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Please tell me more about Botswana safari experience and how it differs from Sabi Sand...

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Sep 18th, 2004, 12:25 PM
  #1
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Please tell me more about Botswana safari experience and how it differs from Sabi Sand...

In weighing all my options, I would like to either visit Botswana for the first time, combining it with a trip to Cape Town and the Sabi Sand, or make my third trip to Zambia, instead.

I am a little concerned about daytime activities at the Botswana camps. Since I am considering a visit next September, I do expect that daytime temperatures will probably be in the mid-80's farenheit, and since most the Botswana camps are tented, this does seem like it would make for slightly uncomfortable temperatures to sit around and read a book, for example.

Other than lounging around the pool, if the camp has a pool, what other daytime activities are there at the better Botswana camps (Wilderness Safaris, Kwando, Orient-Express)???

Also, if I do go, I would probably go as part of a Luxury Link package that would give me four nights in Cape Town, two nights in Joburg and four nights split between any two Orient Express camps (they only have three). Khwai River Lodge seems to have the best camp, but Savute Elephant Camp looks interesting as well.

I would have the option of staying two nights at each camp, or if I wanted, I could always add a night at Khwai River Lodge in Moremi, to make it 2 nights Savute EC, 3 nights Khwai River Lodge, and then I would likely add a 3 night stay at either Kwando Kwara or Kwando Lagoon. Would others advise a schedule of 2 nights, 3 nights, 3 nights or would I be better off adding a fourth camp and just limiting each camp to two nights each. If I went that route, it would be:

2 nights Savute Elephant Camp (I would do this camp first since there are no night game drives and I would likely come straight here after my long journey from Los Angeles, as this would allow me to rest)

2 nights Khwai River Lodge

2 nights Kwando Lagoon

2 nights Kwando Kwara

Lastly, there is always the option that I could just elect to stay all four nights at Khwai River Lodge and then add either both Kwando camps for 2 nights each, or just one of them for 3 nights.

I realize that I probably sound full of **** for talking about Botswana, but since my next trip is so very far away, I really do want to make it the best gameviewing experience yet, even if it Botswana is 50% more expensive than Zambia and without the comforts of a Chichele Presidential Lodge or the presence of the Zambezi River.

I am not willing to pay Mombo prices and really will keep my maximum budget at the rates that Kwando charges - $575 per person per night in high season. Although the Kwando camps may not be as fancy as a Mombo, Kings Pool or Jao, they do employ the GUIDE & TRACKER system that I think will greatly add to the gameviewing experience, especially during night game drives.

Feedback???

Thanks.
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Sep 18th, 2004, 06:09 PM
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hey rocco,
i visited the wilderness safari camps (vumbura and kings pool) in sept 2002 and kwando camps in june 2000. the trip i took in june also included a trip to sabi sabi (savanna camp) and kruger. for me botswana beats sabi sabi for overall wilderness experience. we saw the big 5 five in one day at savanna including lion cubs at very close range. the game was fantastic but the experience didnt live up to taht of the kwando camps. first of all the game vehicle was full (at least 6 people) and there were many other vehicles in the area radioing different sightings. in fact our first lion sighting occurred after the guide had stopped the car and explained to us that we were coming up on lions and not to stand up in the car etc. felt like they had placed the lion pride there and bring folks to it every day (obviously not the case but with so many people/cars, tracking animals on your own wasnt neccessary). at kwando, my family (4 of us) had a vehicle to ourselves and only saw one other vehicle during our 4 days in botswana. every sighting we had was due to our tracking. its was great heading out in search of lions or the wild dog pack and seeing who could be the first in the car to make the next spotting. in addition, the terrain is more open in botswana so when we did find a predator such as 2 cheetahs, we could follow them for long periods until they finished there hunting attempt. and we certainly didnt have to leave any good sigthings bc other cars were pulling in so if we wanted to stay with the wild dogs for hours, that was our decision to make. in addition, i really like the tents being in the middle of the bush and therefore have wildlife moving in and out of camp. hippos and elephants everynight at lagoon camp. was there as much a guarantee at kwando to see lions leopartds etc as in sabi sands, no, but they certainly are very possible and the encouters are a lot more personal (IMO).
between the morning and afternoon game drives i would usually take my daily shower (i wouldnt take one at night as the shower is semi outside and elephants would be hanging right above you if you were out there at night. the rest of the time i would usually take a nap as game drives began very early and ended very late. and as you said, its pretty hot during the middle of the day so u dont want to be doing much else.
in summary, sabi sands has great wildlife and more luxurious accomodations but botswana definietly has a more wilderness experience.
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Sep 18th, 2004, 09:39 PM
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Such very difficult choices to make! One day, God willing, I am going to go on a 50 day safari, taking in the best of South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Until that time, however, each year there will be great destinations that will not make it onto the itinerary.

