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First Time Safari Help...Use a tour or not?

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Aug 19th, 2016, 10:47 AM
  #1
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First Time Safari Help...Use a tour or not?

Hello all. We are a group of 6-8 people planning a safari for September of 2017.
We have made inquiries with Tauck and a company called Yellow Zebra. This is the itinerary we like from Yellow Zebra:

Day 1 Arrive into Victoria Falls. Overnight at Royal Livingstone (Deluxe Room)
Day 2 Overnight at Royal Livingstone
Day 3 Fly to the Khwai. Overnight at Machaba Camp
Day 4 Overnight at Machaba Camp
Day 5 Fly to the Okavango Delta. Overnight at Shinde Camp
Day 6 Overnight at Shinde Camp
Day 7 Overnight at Shinde Camp
Day 8 Fly to the Kalahari. Overnight at Kalahari Plains Camp
Day 9 Overnight at Kalahari Plains Camp
Day 10 Fly to Cape Town. Overnight at Four Rosemead
Day 11 Overnight at Four Rosemead
Day 12 Overnight at Four Rosemead
Day 13 Fly out from Cape Town
$9,461 per person

Being our first time, is this a reasonable cost??? Or can other outfitters get us the same trip for less?
Also, has anyone dealt, or heard of Yellow Zebra? I've heard of Tauck, and they have a good reputation, but their prices for the same thing are even higher.

This price does include all in-country flights and transfers.

Thanks for any help or suggestions you can provide.
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Aug 19th, 2016, 10:56 AM
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When you say tour do you mean the 8 of you joining a larger group, or the 8 of you alone? I've not been to those parts of Africa but have planned four now without being part of a larger group (just me or me and friends). I think you'd be happier with just the 8 of you, and with those numbers you'd be certain to have a vehicle or two to yourselves, unless you're in this to meet other folks that you'd be forced to do in a larger organized tour.

Try Africa Travel Resource. I rely on their site for research and got quotes from them for my next safari. Gamewatchers also deals with S. Africa and Botswana, and could likewise. I used Gamewatchers for Kenya with good results. You could run that same itinerary by them for a price and/or just let them know what you're interested in and what your budget is, and have them propose an itinerary or two to you.

I'd also pop over to safaritalk.net, which is a treasure trove of safari trip reports and planning ideas, with hundreds of very knowledgeable safari veterans.
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Aug 19th, 2016, 11:06 AM
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Thanks for the reply. I mean the 8 of us alone. Thanks for the link to Safari Talk!
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Aug 19th, 2016, 12:01 PM
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I am aware of Yellow Zebra, but have never used them myself. What they have put together is a tailor made trip for sure, as that is how those camps work.

I don't know how you arrived at that itinerary, but personally I would probably skip the Kalahari at that time of year. I would look at something in the Linyanti instead. If you could get it, Selinda Explorers would be great for your group as it only has 4 tents so you would have the whole camp, but that's a big IF- it's small and popular so might be hard to get the whole camp even at a year's notice. Alternatively I would look at one of the Kwando camps- Lagoon or Lebala. I would say these suggestions are in the same price bracket as the other camps in your itinerary.

For Botswana trips I use Safari Specialists based in Maun, and I've always found them excellent and very well priced.
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Aug 19th, 2016, 12:02 PM
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Oh, and I would definitely use a tailor made operator like Yellow Zebra rather than a group tour company like Tauck.
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Aug 19th, 2016, 03:21 PM
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I think that is an odd itinerary and I definitely have a few opinions. I would work on a revised plan for sure if I was you and perhaps gather one more quote/option. To be clear, were youable to get a tailor made quote from Tauck? I thought they did 24 passenger tours only.

The Royal Livingstone is a mega-hotel owned by a casino chain. In my opinion, it has no place when mixed in with some of the smaller, more intimate camps you are potentially visiting later. It would work well with Sun City or something I suppose. But there is a MUCH bigger issue! I trust the consultant you are speaking with at Yellow Zebra informed you that the Zambia side of the Falls is dry in September? There will be no water flowing over it and, during that time of year, it is called Victoria Wall. There will be water on the Zimbabwe side of the Falls in the Main and Devils Cataract. I would consider Elephant Camp or Victoria Falls River Lodge on the Zimbabwe side instead. For budget, perhaps Ilala lodge.

If you really want the Zambia side then you should at least day trip to Zimbabwe for the Falls tour. If you want something private on the Zambia side perhaps take over Chuma House 1 and Chuma House 2 at Sussi & Chuma. You can do Devils Pool on the Zambia side from there.

