Our First Safari - Tanzania or SA?

Jan 1st, 2018, 12:30 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2008
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Our First Safari - Tanzania or SA?

Happy New Year everyone! My husband and I would like to do a African Safari this year in August. We have friends that did Tanzania and raved about it, and I have a coworker who did a safari in South Africa and recommended that. We are interested in seeing the wildlife and culture and are not interested in doing group travel. That said, we would like nice accommodations - I am not interested in sleeping on the ground in a tent (the tent is fine but it needs to come with a bathroom). We are looking at a trip of about 10 days including travel time to and from the US (we live on the east coast). Which country is recommended for a first time safari (and maybe the only time) bucket list trip? Thanks in advance!!
arlight is offline  
Jan 1st, 2018, 09:39 PM
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Both countries are fabulous for a safari, it depends on whether you maybe want to see more of SA like Cape Town or just safari.
It can also depend on overall budget , interests, specific requests etc.
Sandy - Love Africa Travel
loveafricatravel is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2018, 05:27 AM
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Hi Arlight?

Have you ever been on a safari before? [I infer not from your post].

If that's the case then as loveafricatravel suggests you may like to pick somewhere like SA where you can do other things as well, in case you discover, as we did, that 2-3 days of safari was quite enough. Don't get me wrong, we enjoyed what we did, but as part of an overall trip in which we spent 4 nights in Cape Town, several along the Garden Route, then finished our trip with some time at Shamwari and Addo.

Someone will of course tell me that a safari in the Eastern Cape is nothing like Kruger or Tanzania, and of course I accept that but it enabled us to discover that a whole trip dedicated to a safari was not for us. Plus there are so many other great things to do in SA - not just what I've mentioned but the Winelands, Drakensberg, Blyde River - loads to do besides safaris.
annhig is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2018, 08:37 AM
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Africa is no longer that far away. If you love it, it won’t be an only safari in your lifetime.

S Africa has lots to do and can be done in any budget or travel style. Tanzania/Kenya is almost exclusively a high end lodge/bush plane type place (unless you’re quite adventurous).

I’m a S Africa girl and have done high end but I prefer a more authentic experience without the over the top service. It makes me uncomfortable.

I’m with you on the sleeping on the ground and the bathroom. Even the most basic accommodations usually have both. I like to combine a self drive trip to Kruger Park for a few nights and then do time at a private safari lodge. I love both experiences. We drive from Johannesburg (or fly to Skukuza or Hoedspruit) in a small 2x4 suv. We shop for food and supplies, then head into the park. We spend a few days driving the park from dawn to dusk, having breakfast and lunch picnic style, though you can eat in the restaurants and rest stops if you prefer. We book accommodations with a bathroom and kitchenette/utensils included. Basic, clean, generally well maintained, nicer than expected. For dinner, we eat in the pretty good restaurants or braai (bbq) out in the bush. Great fun with a cold g&t in hand. Then repeat - we like to stay 2 nights per rest camp staying as long as we can. Then head to a private lodge in any budget you’re comfortable with for 3 days. See www.sanparks.org for info and booking in Kruger Park. Share an approximate budget and we can help with excellent lodges in any price range. Higher prices are generally higher luxury, not better wildlife viewing.

We also enjoy the area of KwaZulu Natal. It’s south of Kruger, easily reached via a drive through Swaziland. We stay a night to break up the trip. St Lucia for all of the fun activities and the gorgeous iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Oribi Gorge for fun, thrills and beauty. The Drakensberg Mtns for hiking, Giants Castle for accessible San Art. The Natal Shark Board, swimming or snorkeling with sharks in Aliwal Shoals. Much, much more! Oh yeah, the gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches...

There are also some excellent private game reserves! Manyoni Reserve is my favorite but Tembe Elephant Park is very special too. It was returned to the local tribe through reconciliation and is owned and staffed by local people. It’s sort of a cultural and wildlife experience in one place. It’s great and very affordable with newly renovated tents and public spaces. At a higher rate would be Phinda, Thanda and the brand new Rhino Sands in Manyoni (sister camp to my favorite Rhino River Lodge nearby).

