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Well traveled...but not in Africa. Need help with itineraries!

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Apr 1st, 2015, 10:53 AM
  #1
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Well traveled...but not in Africa. Need help with itineraries!

Hello all!

My husband and I are in the planning stages for a safari in Africa next year for our 25th wedding anniversary. We are experienced travelers, but this will be our first safari. We have set a budget of $25,000, and can travel at any time next year, depending on what is our best option.
We've narrowed our focus on Southern Africa, rather than Kenya/Tanzania. Our primary focus is on wildlife and culture. Both avid photographers, we'd prefer small groups of no more than 6 or even private vehicles. We're also hoping to renew our wedding vows while we're there. We would prefer not to be moving around every 2 days, or spend long hours in vehicles trying to get from one location to the other.

I have received 2 possible itineraries from 2 separate companies. They both look promising. Would love to have more experienced eyes take a look at them and give some input.

Itinerary 1:
* Arrive at the Johannesburg International Airport. Transferred straight to
the Kruger National Park OR fly to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport OR
Skukuza, depending on the time of their arrival at Johannesburg.

* Spend four nights at a private lodge in the Imbali Concession of the
Kruger National Park. This will place the customers centrally in the Kruger National Park. A variety of wildlife is to be found in this area: Frequent lion and big predator sightings, an abundance of birdlife and game. A dedicated guide will be arranged to take the customers on game drives and to be at their service, trying to find and view as many different species of wildlife as is possible. Both day and night game drives will be arranged.

* Fly back to Johannesburg for a connecting flight to preferably Kasane or
Maun in Botswana. Met at the airport and transferred to the Ngoma Safari Lodge, set on the banks of the Chobe River and 5km from the Ngoma Gate entrance to the Chobe National Park. Stay for three nights. A dedicated guide will be arranged to be of service to the customers. Chobe is a pristine wilderness area and is famous for large herds of elephants, zebras and other big game. Lions, leopards, cheetahs etc. are usually sighted in abundance. The Chobe river is rich in birdlife. A boat ride on the Chobe will afford a unique vantage point to view wildlife, including hippos and crocodiles.

* Transferred to Kasane and then to the Victoria Falls Hotel (Zimbabwe).
Stay here for one night.

• Fly to Johannesburg, and then onwards to Zambia.


2 nights Kafunta River Lodge
2 nights Island Bush Camp
1 night Kafunta River Lodge

Itinerary 2:
Day 1 Arrive Johannesburg and transfer to Outlook Lodge for dinner and overnight. (D) Days 2-4 Take a scheduled flight to Hoedspruit and enjoy superb game viewing in the Thornybush Game Reserve (BLD)
Days 5-7 Travel south to the world famous Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve for 3 nights, with day and night game drives and bush walks (BLD)
Days 8-9 A scheduled flight brings you to Livingstone, the Zambian side of the spectacular Victoria Falls, and the idyllic Siankaba Lodge situated on two untouched islands in the mighty Zambezi River – the ideal location for your vow renewal (BLD)
Days 10-12 A road transfer takes you cross border to Botswana where you take a small aircraft flight to the Chobe Enclave, best known for its large populations of elephant and buffalo for a 3-night stay (BLD)
Days 13-15 Today’s charter flight takes you over the awe-inspiring oasis of the Okavango Delta, where you end your safari in the prime location of the Xugana Lagoon (BLD)
Day 16 Board a light aircraft to Maun and connect to your homeward flight.

I thank you in advance for your help!
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Apr 1st, 2015, 04:56 PM
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Hi Heymo - in order to provide some useful feedback, can you let me know what time of year these trips have been proposed? For example: Zambia (South Luangwa) and Chobe are HIGHLY seasonal so it is really important to know what time of year the agents have itineraries these properties so I can provide useful commentary.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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Apr 1st, 2015, 06:44 PM
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Hello. I have been on safari many, many times in South Africa and once in Botswana. I have also been on safari in Kenya and Tanzania so I can compare the two. Southern Africa is spectacular so you have made a good choice. I would spend some time researching the lodges they suggest in terms of game viewing and reviews by other travelers. Don't be afraid to suggest other options within the concessions they have suggested or others all together. I have had tour companies put together high-end safaris for me and while I have taken many of their suggestions on lodges, I have also made my own choices based on substantial research as well.

