such as Mashatu Tent Camp, The Hide in Hwange, and Ilala Lodge in Victoria Falls, that seem to come in under that price point.

I don't have to do it all this trip (plan to return in future years.) Any recommendations in the sub $750(ish) per person per night?

Thanks in advance.
amy_torres_sd is offline  
Aug 5th, 2014, 01:36 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
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Summer here, winter there, is the best time to go to Southern Africa for wildlife viewing. My husband and I would rather keep going back than spend a lot and go less often.

There are two Southern Africa trips we've done that we loved - mostly S Africa, and can be done in every price range. If you want to mix and match, you can easily.

1 - private game reserves around Kruger, Pafuri in northern Kruger and Mashatu (Tented or Main). This one is fun because you get three very different Eco-systems and the big five (plus everything else). It can be a self drive or a combination of flights and private driver/car transfers (we did the latter). You can combine very expensive camps in the Kruger area with much more affordable ones or keep in the affordable range and still get a fantastic experience. Pafuri is currently closed, but they keep saying they will reopen soon. For a three week trip I would pick a camp in Sabi Sand - Elephant Plains, Arathusa (my choice, it has a waterhole at camp) or Umkumbe are more affordable options - a camp in Timbavati - Shindzela, Africa on Foot are good options - for three nights minimum each (I don't like to stay anywhere for less than three nights - too hectic!), then go to Pafuri and Mashatu (or reverse it). If you want to try a self drive, Kruger National Park is outstanding. This itinerary is also easily combined with Cape Town. Really good under three weeks and you see a lot.

2 - private game reserves around Kruger and KwaZulu Natal. We've done this twice now and can be a self drive or flights and private driver/car transfers. Same Kruger area options as above, then fly (or self drive) to KwaZulu Natal for Tembe Elephant Park, Zululand Rhino Reserve (where Rhino River Lodge is) and on the higher end are Phinda and Thanda. Zululand Rhino Reserve is getting wild dogs this fall, so hopefully that will work out and they will be seen after by next winter (our summer). Want a bit of beach? Add in Thonga or Rocktail for exclusivity or St Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland for tons of fun activities. It's the Indian Ocean, so always warm and it's just beautiful! You can also do Hluhluwe National Park - I have a soft spot for it as they saved the rhino from extinction. It's a wonderful park on a self drive or day trip. Also easily combined with Cape Town for a perfect three weeks.

Those are my two favorites. Lots of options, though. I have stayed at $1000/night camps and $100/night camps. I am much more comfortable at the $100/night camps, and my husband thinks I'm pretty high maintenance. There are generally more South Africans and Europeans than Americans, especially in KZN, and I don't need all the extras. Good food, a comfortable bed, great wildlife viewing are all I need. Many of the camps I mentioned have family rooms, some don't. Single supplements for a third person might be charged.

Sun Safaris and Wild Wings are two agents in S Africa that I would recommend. There are lots of good ones. If you use a US agent, be sure they specialize in the area you are going at that they won't just recommend the really expensive places. Most US agents won't bring up Tembe, Umkumbe or ZRR, but they will recommend Singita and Londolozi. For the above, you may not need an agent at all - camps can be very helpful!! But do what you are comfortable with.

Enjoy your planning. It's fun, even if it's a little overwhelming.
christabir is offline  
Aug 6th, 2014, 02:54 AM
Join Date: Nov 2008
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There are plenty of camps in Zambia and Zimbabwe under that budget. In South Luangwa, in peak season some of the most expensive camps will creep over $750 but that's easy to balance out with less expensive camps, or by sticking with one group of camps to get long stay discounts. Try Robin Pope or Norman Carr, for example. If you are three, Robin Pope could work out well as they don't charge a single supplement even in peak season and Norman Carr do some 7 or 10 day itineraries with no single supplement.
Similarly, in Southern Tanzania (Selous and Ruaha) all but the most expensive camps in Selous, and probably nothing in Ruaha will be over $750pppn.
Plenty in Kenya too.
I'd say $750 pppn is a pretty healthy budget, and really the only country you might struggle in for that time of year is Botswana.
stokeygirl is offline  
Aug 6th, 2014, 03:06 AM
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I just did some research and it seems US school holidays are earlier than here in the UK. If you can go in June, the areas I mentioned have shoulder season pricing. Even some camps in Botswana are shoulder season. If you can do your trip in June, on that budget you shouldn't have a problem almost anywhere.
stokeygirl is offline  
Aug 6th, 2014, 06:27 AM
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Hi Amy. We have been to Africa three times. Our budget for each trip has been about $1000 per day, for a couple....$500 pp/pd. We have been to Southern Tanzania and to Botswana. Granted we travel in the green season and we fly on airline points, so that helps the budget. StokeyGirl is right, you really should be able to do a very nice trip for that amount.

Check out for many "in the know" travelers. Lots of trip reports and ideas. Many budget conscious travelers there.
TC is offline  
Aug 6th, 2014, 11:44 AM
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Let me recommend Buffalo Ridge in the Madikwe reserve in South Africa, near the Botswana border. Madikwe is not in a malaria zone, and can be reached by car (the preferred means of travel) from Joburg airport in around 4 1/2 hours, quicker than getting to most of the reserves around Kruger.

Prices for Buffalo Ridge are around US$260 per night per person, and are excellent value. In addition to being very comfortable and of the highest standard (we've stayed there twice and found it to be comparable or superior with much more expensive lodges, such as Phinda) one real benefit of Buffalo Ridge is that it's community-owned, a real success story.