Too much to do. I didn’t even mention Cape Town and the great historic city of Johannesburg. Or the Waterberg or Mashatu in SE Botswana!
christabir is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2018, 05:24 PM
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Thanks for the info! Annhig, never considered that we might only want to do a few days. Worth thinking about. Christabir, thanks for the great advice!
arlight is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2018, 06:48 PM
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"I prefer a more authentic experience without the over the top service. It makes me uncomfortable."
Not sure which particular places this refers to, but it doesn't at all describe my lodging or "authenticity" experience in East Africa. And my lodgings were far from the sleeping on the ground type!
If goingin August, my recommendations would be instead of TZ, consider Kenya , especially the Masai Mara, as the Great Migration should be in "full swing" by then,with thousands and thousands of animlas traveling in herds from TZ to Kenya.
Your subject line ask about "safari" so I assume that 's the main purpose of your long trip . Ten days is a good amount --including a first day or two of "recovery" time, for first safari. If you want to have some "city" time as well, no matter which country you choose, you can do that.

Have fun deciding!
CaliNurse is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2018, 05:48 AM
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This is a fairly common dilemma, so don't feel like the lone trooper.

Given the time of year, the number of days you have, and your interest in seeing both animals and "culture," I'd say South Africa would be your best bet.

The reasons are (a) it's a relatively "soft landing" in terms of accommodations, food, the ability to get a car and drive around independently, and (b) the physical and cultural diversity of the place is stunning.

christabir is spot on: if you're like the rest of us, you'll be plotting and scheming about how you can return by the time the ink on your visa is dry. Africa is addictive, plain and simple.

Here's a scratch plan that I'd investigate. These are just suggestions, and of course you're free to ignore them entirely. Google the various places mentioned.

Fly into Joburg and spend the first day doing something easy, like a bus tour of Soweto (the hotels can organize this easily.)

The second day, pick up a rental car (driving in SA is easy and affordable) and drive north around three hours to the village of Graskop. Graskop is located along the "Panoramic Route" close to the Blyde Canyon, God's Window, the Three Rondavels, and other terrifically scenic places, which can easily be visited en route. Stay at the artsy/funky/comfy Graskop Hotel and have pancakes at Harrie's, just down the street.

The next day, drive to a safari lodge in the Sabi Sand reserve. The reason for the timing is that the lodges offer two game drives daily, early morning and evening/sunset. By driving straight from Joburg to the Sabi Sand reserve, you'll usually arrive too late to check in and get to the evening drive before it leaves, thus you're leaving (a lot of) money on the table. By staying in Graskop, which is around 2 hours' drive from most of the lodges, you can arrive at noon or in the late morning, enough time to get settled and participate in the drive.

I'd book two nights at the lodge, then drive back to Joburg, drop the car, and fly to Cape Town. Spend the rest of your time in the Western Cape, with visits to the winelands, or, if it's late August, taking a day to drive an hour or two up the west coast to Paternoster and West Coast National Park, which offers wildflower displays in the spring that will make your eyes bug out.

(I'd put Cape Town last rather than first in order to give the weather a few more days to improve; remember the seasons are reversed.)

This is one of an infinite number of alternatives, but hopefully you get the idea - travel independently and do a sample of the incredible variety SA offers.
Gardyloo is online now  
Jan 3rd, 2018, 06:36 AM
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sounds like a great itinerary, gardyloo.

Seeing the flowers in Namaqualand in Spring is definitely on my bucket list.
annhig is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2018, 12:24 PM
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I would 100% recommend Tydon safaris in South Africa. We went a few years ago with them, and they are amazing. They pick you up in JoBurg, take you to Sabi Sands a private reserve. You also go into Kruger with them. When we were there, I think there were 7 of us in a truck built for 20! You stay in tents, but they are heated/cooled and have a private bathroom. The price is reasonable. And it was the best travel food I have had (and I have been to 27 countries). Lions, lots of leopards, rhino, zebra, elephants, giraffe, and lots of other stuff. https://www.tydonsafaris.com/
kimjrocks is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2018, 02:22 PM
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kind of jimrocks to join fodors to tell us about this safari outfit isn't it?
annhig is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2018, 05:11 PM
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Hi there —

I have been on safari numerous times in South Africa in Kruger, Madikwe, Kwazu-Natal, and Sabi Sands. I love South Africa and go once or twice a year. I agree that it is a wonderful destination if you want to enjoy other sights besides safari. I would include a day or two in Joberg/Soweto though if you are at all interested in understanding the history of Apartheid and life of people of all colors. The advice you received above on the rest of the country is indeed spot on and you can create a very diverse and wonderful itinerary. I do think, however, that if you choose a high end or less expensive lodge, either way you will have an authentic experience that will not leave you feeling “uncomfortable.”