Good luck. You will have an amazing time.
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Apr 1st, 2015, 09:32 PM
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Congratulations on 25! We just celebrated ours last year in SA too! It was a much smaller budget than yours, but it was just great! If the US$25,000 does not include airfare, I would upgrade my accomodations. Biz r/t airfare is US$7000 or more, so if your budget includes international airfare, it's much different. I'm with you - no stays less than three nights. Too much travel and expense.

Here's what I'd do:

I would go to Cape Town for 3-4 nights, and don't miss Robben Island, Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope (including penguins) and a few nice meals, see the beaches, all good. If you must do a wine tour (they are the same as in the states and you'll get great local wine at all safari camps. You can get most of it locally at home - just ask your liquor store to order what you liked in SA) go for a day trip. It is pretty, but I loved Cape Town and would have skipped wine for more time in town.

Choose one of many Sabi Sands camps - preferably the ones in the west. Depending on your actual budget and needs, you could choose Londolozi, Singita at the VERY high end, Mala Mala or Kirkmans Kamp mid range and Nottens, Arathusa, Cheetah Plains (and lots of others) in the "affordable" range. Prices for affordable are pretty high, and the high end is painful. All of them can arrange for wedding vows, some do a better job than others. I can't imagine a better spot than in the bush.

Now there's choices. You could combine Mala Mala with Mashatu in SE Botswana. It so far exceeded my expectations! We loved Mashatu. There is a flight between the two, making it an easy connection. And very different Eco-systems and fantastic people staff the camp.

Or got to Botswana - there is nowhere that compares to the Okavango Delta. There are so many options there, but it is a very expensive place. Botswana has chosen quality over quantity, so there are fewer people - and very high expense. It also makes it very special. Max in vehicle usually 6.

Or you could do something that few others do. Last year we did a rhino conservation outing as an anniversary gift. We got to arrange for a rhino to be darted, micro-chipped, DNA taken and ear notched for ID. And we got to go watch and "help"!!! It was one of our best days ever! Because it is an outing for ten and it was just the two of us, we arranged for local tribe leaders to join us - we can't save the rhino without the local people. Just thinking about it, I get this goofy grin on my face. We did this at the Zululand Rhino Reserve in KwaZulu Natal. It's an easy flight from the Kruger area. ZRR is not as established as many of the older reserves, it was started with WWF to expand the black rhino habitat just about 15 years ago. They have been incredibly good at protecting the MANY rhinos they have. They have the big five, lion babies, LOTS of cheetah babies last year (nine in two groups!) and the most exciting news I just heard - they just released Wild Dogs on the property!! It is a very affordable place, so you could arrange for private vehicles and private walks every day. We stay at (and love) Rhino River Lodge - there are other lodges including Leopard Mountain. Although I love ZRR, the much more popular Phinda is just a few miles away. I don't think I've ever read a negative review. If you want to add beach time on the warm Indian Ocean, Rocktail and Thonga are nearby, as well as the beach towns north of Durban and (where I'm retiring to!) St Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park for fun and sun.

I know - too many options! I would not choose Imbali or Thornybush. The "best" time for wildlife viewing is May-September as it's dry and the grass is lower, and the animals stay near water sources. It can get chilly (or downright cold!) though. For me, that's better than hot. Any good safari agent can arrange the exact safari you want - check out Classic Africa www.classicafrica.com and A&K for itineraries that you might also be interested in and then use an outfitter to get the trip you want. Also check out &Beyond for some good combination specials - free nights with minimum stays in Sabi Sand, Bots, Phinda. For USD25000 you should be able to do a very nice safari! (Our anniversary trip was just over USD5000, using FF miles for flights for two weeks. I know, not everyone's idea of a special trip, but it was fantastic, especially the smiley rhino outing).

