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First time Safari, East Africa vs Botswana, Zimbabwe?

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Jan 4th, 2006, 05:38 PM
  #1
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First time Safari, East Africa vs Botswana, Zimbabwe?

Can you suggest where to go for your first Safari experience, pros and cons in wildlife, activities, accomodations, service. It seems many say Botswana is better and more expensive but I cant figure out why? Any feedback would be great.
jessituarte is offline  
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Jan 4th, 2006, 06:10 PM
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I too am planning our first and probably our only safari. I feel like I have been reading posts on this board for months and am still confused. I am told that Botswana has fewer travelers, open jeeps and many more permanent tented lodges. Yet it seems that so many people on this board are going to Kenya and Tanzania. At this time I have not been able to get business class flights using my miles for either August, Sept or October from LAX with United miles. If this does not happen then I either have to wait a year or change to East Africa and go in Dec. Jan, or B=February. Please tell me what you think. My biggest problem seems that any of the scheduled safari companies like Natural Habitat, A&k etc say at Serena ans Sopa lodges and that is not the experience I want. Help I am so confused.
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Jan 5th, 2006, 04:37 PM
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Hello,

East and Southern Africa are like apples and oranges -- it's hard to compare them. It really depends on what sort of experience you want.

Do you want to be one of 12 or 15 people in an immense, pristine, remote wilderness area? Go to Botswana. The game-viewing is incredible, and there are a huge variety of environments -- everything from the Okavango Delta to the Kalahari. There are many fewer travellers, and the permanent tented camps are small and intimate -- most camps will have only five or six rooms (10-12 people). There are no Sopa or Serena hotel-style lodges in Botswana. Unfortunately, one of the reasons there are many fewer travellers (and why there are fewer people going to Botswana on this forum) is expense -- Botswana's government has adopted a low-numbers, high-cost model for tourism, and this is reflected in the prices. It's great for the environment, but hard on the wallet. Eyes on Africa (www.eyesonafrica.net) can lessen the pain, as they specialise in Botswana and send so much business there. Nicky has helped plan my Botswana safaris and I've been very happy with the service and the competitive pricing.

South Africa is also a great option, and is an ideal destination for the independent traveller -- you can book almost everything yourself. The Sabi Sands (near Kruger National Park) has the best game-viewing I've ever experienced, though it lacks the remote wild feeling of Botswana. You can also add on some time in Cape Town if you want to add a city stay to your safari. I spent a month in South Africa, and it was one of the best trips I ever did.

Do you want to see the classic wide open African plains and huge herds of animals? Go to East Africa. For sheer numbers, nothing can compete with the Migration. The number of travellers increases as well, and the proliferation of vehcles can detract from the feeling of being in the wilderness. However, with some work and the help of a specialist agent, it is certainly possible to get away from the crowds (and from the Sopa and Serena hotel experience). Africa Serendipity (www.africaserendipity.com) is a great small company which does custom trips to East Africa -- I've worked with them and can highly recommend them.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 5th, 2006, 11:39 PM
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spiegelscjs,
Are you specifically looking for a group tour? If not, you can easily plan your own private, custom itinerary in East Africa staying wherever you like (as long as there's availability of course). And you can have a pristine, wilderness experience with very few other travelers in East Africa as well depending on where and when you travel. We were in Kenya/Tanzania in late November/early December for 3 weeks and saw very few other vehicles. We combined visits to private reserves with national parks and I can say that the two of us were very likely the ONLY visitors at 3 of these locations. If there were others, we didn't ever cross paths.

Here's my trip report and photo links if you're interested - http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34719569
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Jan 6th, 2006, 02:07 AM
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I agree with Patty - you can avoid other vehicles in kenya IF you plan well. For instance in the Mara Cottars has a private concession and the Serena is the only biggish lodge on the West side of the Mara river (which you cannot cross except at the very North and South of the park with bith bridges an hour away from Serena).
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Jan 7th, 2006, 06:16 AM
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Here are some comments I have posted on East vs. Southern Africa and the various countries you can visit, based on my experiences there.

Kenya/Tanzania (this assumes you'd do them together)
Pros:
The variety and sheer numbers of animals seen for what you spend makes it the best value
Can see a World Wonder--Ngorongoro Crater
Experience the migration if you time things correctly
Camel safaris possible
Cultural interactions with Masai (and Samburu) are easy to do
If you go a bit north in Kenya, it is possible to see different species of zebra, giraffe, and ostrich.
Can see chimps—Easily at Sweetwaters in Kenya, they are at a Jane Goodall sanctuary and not wild. You can also go to Mahale in Tanzania but that’s more travel and expense.
Closer proximity to the gorillas for less travel time/expense to get there (if you were to go to Uganda/Rwanda) Can also see chimps there.

