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First trip to Africa - potentially August 2021 - how to get started

First trip to Africa - potentially August 2021 - how to get started

Old Jun 6th, 2021, 02:14 PM
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First trip to Africa - potentially August 2021 - how to get started

Hello all, I've been a long-time lurker, but first-time poster on these forums.

My husband and I are both vaccinated healthcare workers on the West Coast and have found ourselves with a long period of vacation with nothing planned for August 2021. We have a total of 18 consecutive days for the trip (which would include travel days). We are in our early 30s and have done a moderate amount of traveling in Europe and Asia but have never been to Africa.
A trip to Eastern or Southern Africa has been a dream of ours and with this much time off (which likely won't come again for a while), we feel like this might be the time.
We are having trouble deciding where to go and how to start the planning process. Before we get too deep in it, one concern is that we are too late. Looking at this forum, we see trips often planned 1-2 years in advance and here we are with 2 months at best (!!) I know that COVID has likely changed this and maybe less lead time would be ok, but not sure and nervous that we would be at a disadvantage with such limited time to book/plan.

Our major interests on this trip are wildlife and nature. We are more interested in traditional safaris/game drives than gorilla trekking for our first trip to Africa but open to ideas. We see that there aren't many countries that aren't a "level 4" and the news is discussing a third wave of infections and are unsure about the safety of travel (both for ourselves and morally for the native people at our destination). The Level 2 countries that seem most appealing is Zambia with Rwanda/Uganda behind that. If it wasn't for these restrictions from my limited research -- Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, & South Africa seem to be at the top of our list. We would also love some beach time. For this trip, we are less interested in big cities (as we feel most of our past travels have centered around this). We certainly enjoy luxury and are hoping our budget can give us some of that. The most adventurous thing we've done is the Salkantay trail in Peru and that was A LOT for me (both the roughing it/camping part and physical strenuousness required) so something similar would be the absolute maximum of what I can do.

We are hoping to reach out to some safari planners (and have created a list from perusing this board over the last few days) this week, but in the meantime, hoping to hear any thoughts that might be helpful from some seasoned travelers. I realize I don't have a clear question and our ideas are VERY broad at this point, but I'm just feeling overwhelmed about how to begin and whether thinking about this for 2 months from now is even reasonable. If reasonable, is a $20k budget all-in doable? Thanks in advance!
saravee is offline  
Old Jun 7th, 2021, 07:50 AM
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Welcome! Yes, it's late to plan for August, but not impossible. You'll have to be flexible with your dates and "settle" for whatever lodging is available. You may take advantage of cancellations that open from those people who are deciding not to go now for reasons you stated.

I planned a Zambia safari for last August (which I ended up having to cancel due to the pandemic). I will say that it was easily 50% more expensive than a typical (for me) Kenyan or Kenyan/Rwandan safari. The flights were more expensive, the lodgings much more expensive. It was a splurge trip for a milestone birthday so I was ok with it, but I wouldn't have paid that for "just another safari". So prepare yourself for a bit of sticker shock, I'd be surprised if you could do Zambia for under $20k, flights included. On the other hand, I work with a guy who just got back from 2 weeks in South Africa in and around Krueger and he was quite pleased with his trip; I think your money will go farther there.

I recommend that you check out Safaritalk.net for more immediate feedback. You'll get a few posters here who can help you but there you'll have hundreds, some who are going right now or who have just returned. Many of them also know which safari planners may have some openings or leads on good itineraries too.
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Old Jun 7th, 2021, 09:22 AM
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I just did some very back-of-the-envelope numbers on a 2-week trip to South Africa for this August. I picked SA because there's a lot of variety and range of areas and accommodations, but mainly because I'm more familiar with the various regional options.

Assuming things don't change dramatically in the next six weeks or so regarding Covid travel restrictions etc., I think you could have a pretty decent holiday in South Africa for well under your $20K budget cap, mainly depending on if you want to fly in something more comfortable than coach (it's a hell of a long way from the west coast.)

