First Time Safari Questions


Nov 5th, 2011, 04:40 AM
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First Time Safari Questions

Here's the situation:
Never been to Africa
Want to go on a safari
Don't know what country
Don't want to cram in too much
Purpose is to observe wildlife but not necessarily for photography
Want the comfort/atmosphere/scenery you see on the commercials
Walking/trekking would be nice
Would like this to be a bit special, may be once in a lifetime
Want nice lodge(s) but tents are fine
Will likely need professional help planning
7-14 days, including travel from Europe
Can I find something for May - August 2012?
Budget: I'll deal with stick er shock when I figure out if this is even within the realm of the possible. I know this will not be a budget adventure.
Am I crazy? Should I wait and give myself more time to plan?

All opinions, advice and suggestions are welcome.
wanderfrau is offline  
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Nov 5th, 2011, 07:17 AM
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Hello Wonderfrau,

For the first safari, Kenya is considered ideal. Since you have up to 14 days you could combine Kenya and Tanzania. Your general travel time frame will fall into "High Season" for Kenya and Tanzania (Eastern Africa), so not too kind on your budget.

You could have a fantastic, unusual and highly comfortable safari in Zambia, still considered the "untaimed African bush",including a stay in South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi National Parks, where you can have very close encounters with wildlife (which is why you are in Africa!!), have the experience of the walking safaris and the water related safari activities on the mightly Zambezi River. You can also include a visit to Victoria Falls to complete the picture perfect of commercials. The addtional advantage of going to Zambia is that the rates are in 'Sholder Season' during June and the prices will be much more budget friendly. This would be a memorable safari!!

You are not crazy, you are embarking on a trip of a lifetime and there is time to get this organized.
mkulove is offline  
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Nov 5th, 2011, 09:05 AM
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Pick up a guidebook.

Fodor's "Complete Safari Planning Guide" is a good place to start. Covers all the safari countries with lots of useful information: when to travel, which countries, various areas each country, lodging, health, insurance, etc.

In Kenya/Tanzania (except May - low season, end of the 'short rains' but wet is rare and shouldn't inhibit safari) during the period you wish to travel (June - Aug) is peak season, with prices to match. Unless choosing a 'group' safari with a set itinerary, set travel days, set lodging, etc., with attractive prices and often quite tempting, know these often have lots of long transfers on not the best roads.

Why it's often suggested you consider planning a 'private' safari where you design your own trip, where prices don't necessarily have to be more expensive.

However, during the peak-season, if a party of 2, you can expect your daily cost to run between $450-$650+/person/nt that will include: room/tent, meals, park fees, game drives, guide/vehicle, flights if applicable, taxes... also, your meet/greet and transfers.
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Nov 5th, 2011, 10:59 AM
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If you are interested in East Africa: Go up to the "Search the Forums" box and type in "new east africa", hit Search. You will get the "New East Africa Trip Report Index", a long posting of trip reports. You will get tons of good information about how others have tackled the same issue. A good operator will help you plan a safari that suits you well. Consider a private safari, meaning a driver/guide and vehicle dedicated to you and your party for the duration of your trip. The extra expense need not be prohibitive and its worth it. Jim.
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Nov 5th, 2011, 11:12 AM
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I've often said that, for first time visitors to Africa, a safari in South Africa is the place to start because of the variety of activities available, the well-established infrastructure for tourism, and the great beauty of the country. I still believe that, but I have to agree with mkulove that a trip to Zambia would be superb. Mention is made of Zambia's Lower Zambezi, so that reminds me of my favorite place in Africa in the past: Ruckomechi, which is across the river in Zimbabwe. Not knowing the actual wildlife situation in Zimbabwe now, I hesitate to recommend the country, but, again, in the past, it has been my favorite destination in Africa. Tanzania is another candidate for your safari. I'm wondering, though, whether the crowds of tourists and the tactics of some safari operators (20 vehicles surrounding a lone lion, night drives in which animals are essentially hounded) haven't diminished the enjoyment of the experience.

Going back to South Africa, May - August would be the winter season, a factor to consider and not necessarily a reason to rule it out. It is chilly at night, but the days are brilliantly sunny. Check the weather in other countries, as well.