The only thing that is firm is that I am going to Simbambili for their legendary leopard sightings ( http://www.tagasafaris.co.za/african...est-events.htm) and I would like to spend a couple nights with a South African friend and a camp that he raves about called Tamboti, where I guess a lot of the game rangers go to chill out and for their own game viewing during their limited and treasured off-time.

Plus, since I am already in the area, I would like to take in at least two nights, but preferably three nights at either Royal Malewane or Londolozi Tree.

Ideally, I will have a minimum of five nights in Cape Town & Hermanus.

That leaves me with about 8 nights to enjoy someplace else. It is this part that really is impossible to decide.

Do I choose:

4 nights in South Luangwa/4 nights in Lower Zambezi NP?

6 nights in two different areas of the largest national park in Africa, Kafue NP, with a couple nights to chill out afterward in a 5* Joburg hotel before making my way down to Cape Town or onto the Sabi Sand?

3 nights at Kwando Lagoon / 3 nights at Kwando Kwara / 2 nights at Kwando Songwe Village in Victoria Falls?

3 nights at an additional Sabi Sand Park / 2 nights at La Residence, Franschoek / 3 nights at Tsala Treetop (this would be the most relaxing option, as well as the least expensive, since I would be spending all my time in South Africa and have fewer safari nights...but that is the problem...FEWER SAFARI NIGHTS!

4 nights in Madikwe / 4 nights at Phinda

Plus, throw in the fact that I have a traveling partner/spouse that does not share my love for wildlife and it complicates matters even more, making a visit to the elegant Chichele Presidential Lodge in South Luangwa and Kasaka River Lodge in Lower Zambezi (with its beautiful setting, wonderful facilities and great little Jack Russell, Vodka, who has the run of the camp) a more attractive option than Botswana.

The biggest problem with Botswana is that in order for it to be in my budget, I would really need a Luxury Link package. The LL package offers great camps in Botswana and I really like the inclusion of 2 nights at the Westcliff in Joburg. HOWEVER, as elegant as the Mount Nelson Hotel is, I would rather stay at a seaside hotel in Cape Town, rather than at the Mt. Nelson for 4 nights. However #2, for $200 per person per night sharing, how could one pass up this deal if it is Botswana that they want? Although Savute Elephant Camp and Khwai River Lodge would not be my first choice, they both look like excellent camps and will get my foot in the door. If booked alone, the four nights at these camps would cost as much as the entire LL package, so it really is as if I am getting 4 nights at the Mount Nelson and 2 nights at The Westcliff, both in Junior Suites, for free when I buy the LL package. I would then add one top notch place like Kwando Kwara or Kwando Lagoon for 3 nights.

The Kafue NP option is a very risky one, but my guide books tell me that the Busanga Plains are the closest thing around to the Okavango Delta and the variety of animals is incredible, including Roan Sable, Hartebeest, and other hard to find antelope species, as well as the predators. However, the elephant population is really low due to poaching. While tragic for the elephants, however, it has allowed the landscapes to recover very nicely.

Ultimately, it will likely come down to whether or not some great package appears on Luxury Link or some of my other sources. I know I cannot go wrong with any of the above options, but I just want to be the "most right" as possible when selecting one of the above options, and I do want to keep costs somewhat under control, as with a 20 - 21 night itinerary, with at least 13 nights of top notch lodges/camps, the price is already pretty exorbitant, and that is without a Singita or Mombo.
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Sep 19th, 2004, 02:06 AM
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Even with over 30 days of safari back to back I still don't feel I've done more than scratch the surface!