In short:
CT - Mala Mala - Mashatu
CT - Kirkmans or other Sabi Sand Lodge - ZRR (and maybe Phinda)
CT - Sabi Sand lodge - Botswana

Enjoy your planning. Don't sweat it too much. You can't really make a bad trip and you'll go back to see the stuff you miss. Southern Africa is incredibly special.
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 02:47 AM
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There are quite a lot of things about itinerary 1 that don't make sense.

It says fly to Kasane or Maun for Ngoma which is in Chobe. I don't think Maun makes sense- Kasane would be ideal but I don't think the flights from JNB are every day. The alternative would be Livingstone or Vic Falls.

You then go to the Zim side of the falls for 1 night.

Then to get to South Luangwa in Zambia, you go back via Johannesburg- this will mean a flight to JNB, then to Lusaka, then to Mfuwe, then a road transfer to Kafunta. I'm not sure if the connections will work to make that even possible in a day, and if it is it would mean leaving very early from VF and arriving late at Kafunta. Which, with one night at the falls doesn't really give you any time to see anything there, and you will arrive at Kafunta tired, missing your afternoon drive and with only a 2 night stop ahead. And it requires international flights with immigration and having to be there 2 hours before, and transiting JNB............

Much more sensible would be to stay on the Zambian side of the Falls, then get a Proflight flight from Livingstone to Mfuwe (will go via Lusaka but just a stop, probably not even a change of planes). Domestic flights, small planes, no immigration or transiting big airports...........

Basically, with itinerary 1 the routings are so weird it makes me think whoever put this together doesn't have much experience.

Itinerary 2 seems logistically more sensible although it's very non specific about the camps in Botswana and I can't comment on the choice of camp in South Africa.

I think you need to do a bit of research and narrow down where you want to go. I see you say you can go anytime in the year, so I assume that will be chosen based on where you want to go. Personally I would be looking at making the itinerary a bit more compact with less travelling around and fewer countries- I would stick to either Zambia (maybe South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and the Falls) or Botswana plus the Falls. Adding Sabi Sands to Botswana could work as per itinerary 2 (although personally I wouldn't) but I wouldn't try and add it to Zambia. If Zambia, I'd probably choose Aug or Sept, for Botswana I would probably try and go shoulder/low season as Botswana is expensive and in shoulder season your budget will go further- so May/June or November.

I'm not sure if your budget includes international flights or not. If it doesn't, it's a pretty healthy budget for a Zambia trip, and you should be able to have your pick of places even in high season. For Botswana, your budget would probably limit your choices in high season which is why I'd suggest shoulder or low season.
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 06:10 AM
  #6
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Hello all. Thanks for all your wonderful insight.

Travel beyond- I believe the 2nd itinerary is proposed for dry season.

I can clarify where we would be staying with the 2nd proposal. at Thornybush we'd be staying at Chapungu Luxury Tented Camp, at Sabi Sand we'd be staying at Notten's Bush camp, at Livingstone we'd be staying at Islands of Siankaba Lodge, at Chobe we'd be staying at Linyanti Bush camp, and at the Okavango Delta we'd be staying at Xugana Island Lodge.

For this trip we've decided not to go to Capetown as we'd like to focus our time on wildlife. Our initial thoughts were for SA and possibly Zambia, but we both wanted to see the falls so that folded in to the plan as well.

Stokeygirl- thank you for pointing out some flaws in the first proposal. It was a rough sketch I believe, because we didn't like the first one they sent us. I'm hoping a new, more detailed itinerary will be arriving in my email today. I looked at all the lodges they proposed and all looked nice. I will address your questions to the travel company. (I have purposely left out the names of the companies because I thought it would be rude- should I post the names? Is that helpful?)

