Starting to plan: so many questions!

Mar 21st, 2019, 07:33 AM
  #1  
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Starting to plan: so many questions!

Starting to plan a trip to South Africa in 2020. The most important part is seeing animals so the first question is timing. What is the best time of year to see lots of animals In Krueger? We really would like to be there February-June or November if that would work. My thoughts as to itinerary are: fly into Capetown, 2 or 3 days to see Table Mountain, penguins; to winelands to sample wine for a day or two; then fly to Krueger, stay in 2 or 3 places, 3days each for safari drives.
How does that sound? Next the questions will be where to stay and what tour operator to set it up?
Any help, input, ideas will be greatly appreciated!!

Last edited by pegtrav; Mar 21st, 2019 at 08:01 AM.
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Mar 21st, 2019, 10:33 AM
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I don't want to keep pushing my travel planner, but she is so immensely helpful that I will give you the info. Quite a number of others on this forum have used the agency. I am about to take my fourth trip to SA with their help.

I think that November, May and June are the best times of the ones you list, although you may face hot weather in November (some camps have a/c) and higher prices as summer begins. I've been in September, October and May and they have all been just great. It should be greener in (our) spring, and browner and thus easier to spot animals, in November.

Do you mean you will stay in Kruger, the public park, or in one of the private concessions bordering to the west?? The latter are more expensive, as a rule, but camps are more luxurious and many have the a/c. To me, one important factor is how many people will be seated in a vehicle during game drives.

If coming from the US, I would allow more time in CapeTownn to counter jet lag, and because there is just so much to see in that beautiful city.

My agent is Liesl Matthews at www.SOUTHERNDESTINATIONS.COM

She works with any budget and I cannot say just how great she was in planning our trips, and in dealing with the one or two glitches that came up during the trips; she is in CapeTown so is available on hand to counter any problems. (Ours were very minor; travel partner lost his ATM card in a bank machine; travel partner was desperately in need of prune juice cans, which are very difficult to find in SA, apparently; Blue Train ran about 12 hours late so Liesl arranged for us to be taken off the train and put on a private flight direct to next destination at game park so we would not miss any game drives.

If this is your first visit to SA, it probably will not be your last. Remember later that I said this!!

I've stayed at only two camps in Kruger, Londolozi and Lion Sands, on two different visits to the area. My stays at Londolozi rank up there with the best travel experiences of a long lifetime of travel.

Last edited by ekscrunchy; Mar 21st, 2019 at 10:35 AM.
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Mar 21st, 2019, 11:10 AM
  #3  
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Thanks for your reply. I think we would want to stay in the private camps by Kruger. Do they have fewer people in the safari vehicle? We would like to be in a camp by a waterhole to see more animals as they come to drink...so many things to consider! We were in Kenya and Tanzania several years ago during the migration. It will be hard to beat that but just the safari experience is amazing.
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Mar 21st, 2019, 03:30 PM
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Just my views, but if possible I'd shoot for a different time of year, namely late winter to early spring, i.e. August-September. The reason is that it's the winter and dry season, meaning the viewing is not obstructed by summer foliage, the animals come to the water for easier viewing, and there are few to no mosquitoes, hence no need for malaria prophylaxis. The weather is generally warm in the days, but you'll need a light jacket or sweater for early morning and evening game drives. (The vehicles also all carry blankets for the wimps )

If you go then, I'd reverse course and start in the north (Kruger area) and work south, in order to give the weather a little extra time to warm up.

We've stayed in three different lodges in the Sabi Sand reserve, and two in the Balule reserve, both abutting Kruger NP. The lodges run the gamut from comfortable to unbelievable, with prices to match, but it's a never-to-be-forgotten experience. I've always booked the places myself (control freak) but obviously there are many travel agents and consultants who can do a terrific job for you, and maybe end up saving you some money.

A couple of things to think about (you have plenty of time).

First, just east of Kruger NP is the "Panorama Route" along the northern Drakensberg escarpment. This is an area of stunning mountain and canyon scenery, not to be missed in my opinion. In some trips, we would fly into Joberg and spend a night to get our clocks adjusted, then get a car and drive to Graskop, a nice little town along the Panorama Route, staying at the comfortable and artsy (and cheap) Graskop Hotel. We'd tour the route, visiting places like God's Window (featured in the old film, The Gods Must Be Crazy) and the Blyde River Canyon and Three Rondavels overlooks. Then on the first safari day, we'd drive from Graskop to the safari lodge, typically around 2 - 3 hours tops, arriving in the early afternoon in time for a late lunch and plenty of time before the evening game drive. This maximizes your time in the lodge, since checkout is after the morning game drive the last day.

