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Songdoc Jan 10th, 2020 05:11 PM

Seeking Safari Advice
Iím thinking about a safari and am looking for guidance re: the best time of year to go and which countries would be best. Iím trying to sort through the times when the weather might be best (not too hot or rainy) as well as the animal spotting (i.e., the great migration).

Road Scholar has a trip to Kenya and Tanzania that looks terrific, and the price looks good, too. It starts in Nairobi and includes the Amboseli National Park, Arusha, Ngorongoro, the Serengeti, Speke Bay, and Masai Mara National Reserve.

But I wonder if there are pros and cons of Kenya & Tanzania versus Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, etc ...

The only Road Scholar open dates (that could work for me) in 2020 are May 3 Ė 18; July 12 Ė 26; and dates in October and November. (The May dates cost $500 - $1100 pp less than the later dates. I donít know if itís because this is a less desirable time to go.)

I havenít looked into other companies yet. I like the idea of going with Road Scholar because of being with people in my age group, but thatís not mandatory. But to go during optimal times I am willing to wait another year.

Any help will be much appreciated.

Heimdall Jan 10th, 2020 11:16 PM

The General Notes paragraph in your Road Scholar link explains very well what you will see on that safari at different times of year. I was in the Serengeti one February when the herds were calving in the short grass plains near Ngorongoro, and it was an impressive sight.

My daughter and son-in-law drove from Cairo to Cape Town in their Land Rover, stopping at most of the major game parks on the way. They saw more leopards in South Luangwa NP, Zambia, than anywhere else on the trip:

One day in Chobe NP, Botswana I saw, estimated by the guide, about a thousand elephants from the river and roads, lots of Cape buffalo, but only one lion. Sabi Sands in South Africa is known for luxury safaris, and is one of the best places to see lions:

I returned a week ago from my fourth trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where I go to stay with relatives. Unfortunately there are no real game reserves nearby, but a trip to South Africa combining Kruger National Park or one of the nearby private reserves, e.g. Sabi Sands, would make a wonderful trip. From Cape Town you can see the “marine big five”:

As you can see, there are lots of choices, and you need to decide what kind of safari you want. The one in your link is probably the closest to a classic safari, but may involve some long days over rough roads.

MyriamC Jan 11th, 2020 01:10 AM

The May dates cost less because March to May is the peak of the wet season.
July is an excellent time in Tanzania/Kenya.
Furthermore this looks like the perfect trip.

plambers Jan 11th, 2020 05:36 AM

you may consider calling a safari planner and you can determine your own itinerary and camps. perhaps there won't be much of a price difference and you will get exactly what you want.we have gone on 2 kenyan safaris, both booked through chalo africa, and have been more than thrilled with the standard of guiding, small intimate tented camps, the communal dining and extra activities like walking safari and night safari.

plambers Jan 11th, 2020 05:39 AM

i am also not familiar with any of the camps mentioned, except eka, where we also stayed. i'd suggest camps in the private conservancies rather than the main reserve.

Gardyloo Jan 11th, 2020 06:01 AM

We've been on several safaris in Botswana and South Africa in the July-September time frame and have had excellent weather and viewing conditions throughout. It's late winter and the dry season at that time, with morning and evening temperatures requiring a light jacket and midday temperatures comfortable in shirt sleeves. Because it's the dry season, the animals come to the water, making viewing more convenient, and because it's winter, the absence of foliage makes sightings easier too. A side benefit is the absence of mosquitoes, making malaria prophylaxis unnecessary, if you so choose.

We've been to Chobe National Park in Botswana, several lodges in private reserves around Kruger National Park (including the Sabi Sand and Balule reserves as well as KNP itself) as well as Addo Elephant National Park and the Madikwe reserve on the Botswana border, near Gaborone. All were superb destinations. We didn't use any booking services and self-drove to all except Chobe.

Every one of our experiences has been superb.

You might want to visit Safaritalk - Forums - Safaritalk - which is a terrific resource for first timers.

amyb Jan 11th, 2020 07:01 AM

Having been to both Kenya and Tanzania, I find that Road Scholar itinerary way too much traveling around and not staying put. My rule (and many others also feel the same) is that at least 3 nights in any one location will get you the feel of a place and allow you the right number of game drives to have a chance to see plenty of wildlife in the area. You're going to spend so much time packing up, moving on and transiting. Unless you really want the group aspect of a tour, I think you can do a lot better than this itinerary with a good safari planner. I've also not heard of any of the lodgings other than the Eka (which is perfectly fine for the one night stopover in Nairobi before heading out to the bush). And I would avoid that March-May timeframe as it is the long rains season. One of the camps I've stayed at got half washed out in the Mara 3 years ago from the long rains. Things flood and even "just very wet" it makes it very hard to game drive. That this itinerary only spends a day and a half in the Maasai Mara is just criminal.

