Safari experience in East vs. Southern Africa

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Jun 27th, 2005, 07:07 AM
  #1
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Safari experience in East vs. Southern Africa

Like some of you, I've spent a great deal of time thinking about our next safari even though we've only been back from our first for 2 weeks

For those of you who've been to both southern and east Africa, what are the differences? For example, it seems like the vehicles are closed rather than open, and the lodges/camps seem quite a bit bigger. Also seems to be a lot more private tour guides that do mobile tented safari? For someone who's only been to Botswana, and only stayed at Wilderness Safari camps, what can I expect from Tanzania or Kenya?

Thanks,
Judy
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Jun 27th, 2005, 08:38 AM
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I can only speak second hand, but friends who have done both, say that after Southern Africa and in particular Botswana, the only way to do East Africa is in a private tented mobile camp.

There are no shortage of excellent trip reports from East Africa, but I've also heard a lot of stories about twenty vehicles at a sighting and other things that make me uncomfortable.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 08:45 AM
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I don't have as much experience of East Africa as I do of Southern:

I've spent about 12 weeks in Southern compared to only 3 in East and 2 of those 3 were a couple of decades ago.

So take these observations with a pinch of salt, though I do stand by them as honest accounts of my experiences.

There seem to be more larger lodges/ camps in Kenya than there are in Botswana. Whilst one can still find ones that have only a handful of tents, there are many more that have at least 10 and lots of places cater to much higher numbers still.

Whilst not as much as on my teenage visit, there were still more cars at pretty much most interesting sightings in Kenya than in Botswana. Occasionally in Botswana a second vehicle would join us, and more rarely still a third. In the Mara we routinely shared a sighting with 3 or more other vehicles.

Looking down from the plane, it seemed to me that the Mara was more heavily scarred by higher numbers of distinct vehicle tracks than Botswana. I was told that the guidelines require that guides make new tracks only when existing ones aren't really passable but that reality of earning tips means they venture off the existing tracks all the time.

At Governor's Camp the vehicles were relatively open but I certainly saw many pop-tops out and about on the Mara. I only saw open ones in the places we visited in Botswana.

I'm sure it's down to luck but I found that the guides in Botswana were much more inclined to perform a teaching role alongside the job of finding great wildlife viewing opportunities. They took more time to explain animal and bird behaviour, talk about the environment, about various plants and all sorts of stuff. We didn't get that to the same level in the Mara but it's only fair to point out that I was there on a special festival and the guides may have felt the need to pipe down more than usual because of the presence of expert photographers or artists also leading the group in those areas.

Accommodation standards strike me as very similar.

If I think of more, I'll comment.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 11:08 AM
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I've copied a comparison I made for a friend. I enjoy both East and Southern Africa.

As to where in Africa...

EAST
Kenya/Tanzania (this assumes you'd do them together)
Pros:
The variety and sheer numbers of animals seen for what you spend makes it the best value
Can see a World Wonder--Ngorongoro Crater
Experience the migration (with right timing)
Camel safaris possible
Cultural interactions with Masai (and Samburu) are easy to do
If you go a bit north in Kenya, it is possible to see different species of zebra, giraffe, antelope, and ostrich.
Can see chimps
Closer proximity to the gorillas for less travel time/expense to get there (if you were to go to Uganda/Rwanda)
For a first safari, it is more typical and common than Southern Africa

Cons:
Not as secluded as parts of Southern Africa with more people
Fewer opportunities to walk, although they do exist
Few water activities, boat safaris or canoeing
Fewer night drive opportunities, although they do exist
Open vehicles are less common with types of pop-ups used instead

SOUTHERN
Zambia/Zimbabwe
Pros:
Adventure--walking, canoeing, boat safaris
Remote, secluded
Pretty good prices
Can do elephant riding in Zimbabwe at Vic Falls
Night drives are status quo
Cultural interactions--I know of 2 village stays, one in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe, probably more.
Can see Victoria Falls, a World Wonder from both countries. I've only been on the Zimbabwe side, but the area around the falls is uncommercialized and wild with antelope, mongoose, and monkeys running around freely. Nice hiking paths too.


Cons:
On foot or by boat/canoe, you cannot get as close nor linger as long with wildlife. It is afraid of you but not fearful of vehicles.
Good game, but not in the abundance of the Masai Mara, Serengeti, Botswana, or South Africa.

