Holey Moley....Botswana is EXPENSIVE!!

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Feb 24th, 2005, 07:02 PM
  #1
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Holey Moley....Botswana is EXPENSIVE!!

I'm planning a safari for June 2006 and sent out the tentative itinerary to several booking agents. So far I've only heard back from one and I'm a bit shocked at the quote. Plus, he told me that the prices are based on June 2005 rates and are expected to increase by 21% in 2006!!

Here's the itinerary:

Day 1 Johannesburg/Grace Hotel
Day 2 Johannesburg to Vic Falls Airport and light air transfer to Chikwenya (3 nights)
Day 5 Transfer to Kasane via Vic Falls; light air transfer to DumaTau (3 nights)
Day 8 Light air transfer to Chitabe (3 nights)
Day 11 Light air transfer to Jack's Camp (3 nights)
Day 14 Light air transfer to Maun

Land cost: $8095 per person sharing
$2795 single supplement (which I'll need). Substituting Mombo for Chitabe would add $535 per person ($150 single supplement).

Air fare from San Francisco--$2240

Grand total: $13,130!!! And, remember that's the 2005 rate. Add 21% and, bingo, $15,887....

Any ideas how I can get the cost down and still be comfortable??
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Feb 24th, 2005, 08:56 PM
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Phernska,

Sorry to say, but you are ALREADY getting "discounted" pricing by requesting a June safari (brrrrrrrr...talk about cold weather!).

Had you requested an August - October safari, you would have to add on an extra 35% minimum.

You probably know what my solution is before I even utter the word...ZAMBIA.

In June you would still be able to cut a few good deals, as it is at the very beginning of their dry season. It is really a beautiful time, with beautiful landscapes, but dry enough so that 90% of roads are traversable. Plus, it will be a lot warmer in South Luangwa (and North Luangwa) than it would be anywhere in Botswana, although the Lower Zambezi may still be bitingly cold and the gameviewing in the Lower Zambezi is not yet strong enough to justify a June visit.

For quality lodges in South Luangwa in June, think about $300 pp per night.

I just don't see how anybody would want to pay $500 pppns for Botswana in June...the weather will be near freezing, the flood will have not yet reached the Delta, and the gameviewing will not be as strong as in later months.

I am just wondering how long Botswana will be able to jack up prices by double digits each years before the bubble finally bursts and tourism sharply falls off.

Rather than paying $500 pppns for an offseason safari to Botswana, you may want to spend less money on a high season safari to Zambia or Zimbabwe.

I wish I could be of more help, but really, with Botswana there are very few opportunities to get very good prices for high season safaris. As hard as I work on my planning, I have just given up on Botswana. Perhaps if I become a travel agent and stay at lodges for a fraction of the price, or if I become a multimillionaire I will have a different opinion on Botswana, but with the pricing the way it is, Botswana is a little difficult to swallow.

It's no different for me than Singita. I didn't think twice before spending $1,100 USD per night ($550 pp) three years ago, but I wouldn't dream of staying there now at double the price, now that the Rand is worth twice as much against the USD as it was three years ago.

The market will eventually adjust itself with Botswana, and when it does, I will be the first one there. Until then, I am very happy to explore Zambia and next Zimbabwe.
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Feb 24th, 2005, 09:20 PM
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I am sorry...I didn't get your whole message before I responded. I think it would be criminal to let someone charge you upwards of $15,000 for an offseason safari.

I promise you, in either Zimbabwe or Zambia you would likely be able to get the single supplement waived in June. If you absolutely have your heart set on Botswana, then at least include Sandibe (CCAfrica) as one of your camps, as there is no single supplement at CCAfrica camps.

I don't know if you are already going on safari this year or not, but here is what I am thinking you would pay for a substituted safari to Zambia during the same period.

