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Help choosing Safari in Botswana

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Apr 25th, 2016, 02:25 PM
  #1
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Help choosing Safari in Botswana

Hello,
This is a follow-up to another question I posted on this forum and received wonderful tips and help from. I have decided to spend 6 nights of our Africa trip in Botswana on safari. We are considering spending the first week of April 2017 in Botswana after a week in South Africa and ending with a few days in Johannesburg. SO my question is where should we stay and during this time of year? Are there certain camps less convenient because of the flooding(we will have to drive through water delay our safaris) or certain areas where activities will be limited? Also, how should we break up the trip? 3 nights (perhaps near the Okavango Delta) and 3 nights in Chobe?-- we were hoping to do three nights in a wet/water camp and one dry camp to have some scene change and different opportunities. I have been looking either doing andBeyond (sandibe okavango and chobe savute under canvas-- which i would love to hear reviews of the latter it looks a bit simple and low on amenities, which is not to say that rules this out. We are here to see the animals-- so if the experience is worth forgoing traditional showers and some of the luxuries offered at other camps, we are up for it-- just curious what peoples thoughts are), Sanctuary Retreats(Chiefs camp and their Chobe property), or DumaTau paired with a different camp in the delta. Are we missing other areas? I am leaning more towards andBeyond or Sanctuary over Wilderness because of the deals they offer for long stays and have camps in both locations. I have been on safari in East Africa, but my future husband (this will be our honeymoon) has never been so I really want him to see as many animals as possible so any advice on the best areas to see the animals or specific camps that are best for viewing, best guides etc would be greatly appreciated.
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Apr 25th, 2016, 03:15 PM
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andBeyond camps may look "simple" but you will find they are surprisingly lovely. We went with them on our first safari and did 3 camps in Botswana: Sandibe, Savute, and Nxabega. Two nights in each and flying between. Back then the group was named CCA (Conservation Corps of Africa) and much less expensive! But it was magical. Sandibe had both land and water-based activities, Savute is really a different landscape and has lots of lions and elephants . Sleeping in a tent is nothing like camping at home. If you are only going to spend 6 nights, I would highly recommend splitting them up between two camps.

In 2012 we visited Chobe on a daytrip from a lodge in Zimbabwe, and while the vast expanse of water and land and huge herds of animals were dramatic, I personally was left with kind of a Disney feeling. Lots of people on the water in everything from "big" 30-passenger vessels to people in 3-person motor boats, houseboats that sleep 2-6, etc. Just my humble opinion.
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Apr 25th, 2016, 03:30 PM
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Thank you so much for this information. This is why I love Fodors! The last thing we want is the "disney" feel and we are leaving South Africa to safari in Botswana just for that reason. I am going to revisit Savute/ Sandibe, thank you for your input!
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Apr 25th, 2016, 03:31 PM
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Instead of a few nights in Joberg which isn't really a very interesting city, I'd add two nights at Victoria Falls and Chobe. Stay in Chobe and do a day trip to VF. Then spend the other days in the Delta, Linyanti and/or Savute regions.

Botswana is extremely expensive, especially compared to S Africa right now with the favorable exchange rate. It's a lot less expensive in the off season, game viewing is best during their winter June-Sept. I would go maybe in shoulder season before the rates skyrocket in winter.

Botswana is spectacular. Don't overthink it - no matter your choices you will see lots of wildlife. I prefer game drives and walks to boat and mokoro trips, so all dry camps plus Chobe would be my preference. All the lodges will exceed your expectations.

Consider some of the lodges at www.footsteps-in-africa.com. Or a fantastic mobile safari. Save some money for your next safari. Wildlife doesn't know how much you spend and spending more does not guarantee seeing more.

Uh-oh's experience at Chobe is common. Lots of people go to Chobe on day trips. That's why I tell people to stay in Chobe so you are out during the quiet times of day before and after the day-trippers visit. Plus, animals are best viewed early and late.
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Apr 25th, 2016, 04:06 PM
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Hi jeandiament!