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Sep 20th, 2004, 03:07 AM
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Only by striking Cape Town do I think I could possibly fit in a dream safari on my next trip:

Chichele Presidential Lodge (3). It will be nice to have a tried and true luxury lodge to begin the trip after the long journey. While four nights would be preferable, for scheduling purposes, I would have to cut it to three nights.

Kasaka River Lodge (3). Beautiful setting and a convenient five minute drive away from Royal Airstrip, unlike the 2 hour journey that was required to Kulefu Tented Camp. The food seemed excellent and the grounds were perfectly elevated above the Zambezi River, with a swimming pool that seemed perfect to lounge about in each day while enjoying the view down below to the Zambezi. It was like a more luxurious Kafunta River Lodge, and all this plus a great little resident Jack Russell named Vodka! Four nights, again, would be preferable, but due to scheduling constraints, three nights would have to suffice.

(Kwando) Songwe Village, Victoria Falls, Zambia (2). I do like the fact that this is a luxury camp but also a cultural experience. I have not yet seen the falls from the Zambian side nor have I visited the little national park nearby. Plus, if I happen to drop a little weight, I would love to bungee jump off the bridge and/or microlight over the falls. THAT would be unforgetable! This also serves as the perfect gateway to Botswana.

Kwando Lagoon (3). Supposedly one of the most beautifully placed camps in all of Botswana.

Kwando Kwara (3). Very highly regarded camp on the far northern part of Moremi in the Okavango Delta.

Michelangelo Hotel (2). I would choose the Michelangelo over the Westcliff because after so many days away from civilization, some action in Sandton would be very nice.

Simbambili (3). I can hardly wait to see those leopards! Plus, if I am lucky, I will also see rhinos and wild dog, as I have seen recently on Taga Safaris recent photos in the "Leopards of Simbambili" series on their website. www.tagasafaris.co.za

Londolozi Tree or Royal Malewane (2). What a perfect way to end a 21 night itinerary.

SUMMARY - 17 night Zambian, Botswanan and South African safari. 2 nights in Victoria Falls (Livingstone area), Zambia, doing some death-defying activities! 2 nights in Sandton at the Michelangelo Hotel.

This is a DREAM itinerary for me, and I do think that my better half would hold up just fine, with her hardest time coming in Botswana, but having a great time at Chichele Presidential Lodge, Kasaka River Lodge with Vodka the Jack Russell, enjoying the Michelangelo very much, doing just fine at Simbambili and actually enjoying either Londolozi or the Royal Malewane!

If you hear of any bank robberies in the next few days, IT WASN'T ME!!!

(all prices including transfers)

Kwando (8 nights) - $8,250 USD

Kasaka River Lodge (3 nights) - $2,500 USD

Chichele Presidential Lodge (3 nights) - $3,250 USD

Michelangelo (2 nights) - $750 USD

Simbambili (3 nights) - $3,750 USD

Royal Malewane (2 nights) - $3,000 USD

GRAND TOTAL = $21,500 USD

With a little luck, I will be able to stay under the $20,000 barrier, as even $20,000 is an obscene amount of money to spend on a holiday. Cannot take it with you when you are dead, right?! Plus, having no children is pretty liberating, I must say.

I can only imagine the incredible photos and gameviewing experiences that this itinerary would yield. I do not see a weak link in this entire itinerary, to tell you the truth, other than the price.

I do think that this itinerary would quench my thirst enough to allow for 2006 to be spent visiting Antarctica in the first couple months of 2006, and Australia in the last couple months of 2006, to give me all 7 continents by the time I am 35 years old. After that I can die happy, and moreover, I can make annual returns to Africa, God willing, and not feel like I am missing out on other parts of the world.
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Sep 20th, 2004, 03:12 AM
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Rocco
The mantras "can't take it with me" and "life is for living now since we don't know what's around the corner" and "work to live not live to work" and "memories last a lifetime" were muttered rather a lot during the period when we planned (and paid for) that rather expensive 2 month trip we did this year.
If you can do it without jeopardising your future or risking your current stability then do it.
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Sep 20th, 2004, 01:09 PM
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TravelstoAfrica
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Roccco, a suggestion: try for a shorter trip and focus exclusively on Botswana ... this will reduce the cost. Your itinerary always seems to include a lot of time in cities, at luxury hotels. I recommend you contact a good agent who specializes in Botswana, lay out a 12-night safari, at five paw camps of Wilderness Safaris, and see what it will cost you. Try SAA to JNB, then overnight, and fly to Maun the next morning, and go on to three camps from Maun.

