Tour to S. Africa

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May 31st, 2004, 06:04 AM
  #1
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Tour to S. Africa

My husband and I would like to visit S. Africa next year. We want to be gone about two weeks, see the "high points", along with a couple of bush experiences to see animals. We are looking for a high quality, moderately priced tour company to take us there. I'd be interested in some recommendations (except from the actual tour companies themselves). Thank you.
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May 31st, 2004, 07:37 AM
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Karen - try www.fisheaglesafaris.com. We had a wonderful trip with them a couple years ago. The owner, Bert, is a pleasure to work with.
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May 31st, 2004, 09:08 AM
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Hello Karenjw0,

I checked out the website Louise gave you, and it seems to me that Fish Eagles Safaris is a company that specializes in safaris, i.e., wild animal viewing. (Louise, please correct me if I'm wrong.) I do not get the impression that they handle visits to cities. I interpret your desire to see "high points" to mean that you may want a combination of wildlife viewing and urban experiences.

You are not the first person who has come here to Fodors asking about a tour of South Africa. While I've never been on a guided tour there myself, I've done Internet searches in an effort to find tours that other travellers might enjoy. Admittedly, my searches have not been exhaustive, but I have not yet found a guided tour of South Africa that offers a good itinerary. Without exception, the itineraries I've seen have struck me as being too similar to the "If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium" scenario.

That said, there are good safari companies, and there also are good tour companies that cover non-safari destinations in South Africa. From what I've been able to gather, one needs to go on a minimum of two different tours to get a good mix (i.e., if one is looking for a combination of safari and urban experiences).

Another option is to work with a company that will offer you different components from which you can assemble your own customized itinerary (a "mix and match" approach, if you will).

Some travellers like to work with travel agents in their own countries (USA, UK, or wherever). One of the advantages that is cited is that, if anything should go wrong, one has a better chance of receiving compensation (refunds, etc.) from a travel agent in one's own country. On the other hand, I've heard that American, British, etc., travel agents tend to be more expensive than those based in destination countries. For that reason, and also because of the advantages of local knowledge, some travellers like to use local travel agents.

One of the regular posters here is "I Love Africa," who works for a South African travel company called Taga Safaris. I know nothing about Taga Safaris, other than the fact that I've seen I Love Africa's posts here at Fodors, and I've looked up their website. Their offerings give me the impression that are an "honest" company (I don't know if that's the right word, but I don't know how else to express it). I say that because they don't have one tour that claims to cover South Africa. Rather, they have different tours that cover different components of South Africa. A traveller would be able to take only one of their tours of one area, or he/she would be able to take a combination of their tours, and thus assemble an itinerary that would cover a couple or a few areas of South Africa. To me, the very fact that they don't offer a "one size fits all" tour of South Africa tells me that it's at least worth looking into them some more to figure out whether or not they are a company I might want to deal with.

In case you're interested in checking them out, their website is

http://tagasafaris.co.za/

and I Love Africa's e-mail address is [email protected] .

There are also other companies that have given Fodorites good service, and Louise already has mentioned one of them.

More info follows in next message.
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May 31st, 2004, 09:13 AM
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One of the challenges in visiting South Africa is that its popular destinations are in different climatic zones and are at their best, from a weather point of view, at different times of the year.

The games reserves in the province of Mpumalanga have brutally hot and humid summers (Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb) and pleasant, sunny, warm winters (May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep). A popular destination for visitors wanting an urban experience is Cape Town. But the challenge is that Cape Town's weather tends to be cool, rainy, and sometimes windy during the winter. Cape Town's summers are dry and warm to hot.

The southern hemisphere fall (April) is a good time to go in that Cape Town tends to have pleasant autumn weather and, while the Mpumalanga game reserves are still slightly on the warm side, the worst of the heat has dissipated. Another time that represents a pretty good compromise, for the same reasons, is the southern hemisphere spring (October).

For someone wanting a two week introduction to South Africa, a fairly popular combination is a few days in one of the Mpumalanga game reserves (the Kruger National Park or one of the nearby private game reserves), a few days touring the Garden Route on the country's southern coast (Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Wilderness, George, Oudtshoorn) and a few days in the Southwestern Cape region (Cape Town and its wine producing hinterland).

If one does this combination in the spring, it's best to start in the north (Mpumalanga) and work one's way southwards, so that one follows the onset of warmer weather as it spreads further from the equator. If one does the trip in the southern hemisphere fall, it's best to start in the south (Garden Route and Cape Town) and work one's way north, retreating from the onset of cooler weather.

If you have only two weeks in the country, it's best to fly (and not drive) from Mpumalanga to the southern coast. I used to think it was best to access the Garden Route by flying from Mpumalanga to Port Elizabeth, but regular poster Selwyn Davidowitz put me onto the idea of flying to George.