Day 1 Joburg / Westcliff Hotel
Day 2 Joburg to Lusaka. Lusaka to Mfuwe. 2 hour road transfer to Kaingo in South Luangwa National Park. 3 nights at Kaingo.
Day 5 (Free) 2 hour road transfer to Luangwa River Lodge or Nkwali in South Luangwa.
Day 8 (Free) 1 hour road transfer to Puku Ridge in South Luangwa. 2 nights at Puku Ridge.
Day 10 - Air transfer to Lower Zambezi National Park. 4 nights at Kasaka River Lodge.
Day 14 - Light air transfer to Lusaka. Lusaka to Joburg. END

COSTS

San Francisco - JNB - Lusaka = $2,250
Westcliff Hotel (1) = $250
Kaingo (3) = $1,250
Luangwa River Lodge (3) = $1,250
Puku Ridge (2) = $900
Kasaka River Lodge (4) = $1,500
Lusaka - Mfuwe - Royal Zambezi - Lusaka = $500

GRAND TOTAL = $7,900 USD

HALF of what you have been quoted for Botswana. In all cases, I have quoted slightly above rack rates to cover your single supplement, although I really believe that in June you will be successful at getting this charge waived. I also think that 8 nights spread out between South Luangwa is not at all too long.

One thing I would do, I would look at a lunar calendar and avoid any full moons, as I truly believe that full moons have a negative impact on night game drives, as the predators do not seem to bother hunting during times when their cover is blown by the illuminated sky of a full moon. Unfortunately, with longer safaris, this is not always possible (I will be spending my final three nights at the worst possible time, if my theory is correct, at Simbambili, where I am mostly going for their predators).

Anyway, it is easy enough to look up...full moon in June 2006 is on June 11th. Give it a few nights afterward until you begin your safari, if possible.

Just my opinion, but I would find it hard to justify an offseason Botswana safari for $15,800 when you can have a beginning of high season safari in Zambia for half the price. Take that extra money and buy a great camera or spend a little time in Europe before or after your trip (flying LAX - London - Johannesburg, as the price will be about the same as if you chose to fly from JFK or Atlanta to South Africa). If nothing else, take a loved one with you, and by the time you discount the single supplement, you will still save a few hundred dollars over Botswana!

Sorry to rant, but it just hits a nerve everytime I see how out of control Botswana prices have become!
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Feb 25th, 2005, 12:25 AM
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Botswana is indeed expensive. Your itinerary is likely to be particularly so as you have a lot of reasonably long hops in there but I don't know how much you'll be able to shave off it.

You can't book directly with WS so it has to be through an agency. Try agencies in USA, UK and Africa (and elsewhere) and see if any of them are able to offer better deals.

You could also ask your agency to remind WS that their camp night rates usually include flights but that many customers only stay 2 nights. Can they reduce the rates given that your stays are 3 nights?

I don't hold out high hopes of that working but it's worth a try.

21% is massive - when I go a quote in same way I was told to add about 10% to it for the following year's prices which did indeed hold true. Can they check this for you?

It may also be worth noting that the price is likely to seem higher to you because the dollar is still weak.

It may certainly be an idea to go somewhere else (such as Rocco's suggestion) until the dollar strengthens...
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Feb 25th, 2005, 12:28 AM
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Rocco
I'll put my hand up and say I'd pay $500 per person for some camps in Botswana in June. I choose to travel in June and really like it.
I can understand your shock at their price increases but you have to remember that a) it's all about supply and demand and b) the strategy in Botswana IS different - they are, for as long as they can, opting for high cost low numbers tourism and making as much as they can. I'm sure when the bubble bursts they will find another solution/ price strategy.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 06:29 AM
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Actually, the quote for what you requested is not outrageous.

A few ways, none of which may be atractive to you, to cut it down are to remove the trip to Mana Pools, which is in the opposite direction from the Delta, and to shorten some of your stays to two nights (in my experience, most visitors stay two nights at the camps, not three, but that's a personal choice).

If you choose to stay two nights at some of the camps, you could perhaps add in some less selective places to stay, but that depends what you mean by "comfortable". For example, you could add a couple of nights in Chobe, where the lodges are larger but more affordable (such as Chobe Game Lodge), or you could substitute a stay in Hwange for one of your stays in Botswana. From what I understand, Zim is still much less expensive than Botswana.