One idea to consider is AndBeyond's Fly Me Around Botswana itinerary. AB has great lodges and they consistently get solid reviews. You would get a mix of Dry and Wet Camps. Some are combos too. The nice thing about the offer is that they manage the logistics of the internal flights and, with a 7 night stay, they are included! Just a thought to put out there.

Happy to help!
Dianne
Africa Direct USA
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Apr 25th, 2016, 05:12 PM
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Hi there -- you have been given very good advice. I have stayed at And Beyond Camps in South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. I have stayed at Wilderness Camps in Namibia. You cannot go wrong with And Beyond who I have used as my agent, as well as enjoyed their camps immensely. Wilderness lodges are also wonderful and I know I will stay in many more in the future.

The only place where I differ is that I do not think for one minute that Joberg is not interesting. Though I absolutely love Capetown (been there 8 times), the wine route, the garden route, Durban and Zululand, I think Joberg is the heart of the country. It is the only place where it is truly the rainbow nation, where you can understand the country's apartheid history and see how far it has come since emancipation, while also understanding that there still needs to be consistent progress. Going to the Apartheid Museum, hanging out in Nelson Mandela Square, touring Soweto inclusive of visiting Mandela's first home, the Hector Pieterson Museum and eating at Wandie's or Sukhumzi will allow you to understand the story of every South African. Add to that visits to Liliesleaf Farm and the Cradle of Mankind, you are truly busy and inspired! Joberg also has many great neighborhoods to stroll around with markets, restaurants and shops. In this post, I am just scratching the surface of what Joberg has to offer, but if you are interested to learning the history of the country and feeling the true pulse of the masses, Joberg is the place. Plus there are fabulous large hotels, boutique hotels, and plenty of fantastic resturants too.

I hope you keep a couple of days in Joberg in your itinerary. I love safari and have been on 20 plus, but I also think that Joberg is an awesome addition to any South African experience.

Whatever you do, have fun!
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Apr 26th, 2016, 09:48 AM
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Others have given you great advice. I just came from Chobe Under Canvas yesterday and it was an experience I wouldn't trade. You can read more about it in my trip report: http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...al-safaris.cfm
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Apr 26th, 2016, 10:16 AM
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AndBeyond simple, low on amenities? Bwahahaha. Quite the opposite, as others have noted. More than I really need or want, to be honest. They have very good showers at AndBeyond properties and sometimes even fancy bath tubs.

"fantastic mobile safari." When you start getting into pricing if you are having second thoughts due to the expense, please consider a mobile. It may be bucket showers, but the water will be nice and warm and tents are standup with comfortable beds. Mobile is indeed a fantastic way to see Botswana and probably the form my next Bots trip will take, having done both mobile and perm. luxury tents.

If mobile is unacceptable, I'd lean toward the best deals whether AndB, Wilderness, Sanct, Footsteps...

Staying in Chobe for the Chobe River Cruise would be high on my list if April is still a good time for eles and other animals to congregate along the river. Is it?

Tripplanner001's hot off the press report will give hints on Chobe in April.
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Apr 26th, 2016, 10:25 AM
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My question:
Staying in Chobe for the Chobe River Cruise would be high on my list if April is still a good time for eles and other animals to congregate along the river. Is it?


Tripplanner001's answer via an APRIL CHOBE trip report excerpt:
What impressed us about Chobe were the seas of elephants and impalas that were visible throughout our drives.


Not long into our drive we spotted a lion, then two, then three... In all we saw about twelve to fourteen lions including four cubs...we drove around the park and saw some impalas, elephants, buffalos, and other creatures before heading to the nearby town of Kasane from where we would board our boat.


The first half hour or so of the cruise was rather boring as we focused heavily on birds, but it was good practice on how to operate the cameras. Soon after we saw kudus followed by elephants then hippos. We saw kudus drinking along the edge of the river. The elephants and hippos were just keeping cool and enjoying themselves. The cruise was a great complement to the game drives on land as we were able to view animals from a different vantage point. And we were able to get much closer to the animals in the water than we do on land. The time simply passes too quickly.