Other advise: DON'T WAIT. GO NOW! Go, even if you can't afford it. You have plenty of time to plan a trip. You don't have to stay at luxury camps with spas and infinity pools to have a good time. The most memorable experience may be the bucket shower with the stars overhead. Look for camps that offer many activities all day and don't leave you in a camp chair reading a novel. Look for camps that have long-term resident managers, not ones staffed by short-timers taking a break from jobs in the U.K. or elsewhere who know very little about the place and, essentially, are on holiday themselves. (I speak from my experience in Zambia where I saw both situations.) Carry more cash with you than you think you need. ZZ
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Nov 5th, 2011, 12:57 PM
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My first safari was going to be my one and only and I went to Botswana and Zambia. The prices in both countries are a lot higher than when I went, but if you can manage it then it would be an amazing first safari. I also visited Tanzania which is a wonderful destination for volumes of animals and culture, but I am returning to Southern Africa as I love the feeling of remoteness I didn't get in visiting Tanzania.

Zambezi, good to hear you loved Ruchomechi, as I will be staying there next August.
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Nov 5th, 2011, 01:03 PM
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We loved a similar trip in S Africa and SE Botswana. We stayed in a different camp in the Sabi Sand area (we chose Arathusa because it was more affordable than Mala Mala and has a water hole in camp), had road transfers from camp to camp, and stayed at Mashatu tented camp. It was a perfect ten day safari and with road transfers, you get to see some of the wonderful country. Our trip was backwards from the one I linked. We flew from JNB to Arathusa and from Mashatu to JNB - but would do a road transfer on the last leg next time. We've been to about 20 camps, and Mashatu Tented is still our favorite. You could add a few days at Entabeni Wildside - it's between Mashatu and JNB. We loved it, too. If you are more adventurous, it's also an easy self drive (but as a first timer, road transfers work well). We added a night at Mashatu and happy we did. Could have stayed much longer!

Mala Mala is a favorite here. The Sabi Sands Reserve - in the greater Kruger region is a great safari destination and there is a wide range of accommodations, from almost affordable to way over the top expensive.

Winter in S Africa can be cold - especially in an open vehicle on game drives. Dress in layers and bring gloves and earmuffs. A very nice touch is the hot water bottles that most camps provide. Cozy.

Have fun planning!!
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Nov 5th, 2011, 01:17 PM
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East Africa has the classic open savannahs that I think you're looking for and great wildlife viewing, especially if you time your visit for the Migration herds. Depending on when you go in the May - August timeframe, that would be either Kenya (August) or Tanzania (earlier, although some of the herds would probably still be in the northern Serengeti in August.)
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Nov 5th, 2011, 05:36 PM
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Here's the link to the rather lengthy trip report & pictures of my 1st safari to Kenya/Tanzania/Zanzibar.

Fodor's "Complete African Safari Planner" is a great place to start to give you some ideas, then come back here where you'll always get plenty of help.

It was also to be a trip of a lifetime, the one and only time I'd ever be lucky enough to see Africa, but here I am planning my 2nd safari!

So beware...Africa has a way of taking hold of your soul.
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Nov 6th, 2011, 11:35 AM
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Thanks to everyone for the advice and the encouragement. I will likely be back with more questions after I digest all the good information.
wanderfrau is offline  
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Nov 6th, 2011, 12:18 PM
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Take a look at this from photographer and safari tour leader Thom Hogan -
About third way down the page he writes this -
"Which brings me to the reason why I run my wildlife workshops in the private reserves of South Africa and in Botswana. In the South African private reserves you use fully open vehicles, which is nice (as long as you're ready to deal with the camera support issues). The preserves all are adjacent to Kruger, so the animals are wandering between the preserves and Kruger all the time without knowing where they are. But the preserves allow offroading to position a vehicle, have guides and trackers who are driving through the same areas every day and know the stories of almost all the animals on their preserves. As far as I'm concerned, four to six days at the right lodge in Sabi Sands or Primavarti is by far the best entry level safari experience you can book, especially if you arrange to have a private photography vehicle."

regards - tom
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Nov 7th, 2011, 01:23 AM
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i agree with sandi about getting a good guide book.
alternatively you can use a travel comparison websites these often offer reviews from previous travelers.

would recommend a few i dont know if am allowed to post website urls without getting penanlized.
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Nov 7th, 2011, 08:27 AM
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peter -

You can list urls of such links if providing pertinent information that maybe useful to those in need of such. Rather than promoting a specific safari provider. The latter does look fishy and as touting (self-promotion).
sandi is offline  
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Nov 7th, 2011, 11:04 AM
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Thanks to all those who gave additional info.

I would love to get some recommended websites -- then I can poke around, compare and also see what matches "my dream" and what I like in the guide book.

