Where, oh where?


Jul 3rd, 2014, 01:36 PM
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Where, oh where?


I'm looking to tap into the collective wisdom and advice of the forum. We are a retired couple and would like to plan a 2015 safari.

We have been on just one safari three years ago and absolutely loved the whole experience. We traveled with another couple and spent 20 days at various national parks in Tanzania: Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Mahale, Katavi, Ruaha, and Tarangire. For the most part, we flew from one place to another. With the exception of overnight lodge stays at the Crater and Tarangire, we stayed in tented camps. We were very pleased with everything: the camps, the guides, the game drives, and the flora and fauna. Our hope would be to duplicate that experience but also experience another part of Africa.

In no particular order, we've set the following parameters:

1. Lodges and/or tented camps would be fine.
2. No real desire to self-drive.
3. Prefer to go in 2- or 4-customer vehicles on game drives.
4. Would like to be able to include pre-dawn and/or post-dusk game drives.
5. Prefer for game drives to be able to go "off-road", as opposed to the requirement to stay on the "roads" in the Tanzania NPs.
6. Would like to see more leopards and cheetahs; don't need to see any more hippos.
7. Three weeks maximum, not including travel time to/from Africa.
8. No desire to go Kenya, for personal safety concerns.

As yet, we know virtually nothing about South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, or Namibia, but I think that our next trip will probably include [some of] these.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer as we begin our research and planning.

-- Bill
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Jul 3rd, 2014, 02:08 PM
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Leopards - Sabi Sand (one of the private reserves in greater Kruger). Many lodges, many prices.
Cheetah - Phinda in KwaZulu Natal, one of the few places that I'd say you'd be almost guaranteed to find cheetah. (Although we just returned from S Africa and saw the best mommy cheetah with her five 6-8 month old cubs at Zululand Rhino Reserve. Yes, she raised 5 babies on her own!! Best mommy ever!!)

If I had the budget to do it, I would combine a trip that included Mashatu in SE Botswana, one of the many lodges in Sabi Sand (or Mala Mala) and Phinda. I would also go to the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. You can get to all of these on charter flights, regular commercial flights with a driver transfer or by driver. No need to self drive.

The higher end lodges have a max of 6 people per vehicle, but almost all lodges will arrange for a private vehicle. Lodges on private reserves are allowed to off road - only those within the national parks do not. Virtually all go out before dawn and stay out after dusk, but if you want to do "night drives" they can be arranged. Walks can also be arranged.

I haven't been to Zambia or Namibia, but hope to get to both. I don't know how to combine them with neighboring countries.

Let us know what your budget is so we can be more help. Southern Africa has its best game viewing in winter, June - September.
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Jul 3rd, 2014, 04:06 PM
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Thanks, Christabir. You've given me a lot to look into!

I take it that you saw the cheetah mother and cubs in June?

As for budget, we're probably middle-of-the road -- we don't want to skimp too much, but certainly don't want to spend at the top-of-the-line 5-star level either. We really haven't set a budget yet, but I'd guess that it would be around $1,000-$1,200 per day for the two of us, including lodging, meals, game drives, fees, in-country travel, etc. Without any research yet, I'm not sure how realistic that number is. I'm estimating this based on our 20-day trip to Tanzania three years ago, which included four interior flights and four people in the game-drive vehicle and cost about $800 per day for the two of us.

-- Bill
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Jul 3rd, 2014, 05:08 PM
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Bill - I can arrange a safari for less than $200/nt (just did it!) to over $2000/ nt in S Africa (did it in 2006). You could combine some pretty expensive places with some less expensive to make it more affordable and still have some luxury. You could do Little Vumbura and Banoka in Botswana and fit your budget or Phinda and Tembe. Mala Mala and Arathusa could work, too. Prices/expectations are all over the place.

Yes, we saw the cheetah with her gorgeous babies last month. It was thrilling for everyone - our ranger was more excited than we were because she hadn't seen them yet!! But they have disappeared and no one has seen them since we were there. She is a great mom - keeping them out of harms way for all this time. Not great for safari-goers, but good for her!!

Sabi Sand is a great place to see leopard - pretty much guaranteed. www.sabisand.za.co for all of the lodges and a map.

My original itinerary included my favorite places/bucket list. We just did a rhino conservation project (one of the most thrilling experiences of my life) at Zululand Rhino Reserve - I can't recommend it enough. Please ask me about it if you are interested (they have requested that I don't post details to protect their rhinos). Look into Pope Safaris in Zambia - they specialize in walking safaris and look wonderful. I know Wilderness Safaris is a bit controversial - they've gotten a bit "big for their britches" after a really great start - they have excellent camps in Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.

