Lotsa Questions. July in Southern Africa.

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Oct 8th, 2004, 08:39 PM
  #1
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Lotsa Questions. July in Southern Africa.

I have read too many posts. I've overwhelmed myself with ideas for a planned trip to Southern Africa in July 2005. I am eager to generate specific, opinionated answers.

Our particulars: We will be two moms and 3 kids (ages 12, 13, and 14). Each summer, we experience a new part of the world. So, it seems likely that 2005 might be our first and only trip to Southern Africa.

Priorities: best big game viewing possible; superb accommodations; any "must sees," and an itinerary that minimizes travel time between destinations. Trip length: 12 nights inside Africa. Cost: we will spend what it takes but who likes to pay foolishly?

1. In General. Too cold to enjoy? Wrong month?
2. Cape Town. 3 nights. Cape Grace? Mount Nelson? Or doesn't it matter?
3. Botswana. 3 nights. Which camp?
4. Victoria Falls. 2 nights. Tongebezi Cottage? The River Club? Elsewhere?
5. Johannesburg. 1 night. Westcliff? The Grace? Or doesn't it matter?
6. Kruger Area. 3 nights. Which private reserve?

I am certain that I will learn a lot from your replies. Many thanks.
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Oct 9th, 2004, 08:21 AM
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Wow Spun -- I wish you were my mom, your kids are very lucky!

I believe July should be an excellent time to go on safari in Botswana. It may be chilly at night but you should enjoy it as it warms up nicely during the day. A big plus of going in July is that African Wild Dogs - the rarest of large mammals in Southern Africa and to many the most interesting predator will be denning, which is the best chance to see them including puppies. I will actually be leading a specialized safari in Zambia at this time for that reason.

In Cape Town I believe the general consensus is the Cape Grace is the top hotel, however, there are many choices that are outstanding so this is an area where you could really save some money and still stay very nicely. Many recommend a guest house experience as well, which can still be luxurious but connect you closer to the culture. I do not know a lot about those choices so I will leave it for those who have the knowledge.

As for the safari portion I would not personally recommend going to Botswana for 3 days and Kruger for 3 days. These are huge areas that have diverse habitats and you will lose a day going between the two that could be used for your safari experience. It is my opinion, which can easily be ignored, but I think your best experience would be to take all 6 safari nights in Botswana or Kruger. Further, I have not been to Kruger area and many swear by the Sabi Sands area but following much research with a wildlife biologists mind I came to the conclusion that Botswana is the best wildlife safari available. Many will have a different favorite but with 6 days Botswana works out wonderfully. You would likely want to go to Vic Falls immediately before or after Botswana as you can be transferred by road between there and the Kasane airport. By flying on small bush planes you would be able to stay in 3 uniquely different environments for 2 nights each. Most people stay in the Linyanti/Savute area, a water camp in the Okavango, and a camp in the Moremi area which is in the Okavango Delta but in a dryer area. Wilderness Safaris is a company that runs incredible camps and has the widest offerings and have probably been used by the most people on this board. Kwando offers less camps but a very similar experience. There are a couple other operations that I am not as familiar with.

People will recommend so many camps it is mind numbing so it helps if you have wildlife or experiences that you are most concerned with. I'll start, in July I would consider something like this using Wilderness Safari Camps:

2 nights Savuti or Duma Tau (should be wild dogs denning somewhere near by and the area will have elephants everywhere)

2 nights at a water camp -- many water camp choices that seem to be very similar. I'd look for a recommendation from someone else. Personally I went to Duba Plains because of my interest in predators and they have the best lion viewing in Africa but its not a true water experience. I think in July you can have mekoro rides though.

2 nights Chitabe or Chitabe Trails. Probably the best chance to find wild dogs denning and extraordinary for predators in general. Mombo is another tremendous choice in similar area but no wild dogs in the last few years and much more expensive than the other camps. It is the top of luxury in Botswana though and is famous for leopard.

Hope that helps, I'm sure you will get some other input to balance with it.
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Oct 9th, 2004, 01:55 PM
  #3
sandi
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I have to agree with Predator regarding doing only 3-days in Botswana and then 3-days in Kruger. No doubt you'd be thinking of the Delta area in Botswana and just getting there and then out real fast can be a bit much. You would need a minumum 4-nights Botswana to do at least 2 camps and 3 to 4-nights Kruger at either 1 camp or split 2-nts each camp. But if you're limited to only 12-days in-country, then you'll have to decide whether it will be Botswana or Kruger; maybe even consider Pinda. However, you will have to check which camps accept children (even though they are teenagers) and that they will indeed be able to go out on game drives.

