Safari advice.....no time to REALLY plan!

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Oct 17th, 2004, 07:01 PM
  #1
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Safari advice.....no time to REALLY plan!

This is SOOOO unlike me. I'm usually someone who spends months savoring each moment of travel planning, feeling like I'm "there" months before I leave! This time, I'm truly in a bind.

We have (for reasons not worth going into) two weeks, or a little more, and are dying to go on a safari (not easy for us usually to both get 2 weeks at the same time). Trip would likely need to be the last couple weeks of November.

We live in NY. Special considerations (SOOO strange to be doing it this way, when usually I pose incredibly specific questions):

Would like to spend no more then about $6-7000 plus airfare. We're late 40's, reasonable shape, but no long distance trekkers. My partner is dying to include gorilla sightings, but we know this might be unrealistic.

We know very little about Africa travel, having mostly spent the last decades exploring all of asia. We don't even know where to start, given the short timeline.

1-would like a not-too-large group experience, not a busload of folks
2-willing to live primitively at least SOME of the time, though won't shun luxury
3-Partner hates flying on small planes. Props are not an option at all.
4-Would love to see big five, stay in some exciting lodges (tents to treetops) but likely to need some sort of custimizable prepackaged tour given our timeline.

Please, please have mercy! Will share favorite secret restaurants in Saigon, non-rip off antique dealers in Bangkok, even fabled blind masseurs in Burma for help!

Thanks
Steve
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Oct 17th, 2004, 09:48 PM
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Hi Steve, Don't worry too much about your lack of time because I'm sure you can get a fantastic itinerary organized before the end of November. Some lodges also give last minute deals so you might be able to benefit from some of those as well.

I'm a tour operator in Namibia and although I'd be happy to help you, it would be difficult to do a safari here without using small planes (here they're mostly Cessna 210s). I have a friend in Cape Town though who does a great job of organizing trips and she'll be able to help you with South Africa, and if you decide to do an add on to Uganda (for the gorillas), I'm sure she can do that also. The company is O'Africa and their website is: http://www.oafrica.co.za/

Good luck and enjoy your trip! Kristin

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Oct 17th, 2004, 10:01 PM
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Sounds like a great problem to have!
We planned a quick trip to Africa this past summer. Had a little bit more time, but quick for planning a safari. We checked many tour companies, but went with Africa Adventures. They had great connections with the wilderness safaris. They got us into camps that other companies could not get space for. We took the Wings over Botswana package. We liked being able to select our camps and determine the exact itenerary.

Their web site is:
http://africaadventure.com/

We spent our time in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Had a great time, saw lots of wildlife. The price for these countries may be more than your budget. Your budget is where we started, but to get the quality, safety and location, we had to increase the budget.
Other Fodorites may have other advice with lower cost options.

I understand Tanzania can be less costly. Can not speak to Uganda for gorilla watching. I have seen the risks with the Congo border Gorilla warfare. I am sure you have already looked into that before thinking about going.

One of the positives about Botswana besides the animals is the stable government. It is the richest country in Africa because of the diamonds. We looked into the country safety before making our final country selection. With that being said, we also travel to Isreal and Egypt and Zimbabwe. Just do look into the travel advisories and know your risks before you pay your money. Then enjoy.
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Oct 18th, 2004, 04:56 AM
  #4
sandi
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The easiest was to do Uganda for the Gorillas is via East Africa. You can fly into Nairobi Kenya and from there to Entebbe. There are some pretty good 3, 4 & 5 day itineraries, starting as low as $1,500. Then when you fly back to Nairobi and can do safari in Kenya only or in combination with some Tanzania.

Though two weeks is pretty tight, it is doable. We've traveled in November (I'm also a New Yorker) and find it an ideal time. The major crowds are gone, often with only few guests at lodges or camps, and prices are better. Though November is the "short rain" season, maybe 1/2-hour in late afternoon or overnight - the rain settles the dust, and rarely is it humid afterwards - this has never inhibited our safari experience.

You can contact Joyce or Pummy at:

[email protected]
[email protected]

who can definitely handle Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania for you, with excellent prices and a good selection of accommodations in lodges/tent camps.

You can also contact:

www.roysafaris.com

who specialize in Tanzania, but can coordinate your Kenya portion, though I'm not sure about the Uganda portion - do check. Believe the former company might have more competitive prices.

Either of these companies will design an itinerary just for the two of you, with all transfers handled, sightseeing, entrance fees, permits (for the Gorilla/Uganda portion), hotels. You'll have your own guide/driver throughout and unless due to distance a short flight might be recommended - these are safe; you can do the entire itinerary by road.