Madikwe has excellent game viewing, an interesting history, and you can see the lights of Gaborone from most of the guest units. Great food, great staff, highly recommended.

View from our room, looking toward Botswana -

A local couple -

And another -
Gardyloo is online now  
Aug 6th, 2014, 08:37 PM
Join Date: Jun 2011
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I have just recently completed planning details for a trip, next August, to Kenya. We like to be comfortable, but don't need over the top luxury (which is very subjective), but August is also high season for Kenya. Our pricing is closer to $600pppd, so well within your stated budget.

I worked with, and do highly recommend Sandi from Africa Serendipity. She is great at brain storming alternatives. I always appreciate her feedback. And she is an active member of the forums here and on TA.
new_adventure is offline  
Aug 7th, 2014, 02:41 AM
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Thank you all for your feedback! I have been reading lots of trip reports on Safari Talk and really look forward to diving deeper into the details.
amy_torres_sd is offline  
Aug 7th, 2014, 03:36 PM
Join Date: Jul 2014
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I am not a fan of self drive unless you plan to be returning over and over again. It's great for South Africans on holiday because they can keep going back with no worry if they miss seeing aniimals..

Having a guide and a tracker is worth the money and this is available to you easily with your budget. Self drive is hit or miss - like going to TJMaxx Ha ha ha.. The problem with self drive is that you can literally drive right by something and miss it completely but more importantly you will miss the benefit of rangers talking amidst themselves as to sightings. Just my preference in the bush though.

I feel the same way about reserves with low populations of certain animals. It's a bit of the "get what you pay for". You're there. Don't you now want to see the animals. Nothing worse than to get to a reserve and find out that the reserve has an incredibly low population of lions, for example.
Generally speaking, I wouldn't plan on tackling too much. You will spend a lot of time in transit and on flights etc which will affect your budget.

If you are 3, then you need to watch the single supplements as they can eat your budget too.

I personally think your dollars are better suited not in Botswana. There are places to go there that fit your budget and while I am a HUGE fan of the area, it is best to appreciate it in its fullest and fly from one part to another spending a few days in each. It will eat your budget undoubtedly. This could be your next trip though - trust me, after one trip, you will want to go back and Botswana may be the best place for you at that point.

I think your focus should be on a fruitful trip with the dollars that you have.If you'd like I can make some more specific itinerary recommendations depending upon your interests and what you would like to see.

Happy to help with more specifics!
diannelovestravel is offline  
Aug 9th, 2014, 12:08 PM
Join Date: Aug 2014
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I am from South Africa and can assist once in South Africa
razeena is offline  
Aug 10th, 2014, 04:26 AM
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I just finished putting together a similar trip for a friend that would also work very well for you and meet your budget:

Arrive in Johannesburg. Overnight in City Lodge OR Tambo. This hotel is connected to the airport. No transfer or cab needed. Clean and great for a short stay.
Fly to Victoria Falls the next AM. Stay 2 nights at Ilala Lodge. A great option for you and one that you mentioned.
Fly to Kasane and transfer to The Elephant Valley Lodge in Botswana. Stay 3 nights. This lodge is near to Chobe and is excellent value for the money. A very nice lodge.
Fly from Kasane to Cape Town (via Jo'burg). Stay 3 nights at the Abbey Manor Guesthouse. Lovely small boutique hotel. Again, a great choice with excellent value.
Fly from Cape Town to Ngala Safari Lodge in Timbavati Reserve (different ways to get there). Stay 3-4 nights. Ngala Safari Lodge is a beautiful lodge which offers one of the best values in the Kruger area.
Fly back to Jo'burg to fly back to the USA.

The itinerary above gives you some great diversity in safari areas and Cape Town is a nice break in between. The places I picked try to make best use of your dollars to maximize what you can see but keep transfer and lodging costs in perspective. For example, you mentioned Mashatu but that wouldn't fit well for you because you travel via Polokwane and enter Botswana thru Pontdrift border post. So you always go JNB, Polokwane Mashatu and back. That would be a lot of transfer costs and not a good accompaniment to Vic Falls. But it is a nice lodge for the money.

I certainly don't know how many days you can be away with your budget either but this was something I worked on just recently and thought I would share with you.

My email is on my profile if you want particulars. Happy to help!

Best, Dianne
diannelovestravel is offline  
Aug 10th, 2014, 06:12 AM
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Amy, IMO the best thing you can do to decrease your cost and increase your enjoyment and value, is to move less. Every time you change locations you miss out on something wonderful. You miss game drives or whole days in the bush. That is the very thing you are going to Africa to see. I am in complete disagreement with running all over Africa to see a water falls or a cities.. There are so many other places in the world to see those things. I believe in getting out into the bush as quickly as possible and staying there as long as possible. More bang for your buck!
TC is offline  
Aug 10th, 2014, 07:05 AM
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I agree with TC that spending as much time as possible in the bush is great! If, however, you are seeking some other great places to visit like Victoria Falls and Cape Town, then combining your safari with some other spots is worth it. Cape Town is an amazing city with natural beauty and great history. It's a gateway to some great day trips and if you can fit it in, I would suggest it. But as all things go, your budget is a determining factor! If you can stay more days in the bush, then I would definitely add more nights to that portion of the itinerary I suggested! Totally agree with TC that there is nothing like being in the bush!
diannelovestravel is offline  
Aug 14th, 2014, 09:32 PM
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