We began our afternoon game drive witnessing a herd of about one hundred elephants cross a river from an island to the mainland. We saw elephants large and small, some playing along the way and mothers leading their young along the way. What a spectacle that was!
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Apr 26th, 2016, 11:47 AM
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Hi jeandiament,

I just spent 23 days in Botswana during March/April of this year checking out over 40 properties. I visited most of the properties that you’re asking about, so that should give you a good comparison for your honeymoon next year during the same time frame. Before joining the safari industry, I also went on “normal” safaris to Botswana where I spent 3 nights each at several camps as a full paying guest. Below are my answers to your questions, as well as some additional suggestions for you.

Are there certain camps less convenient because of the flooding(we will have to drive through water delay our safaris) or certain areas where activities will be limited? Answer: Depending on where you are in the Okavango Delta, you may be limited on the variety of activities you can enjoy in April. On an average year, some properties have permanent water year round – Pelo Camp (Wilderness Safaris), Nxabega Camp/Xaranna/Xudum (andBeyond), Shinde Camp (Ker & Downey), Kwara (Kwando), are all properties that would be able to offer water activities year round.


Also, how should we break up the trip? 3 nights (perhaps near the Okavango Delta) and 3 nights in Chobe?-- we were hoping to do three nights in a wet/water camp and one dry camp to have some scene change and different opportunities. Answer: I recommend spending 3 nights at 2 separate properties. You’ll definitely want one of your experiences to be in the Okavango Delta. You can either combine 3 nights at a land only property in the Delta with 3 nights at a water/land property in the Delta OR you should look into 3 nights at a land/water property in the Delta with 3 nights in either the Kwando, Selinda, or Linyanti concessions. I tend to avoid a property in Chobe National Park, as there are quite a few negatives associated with this experience. Since you’re in a national park, you are limited to driving on the road networks. If an animal goes further into the bush, you cannot follow it and instead must view from a, typically, far distance. Vehicle densities are much higher in national parks than in the private concessions, as self-drivers are able to drive here as well. You will also need to drive on tarmac road to get in/out of the camps in Chobe National Park, which detracts from the “wild” experience. The concessions that I mentioned are instead limited to only the vehicles from the properties within the concession. This leads to fewer overall vehicles, as well as fewer vehicles per sighting (there are much stricter regulations about how many vehicles can line up at a sighting in concessions than in the national parks). You are also able to night drive in concessions, whereas you must be home by sunset in the national parks. As long as you stick with the private concessions and two properties that offer a range of activities during April, you will have a wonderful experience.


I have been looking either doing andBeyond (sandibe okavango and chobe savute under canvas-- which i would love to hear reviews of the latter it looks a bit simple and low on amenities, which is not to say that rules this out. We are here to see the animals-- so if the experience is worth forgoing traditional showers and some of the luxuries offered at other camps, we are up for it-- just curious what peoples thoughts are). Answer: I visited Sandibe Okavango on my trip. This is a very lovely property, however it definitely has a different style that might not appeal to everyone (it is designed to look like a pangolin). The food here was great and service was quite high, with a butler to assist any need you might have. The NG31 concession, where Sandibe is located, is typically quite game rich and is a land-only experience. Chobe Under Canvas and Savute Under Canvas both offer a more classic/rustic safari experience. This is a great way to enjoy safari, as it brings you much closer to nature without the frills, which can become a bit of a distraction. You will still have en-suite facilities, but instead of running water for your shower, you will have a bucket shower. If this is something you’re comfortable with, then I definitely recommend choosing a property that incorporates these elements. With that said, both of these properties are located in Chobe National Park, which again, brings in the factors I discussed above.