I also adore Kenya and Tanzania. On one trip, I combined the Masai Mara with the Serengeti and also went to Ngorongoro Crater. All very easy and doable. Each location was astonishing and very different. We were able to see the migration in Tanzania as the game was crossing over to the Mara. In order to maximize our sightings, we stayed in a beautiful traditional lodge in the Mara, chose a mobile tented camp in the Serengeti and then stayed on the Crater Rim at Ngorongoro Crater. The mobile camp was extraordinary. While they move with the migration, the set up was stellar with a dining tent, a lounge tent, outdoor boma, and the sleeping tents had flush toilets, real sinks and hot showers. The time out under the stars talking with guests from all over the world remains a fantastic memory. We started the trip with a few days in Nairobi and ended it on the beach in Mombasa. Many people also go to Zanzibar at the end of safari. So basically there are many options to do other things besides safari in Kenya and Tanzania also.

I cannot choose which countries I love most. I have also been on safari multiple times in Botswana and Namibia. I will say that the sheer vastness of the Mara and Serengeti is something to behold. It is mind-boggling and the sheer number of animals feels almost biblical. But the sightings, going off road and the stellar trackers and rangers in South Africa is also extraordinary.

Bottom line is that you cannot go wrong with your choice! You will have a stellar time and I am excited that you are planning this trip. It does get in your blood. It was 11 years ago that I first went to South Africa, and as mentioned above, I keep coming back to the Continent! And I have not even mentioned my trips to West Africa!

Keep researching and asking questions until you understand exactly the type of trip you are looking for. You will then lock into the perfect country and the number of days you want for game viewing. We are all different and only you can decide this.
Good luck!!!
Lolazahra is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2018, 07:31 PM
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No need to go back to Johannesburg after safari. There are direct flights between all three Kruger airports to Cape Town. If you rent a car from Avis you can just drop the car off at any of their many outlets and at all airports. The drop off fees are minor (usually less than the petrol to drive). I also stay at least three nights in any safari lodge. Less than that feels very rushed. If you fly instead of drive, the lodges can arrange transfers. If you choose to drive from JNB, going next morning is definitely advised but you do miss a day. I’d choose to not lose the day and head right to Cape Town.

I would hate doing safari first and then spend time in other places. I fell in love with the wildlife experience the minute I arrived and would have been terribly disappointed being so close but so far from it! I always end on safari (and leave kicking and screaming in my head). I’ve never spent less than 10 nights on safari on any trip so I don’t understand anyone not wanting more. But we are all different and we all have different travel needs and styles.

With just 10 days, I’d do Cape Town and safari in Kruger or KZN. Although I love so much, it’s not really enough time to enjoy much more.

(Very nice of jimrocks but I recommend Tydon often for the right people. Not sure the OP would want that experience, but it’s great for some).

I am very uncomfortable with the income inequality and the over the top service at the high end lodges. Obviously I’m in the minority here (for a change) but I have been incredibly uncomfortable knowing how local people live and the unnecessary service they were providing at the high end lodges. (The fellow guests at high end lodges can be “difficult” too). I try to learn names of as many staff as I can, hear their stories when I can, especially the kitchen staff that work so hard to make meals work for me. Getting to know some of the staff have been highlights of my stays - their personal stories run the gamut from crushingly heartbreaking to incredibly uplifting. All have been hopeful. We all have similar hopes and dreams, just on different scales.

That’s why there are lodges for everyone - we all have different travel styles and needs.