Machaba – this is a great camp. It has great hardware as the camp is recently renovated. It does share a game drive area with several other properties so you will see vehicles from other camps and also self-drive folks can go through the area a little (mostly very hardy safari people). The owners are working on improving the privacy but nothing concrete yet. Machaba guests game drive on the same land as Khwai River Lodge guests and this camp is on the Tauck group itinerary. I think this will be good value for money as a first stop.

Shinde – one of the best values for money in all of Botswana. It has great guiding and they guarantee that a hiking qualified guide will be in camp so you can do hiking safaris which is not always the case in Botswana. You can also get a specialist guide like Opie for a miniscule surcharge. Guests at Shinde are guaranteed 4 people per vehicle so your group would have two land rovers at your disposal. I know Stokeygirl had 5 once but that has been rectified. The overall trip price seems a little high on price for the camps you are visiting and I think you would get some savings if you combined Shinde with their sister camp Kanana on the five-night combo special. The published price of this combo special including air from Kasane >> Shinde >> Kanana >> Maun is $5,730 per person so you would only need to add Machaba, Vic Falls and Cape Town to get the total. Kanana is a classic water camp in the western part of the Delta which general has deeper water and more channels etc. By September, there is also plenty of dry land for game drives since the floods have greatly receded by then. Kanana and Shinde are owned by the same company thus the combo special I alluded to above.

Kalahari Plains – the nickname in low season here is Kalahari ComPlains. I would avoid it in Apr-Nov as our guests and staff have, sadly, almost always been disappointed then. I went once in May and saw one cheetah far off in the distance. Perhaps consider http://www.menoakwena.com/ as an alternative which also gives you the desert experience and can be accessed by road about 2 hours from Maun. You could even consider Shinde + Kanana + Meno and skip Machaba or just do Machaba >> Shinde >> Kanana. I think you will get a lower price then.

It is hard to judge the overall value without knowing the ancillary logistics. The Yellow Zebra price seems in line with what I think the cost should be but it is hard to know for sure. For example, when you leave Royal Livingstone, do you drive 2 hours or fly 25 minutes to Kasane/BBK before continuing on to Machaba. You said all in-country flights are including. Did you also mean Maun to Cape Town? Is this trip times to end in Maun on a day when there is a non-stop flight Maun to Cape Town or do you connect in Johannesburg?

I am also not sure how you have an overall USD price. Everything in Cape Town is priced in Rand. In order to quote you a price in USD someone, somewhere along the way has taken a big currency hedge and that will never be in your favor.

For your third quote, perhaps call Chris Liebenberg at Piper & Heath in San Diego. All he does is tailor made trips like you are envisioning. I see you are in Los Angeles and Yellow Zebra is in the UK so they are a little geographically random I suppose. I would perhaps consider one company in Botswana like the one Stokeygirl recommended plus one in the USA. Or, just one in the USA since you already contacted Yellow Zebra. Chris contracts with all the companies I mentioned above and he is a competitor of mine so this is an endorsement! I have two employees in California so I know about the California Seller of Travel Laws. Chris is in compliance with these laws as he helped me set mine up when I first hired people in CA. Gotta love CA labor laws and regulations ha ha!

Good luck!

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
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Aug 19th, 2016, 03:49 PM
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Thanks, folks, for the very detailed responses. They are very helpful and I will look into the points you brought up.

Any more suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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Aug 19th, 2016, 04:13 PM
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Hi Jim,

One more thing. Have you considered doing a safari in Botswana then Cape Town then a Kruger area private reserve? You could still start in Vic Falls. My concern with your current plan, if this is a once in a lifetime safari, is that you might not see rhino. There are 4-5 rhino in a Park near Victoria Falls on the Zambia side but they are not a genetically viable population and they are under armed guard; a little sad.

I suspect your trip price would be very similar if you did something like this:
-Vic Falls at Ilala Lodge
-Three nights Shinde
-Two nights Kanana
-Four nights Cape Town
-Three nights in the Kruger. Perhaps MalaMala or Tintswalo.

There are still big crashes of rhino in the Kruger ecosystem to round out a true big five experience.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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Aug 20th, 2016, 12:24 AM
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" I know Stokeygirl had 5 once but that has been rectified. "

How has this been rectified, exactly? You mentioned on TA that K&D had previously guaranteed you that your guests would not be more than 4 to a vehicle, yet I was in a vehicle with 5 people, including 2 of your guests. So much for their guarantees. So what has changed, have they just "guaranteed" it won't happen again?

Me being in a vehicle with 5 people was not unusual, before my trip I read at least 2 other reviews of people mentioning this. So I would suggest they don't have enough vehicles to keep to 4 to a vehicle, so the only way this will have changed is if they have increased the number of vehicles. Is that the case?
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Aug 20th, 2016, 07:16 AM
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Hi Stokegirl,

I did not want to risk our positive relationship by debating that further on TA a few weeks ago. The guarantee of four people came out (at least to Travel Beyond) in April 2016. This was long after the Travel Beyond guests that shared a vehicle with you and two others had booked their trip. So, they did not have such a guarantee. Make sense?