And that brings me to another point. Cape Town resident Selwyn is another font of information about his own city and the Garden Route. He operates small guided tours of the Cape area and the Garden Route (both single day tours and longer tours). You can check out his website at

http://ilovecapetown.com/

Through his posts here, Selwyn has provided Fodorites with heaps of information about accommodation, restaurants, and sight seeing. One of the best posts I've seen about Cape Town and the Garden Route is the message that Selwyn posted in this discussion thread:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34477003

Still more info in next post.
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May 31st, 2004, 09:18 AM
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Another popular destination in South Africa is the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The northern half of the province has some good game reserves, the western edge of the province is graced by the beautiful Drakensberg Range, and the east coast has the vibrant port city of Durban.

But with only two weeks in South Africa, you're going to be forced to make some choices, if you want to avoid being rushed.

KwaZulu-Natal (except for the Drakensberg region that is at a higher elevation) tends to be hot and humid in summer and to have sunny, warm, dry weather in winter.

If your schedule forces you to go to South Africa in the southern hemisphere winter (Jun, Jul, Aug), I think there would be merit in going to the Mpumalanga game reserves and then flying to Durban, or else going to the Mpumalanga game reserves, driving through the separate country of Swaziland and one or two KwaZulu-Natal games reserves, and finishing up in Durban.

I think there would be merit in skipping Cape Town in winter, although some Cape Town fans are so ardent they claim it's worth visiting the city under any circumstances.

I would not bother spending any more time than necessary in Johannesburg on a first to South Africa. That is just my very subjective opinion. Johannesburg is a land locked city. It arose where it did by an accident of fate, namely, the late nineteenth century gold rush. The coastal cities of Cape Town and Durban have heaps more charm, in my estimation.

Hope this helps.
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May 31st, 2004, 10:09 AM
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Fish Eagle will customize trips as stated in the website under "About Fish Eagle Safaris". We did a Botswana, Zimbabwe safari and wished to go to Capetown first which was very easily arranged for us.
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May 31st, 2004, 10:39 AM
  #7
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karenjw0 -

Judy_in_Calgary made very good points regarding the various areas and seasons in SA for your consideration.

Her reference to Taga Safaris and Selwyn re a tour operator for overall southern Africa and Capetown, respectively are worth following up on.

However, I've found that though Fish Eagles is US based, their prices tend to be high. Below are three other tour operators - SA based and with good reputations:

www.africasafari.co.za - (Pulse Tours)
www.go2africa.com - (Go2Africa Tours)
www.karibu.co.za - (Karibu Tours)

also check: www.e-gnu.com (they have prices for many of the accommodations all around Africa).

Check the above sites and see what they have to offer. In addition, you can do a seach on this board for information regarding travel to SA - there is a wealth of important considerations - and along with a good guidebook, decide for yourself what it is you would like to do/see/amount time, season, and budget.

Realize that certain seasons dictate higher rates, such as best game viewing in the Kruger area in June-July-August. Yet, at the same time the weather in CPT is questionnable. Rates are also higher over the Christmas holidays throughout SA.

Once you've decided on what it is you'd like to accomplish, send an email to two or three of these companies and see what they can offer you.

As to those of us offering our own recommendations, well, that can be more confusing than not. We all have our own ideas of what is the best, or most desireable in each area of SA. It's kind of asking someone who plans to visit the US, where to go! Big country, lots of options and too many responses.

With your limited time, you can still manager to get in the "high points," and while some would choose to drive the Garden Route, others might prefer to spend more time in the Winelands, less time in CPT proper, or more time on Safari, still other would like to visit Sun City.

It can be done, but you have to do the homework to design "your vacation." Then once you've gotton proposals from a few of the tour operators, I can guarantee there will more than enough responses about each.


 
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May 31st, 2004, 11:32 AM
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I would highly recommend Ultimate Africa Safaris (ultimateafrica.com). Ian Proctor has been very helpful in putting together a trip which matched the things we wanted to see and do along with our travel budget. They arranged everything from Cape Town lodgings, Botswana camps, Victoria Falls, and a Soweto tour.

They were recommended to us by a friend who's travelled on 5 different trips arranged by Ultimate Africa. We are so glad we connected with Ian and company.
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May 31st, 2004, 04:31 PM
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karenjwo

Taga Safaris will provide you with the best quotes.I am not aware of any other tour company that can beat their local knowledge,service and excellent pricing.
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Jun 1st, 2004, 11:52 AM
  #10
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Thanks to all for these thoughtful comprehensive responses. They will get me started. I will, undoubtedly, be back!
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Jun 1st, 2004, 03:26 PM
  #11
 
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Hi karenjw0

Just a quick note to say that I have just used Go2Africa tours (www.go2africa.com) to book all our accomodation and internal flights for our South Africa trip at the end of this year. Had we not already booked our international flights from the UK ourselves they would've booked them too. Their prices were far cheaper than any quote I got from UK based tour companies and they were very helpful in finding accomodation for us at peak season when a lot of hotels and lodges were fully booked already.
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