I just checked a few of safari lodges we've stayed in, a couple in the Sabi Sand reserve next to Kruger National Park, and another in the Madikwe reserve close to the Botswana border. The nightly range for August in these lodges was between $300 and $500 per person per night, which includes all meals and two game drives daily (morning and evening.) Accommodations are very comfortable and generally quite luxurious, but not the over-the-top luxury that comes with safari lodges costing twice as much or more.

A rental car for 10 days would run around $400 (picking and dropping at O.R. Tambo airport at Johannesburg) and good hotels on non-safari nights would be $100 - $200 depending on location. Food is reasonably priced (and excellent, as are the wines) and other costs are also reasonable.

August is mid-winter in SA and while the weather in the north of the country (around Kruger Park and also over at Madikwe) can be very nice - it's the dry season and no mosquitoes - in the south, around Cape Town, it can be cooler and occasionally wet/misty - think winter in San Francisco. I would probably look at six nights on safari - maybe three nights in two different locations, and the rest touring. You might consider touring the lovely Garden Route along the Indian Ocean north and east of Cape Town, or the gorgeous Panorama route just west of Kruger. Or you could fly to Port Elizabeth (now renamed Gqeberha) and visit the marvelous (self-drive) Addo Elephant National Park, then drive down the coast to Cape Town (this is a terrific route, google the places on this map - https://goo.gl/maps/qJZG1cdJHfAHzZok7 )

If you want to pursue this course of action, job one is to find and book space in whatever safari lodges you can find. The Safaritalk option is a good one; I also saw some decent accommodations listed on a couple of the online booking services including Expedia and Safari Now. But I would also do a quick survey of the lodges in the various regions and communicate directly with them.

You're going to get a lot of opinions on whether to go or where (of which mine are but one set) so I'd keep an open mind and maybe take a few days to dive deep into whatever resources you can discover - trip reports, reviews, etc. But fair warning - this won't be a "once in a lifetime" thing. You'll likely be addicted just like the rest of us.
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Old Jun 7th, 2021, 11:02 AM
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If you decide to do South Africa, some of our group used Sunrock Guesthouse in Johannesberg and were very pleased with it. Great food, but I'll warn that there are a lot of hunting trophies in the bar!!
You do not really need a sightseeing day in J'Berg. Maybe one at most for the Apartheid museum and Soweto with a private driver.

We stayed 10 days in the self catering camps inside Kruger. They were fine. They are described here (this is a travel agent website)

The official website is sanparks.org. Looks like they've updated their booking system. You can test some dates and see what's available in Kruger and the other parks.

Some continued on to see Victoria Falls, I flew to Cape Town.

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Old Jun 8th, 2021, 01:24 AM
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South Africa has just about everything you could ask for except gorillas and chimpanzees. I’d been on several trips to Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, but never to South Africa until my daughter married a Capetonian (someone from Cape Town). You are late in planning, but on the other hand many are put off travelling by the pandemic, so it shouldn’t be hard to find vacancies in the parks and game lodges.

August is midwinter in South Africa, and the Cape area is sometimes wet and cold, but the area around Kruger is warmer and dry. I’ve never been to KwaZuluNatal, but the game parks in that area are malaria free, and seawater is much warmer than Cape Town. As a bonus, that is the best time of year for whale watching.
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Old Jun 12th, 2021, 07:14 PM
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Hi, I've just finishing a 2 1/2 week first time solo trip to South Africa next May and was very pleased with Seranna Salviero at And Beyond Travel. She planned a six night safari at Phinda Forest and Phinda Rock Lodge (had to be within 300 miles of Durban) for my best friend and her daughter with 3 weeks notice in May of 2019 and kept it to a budget of 1200 for the two of them, not including flights. She is lovely and the company is lauded both for being green and for social justice awareness and actions. They stuck to my budget limits in what my office partner, a very fit 67, found super luxurious

I booked the Maslow business hotel through them in Johannesburg, very moderate and safe, and a moderately cost hotel, The Vineyards, in the southern suburbs of Cape Town (do not scorn until you see their website). I am going to see just the Apartheid museum and Soweto in Johannesburg, do two 3 day safaris, go to Drakensberg Mountains (Cathedral Peaks another moderately priced hotel), and then spend 4 nights in Cape Town (you've probably read my posts).