Sanctuary Retreats(Chiefs camp and their Chobe property). Answer: Chief’s Camp is currently being redone, but is reopening this June. Its location on the game-rich Chief’s Island allows for a wonderful safari experience. You will likely only have land activities available while you’re here, although mokoro trips are available depending on the floods. Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero is a larger property (with 15 cottages) and is located on the Chobe River, very near Kasane Airport. With its location on the river, you are able to enjoy boating activities, as well as game drives.


or DumaTau paired with a different camp in the delta. Answer: DumaTau is a lovely Wilderness Safaris property that would pair nicely with one of their Delta properties. DumaTau was recently redone and overlooks the water. This is a beautiful property and tends to be the most game-rich of the nearby properties. DumaTau is located in the Linyanti Concession and borders Chobe National Park. As I mentioned earlier in this post, sticking with a bordering concession to the Chobe will offer good game viewing, while still giving you the benefits of a private reserve (night drives, driving off road, etc.).

I do agree with the feedback given by the other posters that you can’t go wrong with andBeyond. I was happily surprised by the small touches and attention-to-detail by their staff. The level of accommodation that you should choose in Botswana depends on what you plan to do in South Africa prior to Botswana. If you’re open to properties beyond the andBeyond/Sanctuary/Wilderness Safaris portfolios, I recommend looking at a combination of 3 nights Shinde Camp (Ker & Downey) and 3 nights Selinda Explorers Camp (Great Plains). Shinde Camp was a favorite during my time in Botswana. Not only did it have nice accommodations with a really welcoming main area (parts of the main area almost feel like a treehouse), but the game viewing was amazing. During one night drive, we came across five lions walking down the middle of the road and then found four more relaxing nearby. It was definitely a “hold your breath” moment! They also have water activities year-round, which allows for relaxing boat cruises or mokoro rides during your stay. You can hire a private guide/vehicle for about $350 per day. Our private guide, OP, was amazing and brought an additional value to the Ker & Downey experience. He’s hilarious! Selinda Explorers Camp evokes a similar feel to the andBeyond “under canvas” options, with canvas-tented rooms, but has a main area that really blew me away. The camp has a Moroccan/Somalian feel and is quite welcoming. There are only 4 tents at this property, giving it an intimate feel. The rooms are zip-tents that are on the ground, but have special touches on the inside that definitely show the attention to detail that Great Plains is known for. If you’re looking to throw in more active experiences, this property is great as they focus on walking, but still have game drives available to you.

Both Shinde and Selinda Explorers are mid-range in terms of price (based on 2016 rates, Shinde is $760 per person per night and Selinda Explorers is $680 per person per night), but you will definitely be blown away by the special touches and level of service along the way. Something to note – if wifi is important for you to have, neither of these properties offer it, although Shinde does have a computer for guests to use. I hope this helps in planning your honeymoon safari experience!

Katie Blackstone – Safari Consultant – Travel Beyond
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Apr 26th, 2016, 05:25 PM
  #11
 
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Unlike some of East Africa, private reserves in S Africa are not "Disney-like". I hear this a lot and it just is not true. I've stayed in some of the least expensive lodges on private reserves in S Africa and never had crowds (never more than two vehicles) at a sighting. I've also stayed in some expensive lodges and just never experience crowds or a "Disney-like" atmosphere. I have also been to a few SA national parks, including Kruger, and crowds happen but are very easy to avoid. Too bad you have that impression. No place better to get up close and personal.

Like atravelynn, my next Botswana "delta" trip will likely be a mobile. As she said, go with the best deal - you really can't go wrong in Botswana. I'm going to Northern Tuli in SE Botswana next month. Great game viewing in an entirely different area and ecosystem (and no crowds).

I've been to many of the attractions mentioned in Joberg, plus some. It's not a destination city like Cape Town or Paris. I'd go to Chobe.

Stay in at least one tented camp on your trip if you can - it's such a great experience listening to the sounds of the bush. No walls (but ensuite bathrooms). Love it.
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Apr 27th, 2016, 07:30 AM
  #12
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I honestly cant thank everyone enough for this valuable information. It has helped me to clarify a lot, ruling out some parts of my plan and confirming that I am doing the right thing in others.

Travel Beyond- your post was extremely helpful and really helped me to clarify quite a bit about the camps. You basically summed up everything I have been spending hours trying to research- so thank you a million times. I am going to look into Shinde and Selinda. The area break down was what I found most helpful and will be sticking to your suggestions.