We visited Botswana in August 2001, and stayed at a couple of Wilderness Safaris lodges (including Chitabe), and I have to admit, while there was a great sense of exclusivity, the game viewing was not nearly as good as in Chobe, but then again, in Chobe, you saw other vehicles. But, maybe its only me, but I don't really mind seeing a few other vehicles -- I think the air of exclusivity is maintained by the Botswana lodges to justify their incredibly high prices, and the game viewing, based on my experience, is not nearly as good as the Masai Mara/Serengeti, or Etosha, or Chobe, or the Crater.

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Feb 25th, 2005, 06:40 AM
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I can't help with your itinerary because I haven't been but I'm curious about the game viewing in June. Is it good at that time of year?
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Feb 25th, 2005, 07:01 AM
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According to the book I have Moremi & Okavango Delta, Linyanti and Chobe are excellent for game viewing in June. Savute is rated as good during that time.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 07:11 AM
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Both my visits to the Delta have been in June and we've seen a LOT of animals at most of the WS camps at which we've stayed.

Mombo, Tubu and Savuti stand out as places where we saw a lot of game.

We also saw more than we expected at Jack's Camp... a wonderful place.

As Michael says, prices can be cut by reducing the distances being covered and by mixing in less expensive places with the expensive ones.

The other options are to do as Rocco suggested and opt for a less expensive safari destination such as Zambia.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 07:19 AM
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the reason for the increased price for botswana is the sliding dollar (as kavey mentioned earlier). the rand in 2002 was 11:1 usd, now its under 6:1. wilderness safaris receives a lot of their payment in USD but most of their costs are in rand. so effectively over the last 4 years, their cost to revenue ratio has nearly doubled and at this point is being passed on to travelers with higher USD prices. not to mention the fact that business is near all time highs as tourism is much higher now than shortly after sept 11.
that being said i have 2 suggestions:
1. substitute camps in zimbabwe for some of the botswana camps as they are at all time cheap levels right now yet provide wildlife viewing and exclusivity on par with any botswana camps. i would do 3 nights makololo plains in hwange, 3 nights chikwenya, and 3 nights at mombo and you will get as good a wildlife trip as any you can take.

2. make sure to check your current quote with other tour operators as for it to only cost you $535 to substitute 3 nights at mombo for chitabe (should be about 1500), they must be taking a good chunk off the top that you may be able to get back form another agent.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 07:23 AM
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Louise,

Does your book also tell you what the chill factor will be during game drives while on a June safari to Botswana?

For whatever it is worth, during my stay at Chichele Presidential Lodge, there were a couple of zoologists from the San Diego Zoo whom had just concluded about a 10 night luxury mobile camping safari in Botswana before arriving in South Luangwa. They said that Botswana was at least a dozen degrees (farenheit) colder each night and that the game viewing they were getting in South Luangwa while at Chichele was right up there with what they saw in Botswana.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 07:45 AM
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So I think the question comes down to how tied you are to your current itinerary?

I agree with Michael, the quote isn't that far from what I would have expected. But, I think that you can save money throughout your itinerary by making some changes.

First, since you're booking for June 2006, you are not looking at any good deals for your international airfare. You can get airfare deals for less closer to the time of departure - I'm thinking in the range of 1500ish. Others might be more specific. There's been a deal from LAX to JNB for 900, but it has a truly lousy schedule and I'm not sure about for June. I can't tell from your itinerary if you are flying roundtrip SFO/JNB/SFO....

Next, the Grace is expensive at about 300 per night. There are either less expensive properties or winter deals to be had if you wait until closer to the time. I've posted before about a 134 winter rate at the Westcliff last August, given the exchange rate it would be more, but not 300.

Next, look at exchanging some of your camps/locations for the CCAfrica camps. As Roccco mentioned, they don't charge a single supplement - that will save you a fair amount. Also, if you stay at the CCAfrica camps for 4 or more nights you can get a discount - so Nxabegi, Sandibe, Matetsi might all be considerations.

I'm a little surpised at the 21% increase for 2006. The prices I'm aware of between 2004 and 2005 went up by about 8 - 10%. You might hold out for talking to some other agents to see what they say about the increases.

Also, you might talk to the either the camps or the agents about waiving the single supplement since it is the off-season. Some might do this.

