South Africa/Safari/12 days in May

Old Nov 25th, 2016, 02:34 PM
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South Africa/Safari/12 days in May

We are going to be in South Africa for about 12 days; Our daughter is studying abroad in Cape Town ending on May 11th. My wife, me and our other two adult kids (24,22) together with her rounds out our group.

1. We will tour Cape Town ourselves until the 11th.
2. We seem to think/hear we should should safari in Botswana.
3. Want to see Victoria Falls

How do we do all of this? Any recommended tour companies? How do we do all of this and not have it feel like a "pony ride" where the horses follow nose to tail? We don't need luxury; comfortable is fine.

Thank you.
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Old Nov 25th, 2016, 04:40 PM
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Hi There,

Your daughter will have a good time in Cape Town. My sister went there (from the US) in 1992 and never came back! She farms in South Africa now.

I don’t think it is a bad idea to do a safari in Botswana in May. I have been on safari in Botswana in May 3 times and always had a good experience. Although it is two months into the dry season, May is the month when the Okavango Delta reaches peak flood. So, camp selection can be critical. Camps in the SW portion of the Delta, for example, may only be able to offer water activities as the Delta level will be high. These would be camps like Xigera, Nxabega etc. If you go to a place like Little Vumbura, you are on an Island and when you take the short boat ride to your land rover you will need to drive through water for about 30 minutes to get to the dry land game drive area. The Jao flats should be flooded completely making Jao, Kwetsani, Jacana, and Tubu Tree almost all water activities. One two of my May visits to Jao, the airstrip was sand bagged and they had pumps running to keep it dry! Places like Selinda, Duma Tau, Chitabe, Mombo and Chief’s Camp have plenty of dry land year-round.

Many of the upscale safari lodges in northern Botswana are on private land or private concessions so there is no need to worry about the pony ride. But, you may also mean you don’t want to be on a tour herding in a group?

It is hard to make a clear-cut recommendation for you without knowing your budget. I have been to most of the upscale safari lodges in the Okavango and northern Botswana ecosystem over the years. These would be properties owned by chains such as &Beyond, Wilderness Safaris, Great Plains, Ker & Downey, Sanctuary (A&K), Belmond (formerly Orient Express), Kwando, and Desert & Delta. There is a new chain opening lodges or acquiring independent lodges called Natural Selection. Uncharted Africa also has some interesting products and a very upscale luxury, mobile camping operation that you may want to take a hard look at!

You can make a nice circuit out of one lodge chain’s properties that I mentioned above. Or, if you don’t mind losing-out on some small savings for sticking with one chain, you can mix and match. Desert & Delta has all their properties in national parks or public game reserves which restricts the game drives to roads and day-time use only. They are the least expensive of the places I mentioned. Kwando and Ker & Downey are probably the least expensive lodges that are mostly on private land/private concessions. I really like Ker & Downey’s Shinde Camp combined with their Kanana Camp.

In the middle price bracket you have many options with the Wilderness Safari brand and I have been to all their 20+ camps. On one trip I took my own wife and kids to Chitabe and Little Vumbura. In May, you could make an experientially balanced itinerary with Chitabe, Kwetsani and Duma Tau. That is one of many viable combinations.

At the top of the price bracket would be Chief’s Camp, Zarafa, and some of the Wilderness Safari premier camps like Kings Pool, Mombo, Jao, and Vumbura Plains.

Really, you can’t go wrong with any choice of the ones I mentioned. If you truly want a big five safari experience, Chief’s Island is where rhino we reintroduced to Botswana starting in 2001. Now the island is at environmental carrying capacity for rhino and you have a good chance of seeing them at Chief’s Camp or Mombo. You have a good chance of seeing lion, leopard, elephant, and many more species at any combination of lodges that I mentioned above.

You asked how to book. I looked at some of your past posts and I am 99% sure you are American and from the Midwest (you once drove to Denver). If you live in a big city, I can probably recommend a safari tour operator/travel agent/safari specialist (there are many terms to describe the same job/function). You could meet this person face to face. That is the best way to plan a safari in my opinion. Barring that, if you are not in an area where I know a good safari agent, I can recommend one to you based on your budget and brand preference if you have one. Then you could work with this person on the phone. I know many good safari agents across the country that contract with the safari lodges I have mentioned and will be the cheapest way to plan such a trip but also with a high level of service. I would only recommend to you a competitor that I know and respect.

