Rocco Advice on Safaris

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Aug 12th, 2004, 06:42 AM
  #1
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Rocco Advice on Safaris

Rocco,

I'm currently planning my honeymoon through Taga Safaris and was hoping to get your thoughts on some safari camps in Botswana. You seem very knowledgeable about the options and about Taga specifically. I found a message you posted on 7/13 outlining the price increases for the '05 season. Mark has quoted us $4,780USD per person sharing for 2 nights at each of Jao, Mombo and King's Pool camps. This struck me as very expensive vs. the '04 rates so I asked Mark for a breakdown. He said that Jao and Kingspool were $595 per person/per night sharing and Mombo was $1,200. This doesn't reconcile with your prices of $773 for Kings and Jao and $964 for Mombo. Do you know if the prices Mark quoted are reasonable and whether or not some other "honeymoon caliber" options would be more economical. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
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Aug 12th, 2004, 08:14 AM
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Dear DAbrosh
Rocco will surely be able to contribute some really superb advice about getting best prices etc but I don't believe he's yet visited Botswana or booked a trip there. I think the prices he has mentioned are for lower season travel plus the prices are changing rapidly because of the dollar's drop against Southern African currencies. Those two factors probably account in the change in prices. If you're worried that Taga are adding an unfair margin you can always ask another operator/ agency to quote for the same itinerary. Generally though, the operators are constricted by the quote given to them by Wilderness Safaris and when a customer sends the quote to more than one agent, WS can see that and will likely give the same price out. That said maybe they give a slightly better rate to preferred agents, but I haven't heard that this is the case. Then it's just a matter of flight costs plus what mark up that agent puts on to it.
Clearly, from the camps you have mentioned, you are looking only at the "6 paw" WS properties. Depending on what type of trip you want you can have some absolutely magical experiences at their regular camps. Ask if you're interested in more on that side.

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Aug 12th, 2004, 09:23 AM
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Dabrosh, while the posters offer invaluable advice and info. about camps and prices, you'd also be wise to contact several travel agents who have arrangements with firms like Wilderness Safaris (which offers many camps, including Mombo). There may be a price variant. One I've used is Fish Eagles Safaris in Houston, TX - [email protected]. Sugegst you send your itinerary and ask for a quotation. This firm normally leaves it to the traveller to manage travel to and from J'Burg and CT, but handles every other facet.
 
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Aug 12th, 2004, 10:20 AM
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I think those rates are pretty accurate and represent the highest tier of Wilderness Safaris' lodges. While we didn't stay at any of the three lodges you listed, we did, in August 2001, visit Chitabe and Savuti, and I rate the WS 5-paw lodges very highly. The rates are much more reasonable than those quoted for the 6-paw camps and I'm sure you would have a great experience, albeit in a one-room permanent tent, instead of a tent with a second sitting area.

I also booked through Mark at Taga and I was very happy with his quote.

I would suggest reviewing the WS website and checking out some of the other camps -- they are all great for wildlife viewing since the animals don't know if you're staying in a 5- or 6-paw camp.
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Aug 12th, 2004, 11:28 AM
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And many of us have stayed at a range of the WS camps and can tell you lots about them.

It depends quite how important the luxuriousness and size of the accommodation is compared to the safari and price.

I have stayed in the following camps:
Little Mombo (2001, 2004), Chitabe Trails (2001), Little Vumbura (2001), Savuti (2004), Jacana (2004), Tubu Tree (2004), Gudigwa (2004), Jack's Camp (2004). Also stayed in one WS camp in South Africa and one in Namibia.
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Aug 12th, 2004, 04:24 PM
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Thanks to everybody for the helpful responses. Luxurious accomodates are fairly important for us on our honeymoon, but we're willing to sacrifice a little bit of luxury to save a lot of money. Are there any high end safari camps that offer a particularly compelling value? I'm basically trying to determine whether or not it's worth paying up for Mombo or whether I can save $2,500 and be just as happy somewhere else. Thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
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Aug 12th, 2004, 06:16 PM
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DAbrosh,

Unfortunately, Botswana is very, very expensive, and in high season I am surprised that the rates are not even higher.

Just as I believe Tanzania Serengeti Adventures is the low price/high service leader in Eastern Africa, I hold the same to be true with Taga Safaris for Southern Africa. Taga Safaris consistently has offered me not only the lowest prices but the best service in pricing out itineraries I am interested in pursuing.

To date, I have never even booked a single trip with Taga Safaris, although I do intend to use them for my next trip to Southern Africa. Nevertheless, unlike some other operators, I have never been told to sod off by Taga Safaris or been told that I must pay a trip planning fee. I cannot think of an operator that I would feel more comfortable using.

DAbrosh, assuming that you are an American, I must tell you that there has never been a worse time, pricewise, to travel. The American dollar is weaker than I have ever seen it.

At the risk of being scolded by other Fodorites, I will suggest that you consider visiting Zambia if Botswana is too expensive. Even the very best game lodges in high season can be had for $300 - $400 per person per night sharing.

Otherwise, you may want to wait until low season in Botswana, but then it will be bitterly cold (May - July) or unbearably hot (November - March).

As the others have said, you picked just about the most expensive camps available in Botswana. My prices that I listed were for low season and Botswana has raised their prices for 2005, at least as I have seen for Kwando.

