So, just how "commercialized" is a safari in SA?


Dec 7th, 2005, 05:04 AM
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So, just how "commercialized" is a safari in SA?

I have seen several comments latetly saying how "commercialized" or touristy a safari in South Africa can be. Can someone expand on this, and perhaps compare their safari experience in SA to a safarai in a country such as Kenya, Tanz or Zambia? Does one get a sense of being "in the wild" or is it more like being in a drive-around zoo? Sorry if I sound cynical, I am just trying to get an honest assesment.
cruisinred is offline  
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Dec 7th, 2005, 06:26 AM
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I think it's complete BS. It is certainly not as wild as Botswana or remote, but you are still seeing the wildlife live their lives with a minimum of human intrusion. I visit Mala Mala in the Sabi Sand every year becuase the experience is so good. I would not be put off SA by the more experienced safari goers on this board, some of whom have a tendency to forget their first experiences. I for one would much rather have the experience of sitting with a pride of Lions without a bunch of other vehicles crowding around.

It's definitely not like being in a zoo.

I would say go to SA, IMO the Leopard viewing in SSGR is unparalleled, though I've only spent two nights at Mombo. If you fly direct from Joberg to the SSGR, you will really feel like you are in the wilderness, even though you are not.
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Dec 7th, 2005, 07:23 AM
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I agree with Napa.

I am South African and are certainly in a position to compare RSA with Tanzania where I live and work. There is not enough space here to discuss this in detail so I can only offer some incomplete points.

As much as I love Tanzania (and I mean L.O.V.E.), Tanz and Kenya are every bit as touristy as South Africa - more so if you consider the main safari routes.

In South Africa, one can rent a car and go on wonderful self-drive trips and safaris - it is very easy to steer well clear from other tourists! You control your own budget and bookings - in East Africa you have to rely on outfitters and to get away from others take $$$ and much planning.

It has been said that animal groups are given names in RSA and this creates a zoo feeling! Guess what, in the Masai Mara just about every single predator has a name. Have you heard of Bella in the Mara or the Steroid Boys near Mombo? In Tanzania, most lion prides have names - the Masek pride, several swamp prides in Tarangire, etc.

In general, the quality of guiding is better in RSA. In Tanzania, 75% of the guides used by budget companies have little or no formal training - here is a TRUE story:

3 weeks ago we met a minivan full of Italian tourists in Lake Manyara near the Tree Lodge. The driver did not know where the Hot Springs stop was and jokingly admitted in Swahili that he was a fill-in driver because the real guide quit a day before the safari. This driver (he was no guide) was on his first trip through the parks with 6 paying clients!

You will rarely experience this in RSA.

It is true that RSA parks are enclosed in some form or another. But they are big! RSA parks cannot compete with the wide open plains of the Serengeti and Masai Mara. But RSA parks compare well with most smaller wooded parks in East Africa such as Manyara, Tarangire, etc. I certainly don't get a zoo feeling even in smaller parks such as Madikwe.

RSA also offers a wider variety of accommodation options for all budgets. In East Africa these are limited (e.g. Ndutu Lodge is the only lodge in the Southern NCA).

Lastly, RSA is setting the standards for most of the new developments in East Africa - tent designs, vehicle styles, and more. I think that that the East African countries have a lot to learn from RSA to avoid becoming too touristy! Tanzania believes that by raising park fees they will be less touristy - I disagree. Many budget outfitters and their overseas agents are countering this by paying even lower salaries to guides and staff! Or by creating even larger tour groups to offset the costs
climbhighsleeplow is offline  
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Dec 7th, 2005, 07:34 AM
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I've visited Tanzania twice , once in 1990 and last year in 2004.
I've been on a few safari trips in SA too.
I must say I liked Tanzania better in 1990 than last year.

I fully agree with Eben, climbhighsleeplow, I really think he puts it as it is.

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Dec 7th, 2005, 08:59 AM
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Assuming you're talking about guided rather than self-drive options here?

As with most of the big safari destination countries, there are some camps/ parks that provide a more crowded, commercialised experience and others that provide a more remote, exciting one.

Our most remote experience in SA was at Ndumo where we were the only guests for our two night stay at the Wilderness Safari camp within that park. It's unfortunately not open any more. Our experience compared very well to our experiences in Botswana (also with WS).

Self-drive experiences were a little different but still very worthwhile and certainly not like being in a zoo! Ithala, Hluhluwe and Imfolozi were my favourite parks though Addo and Kruger were still enjoyable.

Kavey is offline  
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Dec 7th, 2005, 11:48 AM
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All the safari areas in Africa are commercialised: You pay you stay, dont pay you don't go!

Some have lodges and hotels that are larger attarctting greater capacities generally charging less and offering less addded value. Then there are smaller boutique lodges and hotesl that charge extortioniist prices, they offer a higher level of service and great deal more in the way of added value.

These can all be found in the remote and wild game reserves of Africa, Tanzania/kenya SA and so on.
So IMO there is no real link between the wildness and commercialisation.

Bottom line: Higher densities of people equate to lower priced lodges and or hotels. If you are looking for solitude and exclusivity you will need to pay more.

BTW: what is not touristy?
mkhonzo is offline  
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Dec 7th, 2005, 12:40 PM
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As long as visitors, anywhere, any country, go to the places that are promoted and stay at hotels, lodges, camps that only appear on the "Best 100" list - regardless the price, you're going to find tourists.

And if you travel to East or South Africa in high season, only for the game viewing, it's almostimpossible to avoid tourists and numerous vehicles at animal sightings.

Once you get off the main travel routes, there will be less tourists, vehicles - and, there can be varied budgets for accommodations. However, more often then not, you do pay for the priviledge of privacy and service.

mkhonzo's question is perfect - "what is not touristy?" Few places these days.
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Dec 7th, 2005, 02:31 PM
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Thanks cruisinred for the question and everyone for the insightful responses. Just what I wanted to know.
atravelynn is offline  
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Dec 7th, 2005, 07:05 PM
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After travelling several times on safari to South Africa and Botswana, I've made note of some differences. Most of the Botswana accomodations are tented camps, which is more rustic than most of the upscale camps in S.A. That being said, you can always control that part of the experience in S.A. by choosing a more rustic accomodation. I never felt like S.A. was a "zoo like" experience, because the number of vehicles is so limited. Most reserves offer a daily bush walk with an armed ranger, something we took advantage of each day. Trust me when I say you get a much different perspective OUTSIDE of the vehicle, on foot! We were charged by elephant, which was quite a rush. The animals are still wild and elephant will charge vehicles on occasion. One morning at Singita, I had a leopard calling right outside my be honest, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. Just the night before we had tracked a male leopard that was described as a "killing machine." The next morning I was just hoping the floor-to-ceiling glass was strong enough to withstand leopard. Funny what the mind conjures up sometimes! My main point might be that although most of the animals are habituated to the vehicles, they are still very much in THEIR element and continue to behave as wild African animals. We are merely transient visitors to their world, watching as they engage in a daily struggle for survival. Whether you choose S.A. or a more remote location, you will very likely fall in love with Africa.
girlpolo33 is offline  
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Dec 8th, 2005, 11:30 AM
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Well put.
napamatt is offline  
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Dec 8th, 2005, 02:33 PM
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Cruisinred - I am no expert (only been on one safari so far) - but maybe your question is less about South Africa and more about the types of accomodations.

I know that when we were at Singita, the air conditioned nature of our accomodation definitely felt different than the luxury tented camps we visited in Botswana. The game viewing was equally good in both countries, but we did miss the whole "tent thing".

Perhaps someone on this board could suggest an accomodation in SA that still has a wild feel.
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