Also- I have a question about small planes and weight restrictions. Being photographers, we'll have camera gear, battery chargers, laptops, etc. in addition to our luggage. I know some of the small plane have very strict weight restrictions ( something like 44 lbs. pp) How do you deal with that? Do camps, lodges, etc. have laundry service that you only bring like 3 changes of clothes and have them washed all the time?
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 06:33 AM
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Hi Beth,

Sounds like a fun plan. So it looks like you never did the Kenya trip that you were planning for your 20th. That’s too bad! Do you still run a photography business? I really think that photography should be a primary factor for this discussion. Your budget is “healthy” and for a nine night safari + other ancillary logistics it will only preclude a peak season Botswana safari or a five star South Africa itinerary. I suggest peak season but leave Botswana out of it.

Regarding the first two trips, did you get these itineraries from a professional safari planning company with deep experience in Southern Africa? There are many discrepancies with these plans and I suggest ditching both these companies and finding someone more knowledgeable and professional. Key points in making this suggestion:

Option 1 comments.
Imabali Lodge is a GREAT choice and I highly endorse it as a low cost option BUT it is approximately 3 hours from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. The closest airport is actually Hoedspruit/HDS. Does dedicated guide mean private guide? There is a huge difference in this subtlety.
Ngoma is about 2 hours from the Kasane/BBK airport and transfers are included in the rates. Maun is about 12 hours away as Stokeygirl noted and not included in the rates. Ngoma will be a very good place to see elephants in July-November. One of the best spots on earth.
Please ask the company that crafted option 1 to write in an email in full detail how you will get from Imbali to Ngoma in one day. It will be quite arduous with some severe tradeoffs. First of all, it is not possible to get to Jo’burg from Imbali in time for the morning flight to Kasane without chartering a private plane to fly you to Jo’burg just after sunrise. This is not a workable plane.
I have no idea why they have you leaving and returning to Kafunta River Lodge!

Option 2 comments.
Thornybush - what property?? There are at least 10 properties in Thornybush ranging from the cheap (Waterbuck) to the most expensive safari lodge in South Africa (Royal Malewane). Weird how they would not be specific.
Sabi Sands – this is the name of a game reserve with about 20 private safari lodges ranging in price from about $400 to $1600 per person per night (Nottens to Singita). Again, no details should be a huge red flag for you.
Day 8 – you will need to leave your Sabi Sands lodge by 7am to get to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in time for the flight to Livingstone, Zambia on SA Airlink. Again, have them write out all the logistics for this day with departure times and drive times.
What lodge in the Delta? So many choices at so many price points.

Once I get more details, I will likely recommend some photographic centered experiences. As a teaser, check out the photgrahpic hides at Shenton’s Camp in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, or possibly the hides at Masahtu Main Camp. All would work well in your budget.
http://www.kaingo.com/
http://mashatu.com/

Your best bet is going to be to fly KLM/Delta out of DTW to JNB via AMS or ATL. Too bad KLM no longer flies into Lusaka, Zambia. When I went for a month in September 2012 I used this flight.

Good luck. I can’t help but comment based on this post and you Kenya posts that you may be planning this under the misguided notion that it is cheaper to book with a company located in Africa. I don’t think these two companies are doing you any favors…

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 06:34 AM
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20kg (44lbs) is normal for small flights in Botswana. In Zambia, with Proflight I think it is 25kg. These are generous compared to East Africa which often has only 15kg. You just have to be ruthless with your packing. Most safari camps include laundry so you don't need loads of clothes. As for camera gear, again, you either have to be ruthless or pay for an extra seat for each small plane flight, which is what really serious photographers do. As an idea, I have a Canon 7D and 100-400mm lens. I find on a 20kg allowance I can manage that, and an extra body (450D) and a short lens (17-85) and a netbook (weighs about 1.2kg- so not a full sized laptop). If the luggage allowance is only 15kg I have to forget the second body and lens and count on a point and shoot for landscape shots. I also have binoculars.