I do think I am going to pass on Chobe for this trip. I am mainly including Johannesburg so that we have an easy city with an easy flight on the way home rather than a bunch of connections- as having been on a safari before I was so wiped out the last thing I want is 2 or 3 connections flying home. I have a few friends who come here every year and I was looking for a place where we can really relax for a day or two and unwind at the hotel and take afternoon tours etc.

TravelPlanner- THANK YOU for that report it was wonderful and wildly helpful. It did make me realize I would love to stay in a tent but perhaps not in a national park.

Christabir- Actually your suggestions on my previous topic have prompted me to rule out a different part of our trip and spend a little over a week just in South Africa along the coast. I am going to try and do one tented camp also because it sounds like such a beautiful experience.

I am still deciding between working with andBeyond, Wilderness and now with the Shinde/Selinda combination and have messaged all four to see what is the best deal/ availability works best for us.
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Apr 27th, 2016, 07:37 AM
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Oh I do have one other question. I have found many options for dry camps, and many I like in either the Linyanti or the Selinda reserves, but I am having some difficulty finding wet/dry camps that have water activities during our time frame (Late march to early april). Does anyone have any suggestions of camps that will still have some possibility for both activities during this time, preferably from any of the following organziations: Wilderness, Sanctuary, andBeyond or any others! Thanks.
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Apr 27th, 2016, 07:55 AM
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Hi Jeandiament,

I am glad you found Katie's advice useful. I have worked with her for over 10 years and she is wonderful.

Regarding your comment about contacting the properties, I think you would be better off to contact an independent agent that works with all the lodge chains mentioned in this thread/post. For one, it will save you money (as long as the agent is a safari specialist with direct contracts with all the lodge chains). But, more important, you will get independent advice and an advocate to look out for your interests. Any lodge chain will have a commercial bias to fill their own beds vs. put you on the best safari. Selinda Explorers and Shinde, for example, are owned by separate companies and I doubt you would flush out an itinerary from one of them including both of these camps unless you pushed it yourself.

Wilderness Safaris does not deal directly with the public so they are going to assign you an agent in your home country already. &Beyond does work with consumers but their knowledge on their competitors may be limited and there may be a financial bias to "recommend" anything but their programs.

Great Plains will also be referring you to an agent but perhaps not in your home country. Ker & Downy may work with you but they do not offer services outside of Botswana so you will already be working with 2 companies and more if you don't exclusively use their lodges in Botswana.

Anyway, based on your comment, I thought you might appreciate this advice. If you are American, I know over 20 really good independent safari companies in the US and perhaps I can recommend one you can meet face to face.

Good luck!

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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Apr 27th, 2016, 08:26 AM
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Hi Craig,
Thank you for this message. I have read similar posts in other forums and was really hoping to avoid this. I realize Africa is much different than other trips I have taken, in that it seems they really don't allow independent bookings etc. I think like other posts I have read, people(myself included) are use to planning all of their trips on their own, and like others I have traveled a decent amount and to very different places without the help of a planner in the past. So naturally this idea is extremely uncomfortable to me, partially because I love the planning but also I am still trying to get my head around the idea of it not actually costing more to use a planner. Maybe you could explain it a bit to me if you have the time. Do I pay them a separate fee or is it built into the price of the booking. Also is it really cheaper than booking directly with one of the "agents" the companies have been providing-- if I do stay with just one organization(which I am likely to do, in order to capitalize on long stay discounts)? Thanks for your advice as I do believe this is the next step for me, I have just been very apprehensive. Thanks for your time, truly!