Enjoy your planning - it's half the fun!!
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Jul 4th, 2014, 01:11 AM
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I'll just talk mainly about Botswana and Zambia, as they're the two countries I know best.

I think there are a few requirements there that are going to be difficult, on your budget. Most camps in Botswana and Zambia have max 6 people in a vehicle, so 2-4 people in a vehicle isn't going to happen unless you pay for a private vehicle at about $500 extra per day. That's going to blow your budget.

Your budget excludes private concessions in Botswana in high season. So if you want to go to Botswana, it will have to be either low season in the private concessions or high season but you're going to have to compromise on the off road driving, and stay in the national park areas.

In Zambia, off roading is technically not allowed but in the more remote parts of the parks, the rules are somewhat flexible and I don't think you'll notice it as an issue. Zambia will definitely give you the night drives you want, as will Botswana in the private concessions but not in the national parks. However, the best night drives I've had have been in South Luangwa, it's a real speciality there.

For Botswana, the two options I'd suggest would be a private mobile safari in high season, or go in green season and stay in the private concessions. Mobile safaris can be very comfortable, with tents with en suite "bush bathrooms", and fully catered with drinks included. It's not exactly roughing it, but requires a bit more of a sense of adventure than staying in fixed camps/lodges. The up side of this option is that you could have your own vehicle. The down side is that these only operate in the national park areas which means no off road driving.

The other option would be to go Nov-March when groups of camps like Kwando and Wilderness have much lower rates (like less than half high season). In that case, I wouldn't combine with Zambia.

If you went with the high season mobile in Bots, I'd highly recommend combining with Zambia, via a couple of nights at Victoria Falls. In South Luangwa you can get the max 4 to a vehicle that you want with some operators. Robin Pope only have 2 rows of seats in their vehicles, as do Remote Africa Safaris (Tafika Camp).

If you go with green season Botswana, I would definitely include the desert areas in the south (Central Kalahari), and maybe do the Central Kalahari with a mobile and then the delta/linyanti in the fixed camps. This could easily take 2 weeks, then I'd probably look at spending a couple of days at Vic Falls and the rest in South Africa, probably the Kruger area private concessions, or Phinda. Also, I believe that time of year is best for Cape Town and the wine regions, if you fancy that.

A Zambia/Botswana high season combination would definitely deliver on leopards. There are no cheetah in South Luangwa or Lower Zambezi, so you'd be counting on Botswana for cheetah. Cheetah aren't the easiest predator to see there. On the plus side, Botswana is amazing for wild dogs, and I'd say you actually have a better chance of dogs than cheetah in Botswana. If cheetah is really important, then maybe green season Botswana plus Phinda might be a better bet.
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Jul 4th, 2014, 03:42 AM
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Agree with Stokeygirl that Botswana would fit many of your objectives except for cheetah. I've visited 5 African countries and saw the most cheetah in Kenya followed by Tanzania. Did not see any in Botswana, but did see lots of leopard there. The private camps are great - few other vehicles around when you do find animals. I was traveling solo and usually only had 2 other people in a 6 passenger land cruiser. I also saw LOTS of wild dogs there - almost to the point of getting bored following the dogs for hours I would not pick a destination solely to see one type of animal (i.e. cheetah) as you could easily be disappointed. The only thing I'll add about Botswana is that there are lots of elephants. They came right into some of the camps I stayed at. They do wreak havoc on the mopane forests - absolutely stripping the trees down to nothing. Driving through these blighted areas (and there are lots of them) reminded me of being in a hurricane ravaged countryside - not at all attractive.
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Jul 4th, 2014, 03:54 AM
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I think in general, cheetah are more common in the East African parks with their wide open plains.

It's not impossible in Botswana, there are areas that can be good for cheetah. I've had excellent sightings in the Kwara concession, for example. But I don't think anywhere in Southern Africa is going to compete with the Mara/Serengeti for cheetah sightings. But then I don't think the Mara/Serengeti can compete with Botswana for dogs!! If you've never seen wild dogs before, then you are in for a treat as they are incredibly fascinating animals to watch, so I'd say they will more than make up for the lack of cheetah!
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Jul 4th, 2014, 05:48 AM
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I'd suggest a combination of Mashatu and a private mobile in Botswana with a reputable company like Masson Safaris.