If Mombo is to expensive, delete it, and instead go for five paws, plus or minus. You can get under $20 K for two if you do it right, inlcuding SAA and Air Botswana, and small planes to all the camps.

Five days minimum at CapeTown and Hermanus seem exzcessive, given you've been there before. Also, drop Kruger entirely. You've been there, try Botswana instead.

Seems to me you're avoiding the very thing you say you wish to try - Botswana.
 
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Sep 21st, 2004, 10:27 PM
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TravelstoAfrica,

Thanks for the advice. You did seem like you had an incredible time on your recently completed trip.

While I would love to see Botswana, I am having a very difficult time in foresaking Zambia entirely!!! It is just such a beautiful place and the prices are honestly about half the prices of Botswana and the equivalent lodges in South Africa.

At this time, my main interest in seeing Botswana lies in spending time at Kwando's campsif. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Wilderness Safaris will not provide a tracker, at least on its night game drives! It makes no sense, at all.

I do think that as much as I love it, that I would be able to let go of South Luangwa for one year, but I really do want to do a connect the dots trip, with Kwando on one end, Kasaka River Lodge in the Lower Zambezi on the other end, with Victoria Falls inbetween.

Kwando Lagoon (3)

Kwando Kwara (4)

Kwando Songwe Village, Victoria
Falls,Zambia (2)

Kasaka River Lodge, Lower Zambezi NP, Zambia (4)

Twelve Apostles Hotel, Joburg (4) Just have to make a full day trip to Hermanus, where I have not yet visited to take in whale watching.

Simbambili, Sabi Sand, South Africa (4)

This would be a challenge to get in under $20,000 and that is with the reasonably priced Kwando camps. So again, I just don't know if Botswana is in the cards yet. I have no interest in traveling 10,000 miles for a two week trip.

The only way that I can keep the cost of this trip under control is to travel in late August to take advantage of some of the winter specials and then something like this would be possible:

Bushmans Kloof, Cedarberg (2) ($750 USD)

Twelve Apostles, Cape Town (3) ($1000 USD)

Birkenhead House, Hermanus (3) ($1,500 USD)

La Residence, Franschoek (2) ($1,000 USD)

Sabi Sand / Thornybush / Kruger National Park last minute specials at hopefully some top game lodges ($5,000 USD)

Michelangelo Hotel, Joburg (2) ($700 USD)

GRAND TOTAL = $9,950 USD for 10 nights of pure luxury in the Western Cape, a 9 night South African safari and 2 nights to chill out at the end in Sandton at the Michelangelo Hotel.

Anyway, I am still obviously clueless and have a lot of decisions to make. Creating the right itineary is an artform and right now I am just a frustrated artist.
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Sep 26th, 2004, 02:40 PM
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Roccco- My wife and I recently returned from our S.A./Botswana/Zimbabwe trip, following much of the itinerary about which you have raised a question. In planning our trip, I used the projected full cost of the OAT "Ultimate Africa" trip as my baseline, and made every attempt to bring in our trip for approx. the same cost, but visiting higher end places (SSGR), using much higher end accomodations, and hiring private tour guides for special places. I combined 3 LuxuryLink packages: (1) 10-night Orient-Express package for the Botswana safari camps and the Westcliff and Mount Nelson Hotels, (2) their 3-night Michaelangelo Hotel package, and (3) their 5-night Vic Falls Safari Lodge package. In addition, I purchased a 4-night SSGR package at Inyati, incl. R/T air from JNB to the Leopard Hills private airstrip. For us "first-timers", there was too much to see and do in Cape Town, so I purchased an extra night at the Mount Nelson. All totalled, we had 23 nights in Africa. As you know from your prior use of LuxuryLink, their portions of the trip are high end (hotel suites, private limo transportation, some incl. dinners and tours, and other amenities). Nevertheless, my post-trip calculations tell me that my total cost was $16,500 (we did use FF tickets for our international travel). Of that $16,500, approx. $2,000 was attributable to the Vic Falls portion of the trip. My breakdown on the $16,500 is: $8,400 for the LL packages; $3,400 for Inyati; $1,700 for internal airfare (JNB to MUB, VFA to JNB, JNB to CPT, and overland transportation from Kasane to Vic Falls); and $3,000 for restaurants, private tours, golf, other entertainment, and tips. And, I spent $500 too much on airfare, since I should have booked JNB to CPT as part of my international FF ticket (eg. R/T ATL to JNB, with a stopover in CPT).