For Cape Town I would suggest you contact one of Fodor's regular posters Selwyn Davidowitz who can answer all your questions regarding lodging, tours, food, etc. at:
www.ilovecapetown.com (a very interesting and informative website) or at:
[email protected]

There are a number of in-country tour operators that get good reviews here, to handle your needs, and answer the questions you will have:

Taga Safaris
go2africa
Pulse Tours

As to the weather, yes it is Winter down that way, and while the days in Botswana and Kruger will warm, the nights and mornings can be downright cold, and even colder and windy
on game drives in open vehicles. You will have to be dressed appropriately and realize that on the flights within Botswana, you will be limited to only 20-25 lbs of luggage each, but laundry services are available at the camps - free or for a small fee.

Capetown might have rain, but then, it might not - Selwyn can give you more information on this. Hope this will get you started.



 
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Oct 9th, 2004, 03:03 PM
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DJE
 
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Another big plus for July is that because of the cold mornings and evenings, you will find that there will be a lot fewer mosquitos etc. We also travelled at this time of year in Botswana and the Cape area. As Sandi recommends you will definitely need to bundle up in the mornings for the early game drives ie warm layered clothing, gloves and a tuque would be appropriate. It does warm up nicely during the day so you also need to protect yourself well from the sun. On each morning game drive I had the warm woolen cap but also took my wide brimmed sun hat along for later on and definitely to wear on the afternoon drives. The sun is very intense.

We were fortunate to have experienced lovely weather mid July in the Cape Region last year, with an average temp. of around 68 to 70 F but this is generally not the norm.

I also agree that you should really focus on one area for the safari portion of your trip.
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Oct 9th, 2004, 04:00 PM
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I am so appreciative of your input. I can completely understand the logic behind focusing only on Botswana. I first approached my travel agent to assemble a Cape Town/Botswana/Vic Falls itinerary.

She solicited proposals from 3 operators that she favors. One said "add Kruger to ensure big game viewing." Another said, "do not go to South Africa and Botswana, as they are not child friendly and the far superior game viewing is in East Africa."

I truly don't know whom to believe and would kick myself if my choice did not result in plentiful big game sightings...

And each operator appears to offer only its self-owned lodgings, so there's another layer of confusion. Sorry, I'm rambling but I do feel scrambled.

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Oct 9th, 2004, 04:31 PM
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Hi Spun,
I know the feeling..planning a trip to Africa can be overwhelming.
We have just finalized our trip plans for May 2005 and this board was a wealth of knowledge.
Find a good tour operator who specializes in Africa. They can really help you decide the best area to travel to during July.
Besides the ones Sandi mentioned check out these two in the US:
Ian at Ultimate Africa or Nicky at Eyes on Africa. Both have great websites and are very knowledgeable about the various regions and camps. Both these agencies were recommended by Wilderness Safari. This will save you alot of fretting.
Another GREAT source for research are the Bradt Travel Guides which give detailed information about different Africa regions. I used the Botswana Guide to help me decide which camps and areas to visit in May.

Happy Travels,
Brenda


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Oct 9th, 2004, 04:40 PM
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Personally, I think that three nights in Cape Town in the middle of winter is a total waste of time. I love Cape Town, but in July you will not have whales nearby, it will be too cold to enjoy the days, and it may be raining.

Everything else on this trip is far away from Cape Town, so why not extend your time in Botswana or the Sabi Sand. And since you are going to Victoria Falls, it really doesn't make since to go to the Sabi Sand, as it would be much easier to combine Botswana.

I would propose something like this for your desired 12 day schedule:

Days 1 & 2 - Transfer straight to Victoria Falls. Consider staying at Songwe Village, Sussi Lodge, Tongabezi, or The River Club. Chuma House may even work out for you (Sussi Lodge's sister lodge offering you your own private 2 bedroom house with private butler and private chef).

Days 3, 4 & 5 - Considering that you are taking three children along, Kwando may be a better choice than Wilderness Safaris. It is possible to hire specialist guides that will make this a more enjoyable trip for your children (and for the other guests that may not want to be around three young teens).

http://www.kwando.com/pglreed.asp

Therefore, I suggest that you consider 3 nights at Kwando Lagoon.

www.kwando.com

Days 6, 7 and 8 - Transfer to Kwando Kwara, their camp in the Okavango Delta. Water activities and day and night game drives are possible here.