Keep the ideas coming. Thanks
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Nov 8th, 2011, 01:51 AM
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Dear Wanderfrau,
A visit to the home of safaris East Africa-Kenya,Uganda and Tanzania.
The days you have are enough for a combined safari for Kenya and Tanzania.
You can view the wildlife in the famous parks and reserves in Kenya-annual wildebeest migration in Maasai Mara Game Reserve hapens during this period.
You can have a Maasai guided walk in the Northern kenya accompanied by camels carrying your luggage.
Cross to Tanzania to Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Accommodation on self-contained luxurious tented camps may be cheaper as compared to lodge stays.
You may also decide to have home stays where you stay with local families.

You did professional safari planner for this safari.
speedbirdsafaris is offline  
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Nov 8th, 2011, 06:50 AM
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Hey Wanderfrau,

(excellent nickname by the way )

I am from EU too, and am a safari-nut by now. So my first warning would be; prepare to be back again later! No use making this a "one in a lifetime" trip. So what you wrote in your 1st post (ic not to cram in too much) is a better attitude! ;-)

Tons of good advice already it this thread. But things I'm not sure about either. For example; Kenya. That has never appealed to me much, not even as a first timer. Too busy etc... Kenya is the country I see a lot in our local travel brochures in EU. All of them want to put you in some small Korean bus. Crazy!
Another thing I'm not sure about is luxury lodges like Mala Mala. I see a lot of US citizens go there. Perhaps because they need more luxury. But perhaps also because they have less holidays and thus do not mind spending a lot on - say - a short safari of about 7 days (+ international travel). As a European, even with a good wage, I find forking over 750€ per couple per night absolutely crazy.

So what would I do in your case?

I'd look at either Tanzania or South Africa. Arguably the two countries with the biggest safari-offer. Tanzania's got the iconic parks in the north, and some rather unspoilt/unknown gems in the south. Plus great beaches (Zanzibar). South-Africa's got a zillion national and private parks. Kruger area is of course the most known. Plus it is very accessible, perhaps even more so than Tanzania.

I cannot help a lot with Tanzania. It's been a while since I've been there. But if I may propose something for South-Africa: perhaps look at the private parks around Kruger; Sabi Sands, Manyeleti, Timbavati and Klaserie. They can provide all you've got on your list:
- you will certainly see the "big 5" and all other iconic animals. Up close, as you may off-road.
- August is perfect. Mid dry season, thus easy spotting!
- Any kind of accommodation you are looking for.

A few tips;

- Sabi Sands is full of expensive luxury lodges, but there are less expensive options if you look hard enough. In the northern part of that reserve most lodges share each others plots, and Elephant Plains or Arathusa are more affordable. EP fills up quickly, so your dates may alreay be taken. But Arathusa, perhaps as it is a bit more expensive, will most probably still have rooms. In the south of Sabi Sands is another cheaper lodge called Umkumbe. They do not have much (official) traversing rights, but if you see where they sit - between Sabi Sabi, Mala Mala and Londolozi - ...just check the prices of those lodges, and you'll soon realize they sit in the midst of prime habitat, and at that prize it's a steal!

- Manyeleti is community-owned and perhaps not the best option right now, as it's a bit unsteady (plans to develop the reserve backfired a bit - basically the community has been promised too much).

- Timbavati is about as good as Sabi Sands imho. I've had the same success ratio there as in Sabi Sands. Lodges up north share plots as well (resulting in an area to explore of minimum 6000Ha, most of the time more). Of those, Simbavati River Lodge is perhaps your best choice (also budget-wise). In the center sits Shindzela. No traversing rights, but their plot is rather big, they offer walking safaris, and the area is great; they are bordered on two sides by Ngala (expensive lodge from &Beyond).

- Klaserie; lodges there are rather new, but there's more and more of them popping up. Most of them in the east of the reserve. IOW; next to Timbavati, and closest to Kruger NP. And therefor they still offer great sightings. They also started sharing all their plots, so the area is huge as well. It's a bit dryer and rougher than all reserves mentioned above, and so animal densities are perhaps a bit less. And they are a bit more shy, not being used to tourist that much. But all that is changing very fast though, and the area has not let me down yet. I see the big 5 every time I go, and have a lot of memorable sightings too. Africa On Foot (AOF) offer walking safaris in Klaserie, and IMHO they are unmatched. The sister camp nThambo does game drives only, but you can request a shorter walk after breakfast, plus the accommodation is perhaps the one with the highest "safari feel" I've had so far. These lodges are cheaper than anything mentioned before; about 300€ per couple per night for AOF.

