Minibus or Open Air Vehicle

May 15th, 2003, 06:55 PM
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Kavey, that was my take too - that Thit_Cho and Liz's message basically agreed.
Clematis is offline  
May 15th, 2003, 07:10 PM
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This is just my opinion, but I've found that the game reserves adjacent to Kruger place a major emphasis on game viewing. We spent 7-8 hours a day on game drive and then chose to join the hour-long ranger walk each day. Sure, the meals were sumptuous and the accomodations wonderful; but, it really is about the game viewing.

At some point, I think everyone would enjoy the open air experience of the range rover. I found it exhilarating and the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up as leopards brushed the vehicle, well within my reach (and I, well within theirs!!). For a future trip, it's worth considering.
girlpolo33 is offline  
May 16th, 2003, 10:19 AM
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Jenny, no tour operator in Kenya that i know of actually owns an open-top vehicle, these vehicles [generally landrovers] belong to game lodges and are stationed within the game reserves which are allowed by the government through special permits obtained by the lodge owners. A few examples of lodges that own open vehicles are Tortilis Camp [Amboseli] and Governors, Mara Serena, Kichwa Tembo, Bateleur Camp and Siana Intrepids [Mara]. Most of these vehicles are not fully open-top, more like 'open-sided'. So if you want an open-top vehicle you'll need to check with the specific lodges you're staying at. Also, because of the limited availability of these vehicles at a lodge, if you wanted these vehicles on private & exclusive basis there is an extra charge for it [upto $400 a day, i think]. Secondly, not many lodges would agree to give you exclusive use of the open-top vehicle during high seasons since they would want to make these available to the rest of the guests if the lodge is fully booked. The best thing to do is to reserve these vehicle well in advance if you want private use of them and pay a small deposit to secure it. Alternatively, you can take the open-top vehicles at the lodges on a non-exclusive basis, which i think is still a nice experience. In South Africa, most game reserves and lodges own and operate these vehicles and they are generally widely available due to fewer government restrictions however the principle & cost mentioned for Kenya for exclusive use still applies at most lodges [unless you stay at the top notch private game lodges where you get exclusive use anyway].

Regarding the experience, in my humble opinion, i feel less restricted in open-top vehicles than in minibuses. I guess i have had too many bad experiences with minibuses which always got stuck in the mud during and after the rains [especially in mara where the black cotton soil is very sticky] and we have to get out and push or radio call for another vehicle to come and fetch us to continue with the game drive, while our driver stays back and works to get the vehicle out. A safari experience, but not one that i would personally like to keep going through during my trip. If i cant get opentop vehicles, i usually opt for 4x4 landrovers rather than minibuses. I just feel they provide better game viewing and photographic opportunities [especially the ones at Kichwa Tembo Camp in Mara]. Also, while on night gamedrives in an open-top, i love being able to look up and see the sky covered in stars, something you'd miss out on with a minibus. Finally, i also dont like minibuses because they tend to become 'impersonal'. A 4x4 lets you be more closer to your partner, and also affords better interaction and conversation with the driver as you're not constantly leaning forward to speak to him as you would in a minivan.

Also, you mention in South Africa you plan on doing just Cape Town and the Winelands? If so, you really don't need the open-top vehicle, a minibus would do just fine since there not any game reserves involved!

To summarize what i'm trying to say, go with the open-top if you dont mind the cost.

Sorry for the long reply! i just wanted to give you as much information on my experience as possible...

soniya is offline  
May 16th, 2003, 11:12 AM
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I completely agree. One of the highlights of my trip to Singita last year was getting within little more than an arms length from a leopard. The ranger, Neal, kept us very close to this mother leopard that was looking for her son, and every now and then would block the road with the vehicle. Well, blocking the road with the vehicle put me and the leopard on a collision course and the leopard literally got all the way to the tire, looked up at me and then after my heart had nearly jumped out of my chest and I couldn't even breathe, the leopard detoured around the vehicle.

Maybe some do not want that thrill, but, personally, if I wanted to see animals from behind a protected barrier, I would go to the zoo.

My response on this thread has been very unpopular and has rubbed some the wrong way, but I just don't see how the experience from inside a poptop van can be equal or greater to the experience from an open air vehicle.

This year I am taking it a step further with the walking safari in South Luangwa that also combines night game drives in open air vehicles.

My favorite picture from last year is a photo of my wife and I seated in Singita's open air Range Rover, with she in the passenger seat, and I in the driver seat with the rifle displayed and the beautiful background of the Sabi Sand.

