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South Africa and Victoria Falls: a newbie needs some pointers


Jul 13th, 2012, 08:33 AM
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South Africa and Victoria Falls: a newbie needs some pointers

I'm in the very early stages of planning a trip next May for my wife and me. I'm thinking of leaving St Louis on Sat, May 18 and returning Sat, June 1. That would be 13 nights.

Having never been to this part of Africa and being interested in wildlife, pretty cities and nature, and being active travelers, I'm considering this "first draft" itinerary.

May 18: Fly from St Louis to Johannesburg and spend the night there (Delta has a non-stop from Atlanta which gets in at 5:25pm on May 19).

May 20: Fly to Cape Town and spend 3 nights there.

May 23: Fly back to Johannesburg and end up in a camp near or in Kruger for 4 nights for safari.

May 27: Fly to Victoria Falls and spend 4 nights there, seeing the falls and doing some wildlife viewing, perhaps a day trip to Chobe.

May 31: Fly to Johannesburg and spend the night.

June 1: Fly back to St Louis.

How does this itinerary sound?

Will Cape Town still be beautiful in mid May and worthy of a visit?

Our safari budget is unknown at this point, but we'll probably want mid to luxury camp accommodations where there are private baths and excellent guides.

Any recommendations for a tour operator to help plan and book the Kruger camp and intra-Africa airlines?

Any recommendations for where to spend the 4 nights in Kruger area for the most variety of wildlife viewing? I'm thinking a private reserve would best suit our needs?

Any tips on how to get the most out of our time in and near VF and where to stay?

Thanks so much!

dcd is offline  
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Jul 13th, 2012, 09:50 AM
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Hi Dave
Your itinerary is beautiful, however let me perfect it for you.

First off I would spend 4 nights in Cape Town which will give you 3 days of great sightseeing and then from Cape Town you fly to KMIA (Nelspruit) and then onto a lodge of your choice. 4 nights is perfect. From there you go to Vic Falls but 4 nights is really not necessary. 2 nights will be more than sufficient to see the Falls and then spend the other 2 nights in Chobe. In Chobe you have a choice of staying at the lodges or staying on the houseboats. I would recommend either Chobe Chilwero Safari Lodge or Muchenje Safari Lodge as you don't want to be amongst the crowds although at this time of the year it is pretty quiet.

This year Cape Town weather has been great. A few cold fronts and rain but nothing like it is famed for. For next year I can't predict.

What time does your flight from Johannesburg go home. If it is in the PM then no need to overnight.

Hope this helps

Yours on Safari
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Jul 13th, 2012, 02:13 PM
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I'm with Mark, with slight changes.
On arrival JNB at 5:30pm you can connect to flight to CPT where there are flights practically every 2/hrs (flight time is 2/hrs) and sleep at CPT.... no need to o/n in JNB, then....

fly via JNB to Victoria Falls for overnight where you can do a river cruise that evening, next morning a Falls tour. This doesn't take more than 2/hrs, from where you can then...

do road transfer to Botswana for stay at Chobe. Chilwero is a great lodge... and spend 2/nts., then...

road transfer to VFA and fly to JNB. Likely an evening arrival where you catch your breath with overnight and then...

next morning fly up to Kruger, lodging of your choice before returning to JNB for your evening flight home.

Day 1 - Arv. JNB; connect to CPT - o/n
Days 2, 3 & 4 -CPT - o/n
Day 5 - Fly to JNB; connect to fly to VFA; afternoon activity - o/n
Day 6 - VFA, morning Falls visit; drive to Chobe - o/n
Day 7 - Chobe - o/n
Day 8 - Road transfer to VFA, flight to JNB - o/n
Day 9 - Fly to Kruger - o/n
Days 10, 11 & 12 - Kruger - o/n
Day 13 - Depart camp and maybe do part of the Panoramic Route, then fly to JNB to connect to homebound flight.

I'm one of those who likes to 'save the best for last' thus Kruger at the end, rather than in the middle.

Let us know how your plans progress.
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Jul 13th, 2012, 05:29 PM
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If you can plan on 15 days--the 13 shown here plus 2 traveling--you'll have a fantastic trip with this itinerary.
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Jul 14th, 2012, 06:59 AM
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Mark, sandi, and atravelynn, thanks so much for your input. I really, really appreciate it. You all have made some excellent suggestions.

Mark, I'd love to spend 4 nights in CT, but I'm concerned about shorting myself elsewhere.......