The Mashatu cyberdiary from 2 July 2014 has details of cheetah, lion cubs and they think that one of the female leopards is also denning as she hasn't been seen for a while. http://blog.mashatu.com/index.php/20...-of-mashatu-2/

If you definitely want a private vehicle, this is only available to guests staying at the Main Camp. The game drives from the Tented Camp leave before dawn and stay out until 7-7.30 at night. If you booked a private vehicle you may be able to arrange an after dinner drive, not sure. Mashatu is not a national park so drive times are flexible and off-roading is possible.

I also recommend Masson Safaris. Ewan and Sallie offer comfortable private mobile camping with en suite bush bathrooms. I've only stayed in national parks and reserves where rules about drivng after dark and off-roading are quite strict. I'm sure that Ewan would be able to advise on whether he has access to any private reserves where late drives and off-roading are permitted.

Happy planning

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Jul 4th, 2014, 12:58 PM
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Just keep in mind there are few or no rhinos in Zambia and Botswana. Try to see them before we exterminate them (again). We have had no luck seeing wild dog, so we have to keep going back until it happens!

Excellent feedback above!!!!!!
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Jul 4th, 2014, 01:36 PM
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stokeygirl, Cateyes555, & Treepol,

Thanks a lot for the perspectives and advice. The amount of helpful advice freely given is amazing! I wish more of real life were like that. The four of you have given me a lot to look into, and I know I'll enjoy that.

One thing seems clear, though: we likely can't afford a private vehicle, so we'll just have to deal with multi-occupant vehicles. I guess we were spoiled in Tanzania, as there were only four of us plus the guide, and it was easy to agree on a plan for each day. Also, more people likely means more jiggling in the vehicle when we make photography stops. That really wasn't a problem with photos, but became very evident in the videos we took.

We're not so interested in middle-of-the-night game drives -- more in being out for that hour or so before sunrise and after sunset. In our vast experience base of just one safari, it seemed like there was more animal activity then (as opposed to the middle of the day), and certainly the photographic light was optimal then. As I recall, in the Tanzania NPs vehicles weren't allowed out on the "road" before sunrise or after sunset.

Can any of you point me to information on scheduled or charter flights and information on driving/driver options between reserves/parks/camps? It's not clear how we would get from one place to another, short of arranging some sort of packaged deal.

Thanks again for all of your help.

-- Bill
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Jul 4th, 2014, 05:31 PM
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Bill - regarding private camps (ie Wilderness Safari camps - one of the main holders) in Botswana, you would fly between camps. These camps cannot really be accessed any other way. You would work with a tour operator and the flights would be included in your package. Here is my trip report link for Botswana - there might be some helpful info for you in it.

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Jul 4th, 2014, 08:36 PM
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Hi Bill,

Is there any chance you can up your budget just a bit? Unless there is another recession prices are just going to go up and up. You do have some city days and hotel nights included in your overall trip but if you could budget about $750 per person per day I think you could have a fantastic trip. If you shortened your trip a little bit I actually think you would get better value for money spending a bit more money per day but for less days.

I have been to just about every ecosystem in Southern Africa on my 33+ trips to Africa. I have also been to most of the major wildlife areas in all their various seasons (if they are open year round). I will try to provide some general advice and then suggest a plan that will get you into many different ecosystems and environments within a reasonable budget.

The one thing I want to point out and I realize others have already pointed this out is that you will likely have a tough time finding cheetah. Cheetah need wide open grasslands to have their greatest hunting advantage vs. leopard. IN GENERAL, cheetah and leopards do not live in close proximity. The open grasslands is why they do so well on the Mara and Serengeti. I did see about 10 cheetah at Phinda in 3 days so I agree with that suggestion. The only drawback to Phinda is that it is a relatively small fully fenced reserve with 120 guest beds on the property. You will see fence on every game drive and the human density is relatively high is the camps are full. Another great place to see cheetah is at Tswalu in the Kalahari Desert area of NW South Africa. A four day stay would be about $3500 per person so this would be a splurge but all guests get private vehicles and a totally private program just for you and your partner so you may find value here. Also, you can see Kalahari antelope like Oryx and Springbok that you won’t see in many other places. For a budget Kalahari experience you could go to Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana in its SHORT peak season of mid-December to mid-March. You can expect to see some cheetah here but on-road restrictions are strictly enforced. All the cheetah I saw there were at a distance. Kalahari Plains Camp owned by Wilderness Safaris is the closest to the action in Deception Valley.