Cons:
Not as secluded as parts of Southern Africa
Fewer opportunities to walk, although they do exist
Few water activities, boat safaris or canoeing
Fewer night drive opportunities, although they do exist
Open vehicles are less common with pop-ups being used instead in most areas. Private concessions allow the open vehicles.


Zambia/Zimbabwe
Pros:
Adventure--walking, canoeing, boat safaris
Remote, secluded
Pretty good prices
Can do elephant riding in Zimbabwe
Night drives are status quo
Cultural interactions--I know of 2 village stays, one in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe. Probably more
Can see Victoria Falls, a World Wonder from both countries. I've only been on the Zimbabwe side, but the area around the falls is uncommercialized and wild with antelope, mongoose, and monkeys running around freely. Nice hiking paths too.


Cons:
On foot or by boat/canoe, you cannot get as close nor linger with wildlife.
Good game, but not in the abundance of the Masai Mara, Serengeti, Botswana, or South Africa.

Botswana:
Very secluded and beautiful luxury tented camps, not crowded at all
Great game
One of best places to see wild dogs
Can do several days of elephant safaris at Abu's (very expensive and I've never been there)
A few places allow walking—
The Okavango delta, which you can experience on boats or in mekoros--long narrow boats poled by expert polers.
Many places offer night drives
Can experience the Kalahari Desert--meerkats and San Bushmen

Cons:
If you wish to see the "Big 5" you would have to include the Moremi area, which has rhino, but costs a lot. The other game there is phenomenal, though, helping to justify the high cost.
Expensive compared to East Africa, but luxury mobile safaris bring down the cost. (I’ve done one and it was superb.)

South Africa
I have no personal experience with safaris here. I think you can see tremendous game in a short amount of time without too much trouble in the private reserves. The safari experience is also easily combined with Cape Town and the vineyards, to make for a well rounded holiday.

"many say Botswana is better and more expensive but I cant figure out why?"

My 2 cents of feedback: Botswana is more expensive because the country's approach to tourism is exclusivity. Fewer tourists are accommodated so those that come must pay more. The game viewing areas are wonderful with abundant game and few people. Everything is more secluded and remote and it costs more for that type of experience.

As a rule there is more individual attention at camps with a little fancier food than East Africa. But I always ate very well in East Africa and my guides were great and attentive. I am not a Connoisseur of wine/food/interior decorating but that's been my impression.

I've willingly paid the Botswana surplus on several occasions and will for my next trip too. But I'm eagerly planning on returns to Kenya and Tanzania as well.

"it seems that so many people on this board are going to Kenya and Tanzania."
Your money can go farther and it is easier to do a completely private safari in Kenya/Tanzania with your own private guide for the whole trip. To do so in Botswana would be way expensive.

I hate trite expressions like "it's all good" but that accurately sums up East and Southern Africa for me.

For speigelcjs and the miles problem. Tanzania in Februrary is marvelous time for the migration in the Serengeti. You may even see wildebeest births.

I think Natural Habitat, mentnioned by spieglecjs, will also do custom trips. Here are some companies you could google that have been mentioned on Fodors that will do independent trips:

Africa Adventure
Africa Dream Safaris
Eastern & Southern Safaris
Fish Eagle
Gametrackers
Go2Africa
Good Earth
Roys
Serendipity
Southern Cross Safaris
Taga
Wild Trek Safaris

Have fun planning.





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Jan 7th, 2006, 06:40 AM
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Hello,

I've been to South Africa, so I thought I'd add a bit to Lynn's excellent summary:

South Africa is a wonderful place to see wildlife. Whilst not as remote as Botswana (my other favourite destination) the private reserves of South Africa offer tremendous game viewing -- my best sightings of the big cats, for both quality and quantity, have been in South Africa (at Londolozi).

The experience in the private reserves of South Africa is quite similar to that in Botswana, though it lacks the feeling of remote wilderness. Small numbes of guests in permanent tented camps or lodges mean that you won't have to share your sightings with a huge number of other vehicles.

South Africa can be very good value for money, given the favourable exchange rate and the wide variety of accommodation options available. Even in less expensive places, the accommodations are often more luxurious than those in East Africa or Botswana (some people find them a bit TOO luxurious, preferring a more 'back to nature' experience). Private plunge pools, butlers, and gourmet cuisine are common.

Cheers,
Julian
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