The second thing is that if you could time your visit for, say, September, that's when the spring wildflowers start showing up on the Atlantic coast a couple of hours north of Cape Town. And when I say "show up," I mean... OMG. A day or two around West Coast National Park, perhaps staying in the picturesque fishing village of Paternoster, would be well worth your time.

I'd also just mention another route you might consider. If you limited your time in the Kruger area to two lodges, then flew to Port Elizabeth at the top of the Garden Route, you could do a one- or two-day visit to Addo Elephant National Park, which will offer a quite different experience to the Kruger area, but no less wonderful. You could then drive to Cape Town along the Indian Ocean, a gorgeous drive (two or three days) that would expand your enjoyment of the country immensely.

Google the places on this map - https://goo.gl/maps/wxhfqDbziH72

Just suggestions; again, you have lots of time to plan.

Panorama Route



Addo Elephant NP



Garden Route



West Coast National Park



Paternoster

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Mar 22nd, 2019, 06:06 AM
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Yes there will usually be fewer people in the vehicle in the private reserves. You do not need a waterhole, although there will be some, depending on the season and if they have dried up--more likely in our fall months. Focus more on being on a concession with a river, rather than a water hole. The game viewing in Sabi Sands is so prolific as to be astounding. Can you take a look at a few camps there and see if they would fit your budget?

The highest priced will probably be Singita, Londolozi (Varty is their lowest priced lodge)and parts of Lion Sands. Look also at Mala Mala which has a vast amount of acreage, larger than the others.

But you do not have to go that route, unless you want to. The high price will get you gorgeous suites, great food, and probably fewer people in a vehicle. Again, you do not need to spend the money for those camps unless you so desire.

I will put this up to givie you an idea of top-level pricing; remember this includes room, game drives @ 2 x day, food and drink including most alcohol.

https://www.londolozi.com/en/accommo...compare-camps/
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Mar 22nd, 2019, 10:56 AM
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Suggest you have a look at some of the "pinned" articles on Tripadvisor. You'll get a wider range of experience than on Fodors where it seems the few active participants go only to the private camps. Also you'll hear "don't go in February, you don't see anything and it's too hot. And it's malaria season."

Just returned from 10 days in the first half of February in Kruger (where by the way, every bungalow we were lodged in had air conditioning). It wasn't really that hot, either, even in the north near Punda Maria. We had one day with a few hours of significant rain on our last full day. But rain changes the birdlife activity with temporary puddles and termite erruptions. We saw plenty of animals every day and the grass wasn't that long. Elephants (including some huge ones and babies), zebras, giraffe, hippo, most of the antelope species, hyenas, jackals, buffalo, crocs, white rhinos, leopards (twice, including a pair that had come together to mate), two lion cubs with their mums, and a cheetah with kittens. Not to mention the fabulous birds. Another car in our group saw wild dogs on a drive from Berg-en-Dal. My friend saw (and heard) a pack of lions take down a buffalo from the new hide at Punda Maria around dusk.

There were options for night drives and bush walks through San Parks so staying in a private reserve isn't the only way to do that. It definitely is an advantage to going on one of the safari vehicles both due to the elevated seating position and the guides being in contact by radio. More important for the felines and the rare animals like wild dogs. You see plenty of hippo, elephant, zebra, giraffe, antelope and buffalo just driving the main roads and at the bridges and river overlooks.

Hopeful that this link posts
https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopi...onal_Park.html

A few in our group went to Vic Falls afterwards and said there was too much water in February so they didn't have any view from the edge, just mist.

I went to Cape Town instead, rented a car for a bit over a week. There were still a few protea blooming but it isn't wildflower season. Stayed several nights at Seaforth near Boulders and the penguins. And not too far from the Cape Peninsula. The scenery around Cape Town is pretty spectacular with clear but windy weather in February. From Muizenberg I could watch the winds blowing the fog off of Cape Point. A different view than from Cape Town. Chapman's Peak Drive is a must-do, like a South Africa version of Big Sur...You do have to time it right to avoid too much traffic. Add a day at Kirstenbosch and the usual pilgrimage to Table Mountain (which is better than Cape Point). I did a few of the free walking tours around Cape Town Central. Bo-Kaap is swarming with instagrammers and you can really do that on your own (the Avis downtown is on the edge of Bo-Kaap). I liked the central city hotel I used, Cape Heritage on Bree Street. Although it wasn't wildflower season I visited West Coast National Park and enjoyed that also..some good views of the Atlantic and a different look toward Table Mountain from that side of Cape Town.

Last edited by mlgb; Mar 22nd, 2019 at 11:18 AM.
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Mar 22nd, 2019, 01:08 PM
  #7  
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Thanks for all the info. More questions!