The thing that sets Kwando apart from Wilderness Safaris and some of the other Botswanan lodges is the fact that they employ a guide & tracker system on their night game drives, while Wilderness Safaris does not. What this means is that there is a dedicated person that sits either in a special seat at the very front of the vehicle (just in front of the grill / hood of the vehicle) or in the front passenger seat, and this person is responsible for operating the powerful spotlight and searching for animals, allowing your guide free to drive and to give the guests his attention. Without the dedicated tracker, the guide must somehow do it all by himself, and it is not possible to capably carry out all of these activities at the same time.

Days 9 and 10 - Why not finish off with a unique place like Jacks Camp in the Kalahari where your children will have the opportunity to enjoy Quad biking, as well as the normal game drives.

http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/ca...sp?map_id=2569

Days 11 and 12 - I would strongly suggest the Michelangelo Hotel, a 5* hotel in Sandton. Although there are other very beautiful hotels such as the Westcliff and the Saxon, neither of these enjoy the proximity to Sandton, where you will find the best restaurants, shopping and entertainment. The Michelangelo is literally in the middle of Sandton Square (now known as Nelson Mandela square), and I believe it would be entirely safe to even let your children roam around on their own while you and the other parent enjoy a spa treatment, shopping of your own or just peace and quiet.

At Songwe Village you would experience African indigenous culture and the rooms and location look comparable to the alternatives. However, by spending 8 nights with the same company, Kwando, I am sure that the rates would be better than by staying with a couple different companies during that same span. However, if you do prefer a different Victoria Falls location, I do believe that discounted rates start after only 5 nights worth of Kwando.

SUMMARY

Kwando Songwe Village, Victoria Falls (2)
Kwando Lagoon, Kwando Reserve (3)
Kwando Kwara, Okavango Delta (3)
Jack's Camp, Kalahari Desert (2)
Michelangelo Hotel, Joburg (2)

Best of luck, and once you visit and fall in love with Africa, I am sure that you will return, whether it is with all your children or with others.
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Oct 9th, 2004, 04:47 PM
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Lastly, I stronly suggest that you compare the pricing between American/European tour operators with South African tour operators. I have found that in the majority of cases, that South African companies offer superior pricing for the exact same itineraries, often by 15% or more.

Do not let tour operators divert you from your desired itinerary. Be firm with the tour operators and stand your ground. Have each operator quote EXACTLY the same itinerary. While you may already have leads on American tour operators, here is a very good South African tour operator:

www.tagasafaris.co.za

Best of luck.
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Oct 9th, 2004, 05:16 PM
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I love Cape Town, but I concur with Roccco that it is iffy in July. Some people have good luck, and experience pleasant weather when they visit there in the southern hemisphere winter, but a winter day in Cape Town easily can be wet, windy and rather cool.

If you want to do the spa / shopping thing while you're in Johannesburg, by all means go ahead. If, however, there are one or two members of your party who want to seek out an educational experience, Cradle of Humankind makes for a fascinating day trip. Here's a recent thread about it:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34517829

Johannesburg is something like 6,000 feet above sea level, so tends to have quite cool winter nights. The average low for July is 4 deg C or 40 deg F. Winter days, however, tend to be dry and sunny. The average daily high in July is 17 deg C or 63 deg F.

Finally, I know the horse has been flogged to death already, but I heartily concur with all of the advice you've received to focus on one region for the safari portion of your trip.
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Oct 10th, 2004, 05:13 AM
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sandi
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spun -

You know that the operator who suggested East Africa for July wasn't off the mark. That is where one should be during the months of July thru October. It's wildebeest Migration time, and East Africa is "very child friendly" - even for teenagers. And the weather is lovely. While it might be cool in the mornings and evenings, no where as nippy in southern Africa. And even the weight limits on small planes is higher then in Botswana - 33-lbs versus 25-lbs - and 8-lbs can be a big difference.

There was a thread back in end-July/August, I believe, from a poster named "cronen" - a mom and dad who traveled with their 9-year old daughter at end of June, that ou should read. And presently "styleoracle" is posting her trip report - listed under heading "Chapter 1". They've recently returned from their honeymoon in Kenya and Tanzania.