Botswana:
Very secluded and beautiful luxury tented camps, not crowded at all
Great game
One of best places to see wild dogs
Can do several days of elephant safaris at Abu's (very expensive; Iíve never been there, but it gets glowing reports)
A few places allow walking.
The famous and magnificent Okavango Delta, which you can experience on boats or in mekoros--long narrow boats poled by expert polers.
Many places offer night drives
Can experience the Kalahari Desert with meerkats and San Bushmen

Cons:
If you wish to see the "Big 5" you would probably have to include Mombo, which has rhino, but costs a lot.
Expensive--even not at Mombo, unless you do a mobile camping safari, which is quite lovely.

South Africa
I have no personal experience with safaris here. I think you can see tremendous game in a short amount of time without too much trouble in the private reserves. The safari experience is also easily combined with Cape Town and vineyards, and even whale/shark watching to make for a well rounded holiday.

You are right on the open vehicles being more prevalent in Southern Africa. There was a good vehicle discussion a few months ago that I'll try to find a link for.

Private safaris are more affordable outside Botswana. Also driving from park to park lends itself to private vehicle and driver more than private pilot flying from park to park in Botswana. But I've run into private flying parties in East and Southern Africa.

From my experience you'll have more people in Kenya and Tanzania. To minimize that aspect, places such as Lewa Downs offer more seclusion and the northern part of the Mara has fewer people than the southern part. Only in a couple of instances have I had my enjoyment of a safari compromised by too many other vehicles in Kenya/Tanzania.

The diversity of environments is greater in Kenya/Tanzania, such as the forested Aberdare region, the lakes, Ngorongoro Crater and desert-like Nakuru.

The herds are greater in Kenya/Tanzania but, except for the Mara, Botswana had better cat sightings.

Having enjoyed the seclusion of Botswana, I think crowd avoidance would be one of the strategies you'd wish to emphasize with your agent on a Kenya/Tanzania trip. Might you also consider the primates of Uganda/Rwanda since you'd be in the neighborhood?

Finally, when do you think safari #2 will take place?
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Jun 27th, 2005, 01:22 PM
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I haven't been there, but I understand that safaris in southern Tanzania are quite different than northern Tanzania. Much smaller camps, more opportunities for boat/walking safaris, and open vehicles. You would most likely fly from park to park. Try a search on southern Tanzania or Selous or Ruaha on this board.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 03:29 PM
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We just returned from Tanzania and Kenya and all our vehicles were open. It all depends on what/how you plan for your safari. On this trip we traveled in the low season, we didn't have many vehicles at our game sightings - except for one - and that was all of 4-vehicles. Probably the total of all other vehicles in that part of the Mara. And with the exception of one camp in Tanzania, the largest place we stayed was 7-cabins/tents/rooms.

While I've been to both East and Southern Africa. In Botswana I've only visited Chobe and have no desire to visit the Delta - different strokes for different folks - so can't make that comparison from personal experience.

So any other comparisons I'm sure will vary from as many people who have visited both areas. Not everyone is seeking the same experience or has experienced the same as what you might expect. What is it that you want is what has to be answered.

If looking for something similar to your recent trip to Bostwana you might want to consider, as Patty mentions, the Southern Circuit in Tanzania or look at the Laikipia and Mathews Range in Kenya. In both cases, these are off the usual tourist map and probably more to your liking... and prices often follow.

There are a number of threads about these areas, so a search on this board will give you some good reading. And, if I ever finish working on the photos from our recent trip, will post a trip report of our visit and places we stayed.
 
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Jun 27th, 2005, 09:31 PM
  #7
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Thanks for all your detailed replies!

As for when safari #2 will be, it may be as soon as next year, and for sure in 2 years.

So far, I'm thinking either:

1) Tanzania with a portion in a private mobile tented safari. A friend did this for his honeymoon and it sounded wonderful and very different than our experience. If we choose Tanzania, I would definitely want to see the migration.

2) Botswana and Namibia. I'd go back to Mombo plus other camps we haven't been like Duba Plain and Chitabe. I'd like to do the walking trail and/or sleep in a hide. Would add Namibia and visit the desert dunes.

Question for those of you who've done the mobile tented safari. I heard that there's quite a crew of people tending to the camp, cooking, etc. Does it feel awkward to have such a large group if there's just two of us? Did you miss the sociable aspects of the camps?
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