I'm confused about staying in Kruger. Do you have to drive yourself? We are in our 70's and no longer comfortable driving rentals in a foreign country. Would love to do the self drive route suggested but it is not possible. I had thought we might do a few days in the park and a few in private camps.
It is difficult for us to get away in June to October, don't want to be away at Christmas which is why I asked about other times. We went to Botswana and Zambia in February-March and it was so wet that some roads were impassable and game viewing wasn't the best. Don't want this to happen again so I'd like advice on weather in the Kruger region.
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Mar 22nd, 2019, 01:20 PM
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I've been there in May and it was glorious. Kruger Park is mostly self drive but you can also have a ranger and vehicle, I believe.

I urge you to think about the budget before you go further with planning. I am happy to help but know only about the private concessions adjacent to the National Park.

Another good website is: www.Safaritalk.net, but most of the posters there are very seasoned Africa travelers (and it includes other destinations for game watching as well.)

Last edited by ekscrunchy; Mar 22nd, 2019 at 01:25 PM.
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Mar 22nd, 2019, 01:42 PM
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I don't think Safari Talk is open to anyone. You need to sign in and you can't without a password.

You can fly to one of the airports near a Kruger Gate, so you wouldn't have to drive all the way from JNB. ​​​​ The Main Roads in Kruger are all paved and in excellent condition. We left from Mopani Rest Camp and in about 1.5 hours dropped off a group at the Phalabora Airport, for example.

There are Game Drives with SAN Park rangers available at most of the Rest Camps inside Kruger. We were on a 10 day tour with a guide/driver out of JNB and we moved between camps during the day. There are also companies that can arrange transfers from the nearby airports to the Public Rest Camps, and include Game Drives. I haven't got one to recommend, however. We were on a birding-focussed tour which also included mammal sightings so our driver/guides were selected from an assortment of private companies.

SAN Parks has forums on their websites. Or ask on Tripadvisor since I don't think any of the regulars here do anything but private camps. Most of the other websites are designed to sell you expensive private tours, but maybe you can find something that mixes and matches.

In Cape Town it's super easy to use Uber or the HOHO bus, or find day tours.

The farther north you go in February, the rainier it is. The only animal that was hidden in the grass was one male lion that refused to budge.

If February is the month you can go, I'd start in Kruger and then move to CPT, not vice versa.

Last edited by mlgb; Mar 22nd, 2019 at 02:17 PM.
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Mar 22nd, 2019, 02:07 PM
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Safaritalk is the best resource for researching trips, IMO (far, far more in depth than here and Trip Advisor combined). It is currently being moved from one server to another so it’s down for all members, but it should be back up this weekend. The trip report sub-forum alone, which you can paw through and drool over the photos, is worth it for the research value. There aren’t many places in eastern and Southern Africa the collective group hasn’t been. Trip Reports are open to non-members but to ask a question in the Trip Planning section, you must register and login. It’s always good for me to ask questions as I plan a trip because there are people who have been on dozens more safaris than I have, so they can better compare experiences. It’d be worth it when it’s back to take a look.
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Mar 22nd, 2019, 02:18 PM
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Originally Posted by amyb View Post
Safaritalk is the best resource for researching trips, IMO (far, far more in depth than here and Trip Advisor combined). It is currently being moved from one server to another so itís down for all members, but it should be back up this weekend. The trip report sub-forum alone, which you can paw through and drool over the photos, is worth it for the research value. There arenít many places in eastern and Southern Africa the collective group hasnít been. Trip Reports are open to non-members but to ask a question in the Trip Planning section, you must register and login. Itís always good for me to ask questions as I plan a trip because there are people who have been on dozens more safaris than I have, so they can better compare experiences. Itíd be worth it when itís back to take a look.
Yeah, I've been hearing that about Safari Talk for a while. Be sure to come back on and alert us as to when it's open to new members! I haven't been able to register or to see anything on there for a while! Tried back in December and again in January. Virtually Nothing was visible.

Last edited by mlgb; Mar 22nd, 2019 at 02:21 PM.
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Mar 22nd, 2019, 02:56 PM
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As far as pricing, for lodging, the Kruger Camps average $100 US per night plus or minus 10%, (eg Lower Sabie will be 1600 ZAR) for an air conditioned bungalow with kitchenette for two people. Meals were very inexpensive, $10 to $20 although service is slow. I liked having the kitchenette so that could make breakfast and coffee before heading out for the 5:30 am gate opening. Most of the Rest Camps have stores with provisions and restaurants where you could order a sack lunch for the next day. There are also a number of restaurants and picnic sites inside the parks ranging from Asfaal and Tshokwane picnic sites to a full service Cattle Baron in Skukuza. The food was really quite good. We had early departures to be out the gates when they opened so it was nice to have the kitchenette to make coffee and some easy breakfasts. We would often do a 10 or 11 am stop at one of the picnic areas for those who wanted a real meal instead, or just some good coffee and a muffin. Some of the groups on our tour had better guides than we did, and they had proper field breakfasts and lunches which I'm sure a tour could work out.