The same company can easily piece together the trip with the Vic Falls portion. Volumetric flow rate over the falls peaks out in May so the water will be roaring! I like the Vic Falls Hotel, Elephant Camp and Victoria Falls River Lodge on the Zimbabwe side. On the Zambia side I like River Club and Tongabezi.

I am not sure if you are leaving Cape Town on the 11th or 12th. The 11th is one of the 2 days per week when there is not a flight from Cape Town to Maun so you will have to connect in Jo’burg if you fly on Thursday. Maun is the gateway to northern Botswana and all the lodges I mentioned above.

Good luck.

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
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Old Nov 25th, 2016, 05:21 PM
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It really depends on budget. Botswana is the most expensive safari destination. I would go to Kruger if you have any budget limits. With five of you, you will likely pay for 4 doubles and one single, increasing costs by as much as 50% for the single. Getting between Botswana lodges also requires a charter flight. Fun, but adds up quickly.

No need for a tour or an agent who will only recommend the most expensive options. If you would like agent recommendations that will stay in budget, there are a few good ones.

See Cape Town then fly direct to Victoria Falls. Two nights is plenty (we stayed one night and it was enough) unless you want to do any of the adrenaline activities. Chobe Park is an easy road transfer if you would like to visit for a couple of nights. I don't recommend day trips from VF as wildlife viewing is best early and late. Day trips visit mid day. There are also houseboat options on the Chobe River that are very highly regarded.

Fly to one of the Kruger airports - whichever is closest to your chosen lodge. There are lodges in every price range, from $150-over $1000 per person per night, so let us know a budget range for recommendations. There are so many great ones in all price ranges. The higher priced ones have higher luxury levels, not better game viewing.

Then fly to JNB for your flight home.

With just 12 nights (you can't go a little longer?) I'd do:

Cape Town, 3 nights
Vic Falls 1 night, Chobe 2 nights
Kruger, 3 nights each, two lodges

To save on flight transfers, CT to VF to Kruger can work out better. It can depend on travel days. Otherwise there could be lots of transfers through JNB.

If you want to do Botswana, Footsteps in Africa has some great affordable (for Botswana) options. They also arrange mobile safaris which can be fun, a great value and one of the best ways to experience Botswana. Their website is pretty good with rates, pics and lodge options. There are other cos that do mobile safaris, too. For many of us, it's the best way to experience Botswana.

Safari doesn't have to break the bank unless you want it to. There are lots of great ways to do excellent safaris on a reasonable budget. We've done them in every price range.

Have fun! Sounds like a great trip. My mother took us on our first safari. It changed our lives.
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Old Nov 27th, 2016, 05:13 PM
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Thank you for the great replies! We have a moderate budget. To me, that means not luxury. We are comfortable with mid-priced amenities and hotels/lodges. It's not so much money, but philosophy.

I think we are going to try and stay in South Africa for our safari and other activities - Cape Town to start and probably fly out of JNB; though a 1 or 2 day trip to Vic Falls is a must we hear and so we will do. It seems like trying to fit in a 5/7 day safari in Botswana will be rushed.

christabir I really appreciate your itinerary.

Any names of lodges in Kruger would be appreciated. Preferred section of the park also.

Thank you both for your help.
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Old Nov 27th, 2016, 05:59 PM
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Hi there RKogel!

It's not really clear from you post whether you would spend days in Cape Town touring beyond the 11th and whether these days would reduce your total of 12 days of travel. I think that's an important piece of info in order to advise on how you spend your time on this trip. If you are able to let us know, that would be great.

In the meantime, as others have posted, Botswana is GREAT and there are a whole host of options but it is pricey and might squeeze your budget. Having said that, the game viewing is not only incredible, it feels very private and exclusive, but it does come at a cost. Knowing your budget would help identify if this is a good choice for you or not.

If you were to consider South Africa for your safari, I would fly from Cape Town to one of the reserve airports closest to your lodge of choice. Since safari is for the most part, an all inclusive concept, the pricing model is per person and not per room. Since you are a family of 5, you should be aware that triple accommodation for adults is rare and this means that at many lodges, one person will be a single which is priced at a 50% surcharge on nightly rates. So you should target a search of lodges that don't charge a single supplement because some don't.