Sandi, going to VF after CT is intriguing. I, too, like to save the best for last. That said, I've read where the volume of water at VF can be an issue for folks like me with a camera in spring. It sounds like May, especially mid to late May, should be OK without the water spray messing up all the would be photos. But that's why I was putting VF last.

Mark's itinerary would avoid a night in Johannesburg in the middle of the trip, which might be wise considering that there doesn't appear to be much there to see relative to the other areas.

Another question for you guys. The current Delta flight schedule has the plane departing Johannesburg at 8:25pm on June 1. Would we be better off overnighting in Johannesburg on May 31, or using June 1, a Saturday, to get from either VF or our Kruger camp to the airport. Don't want to risk missing that flight but if that's not a valid concern, would we be better off coming from VF or Kruger?

The Chobe camp recommendations are great. I'm hoping there will be a recommendation for Kruger. Perhaps Tom or J will chime in.

Also with a somewhat limited safari time in Kruger, does it make sense to hire a private guide so we can take advantage of longer viewing hours during the day? I recall reading one of Tom's posts where he was wishing the afternoon expedition started earlier than an hour before sunset. Any recommendations for a private guide and any idea on what the cost would be per day in dollars versus the group rate?
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Jul 14th, 2012, 07:08 AM
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Mark, I just realized that if we fly to CT in lieu of overnighting in Johannesburg on May 19, we will spend 4 night in CT!

Are the intra-Africa flights reliable and usually on time? Trying to get a feel for any likely logistical issues that may crop up and affect arrival/departure times.
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Jul 14th, 2012, 07:30 AM
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With an 8:25pm Delta departure, and assuming you conclude at Kruger where check-out is 10am, you have time to fly to JNB. Check-in for international departures is technically 3/hrs prior flight departure, so 5:30pm, but no later than 6pm. Depending on flight scheduled from Kruger and arrival JNB, you might have time for some stop in JNB, if you wish.

With 4/nts in CPT, excluding nt of arrival*... you can schedule your days with the following activities:
1) visit the winelands and even a city tour, 2)head down to Cape Point and the Kirstenbosch Gardens on return, 3) City tour including Malay area, 4) pre-book trip to Robben Isl., 5) Table Mountain, but be aware this depends on whether it's covered in a tablecloth of clouds, which if it is... cable car doesn't run, 6) depending on time of year, maybe even Shark Cage Diving (we did this the first day and found it a hoot). Lots you can do over 3-full days.

*when we arrived/checked-into hotel at 9:30pm, we walked over to V&A and had a lovely dinner, then a well-deserved sleep and wide awake and ready to go next morning.
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Jul 14th, 2012, 09:50 AM
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Hi Dave
Yes, the flights from ORT to Cape Town are always on schedule and very reliable. However if you want you can just overnight at ORT and catch an early flight to Cape Town in the morning, but I think it is better to get the flying out of the way ASAP. Carriers I would look at are Kulula, Mango and 1Time as these are low cost no fringe airlines.

Yours on Safari
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Jul 14th, 2012, 04:02 PM
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Hi Dave,
We leave 3 weeks from today on a 14 night trip very similar to yours. We're spending 4 nts in CT, 4 nts at Phinda, 4 nts at Singita, and 2 nts at Victoria Falls. This is our 4th trip & although we've been to CT & Singita, the other 2 places are new for us. You are making the right call by flying directly to CT on your day(night) of arrival.There is lots to do and see in CT. On our last trip and this one,in CT we are using a private guide, Wayne Milne with Take2Tours. He is awesome! He arranges everything and takes us everywhere. We have done the shark cage diving,Cape Point (Cape of Good Hope)drive and hike, Robben Island and this time we're hoping to finally get to the top of Table Mountain. We're also an off-road Segway tour of the Spier winery. I'll report back on that.

I think your itinerary is definitely headed in the right direction!
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Jul 14th, 2012, 06:36 PM
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Victoria Falls wise - Best to see VF from Zimbabwe side May/June. Either way bring a waterproof camera. We visited from both Zim and Zam this past June - first week. We were lucky as Livingstone Island opened just as we arrived. It was a great little excursion and Tea.

"It sounds like May, especially mid to late May, should be OK without the water spray messing up all the would be photos. But that's why I was putting VF last."

Ton and tons of water spray in Zambia first week of June. Could not take out the DSLR. Zimbabwe had drier areas to take photos.
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Jul 18th, 2012, 01:00 PM
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We're doing a trip to Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Namibia in a few weeks.

