Southern Africa trip, 3 weeks, 2014

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Apr 9th, 2013, 03:28 PM
  #1
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Southern Africa trip, 3 weeks, 2014

Just beginning planning a trip for two couples, first timers to southern Africa, September 2014. We mostly want to see things not available in the Americas or Europe (hence not interested in spas, or wine tours.)
Rough itinerary so far is:
Capetown (3 days), train for some portion, Victoria Falls, plus several (2?) safari trips to see a variety of fauna.
Usually, we book our own trips, but as this is completely new to us, we would be open to using a service (only if they are truly knowledgeable.) We prefer a mid-level of comfort/luxury, not backpacker-ish, not ultra-luxury (too isolating for authenticity.)
Looking for suggestions A) itinerary (are we way off base as to what we can accomplish in 3 weeks?) and B) safaris.
Thanks, Fodorites!
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Apr 9th, 2013, 05:51 PM
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OK – your comments on style and taste are very helpful as they eliminate a whole range of options at the top and bottom of the price spectrum. September is the best month of peak season to be on safari in Southern Africa. Just about every ecosystem is in its peak season and the weather is great. Just keep in mind as you plan the trip that the last ten days of September will begin to get very hot in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana so the earlier the better for those three countries. I have been to Africa many times and I spent last September in Zambia and Zimbabwe. When I arrived on Sep 6 it was no more than 80 in the day. When I left around the 26th it was 100F. October is the hottest month in these three countries. September is also the floral blooming season in the Western Cape (Cape Town). You can also see Southern Right Whales in September so maybe add two days to Cape Town??

Your comments:
Mid-level of comfort/luxury: This eliminates the premier Wilderness Safari camps in Botswana, Chief’s Camp (Botswana), Singita, Londolozi, Royal Malewane, Jabulani and several other luxury safari lodges in South Africa with a high level of focus on wine, food, and hotel services. Chiawa Camp & Sausage Tree in Zambia may also be too luxurious for you and Pamushana in Zimbabwe is for sure. The good thing is that there are many safari lodges in a mid-price range that serve home style food off of buffets with a decent selection of South African beer and wine. Many mid-price safari lodges do their game drives on the same land as expensive lodges. For example, in Botswana, Jao Camp and Tubu Tree camp share the same land for game drives and the same air strip. One is a “premier” Wilderness Safari camp and the other a “classic camp”.

Train: I do not recommend the Shongololo Express anymore so the only options I recommend are Rovos Rail and Blue Train. I have been on both. They are pretty luxurious, especially Rovos Rail, but a great way to see Africa! They may be too luxurious for your taste but this could be your splurge? There is a modicum of savings when you pay for the train as using the train eliminates the need to buy an airline ticket for Cape Town-Jo’burg or Jo’burg to Vic Falls.

For a first time safari, I find most clients want somewhere in the range of 6-12 days at safari lodges. This means 12-24 morning and afternoon activities. Usually a morning activity is a game drive and sometimes a walk or fishing. An afternoon activity can be mostly game drive, canoeing, or boating. The water activity are only offered at specific camps located near major bodies of water (obviously). So, you may want to consider three lodges for 3 or 4 nights each. Each lodge should be far away from the others to give you diversity. They should also be in different ecosystems so you see different fauna.

There are a million options, especially in September. For a first time safari, I often encourage clients to go to the Sabi Sands in South Africa first. This lets you “check off” the big five since the game viewing is so prolific in this area. The Sabi Sands is a collection of about 20 private game reserves adjacent and unfenced from the Kruger Naitional Park. Then, when you go on a second safari (relatively) near to Victoria Falls you can enjoy what these places have to offer and not worry about checking off your list of animals. By going to Sabi Sands first, then Cape Town you can also break-up the safari and therefore not be on safari for 9 or 10 straight days.

Ok – here are some specific ideas that will give you a very well-rounded safari:

Option 1 – South Africa + Zimbabwe

Day 1 Land from USA. Overnight at Fairlawns Hotel in Jo’burg.
Day 2,3,4 Sabi Sands private reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park. Based on my minimal knowledge of your taste, stay at MalaMala Main camp and pay a small bit extra for a private vehicle so the four of you don’t have two other guests with you.
Day 5,6,7 Cape Town. Perhaps two 1-bedroom apartments at More Quarters
Day 8,9,10 Fly to Jo’burg then onward to Harare. On arrival fly a small plane to Ruckomechi for three nights in Mana Pools National Park Zimbabwe.
Day 11,12,13 Light plane from Ruckomechi to Little Makalolo for three nights in Hwange National Park Zimbabwe.
Day 14,15 Light plane to Victoria Falls. Stay at Elephant Camp for two nights.
Day 16,17 Rovos Rail from Victoria Falls to Pretoria (Jo’burg).
Day 18 Arrive JNB. Fly home.