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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Aug 20th, 2016, 07:35 AM
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Not really- my trip was in May 2016.
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Aug 20th, 2016, 09:15 AM
  #12
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Thanks again for the tips.
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Aug 20th, 2016, 10:16 AM
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Sorry - let me re-phrase. Ker & Downey is offering 4 pax per vehicle for bookings made after approximately April 2016.

Cheers,

Craig
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Aug 20th, 2016, 10:20 AM
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Hi Jim - are you a photographer? I was just looking at a site with your same name on it. I enjoyed the ND football photos. I went to the Naval Academy and, as you might know (if you are the same person), we have one of the longest rivalries in college football, albeit a bit one sided on the victory column. I have been to three Navy/ND games in South Bend.

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Aug 20th, 2016, 10:58 AM
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Craig- when this first came up on TA you initially tried to blame this on my agent (a bit of a low blow at the competition if you ask me), saying
"You mentioned this in an earlier post. I am not sure who you booked this particular trip with but I think you have written in the past that you always use Safari Specialists for your Botswana safaris? You should speak to them because Travel Beyond clients are guaranteed no more than four people per vehicle in WRITING from Ker & Downey. If you still use this agency they are in Maun and I would think they would have the leverage to get a deal like that for you without you having to pay extra."

Once I pointed out that I was actually sharing a vehicle with your clients, now the story has changed and it's because the "guarantee" only applies to bookings after April 2016 (meaning it wouldn't have applied to my booking anyway, regardless of who I booked with).

So can you confirm that even if I had booked my trip with another operator, such as yourself, I still would have had 5 in a vehicle?
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Aug 20th, 2016, 11:17 AM
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Hi Stokeygirl,

Sure, on second read, I can see how you would see that as a blow to your agent. I suppose I have lost some sensitivity of late and I will rectify that going forward.

Yip - the story has changed because new information came to light based on what you told me. It is true that if you had booked with another operator, including Travel Beyond, you could have been in the same situation with five people. Not any more, but yes true in the past.

Would you like me to remove my comment on Trip Advisor? It seems you are keeping close tabs on me and I don't want to contradict myself as this issues seems to keep popping up.

We started using four people per vehicle as a selling point for K&D camps (Shinde) in April of this year. Our clients that shared a vehicle with you and had a total of five guests on the vehicle had booked long before that and their confirmation material did say six people per vehicle max.

Indeed when K&D told us about 4/vehicle my assumption was that it would apply from that day forward to all guests. When you said you shared a vehicle with my guests and there was five, that was a surprise to us, so we went and reaffirmed with K&D that our guests would only have four in the future. They reaffirmed in writing and said that the policy applied to our clients (no mention on if/if not other channels).

I hope this puts your mind at ease.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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Aug 20th, 2016, 11:38 AM
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I would appreciate it if you could update the thread on TA to reflect what you have posted above.

I'd also like to clarify that I wasn't that bothered by having 5 in the vehicle. I discussed the number of people in the vehicle with my agent before the trip, after reading a couple of reviews that mentioned 6 in a vehicle. Having 6 would have been a problem for me, as I have quite a large camera and sitting 3 to a row would have been very cramped. She requested to K&D that I not be put in a vehicle with 3 to a row, and with 5 this was not the case. So I can't complain about K&D, as they did what I requested.

But I think it's important for people reading forums to know that Shinde doesn't have only 4 to a vehicle as a matter of course, which seems to be what you are saying- that this only applies to your guests. So people need to realise that if they want only 4 to a vehicle, or 5 to a vehicle, then they need to get their agent to specifically request it. In my case, I asked not to have 3 to a row.
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Aug 20th, 2016, 11:45 AM
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Hi Stokeygirl,

I will action your request this weekend happily. Heading out to a soccer party now (Brazil/Germany men's gold medal game). Thanks for letting me know you had some frustration with what I had written.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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Aug 20th, 2016, 02:22 PM
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Yes, I am a photographer, and yes those are my ND photos. Thanks for looking.
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Aug 20th, 2016, 05:10 PM
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Jim - Since you are a pro photographer, you may want to consider going to Selinda and doing a photo workshop there. Then you could go to Shinde to get the Delta experience. After that, it would be quite cost effective with 8 people to fly direct to Mashatu and do their photographic program and utilize the hides. The hides will be pumping with game in September.

http://greatplainsconservation.com/wild-studio/
http://mashatu.com/mashatu-photo-vehicle-experience/
http://mashatu.com/photographic-hides-at-mashatu/

After that, you will be ready for Cape Town.

Just trying to give you some new ideas.

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