Jean
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Apr 27th, 2016, 10:34 AM
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Hi Jeandiament –

In response to your question about wet/dry camps, I wanted to provide some additional feedback. The Wilderness Safaris properties in the Linyanti have the potential for boating activities during March/April, however this is water level dependent. Lagoon Camp (Kwando) and Selinda Explorers Camp (Great Plains) also have water activities, but this is water-level dependent as well – I’d be hesitant to have either as your water/land camp in April since there is potential that the water won’t be quite high enough yet. There are many properties in the Okavango Delta that would be able to offer water activities year round. Pelo Camp is a Wilderness Safaris property that I fell in love with on my last trip. The moment that I stepped foot on this property I felt a sense of peace come over me. It is a water only camp, so you would need to be aware that no game drives would be possible here. If you want to focus in on a water only camp for a few days, this would be a nice choice. Besides Pelo Camp, there are many properties that, on a typical year, offer water and land activities in the March/April timeframe. If you want to look at andBeyond properties, I’m sure you would be happy with Nxabega Camp, Xaranna, or Xudum. They all have a different feel to them, so be sure to check out pictures to see what fits your taste the best. Kwara (Kwando) has water activities year round. I had really amazing animal sightings when I was there, including a cheetah with two cubs and a leopard with a cub. And as I mentioned before, Shinde Camp is one of my all-time favorite properties. I enjoyed game drives, boating, and mokoro while I was there at the end of March.

Most people tend to spend the majority of their time doing land-based activities (game drives or bush walks) with just one or two water-based activities. With that said, I think as long as you choose one property that has water/land available, you’re fine to choose a second property that is land-only.

Katie Blackstone – Safari Consultant – Travel Beyond
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Apr 27th, 2016, 10:40 AM
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Hello Jean. I have been to Africa three times. Like you, I am a very independent traveler. My husband and I have been all over the world on our own. I used to be a travel consultant, so the idea of having someone else do my work (and fun) is not appealing. Having said that, I can assure you that we were happy to have used an agent to book our trips to Africa. You really don't have to give up your independence to work with one. On the last two trips, I knew exactly what we wanted to do prior to contacting a booking agent. In one instance (our trip to Southern Tanzania) I had shopped my itinerary to three different agents. I was told by two that the trip absolutely could not be done for the budget I had allotted. The third, had no problem putting it together. In fact, coming in under my budget number.

On our last trip to Botswana, again, I had a firm idea of where and what we wanted. The agent added valuable information about camps (much as Craig and Katie have done for you here) and with a bit of compromise, we again were able to get exactly what we wanted at the price point I had set.

In both instances, the agents went out of their way to make the trip a little special for us. We were celebrating a milestone anniversary and were upgraded in accommodations, received wine welcomes, etc. They were nice perks. In Botswana, I specified which tent I wanted for the best view in each camp and even which guide I wanted to work with. In all but one instance out of 5 camps, we got just what we asked for. This was because our agent was so well connected with the camp management.

So, while I appreciate your desire to be as independent as possible, I would highly recommend using a good agent. I really do believe it adds value to your experience.

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Apr 27th, 2016, 10:42 AM
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Hi Jean,

Most of the chains you mentioned will have a rotation of agents to which they send their leads; it won't be exclusive. The agent may be highly loyal to that lodge chain so even that process can introduce a little bias that is not in your best interest. The agent may or may not have an obligation to report back to the lodge chain the results of the leads sent them which will make the agent biased to book the lodge chain that sent the lead! I know, confusing!

Yes - I can think of 50+ safari companies/agencies in the US, Canada and overseas that get sufficient compensation from the lodges to charge you the same price the lodge lists on their website with no additional fees. We pay the lodges a net price which is less than their published price and just sufficient to run a business on the margin. They wish for the agent to charge the client their published rate so as not to undercut any other booking channel including the direct channel where applicable. They also wish for the agent to not charge more than the published rate otherwise the client might show up at $1,000 per night lodge with $2,000 per night expectations. Some agents will charge a planning fee which will go into the cost of the trip if you book with them. This is to ensure they make some money in the scenario you are in where you are already speaking to 4+ companies and each one has a 25% nominal chance of getting the business.

Make sense?

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

I would be curios to know what agencies you have been referred to so far.
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Apr 27th, 2016, 11:07 AM
  #19
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Thank you this really makes sense now and I greatly appreciate everyone's input.

TC- You have eased my mind, if a past travel agent has used a planner for her trip to Africa- I should as well. Thank you.
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Apr 27th, 2016, 11:08 AM
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So, I suppose that is the next step I must take- I would be open for suggestions!
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