A last tip; Sun Safaris, a South-African tour operator, co-owns these lodges, and Umkumbe in Sabi Sands as well. If you book with them then I think your price will remain unmatched by any TA offering the same.

On SafariTalk you can find my trip reports on these lodges.

Happy travels!

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Nov 9th, 2011, 12:13 PM
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You guys are great. Thanks!
wanderfrau is offline  
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Nov 9th, 2011, 07:49 PM
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Want the comfort/atmosphere/scenery you see on the commercials
--Easy to do and that’s what really is out there and what you’ll likely see on a daily basis.

Walking/trekking would be nice
--Consider Zambia or Zimbabwe, especially since you mentioned that photographing the animals is not the #1 goal. Zim and Zam specialize in walking. On foot good photos are less likely than in a vehicle.

Would like this to be a bit special, may be once in a lifetime
--Once in a lifetime? Ha ha. We all said that at one time. The options mentioned above by others and the ones I mention will all provide a very special trip.

Want nice lodge(s) but tents are fine
--Often tents are more expensive and the service/food/atmosphere is superior to lodges. Any accommodation with a reputable outfit will be really nice and in a lovely setting.

Will likely need professional help planning
--That’s typical, there are many good agents in your home country and in the destination country.

7-14 days, including travel from Europe
--Good amount of time. Your budget may dictate whether 1 or 2 weeks. My suggestions below assume 14 days.

Can I find something for May - August 2012?
--Yes, in general May will be less expensive and a little wetter with higher grass. Toward August moves into the dry season with somewhat better viewing conditions and availability may be less.


If seeing the wildebeest migration is of interest to you, then I’d suggest Tanzania, staying in Central or Western Serengeti between May & early July and staying in Central and/or Northern Serengeti from mid-July to Aug. I’d suggest Kenya from mid-July on. You have to specifically plan for walking in Kenya and Tanzania, but it can be done.

Here’s a Tanzania option you might consider for mid-July or later, which I just did in Sept: Flycatcher’s flying itinerary to N. Serengeti for migration, Mahale for chimps where you definitely trek, and Katavi for vast plains with huge herds and giant pools of hippos/crocs. There are several itinerary variations at
Flycatchers is a Swiss company that has mostly Swiss clients and quite a few Germans. Works well for a "frau."

There are lots of great agents to use. Most recently in Kenya I used Eastern and Southern Safaris in Nairobi that worked out very well for an economical private solo trip. They arranged a couple of Kenya Wildlife Service bandas for accommodations—inexpensive, remote, secluded, beautiful locations, basic but very nice with bathrooms like you’d have in a hotel.

You can book direct with Flycatchers which has offices in Arusha, TZ. I used the help of Kiliwarriors/ Kiliwarriors /Eben Schoeman Safaris in Arusha & Virginia because I did some other Tanzania activities with Eben’s partners in Tanzania.

If the migration is not of great interest, how about South Africa, spending 3-4 days at one of the many lodges in Sabi Sands with tremendous wildlife, then on to Phinda a cheetah sanctuary. You can walk/trek in Phinda. I did 3 excellent outings on foot to track rhino and saw 6, including a mother and baby, all on foot. Most likely, you’d overnight in Johannesburg in between Sabi Sands and Phinda.

You can book directly with AndBeyond, the company that owns Phinda or you can use an agent—same cost. I used Eyes on Africa in Chicago for my Sabi Sands and Phinda trip because they could get me the no-single-supplement room at Mala Mala, one of the legendary lodges in the Sabi Sands.

Zambia or Zimbabwe would focus more heavily on walking and/or canoeing, but Kenya/Tanz or South Africa are more typical first visitor destinations.

If you are considering all these destinations and want to work with an agent that could discuss all of these possibilities with you and can send you to any of these places (though I don’t know if they deal with Flycatchers) you could contact The Africa Adventure Company in Ft. Lauderdale. I used them for my first safari and for subsequent safaris. They work with non-US clients.
atravelynn is offline  
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Nov 10th, 2011, 05:54 PM
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Bookmarking this one for future reference. Thanks everyone for the great information.
Nelson is offline  
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Nov 10th, 2011, 08:44 PM
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#1 for their 2012 travel recommendation is Uganda--which has all of your above requirements. trekking--how aobut hte famous Bwindi Forest gorilla treks?
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