Having traveled ourselves during the same period of time, be sure to get departure flights prior the big Thanksgiving rush, and the same for after when most peeople return from the Thanksgiving week-end. Surprisingly, nowadays, many more Americans are actually traveled long distances over this holiday and flights can be difficult to obtain, but again, it's doable.

Don't hesitate coming back here if you need questions answered.
 
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Oct 18th, 2004, 07:45 AM
  #5
 
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Try Ultimate Africa. We used them on a recent trip to So. Africa, Zambia, Botswana - I'm sure Ian can put something together for you very quickly.

http://www.ultimateafrica.com
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Oct 18th, 2004, 08:12 AM
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It sounds like a combination of the northern circuit in Tanzania (Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyare and Serengeti) combined with gorilla trek in Bwindi, Uganda, will allow you to see Big 5 (well, they are present in those parks, but not certain to see leopard or rhino -- the other three are easy), good lodging (including treetops) and gorillas.

I would contact Roy's Safaris (a recommended operator in Tanzania) and see what they can put together. You should be able to book private safari -- just the two of you and a guide. I don't think you'll need to join a larger group.

Michael
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Oct 18th, 2004, 08:29 AM
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The easiest place to do a gorilla safari is not Uganda as Sandi suggests but Rwanda. All you have to do is fly from Nairobi to Kigali (there may be direct flights from Johannesburg) and from Kigali the Volcans National Park is only 2 hours drive. You can do your trek the following day, another one the day after and then return to Kigali for your flight back to Nairobi. It is so simple and you will avoid the long drives that are common in Uganda.

You should check out rwandatourism.com. Primate Safaris based in Rwanda are an excellent outfit so contact them or you can book the trip with flights from Nairobi through Vintage Africa (the company I use) who also use Primate Safaris in Rwanda.

There are 4 gorilla families to choose from in Rwanda, all at varying altitudes. I saw my family within 45 mins but obviously this is not guaranteed. I suspect November will be extremely wet and demanding for a gorilla trek and you should find out which months would be the best.
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Oct 18th, 2004, 08:31 AM
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If you decide that you don't have to see gorillas, the easiest place to see the Big 5 is the Sabi Sands/Kruger area in South Africa. I visited in 2000, and saw each member of the Big 5 during my five day stay. Lion, elephant and buffalo were common, and even leopard and rhino were see on each day, sometimes more than once.

A split between Sabi Sands (luxury) and Kruger (primitive) would allow you to mix high end and more basic accomodations. I booked in 2000 with Mark at Taga and I see that he's been recommended on another post. His website, which has lots of info and is worth checking out even if you don't book with him, is http://www.tagasafaris.co.za

If you want to see gorillas, though, you'll need to be in East Africa.
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Oct 18th, 2004, 09:54 AM
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King is correct about how easy it is to see gorillas in Rwanda. I had overlanded to Rwanda from Uganda so I wasn't thinking about flying into Kigali, but Parc Nacional Volcans is only a two-hour drive from Kigali, so you can drive the night before and trek the next day, then return to Kigali that night. The overland distance is much longer in Uganda.

I agree, Rwanda is the easier of the two destinations.

I posted a trip report on my trip to Uganda/Rwanda and if you click on my screen name, you will find my posts and if you scroll down you'll eventually come across Uganda/Rwanda trip report.

Have fun,

Michael
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Oct 18th, 2004, 04:43 PM
  #10
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How does ANYONE travel without these boards???

I was off to a meeting in DC today, leaving my partner with the printouts...which took him all day!!!

I'm about to cuddle up with Michaels trip report and decide if (timewise, $$wise) we can do the gorilla this time or have to wait.

ANY COMMENTS ON HOW OUR GOING IN NOVEMBER will effect things? Frankly, there's SO much to digest....countries, tour companies, parks, accomodations....that I can see why some just throw themselves on packaged tour operators. I'm hoping that by midweek, I'll have sloshed through some of this, and have more specific questions. One, for example....would the itinerary so painfully worked out in . . Dream Trip Kenya & Tanzania?? work in November (assuming we (you should pardon the expression) bag the gorillas?

Thanks

Steve
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Oct 18th, 2004, 05:37 PM
  #11
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Reality intervenes. After much back and forth, realize we just can't spend another $3000 for 3-4 days with the gorillas (figuring just the airfare and permits are $1600). Now, to sort through all the remaining thousands of decisions!

s
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Oct 19th, 2004, 06:40 AM
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By eliminating the gorilla trek, you have made your decision easier. This chart http://www.africa-adventure.com/dsp_besttime.html is pretty good when it comes to optimal times to visit parks, but don't get too hung up on this chart. The Masai Mara, for example, is great year round, just not always at its peak as it is during migration.