I don't think I would treasure a picture of the two of us popping our heads out of the poptop. When I see heads popping up, I want to grab one of those hammers and pop them back down again as they do at arcades.
Roccco is offline  
May 16th, 2003, 12:37 PM
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Roccco, how about a picture of you and your wife sitting on top of a Land Rover with nothing in the distance but tens of thousands of wildebeast and zebra as far as the eye can see. That's what you get in the Serengeti/Masai Mara, and if you charter a vehicle for your personal use, as I did, you can get very close to the animals, and see thousands of them. The only point I'm trying to make is that the pervasive snobbery (if I can lift a word used above) of those who only want to visit the private reserves adjacent to Kruger as opposed to Kenya/Tanzania is misguided. East Africa is incredible, as are Kruger, South Luangwa, Etosha and Chobe, but I have now been on four safaris, and my best animal experience, by far, was the wildebeast migration in Masai Mara. You really have not been on safari until you have experienced the Masai Mara/Serengeti ecosystem during migration -- that's my humble opinion, but having been to nearly 90 countries on six continents, and been wildlife viewing in Australia, Indonesia, India, Nepal and throughout Africa, the migration was the most incredible event I have ever seen. In five minutes, you will see more animals than you see at Singita in a week.
thit_cho is offline  
May 16th, 2003, 04:12 PM
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thit cho,

My posts should not be perceived as a slam against Kenya/Tanzania but rather as solely a preference for open air Range Rovers instead of being confined to a poptop.

I look forward with great anticipation to visiting the Masai Mara but will stay somewhere like Cottars 1920's Camp, Little Governors or Tortillis Camp where I can have an excellent game viewing experience but not be forced to sacrifice the creature comforts that I am accustomed to in South Africa.

I do not know if I will be able to get to Kenya in 2004 but if not, I will probably bump it ahead of Botswana, simply because I do not want to take a third trip to Southern Africa prior to making a first trip to East Africa. Plus, Kenya does seem like a much better deal, economically, than Southern Africa, at least at the moment.
Roccco is offline  
May 17th, 2003, 08:51 AM
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The biggest problem we found with minibus vs. land rover was the height of the pop top. If one is 6ft. tall or more, the minibus is simply too short to accommodate standing upright. It was quite uncomfortable standing hunched over for hours on end.

As for AC, we never found a vehicle with a working AC or a driver who would waste the petro to switch it on. Heat is part of the experience.
TC is offline  
May 17th, 2003, 02:46 PM
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TC Thanks for that note - I never even thought of that as the tallest in my family, my dad, is only about 5'10" but as my husband is 6'6" I will need to remember it when I am able to book a trip to East Africa.
Kavey is offline  
May 17th, 2003, 03:50 PM
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Hey all - there's different things for different environments so it's not which is better, sometimes it comes down to what is allowed.
As one comment, in East Africa, unless you're on private land, you travel mostly in Toyota "pop-top" vehicles. At some camps you have "open-sides". Even in Southern Africa, alot depends on whether you're on private reserves of park land.

Like many of the posters, I've experienced both "pop-top" and "open" vehicles. Both have advantages and disadvantages, yet both worked fine in each environment. Neither inhibited us from getting "up-close-and-personal" to animals, really up-close!

In a pop-top, we had a group of Vervet monkeys enter our vehicle to check for food. We just sat there as they went thru every pocket in back of seats, one even opened my tote-bag to check and actually re-zipped it. Then they all just popped out of the top and were on there way. We got great photos. Or the giraffe that came along side our vehicle and simple popped his head inside! Or getting stuck in wet grass trying to back-out from where a lion and her cubs were gorging on a kill. They were so preoccupied, we just watched, by then the grass dried the we backed out with no problem.

Open vehicles are also fun, but do remember that as the vehicles move at speed, the wind picks-up and you'd better have on some warm cloths. Early morning can really be freezing even in summer, so gloves, scarf and socks are not unusualy for those smart enough to have packed them. The animals don't bother people in open vehicles, but you're instructed "not to stand up" which can spook an animal. They know the vehicles won't hurt them, but quick moves can be another thing.

The remark about "tall" people is something to think about for the East African "pop-tops" and should be considered. But when it gets cold, rains, wind picks-up, or any other element, you'll be much more comfortable in a closed vehicle. We got caught in a rain squall in an open vehicle in Botswana and though we had rain slickers, we were not happy campers.