I have posted or am posting trip reports, so I won't waste space here rehashing our Botswana, SSGR and CPT experiences, except to say that they were wonderful. As to Botswana, we stayed at both the camps mentioned by you (Kwai River Lodge and Savute Elephant Camp), and both were memorable. My recollection is that you often refer to leopards; we had leopard sightings on 6 of our 8 games drives at those Botswana camps. Plus, lots and lots of elephants at Savute. As the dry season sets in and the game dissipates, the lions gather in larger and larger prides. We saw the beginnings, with a pride of 27. The new targets for the lions are elephants. We were told that last year the lions took down approx. 50 elephants in Chobe.

As for a seaside hotel in Cape Town, you often mention the Twelve Apostles Hotel. We passed by it on our Cape Point tour. My recollection is that it is located adjacent to a main thoroughfare in Camps Bay, and otherwise was isolated. All I can say about the Mount Nelson Hotel is that our suite was terrific, and that they kept sending us things (champagne, wine, cheeses, etc.) beyond that mentioned in the LL package.
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Sep 26th, 2004, 09:16 PM
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jrruff,

Thanks for the feedback.

I am very familiar with the Mount Nelson Hotel, staying there for three nights in a Junior Suite in March, 2002. I loved the room and I did like being away from the Waterfront, after earlier on the same trip staying four nights at the Table Bay Hotel (unfortunately I did not have the benefit of a Fodors when planning this trip three years ago...if it did exist it was in its infancy and not nearly the resource that it is today, and that caused me to plan a very awkward trip starting in Joburg, moving onto Singita, going down to Cape Town, going to Victoria Falls (Matetsi Water Lodge) and ending up again in Cape Town).

The location of the Twelve Apostles Hotel is actually beyond Camps Bay and between Camps Bay and Llandudno, I believe. It is a beautiful hotel and the service is out of this world. However, if I could get my hands on the Orient Express Luxury Link package, I would not hesitate to again stay at the Mount Nelson Hotel.

I am surprised that the Luxury Link packages cost you $8,000 USD. I would think that you would be able to get the 10 night Orient Express package for no more than $4,250 USD, the 5 night Victoria Falls Safari Lodge package for no more than $1,500 USD and the 3 night Michelangelo Hotel package for no more than $900 USD.

Just in case you use similar packages in the future, in case you didn't find that you needed all three nights in Joburg, I was able to negotiate for a Premier Suite for two nights at the Michelangelo instead of the full stay in a junior sutie. Two nights, IMO, is perfect for Joburg. What did you think about spending five nights in Joburg?

Also, for future reference, it may have been possible to get a free air add-on to your frequent flier ticket to get you return air to Victoria Falls. This would have probably shaved off $800 USD. I was able this year to get such a free add-on return flight from Joburg - Lusaka (Zambia), and it saved me $800 USD over what economy air tickets would have been, but like my international flight, it was instead in Business Class.

I think you did it the right way by staying 23 nights. It is so far a destination to reach that I just think that anything less than 15+ nights is insufficient, especially if one wants to spend anytime whatsoever in Cape Town. I did only spend 11 nights in Southern Africa this year, but, fortunately, they were all on a Zambian safari.

I am hopeful I can do something like this next year, if I can get my hands on a Luxury Link Orient Express Package:

4 nights at Mount Nelson Hotel (Luxury Link package)
2 nights at Marine Hermanus
2 nights at Savute Elephant Camp (Luxury Link Package)
2 nights at Khwai River Lodge (Luxury Link package)
2 nights at Kwando Kwara (this is close enough to Khwai River Lodge to experience similar gameviewing, I believe)
3 nights at Kwando Lagoon
2 nights at Westcliff Hotel
4 nights at Simbambili

Projected Costs:

Luxury Link Orient Express 10 night package = $4,250 USD
2 nights Marine Hermanus = $850 USD
5 night Kwando package, including transfers = $5,500 USD (rack rates are discounted for stays of 5 nights or more)
Joburg - Maun air = $750 USD
4 nights at Simbambili, including transfers = $5,000 USD
Joburg - Cape Town air = free add-on air

Grand Total = $16,250 for 9 night Botswanan safari, 6 nights in the Western Cape at the Mount Nelson and Marine Hermanus, 2 nights in Joburg at the Westcliff and 4 nights in the Sabi Sand at Simbambili.