I'm excited to see the least. If you can avoid it, do not fly United economy, it's torture. Emirates airlines, on the other hand, is very well spoken of in economy by 2 of my closest friends. I have a United business flight with miles going there, plan to get economy with Emirates coming back. if you can avoid returning to US and going through customs in not your arrival city. Emirates flies through SF and Seattle, DK what else.

Also South Africa, despite variant, does have relatively stable government and excellent medical care in cities. If you are fully vaccinated and careful, I'd seriously consider it.

Caution, all this advice from a not been there yet who has been reading furiously.

If you are in your 30s, you might be able to get Cancel for Any Reason insurance quite moderately. Alliance through AAA. AARP has a number of listing where they give you a quote in you put in your age (or lack of it).

Happy travels!

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Old Jun 12th, 2021, 07:20 PM
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One way to address moral issue of infection (just reread your post and that you are vaccinated) is to get tested for COVID within a couple days of departure (my plan) Try talking to Seranne about possibilities--it's free. I've been told pretty universally that it's not safe to walk around alone, and not safe to take trains (which I would avoid anyway with COVID.
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Old Jun 13th, 2021, 08:48 PM
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Hi all,

Thank you so much for all of your wonderful suggestions. I had never heard of Safari talk and am so glad to have been introduced to it.
Amyb - your tip about Zambia was helpful and I think price will require this to be saved for a trip many years down the road. Thanks!

We have since talked with several safari planners and are considering booking a trip to Kenya for August 2021 (15 nights) through The Wild Source. Staying in one country seems to be the easiest to avoid needing repeated COVID tests and our guts are drawing us to East Africa for this first trip and to save Southern Africa including SA/Namibia for a future trip(s).

Our tentative plans are as follows:

Fly into Nairobi (land late at night aka early AM)
- 2 nights in Nairobi (Tamarind Tree Hotel). Will likely spend the one day we have at the hotel, getting some rest etc after our travels. If we feel comfortable, could use this day to site see/explore Nairobi if safe.
- Bush flight from Wilson to Olkiombo

Masai Mara (8 days; 7 nights)
- 4 nights at Enaidura (so excited given the good reviews from many of you!)
- 3 nights at Eagle View @ Naboisho Conservancy (alternatively trying to switch this to Leopard Hill as we've heard good things about this place from friends)
- Bush flight from Ol Seki to Wilson, then Wilson to Amboseli

Amboseli National Park
- 3 nights at Elewana Tortilis Camp

Diani Beach
- 4 nights at Elewana Afrochic Diani Beach

Wondering if any of you have any feedback about this itinerary in general, whether the division of time between the Reserve and Conservancy @ Masai Mara and time at Amboseli seems reasonable and recommendations for or against these accommodations and any alternatives. We are also open to alternative destinations (within Kenya).

Our time at the beach is for a few reasons (1) we love beach/pool time, (2) to offset costs as I don't think we can afford a full 15 days of game drives and (3) with our first trip (this might be a bit naive) wanting a little variety and wondering if 15 days of similar activities (i.e. safari/game drives) will be too much.

Any and all thoughts welcome! Thanks in advance!
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Old Jun 14th, 2021, 07:30 AM
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Saravee, you are in good hands with The Wild Source. Enaidura is my best guiding/safari experience so I recommend it wholeheartedly. The one suggestion Id make is put the Mara after amboseli if availability allows. I fear that amboseli could be a letdown after the Mara. Most itineraries put it last because its generally a grand finale.
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Old Jun 14th, 2021, 06:02 PM
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Kenya is just a wonderful country--hard to explain why, really. I went to Tanzania first (2x) and had mind-blowing, beautiful safaris but it is Kenya that calls to my heart. Your itinerary looks good and I agree with doing Amboseli before the Mara if possible.
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