Not to make your decision more confusing, but something to think about.
 
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Oct 10th, 2004, 03:56 PM
  #11
 
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I hate to confuse you further but I am throwing in my 2 cents. I am an ex SA mom who has traveled to SA countless times from the time my kids were 3 months old. They are now 18 and 15.
Is there any way you could postpone your trip to August? The weather is starting to warm up, and you have a better shot at decent weather. I have been to Cape Town many times in winter and have been really lucky in that we have always managed to hit good weather but it is true, it can be cold and wet. Nevertheless, if this is a "once in a lifetime" trip, I would definitely go to Cape Town. Even if it does rain, it is still well worth a visit. To take your kids to Robben Island and to see wehere Nelson Mandela spent 27 years is a history lesson that they will never forget.

Also, I feel that Cape Town is one of the places that you can stay at a less expensive hotel than the ones you are suggesting. Are you planning on renting a car. If so, then you can stay at a number of places and get better rates as it is out of season. If you don't wish to rent a car, then stay at hotels at the Waterfront. I would not recommend the Cape Grace as it is the hotel situated furthest from the main section of the Waterfront. Other hotels at the waterfront worth considering are the V and A, (smaller, very luxurious boutique hotel)and the Cape Sun (slightly glitzier, great views on both sides) but both have good locations. The Portswood and the Commodore are slightly cheaper but a little bit more of a walk.I don't think the Mt Nelson is a good choice for kids (it could be considered a little stuffy) and also it is not at the Waterfront.

Victoria Falls; the River Club is absolutely breathtaking. There is a cheaper and highly colorful sister hotel, also a Sun International property but I can't think of the name, Maybe Zambezi Sun? They are both on the Zambian side. The rooms are quite small at the Zambian Sun but the public areas are nice. On the Zimbabwe side is the very elegant but older Victoria Falls Hotel. I have stayed at both. If you are looking for "superb accommodation", then I would recommend the River Club. Extremely elegant with a colonial flavor.

If you are set on Botswana, ensure that the resort you are going to has smaller landrover parties with open roofs and that they are allowed to go off road to track the Big 5. At Sabi sand reserves they do but not all in Botswana do. I have found all the safari lodges in SA and Botswana to be very child friendly for those in your kids' age bracket.

Looking at your 1 night in Jo'burg. what are you planning to during your stay. If you are just looking at a stopover, the Westcliff is further from the Airport than the Grace. The Grace is centrally located in Rosebank (ie near shopping and restaurants as is the Sndton Sun and Michelangelo in Sandton.
If you are only staying in Joburg overnight and leaving very early in the morning, you may want to consider Caesars at the Airport.It has 2 hotels (one a 5 star and one a 3 star) and both are attached to an entertainment and restaurant complex. The family rooms at the 3 star are huge and very comfortable.
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Oct 11th, 2004, 06:19 AM
  #12
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Just touching base to let all the posters know that I am checking in several times a day, and, mostly, to thank you for generously sharing your best thinking with me!
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Oct 12th, 2004, 01:40 PM
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Spun -

Your trip sounds fabulous...

Most, if not all, of the recommendations you've gotten have suggested that you just concentrate on one area. That's probably a great idea, but not the approach that I took... I went this past August to:

Victoria Falls. 1 night. Victoria Falls Hotel
Botswana. 2 nights. Sandibe
Johannesburg. 1 night. Westcliff
Sabi Sands. 2 nights. Chitwa Chitwa

We minimized the travel time by flying in.... We transferred by road from Vic Falls to Kasane and then flew to Sandibe. Flew out from Sandibe to Maun for the return to Jo'burg. For Sabi Sands we flew to the lodge's airstrip from Jo'burg.

The overall experience was fabulous in both places. We were a little luckier in game viewing in Sabi Sands - we saw wild dogs and leopards, which we hadn't seen in Botswana. But, Botswana had the wet and dry safari activities and an incredible expansiveness.

Might your kids like the change of pace offered by stopping in Jo'burg for a night? A quick trip to the mall / movies or whatever before back to the bush?

Most of the lodges I looked at do take kids over the age of 12 and many offer special activities for kids (see CCAfrica lodges, Ulusaba, and ?). There was a family of 5 at Sandibe while I was there and they said they were having a great time...
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Oct 13th, 2004, 09:46 AM
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Spun -

A couple more things.... Roccco and Sandi both mentioned Taga Safaris. (www.tagasafaris.co.za) There is some information about family safaris on the Taga Safaris website that might be helpful. They list lodges in Botswana, Namibia & Zim that have special family rooms. For the South African lodges they list the children's policies at the bottom of the page for each lodge.