Happy to suggest safari planners but Safaritalk is a good suggestion. I'd much rather customize a trip to my exact liking than subscribe to a group herd mentality on this particular trip of a lifetime. A custom itinerary will let you go when you want, spend time at sightings as you wish or not and set your own pace.

Songdoc Jan 11th, 2020 10:02 AM

Thank you all SO much for your thoughts and suggestions.
I will check out Safaritalk right now!

Percy Jan 11th, 2020 04:59 PM

Songdoc I can only tell you when I went.

I went to Kenya and Tanzania for 3 weeks during August 22 to September 10th

I timed it so I could see the Great Migration, being there and seeing it is not the same things.

I was very lucky and saw the Great Migration and all those Wildebeest and Zebras crossing the Masai River dodging the crocodiles.

I had a private guide and usually when I guide tours you throughout Kenya, he must then have another guide collect you at the Tanzania border.

The guide I had , had certificates for both Kenya and Tanzania, so I did not have to part with him at the border.

Only you can decide what kind of Safari you want to do and what you want to see.

sf7307 Jan 12th, 2020 05:51 AM

We're also planning to go on a safari either later this year or sometime next year. I received the OAT brochures yesterday and perused them. I have to say there seems to be too much moving around. I'm not sure how many days we'll do, but I do know that we'll follow amy's advice and do at least 3 nights in each place - maybe 3/3/3 in South Africa and Botswana, maybe Tanzania and Kenya, and maybe add on a gorilla trek in Uganda.

Songdoc Jan 12th, 2020 11:25 AM

sf7307: your trip sounds like it will be amazing! I don't think I've got the time or budget to do the gorilla trek -- but I'd love to. I'm going to keep researching, but if I do the Road Scholar trip I will probably have to wait until next year for availability. One possibility is to go to South Africa first and give myself some time to get over the jet lag before doing long days on safari. Coming from Hawaii it will be brutal.

Lots to think about ...

amyb Jan 12th, 2020 01:24 PM

Folks here make some good points. Until you really narrow down what you’re going to Africa for, we can’t really make pinpointed suggestions. What you want to see and experience really drives where you’ll go. Some places are better than others for certain species, events (wildebeest migration, bat migration) and cultural things like coffee plantations, village visits, crafting, etc. The Road Scholar seems heavy (or heavier than I’d like) on things besides seeing wildlife. It also has a lot of driving from place to place. This is different than flying between camps and making sure you maximize game drive time (if that’s what you want) but that is also more expensive.

I’ve posted this before, but will paste it here again. This will be useful to think through before you reach out to a safari planner:
Before anyone can help you, it would help to know:

1) Your budget (excluding international flights) -- know that this is all inclusive usually, but for the tips. I take very little spending money with me as it's just tipping local staff. Sticker shock usually hits until you realize this is ALL meals, ALL entertainment, ALL room and board for the entire trip.
2) Days on the ground available and time of year (excluding travel time to/from Africa) -- migrations, rainy seasons, high seasons, all factor into overall costs and when it's best to go to certain areas.
3) Your interests -- Big cats? Elephants? Reptiles? Gorillas? Birds? Beach time? Village visits? Some areas/countries are better than others for certain wildlife.
4) Lodging types -- do you need soaker tubs and swimming pools? Do you want to stay in tents in the bush (with beds and full bathrooms)? Do you want to camp in sleeping bags? Do night drives, walking safari? Do you need electricity/wifi/solid walls?

To clarify my point above, when I said I spend a minimum of 3 nights in any one location, I meant at one camp in one country. I’d never attempt more than one country in anything less than 10 days. It just eats up too much transit time from the little time you actually have there. (I did Rwanda and the Mara in Kenya in 12 days, and one entire day was spent getting from Kigali to my camp in the Mara, literally 10 hours with connections and transport to/from airports).

SafariTalk’s Trip Report forum is excellent (extremely detailed and with some very experienced safari goers) to read for ideas. You don’t need a login to read it but you do need one to post. You can also run itineraries by the forum if you have a login in their Trip Planning forum.