As Lola mentioned above, there’s no wrong choice and as gardyloo states, you’ll be planning your return before your flight lands at home! Somehow, Africa grabs hold and doesn’t let go. I already have my retirement neighborhood picked out - within a day drive from Kruger! It’s my paradise (luckily my husband’s too!). East Africa might be your paradise.
christabir is offline  
Jan 4th, 2018, 04:35 AM
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we also had the same question as you for our first safari but knew we wanted the main focus to be on safari. we also took our teens. i see sa as a spot for 6 days safari and then the rest touring the country. we wanted to tour kenya but with a safari focus.

we chose kenya for the safari quality and the culural experiences. you can have both. our fist stop, the sanctuary at ol lentille, focuses more on the cultural interactions you will have-school visit, market visit, village visit. you have you own guide and staff that share tons of information with you. we did a camel safari and met our guides friends, son and nephew. i spent hours with the son and nephew as they were the same age as our son and asked and answered many questions. you also spend so much time with your guide on safari (we had a private vehicle) so you will learn and appreciate much.

we ended in the mara-so open with so many animals everywhere you turn. we all loved the trip so much we are returning for 3 weeks next summer.

good luck!
plambers is offline  
Jan 4th, 2018, 04:46 AM
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I'd like to clarify a myth that seems to be repeated with no real basis...not every accommodation is "high end luxury with over the top service". I've only stayed in one lodge that was like that, but all the tented camps and bandas I've stayed in in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda (14 camps and counting now) were comfortable, somewhat rustic and the service was subtle yet attentive. Every camp I've stayed at offers you down time midday to sit in the communal tent and meet other guests and staff if you choose, and some camps have a guide or staff member eat with the guests every night to allow you to learn more about them and their lives. It is a gross misconception that Kenya and/or Tanzania only offer high end luxury and South Africa doesn't, so don't let that guide your choice.

Whatever you choose, your first safari will be magical. Mine was in Tanzania, the famous 'north loop' from Arusha through Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Ndutu and Serengeti. I was planning my return on the way home, and indeed went back a year later to Kenya. That changed my life. My second safari was even better, and I kept returning to even more amazing experiences as I learned more about which camps had best big cat traffic, who the best guides were, etc. My safari in the Maasai Mara last February will be incredibly hard to beat in terms of sightings (multiple kills, a huge intra-pride lion fight, incredible night drives with hunts, 70+ cats in 6 nights, some rare cat species I'd not seen before, just amazing) but I'm willing to try!

I live on a beach at home so never bother to spend valuable time with the animals on a beach instead, but I understand some would want to. Now that I've trekked for gorillas I'll likely aim for chimp trekking in Feb 2019 and combine that with some safari in either Uganda or Tanzania or my first foray to Botswana or Zambia. Apparently four safaris aren't enough for me either!!
amyb is online now  
Jan 4th, 2018, 04:51 AM
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“I am very uncomfortable with the income inequality and the over the top service at the high end lodges.”

Nice to read that comment. I have made the same comment about a couple of other places in the world and some other posters reacted very negatively.
xcountry is offline  
Jan 4th, 2018, 07:29 AM
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Thank you everyone! I think that there are a lot of choices out there and I'm not sure as to which direction to go! I think that with 10 days I would want to focus on the safari aspect and not combine it with much time elsewhere. So, if we go to SA, I think we would spend time on the Safari and only be in the city to fly in and out. Likewise, if we go to Tanzania, we would probably focus on just going on the Safari and not time in Zanzibar, etc. Can anyone comment on either how you went about finding an outfitter or travel agent? What should I look for? And, is it already too late for a trip in August of 18? Thanks!!
arlight is offline  
Jan 4th, 2018, 07:29 AM
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“I am very uncomfortable with the income inequality and the over the top service at the high end lodges.”>>

The only place we really came across that in SA was Shamwari, which our agent had recommended to us, not least because 2 nights there came with 3 free nights in the Radisson Blu in Cape Town. For us it felt OTT and we were much more comfortable at the far more downmarket lodge near Addo [name now forgotten, sadly]. Seeing the distances that locals had to walk from their township to the reserve just in order to wait on us, and the conditions in the township, did not sit well with the level of luxury we were being offered.
annhig is offline  
Jan 4th, 2018, 09:46 AM
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...I think that with 10 days I would want to focus on the safari aspect and not combine it with much time elsewhere. So, if we go to SA, I think we would spend time on the Safari and only be in the city to fly in and out.