But if you have multiple bodies and more than one big heavy zoom lens or big prime lenses, you might have to look at booking an extra seat. Obviously with 2 of you you can spread the equipment between you.
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 06:39 AM
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"I have no idea why they have you leaving and returning to Kafunta River Lodge!"

I do. Island Bush Camp is a good 4 hour road transfer from Kafunta, so maybe up to 5 hours from Mfuwe airport. So I don't think it's feasible to either start or end at Island Bush Camp.
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 07:14 AM
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Craig- unfortunately no- our plans for an Africa trip on our 20th ended when our son called and told us he was getting married in Australia that same year- couldn't help pay for the wedding, travel there,spend time and do the safari. Yes, I do still run a photography business, and it is the primary focus our our trip (other than the anniversary of course!) I appreciate you remembering!

I did post in my reply the places they have us staying with the 2nd interary, but here it is again- at Thornybush they have us at Chapungu Luxury Tented Camp, at Sabi Sands they have us at Notten's Bush camp, at Livingstone we'd be staying at Islands of Siankaba Lodge at Chobe we'd be staying at Linyanti Bush camp, and at the Okavango Delta we'd be staying at Xugana Island Lodge.

The first itinerary was proposed by a company called Wild Trek Safaris. They are the people who were helping me plan the Kenya trip, and I thought it only fair after they'd gone through all the work previously to contact them again when we started planning once again. They are actually based here in the states, in Colorado. A friend of mine lived in Zambia for awhile, and she has a relationship with Kafunta. I asked her for some advice and she put me in touch with a friend of hers who owns Martin Meyer Safaris, who proposed the second itinerary. I believe they are based in Africa.

The Kafunta information is from their website, based on a 6 day stay with them. I am not locked into staying at any place in particular, but since I knew people who had stayed there and knew the place well I went on that recommendation.

Stokeygirl- thanks for the luggage info. I'm sure we'll figure out a way to pare down our gear to make it work.
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 07:19 AM
  #11
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Christabir- didn't mean to ignore your suggestions. Your rhino adventure sounds pretty cool.

Might I ask your hesitation in choosing Thornybush?
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 07:46 AM
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The second itinerary actually sounds quite balanced to me although I am not familiar with all the camps. Xugana Island is, as is sounds, on a small island, so the main activities are water based or walking. It wouldn't be my top choice in Botswana, especially for photographers, but then I guess with all the game drive time in South Africa, whoever put this together has given you a very water based camp in Botswana, so overall it balances out. I haven't been to Linyanti Bush Camp but the Linyanti area in general is excellent in the dry season. I am guessing this trip might also come in on budget even in high season as the Botswana camps are a couple of the less expensive options, and budget may well have driven these choices if whoever designed it is trying to stick within budget and stay in high season.

If you are interested in Zambia then, as I said, I would forget trying to add on Sabi Sands and do, maybe 7 or 8 nights South Luangwa, 4 Lower Zambezi and 2 or 3 at the Falls. I have stayed at Kafunta and Island Bush camp. You realise that IBC is walking only? If you only have limited time in the park and are serious photographers, I am not sure staying at a walking only camp will suit you. I would look at Shentons (mentioned above) who have dedicated photography hides. Also Robin Pope- they have only 4 people per vehicle, and they are fully flexible about whether you walk or drive at all their camps. Tafika is another favourite of mine (also 4 per vehicle). They also have a photography hide at a carmine bee-eater hide which will be active from late Aug (probably best for a Sept visit).
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 08:15 AM
  #13
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Stokeygirl- the budget for the 2nd itinerary came in at $8754 pp plus $857 for flights not included in costs. They estimated an 8% increase for 2016 rates.

I'd also like to get an idea of what we should plan as far as tipping...
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 03:35 PM
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Stokeygirl - thanks for the info on Kafunta. I have not been there (yet).