If you are at all interested in Zambia (it is a very beautiful place), you should consider the following game lodges:

Chichele Presidential Lodge in South Luangwa
Puku Ridge in South Luangwa
Tena Tena in South Luangwa
Sausage Tree Camp in Lower Zambezi NP
Kasaka River Lodge in Lower Zambezi NP

These are the cream of crop and will rival any top South Africa or Botswanan game lodge for half the price. Why not stay a little longer than six nights and take advantage of the excellent pricing. Four nights at Sausage Tree Camp ($400 pppns) and four nights at Chichele Presidential Lodge ($450 pppns) would be a dream safari that would not disappoint, especially if taken at high season, between August and October.

Taga Safaris covers all of Southern Africa, including Zambia, and would be a good choice. Good luck.
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Aug 12th, 2004, 07:15 PM
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Dabrosh, You would be well advised to address these questions to someone-- like Kavey, or several others who replied-- who have actually been to Botswana and to the camps you are interested in.

Of course, if you begin to compare these camps to alternatives (including those in other countries, you'll need to make sure you are comparing apples to apples...and this is sometimes difficult.

And it is VERY important to keep time of year in mind when comparing prices. Roccco was providing offseason/shoulder season rates, not the high season rates you may be encountering. (On top of the 2004 vs. 2005 problem).

And the he more specific you can be about your priorities, the kind of experience you are looking for, and your budget plans and limits, the more people here can help you.

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Aug 12th, 2004, 07:36 PM
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BTW, just now Roccco posted a question about camps, where he asks someone who has been to ALL the camps he has been considering to answer a question about choices and value. THIS is the best way to ask this question and get relevant and appropriate advice...Roccco doesn't want opinions from someone who hasn't been to both/all...smart move. (So be careful of taking opinions of people who haven't actually been to the country you have in mind...Read posts carefully to see who has actually been there...and who just has an opinion!)
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Aug 13th, 2004, 06:50 AM
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Hi, again, I would recommend that you visit WS website and check out their 5-paw accomodations -- you will not sacrifice quality and will have substantial savings.

Savuti is a small, intimate camp, and has a honeymoon room, which when we visited, was isolated from the rest of the camp (our visit was in August 2001 when Savuti had only 5 rooms and I understand they have since added 2 so I'm not sure if the honeymoon room exists).

Or, better still, ask Mark at Taga -- he has been to most, if not all, the delta camps and if you tell him what you want, he will give you better answers than any of us can because he has been to many, many more camps than any of us.

I have met Mark twice on both of my safaris to southern Africa and I trust his advice when it comes to Botswana and South Africa.

Or buy Mark Nolting's book which goes into detail about most of the safari lodges in Africa.
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Aug 13th, 2004, 07:04 AM
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Michael
The honeymoon tent exists in as much as tent 1 is still situated away from the other tents off to the other side of the central dining, bar and pool area from the other tents.
However since they added the two new tents plus built raised walkways between all tents and public areas the bath tub that tent 1 featured has been destroyed. Tent 1 has an outdoor bathroom accessed via a back door from the tent and the toilet, shower and sink are open to the view. Most of the other tents have an enclosed bathroom but still have an outdoor shower, which is better for those of us who have night time calls of nature (and are too scared to use the open bathroom at night) but love to shower outdoors. It's a shame the bath tub was destroyed and that we weren't told in advance as WS specifically promised us the room with the tub. Never mind.

If you're looking for a larger tent than the standards but don't want to pay for 6 paw accommodation consider Tubu Tree - the tents there are much more spacious than the rest of the standard ones, though nothing like Mombo, Jao etc but the camp has a standard price tag.
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Aug 13th, 2004, 07:56 AM
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Thanks to everyone for the helpful advice. I'll take a look at some Zambia options, but I'm generally inclined to stick to my original itinerary. Thanks again!
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Aug 13th, 2004, 08:01 AM
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I agree with kavey, she knows her stuff! I would also highly recommend Kwetsani as opposed to Jao-- it is also a 5paw, but very beautiful. More beautiful than Mombo in my opinion, but of course, the rooms/chalets aren't as big. Has a wonderful, isolated honeymoon suite. Also managed by the same excellent owners as Jao and Tubu Tree. So its easy to recommend saving a bit with either Tubu or Kwetsani (sometimes nicknamed Catsani, because of all the cats on this island!)

Mombo is more difficult, because WS doesn't have another camp on Chiefs Island. The Mombo game experience IS, most would agree, in a class by itself. That is why most film-makers and TV crews go to Mombo. However you might ask for opinions about Chiefs Camp, the closest camp to Mombo on Chiefs Island, but run by another operator. Haven't been there, but looks like a possible alternative. Would be nice to hear from someone who has done both and can compare...

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Aug 13th, 2004, 02:53 PM
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Everyone may have their own opinion on what luxury is but to me the experience at the 5 paw camps is luxurious. Mombo was ultra-luxurious and the room there is something special but I felt the intimacy at Duba Plains was a much more romantic and better experience for us. We stayed at two 5 paw camps and then splurged on Mombo. It all depends on what you are looking for but in our experience there was a certain stuffiness at Mombo and the general staff were kept distant where at other camps we had a much better family feel. I think its nice to find a balance by diversifying your accomodations as there is something wonderful about each type of camp.
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