Botswana in peak season is almost off limits to you based on your budget unless you stay on the fringes of the ecosystem such as the town of Kasane outside the gates of the Chobe National Park. Here you will also be amongst throngs of humanity (800 hotel beds within 10 miles of the one entrance gate). I do think you should consider and you could afford Mashatu. This is an epic big cat destination in Botswana but not in the Okavango Delta. It is on the South Africa border in the SE corner of the country. They have a very inexpensive tented camp as well as the main camp. Tented camp would be GREAT in peak season when temps are not high.

In the Kruger ecosystem you have almost budgeted yourself out of the Sabi Sands. Maybe you could stay at Nottens but it does not have a river running through it like MalaMala or Lion Sands (cheaper options relative to the neighbors with rivers running through the property or on the border). For this area your best bet is probably the Timbavati private game reserve to the north.

Zambia is relatively expensive because when you pro-rate the cost of flights to the two best game-rich safari areas your average daily cost for a six day safari is going to be over $1,000 per person per day. You would not want to drive to South Luangwa National Park or Lower Zambezi National Park so you end up on pro-flight at a cost of about $300-$400 per flight per person. There is no way around it. The best lodges INSIDE the national parks are often only open 4-5 months per year and they need to make all their money during this time. Rates are a bit higher than comparable HOTEL SERVICE lodges in other countries but the animal viewing is epic! Again, a small uptick in your budget would greatly enhance your experience here.

In my opinion, Zimbabwe offers the best value for money in all of Africa (most animals seen per dollar spent if you want to define it that way). Hwange National Park in peak season has some of the highest concentrations of elephant and buffalo on earth in July-October. There are also 108 mammals species in the park making it the most diverse in Africa. Mana Pools National Park is one of the few places to have a safari on the banks of a major river. The Zambezi is a mile wide here!

This safari itinerary would be about $12k per person for peak season 2015 and you would see just about everything except cheetah. I suggest late August into September to maximize the floral blooming in the Western Cape and the weather and animal viewing throughout. Tented camps will still be comfortable until it starts heating up in late September.

(1) Land in Jo'burg and overnight. Next day fly on South African airways (SAA - big plane) 45 minutes to Hoedspruit then the lodge picks you up for a 45-60 minute drive to camp. Spend 3 nights in the Kruger ecosystem at a private tented camp like Tanda Tula or another lodge like Kambaku or Shindzela.

(2) 45 minutes back to Hoedspruit. Non-stop 2 hour SAA flight to Cape Town. 20 minute transfer to city hotel. 4 nights in Cape Town to see the floral kingdom in bloom and see Southern Right Whales!

(3) Fly 2 hours SAA to Jo'burg. Change plans and fly 45 minutes SAA (airlink) to Polokwane. The lodge will then drive you 2 hours to Masahtu. 3 nights at Mashatu tented camp in Botswana

(4) 2 hours by road back to Polokwane. 45 min SAA flight to Jo'burg. 1 forced over night Jo’burg.

(5) 1h30m SAA flight to Harare on SAA. Small plane 55m to Mana Pools. 3 nights Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools National Park

(6) 1h45m small plane to Hwange National Park. 3 nights Little Makalolo in Hwange National Park.

(7) 45m small plane to Vic Falls. 2 nights at Victoria Falls

(8) 2h flight on SAA back to Jo'bur. Go home.

Up the budget about $1,500 more and you could go to Tswalu instead of Mashatu and increase the chances of seeing cheetah.

Hope this helps.

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
2011-2013 Travel & Leisure A-List agent for Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia
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Jul 6th, 2014, 11:52 AM
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Haven't read all the replies above so this may have already been mentioned but I usually travel solo in May or June and am quite often the only person in the vehicle or perhaps with just another couple or another solo.

Timing of your trip may provide your wish for less people in the vehicle and it'll be kinder on your pocket book.

Our game drives last year at Mashatu started at 6:30am return for lunch at 11:00am or 11:30 then out again at 3:30pm till 7:00pm or 7:30pm.

Mashatu Tented Camp remains one of my favourites.
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Jul 7th, 2014, 10:12 PM
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Jul 15th, 2014, 10:57 AM
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Hello Bill, I can't speak to a lot of the places others can, but I can tell you that during our 22 days in Botswana last Nov/Dec we saw lots of cats. A LOT of leopard, but also cheetah. Maybe it was a fluke. I don't know. It was pretty amazing. We took advantage of the green season specials and had a marvelous trip for the $1000 per couple per day that you mention -- camp and air transfers only - we fly Intl. on points. I think it can be done. You just have to find an agent who is willing to work with you. Both Wilderness Safari (that is who we used) and Kwando camps have green season specials. They are being announced right now.

I have started my trip report on Safari Talk with lots of photos of the things we saw --- including cheetah.

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