Fair enough, but it raises a question of budget. Safari lodges tend to be pricey, ranging from moderate to extremely expensive. If you want to spend, say, 8 days viewing wildlife, your travel budget is going to have to be pretty different than if you're spending half that time.

And if your ten days includes travel time from the east coast, then you need to look at methods to reduce the time spent in the air or at airports waiting for connections. I'd look at South African's or Delta's nonstop (or direct with a tech stop) services from JFK or Atlanta to Joburg; most other routes will add several hours transiting some airport in Europe, northern Africa or the Middle East. There are no nonstops from the US to Kenya or Tanzania.

On the income disparity front, this is unfortunately a fact of life in much of eastern or southern Africa. One thing we've done is to seek out locally-owned safari operations, so at least the money circulates locally. We've stayed a couple of times at the (quite wonderful) Buffalo Ridge lodge in the Madikwe reserve (on the Botswana border near Gaborone) which is owned by the local community. Terrific experience - http://www.buffaloridgesafari.com/
Gardyloo is online now  
Jan 4th, 2018, 10:35 AM
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arlight, I don't think you're too late for August 2018 in TZ but it does seem to be the one time of year that is considered high season just about everywhere, so prices are higher and availability is tighter. See this:

Btw, I booked with Access2Tanzania for my first and was very pleased with them, enough that I used their other company Treks2Rwanda to book my gorilla trekking on my last trip.

Are you married to the thought of Tanzania? I ask only because Kenya can be more competitively priced and offers other options that time of year that may be less crowded and better priced for you. Even in the Mara in its private conservancies you'll find far fewer crowds than in the reserve proper but have the opportunity to go into the main reserve for the migration if you want. But there are other regions too that consistently offer fabulous safari experiences that time of year (Amboseli, Laikipia, Samburu, etc.)
amyb is online now  
Jan 4th, 2018, 12:01 PM
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Totally agree with AmyB, re staying in Kenya rather than TZ.
As all can see from my first post above, re the supposedly OTT lodgings, I've stayed in none, in three trips to E Africa, that I'd describe that way--although I know that may exist, they are not omnipresent. Besides, who's to say what constitutes "excess"? I also agree that Kenya might be a better choice than TZ at that time of year.
As for income disparity.. I don't want to start a heated discussion here, but tell me a country outside the "western" world (Europe, USA/Canada) where you will NOT find that, if you compare prices of lodging to the average monthly income of the workers there. I'm not saying it is ok, but it's not a reason to not visit. Good points Christabir, on the personal experience of meeting and talking to the staff!
There are numerous types of experiences anywhere in the world. I don't think one is more or less "valid" or "authentic" than another, based on the price of lodging, food, airfare, tour company, or other trip expenses. You can (and this being Africa, will!) have great and unforgettable experiences on any budget!!
Re your question Arlight on travel agents, I used Gamewatchers on the last trip, and was happy with them pre-trip and on-the-ground. Their tented camps were great in al ways , (and didnt' feel- "high end" ) Their USA agent is named Julie Roggow.

Do note that in terms of budget, it is generally less $ in Kenya. to stay at the larger , hotel-like lodges like Serena Mara, or Keekorok.

It's not too late to plan for August, but don't wait much longer.

And yes, if you consider Kenya (and i truly hope you will!) please try to fit in a visit to Samburu!!!! Given your desire to focus on safari, i think a conservancy stay for at least part of the time would be perfect for eery and your family!! Gamewatchers, and other travel agencies, can explain that if you need more info. Also, check the tripadvisor forums...far more "traffic" there than on forwards.
On last trip, we had the same time period as you, since we flew from West Coast USA. Spent the first two nights in Nairobi (some great things to do there!) at the marvelous Southern Sun Mayfair Hotel, three nights in Samburu, two nights at Laikipia/Ol Pejeta, and three nights at Porini Lion Camp in one of the conservancies surrounding the Masai Mara National Reserve which included also a full day into the Mara, where we were fortunate to have "front row jeep seats" to the amazing experience of watching the herds' river-crossing. particularly like living a National Geographic documentary! Spent last day near airport before departing for USA. It never felt rushed but of course, left us wanting a return asap!
CaliNurse is offline  

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