Your initial decision should be East Africa (Kenya and/or Tanzania) versus Southern Africa (South Africa or Botswana). The answer to that will at least allow you to focus your research.

You may want to send an email to an operator in each region and tell them your budget (go a little lower than your top) and time, and what you want to see and what type of luxury and see what they come back with. Again, I woudl contact Roy's for Kenya/Tanzania and Taga for South Africa/Botswana, but there are plenty of good operators. They can provide some specific itineraries.

Good luck
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Oct 19th, 2004, 06:59 AM
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From a weather/timing perspective, we spent almost two weeks in Kenya/Tanzania last year at the end of November (spent Thanksgiving at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge with another American couple!) and found the weather to be lovely. The only drawback is that the low water levels meant that it was virtually impossible to see flamingos (they were in the shallows of the lakes which was a good distance from our vehicle). On the plus side as mentioned before - the short rains can mean blissfully little dust, some great photos midday, and cooler temperatures. And in November we found the lodges and parks to be quite vacant. One tip that you've probably gleaned from other posts - I'd strongly recommend that you spend no less than two nights in each location. Otherwise you're spending too much time going from place to place.

Of course there's no telling where the majority of animals will be at that time. We hedged our bets with The Mara and Serengeti both, and saw loads of animals in the former (lack of rains had kept them from migrating yet) and not as many in the Serengeti.

One more note - I don't believe anyone has mentioned 2Afrika.com. It's been highly regarded on this site in the past as a good budget operator. I believe they have a two week special right now including airfare for around $2,500, though they may have specific departure dates.
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Oct 19th, 2004, 11:18 AM
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Hello Steve,

What I like about the 14-day 2Afrika.com itinerary that I looked at (by following the link that Hlphillips2 provided) is that it finishes off with 3 nights in Zanzibar.

I haven't done an East African safari. All of my wildlife viewing has taken place in Southern Africa.

Nonetheless, when I go on vacation, I like to fit in some wildlife viewing and some time at the ocean.

So, regardless of whether I was headed for East Africa or Southern Africa, I would want to include at least a short visit to the coastline. (The fact that I live inland may be a factor in my desire for a periodic beach "fix." Since you live in NY, that need may be less urgent for you.)

A quick Google search suggests that there are jets that fly between Nairobi and Zanzibar, if that helps.

If you choose South Africa as your safari destination (say, Sabi Sands / Kruger area), then I suggest a little jaunt down to Cape Town.

Not that I'm trying to mess with your mind by throwing more ideas into the mix ......
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Oct 20th, 2004, 11:07 AM
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Steve,

I can recommend 2Afrika as a reliable budget operator (actually they are based in NJ, I believe).

I went on their 7-day Tanzanian Northern Circuit safari (did not take the option to Zanzibar because of lack of time not lack of interest). I had been on safari three times before (twice in Kenya) and once in Southern Africa. For the price, it was definitely worth it. Check into their airfare included safaris (very reasonable).

I flew into Kilimanjaro Airport, transferred to Arusha where we spent the night and then began driving. We went to Lake Manyara stayed at Kirurumu Luxury Tented Lodge which overlooks Lake Manyara, drove on to the southern Serengeti where we stayed two nights at the Serengeti Sopa lodge (beautiful
spacious rooms, decent food) and then drove to Ngorongoro Crater spending two nights at the Sopa Lodge there (again spacious rooms, decent food) before returning to Arusha. We drove everywhere (no prop planes here).

2Afrika puts a maximum of 6 people in the safari vehicle (each van seats 7-8). Several groups were combined together (total of 7) but the groups were placed into 2 vans. I shared the van with a nice older couple from Florida. I especially enjoyed this trip as all the others on the safari were newbies; it was a real pleasure to see their faces light up the first time they saw an elephant or a lion. It reminded me of how I felt on my first safari. Thankfully, for their sakes we did see the Big Five although I missed seeing my favorite animal (cheetah).

Good luck on whatever you decide. You will love it! (and I can tell you from experience this won't be your first safari. I'm already planning my next one!)

Deb
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Oct 20th, 2004, 03:15 PM
  #16
 
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I went in Nov also. Great time of the year to visit. Try emailing Miriam at [email protected] for great airfare from NY. I stayed at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge. We were very happy there. Great dining, lodges and drives. Check out their website. For an amazing stay in a treetop lodge, go to www.tsala.com. Beautiful place and great service. The travel agent based in SA who I used is Melanie. You can email her at [email protected]
Hope this helps! You'll have an amazing time no matter where you stay!
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