Option 2 – South Africa + Zambia

Day 1-7 Same as option 1
Day 8 Fly Cape Town- Lusakas. Fly Proflight to Mfuwe and head to South Luangwa Naitional Park. Lion Camp or Kainga for three nights. We need to discuss these options as there are many styles of camps in South Luangwa National Park! Lion Camp will be most like MalaMala.
Day 9,10 South Luangwa
Day 11,12,13 Fly Proflight to Lusaka then onward to Lower Zambezi National Park Zambia. Based on your taste maybe Chongwe River Lodge for three nights.
Day 14,15 Light plane to Livingstone (Victoria Falls). Stay at River Club or Tongabezi for two nights.
Day 16,17 Rovos Rail from Victoria Falls to Pretoria (Jo’burg).
Day 18 Arrive JNB. Fly home.

Option 3

Instead of Zimbabwe or Zambia spend six nights in Botswana at one of these lodge chains then go to Victoria Falls.
Kanana 2 nt + Shinde 4 nt (Kerr & Downey)
Tubu Tree 3 nt + Duma Tau 3 nt (Wilderness Safaris).

The Botswana option will be the most expensive and the Zimbabwe safari the least. All of these options will leave you completely satisfied that you have had a great and diverse safari.

I hope this helps. If you want more info on each camp or each national park just ask!

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
2011 & 2012 Travel & Leisure A-List Agent for Botswana and Zimbabwe
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Apr 9th, 2013, 10:20 PM
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Craig... Thank you for this excellent, info-packed post! I will review with my travelling companions immediately.
Catharine
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Apr 10th, 2013, 06:00 PM
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Check out my trip report from last year--- http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...uth-africa.cfm

I think you might prefer doing Mana Pools, as recommended above, to the first safari place we stayed on the banks of the Zambezi. (Wish we could have, but it was slightly out of our budget for that trip. I know we will include it next time.) I highly recommend Davisons' Camp in Hwange. It was there that I woke one morning and realized I hadn't a care in the world. If that isn't a reason to declare a vacation a success, I don't know what is.

The other link in that report, includes some of the planning details that went into the trip, and some quick reports on-the-road, but for what your planning, I think the trip report is the most useful. I worked with Chris Worden at Zambezi Travel, who is located in Victoria Falls and helped plan the safari portion of our trip. They can also offer Mana Pools. Everyone in the office there was easy to work with. Oh - and see if you can schedule a half day with Charles Brightman of the Victoria Falls Anti-poaching Unit while you are in Victoria Falls. (assuming you go there prior to the safari). You will learn SO MUCH more than you could ever imagine. Way better than a helicopter tour over the falls, or a bungee jump!
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Apr 11th, 2013, 05:37 AM
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902alert; Good info, thanks...
uhoh_busted; will read your trip report, and great tip about Charles Brightman!
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Apr 11th, 2013, 09:17 AM
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If you need Charle's contact information let me know. Mattt from our office filmed a trailer with him for an anti-rhino poaching television show back in May 2010. I have met Charles several times. He heads up the entire anti-poaching effort in the Vic Falls/Matetsi area.

I took my wife and kids to Davisons' Camp for three days in August 2011. It was magical! I have an enlarged photo of my 15 year old daughter with a journey of giraffe in the background hanging in our living room. We took the photo at the fire pit in camp. Dixon is a great guide and the concession manager, Tendai, does a great job with the whole product.

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
2011 & 2012 Travel & Leisure A-List Agent for Botswana and Zimbabwe
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Apr 11th, 2013, 12:46 PM
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More great info from you, thanks, Craig!
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Apr 11th, 2013, 05:29 PM
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Something I really loved about Davisons' was the isolation. I know some people may hesitate -- (what? no internet?!?!) But it really was wonderful. At dinner one night I asked one of the young guys what he liked most about working there, and he said "Learning about what is going on in the rest of the world from our guests" and I laughed and shook my head, saying how much we valued NOT knowing anything for a few days!
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Apr 12th, 2013, 09:23 AM
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uhoh_busted;
I certainly know about that. My husband and I lived on our sailboat for 5 years, cruised around South America. We went weeks without seeing anyone. It was amazing to us that really, so little happened in the world that we really "needed" to know about.
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Apr 13th, 2013, 12:26 AM
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ttt
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