However, without the benefit of a Luxury Link package, I will not for one second hesitate to spend 15 nights in Zambia on an increidble safari, followed by only 2 nights of non-safari in Joburg at the Michelangelo, and concluding with 4 nights in the Sabi Sand at Simbambili. That itinerary and cost would be as follows, including transfers:

Lunga River Lodge, Kafue NP (3) $2,250 USD
Busanga Bush Camp, Kafue NP (3) $1,750 USD
Kasaka River Lodge, Lower Zambezi NP (4) $3,000 USD
Puku Ridge, South Luangwa NP (3) $2,750 USD
Chichele Presidential Lodge, South Luangwa NP (2) $2,000 USD
Michelangelo (2) $750 USD
Simbambili (4) $5,000 USD

GRAND TOTAL = $17,500 (only $1,250 more than the first package but with SIX MORE NIGHTS of safari).

Actually, I know and trust Zambia enough to know that this is the superior deal, even without the aid of Luxury Link. 19 nights of safari would be incredible and I can only imagine what kind of portfolio it would produce. In my first three years of Southern Africa, I have only spent 24 nights total on safari, so 19 nights in a single year would be awesome.

Although I think I already know the answer, how was your overall experience with Luxury Link??? I have never had a problem with them and I scan their auctions at least once a week so I am sure not to miss anything.

I have seen the Royal Malewane, Ngala Tented Camp and Hamiltons Tented Camp offered in the last year or so, each offering incredible prices. Hopefully one of these will reappear soon, especially the Royal Malewane.
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Sep 27th, 2004, 08:59 AM
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I am trying to put together a trip for next September that would include Capetown, and safaris in Botswana and Namibia. I have looked at a tour by International Expeditions that go to Chobe, Savuti, Kasane ant otherss. I have read your reports on this thread but I am not familiar with alot of your abbreviations. What is SSGR and Luxury Link? How many people were on the safari with you? And how did you exactly put all of the trip together?
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Sep 27th, 2004, 11:23 AM
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Roccco - My $8,400 figure represents actual, complete expenditures at each of those facilities, including the extra night at the Mount Nelson, all dining which was not included in the packages (if it was charged to the room rather than paid in cash), additional limo service beyond the airport transfers, etc. My actual expenditures for the separate LL packages were: $5,365 for the 10-night Orient-Express package (while the reserve amount for that package appears to be $4,250 - 4,350, that may only be realized if no one else is bidding); $880 for the 5-night VFSL package; and $740 for the 3-night Michaelangelo package. Again, while $6,985 may be the aggregate of the winning bids for those 3 packages, $8,400 was the actual amount spent. Needless to say, that amount could vary, depending upon your tastes.

As for 2 vs. 5 nights in Jo'burg - different strokes for different folks. For us, 5 nights were fine: 1 - day of arrival, visit to and dinner at Lesedi Cultural Village; 2 - Soweto tour and visit to Apartheid Museum, and dinner at the Westcliff; 3 - day of return from VFA lost in travel, and dinner at Le Canard; 4 - Sterkfontein and Cradle of Humankind tour (excellent), and dinner at Piccolo Mondo; and 5 - golf at the Royal Johannesburg Golf Club, and dinner at the Butcher Shop (excellent food - overcharged on the wine).

Yes, I did see the package offered in March 2004 for Hamilton's Tented Camp. I was not sufficiently aggresive in my bidding, and it went to someone else for $2,875. I waited almost 2 months for it to reappear, but it never did. As a consequence, I moved forward with Inyati (for close to the same aggregate price, considering R/T transportation).

To Lolo: SSGR = Sabi Sands Game Reserve; Luxury Link = www.LuxuryLink.com (be sure to click on "auctions").
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