If you can either self-drive from Maun and do a little camping or try flying into the Okavango Delta or Chobe. We're staying at Kwara which is a nice mixed wet/dry camp in Okavango - or try tine Linyanti reserve outside of chobe. I've heard from my research if you don't mind spending money it makes sense to stay outside of the national parks. I've done both in the past and I consider my time spent in the camps to be as valuable in a different way than the self camping option.

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Jul 19th, 2012, 07:22 PM
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Lots of good ideas and lots to think about. Thank you.

Any suggestions on which area(s) of the Delta would be best for seeing lots of birds and animals that we aren't likely to see in Kruger? I agree, a wet/dry camp makes the most sense.

I get the impression that some of the Botswana Delta camps are a bit more restrictive in terms of the safaris, that is, some have walking tours only, which suggests meandering a fairly short distance from camp, and other have the canoe style boats which probably don't get as far as the motor boats?

Are we better off trying to find a Delta wet/dry camp that has motor boats and jeeps, or is that not really significant there?
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Jul 20th, 2012, 05:07 AM
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Hi Dave i agree with Mark more than two nights in vic falls may not be necessary in chobe you would have a good chance to see some game variety
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Jul 20th, 2012, 06:28 AM
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I hope I'm not stoned to death but I have a slightly different vision than most here.

This itinerary doesn't appeal to me at all. As I see often; it's wanting too much in too few days. 3 days in CT is short, but OK, that's the least of problems this itinerary has. What I wonder about more is; why spread your safari days (which aren't that many to begin with) over two countries? All that flying via Jo'burg and Kasane, just to see the falls?

If I were you, I'd keep Zim/Bots for another time. The wildlife is very similar (lowveld), the only difference is that you will find more waterbirds @ Chobe. And more elephants, but probably no rhino.

Thing is that Chobe is not that good. Now before you all start shouting; let me explain. All the lodges are in the eastern section of the park. That's where all people from Zim come in as well. As a result that part of the park is overcrowded. The guides don't drive too far, for fear of not being able to get back in time.
I've seen the other areas of Chobe. And they are much better. Much better chance of seeing lions there. And other species too, like zebra. Last time, I took a friend to see the Falls (we were in Bots), so we joined some other tourists doing the same (we departed from Kubu lodge if I remember correctly). One of the tourists in the minivan said "too bad Chobe doesn't have zebra". We couldn't believe our ears! We had seen plenty! But alas that is the "truth" for all those staying in the east of the park.
Bottom line; Chobe is good if you can go further in, but from Zim that's not possible. So the question you have to ask yourself; a nice boat trip and seeing the falls; is that worth losing four days for?

I see that others have suggested the Delta as an alternative. For me, it's the same: 4 days is too short to appreciate it. The Delta is best combined with Linyanti, Savuti and Chobe. Or with the pans and the Makgadikgadi. You need at least 2 weeks for either itinerary.

A better option IMHO would be to combine a lodges in Kruger's private reserves with a short stay in the Drakensbergen. Plenty to see and do there too. And far easier to get to. You cannot afford to lose two days "in transit" with such a short stay. Or if Drakensbergen does not appeal and you want more safari days; stay longer around Kruger. Combine a lodge near the river with a lodge in a drier area, or with a lodge that does walking safaris.

And in 2012, when the Africa bug has bitten, you can still do Bots + the Falls. ;-)


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Jul 29th, 2012, 04:26 AM
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I have only skimmed other replies so some of this may be repetitive. We were in Chobe & VF last Aug. We visited the Falls twice (about 2 hrs each time) and that was enough. The Falls were a highlight of our trip...beautiful...but only so much to see before moving on. We did the helicopter flight over the Falls and definitely recommend this. (Incidentally my window had some scuffs on it from previous travelers making it a bit difficult for photos at my height- either sit up a bit higher or consider sliding open the window a crack to shoot through it) We did the sunset cruise but weren't thrilled with it. The sunset over the river made the trip but otherwise it was V E R Y slow with only a bit of animal viewing.

We spent 2 days in Chobe at Chobe Safari Lodge and really enjoyed this. We had our own driver (self guided) so we didn't have to use the lodges vehicles. If there's any way to do this I'd highly recommend this. (Tip- take the path adjacent to the river toward sunset for more animal viewing). Plan enough time for border crossing if you need to be somewhere at a particular time. One of our stops through we had to wait 90 minutes to get through. We highly recommend a Chobe boat drive. We saw game nonstop and got really close to things. We took a private boat vs one of the large "double deckers". Quite reasonably $.