Entry fees for Kruger are expensive and I bought the Wild Card ($200 for a year, good at all parks).


Last edited by mlgb; Mar 22nd, 2019 at 03:11 PM.
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Mar 23rd, 2019, 08:51 AM
  #13  
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I think I'm getting a better picture of what we need to do. We can't afford to spend the whole time in the private camps but if we get a travel planner they could set us up with a driver to get us to Kruger and we could spend a few days there, then spend a few days in a private camp too. We'll have to wait to decide on May or November. Is November the beginning of the rainy season? Does anyone have a travel planner to recommend? I have escrutchy's written down and will contact her, but would like to put it out to 2 or 3 to compare. Again, thank you so much for taking the time to give me so much help!!
pegtrav is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2019, 11:36 AM
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Give Africa Travel Resource a try. I just booked my Zambia safari with them next year and they are excellent at recreating itineraries on the fly. I'd ask for one tweak and within an hour get 4 more itineraries. I think I had 15 different itineraries in a matter of a few days. I also liked that they got me a long stay deal, got a single supplement dropped at one camp and gave me an under the stars sleep-out for my birthday (I'll be celebrating a milestone while there). I also found them to be the best price for what I was looking for as compared to other safari planners. They book most east and south African countries.
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Mar 23rd, 2019, 02:14 PM
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Here's an option for a company that offers stays inside Kruger and transfers from JNB. They seem to get good reviews on Tripadvisor. Five nights for the price of one at a luxury camp?

https://wild-wings-safaris.com/tours...kruger-safari/
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Mar 25th, 2019, 04:58 AM
  #16  
Ian
 
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You can fly from JNB or Cape Town to one of several regional airports to start your Kruger adventure. We have used both Nelspruit - MQP & Skukuza - SKZ. Rent a car & drive into the park for a self-drive stay & finish with a couple of nights in a reserve. That way you get the best of both worlds: the self-drive & a pampered safari. Both have their advantages/disadvantages. We did this on our first trip to Kruger & loved it so much we are leaving for our 3rd trip in 2 weeks (all self-drive). Be warned that May is starting to get much cooler at night & 6am morning game drives can be very cold (especially with an outdoor shower in the dark).

Ian
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Mar 25th, 2019, 05:26 AM
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The OP says they don't want to rent a car.

Many of the private game lodges offer road transfer services to/from the regional airports. There are private transfer companies; also there are direct flights to some of the airstrips around Kruger and the private reserves straight from JNB airport.
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Mar 25th, 2019, 02:27 PM
  #18  
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That's the trouble with dropping into threads without reading it all . . . but . . . part of it still applies.

Choose a private reserve in the pocket west of Kruger Park (fwiw Sabi Sands, Mala Mala and Manyeleti Reserves are all very public about the absence of hunting on their properties). Here is a map of the reserve camps. There is something for every budget. To get there, you will have to use a road transfer from Joberg or fly to one of the regional airports & have your camp arrange transport to the lodge (fastest but more $s). Most people seem to feel that 3 nights is max in a camp from what I have seen. The public Kruger can be self-driven or a number of lodges outside the park drive in with there safari jeeps daily.
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Mar 26th, 2019, 06:43 AM
  #19  
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Qtwo more questions: if you had a choice between November and May for Kruger, which would you choose?
Can you give me the names of some of the least expensive camps in the private reserves?
Thanks again. You all are so helpful!!
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Mar 26th, 2019, 11:56 AM
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Someone here can give you the names you asked for (ELEPHANT PLAINS, ARATHUSA, UKUMBE,AND NOTTEN'S are four options; I THINK these are in the below US$500 per person per night range, and maybe well below that...) but again, I would ask a travel planner to handle this, as they may be able to access pricing that you or I cannot.
they will also be able to coordinate flights/transfers and a host of other stuff. AND, as I think I mentioned above, they are on the ground for you if something goes wrong..missed flight, car breakdown, etc etc. I can just imagine myself trying to get to Sabi Sands on my own, and without missing one game drive, when the Blue Train broke down in the midst of nowhere!

You might think that I made a typo saying that they are below $500 per person per night and are considered moderate in Sabi Sands...I would have thought that as well before I made my first trip. Keep in mind that there are camps in Botswana that charge more than $3000 per person per night in high season, or around there...

You do not have to pay that to see vast amount of game. If the prices sound too steep, you might forget Sabi Sands and look at Timbavati to the north where there are some good lodges (I've never been, though)

Last edited by ekscrunchy; Mar 26th, 2019 at 11:58 AM.
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