Please help pick tour company

Old Feb 3rd, 2008, 09:35 AM
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Please help pick tour company

We are planning a trip to So. Africa and/or Botswana for 2009 and would like to use a tour company for the entire trip. There are so many I am confused. Preferably looking for:

- small groups (10 - 18),
- upper-end accomadations and service but not Orient-Express super deluxe,
- good safari camps such as Sabi Sands,
- active (hiking) but not solely adventure (bungee jumping),
- very good guides.

I have checked out A&K, Ker & Downey and Geographic Expeditions, but not seeing exactly what I want. K&D and GE are too expensive as well. I'd appreciate any other ideas. Thank you!
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Old Feb 3rd, 2008, 10:38 AM
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really thought African Travel did and excellent job. They will customize for your group so you can make your own itinerary. Someone from the company called twice while we were in Africa to make sure everything was ok. I would use them again in a heartbeat. I also went with Micato and thought they did an excellent job as well, but was able to save some money with African Travel. Website is www.africantravelinc.com I give them high marks.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2008, 10:40 AM
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Sorry - hit reply before I was finished. As you have seen there are many companies highly recommended by many on this site. Take your itinerary and list of requirements and submit them to a few companies and see what they quote you and who you feel most comfortable working with.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2008, 10:46 AM
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Thanks for the info - I guess I am confused between tour operators who develop private special itineraries for you vs. a group thing like A&K with set itineraries and larger groups.

I looked at the African Travel you suggested and it appears from what I can see that it would be a private tour with just me and my husband. I kind of like the idea of having a tour operator shlep my luggage, get my tickets etc. Baby-ing me in other words. Does this happen with a private tour?

This may be an obvious/dumb question, but when you get to the Reserves how does one go on a game drive - are there drives set up that you sign up for or are there just enough accomodations at the lodge so that everyone goes.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2008, 12:22 PM
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Either way you will be taken care of. African Travel as well as many other has regular departures of groups you can The first safari I did was a group departure with Micato. It was fantastic. I was not comfortable enough with Africa to not have an escort throughout. After that I was comfortable to somewhat go it alone. I like being able to plan my own itinerary and not have everything planned for me. Even though it was an itin just for us we were still met at the airport upon arrival and "helped" at all junctures. At the lodges you need not worry about game drives. There is room for all and they will give you the schedule on arrival. You don't need to worry about missing things. If you want to be hand held more then look for a group departure that you like and ask about group size. If you have a travel agent you like, they may be of valuable help to you.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2008, 06:49 PM
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i think africa travel resource is great, and very informative and the rates are reasonable.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2008, 08:25 PM
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We used Nicky at Eyes on Africa as have many on this site and we were very happy. Every detail was taken care of for the two of us. We stayed at Wilderness Safari camps, Kwetsani, Chitabe, Duma Tau, and in Sabi Sands, Mala Mala. We did not take a package tour but designed our own. I did a lot of research and asked tons of questions on this board, and all of the advice was great.

Wilderness has there on airplanes, Sefone and they picked us up and delivered us like a well oiled machine.

We also found that we were able to do exactly how we wanted and not be tied to an iteniary designed by some else. Depending on when you go will determine your costs. We went at the very end of the middle priced season which end June 15 in SA, and the weather was wonderful. Cold in the mornings, nice in the afternoons, and cold again at night. No bugs.

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Old Feb 3rd, 2008, 08:44 PM
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This information is helping me a lot as I learn of the options. Thank you!
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Old Feb 4th, 2008, 06:11 AM
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Hi Megdean,
I used Bert Duplessis from Fish Eagle Safaris. He was absolutely fantastic to work with.

Like spiegelcs, I designed my own trip with help from this board and recommendations from Bert. I went to Botswana and stayed at Wilderness Safari camps. I went to Duba Plains, Duma Tau, Tubu Tree, and Chitable Trails (now Ledibe). My approximate two weeks in Botswana followed a week in Namibia. Bert booked all flights, all camps, camp transfers, and airport hotels. This is not uncommon that your TA will book everything for you. You are picked up and flown from camp to camp so there isn't any reason to take a group tour/trip unless you just want to travel with a group. Also, you'll meet people at each camp, so IMO it's better to go it alone so you can design the itinerary the way you want it.

There are alot of good suggestions for TAs on this board. My recommendation would be to get some idea of the camps you want to go to and then talk to a couple of TAs. Often the TA's relationship with the camps' operator(s) will have an impact on price. For example, WS does not book its own camps choosing only to work through TAs. I found that Bert got excellent pricing from WS.