I hate to spoil the "surprise" one might find but on our second day riding through Chobe we drove further out and came across a "vista" (?) with THOUSANDS (literally!) of elies and buffalo. I put together a 38 shot panorama when I got home. The sight was unbelievable. Even our SA PH that was with us was amazed.

Enjoy your trip!
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Jul 30th, 2012, 05:58 PM
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I'm back. Sorry I didn't see the earlier replies.

Thanks ppower for chiming in. I have read with interest many of your posts and trip reports. In fact, we are working with Sun Safaris thanks to your recommendation. I have been extremely impressed with their service. Very punctual and seemingly good rates on the safari lodging.

ValerieV, how did you line up the private guide in Chobe, who did you use, and how much was it? That sounds like a good option. I think we'll spend as much time at the Falls as you did. One afternoon and one morning. Good to hear that was sufficient. The sunset cruise reviews are really mixed. I may nix it. The helicopter might be nice though.

Here's our current itinerary, and I think it will be the "final" draft. Ppower, you aren't going to like this one either, but for us, who are active travelers with many other places in the world yet to visit, it will be fine. And expensive.....

Day 1 Arrive Johannesburg; spend night at Peermont Metcourt Airport Hotel.

Day 2 Fly to Vic Falls, arriving very early afternoon, check into the Ilala Hotel and walk around the Falls.

Day 3 Transfer to Chobe Safari Lodge and spend 2 nights.

Day 5 Fly to Delta and spend 3 nights at Little Vumbura.

Day 8 Fly nonstop to Cape Town and spend 4 nights there.

Day 12 Fly to Kruger and spend 3 nights at Nottens.

Day 15 Fly home.

This will allow us to spread out the game viewing among 3 areas with fairly equivalent safari time in each. Less in Chobe for all the reasons mentioned here (and elsewhere). It also puts Cape Town in the middle to break things up.

The flights work well. No mid-trip overnight in Johannesburg and the other flights are nonstops, except for the charter to Little Vumbura.
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Jul 31st, 2012, 05:51 AM
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ValerieV, we'll be at Chobe Game Lodge instead, so I won't be needing info on the private tours after all.
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Jul 31st, 2012, 05:41 PM
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A lot of good advice in this string. I just returned from a month in Africa and did spend only two nights at the Falls which was plenty. I arrived from Nairobi/Joburg/VF so it was about 2 in the afternoon. Went on the river "booze cruise" that afternoon, did the Falls walk the next morning, copter ride (must do!) in the early afternoon with time for some shopping in town, dinner and to bed. Would not have known what to do with more time. I would also suggest you look at non-Chobe options. I stayed in the Linyanti area at Duma TAu and we had wonderful animal sightings -- including wild dogs. They limit the number of guests in the area so there is not the congestion that sometimes occurs in the NP. Also of course you can off-road if that is your thing. More expensive but worth it in my view. We also did Kwetsani in the Delta and loved that. I agree also with four nights in CT as there is so much to do! Sandi gave you a very nice list. Happy travels!
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Aug 1st, 2012, 09:22 AM
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DcD, I'm no expert, but we did a Bot/Zam trip 2 summers ago. I think your latest itinerary works to fufill your wants and still gets you " off the beaten path" .

We stayed 3 nights in Zambia and it was plenty, we wanted to include some cultural tours as we were traveling with 3 young teens. If your just wanting to see the falls, you can do it in far less! A day is plenty to walk around the Falls and plan a heli view if you want. Unless you are interested in masses of people all clamoring for a photo of an annoyed ellie - skip the booze cruises and book a smaller boat tour on the River. We were pretty horrified watching those booze cruise boats, with music blaring running up hard toward a bull elephant, who was very threatened by it. Sure the operators got a nice "photo op" of a mock charging elephant for their drunken clients, but at what price? ( but I digress)

Little Vumbura is an amazing camp, and you will definately feel all alone in the world there, even if Chobe is a little more " well traveled" ( haven't been but read the comments of others above), 3 days is great because you can do both land and water activities in that amount of time.

Have a great trip!
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Aug 1st, 2012, 09:28 AM
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I should clarify- we didn't stay in the Chobe NP, but stayed at Duma Tau...I concur with the PP, it's incredible game viewing and a very remote there, but I get that you also have to work it all in around budget and travel time!
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