Zambia is certainly an option. They also have single supplements, but some of them don't tend to be so bad. However, they can really push up that per night charge. Also, to my surprise, for most of the internal transfers the Zambian airlines charge a single supplement- which you can try to get waived along with the lodge single supplement.

Let us know about your other quotes....
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Feb 25th, 2005, 08:00 AM
  #13
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Thanks to all of you for responding and for the reality check. I'm about ready to bag Botswana and go on to Plan B. Among the 5 of us that will be going on this trip we have been to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. I'll be going to Zambia in Sept. with Wilderness Travel. None of us want to return to Vic Falls, Hwange or Chobe. We're more interested in the remote areas. What do you think of these possibilities? Will they be more affordable?

Selous--Sand Rivers or Selou Safari Camp (3 nights)
Ruaha--Jongomero (3 nights)
Malawi/Nyika Plateau--Chelinda Lodge (3 nights)
Malawi/Liwonde--Mvuu Lodge (3 nights)
Lake Malawi--Chintheche Inn or Kaya Mawa (3 nights)

Or

Malawi/Nyika Plateau--Chelinda Lodge (3 nights)
Lake Malawi--Chintheche Inn or Kaya Mawa (3 nights)
Zambia/North Luangwa--Kutandala (4 nights)
Zambia/South Luangwa--Puku Ridge or Luangwa River Lodge (4 nights)

I'll also check out CCAfrica as recommended.

thanks again...
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Feb 25th, 2005, 08:11 AM
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Both options sound great.
My dad did a Malawi trip a year or two back and enjoyed it.
The remoter regions of East Africa are a real draw too.
And of course, Zambia!
On my wishlist for a couple of years but we already had the long trip last year booked and now it's going to be a year or two before the next Africa trip.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 10:43 AM
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Roccco - the only temperatures the book has are for Maun and the average low is in the low 40's.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 11:24 AM
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Louise,

What I am trying to say is that there are other important factors to consider besides the quality of gameviewing.

Two years ago, June 2003, at Djuma Vuyatela, after searching all night for rhinos, we finally spotted three of them...however, by that point we could care less about the rhinos and literally had the blankets pulled up to our eyes and were just looking forward to the end of the game drive and the warmth of our room (although there would be no such warmth at tented accomodations in Botswana).

I just do not think that anyone should underestimate how cold it gets in Southern Africa's winter and how this may negatively impact the experience.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 11:33 AM
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Roccco, maybe everyone is not affected by the "cold" weather like you are. I find it quite refreshing myself. When we were in Namibia in July there was frost on the ground a couple of mornings and that was too cold but not the temps I'm seeing for Botswana. According to this weather site http://www.wunderground.com/history/...lyHistory.html the temp in Maun last June was beautiful. Average low 49F Average high 76. Cool enough for a fire at night and warm enough for a suntan during the day.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 11:53 AM
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Yeah I liked that weather too. Certainly it was a touch cool at nights - getting out of one's very warm and cosy bed for a night-time bathroom visit or even in the morning for the morning game drive isn't the most pleasurable sensation - but with warm clothing, gloves and scarves (as recommended in packing lists provided by most operators) and with the warm blankets provided by the camps, it's not a problem out on the drive.
And the advantage is lower maximum temperatures (for those of us who can't bear intense heat), less insect activity, less snake activity and wonderful environment.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 11:59 AM
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Granted, some people will not mind the cold weather...but from one Californian to another, I advise Phernska to beware of the June weather!

It is pretty cool year round in Phernska's home city of San Francisco, so it stands to reason that on a trip halfway around the world to Africa may be expectations of a basking sun and tolerable nighttime temperatures.
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Feb 25th, 2005, 07:26 PM
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Have you considered going with a tour group? I am going to southern Africa June '05 for 13 days, Cape Town, Kruger, Victoria Falls, and Chobe. Cost, including airfare (rdtrip) from Tampa, Fl= $3981. All but 9 meals are included as well, and we will stay in good lodges. The tour company is University Travel, www.universitytravel.biz)Bloomington, IN. OAT (www.oattravel.com) also offers outstanding trips for very very reasonable prices, includes airfare and meals as well. Good luck
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