As far as which is better for photos, I believe it depends on the photographer. We've gotten great shots from both.
May 18th, 2003, 06:39 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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On our safari in Tanzania, we had a Land Cruiser, and the top came completely off, it was then stored on the hood. This solved the problem for anyone taller than 6 ft. I could take pictures either by proping the camera on the top of the vehicle for steadiness, or hand held (loved that image stabilizer lens) either standing, or sitting with the camera out the window. Never even thought about AC because we almost always had the windows open. The one day it rainned, that top came back on FAST!
One more thing - we had our own vehicle and driver and we had several face to face experiences including leopard and charging elephant. We couldn't have been any closer even in an open vehicle.
darlene is offline  
May 18th, 2003, 05:38 PM
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I'll throw in my 2 cents and say a mini van will not impede your photography in any way. After all, how could a pop up top that allows you a 360 degree view impede your view? If anything, the land rover will limit your ability to shoot front,back, side-to-side at any moment of your drive. Regardless, it's the animals you want to see and they could careless what kind of vehicle you're in. PS: On our trip (mini van), we had 2 professional photographers (one from the AP) and they had absolutely no complaints. Enjoy!
Pumpy is offline  
May 18th, 2003, 08:44 PM
Original Poster
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Wow! All of this information has been so helpful. Thank you!!!

As for the "uncool" comment what I meant is this. When I think of a bus I picture my grandparents in their Hawaiian shirts on a bus tour with 60 other people all snapping pictures of tourist trap sites. They don't get to experience the flavor and the feeling of the places they have traveled to. I don't want to feel like that in a minibus. But it seems there are so many positives to riding in one.

However, my husband is between 6'2" and 6'3" and someone mentioned that standing upright was uncomfortable. My husband is a photographer (portraiture & weddings in the US) and I do not want him feeling cramped or uncomfortable day after day while standing in a minibus snapping pictures. Yet, I don't want him to not be able to quickly move from one side of the vehicle to the other because of spooking the animals, as was mentioned can happen in a Land Rover.

So I am back to square one on which to choose. I like the safety and comfortable seats while on long drives in a minibus. But I like the atmospher/feeling and openness that a Land Rover would provide.

So keep your comments and opinions coming. I haven't made my mind up yet.

twoinluv is offline  
May 19th, 2003, 04:24 AM
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I guess I don't understand the comment about not being able to get from one side of a Land Rover (or Cruiser) to the other. I had 360 view with the top off. I stood on the seats to get higher when needed, and even stood on the top of the Cruiser at one point. I suppose with other people in the vehicle this might not have been possible, but it was just my husband and myself. Anyway, enjoy, I would put up with almost anything to get back.
darlene is offline  
May 19th, 2003, 02:15 PM
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Roccco, the camps you've listed are all great, and you really must visit Kenya/Tanzania, which provides a much different experience from southern Africa, even Botswana, which with its excellent Wilderness Safaris camps provides one of Africa's best experiences. There are also some exclusive camps in Tanzania near the Western Corridor which depending on when you go may be the area to visit. My only suggestion is to time your visit with the migration (it will be among your most memorable experiences, I assure you). Have a great time in Kafunta (I was there in August 2000) and saw some great stuff.
thit_cho is offline  
May 23rd, 2003, 09:13 AM
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Pumpy - the way a pop top hampers photography is that some do not encompass the entire passenger compartment. It is only a section of the top that opens somewhat like a passenger car sun-roof. If there are more than two people in the vehicle, someone has to move out of the way for someone else to have that great 360 view you speak of. The "opening" on some vehicles is only large enough for two or three people at a time so sharing the space for photos becomes an issue. Other types of vehicles have larger openings. The point is to know what you're getting by asking a lot of pointed questions and taking nothing for granted. For most, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience and it shouldn't be a disappointment due to lack of facts. One way or the other be sure to make an informed decision.
TC is offline  
May 25th, 2003, 06:52 AM
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Message TC: I concur this is a once in lifetime experience but feel you're blowing this way out of proportion. A Rover or pop-up top van should be the least of anyone's worries. They all stop at the same spots, the animals are easily viewable from all vehicles, and that's the facts. As I stated above, the animals are the main attraction and they have no preference for the type vehicle the photographer is shooting from. FYI- I never saw a pop-up van that limited access to two people viewing out the top? In addition, the vast majority of your animal pictures are taken while stopped and the animals (even when moving) allow ample time for all to view / photograph. As I stated, a photographer shooting for the the AP and Sports Illustrated was on our van and had no issues.
Pumpy is offline  

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