It’s a lot of planning and thought, but well worth it once you get there!

Songdoc Jan 12th, 2020 03:03 PM

Thanks so much, amyb!

ellenbw Jan 12th, 2020 03:10 PM

We did a safari to Kenya 4 years ago. At first we looked at tours but with the help of this forum, ultimately decided to go with a customized trip that was put together for us by Sandi of Serendipity Travel. Sandi has passed away unfortunately but she was a frequent contributor to the Africa forum and an expert on East Africa. It was the best trip of my life! She had many helpful posts on the Kenya and Tanzania forums so you might want to look for her posts.

In country our trip was handled by Cheli & Peacock. Perhaps you could contact them directly. They run a number of camps, all different, and we were delighted with each one, both guides and accommodation. They also took us on tours of the Sheldrick Elephant orphanage, and other areas around and escorted us to and from airports and stayed with us at the first safari small plane until we actually boarded. I recommend 2 nights stay before you go on safari to recover from jet lag. We stayed at a lovely boutique hotel in the suburb of Karen near the elephant orphanage. Then off to 3 different camps for 3 days each in Kenya. Although many do go to Kenya & Tanzania, we saved a day of travel changing countries, Visa and yellow fever vaccine by staying in Kenya only.

Iím at the beginning stages of planning a trip to South Africa now and am not sure anything will measure up to our Kenya journey.

Leely2 Jan 12th, 2020 07:54 PM

Ellen, did you stay at Macushla House in Karen? I've stayed there a few times and love it. [Many years ago I met Sandi for drinks at the Norfolk in Nairobi. She was such a fun person.]

Heimdall Jan 13th, 2020 12:03 AM

Just a thought if you want to see gorillas and do your safari in Kenya - Tanzania. You can fly from Nairobi to Kigali in Rwanda, and then you are only about 2 hours by road from Volcanoes National Park, where the gorillas in Rwanda are located. I have tracked gorillas in Rwanda, and my daughter & son-in-law did a gorilla trek in Uganda. They got to see chimpanzees on another day, and the gorilla trek in Uganda is cheaper, but seeing gorillas in Rwanda is much easier with a tight time schedule, IMO. As I recall it took them about 6 hours of strenuous walking to reach the gorillas in Uganda, and the park is a long way from the airport.

Rwanda has a better choice of gorilla families, some very near the park boundary. My trek was to see the Susa Group, which at that time was the largest but also the most difficult to reach. It took about 2 hours for us to reach the Susa Group, but could have been longer if the family had wandered further from the park boundary.

BTW, Rwanda is where Dian Fossey did her research, and where the film “Gorillas in the Mist” was based. You can still book a trek to see her research station in Volcanoes National Park.

MyriamC Jan 13th, 2020 08:21 AM

Originally Posted by ellenbw (Post 17044875)

Iím at the beginning stages of planning a trip to South Africa now and am not sure anything will measure up to our Kenya journey.

I booked a trip to Namibia and Botswana for this September and I feel exactly as you do. I feel as nothing can top our Kenya trip way back in 1996.

stephanoko Jan 13th, 2020 09:22 AM

Happy to suggest safari planners but Safaritalk is a good suggestion. I'd much rather customize a trip to my exact liking than subscribe to a group herd mentality on this particular trip of a lifetime. A custom itinerary will let you go when you want, spend time at sightings as you wish or not and set your own pace.

amyb Jan 13th, 2020 05:02 PM

Originally Posted by MyriamC (Post 17045268)
I booked a trip to Namibia and Botswana for this September and I feel exactly as you do. I feel as nothing can top our Kenya trip way back in 1996.

HA! I feel the same way about my Zambia trip later this year. Itís meant to be a splurge milestone birthday trip but after the luck Iíve had in Kenya on my previous safaris, I wonder if it can be any better!!

Songdoc Jan 14th, 2020 09:12 AM

This is some high praise for Kenya!
I've been looking at a couple of other tours, but they include some activities (and places) that don't interest me. For example they spend several nights at Victoria Falls, but I've heard the falls are now mostly dry and unimpressive.

I will look into designing my own trip. I have traveled extensively and have never taken a tour. But for some reason, the thought of DIY/build-your-own safari seems daunting -- and out of my price range. I guess I'll find out!

Thanks for your help!

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