I would definitely recommend the WS camps in Botswana and Fish Eagle Safaris. I'll post a link to my trip report.

Dana
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Old Feb 4th, 2008, 06:22 AM
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Megdean,
Here's a link to the Southern Africa Trip Report Index. The link to my trip report is there as well as to so many others. Have fun reading!

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34858382
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Old Feb 4th, 2008, 06:38 AM
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ATR, in London, gets good reviews. If you decided to do other Africa trips in the future, they book all over Africa, not just Southern Africa, so you could go back to them.

Same with The Africa Adventure Company in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I've gone with them in Eastern and Southern Africa and all has been great. And a few times when problems beyond their control arose, they took care of it so I was not stuck in a mess.

Eyes on Africa in Chicago has a former Wilderness Safari employee as an owner and specializes in Southern Africa. I went with them last summer and all was great.

Back to fixing problems, if you read Dana's report, you'll see where Bert of Fish Eagle went to bat for Dana after the fact when there was a problem.

I'd go with any of these agents. They will all do private trips just for your family. You can look at some of the suggested group trips on their sites too.

If you are going to include Botswana, then it will probably be expensive no matter who you book with. An exception are the mobile camping safaris, which are quite comfortable, and a wonderful option. I did a Wilderness one and would readily go again. You'd get a small group of 8 or less.

If group travel is what you are looking for, then this may be a good option. There is a camping link that you can look for in the search box. I'll see if I can find it later.

Wilderness Travel (the California adventure travel co) has small group trips. So does Mountain Sobek, Natural Habitat (a wildlife/nature travel company that I've gone with several times, but not to Africa), not sure if International Expeditions goes to Southern Africa.

A nice combo might be a mobile in Botswana, then onto Sabi Sands where there is a huge variety of options.

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Old Feb 4th, 2008, 06:42 AM
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I would also like to recommend Bert at Fish Eagle Safaris. He put together a wonderful trip for us and he is very responsive.
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Old Feb 4th, 2008, 07:11 AM
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Hereís some mobile camping info. Again, most of these are luxury camping trips suitable for kids, city folks, and people without outdoor survival skills.
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35092675

This trip report might be in the Southern Africa Index. It combined a mobile and a Sabi Sands camp. Mala Mala was chosen for Sabi Sands, but you could pick something less expensive. Mala Mala has a great reputation for wildlife and is not ultra fancy (at least not at Main Camp) or the highest cost option.
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35087419

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Old Feb 4th, 2008, 08:36 AM
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Another alternative, depending on what you want, is an all inclusive group tour including air from the US and internal flights between camps in Africa. We are going with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) in September. The company caters to the over 50 set and does small group travel, 10 - 16 max for this trip. The trip is called "Ultimate Africa". The itinerary includes Johannesburg, Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Chobe National Park in Botswana, Mudumu National Park in Namibia, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, with optional extensions to Kruger National Park in South Africa, and Capetown. We have talked to and corresponded with people who have taken this trip and they have all raved over it. These destinations have far fewer tourists than areas like the Serengeti, where you can have large numbers of vehicles surrounding one animal viewing. On this trip, people say, you may not see another vehicle during a game drive. We have never traveled with OAT before, but we have traveled with their large group sister company, Grand Circle Travel, 8 times and have been totally satisfied. If you are interested, their web site is oattravel.com. We will post a trip report when we return. If you any questions we would be glad to answer them.

Jack and Ann
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Old Feb 9th, 2008, 08:28 AM
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We do want to go on a group tour mainly to meet with others. If I can't find an itinerary that fits, we will book ourselves with TA. Re. groups, I am narrowing it down to a few, including Wilderness Travel and OAT. I have traveled with OAT to Peru/Ecuador and will be going with them to Vietnam in April. I like them, but I worry that they will be too "budget" for my big Africa trip, particularly not staying in the best wildlife viewing camps. JackandAnn, I am looking forward to hearing what you think.

Spiegelcjs, we are planning on going with July or August 2009 (Yeah, I tend to plan ahead - want to use FF miles for my airfare.)

We are off to the LA Travel Show today and will maybe pick up other ideas. Thanks.
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Old Feb 9th, 2008, 08:51 AM
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Three of us traveled privately and were thrilled with the trip planned by Southern Destinations. I think (someone else can confirm) that you will get more value for your money if you go this way, rather than on a tour. And you will have more chance of meeting locals rather than fellow tourists.

We visited Capetown and the Winelands, then took the Blue Train and spent 3 nights in Sabi Sands before heading to Vic Falls and two camps in Botswana.

www.southerndestinations.com
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