Beth - so odd but your 810am post was not there when I posted my 833am words! That is why some of our information "crossed".

If you go to the Sabi Sands then Nottens is one of the few camps in the entire reserve without access to the Sand or Sabi River which is prime leopard habitat. Keep that in mind. Best value on the River could be Kirkmans if you want to stay out of the more crowded western sector.

If you go with the Linyanti Bush Camp option then perhaps consider combining it with Okuti instead. Okuti is owned by Ker & Downey and Linyanti Bush is owned by African Bush Camps. They are in a strategic alliance and you might get a better price. There are no game drive activities at Xugana Island; it is all water activities.

I really suggest not getting to wrapped up on luggage limits. This is a big trip and if you go over the weight just pay for it so you can get the right photos.

Tipping - plan for $50/day and you will be ok.

I think you should consider a different plan than what is offered. You could do some of the Zambia camps and I actually think you should combine with South Africa camps or maybe Sabi Sands + Mashatu for max photography opportunities. Aug 15-Sep 15 best time.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 04:35 PM
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NO worries Craig- those things happen.

South Africa was our first choice when we started out- it was only after consulting with travel companies that the other countries came into play.

I'd be very interested in what you would recommend. Should I get in contact with you via your company website?
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 06:01 PM
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Hi Beth,

That would be fine if you would like to chat. Forum rules do not allow people in the industry to leave their contact details on the open pages. Have a great evening.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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Apr 3rd, 2015, 01:59 AM
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My suggestion is to always try and book with a tour operator in the country you planning to visit. If you have found the correct operator you will find most of them have actually visited the destinations they offer you on the itinerary and will be of great help to ensure you have the best experience.
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Apr 3rd, 2015, 06:13 AM
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Craig- if we flew out of Chicago instead of Detroit could we fly into Lusaka that way?
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Apr 3rd, 2015, 08:18 AM
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How does one narrow down exactly what they want from a safari? We want to see as many of the big 5 as possible, get great pictures, and have a fun experience. If we get to see Victoria Falls? That would be amazing. I'd like to have our vows renewed while we're there- something memorable. Other than that- it's hard to know what to say we want.
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Apr 3rd, 2015, 09:21 AM
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Hi Beth,

There is no good way to Lusaka on a SKYTEAM carrier since KLM cancelled their flight service last year. You would have to fly to JNB or Nairobi and continue from there. If you are not worried about that you could fly Emirates out of Chicago (or other gateways) and go to Lusaka that way. Sometimes these flights stop in Harare. Ethiopian out of IAD also might work.

If you are really looking to maximize animal sightings (density and diversity) then in my opinion and experience (over 35 trips to Africa) the greatest animal densities on the continent are in the Sabi Sands private game reserves adjacent to the Kruger (the same densities exists in the Kruger but land use restrictions prevent seeing them all), Chief's Island in Botswana or the Masai Mara private conservancies in Kenya.

With the continued troubles in Kenya you can get a really good deal there. Naboisho (Asilia owns it) just made peak season stay4pay3 for the first time. This is arguably one of the most game dense places in Africa in July-September during the great migrations when crossings are taking place. From there you can keep heading to South Africa and then combine MalaMala and Mashatu on a six night safari. The whole thing should be within your budget. The only species you would likely miss on this trip would be black rhino but the odds of seeing them at MalaMala are still pretty good.

For clients wanting a combo trip to East Africa and South Africa on a bit of a budget I have done this before:

Kichwa Tembo in the Masai Mara.
Kirkmans in the Sabi Sands.
Ngala in the Timbavati.
Phinda in Kwa Zulu Natal.

You could add a few bucks to the budget and add Sandibe in the Okavango Delta. &beyond passes incredible specials on to their guests via agents for combining their properties like this. Please not Kichwa Temnbo is in the Mara proper and not on a private conservancy but I think this is ok!

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond
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