It's great to be able to do 6 nights and split your safari time between 2 lodges. It's an opportunity to get a feel for another lodge, different staff, atmosphere and you can even try a different style of accommodation, such as a lovely tented camp for 3 of those nights. You can have a easy road transfer between lodges and it wouldn't affect your game drive time.

If you wanted to visit Vic Falls, then you can fly from MQP (Kruger Mpumalanga) to Livingstone Zambia which is about a 20-25 minute transfer. This flight runs on certain days of the week and means that you wouldn't have to waste an overnight in Jo'burg. You would need to spend more than 1 night in Vic Falls because flights leave VFA to JNB in the 1pm to 1:30pm timeframe. So you would need to assess which activities you want to do and then plan an itinerary accordingly. Most clients can do all the activities in a 2 night stay. I use Shearwater and Wild Horizons for my clients' activities.

Happy to help!

Africa Direct USA
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Old Nov 27th, 2016, 07:46 PM
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I don't think VF is a must do but I am in the minority. I think it's overrated and expensive to get to for the couple of hours that it takes to see. We landed in the afternoon, checked into our hotel, spent an hour at the falls, back to hotel. Next am, see the falls in early light, did a zip line thing, did the market, off to our safari after an early lunch. One night was plenty. I recommend flying into and staying on the Zimbabwe side so you don't need to spend the extra $50 per person on visas for both Zambia and Zimbabwe. If you can go before Cape Town, it works out better for flights. May is a good time to go as water levels are usually high, but not so high that the mist overpowers the view. But since you sound like you want to go, Chobe is a nice addition to make the time and flights make sense. Chobe is very different from Kruger - it's a water-based safari destination and beautiful. Lots of very entertaining elephants.

How adventurous are you? Staying in Kruger National Park is tons of fun and very affordable. It's like going to Yellowstone - except instead of bison and bears you see elephants and lions (and so much more!). We love it and visit every time we go. A couple of nights with self driving before ending in a private lodge is a great experience. For info, see You can book a large guest house at any of the main rest camps for a big family and have lots of space and amenities just for you.

Since you'll be there when it's not too hot (can be chilly), consider a tented private lodge. I love listening to the sounds of the bush while trying to fall asleep. Kambaku, Shindzela, Klaserie River (or lodge, I can't remember), Ngala Tented (pricy but great), and a few others are tented. At Bateleur Main Camp in Timbavati, not in Kruger Park - you'll have to google it, it's not one of the famous ones - they do mobile safaris for a different experience. They also have a very nice tented camp on a big reserve. It's not for everyone, but people who go love it. Just 8 beds, so very intimate. Toroyako in Balule is one that was just came on my radar that looks interesting and very affordable. Also check out Rock Fig. Your whole family can have the place to yourselves at a very affordable rate - request full catering so you get a quote fully inclusive. Senalala, Motswari, Arathusa, Cheetah Plains, Nottens are all excellent. Here's a map so you can google a few, see the amenities and what you might love or hate about any of them.

If you skip VF, you could visit my favorite area - KwaZulu Natal. Great affordable safari lodges, top ten snorkel/scuba, beautiful beaches on the warm Indian Ocean... Even horseback riding on the beach or with impala, wildebeest and zebra. Fly to Durban after Cape Town and drive on a good highway to St Lucia. Lots of fun with a family - just stay in a nice condo or guest house in town. With KZN, you get a little water safari with lots of hippos and crocodiles - don't miss the cruise on the estuary - without VF/Chobe. The drive from St Lucia to the beautiful beach at Cape Vidal might be my favorite scenic drive anywhere. Then fly to Nelspruit direct from Durban (or add a night and drive to Kruger through Swaziland!).

With KZN, I'd do:

Cape Town 3 nights
St Lucia 2 nights
Tembe Elephant Park or Rhino River Lodge for safari 3 nights
Kruger private lodge 3 nights

Try to do safari last. It's the highlight and I like to save the best for last. If you can extend your visit to a few more nights, add a night in CT, Joberg and Kruger.

Have fun. You're going to love it!
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Old Dec 1st, 2016, 11:08 PM
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