I'm cutting and pasting some of the main info here -

"An African safari is an exhilarating journey for a family. With new experiences at every turn, action-packed days and no TV distractions, families travelling in Africa have a great opportunity to bond, communicate and interact with each other, whilst learning so much about themselves and the world around them. To encourage more families to travel, family rooms have been built in some of the lodges and camps so children are able to sleep in their own room adjacent to their parents. These family rooms are either joined directly to the parents' tent or have a direct interleading veranda. The bathroom is often shared. Children staying in these rooms get a discount on their accommodation costs. We are always careful to ensure that children do not negatively impact on other guests' experiences and therefore have firm policies.

For the Private Game Reserves in South Africa you will find the age restrictions at the bottom of the respective Game Lodge web page. For camps in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls following is a list of the camps with Family Rooms and the policies:

Botswana - Chitabe Trails, Pom Pom, Jao, Vumbura, DumaTau, Kings Pool.

Namibia - Damaraland Camp, Kulala Desert Lodge, Kulala Tented Camp, Little Kulala, Ongava Tented Camp, Ongava Lodge, Serra Cafema.

Zimbabwe - Makalolo Plains, Ruchomechi.

Victoria Falls - The River Club"

Good luck!

Good luck!
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Oct 13th, 2004, 10:17 AM
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Spun,
I have to agree with the posters who suggest looking into child friendly policies as your first step.

I have stayed at a fair number of safari properties in Zimbabwe and Zambia and have never encountered children, not even teenagers.

Because many of these propoerties appeal to a honeymoon or older adult market (what is unkindly called just wed and nearly dead)they are very concerned about the impact of children on other guests.

I know that at some of the camps we've visited they said they do allow children but only when the entire camp is bought out.

I would contact a travel agent to find out which properties will allow the kids. I agree with Roccco that it is certainly worth contacting a South African travel agent and I recommend Pulse Africa at www.africansafari.co.za which we used for our honeymoon.

Hope that helps!
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Oct 13th, 2004, 11:29 PM
  #16
mv
 
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Spun

take a look at the Kwando website
www.kwando.co.za
their 3 lodges in Botswana all offer great gameviewing at that time of year
and they have a specilist guide Lisa Reed who specialises in families with kids/teens. Booking her as a guide will also mean that you will have the vehicle all to yourself and can set the pace as you want

Michael
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Nov 21st, 2004, 03:09 PM
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We took our 14yr old son to Cape Town, Botswana and Vic. Falls in Aug. 03 and used Wilderness Safaris which we were extremely happy with. We stayed at the Table Bay Hotel which is lovely and attached to a mall for easy walking around at night. The hotel is part of the Waterfront Complex-touristy but safe and easy to get to the ferry to Robben Island which was fascinating for all of us. We were lucky with the weather-warm and dry the first 3 days then stormy but still beautiful the next 3 days(we went to the winelands too but boring for kids). After Cape Town we flew up to JNB for one night then on to Maun, an easy 1 1/2hr flt. We then connected to our small charter flt. to our first camp which was Chitabe Trails and it was charming. It's all very child friendly even if you don't see any other children. All open vehicles are used, night drives and off-roading allowed and there was great game viewing-cheetahs, elephants, etc. We had 2 nts there then 2 nts at Jao and 3 nts at Duma Tau. These 3 camps all had family rooms so we could be together and could've had one more child with us. Jao was beautiful but mostly the game viewing is birds from motorboats and mokoros(boring for our son. We did do one game drive there also and there's hippos too. Duma Tau had the best game viewing-wild dogs, lions, hyena dens, etc. but was my least favorite camp of the 3. After 7nts in Botswana, we flew to Zambia and the River Club which was spectacular and a great way to end the trip. Took a helicopter ride over the falls, sunset cruise on the Zambezi and you can visit a local village. The chalets are completely open to the river so you can see the hippo pods from your bed! Our son was so engaged by the animals and people working at these camps that it made it all very enjoyable for him, even without a friend(although it would've been even better with one). I can't recommend Botswana and Wilderness enough! Check out their website for which camps have family rooms.
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